GRU training program - part 3 - Dagger and Cloak

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

GRU training program - part 3

Part 1
Part 2

The Faculties

The teaching staff is organized into faculties and departments according to subject matter, and a few distinguished scholars have been awarded special chairs. A fairly permanent cadre, including some women, comprise the language and area faculties, but most of the instructors are intelligence officers on two-year rotation tours. MDA is considered excellent duty, and appointments are highly prized. The recipients are typically senior officers, colonels and generals with considerable status in their respective fields. Tradecraft instructors are generally experienced legals or illegals who have had cheek-to-jowl experience in handling agents, often rezidentura chiefs or deputies. The students have considerable respect for their teachers. Guest lecturers and VIPs of international prominence occasionally speak on topics of special interest, and the MDA instructors regularly hold sessions in other GRU schools in the Moscow area.

A Faculty of General Studies teaches art, architecture, economics, history, music, logic, philosophy, and psychology. It may be responsible also for law; Soviet, international, and Western legal procedures are taught, but the faculty has not been identified. In these subjects the student tends to learn history and theory rather than acquire skills, the purpose being to give him the cultural polish he should have to operate in Western societies and will not have acquired from his military academy studies.

There are two separate faculties for Area Knowledge and for Language Studies, but they coordinate closely with each other and with others whose subjects involve language and area knowledge. In languages the aim is conversational ease approaching native fluency. Area studies follow the typical intelligence breakdown--geographic, transportation, economic, political, and the like--but they stress also a practical knowledge of the behavior, customs, manners, social patterns, and taboos of the indigenous people, so as to be able to work with them without giving offense.

Faculties of Military Science and of Foreign Armed Forces are also separate but work closely with each other and with the area and language faculties. Military history courses begin with the early Roman era. The study of military science and tactics concentrates on armed forces organization and order of battle in the United States, Great Britain, France, and of course the student's target country. The student's whole orientation toward his target country is along military-strategic lines, for his intelligence requirements will likely lie in this area. Field trips and demonstrations keep students abreast of the latest developments in weaponry.

A Faculty for Special Training teaches espionage and intelligence subjects and also the courses in military attache duties that earlier were run by the Faculty of Military-Diplomatic Training. Intelligence and tradecraft run the usual gamut, but stress is placed on the organization and operation of rezidenturas, the practices of the intelligence and security services in the target countries, and third-country operations. This faculty works closely with those of area and languages, for effectiveness in personal relationships with non-Soviets is a central theme of the tradecraft curriculum. These courses extend over two of the three MDA years, but they are considered to impart only a basic intelligence training; specialized training in depth is given outside according to individual needs, both during and after the MDA program.

Supporting Activities

Technical tradecraft is apparently taught by specialists from the GRU's First (Technical) Department. The depth of the training varies; most subjects such as secret writing, photography, microphotography, concealment devices, and the like are covered only to the familiarization level, but different aspects of radio operation may be taught successively over a period of two years. Driver training, important to a man going abroad who has probably never owned an automobile, is handled by an element under the MDA's Deputy for Administrative Matters. In addition to the operation of different makes of foreign automobiles, the student learns mobile surveillance, doing photography from cars, and how to conceal compromising material in them.

The inevitable Marxism and political theory courses are handled by a Political Instruction Section under the Deputy for Political Matters, who is also chairman of the MDA's Communist Party Commission. Should disputes arise between GRU and KGB interests in the MDA, this Deputy would apparently be the one to resolve them as directed from the Central Committee.

A Department of Scientific Instruction is responsible for pedagogical matters without doing any teaching itself. It organizes the study procedures, compiles the schedules, runs support elements like Training Aids, Publications, Stenographic Pool, and Translation Units, maintains the General Library and the Spetsfund, keeps custody of instructors' papers and student notes, and otherwise provides professional guidance and support to the instructors. An Academic Board, apparently consisting of MDA faculty and department heads, seems to set the training policy that the Department of Scientific Instruction carries out and to handle matters that cannot be resolved at lower levels.

Lectures, demonstrations, discussions, case studies, laboratory assignments, term papers, field trips and tours, self-study by general reading and browsing in the Spetsfund, and research for the doctoral dissertation (which may require extensive visits to other institutions) are all devices for instruction. Tradecraft is practiced on the streets of Moscow under the watchful eyes of both the KGB agents and the instructors. Most of the training is in-house, but students visit other locations for special assignments, particularly if they are being groomed for deep-cover operations.

