Out of Russia: Spy shrine keeps Philby spirit safe

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Moscow - Aldrich Hazen Ames, arrested a month ago in Arlington, Virginia, is yet to be honoured with a photograph or even a modest entry in Moscow's espionage hall of fame.

The honour roll is on the second floor of a brown stone building shared by Food Emporium No 40 and the Central Club of what was the KGB. It consists of four rooms dedicated to the triumphs of Russia's secret service, but the record trails off in a fog of discretion long before Mr Ames.

About the last of Moscow's agents in America to be graced with a public tribute is Klaus Fuchs, Stalin's man in the Manhattan Project.

The exhibition ventures further with Britain. An avuncular Kim Philby smiles down from the wall. Black-and-white photographs show him strolling in Red Square and slumped contentedly in an overstuffed armchair. A glass case contains his pipe, a stained place-mat decorated with carriages on Pall Mall and a copy of his book, in Russian, My Secret War.

Perhaps most galling for the British ambassador and lesser diplomats - including no doubt a few flunkies for MI6 - who have visited 12/1 Big Lubyanka Street will be the famous 1955 photograph of Philby, still in London and grinning madly, charming the pants off Alan Whicker and a phalanx of photographers at a press conference in his mother's flat. Only eight years later did he stop smiling and judge it wise to move to Moscow.

In reality, though, Philby no longer belongs here. Nor should Mr Ames ever be admitted. They worked for Moscow, of course. But they did not work for the people who keep the flame burning on Big Lubyanka Street today. Their profession is under new management.

The museum, more a shrine really, is stuffed with memorabilia: photographs, James Bond spy cameras, a dead-letter box used by Oleg Penkovsky, the pocket British flag found on Sidney Reilly when he was caught in 1925, an underwater tape recorder the CIA dropped next to a Soviet communications cable off Sakhalin. The whole collection now belongs to the Federal Counter-intelligence Service, which inherited it from the Ministry of Security, which inherited it from the KGB.

When the museum opened in 1984 for the private edification of agents, the KGB did everything: recruit, run and catch spies. Now a dozen services compete for the same turf. The Counter-intelligence Service, the KGB's direct but diminished successor, has lost half its staff. The payroll still covers more than 75,000 people, but it no longer has the big stars, the spies abroad. They come under a different outfit, Foreign Intelligence Service.

'I'm not sure whom Ames belonged to,' said my guide, Vladimir Merzlyakov, 'but if he did belong to anyone he did not belong to us.' He seemed a bit sad. Proud of an encyclopaedic knowledge of British spy books, he did not appear the type who would ever find bogus cans of Colombian mincemeat stuffed with cocaine - another exhibit and now supposedly the focus of his agency's work - as thrilling as, say, the biography of D A Bystrolov, a master of 22 languages, as many aliases and even more disguises, who earned a place in the museum by posing, variously, as a Hungarian count, a British earl, a Chicago gangster and a Japanese spy.

The less romantic side of the craft is not ignored. But the KGB ends up seeming victim, not victimiser. Mr Merzlyakov recited a list of past chiefs: 'Yagoda, executed in 1938; Yezhov, executed in 1940; Beria, executed 1953; Merkulov, executed 1953; Abakumov, executed 1954. Ours is the history of execution.' Faring better is Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka and father of Soviet spying. He still peers out from atop a pedestal downstairs across an echoing, colonnaded entrance hall of brown and black marble. His statue was removed from the traffic island in front of the Lubyanka after his men tried to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Inside, though, his place seems secure.

Admission to the museum is by appointment. There was talk at one time of opening it to the public and charging for tickets. Had the CIA visited more regularly they might not have got so steamed up about Mr Ames. They would have read Article II of Russia's 1649 legal code: a medieval mandate for the secret services. This is clearly a business that did not begin or end with the Cold War. Also put in context is the US Moscow embassy annexe riddled with bugs. The museum has a whole display explaining how the Soviet embassy in London was stuffed with listening devices too. The guide shrugs: 'Life goes on.'

Perhaps Russia's leaders should pay a visit. They might be interested to read a 1839 secret report to the tsar: 'The state can explode at any moment'. Or rather they might take note of how he responded to this particular bit of intelligence. He ignored it.

Dzerzhinsky could be helpful, if only as a reminder that Russia has been partly down this road before. On display are some of his pamphlets. One in particular might bear re-reading: 'The Battle to Lower Consumer Prices.' There is also a letter from 1926: 'If we do not find the right line and tempo, opposition will grow and the country will fall into dictatorship.' Even Lenin has sensible advice: 'Never can there be a revolution without counter-revolution.' A principle Russia's democrats should remember perhaps more than any secret revealed by Ames.