Saturday, December 31, 2016




Soviet goons of spy fiction replaced by sophisticated pros

By TOM TIEDE CENTREVILLE, ma. (NEA) — In 1972, when the Soviet Embassy purchased a summer retreat here on Chesapeake Bay, the local residents complained angri-ly. They knew the embassy employed spies, as well as diplomats, and they did not want to be neighbors with an oafish cloak and dagger set. There were fears of hulking Communists with gold teeth and hidden guns. One protester said the Russians would send in submarines to pick up military secrets. Some people thought the summer house would be a haven for wild-eyed bomb throwers, and fathers were warned to keep their daughters indoors. Well, times change. Today the Russians visit Cen-treville in peaceful repetitionttItta way, they are almost welcome. They are orderly an011inist, they have made substantial improvemements5.4o their 35-room Tidewater mansion, and, in addition, they spend hard cash in the area stores. The whole affair says something about rural misconceptions of strangers. It also says a lot about the old time view of Communist spies. The agents who've been coming to Centreville for the last decade haven't been barbaric brutes; they've been well mannered and genuinely friendly family men.
And that's just the way the Kremlin wants it. U.S. of-ficials say the Soviets have tried hard in recent years to pull the gold teeth from their intelligence corps. The result is that the goons of spy fiction have been replaced by some of the most sophisticated professionals in the espionage world. That doesn't mean the agents are any less threaten-ing. On the contrary, the FBI thinks the Russians are stealing more American secrets than ever before. "But they do it in an artful and modern way," says one government counterintelligence expert. "The Soviets have made spying a science." At least they have made it a primary vocation. And 50,000 Russians are said to be working full time in the job. Most of them belong to the Komitet Gosuudarstvenony Bezopasnosti, or the shadowy KGB. The FBI estimates that about 1,500 of the secret agents are in the United States. Those who are here are said for the most part to be college educated and trained in social graces. They have spent up to two years at the KGB school in Moscow, and many of them have also been enrolled at the Institute of American Studies there. Some of them speak colloquial English as if they were natives.
Oafs they aren't. Many of the spies in the United States are more middle class than they are monstrous. They join the nice clubs, they go to the movies, they watch their children grow. The people in Centreville say the Russians seem to drink a lot, when they eat out, but so do the other people here. In fact, Centreville, residents say the principal dif-ference with the Russians is that. they are unusually curious. They ask endless questions. They collect papers and brochures. Some of the locals say they sometimes discuss politics with the Soviets, because "It can't hurt anything can it?" Actually, it can. For this is the way the Communist spies gather intelligence today. They still recruit in-formers, and they still plot clandestine intrigue, but in the main they simply nose around. The FBI says they may steal up to 90 percent of their secrets in bits and pieces. Thus they engage in small conversation. And they save every scrap of printed paper. They attend congre-sionai : na ri ngs , they take corporate tours, they go to libraries throughout the land. Sometimes they also visit chambers of commerce, just to pick up the reports of regional businsses.
They read too, of course. The FBI thinks they pro-bably subscribe to every major periodical in North America. Some of the newspapers tell them which way the winds are blowing, and some magazines, such as Aviation Week, contain a remarkable amount of technical and militarily useful data. Not everything is crucial, of course. The Russians in Centreville read weekly newspapers that speak primari-ly of menhaden fishing and the fortunes of people who grow their own tomatoes. One local gas station operator says the Soviets who stop by his place like to chat on about the Washington Redskins. But the FBI thinks it all adds .up. Even here on the rural banks of the Chesapeake. The modern Russian spies have one thing in common with ham-fisted agents they've replaced, and that is persistence. "They know what they want," says one government observer, "and too often they get it." They get it by looking, by talking, and by dull and cloakless routine. And if that doesn't work, there is always the old-fashioned way. The Soviets' Centreville retreat is equipped with enormous antennas, for in-stance, and they can apparently listen to military messages up and down the Eastern seaboard.

No comments:

Post a Comment