June 10, 2009
Book Review of Konstantin Preobrazhensky’s FSB’s New Trojan Horse: Americans of Russian Descent
by Clare Lopez
For those who think the Cold War ended in 1991, this book will have you thinking again. Konstantin Preobrazhensky wants Americans to wake up to the ongoing agenda of the Russian regime, which he says under the rule of Vladimir Putin and the KGB has reverted to the intelligence-dominated repressive state of the 20th century. Preobrazhensky should know: he’s a former Lieutenant Colonel of the KGB himself, who rose through the ranks to serve as advisor on Far East issues to Leonid Zaitsev, the Head of Directorate T (Scientific and Technical Intelligence) in the First Chief Directorate. As the Soviet Union collapsed around him in 1991, Preobrazhensky left the service, and worked as a journalist for the next 12 years before being forced to flee to the United States in 2003. Now he brings his insider’s insight to this important new book about how Russian intelligence is operating inside the United States.
While the lessons of classic counterintelligence may have been forgotten by many today, those like Preobrazhensky who lived the life of an intelligence officer never lose that sense, that ability to recognize clandestine operations no matter how shrouded. The rise of the KGB president Putin marked a turning point in Russia’s fledgling democratic experience, turning its halting progress towards a more open and lawful society into a rout when Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin in 1999. As Preobrazhensky makes clear, things have only gotten worse in the years since then.
In this, his newest book, Preobrazhensky describes in chilling detail how Russian intelligence uses the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) to extend Moscow’s reach deep into America. He explains how Russian intelligence sends priests, who are in fact KGB recruited agents, into ROCOR churches across the U.S. in order to bring their congregations under the sway of Russian state interests and set up bases for KGB spy activity. Originally established by Stalin, the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) of the Russian Orthodox Church was a creature of the KGB from the start. To this day, its prelates have never renounced that association nor even sought to deny it. As Preobrazhensky says, “The collaboration of the MP with the KGB, unfortunately, is not a thing of the past, as many prefer to believe in the West.” Now, Putin’s KGB deploys its operatives under MP cover to penetrate ROCOR in an attempt to force it into the MP fold.
Once that foothold is established in the U.S. ROCOR churches, it becomes a “stronghold for Russian intelligence”, as Preobrazhensky puts it. Given America’s official squeamishness about monitoring activities, no matter how subversive, that are characterized as “religious,” the potential for KGB influence and recruitment operations among ROCOR parishioners becomes all too real.
Part Two of Preobrazhensky’s book is devoted to the destruction of free speech inside Russia under the Putin regime. For an all-too-brief time after the fall of the communist USSR, freedom of speech seemed to flourish in Russia. It was during the 1990s that Preobrazhensky himself began to write about the abuses of the Russian security services and became a columnist for the Moscow Times. He was well aware of the desperate history of journalism in his native country but writes of his determination nevertheless to make truth known.
Under communism, millions of Russians were exiled, imprisoned, and murdered for breaking the rules about state secrets-which could be anything at all, depending on the whims of the system. As Preobrazhensky explains, the fear of freedom of speech goes deep into the Russian psyche. Historically, since well before the Russian Revolution of 1917, journalists had to maneuver around police state controls on dissemination of independent thinking. Once the Bolsheviks took power, hatred for the very concept of free expression was institutionalized under control of the secret police. Newspapers and other media were commandeered to be the very tools of societal repression and journalists were co-opted to the purposes of the state.
It remained so for the next 70 years, until a brief window of freedom opened. But these days, as Preobrazhensky’s last chapters report with the factual precision of the investigative journalist he is, Putin’s Russia is dominated by a criminal capitalism, in which “the mafia plays a large role in economic life…They do not need freedom of speech.” Because the top oligarchs favored by the Kremlin receive “privileges from the government by patronage, through criminal channels,” Putin needs to protect them. According to Preobrazhensky, Putin delegated the battle with the independent press to the FSB (KGB). As quoted by Preobrazhensky at the start of Chapter 6, Putin’s 2000 inaugural speech made quite clear that democratic institutions, such as the Fourth Estate, “must serve the interests of society.” And so Russia’s nascent independent media were destroyed. TV channels and radio stations were assaulted, litigated, shut down. Journalists were threatened, arrested, co-opted, prosecuted, recruited, and even murdered outright. Just like in the old days. In soul-smothering detail, Preobrazhensky recounts the stories of how television stations, once lively programming, and brave individual journalists, like the intrepid Anna Politkovskaya, were silenced across Russia.
In the final chapters of his book, Preobrazhensky describes his own experiences as a journalist, courageously writing exposes about FSB abuses. Few dared to tread this path, even in the heady, hopeful days of the 1990s. And those who did, like Preobrazhensky, ultimately had to make a choice between continuing to risk their lives on the inside or fleeing to places where they could still write the truth. In 1994, Preobrazhensky set off a firestorm when he published an expose of KGB operations in East Asia, The Spy Who Loved Japan. As he himself tells it, this book “revealed the hidden world of the Tokyo KGB station.” Needless to say, this did not go over well with the Russian intelligence services. Payback was not long in coming and Preobrazhensky was harassed and surveilled, his son denied a much-sought-after university study term in Japan, and ultimately his apartment was assaulted and nearly broken into by police seeking to arrest him.
Realizing that life for him in Russia had become impossible, Preobrazhensky fled to the U.S. in 2003 and received political asylum in March 2006. Here, he joins the company of other fearless critics who speak truth to power, such as former KGB General Oleg Kalugin, who was head of Directorate K, the service’s internal counterintelligence unit.
FSBs New Trojan Horse: Americans of Russian Descent takes its place on the bookshelf of important intelligence chronicles.