India and The KGB


Senior Member
Aug 28, 2009
A "charm offensive" against Mrs Gandhi, agents in the media and the government, attempts to buy influence in Congress — in the second volume of the astonishing Mitrokhin archive Christopher Andrew reveals how the KGB targeted India
by Christopher Andrew

INDIRA GANDHI NEVER realised that the KGB's first prolonged contact with her occurred during her first visit to the Soviet Union, a few months after Stalin's death in 1953. As well as keeping her under continuous surveillance, the Centre (KGB headquarters) also surrounded her with handsome, attentive male admirers. Two years later Indira accompanied her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, the inaugural Prime Minister of independent India, on his first official visit to the Soviet Union. Like Nehru, she was visibly impressed by the apparent successes of Soviet planning and economic modernisation exhibited to them in stage-managed visits to Russian factories. During her trip Khrushchev presented her with a mink coat which became one of the favourite items in her wardrobe — even though a few years earlier she had criticised the female Indian ambassador in Moscow for accepting a similar gift.

Soviet attempts to cultivate Indira Gandhi during the 1950s were motivated far more by the desire to influence her father than by any awareness of her own political potential. Moscow still underestimated her when she became Prime Minister. In her early parliamentary appearances she seemed tongue-tied and unable to think on her feet. The insulting nickname coined by a socialist MP, Dumb Doll, began to stick.
But her political genes were soon to show their worth. Following a split in the Congress Party in 1969, the Communist Party of India (CPI), encouraged by Moscow, swung its support behind her. At the elections of February 1971, Mrs Gandhi's wing of Congress won a landslide victory.
In August she signed a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation with the Soviet Union. Both countries immediately issued a joint communique calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. India was able to rely on Soviet arms supplies and diplomatic support in the conflict against Pakistan which was already in the offing.

Despite diplomatic support from both the United States and China, Pakistan suffered a crushing defeat in the 14-day war with India.
For most Indians it was Mrs Gandhi's finest hour. A Soviet diplomat at the United Nations exulted: "This is the first time in history that the United States and China have been defeated together!" In the Centre, the Indo-Soviet special relationship was also celebrated as a triumph for the KGB. The residency in Delhi was rewarded by being upgraded to the status of "main residency". Its head from 1970 to 1975, Yakov Prokofyevich Medyanik, was accorded the title of "main resident". In the early 1970s the KGB presence in India became one of the largest outside the Soviet bloc. Indira Gandhi placed no limit on the number of Soviet diplomats and trade officials, thus allowing the KGB and Soviet intelligence as many cover positions as they wished.

Oleg Kalugin, who became head of Foreign Counter-Intelligence in 1973, remembers India as "a model of KGB infiltration of a Third World government". He recalls one occasion when the KGB turned down an offer from an Indian minister to provide information in return for $50,000 on the grounds that it was already well supplied with material from the Indian foreign and defence ministries: "It seemed like the entire country was for sale; the KGB — and the CIA — had penetrated the Indian government. Neither side entrusted sensitive information to the Indians, realising their enemy would know all about it the next day." The KGB, in Kalugin's view, was more successful than the CIA, partly because of its skill in exploiting the corruption that became endemic under Indira Gandhi's regime. Suitcases full of banknotes were said to be routinely taken to her house and one of her opponents claimed that Mrs Gandhi did not even return the cases.

The Prime Minister is unlikely to have paid close attention to the dubious origins of some of the funds that went into Congress's coffers. That was a matter she left largely to her principal fund-raiser, Lalit Narayan Mishra, who, though Mrs Gandhi doubtless did not realise it, also accepted Soviet money. Short and obese, Mishra looked the part of the corrupt politician. Indira Gandhi, despite her own frugal lifestyle, depended on the cash he collected from various sources to finance her party. Money also went to her son and anointed heir, Sanjay, whose misguided ambition to build an Indian popular car and become India's Henry Ford depended on government favours.

When Mishra was assassinated in 1975, Mrs Gandhi blamed a plot involving "foreign elements" — doubtless intended as a euphemism for the CIA. The Delhi KGB residency gave his widow 70,000 rupees, though she doubtless did not realise the source. Though there were some complaints from the Communist leadership at the use of Soviet funds to support Mrs Gandhi, covert funding for the Congress Party of India seems to have been unaffected. By 1972 the import-export business founded by the CPI to trade with the Soviet Union had contributed more than 10 million rupees to party funds. Other secret subsidies, totalling at least 1.5 million rupees, had gone to state Communist parties, individuals and media associated with the CPI. The funds that were sent from Moscow to party headquarters via the KGB were larger still. In the first half of 1975 they amounted to over 2.5 million rupees.

India under Mrs Gandhi was probably the arena for more KGB active measures than anywhere else, though their significance appears to have been considerably exaggerated by the Centre, which overestimated its ability to manipulate Indian opinion.

