Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The ABC of the KGB

The following is my own translation of the interview with Oleg Gordievsky published on Rivoluzione Italiana, the blog of Senator Paolo Guzzanti:

“Later, I never knew if Roman Prodi had or had not been recruited by the Fifth Department of the KGB, but one thing is certain, and I remember it very well: when I was in Moscow between 1981 and 1982, Prodi was very popular in the KGB: they were enthusiastic: they found him in tune with the Soviet Union. What’s more, the KGB never enlisted members of the Communist Party, because it was forbidden, but only people of a left-wing, but not communist, orientation, with a predilection for university professors and all those who were able to influence public opinion."

This is said into my voice recorder by Oleg Gordievsky, the greatest dissident and defector from the KGB, who later became a high official in the British intelligence services and the most authoritative historian of the subject together with Professor Christopher Andrew, with whom he wrote a fundamental text for the University of Cambridge: KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (translated into Italian as “La Storia segreta del KGB”, editore Rizzoli). The interview took place during an eight-hour meeting in Gordievsky’s house, a picturesque woodland cottage one hour’s journey from London.

It is Oleg Gordievsky’s wife who comes to pick me up in a red Citroen in front of the little Victorian railway station of the country town near which they live. After eight hours of conversations and revelations, I think I can say that we have become friends and by the time night has fallen we will say our fond goodbyes in front of the same station under a driving rain that is straight out of a British film. Oleg’s wife is an adorable lady who has set the table in front of the window that looks onto the garden where the foxes come to eat - Oleg feeds them, together with the squirrels. The cottage is at once Spartan and fairytale-like. Maureen has prepared a succession of excellent canapés with French cheeses, Scottish salmon, and Italian wine, and her husband will place on the table more than or two truths which have not been revealed until now.

When we talk of Prodi, into whose story, as President of the Mitrokhin Commission, I have made open and convinced inquiry, Gordievsky makes an angry gesture as though he wanted to free himself from a weight, a gesture which for too many people has only served to underline the suspicion that he does not really know if Prodi had or had not become an agent of influence of the KGB. He points to the voice recorder which for hours he has forbidden me to use, and finally says to me: “I want to make a declaration which I have never made until now.”

He takes a sip of wine from his glass and says that Prodi was very popular in the KGB and that in the Fifth Directorate of he was often spoken of, and with enthusiasm: which obviously does not prove that Prodi had become a man of the KGB, but explains how it was simply incumbent on the Commission of Inquiry to seriously examine this hypothesis, given how embarrassing it appears from the moment that Prodi became the current Prime Minister of Italy.

Then Gordievsky says:

“In the period from 1980 to 1981 I was in Moscow and then I saw quite a lot of the men of the department that is now called the foreign intelligence service (SVR) and heard constant rumours from which it could be understood that Roman Prodi was especially popular among those in the KGB who busied themselves with France, Spain and Italy. But Italy was above all the country where the 5th Department chalked up its greatest success, having enlisted more than a hundred regular agents, not counting the thousands of voluntary collaborators. At that period I wasn’t interested in asking what had really happened in the end, and if he had really been enlisted or just maintained as a possible useful contact for operations. I don’t know, and in fact I am not saying that: but I can guarantee that his popularity in the KGB was very great.”

What do you mean by popularity?

“They used to say: ‘Prodi is more or less pro-Soviet Union’, and it was obvious that he was considered a potential candidate for enlistment in the KGB. But the fact is that there were thousands of Italian candidates, especially among the politicians, and for me Prodi was only one possible candidate among many. Whether they managed to recruit him in the end, I never knew, because I left Moscow and could not have that kind of information, and that is the reason why, honestly, I have always replied that as far as I know I cannot assert it, when I am asked if Prodi had a relationship with the KGB.”

And according to you the KGB in Italy was dealing with him?

“It’s obvious that in the Rome KGB station there were some people who knew him well personally, or who at least followed him very closely.”

