Russian SVR Boss Lebedev Quizzed on Service Intelligence Work

Document Date: 20 Dec 2002
Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta in Russian 20 Dec 02 PP 6,7 

Subslug: Interview with Foreign Intelligence Service Director Colonel General 
Sergey Lebedev by Yadviga Yuferova and Maksim Makarychev under the 
"Direct Speech" rubric; date, place not given:  "Whom Can We Trust?  Head 
of Russia's Most Classified Department Foreign Intelligence Service 
Director Colonel General Sergey Nikolayevich Lebedev Answers Rossiyskaya 
Gazeta's Questions" 

[FBIS Translated Text] Rossiyskaya Gazeta File 

   Sergey Nikolayevich Lebedev has climbed all rungs on the intelligence 
ladder -- from operations officer [operupolnomochennyy] to head of the 
Foreign Intelligence Service [SVR]. 

   He was born 9 April 1948 in the city of Dzhizak (Uzbek SSR).  There in 
1965 he graduated from secondary school with a gold medal. 

   After graduating in 1970 from the Chernihiv branch of Kiev's 
Polytechnical Institute he stayed on to work at the institute. 

   In 1971-1972 he served in the army. 

   From 1973 he worked in state security organs and from 1975 in foreign 
intelligence (the USSR KGB First Main Directorate).  He has training in 
counterintelligence (at the KGB's Kiev school) and intelligence training 
(the KGB's Red Banner Institute). 

   In 1978 he graduated with distinction from the USSR Foreign Ministry 
Diplomatic Academy.  He speaks German and English. 

   He has had many foreign tours of duty -- to the GDR, the FRG, West 
Berlin, and the united Germany. 

   In 1998-2000 he was the Russian Federation SVR's official 
representative to the United States. 

   He was appointed director of the SVR 20 May 2000 by Russian Federation 
presidential edict. 

   He holds the military rank of colonel general.  And has won awards. 

   He is married.  His wife Vera Mikhaylovna is a chemical engineer.  
They have been together for 30 years.  They have two grown-up sons and a 

   His father Nikolay Ivanovich, who was from Siberia, was a soldier in 
the war from the Volga to Austria and then worked as a driver; he died in 

   His mother, Nina Yakovlevna, went through the blockade.  After the war 
she received a higher financial education and worked as an accountant.  
She is currently retired.  She lives in Moscow. 

   His hobbies are work, his family, and his dacha. 

   The State's Insurance Policy 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Many Russian ministries, including customs, have 
over the past few months resoundingly celebrated their 200th anniversary. 
 What kind of service record does the SVR have?  Who was Russia's first 
intelligence officer?  Peter the Great? 

   [Lebedev]  I wonder who the first Russian journalist was.  Was it also 
Peter the Great, during his time Russia's first newspaper was published?  
It is impossible now to name the Russian who was the first to get 
involved in intelligence.  We consider 20 December 1920 when a special 
subunit was set up in Russia with intelligence functions to be the 
official date of birth of the intelligence service. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  The taxpayer, he is also a voter and reader, 
wants to know today about the effectiveness of the work of state 
structures, including the most secret organizations. 

   [Lebedev]  It is hard to calculate our successes in monetary terms.  
How can we measure a correct political economic decision, which is based 
on timely reliable information?  A competent intelligence service is a 
kind of state insurance policy that helps the country's leaders see the 
world as it is.  Let me add that the profit produced by an intelligence 
service is sufficient to maintain a dozen services similar to ours.  We 
are considered a fairly effective intelligence service. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Do our partners abroad know this? 

   [Lebedev]  They do.  I think that other intelligence services also 
operate fairly effectively.  Otherwise no one would maintain them. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  To what extent did Iraq's severing the contract 
with the Lukoil oil company come as a surprise to you? 

   [Lebedev]  In the current extremely complex situation around Iraq it 
is necessary to be prepared for the most unlikely turns of events. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Does the SVR cooperate with commercial 
organizations?  Can you save an emergent Russian business from 
unscrupulous foreign partners? 

   [Lebedev]  The president and premier have repeatedly said in public, 
notably at meetings at the Foreign Ministry, the MVD [Ministry of 
Internal Affairs], and the FSB [Federal Security Service], that it is 
time to rid ourselves of the old stereotypes in our approach to the 
activities of private Russian companies. 