According to KGB files, by 1973 it had on its payroll ten Indian newspapers (which cannot be identified for legal reasons) as well as a press agency. During 1972 the KGB claimed to have planted 3,789 articles in Indian papers.

India was also one of the most favourable environments for Soviet front organisations. From 1966 to 1986 the head of the most important of them, the World Peace Council, was the Indian Communist Romesh Chandra, who denounced "the US-dominated Nato" as "the greatest threat to peace" across the world.

By the summer of 1975 Mrs Gandhi's suspicions of a vast conspiracy by her political opponents, aided and abetted by the CIA, had, in the opinion of her biographer Katherine Frank, grown to "something close to paranoia". In June 1975 she persuaded the President and the Cabinet to agree to the declaration of a state of emergency. Opposition leaders were jailed or put under house arrest and media censorship introduced. Thousands of people were arrested.

Reports from the Delhi main residency claimed exaggerated credit for using its agents of influence to persuade Mrs Gandhi to declare the emergency. But, according to Leonid Shebarshin, head of the Delhi main residency from 1975, both the Centre and the Soviet leadership found it difficult to grasp that the emergency had not turned Indira Gandhi into a dictator and that she still responded to public opinion and had to deal with opposition: "On the spot, from close up, the embassy and our (intelligence) service saw all this, but for Moscow Indira became India, and India — Indira." Reports from the Delhi residency which were critical of any aspect of her policies received a cool reception in the Centre. Shebarshin thought it unlikely that any were forwarded to Soviet leaders or the Central Committee.

Though Mrs Gandhi was fond of saying in private that states have no constant friends and enemies, only constant interests: "At times Moscow behaved as though India had given a pledge of love and loyalty to her Soviet friends." Even the slightest hiccup in relations caused consternation. During 1975 a total of 10.6 million roubles was spent on measures in India designed to strengthen support for Mrs Gandhi and undermine her political opponents. Soviet backing was public as well as covert. In June 1976, at a time when Mrs Gandhi suffered from semi-pariah status in most of the West, she was given a hero's welcome on a trip to the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin, however, was worried by reports of the dismissive attitude to the Soviet Union of Indira's son, Sanjay. It was reported that one of Sanjay's cronies was holding regular meetings with a US embassy official "in a very suspicious manner". Soon after his mother's return from her triumphal tour of the Soviet Union, Sanjay gave an interview in which he praised big business, denounced nationalisation and poured scorn on the Communists. By her own admission, Indira became "quite frantic " when his comments were made public. Sanjay was persuaded to issue a "clarification" which fell well short of a retraction.

The emergency ended as suddenly as it had begun. On January 18, 1977, Mrs Gandhi announced that elections would be held in March.
Press censorship was suspended and opposition leaders released from house arrest. To ensure success, the KGB mounted a major operation involving more than 120 meetings with agents during the election campaign. Nine candidates at the elections were KGB agents. Files also identify by name 21 of the non-Communist politicians (four of them ministers) whose election campaigns were subsidised by the KGB.
Agent reports reinforced the Delhi main residency's misplaced confidence that Indira Gandhi would secure another election victory. Reports that she faced the possibility of defeat in her constituency were largely disregarded. In the event Mrs Gandhi suffered a crushing defeat. Janata, the newly united non-Communist opposition, won 40 per cent of the vote to Mrs Gandhi's 35 per cent. One of the KGB's bêtes noires, Morarji Desai, became Prime Minister. In Delhi, Mrs Gandhi's downfall was celebrated with dancing in the streets.

Her relations with Moscow after she returned to power in 1980 never quite recaptured the warmth shown during her previous term in office.

(The above is extracted from The Mitrokhin Archive, Volume II: the KGB and the World by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin)

The scruffy visitor with dynamite secrets
On April 9, 1992, a scruffy 70-year-old Russian arrived in the capital of a newly-independent Baltic state by the overnight train from Moscow for a pre-arranged meeting at the British Embassy with officers of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6). He began by producing a passport that identified him as Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin, former senior archivist in the First Chief (Foreign Intelligence) Directorate of the KGB. SIS then took the unprepossessing secret photograph of him that The Times publishes today for the first time.

Mitrokhin had made his first visit to the embassy a month earlier, when he arrived pulling a battered case on wheels and wearing the same shabby clothes. Used to the male-dominated world of Soviet diplomacy, he was surprised that the Russian-speaking British diplomat who met him was a young woman. He rummaged beneath the sausages, bread, drink and clothes he had packed for his journey, pulled out a large wodge of paper and told her it was top-secret material he had copied from the KGB archives.

And there the story could easily have ended. The diplomat might well have dismissed Mitrokhin as a down-at-heel asylum-seeker trying to sell bogus secrets. Instead, she asked him a question that changed his life (and mine): "Would you like a cup of tea?" While Mitrokhin drank his first cup of English tea, she read some of his notes, quickly grasped their potential importance, and arranged for him to return a month later to meet SIS officers from its London headquarters.

