Oleg Danilovich Kalugin was a former KGB general (stripped of his rank and awards by a Russian Court decision in 2002). He was a longtime head of KGB operations in Russia and later a critic of the agency.
Oleg Kalugin oversaw the work of American spies, matched wits with the CIA, and became one of the youngest generals in KGB history. After getting disillusioned with the Soviet system in 1990, he went public, exposing the intelligence agency’s shadowy methods.
In his book Spymaster: The Highest-ranking KGB Officer Ever to Break His Silence, Oleg writes about one of his operations where he was to recruit a CIA agent in New Delhi. He writes about the depth to which the Indian establishment was infiltrated by Russian and American spies, to an extent that neither side passed on information to their Indian moles for fear that it may reach their enemy the very next day. During the course of this operation Oleg also writes about a certain man who offered to spy for the KGB for $50,000 – the man who later became the Prime Minister of India.
Below is an excerpt from the book Spymaster: The Highest-ranking KGB Officer Ever to Break His Silence by Oleg Kalugin.
One incident that occurred early in my career there showed how disorganized and poorly prepared the section was. The KGB was getting ready to build a top secret intelligence headquarters at Yasenovo, on the outskirts of Moscow. Within the agency, there was a debate as to whether the buildings at Yasenovo should be taller than seven stories, which might make the supposedly super-secret facility visible from nearby roads. One ofﬁcial argued that the CIA’s headquarters at Langley, Virginia, was no more than seven stories and that, for security purposes, Yasenovo shouldn’t be either.
Sakharovsky, the intelligence chief, phoned me and asked me to dig up a picture of CIA headquarters. I got on the phone with our people in records, thinking they would have the photograph to me in a matter of minutes. In fact, however, for nearly twenty-four hours our crack experts in archives couldn’t ﬁnd a picture of Langley. How were we supposed to recruit CIA agents if we couldn’t even locate a picture of CIA headquarters? Finally our records people turned up a photograph. I resolved to straighten up the mess there, and eventually our section was one of the ﬁrst in the KGB to become computerized.
Knowing the difficulties we faced in recruiting CIA agents in America, Boyarov (the head of foreign counterintelligence, Vitaly Boyarov) and I set in motion a plan to enlist CIA officers posted overseas. Many KGB stations, particularly in the Third World, had been satisﬁed to recruit dozens of local army ofﬁcers, politicians, and intelligence operatives, all the while giving CIA men a wide berth. Boyarov and I resolved to take the ﬁght directly to the CIA, and within a year of my assuming ofﬁce a promising opportunity to recruit an American intelligence officer presented itself in India. Boyarov decided I should ﬂy to New Delhi to attempt the recruitment myself.
The CIA agent was a third secretary at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. His last name was Leonard. Over the course of a year, Leonard—then in his early thirties—had carried out a series of extra-ordinarily careless meetings and recruitment attempts with Indian politicians, army ofﬁcers, and security agents. We had gotten wind of his ham-ﬁsted actions for a simple reason: we had scores of sources throughout the Indian government—in intelligence, counterintelligence, the defense and foreign ministries, and the police.
In any case, India was a model of KGB inﬁltration of a Third World government. And when Mr. Leonard from the CIA began violating elementary rules of secret meetings and unwittingly exposing his Indian informers, we quickly had detailed accounts (and sometimes photographs) of his rendezvous. By the time I got into the act, the ﬁle documenting Leonard’s sloppy espionage work was a thick one.
I ﬂew out of Moscow on a frigid January day in 1971. I calculated my chances of recruiting the CIA man at about ﬁfty-ﬁfty, and could only hope that he would be so worried about our exposing his mis-steps to the Indian press and the CIA that he would agree to cooperate. For a high-ranking KGB officer to attempt to directly recruit a CIA agent was an uncommon and risky proposition. If I failed, a scandal might ensue that could jeopardize my chances of ever serving again in the United States. I was uneasy, yet at the same time excited about the opportunity of confronting my adversary face-to-face in an effort to win him over. My plan was to meet him in comfortable surroundings and use a forceful but friendly approach. A lot would depend, I realized, on Leonard’s personality. Our KGB officers on the scene had said he might make a good recruit.
Flying into New Delhi’s Palam Airport late at night, I was immediately struck by the poverty of the country. Stick ﬁgures warmed themselves around ﬁres that smelled of dung and burning grass. The streets teemed with rickshaws and ﬁgures swaddled in dirty robes. Compared to Western Europe, Moscow looked worn and gray. But compared to New Delhi, Moscow seemed like a world-class capital.
Settling into the embassy compound, I read the dossier on Leonard and met with our counterintelligence ofﬁcers. My stay in New Delhi had been kept quiet to avoid drawing the attention of the CIA, which monitored the movements of certain Soviets in and out of India. I met with our ambassador to let him know I was in town to attempt to recruit a CIA ofﬁcer. All I told the ambassador was that I was going to be tough on the CIA man because he had been aggressively trying to recruit our people.
Several nights after I arrived in New Delhi, the KGB station chief held a small party for me, attended by some men from our agency and from the GRU, Soviet military intelligence. At the party, our resident let drop that I was in town to “shake a ﬁst” at the Americans because they had been behaving very aggressively in India. At no time did the station chief or I mention that I was in town to recruit a CIA man.
One of the guests at the party was the GRU resident in New Delhi, a man named Polyakov. Years later, we would learn that he was already working for the Americans.
