BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Yuri B. Shvets, author of "Washington Station: My Life as a KGB Spy in America," why did you write the book?
YURI SHVETS: I wrote the book on the basis of my experience, because I came to understand that all the intelligence business, which was the core of the Cold War for many years, was good for nothing. And the spy agencies such as the KGB inflicted more damage to their own countries than to their supposed adversary. So I came to understand that this is a waste of time, of efforts, of money -- big money, and sometimes it looks like comedy, but discovery makes a lot of people very much unhappy and desperate. And so my idea was to describe the truth, the internal world, the inner world of the huge KGB. There it was -- as I saw it.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
SHVETS: I live in the United States.
LAMB: In what city?
SHVETS: I will not specify the specific city. I live in Virginia.
LAMB: What do you do for a living?
SHVETS: I wrote the book and now I'm working on the second one.
LAMB: What period does this book cover?
SHVETS: It covers the period from 1980, when I joined the Russian KGB intelligence service, and ends with my resignation in September of 1990, a year before the August '91 coup d'etat in the Soviet Union.
LAMB: When did you first come to the United States?
SHVETS: I first came to the United States April the 12th of 1985, undercover, as a Tass correspondent in Washington, DC, in charge of covering the State Department and Capitol Hill.
LAMB: Was there in those days anything such as an actual Tass reporter who did nothing but journalism?
SHVETS: Absolutely. We had, at that time, about six correspondents in our Washington bureau. Two of them were KGB and one of them was GIU, Soviet military intelligence. The rest were real Tass correspondents -- they were in charge of doing their job.
LAMB: And what was -- is Tass still alive, by the way? Is it still in our country?
SHVETS: Yes. It's called ITAR-Tass. And ironically, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, after the collapse of the KGB -- I mean, official collapse -- the authorities of Tass news agency claimed that they would get rid of any spies in their agency. I should tell you they haven't done that. There are still agents of the Russian intelligence service working in Tass headquarters in Moscow and on the US territory as well.
LAMB: Why did you leave the KGB?
SHVETS: I left the KGB in protest because it was a sham, and I didn't want to make my living participating in this sham. And the immediate reason was that it was clear for me, at least a year before August '91 coup d'etat in the Soviet Union, that the KGB was the driving force, and it was preparing for this coup d'etat. So one day they gave us handguns and instructed us to get ready to shoot our own citizens if they rush into our headquarters. And so then I came to understand that the stupidity -- bureaucratic stupidity -- in the KGB borders on crime, that the stupidity becomes criminal -- so I didn't want to participate in that and I resigned.
LAMB: Do you have any relationship today with the Central Intelligence Agency?
LAMB: You do not work for them?
SHVETS: No. And I want to make clear that I never was a double agent and it was just unthinkable for me. I was never approached by either the CIA or FBI when I worked for the KGB. But had they done that, I would have refused to cooperate, because if you work for somebody, you should be loyal.
LAMB: When did you first get interested in intelligence work?
SHVETS: I should tell that the Soviet society -- this is a special one. It has a special flavor for secrecy, for mystery. So this profession had a special clout in the Soviet society. And when I graduated the University in Moscow in 1980 and I was offered a job with the KGB intelligence service, it was an honor on many senses, because it suggested that I would be involved in politics -- high politics -- like it was supposed to be. And we were told that we would be elite of the society. And we actually were, because we were, well, something that lots of people simply had no idea about. So I learned that my future work will be with the KGB intelligence and that my future adversary will be the Central Intelligence Agency in July of 1980.
LAMB: What was your first job with the KGB?
SHVETS: Immediately after graduation from the university, I was sent to two years to a special training course, where we were training first as a Spetsnaz -- this is a sort of American commandos -- troops -- for several months, and then we learned the craft of intelligence for two years, and foreign languages.
LAMB: What did you think in those early days?
SHVETS: Excuse me?
LAMB: What did you think about the business of intelligence in those early days? Did you like it?
SHVETS: Well, it depends. It depends on the ultimate goal and it depends on whether this goal is a real or a fake one. At that time we were told -- and me and my colleagues, and lots of them were very much honorable men -- we believed that we were doing the right job because our job was to protect the country. I was sent to this country, to the United States, with a primary mission to learn information -- whether or not this administration is preparing the sudden nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. It was number-one priority.
LAMB: 1984 -- '85.
SHVETS: '85. But the funny thing is that I learned for myself that this program, it was a fake program. It was basically inspired and created by the KGB in order to scare the Kremlin, the Soviet leadership, in order to get money for its budget. So it was a way of living for the KGB basically, for the top leadership of the KGB.
LAMB: What was your job when you were sent here?
