This 70-minute conversation with the former KGB General Oleg Kalugin took place on March 31, 2019, at his residence near Washington, D.C. The conversation was tape-recorded, which is rather unusual for Mr. Kalugin. During the taping, he occasionally threw suspicious glances at the tape recorder, as if seeing a serpent on his coffee table.
I was trying to pose short, “black-and-white” questions hoping to receive simple and straightforward answers. I cannot say that I succeeded as by the end of my interview, I could not help but feel that Mr. Kalugin’s answers to some of my questions were quite equivocal.
I then decided to involve Vladimir Popov, former KGB Lieutenant Colonel, who was one of my co-authors of the book KGB Plays Chess (2010) and who is currently residing in Canada. During his service at KGB, he specialized in recruiting agents from the population of athletes and intellectuals – writers, journalists and actors. I asked Mr. Popov to evaluate the information supplied by his former colleague from a professional point of view. His commentary clarified several points in Kalugin’s narrative and became an afterword of sorts to the interview itself.
– Oleg Danilovich, you promised to discuss Trump with me. You said that you knew and appreciated the extent of Trump’s activities in Moscow. Also, now that the Mueller investigation is over, I would like to know what you think about Trump.
– Trump was elected by the American people, so here you must accept it – whether you like it or not…
– Ok, consider it accepted.
– But, for, example, during the prior Administration, I rather liked Obama for number of reasons, but Trump, when he was still in Russia and long before he became a politician, he behaved in a way that, let’s just say, KGB took notice.
– Could you please be more specific?
– I do not recall whether he was married or not at the time, but he behaved rather freely.
– Are we talking about 2013 or an earlier period?
– It was before, since in 2013 I was already in the United States, and what I read in Russia, that was before 2000.
– What do you mean by “read”?
– There were some documents. As you know, there was a time when I had complete access to all the documents of that certain organization. I mean, that was before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
– These were internal documents?
– Yes, of course. At that time, all foreign visitors – especially those who expressed specific interest in Russian everyday life – e.g., girls and the like – they were always noted and observed, as they say, with great interest.
– Let’s begin there, since Putin recently gave a speech, and when…
– Yes, my former subordinate.
– And when he was asked about Trump, he said “You think we monitor all foreign visitors?”
– Of course, not all the foreign visitors are monitored – there are not enough resources for that physically – but the majority, especially those from the United States and Europe, they were always monitored. KGB was the largest organization world-wide by the number of people, by the financing it received, and by other measurements. And, by the way, by the number of foreign agents.
I can quote one specific figure – until 1962, I think, the Soviet intelligence had several hundred Americans in the States who were working for them. They mainly worked for the Soviets out of the ideological convictions. They wanted to build socialism and communism in the United States but have not managed to become the Communist Party members. We could not touch the US Communist Party. There was a directive at some point – do not touch the Communist Party. It was already controlled by the FBI. Thus, we could not completely discredit it. But the members of the Communist Party could advise us if necessary.
By the way, I remember having met one of the leaders of the Communist Party when he still worked here in the States, and he said to me: “Listen, Oleg, I have a connection, and his son, a young fellow, wants to collaborate. Perhaps you can talk to him?” I met with this young fellow. He was 18. We had a conversation and I said to him, “You know, can you please articulate in writing what you want and why… and I will send this to the people in charge of this since I am not”. I said it to keep the appearances. And then he wrote, as I remember, and we sent this letter to Moscow, and the response was, “He is too young, just 18 years old.” I said, “Yes, when he is 25, he may be working for the CIA or FBI, in Pentagon….” So, he started working for us.
This was a long time ago, and I am not sure where he is now. But at the time, the Soviet intelligence was subsisting on people working for it based on their ideological outlook. So that, as you see, blackmail and money were not the integral part. The principal focus was the sympathy towards the Soviet Union and its system. I remember having told him “Just please do not join the US Communist Party since it is being watched by FBI and you would just wreck your career.” And he said “OK, I will not do that, if that is the case…”
– So, the idea that Trump was being watched by the Soviet intelligence forces, is correct?
– Trump is a businessman who is rather successful as the scale of his operations shows, but when he was in Moscow, he met there with some Soviet female comrades, as they say, and must have left some mark.
– He started visiting Moscow in the 1970s…
– Yes, he started a while ago...
– And he was watched by the KGB?
– Because he was seeing some girls?
– How do you know that?
– I know that since the time when I still worked for the KGB.
– So, it was in some internal memoranda?
– Yes, since I was the Head of the Department of Foreign Counter-Intelligence Service. And its first mission was infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence, counter-intelligence, police forces all over the world. But the United States, of course, were leading the pack, with NATO and European countries being second, et cetera. China was not prominent in that space back then.
