Through the Looking Glass (page 3)

by Edward Jay Epstein

The "outer" KGB was made up of personnel who, out of necessity, had to be in contact with foreigners, and were therefore vulnerable to being compromised. It included KGB recruiters and spotters posted to embassies and missions ,military attaches, disinformation and propaganda agents and illegal case officers who worked abroad. Since they had to be in touch with Westerners, if only to attempt to recruit them as spies, they were assumed to be "doomed spies". A certain percentage would, by the law of probability would be caught. These "doomed spies" were the equivalent of pilots sent on raids over enemy territory. They were not only restricted from knowing any state secrets (other than what was necessary for their mission), but they were purposefully briefed on what it was useful for the enemy to learn if they were captured.

The "inner" KGB was the real repository of secrets. It was limited to a small number of trusted officers, under the direct supervision of the Politburo, who planned, orchestrated, controlled and analyzed the operations. ( According to Golitsyn, all potential security risks, which included most of the officers of Jewish descent, were transferred into the outer service in preparation for the reorganization).

A "China wall" existed between these two levels. No personnel from the outer service would ever be transferred to the inner service, or vice versa. Nor would any personnel in the outer service ever be exposed to strategic secrets other than what had been prepared for them to divulge as disinformation.

Angleton realized the implications of this reorganization. If Golitsyn was correct, it meant that the CIA knew virtually nothing about its adversary's capacity for orchestrated deception. To be sure, it had received fragmentary clues from other sources that Soviet intelligence was undergoing shifts in its personnel in 1959 but it had not been able fit these developments into any meaningful pattern. Seen through the new perspective provided by Golitsyn, the KGB turned out to be a different and much more dangerous instrument of Soviet policy. Its principle objective was to provide information to the CIA that would cause the United States to make the wrong decisions. Such information would appear to be credible because it would be fashioned to dovetail that U.S. intelligence received from other sources.

It meant, moreover, that very targets the CIA was going after as recruits-- diplomats, military attaches, journalists, dissidents and intelligence officers-- were the carriers of this disinformation. They were all in the outer KGB. Even if they were persuaded to work in place as moles for the CIA, their information would be of dubious value. All they would have access to, aside from trivial details about their own espionage apparatus, was disinformation.

Nor would any microphones the CIA planted in Soviet embassies be of any use. The chatter they would eavesdrop on would come from those excluded from the real strategic secrets of the inner KGB. They would thus only reinforce the disinformation.

The Golitsyn thesis went further than invalidating the present tactics of the CIA and FBI. It impeached many of their past successes-- at least since the reorganization in 1959. This reassessment would be particularly damaging to double-agents and defectors who claimed to have access to strategic secrets. If they could not have had such access, as Golitsyn asserted, they had to be redefined as either frauds or dupes. In this new light, heroes became villains,and victories became defeats. It was the equivalent for the CIA of stepping through a looking glass.

When Angleton presented the Golitsyn thesis to CIA and executives on the operational side, it aroused fierce resistance. Neither CIA nor FBI recruiters were willing to accept the idea that they were going after the wrong Soviet personnel. This would make them the accomplices, albeit unwitting, of Soviet deception-planners. They also were not receptive to a concept of the CIA that discredited valued sources, such as Oleg Penkovskiy, on whom many of them had built their careers. There was also the practical problem that the conclusions drawn from these sources had been forwarded over the years to the National Security Council and the President. The inference that this CIA product was based on KGB disinformation was not therefore not attractive to most of the executives of the CIA.

At the FBI, the Golitsyn thesis was rejected out of hand by J. Edgar Hoover. He had a very powerful motive since FBI agents had recruited a number of Soviet diplomats at the U.N., such as Fedora and Tophat, as sources. They not only claimed that they had access to secrets from the decision-making level of the Politburo, but they furnished them on demand to the FBI. Hoover had personally passed some of this material directly to the President. He was not about to accept an interpretation that would render this data KGB disinformation.

In 1967, he ended the issue, at least within the FBI, by branding Golitsyn a Soviet-controlled "provocateur and penetration agent" . He advanced the theory that the KGB had staged his defection to discredit the FBI. He then refused any further cooperation with the CIA aimed at substantiating Golitsyn's story. For example, he pointedly withdrew a FBI surveillance team which had been watching a suspect round-the clock on behalf of the CIA. And, as the tensions over this case increased, Hoover broke off all liaison relations with the CIA. (In 1978, after Hoover's death, the FBI acknowledged that Fedora and Tophat were KGB-controlled disinformation agents).