Is it true that when the KGB did its enlisting, mostly in university environments, it avoided members of the Italian Communist Party?

“The decision not to recruit agents of the KGB from among members of the PCI was taken many years ago. It was forbidden. The explanation of this prohibition was that it was necessary in order to avoid the potential discredit to the Communist Party that the uncovering of an agent would do. But the second reason consisted in the fact that there was no need to recruit the Communists because they were our people in any case: we could always apply to them and ask them for something, and they would give it without asking for an enlistment contract with the KGB. For this a limitless budget was allocated for the recruitment of members of Parliament, not among Communist exponents, but among sympathizers with the Soviet Union. Next, among the most sought-after categories came the university professors, the industrial leaders and anyone able to address public life or exercise an influence on the government. The preferred method was to recruit someone directly on the inside of government, or people who were in a position to influence the government choices. Next on the list were those who worked for the government, the staff of the civil administration, the army, the foreign ministry and the Prime Minister’s cabinet. That was the ABC of the KGB, so to speak."

Do you think that members of the Communist Party were trained, if not as agents of the KGB, then for illegal actions?

“Yes, right up to the end, and in various types of schools both in Moscow and outside it.”

Until when?

“Until 1991, but even in 1992 many Communists, also Italian ones, attended the schools for foreign Communists in Moscow. My sister taught in one of those schools and she knows perfectly how things went."

The teaching was solely political and ideological?

“The Italian Communists, and also the those of other countries who lived in free democracies and therefore did not have to fight tyrannies and dictatorships, were instructed not only in Marxist-Leninist ideology, but also in disciplines that had nothing to do with it, like coded communications, for example. I used to wonder: what was the point of a training like that for Communists who lived in freedom under democratic regimes? Their reply to us was that all Communists, even in the democratic countries, had to be trained in coded communications so that they could go underground in case of a right-wing coup d’etat or an American invasion.”

And all this happened during the 80s and 90s?

"I have already said: until 1992, the end of the Soviet Union.”

So it was also happening right through the Gorbachev era, the democratic one.

“But what difference do you think Gorbachev made? It was the Soviet era, right to the end: with Gorbachev nothing really changed. And in fact, until 1991 mountains of cash were spent on training foreign Communists.”

In Italy the Communists say that this training only took place during the 1970s, when according to them there was the real danger of a military coup in our country and because there was a need for training in clandestine methods. But they have always fiercely denied that the training continued until the end of the Soviet Union, until the day before yesterday, that is.

“And instead it is like I say: the training continued in all sectors and in all geographic areas and was divided between official schools within Moscow and secret schools outside Moscow. Those who were trained there were ultimately not only western Communists like the Italians, but also all the Palestinian groups and those Arab terrorists who later became the heads of Al-Qaeda. Not to mention the people who came from Angola, from Mozambique, South Africa, Nicaragua, Cuba and Chile. They all followed courses of three types: military, espionage and counterespionage. The course in espionage and counterespionage were conducted in secret schools outside Moscow. So it is obvious that they were all, Italians included, trained not to defend themselves from nonexistent coups d’état, but in order to prepare pro-Soviet regimes, especially in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America - but not only there.”

You made a reference to Al-Qaeda. Can you say more about that?

“We say that the KGB made a selection of persons to train coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the countries of the Middle East, from Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia: they became all the future cadres of Al-Qaeda. Indeed, colonel Alexander Litvinenko has made acute analyses and important revelations on precisely this point: while whoever trained these people did not perhaps expect September 11, they were perfectly aware that they had created and oiled mechanisms for the production of terror which could therefore have taken the terror the terror against the West, as they had been taught.”

Litvinenko said in the interview for Novosti Ukraina on December 28 2005 that the famous Captain Talik - for slandering whom Mario Scaramella is now in jail - was connected with Al-Qaeda. Do you know anything about that?

“I can only say that there is always a tie between experts of Soviet terrorism and Al-Qaeda, but I am not in a position to say what role this specific man had.”
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