Their successful activities on international markets and within the 
country not only meet the interests of the companies themselves but also 
help to strengthen Russia's economy.  Insofar as strengthening the 
country's economic might and ensuring its economic security is concerned, 
the SVR also finds points of contact for collaboration with commercial 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  This year the country achieved a record when 
revenue from arms sales topped the 4-billion mark.  Is that down to your 

   [Lebedev]  I can be more specific in this case.  We cooperate closely 
with the Committee for Military-Technical Cooperation and 
Rosoboroneksport.  No major deal is conducted without its being 
coordinated with the intelligence service. 

   Now There Is No Main Enemy.  There Are Threats 

   Whereas previously the ME (that was how the Main Enemy was designated 
in professional terms) was a state, who is Russia's enemy today, against 
whom the intelligence service is operating? 

   [Lebedev]  Today we are not talking about a main enemy in the shape of 
a state.  Now we are looking more at threats that exist or are emerging 
for Russia.  And if a threat emanates from a particular country, needless 
to say, we cannot regard that country as friendly at the moment in 
question.  The main hazards today are international terrorism, organized 
crime, and drug trafficking.  The proliferation of weapons of mass 
destruction is also a major threat because there is no complete certainty 
that these weapons will not end up in the hands of some maniac tomorrow.  
The task of ensuring environmental security is also coming to the fore 
now.  No country in the world, even the United States with its power, is 
able to counter these threats on its own now.  Cooperation is essential. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Will mankind to be able to join forces in this 
area at least? 

   [Lebedev]  This kind of positive transformation is taking place in 
everyone's thinking but the threats are growing considerably more 
rapidly.  Regrettably, the old stereotypes are also burdening the 
activities of the special services and, in my view, are hampering an 
appropriate world political reaction to the threats. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  This terrorism is sustained not only by ideas 
but also by money, do you know who is supporting the Chechen gunmen and 
how?  The Americans have, after all, gotten their hands not only on funds 
but even royal families on the trail of the 11 September terrorist act.  
Do you know who funded the terrorist act on Dubrovka, say, and how? 

   [Lebedev]  The investigation into the Nord-Ost tragedy is currently 
being conducted by FSB and MVD personnel.  Our relevant agencies recorded 
telephone conversations between the terrorists and subscribers in Turkey 
and the Persian Gulf countries.  This contact is, regrettably, not just 
by telephone.  There have been monetary payments and movements of people 
and weapons.  We are collaborating on this with our partners abroad to 
stop the channels for the transfers but we do not feel completely 
satisfied because such a feeling of satisfaction can only arise once 
these channels have been securely blocked. 

   On Work in a "Minefield" 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  There is an old joke:  "Why are there so many 
Chinese restaurants in the world?  Otherwise a Chinese spy would be very 
noticeable in the crowd."  Can you tell us whether our people are 
operating as agents in extremist organizations abroad?  Do you work in 
this minefield? 

   [Lebedev]  No special service in the world talks about its 
capabilities on this front.  But you can be certain that we are engaged 
in active work in the antiterrorist area.  This is one of our priorities. 
 We are constantly providing the country's leaders with the appropriate 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Real disquiet is being whipped up around the 
world in connection with the attack on diplomatic missions.  Are our 
diplomats adequately protected? 

   [Lebedev]  Guaranteeing the safety of Russian missions abroad is one 
of the functions of the SVR.  We are working on this with the Foreign 
Ministry and the Defense Ministry and we are in close contact with local 
special services.  States whose establishments are the target of 
terrorist threats are beefing up their embassies.  I have visited many 
countries and I have seen Israel's embassies, which are indeed 
"fortresses" in some areas.  The United States is also taking enhanced 
measures to protect its embassies, particularly in the wake of the series 
of acts of terrorism in Africa.  We too are trying to envisage the threat 
potential when designing embassies or choosing a building to buy. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Is there some logic to the emergence of "spy" 

   [Lebedev]  I can remember plenty of cases when Western states' 
intelligence services and our counterintelligence services identified 
intelligence officers and they quietly left the country by agreement and 
no one knew about it, the press did not report this, and no political 
campaigns were mounted against the other state.  If scandals are 
organized, this is, needless to say, a political move with authorization 
provided from somewhere high up.  Someone benefits from casting a shadow 
over relations with Russia.  Evidently the situation at the time dictates 
their moves.  When there is no specific situation, there are no 
expulsions, just quiet departures. 

   Do All Special Services Need a Single Umbrella? 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  The United States has only just set up the 
Office of Homeland Security.  The department has been given authority 
that even the USSR KGB could not even dream of.  It will have 170,000 
people working for it.  Are Americans not facing the threat of all-out 
surveillance?  What is your view?  By the way, might it be time to unite 
all Russian special services within a single organization? 