SHVETS: My job was to look for information which suggests about possible actions taken by American administration in preparations for this sudden nuclear attack. Therefore, we monitored, basically, all military programs launched by the United States government, and, basically, by the Strategic Defense Initiative, the so-called Star Wars program. And I will tell that I was very much surprised when I learned that the KGB leadership, together with the Soviet military, badly needed Strategic Defense Initiative in the United States because their job for the case was to scare the leadership in the Soviet Union, that we have a mortal threat coming from the US territory.
Now with the Star Wars program, there was no need to invent a threat anymore. The threat was pronounced official in the United States Capitol. And all the explanation that the Strategic Defense Initiative has a defensive nature -- it didn't impress the Soviet leadership, because they simply didn't want to believe that.
LAMB: I don't know where to start, because there's so many little stories that you tell in the book about what it was like. But let me ask you about Socrates.
LAMB: Who was that?
SHVETS: Socrates was the chief of the department in the Office of Management and Budget in the Carter administration.
LAMB: Say that again.
SHVETS: He was the chief of department in the Office of Management and Budget in the Carter administration.
LAMB: The name you use in here, Martin -- is that accurate?
SHVETS: No, it's not accurate. His real name is John Helmer, and in early days of Carter administration he was the chief of the task group in charge of reorganization of the staff at the White House.
LAMB: How did you meet him?
SHVETS: I met him after his resignation from Carter administration. I met his wife. She was well-known journalist.
LAMB: The name you use in here is Phyllis Barbour. Is that accurate?
SHVETS: No, her correct name is Claudia Wright.
LAMB: Now why are you using their correct names now?
SHVETS: Well, I was ready to do that from the very start, and as a matter of fact, their real names were in the galley copy of the book. So about a month before these galley copy went into publishing house, the people in Simon & Schuster just dropped the name. It was their own decision.
LAMB: Where do they live now?
SHVETS: Socrates lives in Moscow since 1991 on a permanent basis. And his wife -- she is an Australian; she is in very bad shape, for she has Alzheimer's disease for many years.
LAMB: What were you trying to do when you met these two people?
SHVETS: Basically, my job as an intelligence officer was to pinpoint people which I believed would be willing to cooperate with the KGB. So my job was to screen the people I would meet this way and if I had a feeling that this is a promising -- like they call it in the KGB -- for recruitment, I would pursue further contacts with them.
Claudia Wright was known for the KGB Washington residency for her sharply critical articles about the United States and about the Reagan administration, and she drew attention with these articles, but no one ever tried, before me, to approach her because she was believed to be too known -- extremely known -- to be willing to cooperate. And the funny thing was that, when I met her, she suggested to me to meet her husband.
And therefore, from the very beginning, I had a feeling that he needed something from me. He was an experienced man and she was an experienced journalist, so from my behavior -- and I tried to make as many hints as possible that I was not just a regular Soviet correspondent. So I led them to believe that I had something to do with the Soviet intelligence. And the fact that he invited me to meet him and the way we talked to him suggested to me that he is a promising candidate.
LAMB: What year was this?
SHVETS: It was the first time I met her, it was somewhere in October of '85 on the wake of Yurchenka case.
LAMB: Who was Yurchenka?
SHVETS: Colonel Yurchenka was the deputy chief of North American department of the KGB intelligence -- that is, the department who was in charge of conducting intelligence operations of the KGB in the US and Canada. And he defected in Rome to the Americans, and he did it on his own. So all these stories about his kidnapping by the CIA in Rome, it was just KGB propaganda.
LAMB: So after he defected in Rome, what happened to him? Did he come to the United States?
SHVETS: Yes, then he was brought by the CIA to the United States and he was living in northern Virginia for quite a while. They debriefed him. And the funny thing happened -- I could understand that only several years later, when I had already more experience with the intelligence service. But what happened -- apparently, they squeezed him like a lemon and they dumped him. And ...
LAMB: Who? The CIA.
SHVETS: Yeah, the CIA. So this is a self-destructive policy of any intelligence agency. They are customers -- tough customers. When they need a source, they like him, they take care of him. When they don't need this guy anymore, they just dump him. And after that the disaster falls. So it was, Yurchenka's defection to the United States -- it was the tremendous asset -- not just for the CIA -- for the American foreign policy toward the Soviet Union.
I would remind you that at that time the Soviet Union and the United States were negotiating on the upcoming summit meeting between President Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva. And the Soviets were so much scared that the CIA -- the American intelligence community -- could use Yurchenka in order to put pressure on the Soviet side during the summit meeting that the Soviets seriously considered canceling the summit meeting just because of Yurchenka, because of this uncertainty surrounding Yurchenka.
