The professional intelligence officer, the candidate already in the GRU, wants to attend the MDA because he cannot normally expect to advance beyond the rank of major without its diploma. The typical candidates, however, are regular officers of the Soviet Armv, Navy, or Air Force, and for them it is a question of changing careers. The advantages in the change are numerous. They retain their current grade and keep their seniority, thus starting the new career at their present pay instead of beginning at the bottom. They are furnished suitable apartments if married and are supplied with both military and civilian clothes. They will have more opportunity for promotion than in their present units.
GRU officers, like other military officers, receive the base pay for their military rank and also the pay for their duty station slot; a major will get his regular salary and if assigned, say, to an operations officer's slot the pay of such an officer too--both salaries in full. Special bonuses of 10% for each foreign language were at one time allowed (the student knows Russian, a provincial language, and at least one foreign language from his VUZ training, and he may learn one or two more in the MDA ), but there are some indications that these were discontinued at the same time the special tax exemptions granted medal winners under Stalin were withdrawn.
The candidate knows that as a student he will remain in the Moscow area for three years, and Moscow is considered an excellent duty post. He will be with his family for this tour, and he and they will have their reputation enhanced by the numerous prerogatives a GRU officer enjoys. He continues his education, a thing he does not value lightly, and may win the degree of Kandidat and the 15% raise that accompanies it. The security of his career is enhanced, for removing an MDA graduate from a GRU position is a long and involved process and one therefore seldom undertaken. He has not only the opportunity but a commitment to go abroad and see what lies on the other side of that curtain the capitalist countries keep referring to.
He will, of course, be subject to the stresses normal in the intelligence profession--the GRU ulcer rate is probably as high as ours--but he is still young and in extremely good physical condition; he is academically competent; and through long conditioning he has developed a high order of self-discipline. He is apparently not warned of the disadvantages. A few decline the recruiter's pitch, and though he has cited the importance of serving the Motherland in positions of great responsibility, no stigma is attached to the refusal.
The MDA program has varied from two to four years; it was three at the time of our most recent data. Area and language training starts immediately and continues until graduation. Non-intelligence subjects are taught for a few months until final clearances are received. The program is modified to fit individual needs within GRU requirements: highly proficient specialists, or students with extensive prior intelligence experience or language and area knowledge, may complete their studies in less than normal time. It is more sensible, in the GRU view, to train a subject-matter specialist as an intelligence officer than it is to take an already competent operative and give him training in some highly technical field required for a special operation or peculiar assignment.
The degree of Kandidat requires passing courses in Marxism as well as in intelligence and in the student's subject-matter specialty. Like the Ph.D., it requires a learned dissertation. After the student successfully defends his dissertation before an academic board (which passes on it by secret ballot, using procedures similar to those of Western universities), he gets the degree. And the 15% bonus.
Although the Selection Board has ruled on the student's program, the first six months are probationary. During this time he is kept under close observation by his instructors and presumably by the MDA Party Commission and KGB informants among the students. Some time after his final security clearance, his assignment is reviewed and either confirmed or changed; only then is he officially informed of his prospective career. Careers may actually be redirected at any time, and students are occasionally withdrawn when required for special assignments, regardless of how close they are to graduation.Student Life
The student is most likely to be a captain or major; some colonels are reported. He ordinarily will be at least 25, generally not over 29 years old, but exceptions have been made to age 35. He may be married and have children even in their teens. But it will be the unmarried, usually 25 years old or so, who are chosen as illegals. All are treated as the mature men they are, with the dignity and seriousness the Soviet system devotes to fulfilling its priority purposes. There is some horseplay, of course, but apparently no time or energy is wasted on hazing. The students and instructors help each other meet the high standards of the MDA system rather than compete for position along a theoretical distribution curve.
The entering class, which numbers from 60 to 100 according to needs (there are 1,000 or more GRU case officer positions abroad to fill) is controlled by a class proctor, a position carrying the rank of general although it has been held by senior colonels. The proctor, his deputy, and a small staff both mother and monitor the group. They submit detailed assessments of each student which, with reports prepared separately by the MDA Party Commission and the chief instructors, govern the student's final assignment.
The school year starts in September, continues through August. Classes are held six hours a day, except that after the probationary period Wednesdays are free for research, special training, work on the dissertation, and reading in the Spetsfund--Special Repository, a library of classified material on espionage. Students with special interests in technical matters have various laboratories to use for self-study, and all are encouraged to supplement the substance of lectures with outside reading. Those lacking in zeal in this respect (as gauged by hours spent in the Spetsfund) must justify their behavior to the class proctor.
Single students live in campus dormitories, married ones being furnished apartments in the area. All spend much time in study but are otherwise as free as their schedules permit. Apparently there is an increase in free time as one progresses through the course. Students usually spend Sundays in Moscow, returning to Sokol by metro in time for Monday morning classes.
Except in attending general lectures, students are divided into units of three to five according to language and target country. These units meet with those from adjacent study areas for regional seminars. Written examinations are given in subjects whose mastery is essential for the projected assignments, but academic evaluation rests primarily with the instructors, who prepare narratives on the students' attitude and performance and rate them on a five-point evaluation scale.
Students are discouraged from taking notes for security reasons, but the practice is not forbidden. They are allowed and presumably encouraged to ask questions, yet the general practice seems not to do so. There is no indication that academic failures occur; the selection process would generally preclude them, and the Soviet system tends at this level to dropbacks rather than washouts. The discovery of undesirable character traits or less than impeccable background results in summary dismissal. Students so banished are apparently returned to their original military units, and there is no indication that their non-GRU careers are jeopardized.
The original KGB and Central Committee investigations are backstopped further by the KGB security control program, whose agents under MDA student cover guard against hostile penetrations, detect incipient conspiracies, and observe the students' personal, social, and sexual proclivities. Overt KGB monitors warn the students away from restaurants frequented by foreigners, instruct them not to have their pictures taken in Moscow or with their comrades, and generally keep tabs on them both on and off the campus. Although the students and staff recognize the KGB's responsibility for internal security in the armed forces, including the GRU and the MDA, snide comments indicate that the ever-present KGB observers are irritants that GRU officers would like to do without.