The Agent Network
Soviet military intelligence controls an enormous number of secret agents, who in this context, are foreigners who have been recruited by the Soviet intelligence services and who carry out tasks for those services. They can be divided into two networks, the strategic and the operational. The first is recruited by the central apparat of the GRU and the GRU's numerous branches within the country and abroad. It works for the General Staff of the armed forces of the USSR and its agents are recruited mainly in the capitals of hostile states or in Moscow. The second is recruited by the intelligence directorates of fronts, fleets, groups of forces, military districts and the intelligence departments of armies and flotillas, independently of the central GRU apparat, and its agents serve the needs of a particular front, fleet, army and so on. They are recruited mainly from the territory of the Soviet Union or from countries friendly to it.
The division of agents into strategic and operational networks does not in any way indicate a difference in quality. The central apparat of the GRU naturally has many more agents than any military district group of forces, in fact more than all the fleets, military district armies and so forth put together. They are, broadly speaking, people who have direct access to official secrets. Nevertheless the operational network has also frequently obtained information of interest not just to local commanders but also to the top Soviet leadership.
During the Second World War the information coming from the majority of foreign capitals was not of interest to the Soviet Union. Useful information came from a very small number of locations, but however vital it was, it was insufficient to satisfy wartime demands. Consequently the operational network of the armies, fronts and fleets increased many times in size during the war and came to be of greater importance than the strategic network of agents of the central GRU apparat. This could happen again in another full-scale war if, contrary to the military and political consensus on future wars, it proved to be long drawn-out.
The spetsnaz agent network, an operational one, works for every military district, group of forces, fleet and front (which all have in addition an information network). Recruitment of agents is carried out mainly from the territory of the Soviet Union and states friendly to it. The main places where spetsnaz looks out for likely candidates for recruitment are: major ports visited by foreign tourists; and among foreign students. Spetsnaz examines the correspondence of Soviet citizens and of citizens of the satellite countries and listens in to the telephone conversations in the hope of coming across interesting contacts between Soviet and East European citizens and people living in countries that spetsnaz is interested in. Usually a foreign person who has been recruited can be persuaded to recruit several other people who may never have been in the Soviet Union or had any contact with Soviet citizens. It sometimes happens that spetsnaz officers turn up in somebody else's territory and recruit agents. Most of them do not have diplomatic cover and do not recruit agents in the capital cities, but drop off from Soviet merchant and fishing vessels in foreign ports and appear in the foreign country as drivers of Soviet trucks, Aeroflot pilots or stewards of Soviet trains. One proven place for recruiting is a Soviet cruise ship: two weeks at sea, vodka, caviar, the dolce vita, pleasant company and the ability to talk without fearing the local police.
If the reader had access to real dossiers on the secret agents of spetsnaz he would be disappointed and probably shocked, because the agents of spetsnaz bear no resemblance to the fine, upstanding, young and handsome heroes of spy films. Soviet military intelligence is looking for an entirely different type of person as a candidate for recruitment. A portrait of an ideal agent for spetsnaz emerges something like this: a man of between fifty-five and sixty-five years of age who has never served in the army, never had access to secret documents, does not carry or own a weapon, knows nothing about hand-to-hand fighting, does not possess any secret equipment and doesn't support the Comunists, does not read the newspapers, was never in the Soviet Union and has never met any Soviet citizens, leads a lonely, introspective life, far from other people, and is by profession a forester, fisherman, lighthouse-keeper, security guard or railwayman. In many cases such an agent will be a physical invalid. Spetsnaz is also on the lookout for women with roughly the same characteristics.
If spetsnaz has such a person in its network, that means: a. that he is certainly not under any suspicion on the part of the local police or security services; b. that in the event of any enquiries being made he will be the last person to be suspected; c. that there is practically nothing by which any suspicions could be confirmed, which in turn means that in peacetime the agent is almost totally guaranteed against the danger of failure or arrest; d. that in the event of war he will remain in the same place as he was in peacetime and not be taken into the army or the public service under the wartime mobilisation.
All this gives the spetsnaz agent network tremendous stability and vitality. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and in the rules of intelligence gathering there are a lot of exceptions. You can come across many different kinds of people among the agents of spetsnaz, but still spetsnaz tries mainly to recruit people of just that type. What use are they to the organisation?
The answer is that they are formidably useful. The fact is that the acts of terrorism are carried out in the main by the professional athletes of spetsnaz who have been excellently trained for handling the most difficult missions. But the spetsnaz professionals have a lot of enemies when they get into a foreign country: helicopters and police dogs, the checking of documents at the roadside, patrols, even children playing in the street who miss very little and understand a lot. The spetsnaz commandos need shelter where they can rest for a few days in relative peace, where they can leave their heavy equipment and cook their own food.
