Working Breakfast

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Russian Foreign Intelligence Director Interviewed on 'Secrets' of Profession

"Working Breakfast" interview with Sergey Lebedev, director of the Russian Federation Foreign Intelligence Service, by Timofey Borisov and Igor Yelkov at Rossiyskaya Gazeta editorial office in Moscow; date not given: "Intelligence Chief Reports. Foreign Intelligence Service Director Reveals to Rossiyskaya Gazeta the Secrets of His Profession" -- taken from html version of source, provided by ISP. Refiling: adding image of Lebedev; for assistance with multimedia elements, contact OSC at 1-800-205-8615 or

Rossiyskaya Gazeta

Friday, December 23, 2005 T10:55:37Z

Journal Code: 1855 Language: ENGLISH Record Type: FULLTEXT

Document Type: OSC Translated Text

Word Count: 5,096

On the eve of Russian Federation Security Service Workers' Day, Sergey Lebedev (director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, SVR) called at the editorial office and spoke exceptionally openly about the most "closed" topics.

() Sergey Nikolayevich, we have our own intelligence service at the editorial office, and it informs us of some things. For instance, we know that this year is a personal anniversary for you -- 30 years in foreign intelligence. What stages would you divide these 30 years of your life into?
Lebedev (, Sep 2001)
(Lebedev) To be honest, I have not thought about it. I suppose you could begin with the German period, when I was appointed to the German section in 1975. That period lasted 20 years. Then my functions and tasks were widened, I was put in charge of Central and Eastern Europe, I was chief of a directorate. The third stage, perhaps, is the American period of my work. Unexpectedly, I was suddenly asked to go to the United States. I spent two years working there. And the fourth stage is in the post of SVR director, the most responsible post, but on the other hand, also the most interesting.
() Understandably, intelligence officers are unwilling to talk about themselves. How long does the veil of secrecy remain, for instance, on illegals?
(Lebedev) For life.
() And your relatives might not know?
(Lebedev) Sometimes they do not know until the end of your life. These are the peculiarities of our work. My father died without ever knowing that I was serving in the intelligence service, although by that time I was already a general. He was very proud that I was a diplomat, he used to tell everyone that his son worked at the Foreign Ministry. Mom found out that I was an intelligence officer when I celebrated my 50th birthday. My colleagues made a photo montage with me in military uniform. She saw the picture and said: "In fact, I guessed you had something to do with intelligence."
() Four years and four months -- that was how long Primakov and Trubnikov worked in the post of SVR director before you. What were your feelings when you crossed this time barrier set by your predecessors?
(Lebedev) To be honest, I had forgotten about this hypothetical time limit, which expired on 20 September 2004. I was about to fly off on a mission, and suddenly, in the morning, they brought me a newspaper. On the front page was my portrait, and the words: "Today is a fateful day for the SVR director." I did not immediately realize what they were talking about, I thought: Maybe I had better not fly? Then I read on, and it became clear that I had been director for four years and four months, and then the question was raised: Would they replace me today, or not? The article was a good one in terms of the sentiments and the assessment of my activities. In the end the conclusion was: All the indications are that they will not replace me.
() That is even nicer because personnel reshuffles are particularly pernicious for the special services. Especially since the whole country experienced the 1990s, which were disastrous for the security agencies. Although it was also difficult in the beginning, when your service was created back in 1920 (referring to the SVR's Soviet predecessor). For a long time the Soviet intelligence service was considered the best in the world. It now gives us particular pleasure to congratulate you on these professional holidays -- Russian Federation Security Service Workers' Day and the 85th anniversary of the SVR. Do you have traditions for marking such dates?
(Lebedev) We have a whole range of different celebrations planned. This will culminate in a ceremonial soiree in the Kremlin on 20 December. We are planning to hold a general meeting in our Service, to which veterans, Heroes of the Soviet Union, Heroes of Russia, and order-bearers will be invited.
We are currently holding meetings with veterans. Americanists, Europe specialists, Arabists, orientalists, Westernists, and so forth are gathering together. The atmosphere at these meetings is very warm. We have proposed a number of our staffers for state awards -- in connection with the holiday, but for specific actions. The edicts have already been signed. The recipients include some who have been awarded the Order of Courage and "For Valor" medals.
() Are all of your edicts classified?
(Lebedev) Yes.
() What do people receive awards for in the intelligence service?
(Lebedev) Bravery, staunchness, courage.
() Can you reveal just one instance?
(Lebedev) For instance, one staffer of ours received the Order of Courage two years ago for actions in support of the withdrawal of the Russian Embassy convoy from Baghdad. You doubtless remember that incident, when the Americans fired on our convoy. The ambassadorial convoy was escorted by several of our staffers from the special team responsible for embassy security. The ambassador told me that these boys showed real courage. When the shooting began, one of our officers covered the ambassador's car with his own jeep. The ambassador was slightly wounded, but the officer suffered a glancing wound to the head. Despite being wounded, he managed to drag the ambassador out of the car. This staffer underwent surgery in Syria and several pieces of shrapnel were removed. Then he had a second operation in Moscow: The x-ray showed that there were still fragments in his head.