LAMB: How long was Yurchenka in control of the CIA in this town?
SHVETS: Oh, several months. I don't really remember exactly, but as far as I remember, he defected in Rome somewhere in May and he was defected -- oh, he was brought to the United States somewhere in May.
LAMB: Do you have any idea how much the CIA paid him?
SHVETS: No, I don't. I can rely only on what he has said, and I guess it was true. They were ready -- and I had some other pieces of information which suggest to me that he was paid a lot -- at least, he was ready to settle in this country forever. He brought a lot of expensive furniture into the United States, so he was making a very comfortable living space here. But the only thing, he was an unusual man, as all intelligence agents are. They're not normal people.
LAMB: That including you?
SHVETS: No, I mean, agents' informants -- I mean, recruits.
SHVETS: Informants -- recruits who cooperate with a foreign intelligence service. They're not regular people. All of them have some deviation from what we believe is normality. He was in love, first problem. Next problem ...
SHVETS: With the wife of high-ranking Soviet diplomat. At that time, this diplomat had a tour of duty in Canada. And Yurchenka was diagnosed in the Soviet Union for having cancer, so he figured out that he had just a number of years to live, so his idea was to defect, to talk to this lady, to stay with her in the United States and to make something spectacular.
The only thing he needed was to keep it quiet. But the CIA immediately leaked -- or somebody leaked this information to the "CBS Evening News," so several days after his defection it was made public. And it was bad publicity for him, and when he approached this lady, she was mortally scared and she refused to stay in the United States with him. Moreover, the CIA diagnosed that he had no cancer whatsoever, so he was left with nothing and he didn't speak English. He basically didn't speak English.
So he found himself absolutely abandoned in Rome and he made, I would say, a mortal decision to redefect, because it was unthinkable for the KGB to return back to the Soviet Union and to be safe. He had only one option: to be executed.
LAMB: Where is he today?
SHVETS: Well, I don't know whether he is alive or not, because there was some news about his declining health, but at least until my resignation, he lived in Moscow in the same apartment he lived before his defection -- or redefection.
LAMB: Now I remember you saying he got up from a restaurant here in this town -- in Georgetown one night, having dinner -- who was he having dinner with?
SHVETS: With a CIA agent.
LAMB: And where did he go?
SHVETS: He went to the Soviet compound, and as far as I understand -- I believe this is true -- he said to the CIA agent that, "I'm going to the Soviet Embassy." And the CIA agent said, "Well, this is a free country. You can go." And he went, "Bye."
LAMB: Now where were you when he returned to the Soviet compound?
SHVETS: I was here in this embassy.
LAMB: What was your reaction, and what was the reaction of your colleagues here?
SHVETS: I will tell that the fact that he came back was 100 percent, for us, the proof that he had been kidnapped by the CIA, because it was unthinkable that a normal guy, after his defection, would re-defect. The only choice he had in Russia -- to be executed.
But some weird developments at the top of the KGB leadership at the time secured his life. So instead of being jailed or investigated -- no, he was investigated, but he was never prosecuted, and after that, basically everybody in the intelligence community knew that he was a defector, that the head of the intelligence service was playing games, and it badly influenced the morale in the agency.
LAMB: A couple of things -- are you a Soviet citizen?
SHVETS: Well, formally, yes. I got a political asylum in this country, so I am living -- because of this book I am living as a political immigrant here in exile.
LAMB: Will you take US citizenship eventually?
SHVETS: Well, I will tell that Russia is still my country, and I love this country. And the only reason I am here is that there is no way to return back. Because after the publication of this book, the spokesman for the Russian intelligence service publicly said in his interview to Russian newspaper that with this book I risk my life, both in Russia and in the United States. Well, I am not so much concerned about my life in the United States, but I'm sure that there is no way to return back, now, to Russia.
LAMB: Do you ever get together here with people like you that have come from the Soviet Union like Kady Shengsheko -- Shevshenko is another man that did it.
SHVETS: Oh, no.
LAMB: You don't get together.
LAMB: You don't ever -- why?
SHVETS: Well, I didn't work -- when I was with the KGB, I did not work against my country. OK, let's say this is good or bad -- political good or bad -- this is not a question -- but at least I didn't work against my own friends and colleagues. And I can't accept when some people work against their friends and colleagues, so basically they betrayed them.
And I worked with a couple of officers in the Washington station who were traitors, and they betrayed the country -- I don't even talk about political systems. But they basically betrayed their friends. Just imagine we're sitting and talking with you, and after that I shut the door and I go and I write report about you, and I suggest ways -- to another intelligence service -- how to recruit you. This is what they were doing here. And that's why I don't meet them.
