Many or most books written by former American or Western spymasters tend to paint a pessimistic view of the conflict between the KGB and the CIA. The KGB succeeded time and time again in infiltrating the CIA, FBI, MI6, and other Western intelligence services, so the (true) story goes. By contrast, it sometimes appears that the CIA and MI6 represented halfhearted efforts to match a much more powerful Soviet KGB. This piece by a top KGB intelligence officer tells the story, or part of it, from "the other side of the hill." What I found to be insightful is his observation that the US was largely a tough nut to crack, with FBI counterintelligence relentlessly pursuing Soviet agents, and with very few Americans willing to spy for the Soviets. (Besides ordinary patriotism, Kalugin states that most American government officials were terrified of having KGB contact for fear of losing their security clearances.) The two big American traitors, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, essentially recruited themselves. Ames literally walked into the Soviet embassy and offered to spy for money. Walker, too, was solely motivated by money. Hanssen was a more complex character, but he too approached the Soviets rather than the reverse, and was paid considerable sums of money for his treason. The common denominator of all three of these master traitors is that they reached out to the Soviets first. Kalugin was involved in the KGB's contact with these criminals, and he by his own account was very successful in compromising America's security.
Kalugin portrays much of the KGB as an overstaffed Soviet bureaucracy that was mostly inefficient and self-serving. In particular he has harsh words for the KGB's internal security directorate, in charge of spying on Soviet citizens. Kalugin describes a corrupt and ineffective organization that is far from the all-seeing KGB often characterizing Western perceptions.
Unfortunately, to read Kalugin's book is to take a stroll through the "wilderness of mirrors" because although Kalugin eventually became a US citizen, he never actually defected against the KGB and offered up his secrets. So one wonders if Kalugin is really being truthful. If the KGB did in fact have the US Government penetrated, one suspects that he would not have told us of this in his book. In a sense, with the exceptions of Walker, Ames, and Hanssen, three known traitors, Kalugin seems to be trying to tell us that the KGB was a failure. Personally, I am not buying it, at least not to the extent that Kalugin is selling it. For example, Kalugin pushes the notion that Yuri Nosenko was a genuine defector. "In the know" experts seem to have made a pretty good case that this was not so, and that Nosenko was in fact a double agent who the KGB dangled to the CIA for, among other purposes, of deflecting suspicions that the KGB had involvement with Lee Harvey Oswald. Of course it is possible that Kalugin was not "in the loop" in this particular effort, and he may genuinely believe that Nosenko was genuine. Or perhaps Nosenko really was genuine. Or perhaps Kalugin seeks to mislead. Welcome to the "wilderness of mirrors."
One reason that I take Kalugin's analysis with more than a grain of salt is the undisputed fact that Kalugin did not sour on the KGB until his own career in fact went sour. Kalugin candidly describes in this piece how he lost out in bureaucratic infighting once he returned to Russia. He was assigned a dead-end job in Leningrad's internal security directorate, which he plausibly describes as a snake pit of amoral corruption and pointless harassment of innocent citizens. Only then did he "see the light" as to the obvious deficiencies in the Soviet system. Evidently his many years in America were not enough, by themselves, to show him the superiority of the capitalist system. It is possible to conclude from reading Kalugin's book that he turned away from his loyalty to the KGB only after the KGB discarded him.
I do not mean for this to be a negative review. Quite the contrary. This is one of the very finest books dealing with Soviet espionage I have ever come across. Kalugin appears to have been a very successful intelligence officer familiar with the KGB and its operations against the West. He writes with authority and often with conviction. He was, after all, indisputably a KGB Major General. It is absolutely fascinating to read his perceptions of American counter-intelligence efforts, and the very human and bureaucratic failings of the KGB. Much of what he writes is undoubtedly true. Further, reading this piece one does come away with the perception that Kalugin was a decent fellow, which puts a human face on the KGB, an organization that virtually all Americans (rightly) regarded as sinister.
This one is highly recommended. RJB.