   [Lebedev]  I can only judge by the plans and ideas associated with the 
formation of this ministry.  If they are put into practice, it will 
indeed be a powerful organization.  And, I would like to hope, an 
effective one.  Time will tell.  But we should not forget that the 
formation of any powerful organization harbors the threat of its getting 
out of control.  We have been through this.  That is why misgivings are 
being voiced in the United States at the same time regarding the 
formation of this superministry. 

   As for the current state of affairs within the system of ensuring 
Russia's security, our existing agencies are, in my view, fairly 
effective.  And despite the fact that they operate separately, they do 
collaborate very closely.  The SVR coordinates its activity with the FSB, 
the Federal Border Service, the Federal Protection Service, the FAPSI 
[Federal Government Communications and Information Agency], the Main 
Intelligence Directorate, and a number of other services and departments. 

   I have frequently told my colleagues who advocated the merger of the 
SVR and other structures once more that it is not a question of how we 
exist de jure -- separately or not.  The main thing is how we collaborate 
de facto.  We help one another fairly closely.  I will not say that there 
are no problems.  There are.  But any problems can be resolved given 
goodwill.  I find it pleasant that this view is also backed by the 
president.  He has frequently said this to security officials. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Here is a question from the editorial mailbag:  
"Our intelligence service does not operate in the CIS countries.  Might 
it be time to review the old accords with certain countries as well as 
the visa regime?  Or is it just an old Georgian shepherd like Zorge who 
reports a mad dash by the bandits -- is that really Russia's entire 
capability?  Is it true that he is now being pursued by the authorities? 

   [Lebedev]  I would like to stress that under the 1992 Almaty agreement 
we do not engage in intelligence activity against one another.  We have 
official representatives in these countries, they gather information, and 
meet with politicians and with special service personnel.  As for the 
fate of the Georgian shepherd, to be honest, I do not know where he is 
now.  The SVR had nothing to do with this. 

   I would like very much to hope that our relations with the CIS 
countries will develop in such a way that there will be no need to engage 
in intelligence work against one another.  Our intelligence service has 
an international structure, many people from the CIS countries are still 
working for us.  I, for instance, was born in Uzbekistan, I studied and 
got married in Ukraine, although I myself am a Russian, my father was 
from Siberia, and my mother has her roots in Samara. 

   Our shared past and age-old traditions of friendship and 
goodneighborliness within a united state compel us to build close 
partnership relations even today. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  When were you last in your native Dzhizak? 

   [Lebedev]  Last year.  I visited my native city, my father's grave, 
and relatives who live there. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  What about Chernihiv? 

   [Lebedev]  I was there this year, relatives of my wife live there. 

   On "Sweepers" and Honor 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  You spent two years working in the United States 
as the SVR's official representative.  How did you react to Kalugin's New 
York TV reports on areas of "spy labor glory"? 

   [Lebedev]  With hostility.  I do not want to speak about Judas. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Many modern detective stories have a profession 
known as the "fixer" [chistilshchik]:  Treachery is invariably punished.  
Punished not only by God's law, not only under the Criminal Code, but 
also punished by the professional community.  What is the practice used 
for punishing traitors in the intelligence service? 

   [Lebedev]  I can assure you that the profession of "fixer" does not 
exist now . neither our service nor other Russian special services have 
subunits for "umbrella jabbing" [reference to murder of Bulgarian emigre 
writer Georgi Markov in London in 1978].  We try to bring the defectors 
home to judge them here in accordance with the law.  I will make no 
secret of the fact that this happens extremely rarely since every special 
service protects its informants. 

   But not for nothing did you mention divine retribution.  I think that 
most of these people do nonetheless spend their lives in a permanent 
state of fear.  Judging from the fate of certain traitors who have stayed 
in the United States and Britain.  They needlessly change their place of 
residence and external appearance.  They do not lead a quiet life. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Have you personally not been betrayed? 

   [Lebedev]  I have, regrettably.  It is a difficult ordeal when a man 
with whom you have worked and whom you have trusted a great deal switches 
to the other side.  If a dentist or a poet decides to do this, he simply 
changes his place of residence and his job.  But when a state employee, 
whom the motherland has entrusted with its secrets, does this, there are 
different yardsticks.  Treachery begins when it is a question of handing 
over state secrets. 