Later, the ambassador told me: "That SVR officer saved my life."
() Incidentally, just before the embassy convoy was fired on in Iraq, a story had appeared in the Russian press saying that the diplomats would be taking the Iraqi special services' archives out of the country. Was that really true?
(Lebedev) I can say quite definitely that that is complete rubbish. But the publication of that story undoubtedly created a hullabaloo over the convoy. And I am personally convinced that this provocative report may have been the reason for the attack on the convoy.
() Do you think the unification of the Russian special services is possible? The border guards have been brought back under the wing of the FSB (Federal Security Service). Would a merger of the SVR and the FSB be permissible, or is it impossible in principle?
(Lebedev) The debates on this subject never end. There are those who support unification and those who oppose it. I do not think this is the most important thing. What matters is not form, but content. The special services can actively collaborate and cooperate perfectly effectively while being under different departments. Very close collaboration among the SVR, FSB, GRU (military Main Intelligence Directorate), and FSO (Federal Protection Service) -- that is the main principle. No competition -- only constructive, comradely cooperation.
I think the existing structure of the special services' separate existence should be preserved. The past 14 years have confirmed the effectiveness of the Russian special services' activities on a separate basis. The experience of the leading states of the world also indicates the expediency of maintaining this system.
() What relationship does the SVR have with foreign special services? Whom do you consider your main rival among the world's special services? What could we learn, and what could the corresponding special services learn from us?
(Lebedev) We maintain relations of partnership with the special services of more than 70 states. We have pretty good contacts both with intelligence services and with counterintelligence services. First and foremost, of course, this applies to the special services of the leading states of the world: the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, China, India, the Arab states. We have a common task -- the struggle against international terrorism. And in my contacts with the leaders of Western special services I constantly say: Look what is happening in the world. The terrorists are uniting and forming international terrorist groupings. Organized crime is uniting. The drugs business is uniting to form international syndicates. Arms smuggling, again, is carried out by international groups. Therefore it is imperative for the special services to pool their efforts to counteract these threats. There are new avenues of cooperation too. For instance, the problem of ecological security is now acquiring increasing importance.
() The recent man-made disaster in China on the Songhua River is on everyone's lips. Did you have intelligence information on this incident?
(Lebedev) In this specific case, no. We simply could not have had such information, because this was not sabotage or a terrorist act, but an unexpected accident.
() But when we talk about ecological security in the broad sense, does this also refer to information of this kind from the intelligence service?
(Lebedev) Yes, of course. If tests of chemical or other weapons are carried out somewhere or if dangerous research is being carried out that could cause a serious ecological threat, then of course it is our duty to monitor these processes.
() Do your foreign colleagues also report to their own centers on how Russia is planning, for instance, to lay an oil pipeline along (Lake) Baykal?
(Lebedev) Many foreign intelligence services closely monitor our most important technical projects. This is routine work for the special services.
() At the moment the whole of Europe is in a stir over the sensational news that there were allegedly secret CIA jails in Poland and Romania. What information does the Russian intelligence service have about this?
(Lebedev) We do have some information, but I am not going to say anything specific.
() All the same, what is your personal opinion: Does the world public have grounds for such suspicions?
(Lebedev) I believe there are grounds. It is not for nothing that leading European politicians are discussing this subject with alarm.
() Under the 1992 Almaty agreement, the special services of the CIS countries do not work against each other. But today, with Georgia and Ukraine moving toward NATO, does this premise remain relevant? This is no idle question, because today all unbiased observers understand that what happened in Ukraine was not a struggle between political spin doctors but a struggle between special services. In these conditions, does your agreement remain in force?
(Lebedev) It remains in force with all the CIS countries. And with both Ukraine and Georgia. Moreover, it was renewed in 2000. And cooperation with the special services of the CIS countries continues. We are collaborating closely, first and foremost, of course, in the struggle against terrorism and extremism.
() Does that mean that political changes do not affect your relations with your former colleagues in the former USSR?
(Lebedev) Naturally we cannot remain aloof from political events, which do influence our activity in a certain way. For instance, the active rapprochement between certain CIS countries and NATO will unfortunately force us to review certain aspects of our cooperation.
() But you said yourself that your Service cooperates with the intelligence services of the NATO countries...
(Lebedev) Yes, but not in such depth and with such confidence as with the special services of the CIS countries.
