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The KGB - someone still us



The KGB: "They Still Need Us"

By Natalia Gevorkian

In the fall of 1991, many of my colleagues, including Americans, congratulated me on the abolition of the KGB. They honestly believed this monster could be simply dismissed, like school classes canceled because of a blizzard. These colleagues also inquired with sympathy how the KGB's passing would affect me, since for the past three years my assignment had been to cover the security service.

In the fall of 1992, I recalled those wonderful, naïve post-coup conversations. I remembered them while walking in Gorky Park with a production team from the CBS program, Street Story, in the cold Moscow rain. They were working on a program about how the KGB could continue to function so well when it no longer existed.

This paradox can be explained. It is not so easy to kill the secret police. Since 1917, when Felix Dzerzhinsky began to build the backbone of the police state at Moscow's Lubyanka Prison, the KGB has amassed vast powers. Such an institution fights to survive; it does not simply melt away. This is a chronological account of the KGB's "death" and its rebirth in the months since August 1991.

Down . . .

On August 21, Vladimir Kryuchkov, KGB head and one of the leaders of the coup, was arrested. The staff of the KGB immediately began destroying both working papers and KGB archives. The next day, a reformer, Vadim Bakatin, was appointed in Kryuchkov's place. Bakatin's first order was to end the destruction of the archives. With Bakatin in place, the entire KGB board resigned by the end of August.

In September, a number of republics, including Ukraine, declared that they would nationalize KGB property on their territories and transform local KGB operations into their own national security services. On September 24, Bakatin fired the KGB's remaining ideological managers, who had destroyed the lives of so many of the intelligentsia, expelled writers, and confined dissidents to mental institutions. (In Gorbachev's era, these managers had been deemed still necessary to defend the Soviet constitutional regime!)

After Bakatin got rid of these managers, former ideological counterintelligence agents again attempted to destroy as many documents and archives as possible.

On October 24, Mikhail Gorbachev signed a decree abolishing the KGB. The following functions were transferred to other government departments:

n The foreign intelligence service was placed under the direction of Evgeni Primakov-no stranger to the former KGB intelligence headquarters at Jasenevo, according to some sources, who say that Primakov first worked with the KGB in the mid-1960s when he was a special correspondent for Pravda in the Far East.

n Just as the other republics had claimed KGB assets on their territory, the Russian KGB (later named the Agency of Federal Security of the Russian Federation) took over territorial management within the Russian republic, observation, and wiretapping.

n The defense service was transferred to the direct control of the president.

n The KGB's special troops were transferred to the defense department, as were defense information management, electronic observation stations, and the committee on frontier armies. The committee on government relations was also transferred.

The Interregional Security Service (counterintelligence, military counterintelligence, anti-organized crime operations, and technical operations management) remained under Bakatin.

. . . But not out

As power was transferred from Gorbachev to Boris Yeltsin on December 19, 1991, however, Yeltsin signed a decree creating the Ministry of Security and Internal Affairs (MBVD), and he appointed a former Soviet interior minister, Gen. Viktor Barannikov, to head it. In January 1992, when a constitutional court declared this decree unconstitutional, Yeltsin removed both Bakatin and the head of the Russian republic's KGB, combined their duties, and appointed Barannikov to head a new ministry of national security that incorporated both of their agencies.

On March 5, another new law placed this security agency under the direct authority of the "security council," which is headed by President Yeltsin. March also saw the passage of a new law on investigations that gave the "special services" the power to break into private living quarters and other places without following normal legal procedures. This law also established that any information about agents of the special services was a state secret.

In June, the government announced a "public cleansing" in Lubyanka: the chief of counterintelligence and a number of financial managers were removed. A spokesman explained that Bakatin had brought this garbage into the agency. (It seems that a powerful internal security apparatus has been created within the ministry- they spy on their own, perhaps so the professionals do not get bored.)

In July, Yeltsin issued another decree, granting even more power and a more important role to the security council. The secretary of the council was given responsibility for "coordinating the activities of the organs of the executive power in the process of realizing resolutions."

In October, again by decree, the Russian frontier armies were brought back into the security service. With this last decree, the most significant step toward reforming the KGB was canceled. Bakatin had removed a 240,000 military force from the KGB structure; Barannikov has now brought them back.

What are the next steps? The return of government relations, wiretapping, and security seems possible. It is also possible that foreign intelligence will be brought back.

"Somebody still needs us"

What were we fighting for, and where are we now? My colleague Zhenya Albats and I wrote in July that it was not too late to retrieve the old KGB sign from the dust of the Lubyanka basement.

The new Ministry of Security has the same powers as the old KGB: it operates in accordance with the same internal instructions as before-instructions that define the unchanging methods and forms of secret service work. And it has kept control of KGB archives and documents, which not only allow it to manipulate public opinion, but also to exercise control over the fate of individuals, including politicians. This is true of both the domestic and foreign intelligence services.

It is significant that the current security chief is Viktor Barannikov. According to some sources, he is especially close to the president, and this has had a positive effect on secret service morale. To a journalist, the change is obvious-the people at Lubyanka are much calmer; they feel free to shoo the press away, and even to arrest someone who writes for a newspaper, something that would have seemed impossible several years ago.

For instance, two years ago Moscow News published an interview with Gen. Oleg Kalugin, whose revelations deeply embarrassed the KGB. Officially, the KGB charged him with revealing state secrets. The authorities took away his general's stripes and his pension, but they did not put him in prison.

In autumn 1992, the same Moscow News published an article by a chemist, Vil Mirsayanov, who revealed that Russia is producing secret, undeclared chemical weapons. The KGB arrested Mirsayanov for revealing a state secret, and held him in prison for 10 days without letting him see an attorney.

So in the end the KGB has managed to remain true to itself-and exactly where you would expect to find it. And why? One KGB veteran asked me, "Have you ever thought why all of us exist? Perhaps because we are who we are, and, as such, somebody still needs us." I do not think I need to explain the way they are, or who it is that needs them.

The events of August 1991 presented a wonderful opportunity to destroy a hated agency that had spilled the blood of millions, and to create a national security service on the basis of genuine need. This opportunity did not just slip away. The only person who might have destroyed the monster-Vadim Bakatin, who remained on the job for only four months-was removed at the exact moment that the authorities realized that he might actually dismantle the entire apparatus.

They appointed a new head, one who is slowly restoring everything Bakatin broke off; Barannikov is rebuilding both the former structure and the former power of the organization. It can only be that today's authorities still want this organization, and they want it in a form that precisely corresponds to the old KGB that the West so easily, naively, and insultingly dismissed with a simple "goodbye."

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