LAMB: How did it start? I mean, you credit the Washington Post with starting all this in the beginning but how did that happen?
SHVETS: Ironically, I warned my leadership -- my bosses -- at the day of my resignation that I'm going to write a book about my experience. They didn't believe that. They believed that it was just a joke. So if I do something, I do it in a serious way. So I started to write the book, and in order to make it safe, I used other names, I changed a little bit of the plot. I just pulled together the pieces of real operations in a fiction plot.
But it was just a matter of a week to change it from fiction into real. So another goal was to find a publisher. I tried to find a publisher in Russia, but everybody was scared. No one wanted to go ahead with that. Everybody was happy to go ahead with fiction stories or with archives, officially authorized by the KGB to be released and published, but no one wanted to publish a life story, so my idea was to try to find a publisher in the West.
And that's why I approached The Washington Post at the time, and I told the fiction side of this story, so it was a way of leaking the information. Of course, I couldn't tell the whole truth. For example, The Washington Post correspondent, Michael Dobbs, asks me -- I told him of this story about inefficiency of the KGB, incompetence, and he asks me, "Did you recruit an agent in the United States?" And my response was, "I will tell that I didn't recruit an American." And it was a tricky response, because Socrates, he was a naturalized American. He was born in Australia and he had double citizenship.
But I obviously couldn't say everything during this interview, because obviously the bureau in Moscow is bugged and I am well aware about that. And even though I learned later on that the KGB made it public, that they tried to prosecute me after this interview to Washington Post. They approached the Russian prosecutor's office, asking to start a criminal investigation against me.
LAMB: How did you end up on "60 Minutes"?
SHVETS: Well, just through contacts.
LAMB: To this book?
LAMB: How has this book sold?
SHVETS: Well, I don't really know, really. I don't have official numbers.
LAMB: Can you live off the profits of this book?
SHVETS: Well, it depends in what way?
LAMB: I mean, can you afford to live in this country and just write books?
SHVETS: This is just the first book, and I'm working on a second one about the Russian mafia. Well, I don't expect to be another John Le Carre-style author, so I'm basically looking for opportunities to find my permanent job.
LAMB: What would that be? What kind of work?
SHVETS: I will tell that I would be glad to work as a researcher on Russia, because, to my great surprise, I discovered now, in this country, that there is distorted notion of this country, not just in American mass media, but in the American administration, about what was really going on in Russia. And to my mind it's bad, because what's happened now in Russia, they are planting -- the Russian government is planting the seeds for new socialist revolution in Russia. And very soon it can be a real disaster.
And it's not a matter of Russian domestic politics, because this disaster can involve the proliferation of nuclear weapons from Russia elsewhere. So it can backfire badly. Therefore, I'd like to do what I can to work as a researcher in Russia and to make this case public, because it's real dangerous.
LAMB: I want to come back to Socrates at some point, but there's some techniques that you talk about in the book that intelligence officers use, and I want to -- before we run out of time, and we're not about to -- I just want to ask you about some of these, because there was always a suspicion in this country that the KGB and the Soviets were creating an atmosphere in this country, as I read, of stimulating negative stories about what was going on in the world over the years. And you talk about something called active measures.
LAMB: What's an active measure, and how much of that was done over the years?
SHVETS: Well, active measure, according to the KGB terminology -- this is intelligence operations -- this is the spreading of rumors, of distorted information or misinformation designed to influence the public opinion and leadership in the West in a way favorable for the Soviet Union, but basically for the KGB. It was a way to induce the political leadership of certain countries in the West to take or do not take certain political actions.
LAMB: How would you do it?
SHVETS: But I will tell that as KGB, at large, the so-called active measures -- it was a fake -- largely a fake business with the KGB, so, in fact, very few of them were real and successful. And because it was huge -- the point of this book is that any huge intelligence organization is basically a fake organization, because it's more concerned about paperwork than the real job. And it can be illustrated on the example of the KGB.
Once upon a time, in the '30s, in the '40s, in the '50s, when this service was small and real efficient, few people, but real experts, were in charge of active measures. Sometimes they were real successful. For instance, one of the major advisers of the KGB about active measures directed again to Great Britain was Kim Philby. He would suggest them to write certain documents and then to leak them to the press. And he was doing it perfectly. But when, on the wake of this political success, the KGB established a special directorate, staffed with hundreds of people who had no knowledge of Kim Philby or other prominent KGB agents. So it was flushed into the tube, everything, so a lot of paperwork was.
LAMB: When you were here, how many KGB agents were there in the United States?
SHVETS: Well, in the KGB Washington residence we had about 30 field officers -- that is, KGB officers who were in charge of making operations in the United States. We have some support people, some people who were monitoring radio communications of different US government agencies here.
