Secretary of State James A. Baker III ventured into the once-forbidden vastness of KGB headquarters Friday to a warm welcome, an offer for a cease-fire in the U.S.-Soviet espionage wars--and an unexpected plea for management help from the CIA.
"Your visit is a fantastic visit," beamed Vadim V. Bakatin, the liberal reformer who was installed as the KGB's new chairman after his predecessor participated in last month's abortive coup against Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
"The KGB has changed--or I'm not fit for the post," he added.
Replied Baker: "I don't think anything could symbolize the changes going on in the Soviet Union today any better than the fact that the secretary of state of the United States of America is meeting here in KGB headquarters."
It was the first time any U.S. Cabinet officer has visited the KGB, better known in its disreputable past for hounding Soviet dissidents, recruiting Western agents and plotting global chaos.
Bakatin told American reporters ushered into his sprawling, silent office that those days are over--and that he is ready to begin talks with the CIA to scale back the two intelligence agencies' operations against each other.
"I think that, on a mutual basis, we will do that," he said. "In the KGB, there is a major question: Who is our adversary? And now the KGB has lost that adversary. So we have to work a lot in order to acquire a new image where we do not have any enemies at all."
During his 90-minute meeting with Baker, U.S. officials said, the new KGB chief outlined the problems he faces--reorganizing his agency for the post-Cold War world, devising rules for intelligence work in a democratic society and re-educating agents trained in the totalitarian past.
He asked, almost shyly: "Do you think it would be possible for us to be in touch with the CIA on some of these questions?" Baker replied that he is sure the CIA is ready to help the KGB reform itself, aides said.
Until recently, the KGB admitted almost no outsiders to its fortress-like headquarters buildings on Dzerzhinsky Square in downtown Moscow. But since the failure of the coup and the democratic revolution that followed it, things are different.
Bakatin, a genial reformer who was once fired as minister of the interior because of conservative pressure, has promised to remake the once-terrifying institution from top to bottom. The massive statue of Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, the KGB's pitiless founder, has been toppled from its pedestal in the square outside. The KGB now has a press office, just like any other image-conscious bureaucracy.
And Bakatin has begun his changes at the top. One Baker aide noted that the KGB chairman opened his meeting with the Americans by introducing his top 12 aides. All but one of them--the agency's counterespionage chief--have been named to their posts since the abortive coup three weeks ago.
"For two of them, it was their first day on the job," the aide noted.
The encounter left Baker and his aides even more impressed than before by the abortive coup's effect of speeding up the Soviet Union's surge toward Western-style democracy.
"It's like a new country," one said. "They really are transforming all their institutions."