At his meeting with SIS Mitrokhin produced another 2,000 pages from his private archive and told the extraordinary story of how, while supervising the ten-year-long transfer of the foreign intelligence (FCD) archive from its overcrowded offices in central Moscow to new headquarters just beyond the outer ringroad, he had daily smuggled out handwritten notes and extracts from the files and hidden them beneath his family dacha. The material showed that he had access to even the holy of holies in the FCD archives: files that revealed both the real identities and the bogus "legends" of the elite corps of deep-cover KGB "illegals" stationed around the world disguised as foreign nationals.

On November 7, 1992, the SIS spirited Mitrokhin, his family and his entire archive, packed in six large containers, out of Russia to Britain in a remarkable operation whose details still remain secret.

The FBI has called the Mitrokhin archive "the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source". In the view of the CIA it is "the biggest counter-intelligence bonanza of the postwar period". The all-party British Intelligence and Security Committee has revealed that other Western (and some non-Western) intelligence agencies have also been "extremely grateful" for numerous leads from the Mitrokhin archive.

As well as containing extraordinary detail on KGB operations in the West and the Soviet bloc (the subject of the first volume which I wrote in collaboration with Vasili Mitrokhin, who died last year), his archive contains much new material on KGB operations in the rest of the world.

Though no historian of the Cold War would nowadays dream of ignoring the role of the CIA in the Third World, most still make little, if any, mention of the even more important role of the KGB. The result has been a curiously lopsided history of the secret Cold War in the developing world — the intelligence equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping.

As The Mitrokhin Archive II seeks to show, for a quarter of a century the KGB, unlike the CIA, believed that the Third World was the arena in which it could win the Cold War. From the establishment of the alliance with Castro's Cuba (optimistically codenamed Bridgehead by the KGB) to the disastrous decision to invade Afghanistan 20 years later (which began with the KGB assassination of President Hafizullah Amin), it was usually the KGB rather than the Foreign Ministry that took the lead in the Third World.
Even in the early stages of the war in Afghanistan the most able and longest-serving of all KGB chiefs, Yuri Andropov (soon to succeed Leonid Brezhnev as Soviet leader), was confident that his strategy was working.

He told his Vietnamese counterpart in 1980: "The Soviet Union is not merely talking about world revolution but actually assisting it." Over the previous few years, he declared, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Afghanistan had all been "liberated" — in other words acquired Marxist-Leninist regimes. Though the KGB won a series of short-term Third-World victories, its operations contained a strong element of fantasy. Brezhnev's preposterous vanity had to be fed not merely by more medals than those of all previous Soviet leaders combined but also by adulation from around the world, some of it manufactured by the KGB.

The successes of intelligence collection were undermined by the poor quality of intelligence analysis. The KGB was expected to tell Soviet leaders what they wanted to hear. It thus fed them carefully sanitised intelligence.

There is no more convincing evidence of Gorbachev's "new thinking" in foreign policy when he became Soviet leader in 1985 than his denunciation of the traditional bias of intelligence reporting. The fact that KGB HQ had to issue stern instructions to its officers at the end of 1985 "on the impermissibility of distortions of the factual state of affairs" is a damning indictment of its previous subservience to the political correctness demanded by the Soviet one-party state.

Lure of the West
Though the KGB tended to exaggerate the success of its active measures, they appear to have been on a larger scale than those of the CIA.

By the early 1980s there were about 1,500 Indo-Soviet Friendship Societies, compared with only two Indo-American Friendship Societies. The Soviet leadership seems to have drawn the wrong conclusions from this apparently spectacular, but in reality somewhat hollow, success.

American popular culture had no need of friendship societies to secure its dominance over that of the Soviet bloc. No subsidised film evening in an Indo-Soviet Friendship Society could hope to compete with the appeal of Hollywood or Bollywood. Similarly, few Indian students, despite their widespread disapproval of US foreign policy, were more anxious to win scholarships to universities in the Soviet bloc than in the US.

The great bore
Among the most time-consuming activities of the KGB in India was the preparation for Brezhnev's state visit in 1973. As usual it was necessary to ensure that the General Secretary was received with what appeared to be rapturous enthusiasm.

Since Brezhnev was such a dreary orator, this was no easy task. His speech in the great square in front of Delhi's Red Fort presented a particular challenge. According to KGB estimates, two million people were present — perhaps the largest audience to whom Brezhnev had ever spoken.

The speech was extraordinarily long-winded and heavy going. As he droned on and night began to fall, some of the audience began to drift away but were turned back by the police for fear of offending the Soviet leader. Though even Brezhnev sensed that not all was well, the KGB claimed credit for "creating favourable conditions" for his Indian triumph.

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