LAMB: You say at nightfall, that agents would hit the street to check parking lots.
LAMB: What else would they do? And explain what you mean by checking parking lots.
SHVETS: Well, it was a pattern of badly deceived and badly implemented intelligence operation. So KGB leadership initiated this program, this sudden nuclear strike against the Soviet Union reportedly designed in the United States. This was a fake, and I learned that it was a fake. It was enough for me to spend just two months in this country to understand that this country can't start an all-out war against the Soviet Union. But the Soviet Union leadership didn't have such an expertise. So in order to support this argument, a lot of different measures were elaborated -- how we can feed the Soviet government with the information supporting this idea.
And there were few ways, if there was no such intention on the part of the American government. So what we can do? We can imitate these sort of things. So we will travel around the Pentagon at night, looking into windows -- how many lights are there? Is there something unusual going on? The idea was that -- for instance, during the Caribbean crisis, it was a commotion inside and outside the White House. A lot of people would come in, went out. So you can have a sense that something extraordinary is happening. So they believe that on the eve of sudden nuclear attack against the Soviet Union, it would be a sort of commotion -- this sort of commotion, again, around Pentagon, White House, the State Department, etc.
Another way of looking for supporting information on this program was to -- how they called it? -- analytically read American newspapers. I will tell you what does it mean. For instance, it was in Great Britain. One private hospital posts an ad in a local newspaper, asking donors to come by and to give their blood. So the KGB residency reports that, according to available information, the government -- not the private -- the government started large-scale campaign of increasing the reserves -- strategic reserves of blood. And to our mind it can fit with their overall preparation for the nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
So the people who initiated this fake program -- the sudden nuclear strike -- in Moscow get this information. They read it and say, "Well, but we were right. We just suggested that it was possible, but now we have a reliable information which fits with our argument." So they give instructions that we need more such information, so people look for more information. And there are ways to pull together different pieces of information in different ways.
LAMB: Go back to this nightfall, when you would all hit the streets and go out and look for parking lots, and whether they were full and all the lights -- you also report a whole story about a man named Valentine and a contact named Bill who is a Hispanic from -- was he from Peru?
SHVETS: Yes, he was Peruvian.
LAMB: I don't know if we have time to get into all that, but you talked about your car, when you would travel around, had an FBI homing device on it?
SHVETS: I'm absolutely sure.
LAMB: So when you came to this country, you had your own car. It had an FBI homing device on it?
SHVETS: Yes. I learned a little bit later, so I played, for some months, cat-and-mouse games with the FBI, which led me later on to believe that I actually had a homing device in my car.
LAMB: What's an actuator? Would that activate things in the street when you would drive over it so they could-they knew where you were at all times?
SHVETS: Yeah, my idea was that it did not, because the representatives of the technical department of our residences -- they examined the car and they weren't able to find anything. So the idea was that this homing device emits beams when the car crosses some important streets or places in and around Washington, DC. Our idea was that the FBI planted the receivers in different areas of Washington.
At the time we had a 25-mile zone where we're permitted to travel, so the idea was that they put another part of this homing device in key areas of this 20-mile zone, which permitted them -- not to follow the car of the KGB operative, but just to sit and to watch on the monitor all the area. And for professionals, the way the car moves in the streets -- it can suggest whether this is just a shopping spree or the first step of intelligence operations. So the idea was that they actually were able to intercept a KGB officer -- not at the beginning, not in the middle of his route, but at the very end, when he believes that he's clean already, he has no tail.
LAMB: Did the FBI ever apprehend you anywhere in this area?
LAMB: You recruited two -- well, they weren't Americans, one of them was an Australian; one was a naturalized American citizen -- Socrates, who you say came out of the Carter administration?
LAMB: How often did you know, in the recent 20 years or so, has a KGB agent in this country come to this country and recruited an American to work for the Soviets?
SHVETS: Yeah. I will tell that I recruited Socrates in '87 -- I mean, officially, but basically he was recruited -- we had an understanding with him --in '86. For at least 15 years before that, not a single KGB officer in the United States -- not just in Washington, but in New York and in San Francisco, where we had our station -- ever recruited a single agent in this territory. And it brought me into trouble. I mean, the idea with the KGB is the deputy chief of North American department suggested, shortly before I left Moscow for Washington, that there was no need to go into the streets or elsewhere to look for agents and trying to recruit them. His idea was that we should sit and wait until they come. It was a pattern of the KGB operation. So the successes they had with Walker's spy ring, with Pelton, with Ames suggests that these so-called successes were due to greed of some ...
LAMB: John Walker -- where is he today?
SHVETS: He's in jail.
SHVETS: I don't know, somewhere in the United States, yes.
