During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had sleeper agents stationed in Washington, charged with disabling the city's electric grid and poison the public drinking water in the event of a superpower crisis, according to a former KGB general.
Although Russian spooks in 2010 seemed to be aiming for gigs at think tanks like the New America Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment, back in the 1960s, there were only a few undercover Russian spies -- "illegals" -- in the U.S. and they had a much more specific and violent mission.
"Illegals in my time were only a couple in the United States," said former major general Oleg Kalugin, who handled Soviet agents during several stints in Washington. "One had a very special mission ... his job was to act in case the United States and the USSR were close to military conflict. Then, this illegal would blow up the power line grids in the Washington area, so there would be no power, and second to poison water supplies in the Washington area, not to kill people, to make them sick. Can you imagine that?"
The Washington Post's Jeff Stein followed up with Kalugin and found out that the ex-spy chief had not revealed the missions in either of his books about his time as a leading KGB officer.
As for the 10 illegals that were rolled up and swapped back to Russia last week, Kalugin said, "I thought, what a waste of money, time and resources."
Kalugin joined the KGB at age 18, following in the footsteps of his father, a KGB captain. Throughout his career, he had cover as a Fulbright scholar, a journalist, and later as a diplomat. He supervised the handling of John Walker, the Navy analyst who passed classified material to the Soviets for 17 years before being caught in 1985.
Now, after having a very public fallout with the KGB at the end of the Cold War, Kalugin lives in the U.S., has taken American citizenship, and makes a nice living as a consultant, author, and speaker; he even sits on the board of Washington's International Spy Museum.
The KGB during his time "was a brutal, bloody organization," Kalugin said, but he alleged that its successor organization, the FSB, is still up to many of the old tricks.
"Some of the critics of the current Russian regime just were killed, poisoned, assassinated, just because they were critical of some specific personal traits of the Russian leadership or because they knew too much or talked too much," he said.
Kalugin was speaking at a roundtable for the press held after the Washington screening of the movie SALT, in which Angelina Jolie plays a CIA agent accused of spying for the Russians. He was a consultant for the film.
But Kalugin also gave his audience new and fascinating insight into another spy movie recently released, the French film Farewell, which tells a dramatized version of a true story about French intelligence exposing a Soviet spy operation during the height of the Cold War.
"I myself years ago was involved in the initial investigation of Farewell. He was in Canada at some point and we had a source in the Canadian Royal Mounted Police," Kalugin said. The agent codenamed Farewell was recalled from Canada but not removed from the Soviet intelligence service. Rather, he was given a desk job in the research division as well as a young female assistant, who was tasked to report on his activities back to KGB headquarters.
"We planted a young lady in his office to watch that guy, Farewell, but it so happens she fell in love with him," Kalugin said.
In a crazy twist, Farewell and his mistress were quarrelling while driving down the road and he struck her, threw her from the car, and drove off, believing she was dead. But she survived and told the story. He was sentenced to 50 years in jail and then executed while in prison, Kalugin said. "That's the true Farewell story."
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