Beginning in 1954 it became the practice to take graduating students on thirty-to-forty-day field trips to stations abroad, where, under tutelage of field case officers, they study the organization of the rezidentura and the way it functions. They inspect its operational files and see how its analysis of the operational environment is applied in operational planning. They observe agent meetings and participate in what they think are bona fide agent contacts, though these are actually with case officers from other rezidenturas. In accordance with Soviet stress on communications breakdowns as a cause of security failures, they are given a tour through the communications facilities of the center.

The purpose of the field trips is to relate classroom theory to the reality of the operating areas. Students are shown what can and can't be done, the local factors that affect access to target personalities, the limitations under which these can be sought out and developed, and the reasoning behind the operational decisions. They are generally impressed by the personal diligence and frankness of their field mentors and find this transition step most helpful.


At graduation ceremonies, the importance of which is marked by attendance of the Chief of the Soviet General Staff, the students are awarded diplomas. These are put for safekeeping in their dossiers in GRU Headquarters.

From 10 to 25 percent of the class (but the proportion has run up to 50 percent) are invited to join the KGB, which thus keeps itself supplied with military expertise. None of GRU's illegal designees are so proselyted. Acceptance is not enforced, but the presentation is so attractive that few decline. The proselytes may take another two years' training in the KGB's Higher Intelligence School before being assigned to its Foreign Directorate.

The graduates earmarked as GRU deep-cover operatives generally go on to individual training in safe houses. The rest are assigned abroad as case officers under cover of military attach├ęs or officials of the Ministry of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, TASS, Aeroflot, Novosti, Sovfracht, Morflot, etc. Some leave immediately after graduation; most are overseas within six months. A few receive interim assignments until openings develop, but the delay is generally brief, often just long enough for them to read in on current operations in the area and get acquainted with the desk that will support them. Arrived abroad, the new case officer will continue his intelligence schooling, joining his colleagues in formally scheduled training and review sessions that may run something like half a day biweekly. After completing his tour he may return to Moscow for a desk assignment, for specialized or refresher training, or even as an instructor at the MDA.


Few countries have poured as high a proportion of their energies and resources into educational activities, in the broadest sense, as the Soviet Union has. From the beginning, organized learning has been treated with greater seriousness by the Soviet leadership than by political leaders in other countries, and this seriousness is shared by Soviet teachers and students at every level of the system. Further, the Soviet leaders possess the controls necessary to impose their attitudes on their country; the system of educational admissions and weeding-out and redirection is so devised that it leaves little room, particularly at the VUZ level, for the political waverer, the leisurely scholar, or the lily-fingered beloruchka disdainful of manual or applied arts.

The non-Communist observer has difficulty judging the Soviet system in that his own standards often do not apply. The Soviet system is expressly designed and controlled to help build a Communist society, rather than to liberate the individual's intellect. Its success or failure is judged by the extent to which it serves the political and social ends of the CPSU. The British or American observer may be appalled by the tight central control, the sheer weight of cramming and emphasis on memorizing, the enforced social conformity and constant political indoctrination; and certainly these faults have frustrated the more talented Soviet teachers, inhibited the effectiveness of their training, and impaired the skills of their graduates. Unlike the Chinese, however, the Soviets are increasingly willing to revise, reinterpret, or even ignore Marxist educational theory in order to meet the needs of reality, and this realism in examining the causes of success or failure seems especially pronounced in their intelligence training.

In charter, priorities, and resources, the Soviet GRU differs from its counterparts in the Western world, and comparison of disparate training systems must necessarily be generalized. But we have a number of interests and objectives parallel with theirs, and they and we are confronted with almost identical problems in staffing overseas intelligence installations. If we--cutting across cultures--paralleled GRU practices, we should recruit only the cream of our service academies' and leading universities' graduates for our intelligence assignments. The Western intelligence academician is unpleasantly aware that some 15 years back the GRU had developed a system to select the best candidates available in the USSR and develop them into military intelligence officers of premium quality. Its program is one that any intelligence service must look on with respect.


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