LAMB: Here in the United States -- Ron Pelton, where is he today?
SHVETS: In jail.
LAMB: And both of these men worked for the KGB.
SHVETS: For the KGB, yes.
LAMB: And Aldrich Ames?
SHVETS: And Aldrich Ames -- and all of them worked in the Soviet Embassy. And the only effort KGB did in order to recruit them -- they just didn't kick them out from the Soviet Embassy. It was the extent of the KGB recruitment efforts. So from the point of your cost-effectiveness, in order to have Ames, Pelton, John Walker spy ring, KGB needed just one officer in Soviet Embassy just in case if somebody walks in and volunteers his services to the KGB -- just to be here and to buy, that's it.
But instead, the KGB had at least 30 active field officers in Washington, DC; at least 50 in New York and about five in San Francisco, so the cost-effectiveness was horrible, and they did not believe, in principle, I mean, the KGB leadership, that it's possible for the KGB officer himself to find and to recruit an agent in this territory and, therefore, when I reported that I have a feeling that I found this man, it brought me into trouble, because they immediately believed -- people in Moscow -- that Socrates is either a CIA or FBI agent, and, in fact, he's trying to recruit me.
LAMB: Double agent.
SHVETS: Yes. Therefore, I was recalled back to Moscow. I was interrogated, and for the rest of my life, I had to prove that I wasn't recruited by the CIA.
LAMB: So as a KGB agent in this country -- how many years?
SHVETS: Two years.
LAMB: Two full years.
LAMB: And you went back -- when were you called back to Moscow?
SHVETS: I was recalled back to Moscow in March of '87.
LAMB: How much money did you make working for the KGB when you were stationed here? How much did they pay you?
SHVETS: Well, the KGB basically didn't pay money. We were paid by our cover institutions -- that is, if I work for Tass news agency, I get my salary with Tass; if I'm a diplomat, I'm paid by the Soviet Foreign Ministry. As a Tass correspondent, I earned at the time about $1,000.
LAMB: A month.
SHVETS: A month, yes, but they paid for my car; they paid for my apartment; I did not have to pay for Social Security, for medical security, so ...
LAMB: Were you married?
SHVETS: Yes, I was and I am.
LAMB: How long have you been married?
SHVETS: Since 1976.
LAMB: Is your wife with you in the United States?
SHVETS: Yes, she's here.
LAMB: Do you have children?
SHVETS: Yes, I have 14 and 18-years-old sons.
LAMB: Are they in school?
LAMB: Do they speak good English?
SHVETS: Well, they're ...
LAMB: I mean, do they get along OK in this society here?
SHVETS: Well, pretty good -- very good, very good.
LAMB: Where did you learn your English?
SHVETS: Well, I will tell that this is a sort of hand-made language, because at the university I studied French; at the intelligence academy, I studied Spanish; so when I arrived to this country in April of '85, I had to start my English from scratch.
LAMB: When you first met Socrates' wife -- that's the code name -- what language did you speak with her?
LAMB: And did he have another language that he could speak?
LAMB: Before it was all over, though, we learned that he has a strong connection with the Greeks.
SHVETS: Yes. I learned about his strong connections with the Papandreou -- Prime Minister Papandreou -- somewhere in '88 or '89. He didn't report to the KGB about that.
LAMB: Did he become a KGB agent?
SHVETS: Yes. Absolutely. He was willing to do that. I mean, when he was in Moscow, he perfectly knew that his suite in hotel was bugged, and he was sending messages to the KGB this way. He was very a very smart man.
LAMB: Who was Tatiana?
SHVETS: Yes. This is a KGB service who eavesdrops telephone conversations and apartments.
LAMB: Tatiana is the service?
SHVETS: Yes, it was called -- code name Tatiana.
LAMB: But in your book, you had a lot of quotes -- a lot of copy, quotes around it. Did you get the transcripts from the conversations that Tatiana picked up?
SHVETS: No, but I indicated in the beginning that this is a reconstruction, and since I wrote the whole Socrates KGB file from the first page to the last one, when I retired in September of 1990 -- so I'm the author of his file in the KGB -- of this book. I remember pretty well.
LAMB: So when we read all this back and forth, meetings in hotel rooms in Moscow, he knew he was being taped?
SHVETS: Absolutely, and he indicated that at some point he indicated -- and it was a way -- we always felt that he was sending messages. When he first came to Moscow and he said to his wife that he extremely wants to have a deal with the organization I represent, and I told him in Moscow that I don't work with Tass anymore, that I work in a committee -- I told him this is a committee who is in charge of oral review of the Soviet foreign policy -- and he knew perfectly well that this sort of committee, it didn't exist. It never existed in the Soviet government.