– And you remember Trump?
– Yes, I remember. It was a long time ago and he was noted even back then.
– If it were still during 1980s, this information must relate to the period when Trump was visiting…
– Soviet Union still existed… Before the collapse, before the “geopolitical catastrophe”, as Putin referred to it, the largest one in geopolitical terms…
– Yes, “the largest geopolitical catastrophe in the world.” This means that Trump could have been recruited even back then?
– No, it does not mean that he could have been recruited. But KGB for sure had a dossier on him.
– What would typically happen in those circumstances?
– It could be that nothing would happen, at least during that period. But at some later point of history or life, someone could have “remembered” about it. KGB generally had a pretty good “memory”.
– They could possibly “remember” or would have “remembered” for sure?
– They could. Not for certain, but they could.
– What would need to happen for them to be certain to “remember”?
– Well, if he were, for example, close to some Russia-related affairs, then [they would have “remembered”] certainly. But if he were somewhere in the periphery…
– He did become close to Russia-related affairs. He conducted business, including business in Russia…
– That is why he was of interest even before, in the old days. And, by the way, you know, he is rather friendly towards Putin, and I think it makes sense.
– Yes, and we are trying to determine why is he so predisposed towards Putin.
– I think it is partly because of that – what I am talking about.
– Because he knows that there is some compromising information about him?
– Yes, he knows.
– And how is this compromising information captured? Videos? Testimony? Witness testimony?
– I do not know.
– There is information out there that Trump’s first wife was being watched by the Czech Secret Service.
– It is entirely possible. But if she were being watched by the Czech Secret Service, then she was also watched by the Soviet Secret Service. Because Czech intelligence and counter-intelligence was one of the closest to the Soviets, unlike, say Polish or Hungarian. The Czechs were our “brothers in arms” in all respects, at least until the Czech events, the Prague Spring.
– This, in fact, happened later, in the 1970s.
– But everything was fine during the 1970s. In fact, everything was fine until the Soviet Union fell apart. Well, “normal” in terms of relations. Except… Well, the Poles were always rather self-reliant and that is understandable. The Hungarians at some point… The nicest and most reliable folks were certainly the Bulgarians.
– Can you please tell me if it is indeed the case that Trump was watched by the Russian Intelligence?
– It was inevitable for any American during that time.
– If, as you said, there were compromising materials with respect to him…
– One can only guess.
– You just said that he was into some “monkey business…”
– Yes, just like many Americans. I read archive materials. By the way, it was already in Leningrad, when I was working as the First Deputy of the Head of the Leningrad KGB and had unlimited informational access, including access to different historical documents. And it was in Leningrad, since it was as important of a capital as Moscow, that I happened to read a lot of rather interesting materials, including those pertaining to the United States, and to the Great Britain, of course.
– And what was specifically described there, do you remember?
– I do not remember, some meetings with women… It was typical for the American visitors…
– And were these women random or were they “assigned” to him?
– They could have been random, but the predominant majority of those “random” women who worked (i.e., slept) with the foreigners, was controlled by the KGB. There were certainly volunteers… But sooner or later, they all became informants. They were either punished for prostitution or had to work as informants.
– So, we should not be imagining that there was pure love?
– I do not think we should. I mean, everything is possible in this world. “Our life is varied, and the storm clouds sometimes come with storm” [this is a line from a song – YF] (Laughs)
– And the modeling agencies from which many of these women originated, the modeling agencies themselves, were they all were also watched by the Secret Service?
– Yes – particularly within the Secret Service. The Internal Security Service. You know, during our time, they controlled everything except the Party organization. This was the only thing they could not do.
– I ask because two wives of Trump, by some coincidence, are from the modeling agencies.
– Yes, and in addition, both were, as they say, of Slavic descent.
– So, is it too crazy to suspect that they could have been recruited before meeting Trump?
– One cannot rule it out completely. I am not sure but cannot rule it out.
– Ok, so this person about whom there is compromising information and about whom it is known that he visited Russia, hooked up with women, becomes a Presidential candidate – still, just a candidate – from the Republican Party. What would you say should have been happening at that point in Moscow, on Lubyanka, former KGB, now FSB Headquarters?
– No one would have objected in Moscow. On the contrary… They surely did not need Hillary Clinton. And her opponent, Republican, as a President – that would have been quite feasible for them.
– So, the hypothesis that Moscow helped Trump during the Presidential Election campaign is correct?
– One can suppose that this is the case, but I do not have any specific information. But I think it’s possible.
– And can one also suppose that Moscow was watching all this from the sidelines, while knowing about Trump and the compromising information that exists about him, and did nothing?
