Molehunt

Christopher Andrew

  • Sword and Shield: Soviet Intelligence and Security Apparatus by Jeffrey Richelson
    Harper and Row, 279 pp, £11.95, February 1986, ISBN 0 88730 035 9
  • The Red and the Blue: Intelligence, Treason and the University by Andrew Sinclair
    Weidenfeld, 240 pp, £12.95, June 1986, ISBN 0 297 78866 3
  • Inside Stalin’s Secret Police: NKVD Politics 1936-39 by Robert Conquest
    Macmillan, 222 pp, £25.00, January 1986, ISBN 0 333 39260 4
  • Conspiracy of Silence: The Secret Life of Anthony Blunt by Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman
    Grafton, 588 pp, £14.95, November 1986, ISBN 0 246 12200 5

The vast Soviet-bloc intelligence operation in the West is commonly supposed to consist mainly of running illegals, moles and other agents. In fact, the KGB probably spends more of its time reading the newspapers. Much of the intelligence which can be obtained only by covert means in the East is freely available through open sources in the West. A KGB officer in Washington might begin an average day by reading articles on defence and defence contractors in the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, then move on to more detailed scrutiny of Aviation Week and Space Technology, technical magazines and trade publications. By lunchtime the information he has acquired would be sufficient to provoke an espionage trial if gathered in the Soviet Union, where even the telephone directories are classified.

The greatest change in KGB operations over the last half-century has been the enormous expansion of technical intelligence collection by overhead reconnaissance, ocean surveillance and sigint (signals intelligence). Soviet technical intelligence, frequently lost sight of in books on the KGB which dwell on the more picturesque humint (human intelligence), is the subject of the most original (though necessarily incomplete and somewhat speculative) chapter in Jeffrey Richelson’s survey of Soviet Intelligence, Sword and Shield. Like GCHQ in Britain and NSA in the United States, the KGB and GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence) operate with their allies a sigint network which spans the globe. The Soviet Union has land-based sigint stations not merely on the territory of the Warsaw Pact but also in Cuba, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and in a number of Soviet embassies abroad (including London, where it intercepts microwave-transmitted telephone calls routed through the Post Office Tower). Richelson considers it ‘highly likely’ that there are also Soviet sigint installations in Libya and Iraq. Unlike the UKUSA network,[*] Soviet sigint also has at its disposal a fleet of over sixty AGI (auxiliary intelligence gathering) surface ships, often disguised as trawlers and tramp steamers. Technical intelligence apart, much of Richelson’s useful survey is a digest of previous work on the KGB. At times it is too much of a digest: the notes to Chapter Two contain 27 consecutive references to two books by John Barron.

Despite the enormous Soviet investment in technical intelligence, Richelson considers its importance smaller than in the United States, because of inferior Soviet technology and the much greater opportunities in the West for both humint operations and intelligence collection from open sources. What Soviet sigint may lack in advanced technology, however, it can often make up by espionage. Even comparatively low-level spies like Geoffrey Prime in Britain and the Walker family in the United States are sometimes able to provide priceless technical intelligence. There is recent evidence that from 1976 to 1983 the KGB was able to read France’s diplomatic traffic with its Moscow embassy by bugging an embassy teleprinter which it had intercepted in transit.

The main foreign priority of Soviet Intelligence today is probably the acquisition of advanced technology. According to evidence reviewed by the US Senate Intelligence Committee in 1983, 150 Soviet weapons systems (including a clone of the AWACS) depend on technology covertly acquired in the West. But current Soviet technological espionage continues to attract only a fraction of the interest aroused by defunct Cambridge moles. The market for works even on imaginary moles like Roger Hollis shows no sign of slackening. The KGB, too, remembers the recruitment of the moles by its Comintern Intelligence subsidiary as one of its major triumphs.

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[*] Analysed by Richelson and Desmond Ball in The ties that bind (Allen and Unwin, 1985).