American Classmates Recall the Student Days of KGB General
O. C. DOELLING
Oct. 08, 1990
NEW YORK (AP) _ Oleg Kalugin made good, just like his U.S. classmates knew he would.
We elected him president of the Class of '59 at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and picked him as the student most likely to succeed - in the Soviet Union.
Unknown to us, the KGB also had Oleg pegged as a winner and was using the student exchange program to groom him as an undercover agent. The Soviet agency ultimately promoted him to the rank of major general in recognition of 30 years of outstanding service in the spy business.
Kalugin's class ties became tenuous after graduation, although he spent much of the next decade in the United States. During that time, he assumed various roles, including those of Soviet radio and TV correspondent at the United Nations in New York and press attache at the Soviet Embassy in Washington.
After being compromised by a Jack Anderson column, Oleg left the United States in 1970. The columnist described him as a ''Russian Romeo'' who attempted to seduce an FBI office secretary to gain access to classified information.
Now Kalugin has come in from the cold in a very big and surprising way. He even has won a seat in the Soviet parliament.
At age 55, Oleg Danilovich Kalugin seems to have taken to heart the old Columbia fight song ''Roar, Lion, Roar.'' The former KGB officer is suing the Soviet government to win back the rank, pension and honors he lost in retribution for publicly criticizing his spy masters.
He accused the long dreaded KGB of a continuing abuse of power despite its ''new image.''
Kalugin won a round in court on Oct. 2 when a Soviet judge ordered the government to provide a fuller explanation for its decision to degrade him.
In hailing the court decision, Oleg sounded like he had been taking notes during Columbia lectures on freedom of the press. Soviet society was being pushed toward ''the stage where all secret acts, illegal acts, will slowly and gradually be done away with,'' he said
We had a different impression of him at Columbia. As a student, he was convincing in the role of a dedicated Communist. He had an easy smile, but tended to be stiff and guarded in conversation. At the time, the 24-year-old Leningrad native was a member of the Young Communist League.
''Basically, he wasn't that friendly a classmate and I don't think he made any close friends at the school,'' recalled Robert Resnick, now a public issues consultant and speech writer.
While the rest of us were in journalism school of our own volition, Kalugin clearly was not.
Once when I asked him if he expected to work as a reporter after graduation, he replied, ''I imagine so. Why else would THEY have sent me here.''
Some had their suspicions, even then. Classmate John Palmer, until recently news anchor of NBC's ''The Today Show'' and now in syndication with the program ''Instant Recall,'' remembers a Columbia professor remarking of Kalugin, ''He's a colonel in the KGB, didn't you know?''
''I gave him such an incredulous look, and thought, 'What are you some kind of a rightwinger,' '' Palmer said, adding that he now owed the professor an apology.
We elected Oleg class president more in jest than in tribute to his popularity. His classmates included Korean War veterans whose irreverence foreshadowed the '60s generation.
''We did it as a joke,'' Resnick said.
The election prompted The New York Times to select the new class president as a Man in the News, describing him as a ''real personality kid'' who loved movies and Big Band jazz, but abhorred the new sounds of rock 'n' roll.
Classmate John Cunniff, now an AP business columnist, remembers Kalugin first appearing at the school in a shabby suit and gradually becoming a nattier dresser. Showing off a new dress shirt to Cunniff one day, Oleg boasted, ''The Arrow shirt - it is the best.''
''All that time he spent in Columbia and the States must have had an impact on him,'' Cunniff remarked.
In May 1959, Kalugin and 17 other members of the class traveled to upstate New York to spend a day putting out an edition of the Middletown Times-Herald. Oleg's story ran on the front page under the headline ''Soviet Visitor Likes City.''
He found Middletown ''typically American,'' with its supermarkets and good roads. He encountered no open hostility, but reported finding ''much misunderstanding about the intentions and the policies of the Soviet Union'' under Nikita Khrushchev.
When Oleg steered his conversation with one town official toward the subject of U.S.-Soviet relations, the official asked: ''Are you Russian or something?''
Three decades later, this same Russian, for whatever motives he may have, is openly challenging the intentions and policies of his own government and the secret police he served with distinction for three decades.
''I hope to achieve one thing: that other people, based on this precedent, will act more bodly and courageously in their attempts to restore justice and their human rights,'' the former spy told reporters in Moscow after his latest court appearance.
Oleg, we hardly knew you.