() What can we tell from the experience of collaboration or competition on the part of the intelligence services of the youngest NATO members -- the Baltic states? How dangerous have the special services of these states now become as rivals, have they become a bridgehead for the NATO special services?
(Lebedev) We do not regard them as adversaries. The special services of these countries have naturally stepped up their collaboration with the special services of the NATO countries and operate in close contact with them. At the same time I do not think they represent any kind of serious threat to Russia, although we know that they do work against us.
() The emergence of serious problems is also contributing to the conclusion of an important strategic, economic, and political agreement on the construction of the Russia-Germany gas pipeline (sentence as published). Since the time of World War I the bottom of the Baltic has been the world's garbage dump. A dump for sunken ships and submarines. And saddest of all, chemical weapons. To what extent is the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service helping to ensure the future ecological security of the oil pipeline along the bottom of the Baltic, and who are your partners?
(Lebedev) The Foreign Intelligence Service is not directly involved with this problem, although we do monitor these matters. According to our assessments, claims that it is a garbage dump and that the entire sea bed is scattered with chemical weapons, bombs, and so forth are an exaggeration. Furthermore, the necessary studies will be carried out before the pipeline is laid. We believe that if all the required construction standards are complied with, the laying of the pipeline involves no ecological danger. There is a certain risk, but this risk is certainly surmountable, it is predictable and it can be avoided.
The topic of the ecological threat is sometimes artificially inflated by those who oppose the construction of this gas pipeline. It is no secret that it is first and foremost Poland and the Baltic states that feel aggrieved and are deliberately exaggerating this threat. Incidentally, a scientific institute in Rostock (FRG) recently carried out preliminary research and published findings that confirm our conclusions that, if there is an ecological risk, it is minimal.
() Recently the whole world watched, practically on live TV, the high-profile scandal in the United States when a high-ranking member of the presidential staff divulged to journalists the name of a career CIA employee. How do things stand in our country? Are there provisions for punishment for divulging the names of intelligence officers?
(Lebedev) We have a law that provides for criminal punishment for divulging information about an employee of the intelligence service. And about a source. But unfortunately this law has not yet been applied and not a single case has reached the courts. Although several employees of the intelligence service have been exposed precisely as a result of people blabbing. And, to be honest, when I heard about that situation in the United States, as leader of the intelligence service, I wondered: Why should we not also bring our legislation properly into play?
() Why is the law needed in an individual case?
(Lebedev) Don't say it. By naming an intelligence agent people do tremendous damage both to the intelligence service and to the state.
First, that person will no longer be able to fulfill his functions properly, often it becomes impossible for him to leave the country or to function effectively as an intelligence agent. Second, foreign special services instantly start checking on all his connections: where he worked, who he met. An analysis of these connections can lead to the sources, and consequently many other people may suffer. Third, in exposing an intelligence agent, officials and journalists are not thinking about that person's future. After all, he has a family, children. He has his plans in life. He has been, as is quite often the case, a good and capable diplomat, businessman, or journalist. And suddenly a blabbermouth strikes a blow against his career. We take a very long time to train an intelligence agent. Before accepting someone into the service we study him for three or four years, we assess his intellect, his moral qualities and qualities of will, his approachability. Then we train him seriously for several years. And all at once, because of someone blabbing, years of preparation and the money spent on training and education go down the tube.
() But maybe sometimes people act from the best motives or from stupidity, and not from the desire to injure the special services?
(Lebedev) What difference does it make? I am sometimes surprised by the presentation of material on our intelligence agents. Yes, failures and misfortunes occur, as in any profession. And it is offensive when Russian newspapers carry phrases like "a Russian spy has been exposed again." Well, why "spy"? After all, these are our intelligence agents, they are working in the interests of our country. It is a question of patriotism.
Some people say: Not at all, you engage in unlawful activity, you are spies. Incidentally, in the West, when I was working in the United States, my American partners would say to me: "It is time you stopped intelligence activities in the United States. You are distracting a lot of FBI agents, and instead of combating terrorists and criminals, we are forced to keep an eye on you. Stop it." I would always reply: "Gentlemen, I agree, but on a reciprocal basis. I know there are considerably more American intelligence agents in Russia than our agents here."
After that, the conversation would immediately be broken off. So what does this mean, that they can engage in intelligence activities against us, but we do not have the right to do the same?
() Do you think an effective struggle against terrorism today is only possible within the framework of the legal field?
