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A Conversation with Christopher Andrew
Author of
The KGB and the Battle for the Third World
Q: Why did you choose The World Was Going Our Way as the title of this book?
A: Because that is precisely what Moscow and in particular the KGB thought was
happening a generation ago. Now that the Soviet Union has fallen apart, we all take for
granted the inevitability of that collapse. It’s very difficult remembering how different
things seemed thirty years ago. The U.S. had suffered a humiliating defeat in Vietnam
which left it feeling more uncertain of its role in world affairs than at any other time since
the end of World War II. And its own intelligence agency was being pilloried in
Congress, in the media, and in the court of worldwide public opinion thanks to the
Church Committee hearings on CIA misdeeds. This was a period when the great
majority of the American people believed the CIA had killed an American president—
JFK—so imagine how easy it was for the KGB to go up to leaders in the third world and
say, “Even the Americans realize the CIA killed their president, do you suppose they’d
hesitate to kill you.” That sort of argument had quite an impact on quite a number of
third world leaders.
Q: Why did you write it now?
A: The reason I wrote the book now is that I’ve had access to the largest intelligence
source ever to escape from any major intelligence service anywhere in the world at any
time in world history. That is a huge claim. But it happens to be completely true. And
it’s not simply my judgment; it’s the official judgment of both the FBI and the CIA. It’s
the kind of opportunity, in other words, that nobody interested in intelligence anywhere
in the U.S. or Britain would have turned down and I was not so foolish as to do so. It’s
one of the most extraordinary episodes in KGB history. What happened is simply that
the man responsible for the foreign intelligence archive of the world’s biggest foreign
intelligence agency spent ten years smuggling information out of that agency. When he
defected to the west in 1992, he brought with him the secrets of KGB operations all over
the world. It is that information that allowed me to write the most complete history of the
KGB to date: Volume I, The Sword And The Shield, which covered KGB operations in
the west, and now Volume 2, The World Was Going Our Way, which covers KGB
operations in the third world.
The point I think it’s necessary to make is that what happened in the third world was of
central importance not just to the third world itself but also to the United States. During
the Kennedy administration, the KGB concluded that that’s where it could win the Cold
War. In hindsight that looks like wishful thinking, but it’s worth remembering that
during the course of the 1960s the third world turned against the U.S. and the west in the
United Nations. Within that decade the west’s built in majority in the general assembly
shifted over to the Soviet Union.

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Q: Why is it important that we understand KGB operations in the third world?
A: The notion that one can understand the present without understanding the past is a
piece of early 21
century foolishness which no previous generation would have fallen
for. Winston Churchill got it right when he said, “Before looking forward, it is first
necessary to look a long way back.” Now suppose we had taken his advice before 9/11.
What would we have realized? We would have realized that the dominant trend in
terrorism has always been holy terror. Unlike secular late 20
century terrorist groups,
who tried to drive people to the bargaining table, this older form of terrorism involves
fanatics, usually but not always religious fanatics, whose goal is to destroy the opponent.
And that’s who we’re dealing with today. So my view is that the things we understand
least well about international relations, about our own history, about other countries, we
misunderstand because we’ve forgotten the roots of the present. How can we possibly
understand Russia today without remembering that Vladimir Putin is a former KGB
officer? Before he became president he was the last of Boris Yeltsin's prime ministers.
And his two predecessors as prime minister were both former intelligence chiefs. And
Putin today is surrounded by more advisers who are past or present intelligence officers
than any other world leader. If we’re going to truly understand them, we need to
understand the whole of their past activities.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception people have about KGB operations in the
third world?
A: People don’t realize how good the KGB was at what they did and, simultaneously,
how bad they were. Let’s take India as an example. Both the Russians and the
Americans planted articles in newspapers there from time to time as part of their active
measures. According to KGB files, by 1973 it had ten Indian newspapers on its payroll
as well as a press agency under its control. During 1972 alone, the KGB claimed to have
planted 3,789 articles in newspapers there. There’s no question the Soviets outmatched
the Americans in this regard. And these types of active measures were an important and
very effective component of the KGB’s efforts to persuade credulous third world leaders
that the CIA was plotting against them.
On the other side of the coin they put a vast amount of effort into the most ridiculous
active measures you could possibly imagine. For example, it was a really big deal to
prevent Russian cosmonauts being photographed anywhere near a bottle of coca cola if
they traveled to other countries. KGB headquarters ordered residencies in many African
capitals to send people out to count the number of posters of Mao Zedong appearing on
public display. They also produced specially defaced posters of Mao and ordered them
put up in Kinshasa, Brazzaville, and other remote African locations. My favorite
example has to do with the spectacularly tedious congresses of the Soviet communist
party. People who find politics boring in the west have no concept of how mind
numbingly monotonous and dreary these affairs were. But it was the KGB’s job to
demonstrate to Soviet leaders that they were met with global applause. So one of the
tasks of residencies all around the world—in Delhi, Kinshasa, Luanda, and so on—was to