LAMB: You even have a scene where he's talking rather abusively to his wife.
SHVETS: Yes, she was a poor woman, because at that time she was in his custody entirely. She was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and at least from -- this is what he told me -- from the beginning of the '80s, she could not write articles anymore, so she would write articles and use her byline.
LAMB: What was his motive -- by the way, how much did you pay him?
SHVETS: I don't know the whole amount, because he continued to cooperate with the KGB after I had retired, but I personally passed him -- and he signed receipts for -- first time it was just symbolic amount, $3,500; then we paid him, on his next visit, $15,000; then he got $7,000 in Damascus; then we paid again $1,000 and we made an overall review of this case in 1986, and the total amount of money paid to him in cash or as reimbursement for his expenses amounted to $60,000.
LAMB: You also say that you drugged him.
SHVETS: No, it wasn't a drug. It wasn't a drug. It was concentrated alcohol. It was a concentrated alcohol.
LAMB: But the purpose was ...
SHVETS: And the purpose was -- I must say it wasn't me -- it was not my idea. It was an operation designed by the KGB leadership to establish whether Socrates had recruited me, whether we both work for the CIA or FBI, rather than for the KGB. So in drugging him, like you put it, they checked out not just him but me as well. The idea was to make him drunk and to make him concede that he actually works for the American intelligence community.
LAMB: Put the -- whatever you want to call it -- into the champagne and he drank it and became groggy -- in the hotel room after he'd come off a big flight from the United States, 10 hours or whatever it was.
LAMB: Socrates played a role, you say, in the Reykjavik summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
SHVETS: Well, objectively, because it was his idea, and he suggested the way to use his information in order to blackmail President Reagan at the Reykjavik summit meeting. And the KGB used his information and the KGB instructed Gorbachev in the way to put pressure on the American administration during the Reykjavik summit meeting.
This is another side of the story that Gorbachev used this information in a different way, that instead of blackmailing the President Reagan, he just said that, "I knew something that might bring you some trouble," so just, by the way ...
LAMB: What was the information?
SHVETS: Well, the information was that the CIA was involved in some sort of a drug trafficking operation with the Medellin cartel. And the idea was to bring drugs from Colombia, sell them on the US territory and to use the proceeds in order to buy arms to ship them to Nicaraguan Contras. But what's funny, it didn't matter whether this information was true or false. KGB did not care about that. KGB presented this information as 100 percent reliable and accurate. So when the Soviet leader read this information, he had no doubts about the authenticity.
And the idea was to push Gorbachev -- to encourage him to put pressure on President Reagan, which would eventually lead to the collapse of the Reykjavik summit meeting. On the wake of the Reykjavik summit meeting, the KGB leadership was very much concerned that the Soviet Foreign Ministry took over the Soviet foreign politics. And KGB leadership was very much unhappy. It believed that the people in the Soviet Foreign Ministry are playing the game designed in Washington, DC, and they're dolts.
And the KGB wanted to influence more efficiently as -- therefore, the attitude of the KGB on the eve of the Reykjavik summit meeting was to make everything possible to topple this meeting, at least to say, "Gorbachev, look, this is what your people in Foreign Ministry did, and we're the real guys who know the information and who give you their accurate information, so we should be in charge."
LAMB: When you left the KGB, what was your rank?
SHVETS: I was major.
LAMB: What's the top rank?
SHVETS: Well, the only guy who reached the rank of four-star general in Russia -- this is general of the army -- was Vladimir Kryuchkov, 15 years the head of the KGB intelligence service, and then the chairman of the KGB. And I will tell you that, objectively, he was the best CIA agent in the KGB, because what he did, in order to ruin the KGB and eventually the country, the Soviet Union, all other Western intelligence services combined could not have inflicted more effective damage to the KGB and Soviet Union as he did.
SHVETS: Because of incredible incompetence -- incredible incompetence.
LAMB: How many KGB agents were there in the service when you were in it?
SHVETS: Well, I can't give you the exact numbers, but somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 KGB officers in intelligence service -- twice as much as you have -- FBI agents on this territory.
LAMB: And you say there's still a KGB?
SHVETS: No. I will tell that the KGB, it was a sort of battleground, and it was a battle between the bureaucracy, incompetent party apparatchiks in the KGB, and the professionals. And professionals hated bureaucracy, but bureaucracy neutralized all these professionals -- just perfectly. So after the KGB and the Soviet Union collapsed, lots of my former colleagues retired, as I did. I started to write the book and my former colleagues, very good professionals, they went to Russian mafia and now they work for Russian mafia.
And now in Russia there are 500,000 people employed by private security agencies, and almost all of them are run by former KGB agents. This is an army.
