We can define an illegal as an officer of strategic intelligence performing the tasks of the Centre on the territory of a foreign state, who passes himself off as a foreigner but not as a Soviet citizen. Illegals are frequently confused with agents, but these are completely different things. The crucial difference is that the agent is an inhabitant of a foreign country who has been recruited by, and works in the interest of, Soviet intelligence, whereas an illegal is first and foremost a Soviet officer passing himself off as a foreigner. Sometimes some of the most valuable and deserving agents receive Soviet citizenship as an incentive and are awarded the rank of an officer of the GRU or the KGB, but even so, an agent remains an agent. However, in the occasional case when a foreigner has been recruited by Soviet intelligence and for some reason or other changes his appearance or name and continues his activities with false documents, then he is called an illegal agent.
Both the GRU and the KGB have their own illegal networks, but these are completely independent one from the other. Each organisation selects, trains, prepares, deploys and utilises its illegals as it sees fit. In the same way each organisation separately works out principles, methods of work and technical details of the illegal system separately. The system of running illegals is entirely different in the two services. In the KGB there is a special directorate of illegal activities. In the GRU, all illegals are trained in a training centre under the leadership of Lieutenant-General V. T. Guryenko. After their training, the illegals are put at the disposal of the heads of the four geographical directorates and are controlled personally by them. Thus each directorate head supervises a number of directions and separately a group of illegals. In order to help him, the directorate head can call on a small group of advisers consisting in the main of former illegals (though not 'blown' ones) who are ready at any moment, using false papers, to go to the target country and 'fine-tune' and help the activities of the illegal networks. Directorate heads themselves frequently travel abroad for the same reasons. A number of the more important illegals are directly controlled by the first deputy head of the GRU, and there is a cream who are under the personal supervision of the head of the GRU. Thus both one and the other have small groups consisting of the most experienced and successful illegals who have returned from abroad and who exercise supervision over the daily running of the illegals. If a young illegal begins to acquire really interesting information he is transferred from the control of the head of a directorate to that of the first deputy or, in the case of even greater success, to that of the head of the GRU himself. This is, of course, a very high honour, granted only to those who return information of a very high calibre -unprecedented or highly classified material which produces an intelligence breakthrough. Equally an illegal may be demoted for failing to produce the goods. In certain cases his grade may fall below that which is supervised by the head of a directorate and he will be supervised only by the head of a direction. This is a very critical stage for the illegal, although he may not even be able to guess that it has happened. If he is demoted to direction head level — and he is, of course, not informed about this -the next step could well be a recall to the Soviet Union, regarded by all intelligence personnel as the direst form of punishment. Recall to the Soviet Union is a particularly effective measure against any Soviet citizen serving abroad. It is all the same to them whether they are in Paris or in Pnom Penh. The only important thing is that they should not be in the Soviet Union, and transfer to the Soviet Union, even on promotion, is regarded as the tragedy of a lifetime.
The selection of potential illegals is carried out by each of the four geographical directorates independently. Candidates are selected on the basis of future requirements. In basic terms, officers of the Soviet Army and Navy are used who as yet may know nothing about the GRU. Sometimes experienced officers of the GRU are used, those who have completed the Military-Diplomatic Academy and have already worked in intelligence or in the information processing departments. Sometimes the GRU will select for illegal activities young Soviet citizens, mainly those who have completed linguistic courses in higher education. Higher education is an essential requirement, therefore the minimum age at which a recruit will begin his training is 21 to 23 years.
Although General Guryenko's organisation is called the Training Centre', not one Soviet illegal who has defected has ever been able to say exactly where it is. The name Training Centre seems simply to reflect the existence of one organisation occupied with one task. Either the organisation is constantly on the move, or a secluded little place is selected for each individual trainee, normally in the Moscow area where there are great numbers of dachas. The dachas for the training of illegals are well concealed among other governmental buildings, where outsiders are not to be seen on the streets and unnecessary questions are not asked, but gentlemen of sporting appearance may be seen walking in pairs in the quiet shady avenues. The dacha provides an ideally isolated territory for training. In addition to the candidate and his family, two or three instructors also live in the dacha where they can immerse him completely and supervise him very carefully all the time. His wife is also trained but the children lead normal lives and will be held eventually as hostages. The internal fittings of the dacha are prepared very thoroughly and carefully. From the first day the candidate becomes accustomed to the circumstances in which he will be living and working probably for many long years. In this connection he wears the clothes and shoes, and eats the food, even smokes cigarettes and uses razor blades procured from overseas. In each room a tape recorder is installed which runs twenty-four hours a day while he is occupying the dacha. These tape recorders continuously broadcast news from the radio programmes of his target country. From the first day of his training he is supplied with the majority of papers and magazines. He sees many films and descriptions on video tapes of television broadcasts. The instructors, for the most part former illegals, read the same papers and listen to the same radio programmes and spend their time asking their pupil the most difficult questions imaginable with regard to what has been read. It is quite obvious that after a number of years of such training, the future illegal knows by heart the composition of every football team, the hours of work of every restaurant and nightclub, the weather forecasts and everything that is going on in the realm of gossip as well as current affairs, in a country where he has never been in his life. The instructional programme is tailor-made for each trainee, giving due consideration to his knowledge, character and the tasks which he will be called upon to perform in the future. Attention is obviously paid to the study of the language of the target country, to working methods and to a cover story.