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concoct messages saying how excited the population was by the latest speech of Leonid
Brezhnev at the latest party congress.
Q: Of all the incidents, anecdotes, events and operations you describe, which stands
out most in your mind?
A: The thing that sticks out most in my mind is the big picture. Thanks to the Mitrokhin
Archive we now understand for the first time how it is the KGB thought it could win the
Cold War. They knew it wasn’t going to happen by nuclear confrontation with the U.S.
or Britain or any of America’s other allies. They knew it wasn’t going to happen by
coming to power in any of the NATO countries. Instead, they thought if the rest of the
world did go their way it would leave the west isolated in the same way the U.S. was
isolated in the third world at the end of the Vietnam War. It’s a great illusion. For 25
years the KGB was moving around the world living an extraordinary fantasy. Namely,
that all these third world revolutionaries were inspired by the Bolshevik revolution
which, for the first time, was going to help ordinary people make a better life for
themselves. What it did instead was produce a nasty one-party state But the illusion was
extraordinarily powerful. We’re seeing the same illusion today. Islamist terrorists
believe they’re building a new society—a Muslim caliphate across the world; a religious
one-party state. It’s dangerous nonsense but it is influential dangerous nonsense. 9/11
and 7/7 in Britain are its consequences.
Q: Today a lot of the turmoil, chaos and uncertainty that generate daily headlines
in the global war on terrorism comes from the same countries that lie at the heart of
this book. Can you give me an example of how KGB operations then continue to
impact events today?
A: There is absolutely no question that it was the KGB pushing for the invasion of
Afghanistan in December 1979 and that the single most influential person doing so was
KGB leader Yuri Andropov, who subsequently became the minister of defense and the
head of the Soviet Union. The consequences of that KGB-inspired conflict are simply
enormous. Since the Soviet invasion and the war that followed, nobody has succeeded in
putting Afghanistan back together again. And it will probably take another generation
before that happens. The Afghan opposition to that war did not merely radicalize a
generation of religious fighters in Afghanistan, it also radicalized an entire generation of
Islamist fighters from the Arab world. (The name Osama bin Laden comes to mind.)
Another less sinister example of the continuities from that era to this is the appointment
last year of Vyacheslav Trubnikov as the new Russian ambassador to India. How did he
make his reputation? Less than a generation ago he was the KGB head of political
intelligence in Russia. So the guy who used to run KGB intelligence during the Soviet
era is now Putin’s ambassador in New Delhi. Every continent in the world, or at least
some part of every continent, still bears the imprint of the Cold War rivalry between the
two superpowers.

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Q: What was the greatest difference between the U.S. and Soviet intelligence
A: Regardless of what the CIA did, it never had the lead role. Even when looking at the
Agency’s worst actions—such as the plots to kill Castro and cause various kinds of
mayhem in Cuba—it was carrying out the wishes of the White House. It was the exact
opposite for the Soviets. Their first forward policy in the third world was all KGB. The
Russian foreign ministry was barely interested. They wanted the lead role in dealing with
the U.S. and NATO. Other than that they were basically hands off. In other words,
unlike the CIA, the KGB was not simply engaging in secret operations but actually
making policy. And who’s the guy doing more to make policy in Russia right now than
anyone else? Surprise, surprise, it’s a former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin.
Q: The KGB often took credit for things that happened without their involvement
or over dramatized the impact of what they were doing in their reports back to
headquarters. How effective were they in reality?
A: They were effective for a period of time but their successes turned out to be short-
term successes. In the long run no intelligence agency can be any more successful than
the system from which it springs. And the Soviet system was not a successful one. And
yet there are still people today in the former Soviet Union who say if the Soviet system
hadn’t fallen apart they would have whipped the U.S. in the Third World. They believed
they were wining.
Q: What surprised you most as you researched and wrote this book?
A: What most surprised me, and what I think will surprise readers as well, is that at the
very height of U.S. global popularity—the time of Kennedy and Camelot—the KGB
thought they had discovered—in the Third World—the secret to winning the Cold War
against the United States.
Q: Has the current Russian intelligence service come to terms with its own past?
A: It plainly hasn’t. What is true of individuals is also true of organizations and
countries. People in denial about their past are not people we’re comfortable dealing
with. The same applies to all kinds of institutions including intelligence agencies. A lot
of people in Soviet intelligence were extremely capable. Being a foreign intelligence
officer was one of the most sought after things you could be in the Soviet Union. It’s
difficult for these people to now accept that they spent their whole lives working for a
rotten regime; a regime that didn’t achieve anything positive or do anything to make the
world a better place. That’s an awful thing to have to come to terms with. They have no
difficulty in arguing that the most famous of the Cambridge spies, Kim Philby, betrayed
his country and his fellow agents in British intelligence for ideological reasons. They
have no difficulty in saying the same thing about the Americans who gave the Soviets the
secrets of the first atomic bomb. But they still cannot bring themselves to accept that
Vasili Mitrokhin, or Oleg Gordievsky, or anyone else could have done what they did—

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spied for the west—for anything other than the most ignoble of motives. In the end one
has to feel slightly sorry for these people. They’re not wicked, most of them, but they’re
stuck in this absolutely incurable state of denial.
Q: Do you think they’ll ever come to terms with the past?
A: We simply have to look forward to another generation. This is nearly always the case
when people have adopted wildly sectarian or distorted points of view. It’s very difficult
for old intelligence officers to change their spots. The 20- and 30-year-olds within the
Russian intelligence community are the ones who will be able to take a balanced view of
their past in a way the veterans of the Cold War have never been able to do. It’s the new
generation that has grown up since the Cold War that no longer feels humiliated by the
things that happened before the Soviet Union collapsed.
Q: What do you want readers to get out of this book?
A: I hope that by understanding at long last how it was that the other superpower thought
it was going to win the Cold War, they’ll have a better understanding of the history of
their lifetime and the lifetime of their parents. The Soviets knew they weren’t going to
win by dropping the bomb or through military action. They thought they were going to
win by turning the rest of the world against the United States. They truly believed the
world was going their way. And it probably does take people by surprise now to think
that this regime—which we now see was completely doomed to failure—could have
thought a generation ago that it was winning.