Response to a Reader’s Comment and Challenge Concerning Our Book Review of Oleg Kalugin’s First Directorate

A young KGB Lieutenant (later KGB Major General) Oleg Kalugin (center left) with his Soviet cohorts at Columbia University in 1958. For decades, foreign intelligence services have sent young officers and operatives to US colleges and universities to: prepare them to operate in the US; gain useful positions and ascend within diplomatic, intelligence, military, scientific, engineering, high-tech, business, and media organizations; or, return home to make good use of knowledge acquired. During Kalugin’s time at Columbia and years working undercover in the US, FBI counterintelligence kept a close eye on him. There were even several attempts at establishing clandestine contact with Kalugin, but the results were abysmal.

After publishing the April 30, 2020 post entitled, “Book Review: Oleg Kalugin, The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West (St. Martin’s Press, 1994)”, the fascinating memoir of Soviet super spy, former KGB Major General Oleg Danilovich Kalugin, greatcharlie received a number of comments about it almost immediately. The quondam Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB, was responsible for Soviet internal security, foreign intelligence, and counterintelligence during the greater part of the Cold War era.What readers think about greatcharlie’s posts matter to its editor, and all comments are given due consideration. Among the first comments received was one admonishing greatcharlie for its criticism of 1950s and 1960s Ffederal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence efforts to reel in the book’s author through the use of honey traps. The comment, limited to two sentences, included the phrase, “Many can criticize, but few can do better,” and attached to it was an erroneous Latin translation of that sentence, “Acta non verba.” The well-accepted translation of that well-known phrase, said to be the last words of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, is “Action, not words.” Although the word “action” is part of the phrase, the emphasis is not on one’s capability or capacity to act. The accepted interpretation of the phrase is one’s behavior should match one’s words. If the author had done a little homework, perchance the error would have been detected. Father George Ruther, S.T.D., defines a sense of humor as essentially “a balanced mind’s perception of imbalance. Unbalanced people laugh at what is not funny. Fanatics, by definition, are a little off kilter, and so they have no sense of humor.” If the intent of the reader’s comment was to be waggish, greatcharlie must admit that it has had difficulty understanding how it might be amusing. The addition of the erroneously translated Latin quote was presumably an attempt to mock, perhaps even ridicule, greatcharlie’s penchant for including Latin quotes within its essays. Seemingly, the intent of the comment’s author was not just to be plaintive, but downright negative. It was a far cry from the rather jolly messages greatcharlie usually receives from its readers.

Under normal circumstances, greatcharlie would hardly imagine its meditations on Soviet intelligence would garner interest among professionals to such a degree that any would exert time and energy into fashioning a rebuttal of this sort. Yet, it could be imagined by greatcharlie that some in the US intelligence industry or law enforcement, to include their contractors, would become a bit defensive over its analysis of Kalugin’s discussion of how the FBI counterintelligence operated against him. By the manner in which the foregoing comment was “condensed” to only two sentences strictly by the book, and other indications, the implications are that some young intelligence, counterintelligence, or federal law enforcement officer, or perhaps one wearing two of the three hats, is the comment’s most likely author. If one were to presume that the learned, insightful, forward leaning posterity of the special agents of prior decades would examine the mishandling of Kalugin’s case with a discerning professional eye, and find lessons to learn from it, one would be mistaken. Informed by experience, greatcharlie is aware that it is a predilection among not all young special agents, but some thrusting, bumptious neophytes, who in reality may be uncertain of the world around them and frightfully eager to prove something to their cohorts and to themselves, to feel compelled to seize upon an opportunity to respond defensively to anything critical of their organization without authorization. There is no need to postulate on a candidate organization in which the comment’s author very likely resides. Ascribing fault to that degree would seem a bit much for greatcharlie. It is enough to spotlight, out of mere academic interest, the many curious aspects of the comment.

The aim of greatcharlie in writing a review of Kalugin’s First Directorate was not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but rather, to present a book that provides a good framework for understanding what Russian Federation intelligence services are doing right now. To that extent, First Directorate better enables readers to peer into the future, with all of its mysteries, to better conceptualize what those intelligence services might do under the present leadership in Moscow. Most of all, the book provides a good look into the art that moved the mind of one of the most capable spymasters of the 20th century. As a practice, greatcharlie only reviews books that it enjoys and believes its readers will enjoy and will not review a book it did not find satisfying. A good book not only can edify, but allows for relaxation and refreshment, a connection to something personal or even an escape from the daily routine. By presenting what it feels are goods books, greatcharlie hopes it is helping to create such positive moments for its readers. Such was clearly not the reaction of the author of the comment to greatcharlie at issue. What intrigued greatcharlie most about the comment was the implication that proposing a more efficacious way to draw in Kalugin through clandestine contact would be too difficult if not impossible to do. What greatcharlie has set out to accomplish here, confessedly with a bit of dry humor, is meant to be instructive by demonstrating that is not the case. The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, was quoted as saying: “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”

