While I was still reading these books, and thinking about them, I chanced to have two annoying near-KGB experiences. A creepy individual named Yuri Shvets published a book called Washington Station: My Life as a KGB Spy in America, which was fully as lurid and preposterous as its title (put out by the 'respected firm' of Simon and Schuster) might suggest. Its central allegation was that an old personal enemy of mine had been a key 'agent of influence' in Reagan-era Washington. I could believe anything of this man except that his 'controllers' had awarded him the hilarious code-name of 'Socrates'. And every checkable allegation in the book turned out to be grotesquely false. So that was irritating, because it meant another portentous non-scare about a virtual non-person. Then, at a party in Georgetowm, I found myself being introduced to Mr Oleg Kalugin. Now apparently retired from his foul career as a secret policeman, Mr Kalugin gave me a card with the name of his consulting firm (offices in Moscow and Washington) on it. The outfit was called Intercon, which seemed more appropriate than was perhaps intentional. Mr Kalugin looked as if he had been dreamed up in an Ian Fleming nightmare. His idea of light conversation, since I decided to ask him about some of the books under review, was to hint that he could say a lot if he chose. 'Your Kim Philby ... ha, ha, ha, that's quite another story ... Yuri Modin - well, he's a character ...' and so on. I found myself getting irrationally pissed-off. Here am I, a journalist and a free citizen of the Anglo-American world. But if I seek to know what was really done in the Cold War dark, I must attend upon someone who was a criminal in that war. My 'own side' has no intention of enlightening me, and the spook industry has built up such an oligopoly in journalism and publishing that no untainted rival - such as the old-fashioned idea of full disclosure - has been permitted to challenge the self-interested ghouls who pay out their ration of 'secrets' in a niggardly and mysterious fashion as a form of individual and collective welfare. What if, I decided, what if, just for once, one read this output as if history mattered and as if the war of ideas was a real thing?
LRB 23 February 1995 | PDF Download