– It’s possible… Let them elect, and then we can decide, after the election.
– So, you presume that Moscow did not influence the election?
– I think, they did not influence it in the sense that they did not undertake any specific action but the candidate himself thought that Moscow could influence the elections because one can expect from Moscow anything at any time. Be it Polonium or anything else.
– So, it was a silent pact or were there any specific actions?
– I do not know. I would think it’s possible that some actions took place, but I do not know. But the fact that the current President is friendly towards the Russian leader, is one of the indicators, in my opinion, that makes one think: “Why are they so friendly?”
– Literally the other day, we were all (or at least I was) surprised by the results of the Mueller investigation regarding the absence of proven collusion between the Trump Campaign and the Russian Government. What do you think about it?
– They did not necessarily have to find something – KGB was always successful at that.
– And what were they looking for and what could they find?
– Perhaps there were some materials. Because there were some defectors from the Soviet Union and people who left with documents. Like Litvinenko. By the way, when he lived in London and started talking about Putin – he knew Putin personally – I called him and said, “Sasha, you should not be sharing these things with the press, you may have problems.” And he died six months later. As unfortunate as it was, it’s a fact. He, particularly, was blabbering away on the topics that were not safe to blabber on, and he got Polonium. He was not the only one, but since he happened to live in London, the story became quite public…
– What if Michael Flynn, the US General, visits Moscow, meets with Putin, among others, while there… We are talking about October-November-December 2015. If later on, he receives financing for official cooperation from some Russian organizations, including Russian television, from Russia Today… If he later becomes a National Security Advisor for the President of the United States, and if he meets with Kislyak [the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States - YF] and tries to establish an “independent channel of communication” – what does this all tell you?
– In this case, one can interpret it in number of different ways. But usually that kind of a communication channels are not established through Ambassadors. On the other hand, Kislyak is probably a reliable asset. That’s the nature of the “organization.” Ambassadors are not appointed randomly. So, Flynn must have been counting on something.
By the way, when I worked in Washington, my Embassy boss was Anatoly Dobrynin. He was a wonderful person, very intelligent, very exemplary, I would say. He was even feared by the then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko, because he had a real chance of becoming a Minister himself. That is why he was kept in the United States all the time. He served as an Ambassador for something like 15 years. I knew him. He and I had a very good personal relationship.
At that time, I was a Chief of our Washington Bureau, an Acting Chief, to be exact. Why I was an “acting” and not a real one was because there was a journalist Anderson and another journalist Drew Pearson. And my activities must have been too unacceptable for the US Secret Service. So, Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson – they had an editorial column at the time – wrote the following: “And that Kalugin character, who supposedly works as a press-attaché of the Soviet Embassy, but really is from KGB, is busy seducing American women to recruit them for the Department of State while his wife cooks dinner for him.” That was the nature of the publication. (Laughs). But Moscow took it rather calmly. They were just concerned that I would be deported from the United States, but no one deported me. All was fine. I was told: “Curb your activities just a bit but do not worry.”
– By the way, on the topic of “seducing the women…” After I published the article about Dmitri Simes, one of my contacts, an elderly woman, called me and said: “I know all about Simes building relationships in Washington – he was supplying women to the US politicians.”
– Yes, I heard that story.
– Is this possible?
– Why not. Everything is possible.
– Do you know anything about it?
– No, I do not remember. Simes seemed somehow afraid for me when we knew each other. So, he was not behaving as a typical American.
– Did you know him after 1991?
– Yes, yes.
– So, it was after he knew that you “left” the KGB?
– He kind of avoided me – “a traitor, does not merit a relationship.”
– Now he co-anchors a program in Moscow with Vyacheslav Nokonov.
– You do know that Nikonov is a grandson of [Stalin’s Foreign Affairs Minister] Vyacheslav Molotov…
– Yes, I know that he is a grandson of Molotov and a son of the Party Secretary of the KGB.
– Yes, correct.
– He was representing Yeltsin in KGB after 1991.
– Yes, yes, correct. By the way, Yeltsin at some point wanted to make me a Head of the KGB when he was the President, but his logic was the following: “I am afraid that we will not make KGB any better that way since I know for sure that half of the staff there respect and admire Oleg, while the other half detests him and considers him a traitor. So, this will result in a split of the KGB.” Yeltsin was correct.
– I am not sure he was. At the end, we got what we have.
