Chapter Four.Agent Recruiting

Agent recruiting is the most important task of both strategic and operational intelligence. No real problems can be solved without agent penetration in basic government, military and technological centres of the enemy.

In the previous chapter we examined the types of secret agents and also the various differences between them. It would not be an exaggeration to say that any citizen of the West, having been recruited by the GRU, may be used very effectively for intelligence purposes, some for the acquisition of secret documents, some for assassinating people, and some for the transporting of agent materials. No citizen of any age and either sex would be idle for long once he or she fell into the hands of the GRU. Nevertheless, basic importance is attached to the provider of information. Long experience has persuaded the GRU that it is essential above all to recruit sources, and only after the GRU has acquired through these sources all possible material may the source himself be used for other purposes, as a recruiter, head agent or supplementary agent. The GRU is convinced that a former source who is now working, for example, as the owner of a transmitting point will never on his own initiative go to the police; but the same cannot be said of agents who have never provided secrets for the GRU, who have not had firm contacts with them. The search for suitable candidates is implemented at the same time in certain different ways: the scrupulous collection of information on persons of interest to the GRU including government institutions for staffs, military bases, design bureaux and people connected with these targets; the study of all foreigners without exception who have any contacts at all with officers of the GRU; and the gradual widening of circles of acquaintances among foreigners. If an operational officer has a hundred acquaintances, one of these must surely be a potential provider of information which will be of interest.

A candidate for recruitment must fulfil the following conditions: he must have agent potential, that is he must be in the position to provide information of real use to the GRU, either to steal or copy secrets, to communicate secret information by word of mouth, or to recruit new agents. There must exist motives by means of which he may be recruited — displeasure with the regime or other political motives, personal financial problems, or private motives like a desire for revenge on somebody or secret crimes which he is trying to hide. It is desirable that he be sympathetic to communism without being a communist. Communist parties everywhere have been compromised to a certain extent by their contacts with the KGB and the GRU, and it is always recommended that agents recruited from communist parties should leave the party.

After the selection of a candidate for recruitment, the second stage — tracing and vetting — commences. Details are collected about the candidate, details which may be obtained through reference books, telephone directories and the press; the task of obtaining all available information about the candidate may well be given to other agents. The GRU may equally want a surveillance on him to collect extra data about his daily life. This process sometimes gives very gratifying results. Up to now the person himself does not suspect that the GRU exists and he has had no contact with its representatives, but it already has a considerable wealth of detail on him. Subsequently the GRU enters the process of cultivation, which consists in a further definition of motives which will be used in the actual recruitment of the person. It also tries to exacerbate his weaknesses: for example, if the man experiences financial problems, the GRU will endeavour to make them worse. If he is displeased with the political regime, the GRU will endeavour to turn his displeasure into hatred. The cultivation process may be carried out after the establishment of an acquaintanceship with the candidate. The whole process, from the beginning of the search for a candidate to the completion of a cultivation period, normally extends for not less than a year; only after this does actual recruitment take place.

There are two principal methods of recruitment, the gradual approach and the crash approach. The crash approach is the highest class of agent work. The GRU may authorise the resident to mount such an operation only if the resident has been able to provide good arguments for the taking of such a risk. Quite a few examples are known of recruitment at the first meeting, of course following the secret cultivation which has gone on for many months. It was in this way that many American creators of the first atomic bomb were recruited. Their subsequent argument was that it was as a mark of protest against the bombing of the Japanese cities that they, on their own initiative, established contact with Soviet intelligence. However, for some reason they forgot to add that this contact had been established long before the first experiments with the bomb, when there was no cause for protest. They also evaded the question as to how several people, simultaneously and independently from one another, established contact with the undercover residency of the GRU in Canada, but not with the undercover residency of the KGB in Mexico, for example.

The crash approach, or 'love at first sight' in GRU jargon, has a number of irrefutable advantages. Contact with the future agent takes place only once, instead of at meetings over many months, as is the case with the gradual approach. After the first contact the newly recruited agent will himself take action on his own security. He will never talk to his wife, or tell her that he has a charming friend in the Soviet military attache who is also very interested in stamp collecting.

In the gradual approach method, this sort of thing happens very, very often. The candidate has as yet not felt the deadly grip of the GRU, has not yet understood what it wants from him. He still nourishes his illusions, and naturally he will not hide his good friendship with such charming people. However, the gradual approach method, despite its shortcomings, is frequently used. The fact is that the GRU is not always, indeed not even in the majority of cases, able to collect a sufficient amount of material about the candidate without his knowledge to prepare him sufficiently for recruitment. In many cases it is necessary to establish contact and to use each meeting with the candidate to study his motives and to carry out vetting and cultivation.