Often, the illegal's wife also undergoes training. She as a rule works as the radio operator. The posting of a husband and wife together, leaving their children behind as hostages, is a very frequent occurrence. It is considered that maternal feelings are much the stronger and, with the wife posted, hostages are that much more effective. Perhaps more surprisingly, the wife also acts as a control for the GRU on her husband. She scrutinises his behaviour and sometimes may warn the GRU about his excessive interest in women or alcohol. On their return to the Soviet Union, husband and wife are subjected to a detailed individual debriefing on all aspects of their life abroad. If the husband and wife have decided to keep something secret from the GRU, their stories will eventually differ.
After as much as three or four years of intensive training, the illegal passes a state commission of top GRU and Central Committee personnel, and goes abroad. Usually his journey to the target country is effected through a number of intermediary countries. For example, a journey to the USA would go from the Soviet Union to Hungary to Yugoslavia to Cyprus, Kuwait, Hong Kong and Hawaii. At each stage, or most of them, he destroys documents with which he has entered the country and goes on under new documentation which has been prepared for him, either by other illegals or by the residencies under cover. The illegal will find these documents in a reserved hotel or a steamship cabin or in a letter through the post. At each stage he goes on to another cover story, becoming another man. He may have to live in one place for some months and study it so he can use his knowledge of the country in future cover stories. He does not stop over at all in some of the countries, only using his visit to cover his tracks. After some months he arrives at the country where he is to work. The first thing he does is to visit the city where he is supposed to have been born, gone to school, and married. He gets a job and works for a time, after which he returns to the Soviet Union, having finished the second stage of his training — the illegal probationary period abroad. This probationary period is divided as a rule into one or two years, after which the third stage begins. On the basis of the experience he has gained, and the shortcomings which have come to light in the training, the illegal and his instructors work out a programme of training for a period which lasts another one or two years. After this he again undergoes state examinations, at which the head of the GRU or his first deputy have to be present. Then the illegal is placed at the disposal of one of the heads of directorates and again commences the operation for his roundabout journey to the target country. For operational purposes (though not for instructional purposes) much use is made of Finland as a window to the West. In the course of his operational journey, the illegal's stay in one of the intermediate countries may continue for several years. This stage goes by the name of the 'intermediate legalisation'. To take the case of an illegal whose target destination is Washington: he might pretend to be a refugee from Hungary escaped in 1956; this would mean periods of residence in Hungary to begin with, then Austria and Germany before he arrives finally in America. An eventual French illegal would be likely to make the journey via Armenia and Lebanon. Both would consolidate their nationality every step of the way. In the course of the 'intermediate legalisation', the illegal endeavours to acquire as many friends as possible, to go to work, to get hold of genuine papers and character and work references. At the end of these years of preparation, he at last appears in the country where he is to spend so many more years endeavouring to do it as much harm as possible.
The minimum age of an illegal clearly cannot be less than twenty-seven to twenty-nine, but usually he is older, on average about forty. This age suits the GRU very well for a number of reasons. A man of forty has a balanced, conservative approach to life. The stormy passions of youth have disappeared and he is less inclined to take ill-considered decisions, especially if he ever suffers the dilemma of whether to continue working or to go to the police. His children are sufficiently old to be able to live without their parents in the complete care of the GRU, but not old enough to live independently, and so they are ideal hostages. And in the event of mobilisation in the target country, he may well be able to avoid being called up for the army which would mean the breaking-off of relations and an end to his active working life.
On his arrival at his objective, the illegal sets about basic legalisation. He has been provided with good papers by the best forgers of the GRU on genuine blank passports. At the same time he is extremely vulnerable if he is not registered with the police or the tax departments. Any check may give him away and for this reason he endeavours to change jobs and places of work often to get his name onto as many company lists as he can and to acquire character references signed by real people. The ideal solution is for him to obtain new documentation from the police department under some pretext or another. Often he will marry another agent (who may already be his wife); she will then be given a genuine passport, and he will 'lose' his false one to have it replaced with a real one on the production of his wife's genuine document. The acquisition of a driving licence, credit cards, membership documents of clubs and associations are a vital element in 'legalising' the status of an illegal.