– Yes, but that is a different story. Yeltsin was too trusting of a person. But, by the way – this is what is taken out from all his memoirs – Yeltsin, when he already retired, gave an interview to “Arguments and Facts”, I think, to some decent liberal Russian publication. So, he was asked by the person interviewing him, among other questions, “Looking back at your life, what were the mistakes that you made about which you feel particularly uncomfortable and ashamed?” Yeltsin said: “I made so many mistakes in my life that I do not want to even recall them.” “Well, can you name just a couple?” And he said: “The war in Chechnya and the election of my successor.”
– Well, it’s a good thing that he at least understood it at the end…
– Unfortunately, he “suffered” since he took on too much…
– You mean his alcoholism?
– Yes, but he was an honest man but that whole problem led to his demise. By the way, I listen to the Russian channels from time to time. I have Russian TV, several channels. Vladimir Solovyov said on March 27, I think, that Yeltsin was a traitor. I have it taped. I taped it right from the screen. I really did not expect this: Solovyov, the current anchor on the Russian TV…
– It was probably preapproved?
– Of course, he could not just spit it out himself. And I thought for some reason that the current Russian leaders have been made aware of Yeltsin referring to “the war in Chechnya and the election of my successor” as his two major mistakes – these were his words.
– There was a diplomat named Yevgeny Nicholayevich Makeyev. He worked in New York in 1971-1980 in a rather high post. I know that it is an atypically long term – nine years.
– Agree, it is not typical for the employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
– Precisely. And at some point, he was something like a Deputy General Commissioner of the United Nations. But my question is this: I know that the diplomates resided in a special area designated for the diplomates.
– While he resided in a separate high-end skyscraper…
– Yes, this is also telling.
– Still, close to the UN, about two blocks away. And Trump lived in that same building during those years.
– I think I read it somewhere.
– Do you think it is a coincidence?
– I am not sure. It might be.
– Or maybe not?
– Maybe not. I just do not know but I think either is possible.
– And could it have been that starting as early as the 1970s, while Trump was not yet…
– Not yet a political force…
– But nevertheless, he was already recruited?
– It is quite possible. By the way, when I was recruiting informants, my targets included Americans who at the time did not have much by way of an access but could get it in time.
– This coincides with the time when he met his first wife – i.e., it is in the 1970s.
– It is quite possible. I cannot say for sure since I do not know. But it is possible because during my last years at the KGB, I oversaw the international operations around the world. For example, I had – well, not I, but in KGB where I worked – there was one of the leaders of the Australian intelligence. Australia is far away. But Australia is a member of the alliance: USA, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia… He had document access of the scale that was unbelievable – such as to the UK documents. He delivered those to us. I personally traveled to Australia to meet with him.
– If we suppose that there were some compromising materials regarding Trump…
– Yes, it is quite possible.
– What would a person like that be afraid of? What is Trump afraid of? Is he afraid of the publication coming out and describing how he took women to hotels in the 1970s?
– I think that any reasonable person who is concerned about his career and personal life would not want this kind of publications wherever it was and whenever it was.
– And that would be enough to be so explicit in expressing love and respect for Putin?
– Yes. I think that this is one of the reasons for his friendly predisposition towards some of the Russian leaders.
– You think that this reason is enough or maybe there is something else?
– There may be something else too. But this is one of the serious reasons. By the way, when I worked in that organization, I had my own approach to this type of issues. If someone caught me somewhere in bed with a woman and tried to recruit me, I would say to that person: “Listen, these pictures are so interesting, can you please make me a few copies for my friends?” This kind of reaction immediately changes the dynamic, you see? You are showing that you do not care. This is how I would have acted, I am not kidding.
– And what if a foreigner is being recruited?
– I had a different position then: I was always close to Andropov, the Head of the KGB. I was close to him not only due to my official position. He just trusted me. Kryuchkov was then the Head of the Intelligence. And he came to hate me because of that, because Andropov would call me on the direct line and say, “Oleg, come by.” I am going and Kryuchkov is thinking: “What is he doing there? Why? It is me who is the Head of the Intelligence!” and Andropov would say: “Let’s have a drink, Oleg; tell me what’s going on.” And in that setting, I could not be insincere with him and would tell him exactly what I thought was going on.
– What exactly is a “recruited foreign citizen”? What is the difference between that person and an unrecruited foreign one?
– Recruited foreign citizen or any person is the person who acts in accordance with the requests or asks of the agent who recruited him.
– How does the process of recruiting happen? Is it something formal? Is it a signed document? Is it just based on a promise?
– There could be a signed document but not necessarily. Sometimes it is not necessary. For example, I recruited a few Americans. I never requested any sort of a formal pronouncement from them along the lines of “I will work for you.” For example, the first person whom I recruited – it was probably by pure chance. I was a student at the Columbia University then. It was in 1958, Nikita Khruschev already gave his speech in 1956 condemning the “crimes of Stalin”.
