Skip to comments.Interview of Boris Aleksandrovich Solomatin: Former KGB Head of Anti-American Operations
Posted on 06/05/2002 8:34:50 PM PDT by Valin
For nearly 20 years during the height of the Cold War, Boris Aleksandrovich Solomatin, oversaw most of the KGB's anti-American spy operations. The now-retired major general played a key role in the "handling" of John Walker Jr., the Navy officer who headed the most damaging spy ring ever to operate against the United States. Solomatin also recruited Glenn Michael Souther, a lesser-known Navy officer, who provided the KGB with some of America's nuclear war plans before eluding the FBI and fleeing to Moscow where he committed suicide in 1989. The Souther case is worth noting because he is considered to be the only American in recent times to have betrayed his country because of ideological reasons rather than for money.
"Solomatin caused us considerable trouble wherever he was posted," a high ranking FBI counter-intelligence officer in Washington D.C. said when asked about his Russian adversary. "He is considered as perhaps the best operative the KGB ever produced. The amount of damage that he did to the United States is difficult to calculate."
After joining the Soviet intelligence service in 1951, Solomatin rose rapidly through the ranks, eventually becoming deputy director of the KGB's First Directorate, the service which oversaw all Soviet foreign intelligence operations. He was only 44, making him one of the youngest KGB officers ever to hold such a top post. He also served during his nearly 40-year career in the KGB as the chief KGB resident agent in New Delhi, Washington D.C., New York City, and Rome, and was an adviser to KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who ran the KGB from 1967 until 1982, and later became general secretary of the Soviet Union.
This is the first interview Solomatin has ever granted to an American publication. His decision to speak was prompted, he said, by the publication of several recent books by former KGB officers who, he claims, have inflated their own importance within the KGB to appeal to Western readers.
Our interview took place in Solomatin's comfortable apartment in Moscow where he lives with his wife, Vera, in a building reserved for former top KGB agents. Still fiercely loyal to the Russian Foreign Intelligence service, Solomatin insisted that all questions posed to him be submitted first in writing. After the interview began, however, he strayed from his carefully prepared text and, spoke emotionally about his family and country. Now 70, his breathing interrupted by a nagging cough brought on by decades of heavy smoking, Solomatin spoke for three hours, in English, only occasionally pausing to take a drink of water and nibble on apple strudel prepared by his wife.
You have put a lot of questions before me and it is a pity that I cannot answer them all fully, but to do so would require a book for my answers. So I must give you short replies. First, however, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I was born long ago in the year when Lenin died, 1924. I was born in the family of a military man. I was brought up in the spirit of patriotism. I believed in the superiority of our Soviet system. Moreover, the people of my generation were told by our elders that if we worked hard - earthly paradise would soon follow. We believed this with all our hearts. Our elders even talked about definite dates. The thought that the Soviet system was not superior never entered my mind.
Being brought up in such conditions, in the middle of 1942, on the second day after I graduated from middle school, I immediately volunteered to fight against the Germans. I was only 17-1/2 years old. According to the rules which existed at the time, I would not have been called up for at least six more months. But the fate of my country was at stake and I decided that I couldn't wait. My mother, a loyal Russian woman, blessed me. I was ready to die for my country. I have always been ready to die for my country.
By the way, not all of the men who were born in the same year as me - including one Vladimir Kryuchkov [head of the KGB from 1988 until after the ill-fated August 1991 coup against Gorbachev] made the same choice as I did. Like your former Vice President, Mr. Dan Quayle, they decided to watch the fighting during the war from a place far away - somewhere safe and warm. During the war, I was a commander of a platoon of the regimental artillery. I fought in Poland and Germany. I received the Order of the Red Star and a couple of medals. In my country we have Orders, as well as, medals. Your military calls everything medals. There is a difference. An order is a higher decoration than medals here.
Q: Were they for bravery, gallantry?
A: Yeah, yeah, yeah. This no longer matters. I mention them only because I was eager to fight for my country. After the war, I studied in the Moscow Institute of International Relations, and I was then invited in 1951 to work in the Ministry of External Affairs, but I chose the foreign intelligence service. I stayed there until I retired in 1988. Now I don't work anywhere. I am seriously interested in the history of the Second World War. I read a lot on the subject. This is how my life goes. My wife still works. She is a scientist. I have two daughters and a grandson whom I try to bring up as a real Russian man, as I now understand that. That's all.
Q: What do you mean - a real Russian man?
A: I don't care for communism or other ideology, you see. We tried it and it failed. I will not try to make him a communist, as my parents made me. I will not try to make him a socialist or a capitalist. Rather, I want him to be a man who loves his country. That is what is most important. It disgusts me that so many Russians have turned their backs on Russia and are so quick to endorse the western life that they once swore to defeat. They have no honor.
Q: Please tell me about how you met John Walker?