A vital role in the lives of illegals is played by cover stories, in other words concocted life stories. The basic or ground cover story is created on the basis of real events in the life of the illegal, only changing a few details. He keeps the date of his birth but of course changes the place of his birth. The dates of birth of his parents and relatives are also accurately recorded, usually along with the professions of his parents, dates of weddings and other details. The illegal is thus not telling an out-and-out lie but only a half-truth. He will not bat an eyelid when he tells you that his father served all his life in the army. The only thing is that he will not tell you in which army he served.
There is also the emergency cover story, which is the last line of defence of the illegal on having been arrested by the police. As its name suggests, this cover story is only to be used as a last resort when the illegal perceives that the police no longer believe his basic cover story. Designed to be used only when the illegal is in the hands of the police department, it is concocted in such a way that the details it gives should be impossible to check. For example, one illegal was arrested by the police while he was trying to obtain a new driving licence because a mistake had been found in his old one. He was subjected to questioning, as a result of which his basic cover story was found to be inaccurate. Then he went over to his emergency cover story and informed the police that he was a Polish criminal who had escaped from prison and bought a passport on the black market. During this time the GRU, not having received from the illegal his routine communications, informed the Polish authorities about the 'criminal'. The Poles published photographs of the criminal and applied to a number of countries for his extradition. However strange it may seem, the police believed the story and handed him over to the Polish Consul. It would have been easy to break the emergency cover story, if the police had only thought to invite a real Polish immigrant for a ten-minute chat with his supposed fellow countryman. Of course he would not have known more than ten words of the language. But for the police it was sufficient that he spoke their language and did not object to being handed over to the Polish Consul.
No less important than the cover story is the cover or the place of work and the type of employment which the illegal takes up in his life overseas. Soviet propaganda paints a grave picture of the intelligence officer playing the role of a colonel in the enemy general staff. But this is pure disinformation. Such a cover is unacceptable to an illegal for a number of reasons. Firstly, he must keep himself away from counter-intelligence and the police. He must be a grey, inconspicuous 'man in the street' such as millions would hurry past without noticing. Any officer on any Western general staff is continuously under scrutiny. Secondly, he must be professional in his field. In the general staff he would be exposed almost immediately. Thirdly, for such a cover his legalisation would have to be unacceptably protracted. He would certainly be asked about the military schools and academies where he is supposed to have been, the regiments in which he has served, and his acquaintances among the officers and staff. Fourthly, an illegal needs plenty of time and opportunity to meet whoever he wants to meet. If a colonel on the general staff consorted with prostitutes, homosexuals, stockbrokers, atomic submarine workers and bootblacks — all those multifarious people he needs to cultivate — he would be exposed within forty-eight hours. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the requirements of the GRU change with great rapidity. Today they are interested in documents from a certain department of the general staff and tomorrow from another. But our illegal is working in yet another department and all his attempts to have talks with officers of the first two departments have been met with a blank wall or cold suspicion. No, the kind of cover offered by such a role is neither feasible nor a great deal of use.
Much better for him to be an independent journalist like Richard Sorge, or an independent artist like Rudolph Abel, coming and going as he pleases. Today he is talking with the Prime Minister, tomorrow with prostitutes, the next day with professional killers and then with atomic weapon workers. If he doesn't want to work for three months, there is no problem. If he gets many thousands of dollars through the post, again no problem. It is part of his cover. There are better, of course. A garage owner, for example. He hires his staff and himself goes wherever he wants and for as long as he wants, or he stands at the window and takes the money. Thousands of people pass him every day -ballerinas and artists, senators and scientists — and colonels of the general staff. To one he gives money and instructions written in secret writing, from another he receives reports. For the basic task of the illegal is not himself to penetrate secret targets, but to recruit agents for this purpose. This is his raison d'etre.
An illegal residency is an intelligence organisation comprising a minimum of two illegals, usually the resident and a wireless operator, and a small number of agents (at least one) working for them. We already know that illegals themselves, without agents, are not able to obtain anything. Gradually, as a result of recruiting new agents, the residency may increase in size. More illegals may be sent out to the resident, one of whom may become his assistant. The GRU considers it counter— productive to have large residencies. Five illegals and eight to ten agents are considered the maximum, but usually the residencies are much smaller than this. In cases where the recruitment of new agents has gone well the GRU prudently divides the residency in two parts. Thereafter any contact between the two new residencies is of course forbidden, so that if one residency is discovered the other does not suffer.