In 1958, I am walking across the Columbia University campus, and some guy approaches me and says: “I saw you on television.” I respond, “So what?” “Your Kruschev is a scoundrel and a traitor.” As a Soviet citizen, I could have told him “Get lost.” But I tell him “Listen, let’s go for a drink and have a talk”. We went to a bar and talked. To make a long story short, it turned out a month later that he had access to highly confidential information, which was then fuel for rockets. In Russia it was then just in a development stage, and I got samples and documents describing how to go about it. That was from a person who said “Your Kruschev is a scoundrel, traitor,” et cetera.
– You think you recruited him because he was sending you some message?
– He was just telling me about himself. I wrote to Moscow immediately that such and such person works in such and such place and could be very interesting to us. People in Moscow replied: “Oleg, you are still too young and inexperienced. It is FBI, the guy is a front. They made you. They will arrest you.” I replied “You know, I think that FBI does not possess that level of detail and nuance regarding the Soviet ideology. He knows too much about the Soviet affairs. Thus, it cannot be.” And I turned out to be right since only now one can maybe expect something like this from CIA but not from FBI. Hoover ran the FBI then. His people were “tough”, but they also did not know a lot of things. I wrote to Moscow again. They said: “It is very suspicious. But, on the other hand, considering the potential importance of the materials, the meeting is allowed.”
I went to meet this guy as we agreed – and there is this guy – I recognized him from a distance – who works for the Embassy in New York. He was there just in case, as I found out later, the FBI decides to arrest me. He would have said to them “How dare you? There is going to be a scandal, I will report.” So, this was already pre-programmed. I did not even realize all this and just noticed him. I am thinking “What’s going on?” So, I recruited that person and he brought me highly classified documents and samples of твердого топлива. It was just being developed in the USSR at the time.
– Did he understand that he was committing a crime?
– Yes, and he named Kruschev a traitor, to boot. That is why I went with him: if Kruschev is a traitor, then one has got to think – what does he mean exactly? So, it turned out, that he was in favor of the old Soviet system…
– That is, he was a Stalinist.
– Yes, absolutely, he was a Stalinist. And an American, to boot, with access and all that. By the way, many years later (I was back in Moscow then), one of our colleagues who defected and who knew about this operation – not in detail but had access to this agent – here in the US, he “approached” him. But he managed to relocate to Europe just in time – flew literally on the next day, and from Europe, he came to our colleagues and “defected” to the Soviet Union. I remember greeting him already in the Soviet Union, but Kryuchkov was already the Head of Intelligence at that point. He was a dreadfully suspicious person, and he thought that this was a double-agent and that he defected on purpose, as if he was being mistreated there, but in reality, he was still working for the Americans.
And so, given that he had foreign currency – and back then, one could not exchange foreign currency, it was a crime, and he managed to sell some amount of dollars – he was put in jail. That was just a formal reason. When his case started being considered, Andropov summoned me: “Oleg, this is your man.” I told him: “Yes. I think there is some serious mistake being made.” “Well, you go talk to him, maybe he would confess to you now.”
That was a rare occasion in my life. Many years passed by, I come to him in a jail in Lefortovo to meet with him. He saw me and raised his arms. I approached: “Hello, hello dear friend – what did you manage to do here, why did you have to involve yourself in foreign currency dealings?” And he literally started to cry. I hugged him… He says: “They think I am an FBI or CIA agent.” I tell him: “I will help you.” I went to Andropov the next day and told him: “Yuri Vladimirovich, there was a serious mistake. Believe me, this person would not start, just for some dollars…” Moreover, he worked for us not for the money. And it was then that Andropov said: “Oleg, you are young and inexperienced...” And this was an idea of Kryuchkov because he wanted to prove that I was recruited through this person. As usual, a nice twisty joke…
– What finally happened?
– Well, he was released from prison. I remember him from the time when I was already a free person, a candidate for the Deputy to the Supreme Council. I was a candidate, I met him accidentally somewhere on the street in Moscow, probably around 1989. I tell him: “Oh, hi – listen, you are alive and well!” He replies: “Yes.” I tell him “Listen, you were put in jail – that means this system has to be changed. You understand that the Soviet system requires very serious and radical reforms?” And he tells me: “You see, Oleg, you have to forgive me… I already did my time, I do not want to partake in any reforms, but thank you.” I hugged him. I have not seen him since. That is the story. The person served five years based on suspicion.
– He served a five-year sentence?
He served for several years. I tell you that when I found out about it, I talked to Andropov… He was very nice to me.
– But obviously not nice enough to trust you.
