Out of Russia: KGB gets into the publishing act for a price

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MOSCOW - These days they call it the Russian Intelligence Service (RIS), but really it's the old KGB. When its members try to extend the hand of glasnost, it often doesn't work. Take yesterday, for example. Three members of the RIS met the press to announce the five-book deal the RIS has done with the New York publisher Random House.

For a sum undisclosed, but, judging by the participants' smart suits, in the millions of dollars, the RIS signed a deal to provide documents from the KGB files to two authors, one US and one Russian, on five subjects. These include such alluring topics as Trotsky in the United States, the Cuban missile crisis, KGB moles in Britain and the US, and Rudolf Hess' flight from Nazi Germany.

To get the full flavour of the RIS approach and their working guidelines on these subjects, it is necessary to listen closely to the dialogue from the press conference. Here is a precis.

Q: What files will the RIS-KGB give these two writers?

A: Of course, we must have some limits . . . Anything that is published will be thoroughly filtered. There will be a filtration process so as not to endanger any of our agents. No name will be known, and no documents of operational importance will serve as the basis for the books.

Q: So that means the names of the Oxford Five - the spy ring that operated in Britain before the Second World War - will not be revealed? What trade-union members or Labour Party members were given Communist Party funds; these names will not be mentioned even if the people are dead?

A: That is correct. There may be relatives who might be harmed by such disclosures. You cannot get CIA documents . . . and no one has access to British intelligence documents. So we cannot give them either.

Q: So . . . this is the old KGB's official version, now ready for publication, of events that happened many years ago. There's nothing independent about it, except for the millions of dollars that will flow into RIS coffers from Random House.

A: No. Your idea that the RIS has become a commercial organisation is not right. You see, the profits will be used for the intelligence services. I am sorry I cannot tell you the price of the contract; the New York publishers will not allow that.

Q: But what about the revelations in the Russian newspapers already coming out of the archives, such as the stories of the Communist Party funds being laundered abroad?

A: Yes, well of course we very much like Eugenia Albats (a Russian reporter who specialises in KGB and Communist Party exposes) and we are very proud of her achievements for democracy, but a person who is trying to kill a fly when striking it against her forehead is likely to kill herself . . .

Q: Oh.

A: It is outrageous what is happening in our archives, of course . . . foreign correspondents are given copies of secret communications between our London embassy and the foreign office here. (Such as cables in the 1970s about lunches between Labour and Tory leaders and Soviet embassy staff published in Britain this year.) Of course the treatment of archival material at present leaves much to be desired . . . it can do direct damage to the intelligence service, names have been quoted of active members and we have had to recall them.

Q: Two-part question: Why were these KGB documents sold to the Americans in the deal with Random House - and, as the KGB was a Soviet organisation, have the other countries now in the Commonwealth of Independent States been consulted on this project?

A: These documents will not be sold to the Americans, they will be given to the authors, and . . . they will be filtered. We have not consulted the other CIS countries, the KGB files are now in Russia. They are ours. If anything concerns the other republics they will be notified . . . we would not do anything to harm their interests.

At this point I felt had to ask: 'If no names will be published and no documents of operational importance will be used, why should we be getting excited about your project?'

A: No one should be getting excited about this; we are not trying to shock or to excite; these will not be the books of Ian Fleming. The problem is that certain questions of historical importance have not been taken seriously in the West and this will give us an opportunity to give a fresh look.

A: Oh.

Q: You say that these books will be published in several different languages, but we assume that the Russian edition will be the last, as usual.

A: No, they will be published simultaneously. If you have trouble finding a copy in Russian we will give you one. If you want the English version you will have to pay for it, of course.