To recapitulate the segment of the book review at issue, it was noted that FBI counterintelligence, Kalugin’s main opponent in the field in the US during the Cold War, engaged in near endless attempts to intercept him and perhaps neutralize and recruit him, came in the form of clandestine contacts. Those attempts confirmed that he had actually been under surveillance as the FBI would only have undertaken such an effort if counterintelligence managers believed that had collected enough about him and his activities that they were convinced he was a Soviet intelligence officer, that they understood how Kalugin thought, and that he would respond favorably to an effort to make clandestine contact with him. The method used by FBI counterintelligence to reach Kalugin was the employment of women as honey traps. As defined in The Dictionary of Espionage, a honey trap is a method of sexual entrapment for intelligence purposes, usually to put a target–such as Kalugin–into a compromising position so that he or she can be blackmailed. Perhaps it would be enough to say Kalugin displayed restraint and elegance in the face of advances by the female FBI counterintelligence operatives. As mentioned in the April 30, 2020 post, he displayed a sensibility akin to what the French call “bof” (whatever) to it all.

Surely, Kalugin was neither ignorant of, nor surprised by, such attempts. Perchance, he just never considered getting involved with such nonsense  or pondered having anything to do with such women while on the beat. His resistance to such abysmal efforts at manipulation might also simply be chalked up by some to Kalugin’s self-discipline, his Apollonian nature. In the field, Kalugin was always dedicated to his country, the Communist Movement, and his mission. He was laser focused on his responsibilities as a KGB officer to spot potential recruits, collect information, even passively, and report observations, engage in active measures, and not fall prey to the women used against him. Still, Kalugin’s response should not be underestimated, it spoke much about his character. There would likely be more than a few trained intelligence officers, and certainly ordinary individuals, who would have succumbed to their pressure.

The reality that Kalugin when on the beat in the US was an attractive, intelligent, charming, debonair, and thoroughly married KGB officer under 40-years-old should not be ignored. If greatcharlie’s understanding of humanity is correct, on first impression, one would hardly get the idea that Kalugin would ever be so desperate for female companionship. One could imagine that meeting attractive women anywhere by no means would have been a problem for him. If anything, Kalugin would be the type to act, not react, in an amorous situation, and would not be drawn in by any enticements. Interestingly enough, he seemed to have been made curious about what would cause the women involved to willingly dispose of their virtue, as it was the late 1950s and early 1960s, and such behavior by women was generally frowned upon in the society. His discussion of the entire matter from that perspective demonstrated that he has quite an attractive wit.

Repeatedly attempting to ensnare Kalugin with their sensual masquerades, which was the case, became just silly. Perhaps what drove the continuous use of honey traps against Kalugin was the  proof and precedence of previous successes with less capable, less adroit, or simply inept KGB officers, along with some likely unsupported, doctrinaire, Cold War era preconceptions concerning the Russian male libido, convinced FBI counterintelligence of the correctness and efficaciousness of that method of clandestine contact with Kalugin. The focus was on the physical, the carnal, not the intellectual. Even at the most elementary level of decisionmaking on the matter, some recognition that a mental attraction, some cerebral connection between Kalugin and a female operative foisted upon him might be required. In the intelligence game, nothing about making contact with an opponent in the field can be considered too trivial to disregard. Yet, that aspect was apparently ignored or disregarded by the FBI, presumably counting upon an id-explosion that would overwhelm Kalugin. It was a considerable miscalculation. The failure to open the door to Kalugin in the first few tries resulted in repeated attempts by the FBI to kick it in. Non omnibus ægris eadem auxilia conveniunt. (The same remedies do not suit every patient.)

Regarding the FBI counterintelligence special agents who pursued him, their efforts may also have been a shrieking manifestation of their own thinking, a projection of their own desires and needs. After Kalugin gave professional consideration to using his personal appearance and attributes and those of other handsome males and females to further the KGB’s mission, he loosed those alluring qualities as weapons very effectively against Western officials and especially secretaries working in key offices in the US foreign and national security policy apparatus when he believed something considerable could be gained by doing so.

In First Directorate, Kalugin discusses a remarkable document which he claims to have received from a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer entitled “Detection and Approaches to Psychologically Vulnerable Subjects of the Enemy.” The long paper cited US efforts to recruit Soviets worldwide and painted a portrait of Soviet citizens most likely to become spies. Kalugin quoted part of the document which was still in his possession when he wrote, First Directorate. Cited here is everything that Kalugin quoted, too precious to compress:

Soviet citizens are a highly disciplined group of people who have undergone extensive indoctrination, who are vigilant and extremely suspicious. Russians are very proud and extremely sensitive to any signs of disrespect. At the same time, many of them are adventurous, and they seek to break free from existing restrictions.