By 1968, American intelligence was , as Helms described the situation, "a house divided against itself". Angleton's staff, and others executives who accepted Golitsyn's thesis, saw the need to take precautions against a reorganized KGB. Instead of targeting Soviet bloc embassy personnel, as it had done before, they wanted to find new ways of penetrating the heart of Soviet intelligence. They also had to make sure that their decisions were not being fed back to the KGB-- even if this meant disturbing careers paths in the CIA.

Those involved in the gathering of intelligence saw the situation in very different terms. The attempt to validate the thesis of a Soviet defector had prevented the CIA's Soviet Russia Division from going after promising Soviet recruits. It had also led to defectors being held offshore to avoid another "Nosenko" incident. And it kept reports officers, whose job it was to extract information from agents' reports, from extracting valuable information from sources who had already been recruited. It had, from their point of view, all but paralyzed normal intelligence operations.

The frustration of these officers was intensified by the secrecy surrounding the dispute. Few of them were briefed on the Golitsyn thesis. All they knew was that their work was being called into question by Angleton and his staff. As the years dragged on, the mysterious investigation appeared to them as nothing more than "sick think".

What neither side in the CIA could see was the other's logic. It was like the celebrated experiment in Gestalt psychology in which one can either see two faces or a wine cup in a picture , but not both. Similarly, the CIA could not deal two mutually exclusive concepts of its enemy. What its operational officers and analysts looked at as valid information, furnished by Soviet sources who risked their lives to cooperate, counterintelligence officers saw as disinformation, provided by KGB dispatched and controlled sources.

Finally, Helms decided that Gordian knot had to be cut. He suggested that the test of Golitsyn's thesis should be its utility. Could it be used to identify the deceptions of the Kremlin? If not, what good was it to the CIA? Helms asked, what had 7 years of debriefing Golitsyn produced in practical terms: " an elephant or a mouse?."

Golitsyn had never claimed to have participated in any of the actual deceptions planning. He had only seen the mechanism for executing them being put in place.

When pressed by Angleton's staff as to what these deceptions might be, Golitsyn could only extrapolate from clues a decade old. They were, at best, unproven theories. For example, he speculated that many of the apparent divisions in the eastern bloc, including the split between China and the Soviet Union, had been staged to throw the West off balance.

When he presented them in 1968 to the special committee Helms had assembled, he was unable to convince its members, especially since they directly contradicted the CIA's picture of world events. When skeptic pressed him about his evidence, he became extremely defensive, and demanded their evidence for disputing his theories. The meeting ended acrimoniously, with Golitsyn shouting back at the CIA experts as they subjected him to a cross-fire of objections.

Helms concluded that whatever the value of the "vintage" information that he supplied, Golitsyn's speculations about current KGB operations, to which he had no direct access, was worthless to the CIA. He had failed the test.

Angleton, who had survived in the CIA bureaucracy for twenty years, understood that this meant that ~Golitsyn was to be "put on the shelf". A patient man, he was willing to wait to see if future evidence developed. In the meantime, he encouraged Golitsyn to set down all the details of the KGB reorganization in a manuscript.

The issue of Soviet deception was not settled until 1973. While Helms was willing to tolerate the doubts of Angleton, the new Director William E. Colby, was not. Colby, the son of a Jesuit missionary, whose main experience in the CIA had been in paramilitary and political activities, rejected out of hand Angleton's complicated view of KGB strategic deception. He saw the job of the CIA as a straight forward one of gathering intelligence for the President. He considered "the KGB as something to be evaded" . It was not to be the "object of the CIA's operations". Whereas Angleton had encouraged a policy of suspecting "walk in" defectors and double-agents, he decided to encourage their recruitment. He explained:

"We spent an inordinate amount of time worried about false defectors and false agents. I'm perfectly willing to accept if you try to go out and get ten agents you may get one or two that will be bad. You should be able to cross check your information so that you are not led very far down the garden path... at least you'll have eight good agents."

This conceptual change was reflected in a top secret order that went out to all CIA stations in 1973. Rather than rejecting REDTOPS who made contact, until their bona fides could be established, it advised:

" Analysis of REDTOP walk-ins in recent years clearly indicates that REDTOP services have not been seriously using sophisticated and serious walk-ins as a provocation technique. However, fear of provocations has been more responsible for bad handling than any other cause. We have concluded that we do ourselves a disservice if we shy away from promising cases because of fear of provocation... We are confident that we are confident of determining whether or not a producing agent is supplying bona fide information."

Angleton had lost the battle. It was only a question of time before Colby formally got rid of him.

[back to archive]

if you have any comments please reply below:
your email:

Questions? Email me at
This website is still (heavily) under construction. The webmistress can be reached at