– That is why Kryuchkov hated me – he considered me a rival, thought that he would be sent somewhere and I will become the Head of the Intelligence. That outcome was entirely possible. Andropov called me behind Kryuchkov’s back and would tell me: “Oleg, would you come by and tell me what’s happening…”, and Kryuchkov – my direct boss – does not even know why I am being summoned.
– Did Kryuchkov summon you himself after that?
– No. But he said to me once: “So, you go, but do not tell me anything.” I say: “You do not ask me anything – ask, and I will tell you everything.”
– But he did not ask?
– No. He just started hating me. It was then that he got this idea that I was recruited while still a student and had worked for the Americans since then. To make the long story short, Kryuchkov had that issue. That is why he ended up badly.
– Oleg Danilovich, was Trump watched by the Russian intelligence?
– He was.
– So, for some time, he was being watched by the Russian intelligence.
– As were all the Americans and foreigners.
– And so, if the goal was to recruit him, how would it have been done? Someone comes to him and recruits?
– Usually these are the people who have an opportunity to meet him informally, somewhere in private. There are ways and means for that. In private setting, he could be told something or reminded of something.
– How is he reminded: “Mr. Trump, we have some compromising materials on you?”
– No, that would be too rude and obvious…. One should say: “We have not been in touch with you for a while, you are remembered well.” To hint that there are some materials regarding him – he would understand that. There would be no direct attempt to blackmail – I never went about like that.
– At that point, Trump is just another rich person. What makes him interesting?
– Another rich person… I knew, for example, a person who became a friend of mine – he died a week ago at the age of 98. I have his picture on my wall, together with the former Head of the CIA, Colby. He was a billionaire. He said to me once: “Oleg, I would do anything for you.” He was not interested in money, just in kinship.
– Out of the pure friendliness?
– Yes, out of the pure friendliness. By the way, I was told by another friend of mine (I think I can now talk about it – not sure that I ever spoke about this publicly), one of the FBI operatives, let’s say, whose focus was Soviet affairs, that, Oleg, if I knew you before, I would have worked for you. I was at his funeral, when he was being buried…
– He meant that he would have become a Soviet spy?
– I think so. Out of the pure friendliness. As for the blackmail – I never engaged in it myself.
– Ok, let’s say no one blackmailed Trump.
– He could have been blackmailed… But it is unlikely in a given situation… He could have just been “reminded”. And this immediately puts a person on guard and makes him want to resolve this in a peaceful way without a scandal.
– But what could one want from him? He was just a rich person at the time. Dealing in real estate…
– A rich person is an investment into the Russian economy, or in a Soviet economy, and not directly but through some sort of an organization, which is a front and which KGB could create artificially – or through an already existing organization of that kind.
– They want money from him or they are trying to pay him?
– To pay him if need be. But the most important thing that is needed from him is information, not money. Russia always had the money.
– What kind of an information could Trump provide as a businessman?
– He had connections with some bureaucrats. It could be that he understood the real economic situation in the country better than, say, some others.
– So, he could be a source of information.
– Yes, a source of information.
– Not necessarily of the secret information?
– Correct. I had a person like that, a Ph.D. in Political Science. He was about 15 years older than I. He was a lonely person – did not have women or friends. When I met him randomly, I realized that he was very educated and knew a lot. I decided to befriend him and to solve his issues. And so, after we met a couple of times, he told me: “Listen, Oleg, you are a discovery in my life. I would do anything for you.” I said: “Please send me the analysis of the situation. I would be very grateful since they would appreciate it in Moscow and it would be gratifying for you.” And he said: “Oleg, I would do it for you.”
– And what was that?
– It was his analysis based on his knowledge on a given topic.
– Was it attributed to him?
– No, it’s never done this way, and no one ever signs something like that.
– That is, this was an anonymous document?
– Absolutely. It was a revelation for me that he began to cooperate.
– Can we suppose, for example, that if certain information was expected from Trump, that he, too, was asked to write something down?
– It may be but is not necessarily so. One could provide the documents too.
– If there is a person like Trump who provides information, then there might be some permanent individual from KGB in the US with whom he is in constant contact and who is being “kept” in American just for that purpose?
– Yes, of course, it might be.
– Is it possible that Makeyev was kept in the US because Trump lived in the same building with him?
– One cannot rule it out, but one should not make an assertion like that without any evidence. It cannot be ruled out because intelligence is an intricate business. There are different nuances.
– Do you have any individuals that you recruited in the US who only talk to you or do you, in reality, “pass them along” to anyone?
– They talk only to me at some point but later, when I leave, when everything is over or when I go on vacation for a couple of months...
– Could they wait for a couple of months?
