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—