Can the man ousted as the Soviet interior minister by conservatives as “too soft” hope to run the KGB?
Vadim V. Bakatin, the new chief of the Soviet intelligence and security agency, sought Friday to show that he could be tough in putting what had been a “state within a state” onto what he called the “constitutional straight and narrow.”
The KGB’s network of informants will be disbanded and its snooping on political organizations, foreigners and journalists will end, Bakatin told his first press conference as the agency’s chairman. Its files will be opened, within “operational limits,” to researchers--and to the subjects of past KGB surveillance, he said.
Bakatin pledged to carry out President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s orders to fully reorganize the KGB after last week’s abortive coup, which the KGB leadership had helped to organize and execute.
The KGB, formally known as the Soviet Committee for State Security, has already been stripped of its troops, its functions as the government’s communications agency and its presidential bodyguard unit. Soon to go, Bakatin said, will be its frontier guards and the counterintelligence units it has within the army and police.
Smiling broadly and exuding the charm that has made him one of the country’s most popular politicians, Bakatin sought, nevertheless, to show that he is up to an assignment so arduous that even his many admirers doubt he will succeed.
He knew, Bakatin said blandly, that he could not trust a soul he met at KGB headquarters. He had already changed all the telephones and much of the furniture in his office. He had also removed the building’s internal sentries, feeling himself more guarded than protected.
He had taken down the pictures of V. I. Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, and Felix Dzerzhinsky, chief of Lenin’s secret police. Instead, he put up pictures of Gorbachev and, in his office, a landscape. “It’s quite calming,” he said. “It encourages you to think things over.”
And, as a prelude to the purges that will come, he fired one particular KGB officer first--his son.
“I did not want my son working for me, not with what I am about to do,” Bakatin explained. “It just wouldn’t do.”
Bakatin, 53, a former construction engineer and Communist Party official in Siberia, knows that he does not have the reputation for ruthlessness seen as necessary to run the KGB--and not just to run it, but to purge it of conservatives and reorganize it as a much smaller, less powerful body.
“Am I expecting resistance from the apparat ?” he said of the agency. “Absolutely. What am I going to do about it? Watch me--you’ll see.”
Bakatin’s liberal policies during his two years as interior minister infuriated conservatives, who forced Gorbachev to fire him last December.
In a series of major reforms, Bakatin had allowed the country’s republics to manage their own police forces, improved prison conditions, insisted on due process in criminal cases and cracked down on police corruption.
But conservatives said he was responsible for the sharp upsurge in crime and street violence, and military patrols were put on the streets of most cities to help restore order. He was blamed as well for the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as one republic after another chose to go its own way and he did little to restrain them.
As chief of the KGB, he intends to make observance of the country’s laws and constitutional guarantees of human rights the foundation of the agency’s work, he said. Communist Party committees will be abolished within the KGB, and the organization will be decentralized, he said. Legislation will also be drafted to establish the KGB’s legal authority and to place limits on its activities.
“For all intents and purposes, we are now working in a legal vacuum,” Bakatin said, appealing for the early adoption of laws governing the KGB.
He said that in the future, the KGB will specialize in intelligence, counterespionage, analysis, the investigation of serious crimes and the protection of key installations, such as the country’s nuclear weapons sites.
The coup occurred because the Soviet Union’s state security system had been developed as “a monopoly combining party and state organs that were in many cases used to ensure the will of the party,” Bakatin said.
“The KGB became an instrument, a tool, uncontrolled by anyone or anything, and with that kind of monopoly--communications, the bodyguards, the troops--it had a free hand in organizing the coup,” Bakatin said. “That is why we are now building a system that will be safe for the state.”
Before he took the job last week, replacing Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, one of the key coup conspirators, Bakatin talked not only with Gorbachev but with the presidents of each of the nine Soviet republics that were then committed to remaining part of the Soviet Union, to ensure that he had their firm political backing.
Asked what KGB activities he intends to stop immediately on moral or ethical grounds, Bakatin replied, “First of all, political intelligence"--the gathering of information on Soviet citizens and their political beliefs. “It is unconstitutional and undemocratic.
“The services of secret informers will not be employed by us,” he continued. Surveillance of suspected criminals and spies will continue but within legal limits. KGB agents will be withdrawn from any organization, whether it be the Writers’ Union or a steel factory, that requests their removal, he said.
But the old records of the KGB’s huge informer network will not be opened, Bakatin added, because of “the human tragedies that would result.”
“We are a state (that) created a system involving its citizens in such a game, which we now view from a new point of view and which is deemed to be a dirty game,” he said. “We cannot throw those people (the informers) to the mercy of the mob.”
In Eastern Europe, and particularly in the former East Germany, the opening of security police archives has led to purges of those listed as informers. Bakatin had promised the Supreme Soviet, the country’s legislature, to keep those KGB files secret lest their release lead to even greater bitterness and divisions in the country.
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