KGB’s most dangerous officer unveils secrets of Soviet intelligence

Western counterintelligence agencies attempted to re-recruit Soviet agents; several traitors defected to the West, and some Soviet diplomats committed adultery in “the ways that defy imagination,” according to Viktor Budanov, a former chief of the KGB’s Directorate K. The Directorate K, one of several sub-directorates within the First Chief Directorate (external intelligence) of the KGB, was disbanded following the August 1991 events. The Soviet-era defector Oleg Gordievsky described Budanov as the KGB’s grimmest and most dangerous person. Viktor Budanov speaks with correspondent Ilya Tarasov:

Q: Mr. Budanov, what kind of operations your highly secret division of the KGB was involved in? Why do you think a number of former Chekists refer to it as SMERSH (a Russian acronym for Smert’ Shpionam or “Death to Spies,” a specialized counterintelligence department of the Soviet military intelligence during WWII) operating within the KGB?

A: The Directorate K was responsible for internal security to support the KGB intelligence operations in foreign countries. I was in charge of that service for quite a long time. Those in other KGB departments involved in gathering of political intelligence and personnel of various Soviet organizations working abroad often painted our directorate as something horrible. I do know that a number of awe-inspiring epithets including ‘SMERSH’ were used for describing the Directorate K.

As a man who started on the lowest rung of the ladder to reach its highest one, I am confident that a division responsible for internal security of an external intelligence agency is absolutely essential for conducting all intelligence operations. Incidentally, a similar division exists within the United States’ CIA.

Keeping our own agents under surveillance was not the main task of our directorate. No doubt about it, we kept watch on some of them who had started causing damage to our country by cooperating with the intelligence agencies of target countries. I would like to stress the point that we kept the suspects under surveillance only in case we had irrefutable evidence of their double-dealing. Obtaining reliable information with regard to security of all foreign intelligence operations carried out by the KGB was the main task assigned to the directorate. We were also responsible for maintaining security at the Soviet organizations operating abroad.

Penetrating foreign intelligence and security agencies by recruiting their members was part of our core activities. Penetrations were necessary for double-checking information gathered by our agents. The operations were also a must for checking our own intelligence personnel or controllers, who worked with every important human sources of information.

Q: Did your personnel even plant bugs in agents’ apartments or install cut-out dead drops or radio contact devices in a fashion described in TASS is Authorized to State, a novel by Y. Semionov?

A: Maintaining communication between an agent and his controllers is the weakest link when it comes to security of any intelligence operation. The so-called anonymous or cut-out means f communication have been used by intelligence agencies all over the world. Advanced cut-out communications are still actively used for espionage purposes by the intelligence agencies of major Western countries e.g. United States, which have carried out and continue to carry out intelligence-gathering operations against our country.

In fact, cut-out communications yield the best results because they allow an intelligence agency to use its human source within a target country for a longer period.

However, it does not mean that a human source is completely incapable of being compromised. The KGB used a variety of methods aimed at detecting double agents with whom enemy intelligence agencies maintained contact via cut-out communications. On the other hand, there was no way we could wiretap the phones of every officer of the First Chief Directorate or the phones used by personnel of the Soviet Foreign Ministry. We would not able to do the job because the First Chief Directorate had no equipment to support such operations. Besides, we always strictly followed the letter of the law, at least during my time with counterintelligence and intelligence divisions of the KGB of the Soviet Union. I never had to launch an operation that could have broken the law effective in the territory of the Soviet Union.

Q: There was a security officer in every Soviet embassy. Is it true that such an officer had unlimited powers for keeping an eye on any event that took place on the embassy premises?

A: Soviet embassies and other establishments abroad have always had to use services provided by security officers. Nowadays the Russian diplomats rely on their services too. Not only Russia has security officers in its foreign establishments. It is a standard practiceused by a number of Western countries. For instance, the FBI officers or security service personnel of the Department of States are assigned to U.S. embassies and other establishments located in foreign countries.

I happen to personally know an officer in charge of security of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Compared to the Soviet press during perestroika, neither America’s right-wing media nor its left-wing media is raising a hue a cry against U.S. security agencies, which allegedly keep control not over the American people but the U.S. government as well.

Q: Is it true that Soviet ambassadors in different counties of the world were afraid of the KGB security officers, especially those with the Directorate K?

A: Unfortunately, many Soviet ambassadors and their accountants were involved in the embezzlement of the state property and funds at the embassies. Those ambassadors would take their accountants to another country in case of a new assignment. They would try to pay off security officers, to make them part of a scheme. If security officers refused to compromise with their principles, those swindlers took steps to get rid of them as soon as possible.

The ambassadors who performed their duties in line with the rule and did everything in all reason and fairness had no trouble in working with security officers assigned to their embassies. In the embassies that fell under the above category, security officers were instrumental in providing security to all the personnel of a Soviet diplomatic establishment. The work of a security officer always yielded necessary results to prevent recruitment of an embassy staff or an officer with the First Chief Directorate. There were numerous cases when ambassadors and their sidekicks behaved as if they had absolute power within the embassy. If no control was in place, they at times took to drink; they embezzled funds and committed adultery in every imaginable way. Those cases were promptly reported to Moscow by security officers and their superiors, legal residents’ deputies responsible for counterintelligence, who were also part of the Directorate K.

Q: There were defectors in any intelligence service, and the KGB was not an exception to the rule either. Oleg Gorgievsky, deputy head for political intelligence at the British legal residency, was one of those who caused damage to the operations of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate.

In 1985, he was recalled to the Soviet Union, where he would have gone on trial if had not managed to flee the country right from the noses of his KGB surveillants. Was Gordievsky exposed through the efforts of the Directorate K?

A: That’s correct. It is the Directorate K that carried out the work to expose Oleg Gordievsky as a British mole. Personnel of the Directorate not only managed to identify a mole within the KGB legal residency in London, they also succeeded in safely transporting Gordievsky and members of his family to the Soviet Union. As far as I am concerned, the then chief of the KGB Counterintelligence Directorate was to blame for Gordievsky’s subsequent escape from the KGB sanatorium near Leningrad. The British managed to smuggle Gordievsky into a safe house by putting him in the trunk of a car of the British Embassy. It was not the kind of a getaway the Soviet counterintelligence service was ready to foil at the time. I believe it would be interesting for Gordievsky to know that I was quite flattered after coming across “the grimmest and most dangerous man within the KGB” – the way he characterizes Budanov in his book. His description helped me back then and it still helps me do my today’s work. His compliment is especially dear to me because I got it from an enemy agent who was identified by me personally among hundreds of officers serving with the First Chief Directorate of the KGB.

Q: The Directorate K had full information with regard to Gordievsky’s whereabouts in Britain. The same applied to the location of a GRU officer who compromised all the agents of an illegal residency in Vienna, and later wrote several books under an alias of Suvorov. However, the KGB has not assassinated defectors since the early 1960s, according to members of the Soviet and Russian intelligence and security services. Do you agree to this statement?

A: Lots of scary stories were made up about the atrocities allegedly committed by the Directorate K. Traitors and defectors, those mentioned above inclusive, were kept under surveillance, it is a fact. But they did not know that we were watching them. Contrary to sensational reports spread far and wide by the so-called “democratic media” in perestroika times, the KGB has never carried out any assassination operations against the Soviet defectors.

Viktor Budanov was interviewed by Ilya Tarasov.

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov