Monday, October 27, 2014

KGB Survelllance, Embassy Moscow 1977

With the renewal of some aspects of the Cold War, articles are once again appearing describing the increasing harassment and surveillance that our personnel at Embassy Moscow are experiencing.  None of this, of course, is new, but we still have some way to go before the treatment of our diplomats descends to the levels it reached under Brezhnev, Khrushchev, and especially Stalin.  Here are my own memories of my first few days in Moscow back in July of 1977, which included my first encounter with the KGB.

George Kennan once wrote that “The Moscow police…are instructed to view with suspicion diplomats found to be anywhere except in an automobile, in a museum, or at the Swan Lake ballet.”  I quickly learned the truth of this statement from firsthand experience.  On one of my first evenings in town, I was invited to a party at Kutuzovskiy 7, one of the huge apartment complexes across the river from the Embassy.  K-7 was mainly populated by foreigners, and closely guarded by the Soviets.  Since it was close by, I struck out on foot from the Embassy, figuring I could walk the distance in twenty or thirty minutes.  It was dark when I started out, and I soon lost my way.  I found myself walking in the middle of a small park in the direction of the Kutuzovskiy Bridge, when suddenly I realized that a couple of cars were shadowing me.  Both were black Volgas, and clearly official-looking, with rather unusual antennae sticking out of their roofs.  One Volga stopped about fifty feet in front of my position, the other in back.  I pretended not to notice and just kept on walking until I was able to find a sidewalk and get back on track.  I later learned that the KGB tailed most people when they first arrived, in order to determine the pattern of their activities.  Usually, once they had decided that the new arrival was no threat, they would stop the surveillance.  In my case, overt surveillance stopped after a very short while.

I was far from the only American under KGB scrutiny.  Just a few days later, on July 15, 1977, the KGB picked up another Embassy Officer, Martha Peterson, at the Krasnoluzhskiy Bridge, and accused her of servicing a dead drop for a Soviet agent.  The incident was hushed up at the time, but became public in June, 1978, in retaliation for the U.S. arrest of Soviet spies in the United States.  Izvestiya published a picture of Martha sitting defiantly next to our very dejected-looking Consul General Cliff Gross, with spy paraphernalia spread out before them.  Izvestiya even accused her of being an accessory to murder, which was a complete falsehood.  Martha later wrote about her experiences in her memoir, “The Widow Spy.”

The KGB liked to promote the impression that it was all-seeing and all-powerful, but even the massive counterintelligence assets maintained by the Soviets did not have enough resources to follow everybody.  They stayed on obvious targets, of course, like Gardner “Gus” Hathaway, then Moscow Station Chief.  Gus reported that most of the time he was more escorted, than followed, by a flotilla of minders.  Such activities were a waste of time, however, since others were doing the real field work.  For example, one of my contemporaries, legendary Case Officer John Guilsher, seemed to be able to evade Soviet surveillance when the need arose.


In later years, I came to realize that KGB physical surveillance came in many forms.  There was the invisible cocoon, which I was in when I first arrived in Moscow, that could collapse in on a target with frightening speed, and then there was the lockstep surveillance that was endured by obvious targets like Gus, or by those the KGB felt needed some corrective harassment.  And there were many stages in between.  I experienced many kinds of physical surveillance during my Foreign Service career, and, at least when the KGB was behind it, things were done very professionally.

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