Having established contact, the operational officer tries by every possible method to avoid 'blowing' the candidate; that is, he tries to hide the connection from the police, from friends and acquaintances of the man himself, and also from his own fellow countrymen. The only people who should know anything about an agent and therefore about candidates for recruitment are the resident, the deputy resident and of course the cipher officer and the Centre — nobody else. In order that he should not blow the candidate from the very first meeting, the operational officer will try to carry out meetings in secluded restaurants, cafes, bars far from the place where the candidate lives and far from his place of work. At all costs he will try to avoid the candidate telephoning him either at home or in the embassy. He will try to avoid the candidate visiting Soviet official institutions and places where Soviet people gather together. He will decline invitations to meet the candidate's family or visit his home. (The particular pretexts I used were that my office was far too busy, or I was never there, so the candidate would not ring; at home, I would tell him, there was a small baby who slept badly. Of course, in order to appear serious, I had to give him the telephone numbers with my business card.) After the acquaintanceship has ripened, the GRU officer will try to make every subsequent meeting as interesting and useful as possible for the candidate. If they exchange postage stamps, then the Soviet, by apparent mistake or out of friendship, will give the future agent a very valuable stamp. The officer may then ask for a very innocent and insignificant favour from the man and pay him very generously for it. During this stage the most important thing is that the future agent becomes accustomed to being asked favours and fulfilling them accurately. It does not matter what sort of favours or services. Maybe he will be asked to accept at his address and forward to the officers letters ostensibly from his mistress, or to buy a complete set of telephone directories and give them to the officer as if he did not know how or where this could be done. By degrees the tasks become more complicated, but the payment for them grows equally. Perhaps he will be asked to acquire in his name some works of reference which are not on sale and are distributed only on signature, or he will be asked to talk about and describe his friends who work with him. In many cases the actual recruitment proposal is never made, as the candidate gradually becomes an agent of the GRU without having fully realised it. He may consider that he is simply doing his business and doing favours for a good friend. Then, much to his surprise, the man will one day find that all ways of extricating himself have been cut off, and that he is deeply ensnared in espionage work. After he has become aware of this for himself, the GRU informs him what the affair is all about and there begins a new stage. The tasks become more serious but the payment for them gradually decreases. This is done on the pretext of his own security. What can he do? Go on strike?

There exists yet another method of recruitment, perhaps the most effective and secure. This method was worked out by the GRU in the first decade after the war and seems not to be used by the KGB. It can only be used at exhibitions and only against the owners of small firms which produce military material. In spite of the fact that the method has so many limitations, including the impossibility of recruiting generals and their secretaries, and equally its complete unacceptability for illegals it does, however, give positive results. It is very similar to the direct approach, but is distinct from the classical 'love at first sight' in that a lengthy search for a candidate, his tracing, vetting and cultivation are absent.

Before the opening of exhibitions of military electronics, armaments and military technology, ship-building and engine-building conferences, air shows and so on, hundreds of which take place every year, a scientific delegation appears at the GRU residency with a list of everything which is essential for the Soviet military and the armaments industry. The experts of course know that at the exhibition there will be demonstrations of models whose sale to the Soviet Union is categorically prohibited. None the less, the delegation will carry suitcases crammed full of money, with full powers to spend it as they wish. All expenditure is approved and justified. The examination and construction of such samples as they have been able to obtain in the Soviet Union will occupy much more time and money. The delegation visits the exhibition and looks at the stands of the big corporations only to disguise its real object. At each of these stands these are several salesmen and guides, any one or all of which may be from the security services. The delegation is only really interested in the stands of small firms where the explanations are carried out by the owner or a director himself. The delegation gets into conversation with him and an officer of the local GRU residency acts the part of interpreter. The experts pass themselves off as an official Soviet delegation. At the same time they manage to let the operational officer know that they have arrived at just such a firm as could be of use to them and that the exhibit is not just a model, but an actual piece. 'Is it really forbidden to buy such a piece? Oh! What a pity. Nothing to be done, but tell us, how much does it cost? 20,000? How cheap! We would pay twenty times that much for such a piece! Great pity that it is not for sale.' All this in a light-hearted way, as if incidental. The conversation turns to another subject. After a few minutes the delegation takes its leave in a friendly way. The interpreter stays behind for a few seconds. 'It was so nice meeting you. Could we not continue our talk over dinner this evening? No? You're busy? What a pity. Many thanks. It was very nice to make your acquaintance.' And that is all, nothing criminal, just a short, friendly conversation. The Soviet delegation did not propose anything to anybody. It did not ask, it did not demand. It was merely interested. In the meantime the delegation goes on with its inspection. The exhibition is huge, hundreds of firms, and the list of essential things is too long. Another stand, another firm, the same result, it does not matter. Not everything has been lost. There are still more stands. 'How much does this piece cost? 25,000? Only 25,000, we would give half a million for that. Great pity that it's not for sale.' The delegation goes on. The interpreter stays for a few seconds. 'Could I not invite you to dinner this evening in the restaurant?' 'I don't know whether that would be all right. We hardly know each other.' And that is all. Recruitment is accomplished. The delegation continues its inspection. New interpreters are provided. Drinking martinis in the bar, they wait their turn. The exhibition is huge. Hundreds of firms and the list of equipment wanted by their government is very long.

