As is often true of Russian policy, the objectives to be served by the surfacing of Soviet espionage activities abroad are not immediately evident. The reasons for the adoption of such a policy are difficult to disentangle. Perhaps the interplay of personal ambitions and jealousies among Party and government leaders has played its part. Although no evidence on the point is available, this unusual Soviet frankness may reflect the growing influence of Alexander Shelepin, former chief of the KGB who has played an increasingly prominent role in Soviet affairs since the overthrow of Khrushchev. It may be assumed, in any case, that the decision to admit to the Soviet people that their government also engages in actions hitherto credited only to bourgeois and fascist states was not lightly reached on the spur of the moment. Undoubtedly it was made at the highest Party levels, after lengthy and possibly acrimonious discussion. Party leaders must have agreed that the advantages of such a revelation outweighed any ill effect on the Soviet population.
What are the possible advantages of the revelation?
Such foreign espionage operations as have been surfaced up to this time are related to the Germany of Hitler and the second world war. The work of Manevich, if that was in fact his name, is presented as having been done in Eastern Europe, probably in Germany or a German-occupied area, and in a Nazi concentration camp. A series of paperbacks on the frontier guards and wartime partisan operations continue the anti-Nazi defense theme. Abel, it is said, worked against the Germans; his postwar activities were motivated by a desire to get at former Nazis who were active in the West. Lonsdale is made to admit the same motivation. Although Sorge's prewar operational activity cannot be denied, his intelligence targets were obvious--the German embassy in Tokyo and Japan, Germany's ally. Work against the Nazi, at whatever time it was undertaken, would be applauded by Soviet citizens. Such espionage operations, although carried on abroad, can be interpreted as defensive in intent and purpose. The Soviets, it must be noted, have not yet admitted that their postwar operations were directed primarily against the British and Americans.
The Soviet authorities may believe that revelations of Western espionage against the Soviet Union in recent years call for defensive action. Operations such as the U-2 flights and the Popov and Penkovskiy penetrations have certainly resulted in talk and speculation within the USSR. The Powers and Penkovskiy show trials must have convinced even optimistic Soviets that, despite official disclaimers, some harm had been done to Soviet security. Many must have asked, why don't our people do that same thing? It is possible, therefore, that several terminated espionage operations have been surfaced to assure the Soviet people that their government is also active in such operations abroad. The first line of Soviet defense, they are being told, is in good hands.
The new publicity is probably designed to improve the image and morale of military intelligence and the state security service. The Penkovskiy case (and the Popov case as well, although it received little publicity) must have been disastrous to the morale of military intelligence officers. State security officers must have been affected adversely by previous efforts of the Soviet authorities to create a bland image of their service. Public acclaim of service heroes, even of those who at first glance appear to have failed in their missions, has undoubtedly improved the tone and morale of both services.
Such revelations can also be made to serve operational purposes. It will be noted that the Soviets use fictionalized biographies to surface both operations and intelligence agents. Fictional techniques permit the telling of a lively story without need to adhere to the facts of the case. Embarrassing aspects and significant operational details may be distorted or omitted without endangering the seeming integrity of the account. Even though not so labeled--possibly because they were intended for foreign consumption--the Lonsdale "memoirs" are largely fictional. The Soviets have enlisted fiction as an intelligence weapon.
Although at first glance it would seem to be a pointless task, these fictionalized memoirs and biographies should be subjected to expert counterintelligence analysis. Such accounts must contain at least a substratum of fact. This may be discovered through analysis. Significant omissions and distortions may be ascertained by comparison of the fictionalized versions with data available in counterintelligence files. But the most important purpose of such analysis is the discovery of the disinformation objectives that these accounts may serve. We must assume that all memoirs, biographies, and historical studies of the Soviet intelligence services are prepared with the aid of disinformation experts.
A careful watch must be kept on this new Soviet program of controlled intelligence revelations. Although their goals are not yet clear, for the Soviets it is a new technique and one that may do serious injury to Western morale. It must be analyzed and closely followed.
Sunday, 15 July 2007