(Lebedev) When it is a life-and-death struggle, unfortunately, all kinds of situations arise. If people are operating against us by unlawful methods, then by way of an exception, in self-defense, we are sometimes forced to respond to the terrorists with their own weapons. I assume that when the spetsnaz (special-purpose forces) freed the hostages on Dubrovka (allusion to Moscow theater siege) or in Beslan (school siege), they did not have time to think to what extent their actions against the terrorists were lawful.
() Abroad, spy mania campaigns are launched from time to time, with accusations against the Russian special services. Are there grounds for this?
(Lebedev) Quite often these campaigns are "commissioned," they are initiated by people opposed to the development of relations with Russia and their aim is to undermine bilateral cooperation. It has become the rule, unfortunately, to frighten the man in the street abroad by talking about the "Russian spies" who have allegedly penetrated every department. There are cases where local counterintelligence services deliberately exaggerate the "Russian spy threat" in order to demonstrate how necessary they are, to expand their staff or improve funding. Here is one illustration. In 1992 I was working in Germany, and suddenly the German special services gave us a list of Russian intelligence agents supposedly operating on German territory. Incidentally, I was on it too. But my being on the list was justified. But a good one-third of those accused had nothing to do with intelligence. They had put the names of ambassadors, for instance, on the list. But that is ridiculous! The staffers of the German special services knew, of course, that these people were not intelligence agents. And they also included on the list a number of journalists, businessman, diplomats -- 162 people in total. The explanation, at the time, was simple. The Soviet Union had disintegrated, the Warsaw Pact had collapsed, the GDR had disappeared, and the German counterintelligence agents did not want to see their manning levels reduced because of the disappearance of the external enemy. They had to justify their existence.
() Can we talk about Iran? Does it have a military nuclear program? How likely is the United States to use force against it?
(Lebedev) We are closely monitoring what is happening over Iran. And we report on this to the leadership. The way in which events develop is not a matter of indifference to us. But at the moment we have no information that Iran is engaged in the development of nuclear weapons. Correspondingly, there are no grounds for the use of force against Iran.
() Is that why we are fulfilling the function of Iran's advocate in the international arena?
(Lebedev) We are not advocates. We simply report the real situation. We were not advocates for Saddam Husayn, for instance. We simply said that, unlike the Americans and the British, we have no information on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in that country. We have no information that Saddam Husayn was supporting international terrorists. And on that occasion we turned out to be right. We simply give an objective picture of the state of affairs.
() Since we are talking about threats, it would be a good idea to sum up the topic of threats to Russia's national security. Name the main external threats to our country.
(Lebedev) Today the biggest threat to us is the threat of actions by international terrorism against Russia, both on our territory and against Russian citizens abroad. I also believe that we should think seriously about ensuring Russia's economic security. Otherwise we will not be the masters in our own state. Fortunately I can confirm that the president and the present leadership of the country are taking active steps to prevent key areas of our economy from falling under foreign subordination.
() To what extent has the mentality of foreign intelligence changed in market conditions? How do you cooperate with commercial organizations, do you advise them in the context of the conclusion of contracts?
(Lebedev) I wish to say that there has been a mutual change of mentality here. Many organizations have begun to behave more reputably: in a state-minded fashion. And the intelligence service has changed its attitude to them. In 2000-2001 the Russian Federation president said repeatedly at various conferences that we should change our attitude to big business. And not continue to regard businessmen as thieves, exploiters, and robbers. If state bodies in other countries protect their national business, we should do the same. Incidentally, there should be a reciprocal movement by business. I remember the 1990s. I was working abroad. Many business people did not want to have any contacts with their Motherland's embassies. Moreover, they even concealed their trips, mainly because the business was not completely clean. And businessmen were afraid that various meetings and deals might become known to the special services. Meanwhile they were selling for kopecks Russian technologies that were worth millions. Now the situation has changed, business has become mature and reputable and it no longer shuns the special services or the Foreign Ministry. And we correspondingly protect and support our business when it demonstrates a state-minded approach and acts in Russia's interests.
() Three years ago you told our newspaper that $4 billion had been earned from sales of Russian weapons. This year an even bigger sum is expected. What is the Service's role in arms deals?
(Lebedev) I can confirm that the Foreign Intelligence Service helps Rosoboroneksport and the military-industrial complex. We give recommendations as to where there is a demand for particular types of weapons, where it is more advantageous to sell which types of weapons and at what prices.
() So you are entitled to your legitimate percentage. What is the SVR's budget?
(Lebedev) It is sufficient.
() That is to say, nowadays an intelligence agent does not have to choose between the Motherland and the dollar, as used to be the case? The funding problems have been resolved?

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