By consolidating information derived from a number of different Soviet sources, it has been possible to reconstruct the process Soviet intelligence uses to spot, screen, train, and assign case officers. The procedures herein outlined had their beginnings in the mid-1940's, were generally established by the mid-1950's, and to our knowledge remained substantially in effect as late as 1961 and projected at least to 1964. The system described is that of the GRU, the military intelligence organization. State Security, the KGB, operates separate but similar machinery, in addition to having a hand, as we shall see, in the GRU's.
The GRU strategic intelligence directorates--four area directorates charged with foreign strategic intelligence operations--have the mission of collecting information broadly defined as contributing to General Staff estimates of the willingness and capability of any nation to wage war. The development of cadres for these directorates and their training for specific foreign assignments is done in a three-year program of the Staff College of the Soviet Army, commonly called the Military-Diplomatic Academy by members of the GRU. The use of MDA as an unofficial title for the Staff College grew out of the fact that a major function of the College is training military attaches, and a faculty which once handled this training was called the Military-Diplomatic Training Faculty.
The Staff College is actually a university of intelligence, for it carries on a number of related programs, including refresher, mid-career, specialized training, and ad-hoc courses, and awards the degree of Kandidat to those who complete the requirements for this doctorate-level diploma. Although administratively under the control of the GRU, the MDA is formally a joint GRU-KGB establishment, and the KGB's Foreign Directorate in fact shares in its output, has done so since its founding in 1944-45. The main MDA campus is in the Sokol suburb of Moscow, some seven and a half miles northwest of the Kremlin, but various elements are scattered about the city and other suburbs.
A number of roving teams called "Mandate Commissions" look for potential candidates for the MDA. On the teams are members representing the interested elements of the GRU--the strategic intelligence directorates, which handle foreign operations and so establish training doctrine, the Personnel Directorate, which is responsible for staffing the operations and for support of training, and the MDA administration, which coordinates the selection, training, and assignments of new officers. These spotting teams rely most heavily on the graduating classes of the twenty or so military academies of the Soviet Union, starting their scrutiny of students' records early in the calendar year in order to locate candidates for September enrollment. But they also scour the military districts, consider graduates of civilian colleges, take candidates already in the GRU, and review the recommendations of GRU officers.
Those with the most promising records are sounded out about continuing their education in an institution run by the General Staff. There is no reference to intelligence or espionage, and no commitments are made. Those who are interested are asked to complete detailed biographies of themselves and their families and to stand by for further notice. In the interval, the KGB and the Central Committee of the CPSU separately undertake intensive and continuing investigations of the candidates. Eliminations by the Mandate Commission and the investigations leave a pool of candidates perhaps two and a half times the number that will actually be enrolled in the MDA in September.
Those who receive orders to report to the MDA thus show marked aptitude, in the opinion of well-qualified judges, for case officer assignments and have no readily discoverable blemishes in their background. Kulak or White Russian parenthood, relatives living abroad, criminal records in the family, or unstable home environments would probably be disqualifying. Now they undergo further culling by a Medical Board, a Selection Board, and a Special Group representing the Central Committee of the CPSU, who will reduce the candidate-pool to the number actually required for the entering class.
As the GRU gives all its officers medical examinations every three months and before they go overseas, high physical requirements for the MDA are not surprising. Although physical reasons are sometimes used to reject gracefully a candidate with a minor political blemish, genuine medical disqualification is the most frequent of all causes for rejection. A representative of the Medical Board sits on the Selection Board, and any candidate on whom he reports adversely is eliminated from further consideration.
Since the pool from which the Selection Board will choose is made up of male graduates of Higher Educational Institutions--usually called VUZ's--it is already a selection from the upper 4% of the age group. Graduation from a VUZ requires not only high academic ability but considerable physical and mental stamina, self-discipline, and political reliability; and thus VUZ graduates (including the 3% who are females) constitute an elite under Soviet standards. Candidates from military academies are understandably preferred for the MDA, but graduates of equivalent institutes are also considered if they are military officers.
Jews have been automatically excluded since 1953, and minority nationalities such as Uzbeks, Armenians, and Georgians get short shrift. Some Ukrainians and members of other minority groups have been admitted, but most are Great Russians, and all are members or eligible to be members of the Communist Party. Candidates must have acceptable manners, be reasonably good-looking, and come from backgrounds that will pass close scrutiny; their wives must be such as to become assets rather than potential liabilities if sent abroad.
The Selection Board has about six members, chiefs of area directorates or men of similar calibre, assisted by a small staff of senior-officer adjutants. The members begin with summaries of the candidates' files, the findings of the Mandate Commission on them, their biographies and the reports of the KGB investigation, and a good idea of their interests and aspirations. There are no competitive written examinations--they would add nothing in a screening like this--but the candidates appear individually before the Board to answer questions and discuss any topics the members choose. But individual Board members also meet the candidates informally and talk with them in relaxed and casual situations. Thus they are able to form a well-based, albeit intuitive, judgment, generally objective though sometimes apparently influenced in a minor way by pressures of friends and associates who want their sons or sons-in-law to win acceptance.
The Board not only chooses who will be invited to matriculate, it also designates the regional area in which each will specialize and picks the target country he will work in. It selects the relatively few who will operate under deep cover--as illegals, in Soviet parlance--rather than official cover. It chooses the languages most appropriate to the student's initial assignment and decides on the nature and extent of any supplemental training he is to receive. The candidate is allowed to express his preference, but the final decision is based on the Board's judgment of his physical appearance and manner, his aptitude for intelligence specialties, and--for illegals--the likelihood that he can pass as a native or at least as a non-Soviet resident in the target country. There is some bargaining among Board members shopping on behalf of their own area directorates, trading say a light blond suitable for Scandinavian deep-cover operations against a swarthy candidate who might pass as indigenous to the Balkans.
Because regional and country assignments are based on projections of operational requirements three years hence, dual designations are sometimes made against future contingencies. Official-cover assignments are made to Spain and the Iberian region, for instance, against the day when diplomatic recognition will permit sending in a contingent of qualified legals without delay; the alternate for this assignment might be a Latin American or other Spanish-speaking country. The languages are selected according to operational advantage, not necessarily by what is native in the target country. English can be used effectively in Japan, Iran, Israel, and a number of Arab states and is useful in GRU operations for many other purposes; it might, then, be the primary language for students going to these areas, with Japanese or Parsi or Hebrew or Arabic secondary. Aptitude for language, as determined by an examination, is also a factor in the decision; a student may be given a simpler one if it would require too much time and energy for his talent to master the esoteric primary language.
The Special Group representing the CPSU Central Committee exercises its judgment only after all prior administrative approvals have been given. Its concern is only a final determination of the candidates' political reliability. Its right to disapprove a candidate is seldom exercised, but it is never questioned.