Acts of betrayal, whether, in the form of espionage or defection, are in almost every case committed by morally or psychologically unsteady people. Treachery is essentially atypical of Soviet citizens. That can be concluded from the fact that of the hundreds of thousands of Soviets who have been abroad, only a few dozen turned traitors, and only several of those became our agents. Normal, psychologically-stable people–connected with their country by close ethnic, national, cultural, social, family ties–cannot take such a step. The simple principle is confirmed by our experience of Soviet defectors. All of them are single. In every case, they had a serious vice or weakness: alcoholism, deep depression, psychopathy of various types. These factors were in most cases decisive in making traitors of them. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that no [CIA] operative can consider himself an expert in Soviet affairs if he hasn’t had the horrible experience of holding a Soviet friend’s head over the sink as he poured out the contents of his stomach after a five-day drinking bout.

What follows from that is that our efforts must mostly be directed against weak, unsteady members of Soviet communities. Among normal people, we should pay special attention to the middle-aged. . . . People that age are starting their descent from the physiological peak. They are no longer children and they suddenly face the acute realization that their life is passing, that their ambitions and youthful dreams have not come true in full or even in part. At this age comes the breaking point in a man’s career when he faces the gloomy prospect of pending retirement and old age. . . . The stormy forties are of great interest to a [CIA] operative.

The document Kalugin describes specifically concerned the recruitment of Soviet agents by CIA case officers and not FBI counterintelligence, but one might fairly assess that there were sufficient similarities with regard to tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of recruitment. Even so, none of the negative qualities described in the alleged official document Kalugin collected from the CIA traitor could be ascribed to him. He was nothing close to a luckless joe. As already enlarged upon, Kalugin was at all a “soft touch.” Oddly enough, the document’s author, imaginably an expert, unskillfully interchanged the national identity of “Soviet” with “Russian.” Even more, there is a discernible flavor of bias against Russians as an ethnic group in the words of the document’s author. What greatcharlie sought to illuminate along similar lines in its review was that bias and surmisal appeared to serve as the basis for developing the FBI’s plan for establishing clandestine contact with Kalugin. That choice left FBI counterintelligence operating in darkness, unsure of each step. Focus could have been placed on Kalugin’s known interests and strengths in a surprising and pleasing, yet entirely plausible way. Here is a quote from Augustus Caesar in which the author of the comment to greatcharlie might be interested: “Iuvenes quibus auditis senex iuvenes senes cum audierint.” (Young men, hear an old man to whom old men hearkened when he was young.)

A “Target-centric” Proposal for Clandestine Contact with Kalugin:

One learns in First Directorate is that a recreational interest of Kalugin in New York was attending The Metropolitan Opera. The FBI would certainly call it a “friendly” organization, and its staff, much as today, would gladly agree to any requests made of it by counterintelligence special agents. During an intermission, a casual encounter, seemingly occurring purely by happenstance could be arranged between Kalugin and a highly skilled operative posing as a frightfully pleasant beau monde and opera devotee, absolutely familiar with opera and the management of The Metropolitan Opera. Appropriately, the operative would need to be a refined, well spoken academic or scholar with considerable credentials in order to reduce the chance that Kalugin would be annoyed or bored by the conversation. That conversation could have led to a tantalizing invitation, to all appearances on a lark, to perform as a guest singer with The Metropolitan Opera Chorus. The invitation would be compelled by the FBI operatives recognition of “the scintillating quality and shocking potential of his voice.” The very brief embedding of journalists, which was after all Kalugin’s KGB cover, in such groups to write interesting stories about them from the inside was not something too unusual. Kalugin had already demonstrated that he liked to get involved in the nitty-gritty of things. Recall that at Columbia University, he did not just matriculate but became a member of the Student Body Council! The effort would be made to subsume Kalugin in a type of on-the-job, rapid training for an upcoming performance. To perform, Kalugin would not need to be proficient in a language of the opera, Italian, French, or German. (Kalugin was proficient in German.) He could easily perform lyrics using phonetical singing. That challenge might further interest him in the whole idea. His training for the performance could have been amply provided by a very capable member of the opera chorus, recruited and rapidly, but thoroughly trained to serve effectively as an FBI counterintelligence operative for a bit of time before the initial contact is attempted. The interactions between Kalugin and the operative could have been designed to lead to the ostensible development of a friendship between them.

Without fleshing out the entire hypothetical proposal, suffice it to say, the approach presented here would have been a plausible, thoughtful way to establish what was so difficult, clandestine contact with Kalugin. Hopefully, presenting it has not furthered any undeserved notion that greatcharlie has sought to be beastly toward US intelligence and counterintelligence services and law enforcement. It would be intriguing to hear Kalugin’s assessment of the proposal’s prospect for success. Periculosum est credere et non credere; ergo exploranda est veritas, multum prius quam stulta prave judicet sententia. (It is equally dangerous to believe and to disbelieve; therefore search diligently into the truth rather than form foolish ideas that would pervert your judgment.)

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