   I attended the trial of a traitor who gave foreign special services 
the names of 152 officials in what was then the USSR KGB First Main 
Directorate.  Huge amounts of money were spent on their instruction and 
training and efforts were made to conceal [zashifrovat] these people. 

   But even that is not terrible.  But when he named our foreign sources 
and those people with families and children ended up in jail and were 
convicted, that was terrible.  He destroyed the lives of hundreds of 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Are there still professional intelligence 
officers of ours in jail abroad now? 

   [Lebedev]  No. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Do lie detectors help identify traitors? 

   [Lebedev]  A lie detector will not reveal for sure either in our 
country or theirs whether you have a traitor sitting in front of you.  
But the polygraph does provide reason for pondering how honest this 
person is since his inner turmoil cannot be concealed. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  A boy in the ninth grade once came to the 
Leningrad KGB cadre department and said that he wanted to be an 
intelligence officer.  We read about this in V.V. Putin's book "In the 
First Person."  When did you make this decision? 

   [Lebedev]  I began my work in state security organs in 
counterintelligence in Chernihiv after the Komsomol oblast committee.  It 
was then that I first found out that the committee system had a First 
Main Directorate -- intelligence -- for which the most worthy people were 
selected.  I was told that in 10 years just one person from the our 
administration had gone there and all my colleagues spoke his name with 
great respect, saying:  Our man has entered the intelligence service, he 
is living in Moscow!  After three years working at the oblast 
administration I was asked to join the intelligence service. 

   You Do Not Join the Intelligence Service for Money 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  In one of your rare interviews you recalled how 
a school graduate wrote dollar in uppercase and Motherland in lower case 
in an entrance exam.  Can you tell me who is now entering foreign 
intelligence and why?  For ideas, for money?  To save the motherland?  To 
earn money? 

   [Lebedev]  You do not join us for money.  But there are other 
attractive factors about intelligence. 

   I would like to say that the guys whom we select -- and we spend a 
long time selecting them, we study people for several years -- good 
people enter the Foreign Intelligence Academy.  We are pleased with the 
current intake.  There were difficulties in the early- and mid-nineties 
but then came a turning point and over the past few years we have tackled 
the problem of intelligence officer recruitment OK. 

   Regrettably, there are still some difficulties with cadres and they 
are due to the deterioration in our young people's state of health among 
other things.  People must be fit in the intelligence service.  It is 
necessary to endure tremendous strain -- physical and, in particular, 
mental.  A person must be emotionally stable.  And not give in to panic 
in a particular stressful situation. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Is there competition to enter your academy? 

   [Lebedev]  Yes, there is.  We are glad that we have a choice of 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Do you think that the fact that the incumbent 
president is a professional intelligence officer has had an impact on the 
prestige of your profession? 

   [Lebedev]  I will make no secret of the fact that this is helping the 
intelligence service and me as its director.  The president's 
understanding of intelligence activity and the opportunity to speak the 
same language to him makes our work considerably easier. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Our fellow journalists who accompany the 
president on his trips abroad say that he has extraordinary staying 
power.  Ministers are dropping after 14 hours of talks, yet he is always 
on form.  Does his tough intelligence background help him?  Perhaps 
voters should put all their presidential contenders through the Yasenevo 
fitness school? 

   [Lebedev]  The president still maintains a very good level of physical 
fitness.  He sets a good example in terms of his ability to work and his 
attitude to his health.  He works out every day and swims.  You cannot do 
otherwise.  I can see this from my own experience.  I come to work at 
0830 hours and I leave around midnight. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  What is your salvation? 

   [Lebedev]  In the morning I exercise and in the evening I spend around 
an hour swimming in our pool, then I get back to the office and look at 
more material that has come in.  It is good that I live nearby.  I am a 
five-minute drive away from home. 

   Even Retired Intelligence Officers Are Highly Valued 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  It is well known that intelligence officers are 
not has-beens.  Your department's professionals retire on pension fairly 
early.  How do they get along? 

   [Lebedev]  Fortunately, intelligence officers are in demand.  Their 
reliability, knowledge of languages, ability to analyze a situation, draw 
precise conclusions, and their experience of dealing with people are 
essential in all organizations.  Not for nothing is there the popular 
expression as the highest form of praise:  "I would join the intelligence 
service with him ['ya by poshel s nim v razvedku' -- meaning 'I would 
trust him']."  Many of our former officers now hold respectable positions 
in state and commercial structures. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  It is generally known that the strongest 
veterans organization is the association of foreign intelligence 

   [Lebedev]  Time flies by very fast.  I often tell my colleagues that 
the way in which we treat veterans now will be the way that we will also 
be treated in five or 10 years.  We must create an atmosphere of respect 
toward veterans.  We try to provide them with material and psychological 
support.  We invite them to meetings.  Where else can you talk about past 
intelligence work if not in your own environment?  And people really want 
to talk.  We are very glad that they are sharing their experience with us 
at the SVR rather than anywhere else. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  How are things with the housing issue in your 
department?  You need to attract people somehow since wages are not high. 
 A person is alive.  He has a family, children, a mother-in-law. 