– We had a person who worked at the National Security Agency at some point… I was then a Deputy Resident in Washington, an acting Resident. So, this person worked irrespective of anything. First, there is a system of communication involving secret places: information is deposited in a certain place. I really succeeded in implementing that system. I met this one guy only once in my life, but I got very valuable documents from him when I worked here. He left them in a park, behind a stone. He drew me the location of that secret spot. I checked it out. And I left money for him in the same spot – a thousand or however many dollars, depending on the circumstances.
– So, if a person is recruited, he is being “curated” by only one person?
– Yes. By the way, KGB had, in that sense, a very strict code of retaining the source of information.
– For how many years could this person curate an agent and stay in the US for that reason?
– I told you a story about a person, whom I “led” for several years, and then he was “made” by one of our defectors who did not know either his last name or his first name but he relayed the information that the person transferred and he became a focus of investigation – they started to check and saw that he had a lot of money for some reason and he traveled a lot for some reason…. He went to Moscow then. And he was put in prison because Kryuchkov considered him a double agent. So, in intelligence, people’s fates are very uncertain. I got lucky that Andropov believed me, because otherwise, Kryuchkov would have put me in jail or would have arranged for some automobile accident, as it happened. That was the situation.
– What is your impression of Trump after the two years?
– It is obvious that he is trying to find some common ground with Putin. That much is clear.
– Do you have any explanation for that?
– I have one theory, which I already mentioned: when he was in Moscow back in the day, he could have left a “mark”, and naturally, someone made use of it. Since his friendliness towards the current Russian government is somewhat unusual, I would say, for an American President. Somewhat unusual, indeed, and too heartily warm.
– So we can suppose, and really, this was done already multiple times, that there is a compromising material concerning Trump.
– I know for sure that there was compromising material. But I do not know whether it was used.
– Is there anything in Trump’s actions that would point not only to the existence of a compromising material but to having been recruited?
– His friendliness towards the current Russian government raises questions, of course.
– In your opinion, as a person who worked for the KGB your whole life, is this the behavior of a person who knows that there is a compromising material on –him along the lines of the girls with whom he slept, or is this the behavior of a person who is a recruited agent?
– It could be either of these. He might not have been recruited and he might be simply afraid. And this is being used as a reason, as a factor. If there was an attempt like that, it would have been a long time ago. And at that time, there would have been reasons for that.
– For recruitment?
– For being approached with an offer of recruitment. There is a common word – blackmail. But I already said that I, for once, would have never been influenced by blackmail. But this depends on a person’s personality and the level of preparedness.
– At what level are the people who have information regarding “Trump in Moscow”?
– These are the people at a very high level. This is because all this happened a long time ago, and the documents are kept in special archives that cannot be accessed by a random employee who wants to find out something. I remember a story from my own life when I was transferred from Moscow to Leningrad, while in Moscow I had a very high position with direct access to Andropov.
He told me as follows: “Listen, Oleg, you know you are a wonderful employee, but you lived abroad all the time and you do not even know your own country. Go to Leningrad, become a second-in-command there, and you will learn about our Motherland. I promise that you will return no later than in a couple of years.” But Andropov died in two years, and I stayed there for seven years. Still, I was the First Deputy Chief of the KGB, Leningrad Department.
It was useful for me since I learned about real socialism at its fullest in Leningrad by being in touch with people: Soviet intelligentsia at all levels, with working class – well, not really a working class… It was specifically my Leningrad experience that led me to a conclusion that the Soviet system is unworkable and needs to change. The change in me was prompted not by the United States but by learning about my own country since I had access to all people, to materials concerning Leningrad, to all these things.
– Several attempts were made – one through Flynn and Kushner, when they spoke to Kislyak in the Russian Embassy, and then, later, when Trump became President – there were several open attempts by Trump himself to speak with Putin one-on-one, without any US diplomats being present, what does it all tell you? This attempt was first made in Finland, then in Vietnam…
– Yes, it all kind of took off from there…
– What did they have to discuss with Putin one-on-one?
– It was to establish a relationship of a kind that he would not feel like a potential blackmail victim. Because some time ago…
– Trump was supposed to whisper something to Putin and to agree on something with him?
– Of course, it was meaningful. About how “we will behave in a friendly manner, all of the differences in our systems and beliefs notwithstanding, and that we would remain true friends in a personal sense.” And in that situation, Putin’s behavior was entirely correct.
– So, you think that the attempts to speak one-on-one might be rooted in the fact that there is some compromising material regarding Trump?
– Not necessary. There might be other reasons, like getting to know a person in a real sense, as opposed to believing what you are being told.
– But for that, he can meet with Putin in the presence of the American translator and the Secretary of State.