So the principal task of spetsnaz agents is to prepare a safe hiding place in advance, long before the commandos arrive in the country. These are some examples of hiding places prepared by spetsnaz agents. With GRU money a pensioner who is actually a spetsnaz agent buys a house on the outskirts of a town, and close to a big forest. In the house he builds, quite legally, a nuclear shelter with electric light, drains, water supply and a store of food. He then buys a car of a semi-military or military type, a Land Rover for example, which is kept permanently in the garage of the house along with a good store of petrol. With that the agent's work is done. He lives quietly, makes use of his country house and car, and in addition is paid for his services. He knows that at any moment he may have 'guests' in his house. But that doesn't frighten him. In case of arrest he can say that the commando troops seized him as a hostage and made use of his house, his shelter and car.
Or, the owner of a car dump takes an old, rusty railway container and drops it among the hundreds of scrap cars and a few motorcycles. For the benefit of the few visitors to the scrapyard who come in search of spare parts, the owner opens a little shop selling Coca-Cola, hot dogs, coffee and sandwiches. He always keeps a stock of bottled mineral water, tinned fish, meat and vegetables. The little shop also stocks comprehensive medical supplies.
Or perhaps the owner of a small firm buys a large, though old yacht. He tells his friends that he dreams of making a long journey under sail, which is why the yacht always has a lot of stores aboard. But he has no time to make the trip; what's more, the yacht is in need of repair which requires both time and money. So for the moment the old yacht lies there in a deserted bay among dozens of other abandoned yachts with peeling paint.
Large numbers of such places of refuge have been arranged. Places that can be used as shelters include caves, abandoned (or in some cases working) mines, abandoned industrial plants, city sewers, cemeteries (especially if they have family vaults), old boats, railway carriages and wagons, and so forth. Any place can be adapted as a shelter for the use of spetsnaz terrorists. But the place must be very well studied and prepared in advance. That is what the agents are recruited for.
This is not their only task. After the arrival of his 'guests' the agent can carry out many of their instructions: keeping an eye on what the police are doing, guarding the shelter and raising the alarm in good time, acting as a guide, obtaining additional information about interesting objects and people. Apart from all that an agent may be recruited specially to carry out acts of terrorism, in which case he may operate independently under the supervision of one person from the GRU, in a group of agents like himself, or in collaboration with the professionals of spetsnaz who have come from the Soviet Union.
The spetsnaz agent who is recruited to provide support for the operations of fighting groups in the way I have described, by acquiring a house and/or transport feels he is quite safe. The local police would have tremendous difficulty trying to run him to earth. Even if he were to be found and arrested it would be practically impossible to prove his guilt. But what the agent does not know is that danger threatens him from spetsnaz itself. Officers in the GRU who are discontented with the Communist regime may, either as a mark of protest or for other reasons, defect to the West. When they do, they are free to identify agents, including spetsnaz agents. Equally, once he has carried out his act of terrorism, the spetsnaz commando will destroy all traces of its work and any witnesses, including the agent who protected or helped the group in the first place. A man who is recruited as an agent to back up a commando group very rarely realises what will happen to him afterwards.
Thus if it is relatively easy to recruit a man to act as a 'sleeper', what about recruiting a foreigner to act as a real terrorist, prepared to commit murder, use explosives and fire buildings? Surely that is much more difficult?
The answer is that, surprisingly, it is not. A spetsnaz officer out to recruit agents for direct terrorist action has a wonderful base for his work in the West. There are a tremendous number of people who are discontented and ready to protest against absolutely anything. And while millions protest peacefully, some individuals will resort to any means to make their protest. The spetsnaz officer has only to find the malcontent who is ready to go to extremes.
A man who protests against the presence of American troops in Europe and sprays slogans on walls is an interesting subject. If he not only paints slogans but is also prepared to fire at an American general, should he be given the sub-machine gun or an RPG-7 grenade-launcher to do the job, he is an exceptionally interesting person. His goals tally perfectly with those of the senior officers of the GRU.
In France protesters fired an RPG-7 grenade-launcher at the reactor of a nuclear power station. Where they got the Soviet-made weapon I do not know. Perhaps it was just lying there at the roadside. But if it was a spetsnaz officer who had the good fortune to meet those people and provide them with their hardware, he would without further ado have been given a Red Banner medal and promotion. The senior officers of the GRU have a particular dislike of Western nuclear power stations, which reduce the West's dependence on imported oil (including Soviet oil) and make it stronger and more independent. They are one of spetsnaz's, most important targets.