LAMB: And you're not afraid to live in this country and to write these books?
SHVETS: Well, sooner or later everybody has to make choices. I did my choice and I live with this.
LAMB: Wouldn't they try to pick you off in this country?
SHVETS: I'm professional, and when I started the book, maybe the most sophisticated intelligence operation in my life, it was to write the book and to live this country with this book and to get it published.
LAMB: How do we know that you're telling the truth?
SHVETS: Well, I understand, it's always tricky with the KGB. There is no way, I will tell you -- it doesn't concern my book -- it concerns all information which is at the KGB, including so-called documents-- there is no way you can learn the truth, because some people say that when we read KGB archives, when we have access, then we'll know the truth.
No way. No way, because it was a gap between real life in the Soviet Union and the interpretation of this reality in the paperwork. And it was especially true about the KGB. So what is in the KGB archives, more often than not, has nothing to do with real life, and only specific individuals involved in specific operations knew and know the truth.
LAMB: What was the map?
SHVETS: Oh, it was a funny story. It was again, the sample of the incompetence. It is the story of how the KGB bureaucracy killed -- KGB intelligence service -- the resident of the KGB -- that is, the chief of the KGB Washington station, General Androsov, who was full-fledged party apparatchik, who had no idea about the intelligence business, but he had to make some initiatives to impress the boss. He couldn't recruit anybody on the street, so he concentrated on some bureaucratic things.
He invented a map. We had a huge map on the wall of the Washington station, and each field officer, before going to some sort of operation in the city -- he had to circle the place where he would be meeting his contact, or loading, reloading their drop, and the time when he will be there.
And we had two people -- two double agents who, at the time -- Martorin and Martino -- who at the time worked for the FBI, so every ...
LAMB: Inside your embassy?
SHVETS: Yes, inside our Washington station. So every morning they would walk into the war premises -- old Washington station; they would look at this map, and they would return back and report to the CIA -- to the FBI. And FBI had no need to follow the KGB officers anymore, for three, five hours, tailing them. They waited for them at the place of preparation.
So it was a disaster, and I will tell you that people in the KGB intelligence service, they knew that they would have a disaster. When I was still in Moscow, in headquarters, I was an officer of duty, and I just heard the following conversation between the head of the North American department, General Yakushkin, and the deputy chief of intelligence service, where Yakushkin said a lot of things about this map, and the final phrase or sentence was, "But, you understand, I can't tell the KGB resident in Washington that he is an idiot, but he is. But I can't do that because" -- because the head of the KGB intelligence service was impressed by this map, and he liked it.
LAMB: You build a whole chapter around Valentine and Bill, and we haven't got enough time to go into it, but basically, the message I got was that Bill was a janitor and he dealt in garbology, meaning he went around and found documents in the Boeing office over here in Virginia ...
SHVETS: Boeing and Ketron.
LAMB: Boeing airlines, and was able to build a whole intelligence case shipping information back to the Soviet Union from what was in the wastebaskets.
SHVETS: Yes, exactly.
LAMB: What could you find in wastebaskets -- these were not even classified documents?
SHVETS: Yes, but the funny thing -- I will tell that if a document is classified, it doesn't necessarily mean that it contains a real classified information. I will tell that in the KGB everything is classified, but about 95 percent of the papers are just trash. You can't learn anything meaningful from this trash. And I will tell that in this country, as well, a lot of information is classified, not because it contains real sensitive information which has anything to do with the national security, but for different bureaucratic -- purely bureaucratic considerations, such as to push your case, to save yourself or your boss or somebody else from embarrassment, etc.
And, therefore, for the KGB, not the stamp, classified secret, top secret, was important; what's important were the essence of the information. And it wasn't the KGB, it was the Soviet military laboratorists who said that it was first-class information and they badly needed this information because it helped them to develop Soviet military system. And, you know, for some scientist who is competing with his counterpart abroad in designing some military program or some weapon, an idea, a word, a sentence sometimes is more important. They can suggest him the ways he can improve his project, better than a heap of other information.
LAMB: Last question: In the future, if things change, our relationship between this country and Russia, should we worry about the capability of the Soviet or Russian intelligence?
SHVETS: You should worry now about the capability of Russian mafia, because the best KGB officers work now for Russian mafia. And they are not bound by the law. They don't have to fight with this Russian bureaucracy anymore, and they're very good professionals, because they are very good trained. And I will tell you that now they worked in the countries where they used to spy.
LAMB: Is this your real name?
LAMB: Yuri B. Shvets is our guest, and this is the book, "Washington Station: My Life as a KGB Spy in America," and we thank you for joining us.
SHVETS: Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1995. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.