36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
William R. Drake
- Published on Amazon.com
SPYMASTER by Oleg Kalugin 2/27/10
This recently released book (c2009) is an autobiography of Kalugin, who spent 32 years in Soviet intelligence. As a young man he was a KGB agent sent to New York disguised as a Fulbright Scholar. During his second tour of duty in the US he took another "cover" in order to function as the director of political intelligence for Russia's Washington, DC "Resident" (the KGB director of spying for the region) for five years. At one point Kalugin became one of the "handlers" of the famous naval spy John Walker. In 1974, at age 40, he became the youngest general in the postwar history of the KGB. In 1970 he became the Deputy Chief of Foreign Counterintelligence. Three years later he was appointed the director for that branch of the KGB, a position he held for seven years. He became very critical of the KGB and a number of corrupt Communist leaders and aligned himself with the democracy movement during and after the Gorbachev era. Needless to say, he created quite a few enemies and during the Putin regime, while Kalugin was a temporary resident of the United States involved in business endeavors, he was tried in absentia for treason and sentenced to 15 years in prison. At that point he was granted political asylum in America. In August 2003 he became a U.S. citizen.
I have an interest in espionage and have read quite a few books on the subject. I found this book very well written and, for the most part, quite interesting and informative. There are many fascinating (to me) stories related to his experiences in his different roles. There are also areas where he fills in the gaps left by other books, for example, in regards to the famous British spy Kim Philby and his last years in Russia. Kalugin took an active interest in Philby's well-being and they became good friends. Another of the author's unique contributions relates to the democracy movement in Russia. Writing as an active participant in that movement, he gives his perception of events and people during the final years of the Soviet Union and the time after its demise.
There were parts of the second half of the book that got a little boring for me. In Chapter 7 ("Collision"), especially, I got tired of lengthy criticisms of KGB and Politburo officials that he had to deal with and/or that he had conflicts with, as he fell from grace within the KGB (even if some of that criticism might have been justified). I also got tired of all the negative descriptions, in the last part of the book, of those who opposed the efforts to change the Soviet Union (/Russia). As would be the tendency of most of us human beings, in these parts of the book, he presents himself in a positive light, justifying his behavior, while presenting those who opposed him or frustrated his desires in a very negative light.
To a degree he reflects the strong conditioning of those of us with "male egos". He has considerable disrespect for people who [due to their human conditioning] lack courage and he sympathized "with some of the married agents who described the disgust they felt at having to make love to unattractive older women" (p.197). Interestingly he maintained an intense distain for Russians who spied against, and/or defected from, their own country while looking at those who betrayed the West as spies and/or defectors as true heroes. This apparent contradiction was even the case after he became disenchanted with Russia and Communism. (He relates a dialogue he had with one Russian who defected to the West as follows: "'....You're scum....You're a traitor. Why did you do that, betray your own country?'" [p.234] He even seemed to be judgmental of KGB agent Alexander Orlov, who only defected to the West to avoid being a victim of Stalin's insane purges.)
For the most part I found Kalugin (or at least the Kalugin that is portrayed in the book as I perceived it) to be a pleasant, "descent," and at times sensitive, human being (for a KGB agent that is, who authorized "dirty tricks" against the West, etc). He was disturbed by assassinations, for example, and events like the 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia helped erode the blind faith he once held in the Soviet system.
Is his story "true"? In general, our stories are not really true. They (we) are too subjective. We can only say that our stories reflect "our" truth. Each character in his book would tell the story a little (or a lot) differently. And as Anais Nin (apparently) said, "We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are." We meet the world with our projections. And what we react to most in others often reflects something within ourselves of which we are not conscious.
Some reviewers of this book on Amazon found it boring. Although this was my experience while reading parts of the book, I think that to some extent this depends on the reader. If one is really interested in this subject he/she will find it very informative and, for the most part, will probably find it interesting. It definitely contributes some fresh material to its subject matter. Overall, I enjoyed it.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Roger J. Buffington
- Published on Amazon.com
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.