Ghost Of KGB Racism

The recent anti-Semitic demarche of Communist General Albert Makashov was surely instigated by the Communist Party's official or unofficial leadership. Either way, it is likely to mark the beginning of a powerful propaganda campaign against the West, unleashed not only by the Communists but by the state structures closely linked to the party.

One of these is the Federal Security Service, the main successor organization to the KGB, where Makashov's statements were no doubt received with voluptuous nostalgia. For although the service has no official policy of discrimination against Jews, a painful tradition of anti-Semitism lives on in its ranks.

Basically, many people in the Federal Security Service, or FSB, still cannot forgive Jews for ... founding the KGB. To this day it is widely resented that the organization's true founders were Bolsheviks Lev Trotsky and Yakov Sverdlov, Jews through and through. In its defense, the organization's anti-Semites wield "Iron" Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the political police, or Cheka, insisting that he was a Pole. In fact, Dzerzhinsky was himself half-Jewish, beginning his revolutionary activities as a fluent speaker of Yiddish in the ranks of a Jewish youth movement.

At the mention of this, today's Chekists, or FSB operatives, begin to scowl. The scowl deepens when they hear that their former chief and idol Yury Andropov was also part Jewish. Similarly, today's communists frown and bristle when reminded that Jewish blood also coursed through Vladimir Lenin's veins, a fact that was subject to utmost secrecy in Soviet times.

Also of Jewish stock were the country's first and finest agents, which puts FSB college lecturers in a spot when they list a succession of Jewish surnames in lessons on the secret police's history. These agents were later all liquidated by Stalin. The older Chekists tell their younger colleagues in awed whispers that the real reason for the first wave of Stalinist purges was the Great Leader's striving to remove Jews from the ranks of the secret police, where they were in the great majority.

From then on, the way into the KGB was firmly closed to Jews, whose resulting absence from the ranks was something I would frequently hear senior intelligence officers lament in the mid-1970s, when the organization deployed major intelligence gathering resources against Israel. But not even this lack of personnel with an in-depth knowledge of Jewish culture, religion and language was enough to loosen the unofficial recruitment restrictions. Specialists were sifted out from the KGB's existing recruits working in Oriental studies - provided they weren't Jewish, of course.

Jews still made it into the KGB, of course, generally by hiding their racial origin during selection. Every time a Soviet agent defected, the KGB chiefs would inquire eagerly if that person was a Jew. Alas, all the culprits were Russians, while the Jews, on the contrary, showed the utmost patriotism. The only exception was KGB Major Stanislav Levchenko who worked under the cover of Japan correspondent for the newspaper Novoye Vremya. Only when Levchenko defected to the United States in 1980 did it emerge that he was half-Jewish.

The intelligence chiefs breathed a sigh of relief. That, they concluded, meant that Levchenko defected not because he was dissatisfied with the way he was treated, but because he was Jewish! For the edification of all other operatives, the service's internal authorities decided to scrutinize the family tree of every officer in the KGB. This was easily done, because the registration of all births, deaths and marriages had since the Stalin era been carried out by the secret police, which also had kept all records from tsarist times.

The investigation revealed a wealth of unwelcome surprises, as many senior officers turned out to be of Jewish descent. A piecemeal solution to the dilemma was found in getting the officers to write notes explaining they had not revealed this before for fear of not being allowed into the glorious KGB. These notes were then attached to their service records.

And not only did Jews come to light in the investigation, but also many officers of German origin - also unthinkable for the KGB - and one in particular, a secretary to the intelligence service's own party branch who proved to be the unwitting son of a collaborator with the Nazis during the war. Needless to say, his appointment to the post of mission head in Washington was hastily canceled.

But while keeping Jews from its ranks, the KGB was not averse to recruiting Jews to work as agents or informers. In view of state anti-Semitism, many agreed to this as their only hope to advance themselves; to be allowed to receive their doctorate, be promoted at work, or even travel abroad.

Against this background, it is safe to say that anti-Semitic rumblings in the Communist Party are likely to find considerable resonance within the FSB, whatever its official policy on recruitment. Moreover, since many Russian communists regard Jews as the conduits of Western influence, there is an increased likelihood of a burgeoning anti-Western campaign. (Next in the firing line will be the pernicious Jewish bankers for supposedly trying to bring Russia to its knees with IMF loans.)

And given the high level of communist sympathy in the FSB, there will inevitably be great support for any anti-Western campaign that would entail staging showcase spy trials and expelling selected Western diplomats.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky is a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.