Reviews by Alec Chambers

Review of Shvets, Washington Station

Shvets, Yuri B. Washington Station: My Life as a KGB Spy in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. ISBN: 0-671-88397-6

Yuri Shvets was an officer of the First Directorate of the KGB working under the cover of a TASS reporter in Washington D.C. from 1985 to 1987. During this time he was tasked with developing political and military sources in the Washington D.C. area. His task was made more difficult by very aggressive FBI counterintelligence that was to completely ream KGB operations by expelling all the KGB officers not working under TASS cover in October 1986. He was able to develop one very useful political source (called Socrates) who was a well-connected member of the Carter administration and who was sympathetic to the USSR. Although this should have been a major boost to his career, it served only to exacerbate the conflicts he had with the KGB apparatchiks and he resigned from the KGB in 1990.

Shvets started writing this book as a fictional account of his experiences while still in the USSR but then recast it as non-fiction. This brought him into further friction with the KGB and he left the country illegally with the manuscript and obtained political asylum in the US.

Unlike most books from disaffected agents (Shvets is not a defector), this one does not start with a patriotic and enthusiastic recruit who gradually becomes disillusioned. Shvets was already cynical about the whole enterprise by the time he completed training. In common with many other Soviet field agents, he sees himself as someone who wants to do the job he has trained for but who is in continual conflict with cynical bureaucrats who are more concerned with protecting their careers and grabbing any unclaimed credit available. In attempt to insure himself against excessive damage from the shrapnel flying around in this conflict, he decides to carry off the unusual feat of developing a US source of political intelligence (who turned out to be Socrates). Shvets uses the tale of the development of Socrates as a case study of the conflict. Although Shvets takes care to protect Socrates' identity, we are told that he is being sought overseas by the time Shvets leaves the KGB.

Much of the book is taken up with two major cases (Bill, a janitor with an IQ of 200 who collects discarded documents from the waste bins of defense contractors is the other major case) that are compromised when bureaucrats take over the running of the sources. The practical psychology of agent running appears to have been a neglected art in the KGB of the 1980s. In addition there are some other lesser insights. Shvets supports the claim that Yurchenko was a genuine defector who redefected, but he lays the blame more on Yurchenko's unrealistic aspirations in love than on CIA mishandling, and he provides some tantalizing evidence that points to what was to become the Ames case. Some war stories told about agents who had served in Washington and left should be taken to heart by those who are somewhat casual with document security.

This book is a useful addition to intelligence literature primarily because of the the insights it gives into the internal politics of the KGB and the support it gives to the model of the organization as one that is strongly polarized between bureaucrats and working agents. The text is peppered with the cynical stories about the other camp that are the currency of disgruntled workers and these help this aspect of his story to ring true. The writing style is fairly typical of former Soviets, but overall the book is easier to read than some others written by ex-Soviet officers.

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