   [Lebedev]  During the Soviet era there was a rule that if an 
intelligence officer did not have housing or an apartment in the Soviet 
Union, he could not be sent abroad.  He would have nowhere to return to . 
I consider this to be a correct rule even now.  A person must not only 
have a motherland but also his own home.  Hence we are trying to provide 
our personnel with housing. 

   Beer for the "Surveillance" 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Are their recesses in the "war" between their 
counterintelligence officers and our intelligence officers? 

   [Lebedev]  Every special service performs and is continuing to perform 
its own mission.  There have frequently been situations where mutual 
human understanding came into play.  There was one case in the States, 
for instance.  A road traffic accident took place involving one of our 
officials.  The American guilty party jumped out and began trying to 
prove that he was not to blame.  A vehicle drove up from behind.  A man 
got out and said:  "I saw that the Russian diplomat was not to blame ." 
"Who are you?"  "It does not matter.  The police are coming, I will tell 
them who this is."  The police came.  He introduced himself as an FBI 
official.  Any professional can tell something like the following story.  
On a hot day our intelligence officer had had a long drive.  The 
"surveillance" officers were also tired because of the heat.  He dropped 
into a small cafe, bought beer, and told the waitress:  "Take some beer 
out to those gentlemen too."  They waved in thanks and then carried on 
with their work. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Does the fact that you spent a long time working 
in Germany affect your contacts with your German partners? 

   [Lebedev]  I have good contacts with my colleagues in the German 
special services.  Needless to say, my knowledge of the language and the 
fact that I spent a long time working there do help. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  You have said, but no one believes it, that you 
were not acquainted with Putin prior to your appointment. 

   [Lebedev]  Let me assert once again that I only made his acquaintance 
in 2000.  I flew in from Washington 20 May and was introduced to the 
president.  He signed the edict on my appointment in my presence. 

   Four Years and Four Months 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Your professional holiday is 20 December.  How 
will you be spending it? 

   [Lebedev]  I will be at work during the day.  I will congratulate my 
colleagues on the holiday and hand out certain incentives and awards.  I 
will be attending a gala reception in the evening in honor of state 
security organ officials' day. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Such events are now called corporate 

   [Lebedev]  This is also necessary.  Informal contacts are very 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  How long did your predecessors remain directors 
of the Russian SVR? 

   [Lebedev]  Yevgeniy Maksimovich Primakov worked here for four years 
and four months.  When he left to go to the Foreign Ministry, he handed 
over to Vyacheslav Ivanovich Trubnikov, who, amazingly, also worked here 
for four years and four months. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Can you calculate, Sergey Nikolayevich, when you 
will have been here for four years and four months? 

   [Lebedev]  People hoped that I would work here for at least as long.  
Two and a half years have gone by.  If the predictions come true, I still 
have time to do some work. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  When did you last speak to the president? 

   [Lebedev]  Today.  [Lebedev ends] 

   The Rossiyskaya Gazeta editorial office congratulates all state 
security organ personnel on their professional holiday and wishes them 
good fortune in their personal life and successful work for the good of 
the motherland. 

   You Cannot Enter the Intelligence Service without a Wife 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Does an intelligence officer's wife also need to 
be an intelligence officer? 

   [Lebedev]  A wife primarily has to be a close friend.  That is very 
important . I am conscious from my own experience of how important it is 
when your wife understands your work and helps you. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Where were your sons born? 

   [Lebedev]  They were both born in Chernihiv. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Do you mainly send married people on tours of 

   [Lebedev]  As a rule, yes.  Butt there are bachelors too. 

   [Rossiyskaya Gazeta]  Is the feminine factor used in foreign 
intelligence?  Feminine powers and feminine charms? 

   [Lebedev]  We do not have any female recruitment officers?  There are 
analysts, translators, and instructors.  An intellectual force. 

[Description of Source: Moscow Rossiyskaya Gazeta in Russian -- 
Government daily newspaper.]