The GRU's calculation has shown itself to be unfailing. The owner of a small firm, even a very successful one, is always at great risk, always keen to strengthen his situation. When he receives a proposal to sell his own wares at a price fifteen to twenty times the highest normal price, he thinks to himself: this is a matter of industrial espionage, which in several countries is not even considered a criminal offence. From the first moment he knows what is wanted from him and carefully evaluates the step that he decides on. In any case, if he sells his product he can hide the fact from the authorities. It is equally easy for him to hide the money he has received. The only thing he has not taken into consideration is the wolf— like greed of the GRU. He hopes to dispose of the products of his firm, supposing that this will be sufficient. He is deeply mistaken. Having bought the first model or set of documents, certainly at a staggering price, the GRU will later on lower the prices and finally dictate them. One might object that the really big secrets are all in the hands of the big firms, but this is not absolutely true. Very often Soviet designers are not interested in the whole rocket or the whole aircraft, but only in some small part — an engine, a steering system or some particular instrument (in many cases not even an important part but only a membrane, a heat sink or some such thing) — exactly the sort of thing that would be produced by a components manufacturer. And of course recruitment in small firms does not in any way hinder the GRU's attempts to penetrate large firms. Far from it. After he has been milked, the owner of a components manufacturing firm, now turned agent, must turn his attention to the recruitment of other agents in the big firms to which he supplies his parts. Then suddenly in the Soviet Union an aircraft exactly like Concorde appears. (To blame the GRU for the trials and difficulties of the TU144 Concordski is not justified. Weak Soviet industry, using antediluvian technology, was simply not able to copy the aeroplane properly, despite having all the necessary drawings and documents.) Recently, the number of exhibition recruitments by the GRU has steadily increased. They have been facilitated by the fact that in these recruitments the GRU does not spend one rouble of its own money. The money which the delegation brings with it to the exhibition comes out of the budget of the armaments industry which is ready to spend as much money as it has to in profitable business. For its money the armaments industry receives essential documents and samples, and the GRU, without paying a penny, receives an agent who will serve it for long years afterwards. Exhibition recruitments are also attractive because they can be carried out with complete impunity. Only one case of detection is known, an air show at Le Bourget when the assistant Soviet military attache was detained for endeavouring to carry out just such a recruitment. He was detained, but not for long because a military diplomat cannot be held. Declared persona non grata, after three years he went to another country in another official capacity as a deputy resident. The only thing which is not clear in all these stories is the attitude of those countries who joyfully accept these supposed 'diplomats'.

As for GRU illegals, they basically use the first two methods. The work of illegals of course is made easier by the obvious simplification of the search for candidates and their tracing and vetting. Since they very often play the part of bona jide business people they come into frequent contact with the owners of firms producing military material, and by means of proposing advantageous deals, they gradually attract these people to play the part of agents. There is another very important factor. Illegals hardly ever recruit in the name of Soviet intelligence. They always assume another guise. In Japan, for example, they may pass themselves off as American industrial spies, in Northern Ireland as an organisation going in for terrorist activities against the English military presence, in Arab countries as anti-Zionists. In countries with dictatorial regimes GRU illegals recruit people in the name of anti-government organisations carrying on the underground struggle against tyranny. A method often used by illegals is to pass themselves off as supporters of separatist movements. It is only necessary for the illegal to know some of the important political views in order to be able to adopt them for himself and begin recruiting. Sometimes such recruitments are implemented very quickly and without problems. 'We are representatives of such and such a liberation army, this or that red brigade. Can't you help us? If you can't we ask you not to let anybody know about our visit.' The candidate is then recruited in the name of an organisation for which he feels sympathy and he gratifies his conscience all his life with the thought that he is a revolutionary and defends ideals near to his heart, not even suspecting the existence of the GRU and its illegals. He is so full of pride that he has been selected for such secret work that he may not even tell those who think likewise about it.