On another occasion a group of animal rights activists in the UK injected bars of chocolate with poison. If spetsnaz were able to contact that group, and there is every chance it might, it would be extremely keen (without, of course, mentioning its name) to suggest to them a number of even more effective ways of protesting. Activists, radicals, peace campaigners, green party members: as far as the leaders of the GRU are concerned, these are like ripe water-melons, green on the outside, but red on the inside - and mouth-watering.
So there is a good base for recruiting. There are enough discontented people in the West who are ready not only to kill others but also to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of their own particular ideals which spetsnaz may exploit. The spetsnaz officer has only to find and take advantage of the malcontent who is ready to go to extremes.
The spetsnaz network of agents has much in common with international terrorism, a common centre, for example - yet they are different things and must not be confused. It would be foolhardy to claim that international terrorism came into being on orders from Moscow. But to claim that, without Moscow's support, international terrorism would never have assumed the scale it has would not be rash. Terrorism has been born in a variety of situations, in various circumstances and in different kinds of soil. Local nationalism has always been a potent source, and the
Soviet Union supports it in any form, just as it offers concrete support to extremist groups operating within nationalist movements. Exceptions are made, of course, of the nationalist groups within the Soviet Union and the countries under its influence.
If groups of extremists emerge in areas where there is no sure Soviet influence, you may be sure that the Soviet Union will very shortly be their best friend. In the GRU alone there are two independent and very powerful bodies dealing with questions relating to extremists and terrorists. First, there is the 3rd Direction of the GRU which studies terrorist organisations and ways of penetrating them. Then there is the 5th Directorate which is in charge of all intelligence-gathering at lower levels, including that of spetsnaz.
The GRU's tactics toward terrorists are simple: never give them any orders, never tell them what to do. They are destroying Western civilisation: they know how to do it, the argument goes, so let them get on with it unfettered by petty supervision. Among them there are idealists ready to die for their own ideas. So let them die for them. The most important thing is to preserve their illusion that they are completely free and independent.
Moscow is an important centre of international terrorism, not because it is from Moscow that instructions are issued, but because selected terrorist groups or organisations which ask for help may be given it if little risk is attached to doing so. Moscow's deep involvement with terrorism is a serious political affair. One 'resistance movement' has to have more financial help, another less. One 'Red Army' must have modern weapons and an unlimited supply of ammunition, another one will do better with old weapons and a limited supply of ammunition. One movement is to be recognised, while another will be condemned in words but supported in practice. 'Independent' terrorists give little thought to where the money comes from with which they travel the countries of the world, or who provides the Kalashnikov submachine-guns and the cartridges to go with them, or who supplies the instructors who teach them and train them.
But just look at the 'independent' Palestines: they virtually throw their ammunition away. And if one watches a film about the fighting in Afghanistan and then one from the streets of Beirut the difference is very striking. The Afghan resistance fighters count every round, whereas the groups fighting each other in the streets of Beirut don't even bother to aim when they fire; they simply fire into the air in long bursts, although it means they are wasting someone else's money. Whose money is it?
When I was beginning my military service I was taught to count every round. Cartridges are metal and a lot of hard work. It is more difficult and more expensive to make a cartridge than to make a fountain pen. And another reason for being careful with ammunition is so that you are never without it at a critical moment. Supplying an army with ammunition is a complex logistical problem. If the transport carrying ammunition arrives even a few minutes after you have spent all your ammunition without thinking, then you are dead. But there are no such problems in Beirut. Nobody tells the conflicting groups what the ammunition costs. Nobody tells them the cost of the lives they cut off every day. Nobody mentions the danger that the regular supply of ammunition may be late. The suppliers are certain that it will not be late.
The Soviet Union condemns the civil war in the Lebanon. But there is no need for it to condemn the war. All it has to do is hold back the next transport of ammunition, and war will cease.
Apart from military and financial support, the Soviet Union also provides the terrorists aid in the form of training. Training centres have been set up in the Soviet Union for training terrorists from a number of different countries. Similar centres have been set up in the countries of Eastern Europe, in Cuba and elsewhere. I know the centre in Odessa very well. Officially it belongs to the 10th Chief Directorate of the General Staff which deals with the export of weapons, sends Soviet military advisers to foreign countries and trains foreigners to be fighters and terrorists. In the early 1960s this centre was a branch of the higher infantry officers school. An intelligence faculty was formed in it for Soviet students, many of whom ended up in the GRU and spetsnaz, while the remainder of the huge area, classrooms and living quarters, was given over entirely to the centre for training foreign fighters. When I was in Odessa most of the people under training were intended for work in black Africa. Not all of them came from Africa, quite a lot of them were from Cuba, but that was where the majority were destined. The difference between the training and the living conditions of the Soviet and the foreign students was tremendous.
