KGB Spies Tell All _ Well, Almost
Sep. 30, 1998
MOSCOW (AP) _ They were sitting on the terrace of a Mafia chieftain's villa outside Palermo when the Godfather asked Leonid Kolosov if he was really just a newspaper reporter in search of a story.
``I looked him straight in the eye, as we were taught in KGB school, and lied,'' Kolosov recalls. He was really just a simple reporter, he told the mobster. Even if he wanted to, he didn't have time to be a spy.
Then he recruited the mob chief, Nicola Gentile, as a valuable informer for the Soviet spy agency.
Kolosov was a KGB agent in Rome, Paris and Madrid, and his are among the revealing _ not to mention entertaining _ stories collected in a new book, ``Undercover Lives: Soviet Spies in the Cities of the World.''
The book, being published in Britain next month by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, is loosely based on a Russian-language book, the ``KGB Guidebook to Cities of the World,'' published two years ago. A U.S. release was not yet in the works.
While the KGB Guidebook offered a nuts-and-bolts guide to the world's leading spook sights, the new book is more of a memoir of spies' lives, from a time when the Cold War made the world's capitals a playground for espionage.
A half-dozen former spies who contributed to the book gathered Wednesday at the press center of the Foreign Intelligence Service _ a successor agency to the KGB _ to tell their stories and get a first look at copies of the book, edited by a British journalist, Helen Womack.
Womack, a veteran Moscow correspondent, said she had been asked to help translate and edit the original book when it was published by a Moscow newspaper, ``Top Secret.''
``They were giving travel tips to Russians who had never been abroad _ you know, if you go to Paris, don't miss the Eiffel Tower,'' she recalled. ``I realized it would have to be completely different for Western readers.''
The book offers little in the way of sensational news, although it does describe an aborted plan to assassinate Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, and says there were talks between the Soviet Union and West Germany to dismantle the Berlin Wall as early as the 1970s.
Mostly, it offers insights into the daily lives of agents whose exploits sound like a low-rent mix of James Bond and Boris Badenov, the nudnik Russian spy in the cartoon series, ``Rocky and his Friends.''
There are tales of love affairs and drinking bouts, of shooting pens and booby-trapped cars, of treachery and _ a common theme throughout the book _ sincere patriotism.
Mikhail Lyubimov, a KGB agent in London, fondly remembers days off in Hyde Park, jogging or pushing the stroller carrying his newborn son.
He recalls his amazement at the civility of English police. ``Once at night a bobby stopped me: `Excuse me sir, perhaps it would be a good idea if you put on your lights.' I thought I was talking to Sir Walter Scott.''
But he never got over his Marxist outrage at the pampered lives of the British upper class.
Vasily Timofeyev, once the KGB's man in Bangkok, offers a guide to dining with informants in the Thai capital. The key, he says, is to find a dimly lit restaurant off the beaten path that is busy, but not too busy, with music that is loud, but not too loud.
Only about 5 percent of Bangkok's eateries qualify, he says.
Timofeyev also worked in New Delhi, and describes his absurd efforts to recruit an American yoga enthusiast in the 1970s.
Most of the time, Timofeyev said, he was supposed to be ferreting secrets out of Indians. But the KGB apparently considered any American, no matter how useless their knowledge, a prize catch.
Timofeyev describes tagging along to a yoga seminar in a provincial Indian city, and participating to prove his sincerity.
``I sat in the Lotus position _ well, half-Lotus to be precise _ and did the Cowface, Cobra and Modified Fish postures,'' the Russian spy recounts. ``And I breathed.''
Eventually, Timofeyev gave up on his would-be recruit, having concluded: ``He was a yoga fanatic and nothing more.''
The spy said he probably should have kept up his yoga, though.
``Intelligence work is very stressful, and perhaps yoga would have been good for my body, mind and spirit,'' he writes. ``But I was too busy. When I needed to unwind after work, it was easier just to reach for the whiskey, then walk over to the fridge for the ice.''