A: It is important to understand that we didn't have to search for him. John Walker came on his own will to the embassy in Washington and asked to meet with the man responsible for security. This is how it generally happens. Very few Americans can be enticed to spy or be recruited by an agent. Most come to us and volunteer. Walker introduced himself as a petty officer of the Navy who had access to secret documents and he said that he wanted to sell the documents. He didn't say anything about his love for communism or for the Soviet Union. And because of that, he showed himself to me to be a decent man because as a rule, the people who want only money always try to camouflage their real desire. They try to act as if they are ideologically close to us. But Walker did not. He made it clear that he wanted money and I respected him because of that.
Q: How did you know that he was not a double agent sent by the CIA or FBI?
A: Of course they are constantly sending us double agents, people who pretend. But Walker showed us a monthly key list [codes] for one of your military cipher machines. This was extra-ordinary and I immediately decided to take a major risk. Please keep in mind that the resident, or KGB Chief, just as a CIA Chief of Station, as a rule, does not talk directly to volunteers who come into an embassy. But in this case, Walker was offering us ciphers [codes], which are the most important aspect of intelligence.
Q: The ultimate targets?
A: Precisely. I decided personally to talk to him, to get my own impression, so that I could decide if we wanted to work with him in the future. I should say here that I like risk - at least risks that seem to me to be reasonable. I'm sure that without risk there can be no real productive intelligence. Hundreds of the intelligence officers -- ours and Americans -- who do not wish to run a risk still happily live after retirement. Often they are simply lazy. That's one of the problems in intelligence. In ours, in yours.
So I spit on all the rules and regulations and met with Walker face-to-face for two hours with only the two of us present. Of course during the first meeting I couldn't be totally sure that Walker was not a double agent but somehow I felt that he was not one. Let me explain a little bit of spycraft to you. To implant a double agent into a competing intelligence service is very difficult and expensive. Though there are many attempts at this, the success, to my opinion as a rule, is minimal.
During my career, I could have been or must have been a victim of several double agents cases - men who pretended to be spies. But after two or three of my people's meetings with them, I happily recognized them for what they were. The trick for a KGB agent to avoid being fooled is first of all to know enough about America to know what is secret and what is not secret. And that question often can be answered by asking this question: is the information being offered to me going to damage the country of the person giving it. For instance, in the case of John Walker, I knew that Norfolk was the East Coast main base for the U.S. naval fleet. I didn't know at the time much, but after meeting Walker I studied your Navy in detail. Also I did not and still do not know of a single instance when any intelligence service has used as a double agent a man with a sample of cryptography. Ciphers and code machines are too important, too sensitive for anyone to risk, even if they came up with a false example. Ciphers are too serious. The intelligence service cannot allow itself a game around such a serious matter.
There is something else to remember. Even if one service is feeding another service rubbish, a wise intelligence officer can learn much from that rubbish. Whether they send you true or false information - the fact that they send anything is a clue to how they think.
So when I saw the ciphers, which seemed to be real, I suspected that Walker was not a double agent.
Q: When did John Walker Jr. first walk into the Soviet Embassy? He claims that he can't remember and the FBI has never been certain. This date could be important.
A: I am surprised that he has forgotten. I didn't keep a diary, but this date I could never forget because of what followed. It was in October 1967.
Q: That is much earlier than anyone has ever reported. It means that he spied for the KGB from late 1967 until mid-1985, more than 17 years. That must be a record. It also means that he became a spy three months before the U.S.S. Pueblo, was seized off the coast of North Korea in January 1968. We know that the North Koreans captured an actual KW-7 cipher machine from that spy ship. At the time, the KW-7 was the most widely used code machine in the entire U.S. military. The Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, even the CIA used it to send messages. If Walker gave you the codes and the North Koreans gave you the actual machine, then you had everything you needed to read our military secrets. Did they give you that machine?
A: I don't make out of myself a man who knows everything in intelligence - as some former officers of the First Department who have written their books try to do. In intelligence and counter-intelligence only the man who is heading these services knows everything. I am saying this because all the questions concerning ciphers and cipher machines were under another department - in a directorate outside of mine, similar to your National Security Agency, which is quite separate from your CIA. But this much I will say. Whether or not the North Koreans gave us a working KW-7 machine is really of no importance. How can I say this? Because in your own book about John Walker, your Family of Spies, you say that he and his best friend, Jerry Whitworth, provided the KGB with the technical drawings that we needed to construct a working KW-7 machine and later other code machines. Walker has admitted to your FBI that he did this. Do you understand what this means, the significance of this compromise? For more than seventeen years, Walker enabled your enemies to read your most sensitive military secrets. We knew everything! There has never been a security breach of this magnitude and length in the history of espionage. Seventeen years we were able to read your cables!
Copyright 1995, Pete Earley Inc. All Rights Reserved
Wonder why this got sent to chat?
I don't know.
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