The foreigners were better fed and wore Soviet officers' field uniforms, though without any badges of rank. They had practically no theoretical tuition at all. But their practical training was very concentrated, even by Soviet standards. For them there was no shortage of ammunition. Shooting went on in their camp day and night.
The foreigners were kept in strict isolation. The only outsiders who could see them were the Soviet students and then only through the barbed wire. The total isolation had a bad effect on some of the foreign students. But since they could not break out of it, the Cuban minister of defence stepped in and ordered some girls to be sent from Cuba who were trained as nurses for partisan units at the Odessa centre. It was interesting to note that the soldiers were under training for one year and the officers for two years, but the nurses' training lasted ten years or more. At the end of their training the nurses were sent back to Cuba and some younger ones were sent to replace them. There were no more psychological problems at the training centre.
Foreigners belonging to 'liberation movements' who turn up in the Soviet Union are not generally recruited by the Soviet intelligence services. Experience has shown that the terrorist who considers himself independent and who kills people because of his own beliefs is more effective than the one who fights on the orders of other people. For his own ideas the terrorist will take risks and sacrifice his life, but he is scarcely likely to do so merely on instructions from foreigners. So why recruit him?
But there are important exceptions. Every terrorist is studied carefully during his training, and among them will be noted the potential leaders and the born rebels who will not submit to any authority. Of equal importance are the students' weaknesses and ambitions, and their relationships with one another. Some time, many years ahead, one of them may become an important leader, but not one approved by Moscow, so it is vital to know in advance who his likely friends and enemies will be.
As the students are themselves studied during training, some emerge as exceptions among the crowd and as likely material for recruitment. Recruitment at the training centres is carried on simultaneously by two different GRU organisations. The 3rd Direction recruits informers, who will subsequently remain inside the 'national liberation movements' and will pass on to the heads of the GRU the internal secrets of the movements. The 5th Directorate of the GRU recruits some of the students to be part of the spetsnaz network of agents. This is a fairly complicated process. Formally the candidate remains in his 'liberation movement' and works there. In fact he starts to operate on instructions from the GRU. It is a very delicate situation and all possible steps are taken to protect the reputation of the USSR in case of failure. With this aim in view the carefully selected candidate, unaware of his position, is transferred to training in one of the countries under Soviet influence. Recruitment then takes place, but not by Soviet Intelligence, rather by the Intelligence service of one of the Soviet satellite countries.
The recruitment of a full-blown terrorist is a very different matter from the recruitment of an informer-agent. The terrorist has to go through very tough training which becomes a daily, and a nightly nightmare. He dreams of the training coming to an end: he yearns for the real thing. The instructors talk to him and ask him what he would like, as a terrorist, to do. The terrorist tells them. The instructors then 'think about it' and a few days later tell him it is not possible. The torture of the training continues. Again the question of what he wants to do is raised, and again he is turned down. Various reasons are given for refusing him: we value your life too highly to send you on such a risky mission; such an act might have unwanted repercussions on your family, your comrades, and so on. Thus the range of choice is gradually narrowed down until the terrorist suggests exactly what the heads of Soviet Military intelligence want. They 'think about it' for a few days and finally give their agreement in such a way that it does not appear to be something wanted by the GRU but rather a compromise or a concession to the terrorist: if he really thinks it necessary to do it, no obstacles will be put in his way.
I have of course simplified a process which is in practice a very complicated affair.
The reward for the GRU is that a terrorist doing work for spetsnaz does not, in the great majority of cases, suspect he is being used. He is utterly convinced that he is acting independently, of his own will and by his own choice. The GRU does not leave its signature or his fingerprints around.
Even in cases where it is not a question of individual terrorists but of experienced leaders of terrorist organisations, the GRU takes extraordinary steps to ensure that not only all outsiders but even the terrorist leader himself should not realise the extent of his subordination to spetsnaz and consequently to the GRU. The leader of the terrorists has a vast field of action and a wide choice. But there are operations and acts of terrorism on which spetsnaz will spend any amount of money, will provide any kind of weapon, will help in obtaining passports and will organise hiding places. But there are also terrorist acts for which spetsnaz has no money, no weapons, no reliable people and no hiding places. The leader of the terrorists is at complete liberty to choose the mission he wants, but without weapons, money and other forms of support his freedom to choose is suddenly severely curtailed.