– Yes, I understand. Obviously, there are some reasons for that. But what these reasons are – one can only guess.
– And what should we guess?
– We could guess that this is connected to his presence in Moscow a long time ago. I personally think that this is connected to his Moscow experience. But this is my opinion.
– Fine. So, we have been observing Trump for two years at this point. In your opinion, is he an agent or not?
– I am not sure, I cannot say. But the fact that he left a trace in the KGB documents at that earlier time – this is certain. I do not have any doubts about that.
– Do you remember what it was? Was it a one-page report, was it a large volume?
– In the USSR, a department called 7th Directorate existed within the KGB. This was a department that executed a physical surveillance and then they wrote reports about who communicated with whom and went where. And then the operatives analyzed what this could mean based on the existing materials – i.e., was it a random occurrence or if there was any meaning to it.
It was a known fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans used the services of the Russian girls, street walkers. And, of course, Soviet and Russian intelligence who were familiar with this situation, could use these girls in a specific way to make them earn money as they normally would, but also to earn something extra. Plus, there would be a guarantee that they would not be arrested for prostitution.
– Did any US journalist call you with questions about Trump?
– We talked but I never went into any detail… I am just speaking so openly with you, Yuri. No, I am always more careful with the Americans. By “careful”, I mean “restrained”.
– But it’s not like everyone was bothering you with questions about Trump?
– Sometimes they tried, but I found ways to avoid answering. I am just speaking with you this way… Such is life. So, should we have a drink?
– With pleasure. Many thanks.
Commentary by Vladimir Popov, a former Lieutenant Colonel of the KGB
Your question is rather complex. It is complex because this topic, if you will, is really a lecture about how a secret service of any country operates. You may be surprised but nothing that Kalugin said in this interview seemed controversial to me. On the contrary, he appears as a typical intelligence officer with an extensive experience in Intelligence. For that type of people, it is sometimes more important to remain silent or to speak generally and indirectly, so that, as they used to say in the KGB, it would not be possible to hold you to your words later. It is due to that experience that he spoke to you in allegories. It is not at all random (as a rule, the most important points are made at the end of the conversation or a letter), that he emphasized that he is even more careful with the Americans. I am sure he was completely honest.
Now, I can speak briefly about the process of recruiting by the secret service, and then about Trump, a topic of interest to you.
Each recruiting process is unlike the other. There are always different triggering motives regarding an agreement to cooperate with the secret service, especially, with the secret service of another country. And really, the psychological contact of the secret service operative with a potential recruitment target is extremely important, irrespective of whether they are both citizens of the same country or of different countries.
Whether a recruiting target signs something at the time of being recruited (using the KGB terminology) about cooperation or not, really depends on the preceding circumstances. As a rule, a written confirmation regarding an agreement was required when recruitment was based on some compromising materials. It is done just in case there is a later refusal to cooperate, as one more tool for blackmail.
Now, regarding Trump. As I have written to you earlier, any extraordinary foreigner who entered the USSR and Russia today, would have been, and is now being, watched by the Soviet-Russian secret service. Observation begins at a moment the person applies for a visa at a consulate. That is why the Foreign Intelligence officers serve as vice-consuls, or often even as consuls. From the moment that a foreign citizen applies for a visa, the first thing that happens is that there is a confirmation whether or not there is any information about him in an appropriate secret service department, after which there is an inquiry made at the Headquarters regarding any materials regarding that person and a recommendation about further investigation to the extent there is some information about him, such as regarding his position in a society (as a politician, a businessman, a journalist, et cetera).
Regarding Trump personally, I can state with full confidence that during his trips to the USSR and to Russia, he was closely investigated by the local Secret Service. That kind of investigation was not conducted with a view to recruit immediately. For the Secret Service, it was important to identify the psychological profile of a person, his political orientation, his attitude towards his home country and towards the country he was visiting for some reason. And then, after accumulating a sizable amount of material (based on a whole array of undertakings: plain observation, audio- and video-surveillance of the places of residence, agency-level scrutiny, including “honey traps”), on the basis of the analysis, a decision is made about a transforming the investigation into a recruitment with appropriate conditions (such as through compromising materials or a voluntary agreement) or about wrapping up the whole thing by “educating” a foreigner in order to convey a favorable image of a country that investigated him, in his home country.
As I also stated earlier, there is a high probability that Trump was recruited in the USSR or in Russia since during his visits, he behaved rather carelessly. However, the only way to confirm that theory is by having access to his dossier, which the Russian secret service certainly has.
Trump’s desire to meet with Putin one-on-one might be explained by him wanting to tell his vis-à-vis that his anti-Russian stance is nothing more but a condition of him remaining the President of the United States.