Russian spies on the hippy trail

THERE ARE tales of love affairs and drinking bouts, of shooting pens and booby-trapped cars, of treachery and honest patriotism. Undercover Lives: Soviet Spies in the Cities of the World, edited by Helen Womack of The Independent, offers insights into the daily lives of agents whose exploits sound like a low-rent mix of James Bond and Boris Badenov, the nudnik Russian spy in the American cartoon series Rocky and his Friends.

Half a dozen former spies who contributed to the book gathered in Moscow yesterday at the press centre of the Foreign Intelligence Service - a successor to the KGB - to tell their stories and get a first look at copies of the book.

Womack said she helped to translate and edit the KGB Guidebook to Cities of the World, a nuts-and-bolts guide to leading spook sights, published two years ago. That gave birth to the idea for her own book, a memoir of spies' lives.

Vasily Timofeyev, once the KGB's man in Bangkok, offers a guide to dining with informants in the Thai capital. The key, he says, is to find a restaurant off the beaten path that is busy, but not too busy, with music that is loud, but not too loud. The lights should be dim.

He also worked in Delhi, and describes his efforts to recruit an American yoga enthusiast in the 1970s, when many young Americans sought spiritual succour in India.

Most of the time, Timofeyev says, he was supposed to be ferreting secrets out of Indians. But the KGB considered any American, no matter how useless their knowledge or clueless their contacts, a prize catch.

Timofeyev tagged along with his target to a yoga seminar in a provincial city, and had to participate to prove his sincerity. "I sat in the Lotus position - well, half-Lotus to be precise - and did the Cowface, Cobra and Modified Fish postures," the ex-spy recounts. "And I breathed."

Eventually, Timofeyev gave up on his potential recruit, having concluded: "He was a yoga fanatic and nothing more."