My subordinates had arranged for me to meet Leonard at the home of one of our KGB ofﬁcers. Our ofﬁcer was an acquaintance of Leonard’s and suggested he come to dinner. Leonard may have told his superiors about the invitation, and the CIA probably decided it would do no harm to dine at the Soviet diplomat’s house and see what developed. I arrived at my colleague’s bungalow well before the CIA agent was scheduled to show up, and we worked out the details of the recruitment approach. When Leonard appeared, I donned sunglasses and began smoking a cigarette, all in an effort to make it hard for the CIA to identify me. The three of us had a few drinks, and Leonard seemed to be in a ﬁne mood, laughing loudly at our—and his own— jokes. My KGB colleague’s wife served us dinner, and after the main course my fellow ofﬁcer retired to another part of his bungalow, leaving Leonard and me alone.
I got right to the point.
“Listen,” I said. “I have something to tell you. I know you’re with the CIA. I represent Soviet intelligence. So we don’t have to hide things from each other. We are both professionals. And I’ll tell you, young man, you have made so many mistakes on the job that you’ll probably lose it soon.”
I pulled out his dossier, showing him detailed reports and photographs of his meetings with a host of Indian sources. He blanched and began to protest, but I cut him off.
“This is all your work,” I continued. “Besides endangering a dozen Indian military men and politicians who are on the CIA payroll, you have done your government a disservice. You have compromised your organization, your agents, and your government. When we have all this information published in the Indian press, it will be a nice gift to the Indian and American governments. Can you imagine? The local press will have a field day when they learn that you paid their officials to work for you. When the local public finds out about what you did, U.S. positions in India will be seriously undermined and you will pay for your sins with your job. Do you understand that this is the end of your career? The CIA will throw you out right away.”
The man who just ten minutes ago had been roaring at his own jokes and uttering silly platitudes about U.S.-Soviet relations was now a sorry spectacle. He looked stunned, frightened, and utterly ﬂustered. Sensing I was making progress, I pushed on.
“I’m offering you a deal. You will provide me information about CIA activities against the USSR and I, in return, will give you information which you can feed to your superiors and which will be useful in your career. We will obviously pay you for your services.”
“How much would you be willing to pay?” he asked.
“I can give you $25,000 right now,” I responded. “If you work well, I can give you $100,000 down the line, and more after that if our relationship continues.”
I was not blufﬁng and had the $25,000 with me. Leonard’s jaw literally dropped; he was dumbfounded that the KGB was actually trying to recruit him.
“You understand that this is an unbelievably serious thing you just told me,” he said. “I have never been in a situation like this before. Your proposition is tempting, and what you have told me will be a lesson to me. But I cannot make a decision at once. Betraying my country would be contrary to my convictions, to everything I’ve done in my life. I am a patriot….I have to think it over.”
He was virtually pleading with me.
“I understand it’s not an easy decision to make,” I replied. “What do you want?”
“I want time to think it over,” he said. “Your offer is very enticing, but I need to think about it. I’m willing to meet again. Give me until tomorrow.”
We parted, and I thought I might have succeeded in persuading him to cooperate. But the next day at 6:00 P.M., Leonard didn’t show up at our appointed meeting place in New Delhi. The following day, the American ambassador sent a strongly worded letter of protest to the Indian Foreign Ministry and the Soviet ambassador, Mr. Pegov. The American ambassador met Pegov to protest our attempted recruitment, but our ambassador replied, “Yes, I know about this case. Your people have been trying to recruit my staff and I told this man who came from Moscow to stop it.”
The protest went nowhere. We, meanwhile, gave the material to the Indian press, though we left out Leonard’s identity. After all, we didn’t want to irritate the CIA too much or they might start acting in kind. The leaked story of this brazen CIA agent created the predictable stir in India, with Indira Gandhi even publicly lashing out at the CIA. I sometimes wondered why the Americans didn’t decide to use Leonard as a double agent; perhaps they decided that they couldn’t keep him under tight control.
One mystery remained—a mystery I pondered as I made a short inspection trip around India to Bombay, Jaipur, and Madras. When the American ambassador sent his letter of protest, he mentioned me by name as the KGB ofﬁcer who had tried to recruit Leonard. How could the Americans possibly have known my name, since I ﬂew into the country as an unregistered diplomat? There must have been a source in our embassy, and we set about to ﬁnd it.
We had no luck. But ﬁfteen years later, the issue was resolved when top Soviet agents in the CIA and the FBI provided the KGB with reams of information on U.S. moles in the KGB and GRU. And one of those moles was none other than Polyakov, the GRU resident who had toasted me in New Delhi. Polyakov, after leaving New Delhi, had risen to the rank of general, and over the course of roughly twenty years he fed the United States top secret information. Our well-connected assets in French intelligence kept telling us in the 1970s that the CIA had a mole inside the GRU. We repeatedly went to our military counterintelligence people, saying we had it on impeccable authority that the GRU had been penetrated at a high level.
Also read: A KGB Spy Recruitment Account In India
In any case, India was a model of KGB inﬁltration of a Third World government. The entire country was seemingly for sale, and the KGB and the CIA had deeply penetrated the Indian government. After a while, neither side entrusted sensitive information to the Indians, realizing their enemy would know all about it the next day.
We, however, had been more successful than the Americans. Using bribes, conﬁdential ties, and liberal ﬁnancing of election campaigns, the KGB had played an important role in keeping India among the Soviet Union’s friends and partners on the international scene. Corruption was so widespread in India that one top minister offered to pass us information for a fee of $50,000. (Years later he would become the prime minister of India.)
“Do we need him?” Andropov asked his subordinates.
“Not really,” one replied. “We’ve got all the documents from the foreign and defense ministries. Anyway, why pay $50,000 to him?
There might be a scandal.”
“You are right,” said Andropov. “Tell the minister, ‘Russians and Indians are friends, and we do not conduct intelligence work in your country.’”