There is one last method of recruiting. This is when a foreigner comes in and says, 'Please recruit me.' However strange it may seem, every year hundreds of such people come into Soviet embassies and the same answer awaits them all. This is a diplomatic representation and not an espionage centre. Be so kind as to leave the building or we will call the police.' The police are usually not called but the embassy staff chase the would-be agent out quickly. Even if the GRU (and the KGB, for that matter) is sure that the caller is not a young reporter anxious to publish a sensational article or somebody purporting to sell secret documents but really only selling some nonsense, how can they be sure that the caller is not a police agent who wants to know who in the embassy is concerned with secrets? Thus the answer to all is the same. 'You have got the wrong address. We are not concerned with such things.' This does not mean that it would not be interesting to have a look at what the caller has brought, but long experience has shown that the person who really wants to be recruited and really has something to sell does not say very much but simply hands over the material, together with instructions as to where he can be found, and leaves. He might add a note to the effect that 'this is not all the material I have but only a part, if you are interested.'

Elementary psychological analysis shows that this is perhaps the only way to convince the GRU that they can trust the person. Indeed if a person has decided to entrust his life and the happiness of his family to such dark and unknown personalities, why on earth should he not hand them some papers? By such a gesture he not only draws attention to himself but he gives time for reflection on his proposals and for the necessary checking with higher authorities and checking of the material. However, if the visitor brings papers and documents to the embassy and begins to demand immediate financial reward, this leads one to think, 'If, after careful consideration, he has decided on this step, if he is really ready to entrust his life to us, why does he think that we would deceive him and not return the papers if they were of no use to us? And where is the guarantee that the papers which he has brought are not forgeries? Who would carry the can if we paid him money for papers which afterwards turned out to be forgeries? No, we are not interested in such things.'

That these 'walk-ins' are an extremely unpredictable form of recruitment is perhaps best illustrated by two examples, both of which occurred at the same residency in West Germany. An American sergeant came to one of the Soviet observation missions in West Germany (each of which is a GRU residency), bringing with him the block of a cipher machine used in one of the American bases. The sergeant announced that for a certain sum he could bring a second part of the machine and added that there could only be a deal on condition that the GRU would not subsequently attempt to recruit him. The residency immediately accepted both proposals. The sergeant got his money and an assurance that the GRU would forget all about him immediately after the deal was done.

The cipher machine which was obtained, or more accurately two of its basic blocks, enabled the technical services of the GRU to decipher thousands of American radio communications which had been intercepted earlier but remained undeciphered. They also enabled them to study the principles of cipher work in the American Army and in the armies of its allies and, by exploiting the American principles, to create more complete Soviet examples. What about the sergeant? Of course he was immediately recruited....

On another occasion a couple of years later an American major approached the same Soviet residency proposing to sell an American atomic artillery shell. In proof of his good intentions he handed over free of charge to the residency detailed plans of the atomic depots and instructions on checking procedures and standing orders for work with atomic equipment. These documents by themselves were of great value, although the major's main proposal was of vastly greater interest. The major announced that he would demand a substantial sum for the shell, and imposed the condition that the Soviet side, having studied the shell, must return it after two months. Some days later, the specialists of the GRU information service confirmed the genuineness and very great importance of the documents which had been acquired. The GRU leadership decided to buy the atomic shell and to pay the price demanded for it by the American. A number of the senior officers of the residency were called to Moscow and given a crash course in American atomic technology. A week later, on a dark rainy night in a clearing in the middle of a forest, two motor cars met. In one was the American major, in the other three operational officers. There were two more Soviet cars hidden nearby, ready to intervene if necessary. Many people did without sleep that night. The Soviet Consul dozed by his telephone, in full readiness to come tearing out to the wood and in the name of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to defend the military diplomats. On the orders of the Central Committee, many highly placed officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tass were also on alert. Of course they did not know what was going on or where, but they were ready to announce to the world that the imperialists had mounted yet another provocation against the Soviet Union. In fact, the Tass and Ministry of Foreign Affairs announcements were already prepared. But everything went according to plan. The American and the three Soviets transferred the shell from one car to the other, and a thorough check was carried out. The operational officers knew beforehand the serial number, the level of radiation, the exact weight and the markings which would identify it as a genuine shell. All was as it should be. The Soviets handed over a briefcase full of banknotes to the American and agreed to meet in two months' time for the return of the shell. Once the shell was in the Soviet car with diplomatic number plates, it was tantamount to being on Soviet territory. The police could stop the car, but they did not have the right to search it nor remove anything from it. Diplomatic immunity is not to be trifled with. In the event nobody stopped the officers, and the car drove peacefully into the courtyard of the Soviet diplomatic mission. Later the shell was transported in a diplomatic container under armed guard to the Soviet Union.

The GRU chief joyfully informed the Central Committee of the successful outcome of the operation. 'Where is the bomb?' asked a voice on the telephone. 'We have it in GRU headquarters.' 'In Moscow!?' 'Yes.'

A long and largely unprintable tirade ensued, whose import was roughly as follows: 'And what happens if there is a little spring inside this shell and it explodes right in the middle of the Soviet capital and turns Moscow into Hiroshima?'

The GRU had worked out the whole operation with the maximum number of precautionary measures and the plan to acquire the shell had been confirmed by all departments from the chief to the general staff up to the Central Committee. However, nobody had foreseen the possibility that there could be a timed device in the shell and that the Central Committee, the Politburo, the KGB, the GRU, all the Ministers and departments of State, the general staff, all the Military Academies, all the principal design bureaux, in a word, everything which constitutes Soviet power, could be instantaneously destroyed. There was no answer. No defence was possible. One shell and the whole system could have gone up, because everybody and everything is controlled from Moscow. The possibility of such an occurrence had only been realised in the Central Committee when the shell was already in Moscow. Instead of the expected decoration, the GRU chief received a 'service incompetence note' — a strong warning that in the future even the most trivial mistake would lead to dismissal.

The shell was taken for the time being to the central aerodrome and a military transport aircraft speedily transported it to Novaya Zemlya. The shell did not explode. At the same time there was no guarantee that it would not explode while it was being dismantled and destroy the leading Soviet specialists who were working on it, so the dismantling was conducted in a special pavilion hurriedly constructed on the atomic testing ground. Preliminary work on the shell had already disquieted the Soviet specialists, as it was much more radioactive than it should have been. After protracted arguments and consultations, the shell was dismantled with the greatest possible care. Only then was it found that it was not a shell at all — but a beautifully executed copy.

The American major from the depot for atomic armaments had known to the last detail how to do this. He had taken a written-off practice shell or, as it is called, a 'standard weight equivalent', had painted it as a real shell and put on a corresponding marking and number. Inside the shell he had put some radioactive waste which he had obtained. Of course he was not able to regulate this to the extent that the level of radiation would conform to the level of radiation of a genuine shell, but this was not necessary. At the time when it was first checked after having been handed over to the operational officers, there had been no attempt to determine the exact level of radioactivity. The officers had only been interested to see whether there was radiation or not. After all that had happened the officers who had taken part in the operation, of course, received no decorations but at the same time they were not punished and neither was the GRU chief. The Special Commission of the General Staff and Central Committee established that the forgery had been very skilfully and thoroughly executed and that there had been little possibility of exposing it at the time of the hand-over. All the same the GRU was not happy about it. It began a search for the American major. The first attempts proved unsuccessful. It was established that he had been posted to the USA immediately after the sale of the forgery, and it would not be so easy to find him there. He had apparently known of the imminence of his posting and chosen his moment perfectly. Steps were taken to find him in the United States, and at the same time the GRU asked for permission to murder him from the Central Committee. However, the Central Committee turned down the request on the basis that the major was incredibly cunning and could well outwit the GRU a second time as he had outwitted them earlier. They were ordered to forget about the major and stop searching for him. Now, whenever a 'walk-in' appears at a Soviet embassy and suggests the purchase for an exorbitant price of technical documents of exceptional importance, GRU residents always remember the American major.

That it is extremely difficult to find real volunteers is a simple fact. It is much, much harder to discover a volunteer than an agent whom the GRU has spent a year and more in processing. But real volunteers, however warmly they may be welcomed, do not take into consideration another simple thing. The Soviet operational officer, having seen a great deal of the ugly face of communism, very frequently feels the utmost repulsion to those who sell themselves to it willingly. Even amongst those few who still believe in communism, the intelligence officer will make a great distinction between the agent he has recruited by using a whole arsenal of tricks and traps, and the volunteer. And when a GRU or KGB officer decides to break with his criminal organisation, something which fortunately happens quite often, the first thing he will do is try to expose the hated volunteer.