I’ll take it from here, Gar.
Explaining it to the internet.
For some time now, as a side project, I have been meeting with a former KGB operative, since it relates to my background in interrogation research and…because I used to play spy instead of barbies - and who gets to meet their childhood alter ego?
So this ongoing interview will cover his experience & assignments, life as a KGB in cold war Russia and his life now in the US. The idea is not just to look at the techniques, training, and related Soviet science, but to share the story of a once deadly man who’s desperate make a change in his life.
What area was your work focused?
xKGB: KGB Counterintelligence field office, then KGB Espionage Division. Working “American Direction”, with American citizens. Then SBU espionage against Russia… when I was preparing to kill Russian President Yeltsin.
Torturing the Body and Mind
In light of a recent Wired article about psychopharm use during Gitmo interrogations, we revisit this topic:
In your experience, what types of techniques of psychological torture were used?
xKGB: Forcible narcotics addiction - here you can use also depressants, stimulants, opiates or hallucinogens (psychedelics), depressants (alcohol, barbiturates, antianxiety drugs with effects of euphoria, tension reduction, disinhibition, muscle relaxation, drowsiness; stimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine (crystal meth).
Once you’ve made an addict, information can be easily obtained, the drug has now become more important than the protection silence offered… if you are not mad by then.
According to reports, Haldol is our choice “sedative” in Gitmo. A footnote in the Pentagon’s inspector general report (p.4) explains that:
Haldol is antipsychotic used in the treatment of schizophrenia and, more acutely, in the treatment of acute psychotic states and delirium. Side-effects of Haldol include; anxiety, dysphoria, and an inability to remain motionless.
What we know:
Prisoners inside the U.S. military’s detention center at Guantanamo Bay were forcibly given ‘mind altering drugs,’ including being injected with a powerful anti-psychotic sedative used in psychiatric hospitals. Prisoners were often not told what medications they received, and were tricked into believing routine flu shots were truth serums.”
A patient on Haldol can develop long-term movement disorders and life-threatening neurological disorders. […] But did they consent? (No.) Did the medics consult the prisoners’ medical background before administering drugs? Were prisoners still under the effect of the drugs during interrogation? The report concludes: very likely.” [via]
I then asked my contact, “Given the psychological effects of these drugs, how reliable is the information considered?”
His retort was the you should know better face.
"Don’t babble! Keep your tongue behind your teeth!"
Since the early 1990s, the opening of intelligence archives in the United States and Eastern Europe has done much to enhance our understanding of the operations of intelligence agencies during the cold war.
A major exception to this trend, however, has been the files of the Soviet KGB.
For a brief period following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, researchers gained limited access to the files. (…) —but the doors soon slammed shut, and much of what we know about the KGB still comes from memoirs or unorthodox sources…
Most of these materials, moreover, have dealt with the KGB’s activity abroad and have not shed much light on the service’s role in repression at home. - via CIA.gov
Re: Women in the KGB
It seems female agents were frowned upon, were they seen as a liability due to gender stereotypes, such as emotional weakness?
xKGB: Absolutely. But you’ve read about Maria Mikota - she probably saved Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill - if Germans killed them in Tehran, God knows how history would change from there.
How many female KGB officers did you work with?
xKGB: I had altogether around 100 agents, only 5 were women. There’s one very sensitive point with women agents - when they transfer the officer to other offices, other cites, he has to introduce the agents to his successor. I had 3 cases when women refused to work with other officers.
They got attached?
xKGB: (smiles) Of course.
xKGB: Well… (dead straight face) Yes.
Sprinkled in our conversation was his time as a sniper. Here he talks about how that work breaks down:
xKGB: “Kremlin” operation I was working alone - we can talk about it more. Sniper goes into 4 categories: first, military sniper - he works with a partner, who’s looking for the targets using optics.
Woman are the best snipers (they usually have lower blood pressure than man and they pay more attention to details. In Chechnya, Russian small Muslim republic where terrorists fight for independence since 1993, they pay women -snipers (soldiers of fortune) from former Soviet Baltic republics (Litva, Estonia) to fight Russian army. Every woman has 2 helpers - they count the dead bodies and keep an eye on the sniper.
Then there are mafia snipers - work mostly as a team. Next are espionage (gov) agency snipers - might be a solo, might be a team, depends. Last are “lonely wolves” - psychos who just shoot people in the street through a hole in a van, from the roof, etc.”
Then noticing we aren’t talking about him anymore, he redirects and with the driest of all humor, and half truths, he says, “I prefer to work alone.”
Above: Female Russian sniper [via]
I’m back in touch with my contact, a former KGB counterintelligence operative.
We will continue with our interviews looking at his experiences, training and the psychology of the KGB. I’ve joined with an amazing co-author who’s background in international security is sure to compliment this endeavor. Together, this promises to get interesting.
In a recent conversation with my contact, we asked and he answered:
There is a saying about people being either trained or untrained: how influential was training at the Counterintelligence School or Intelligence Academy? To your knowledge, could someone obtain comparable skills privately?
xKGB: I can talk about myself. I started as a field officer and my boss didn’t want to send me to the Counterintelligence school for 3 years. During this time I got so much experience that at School they asked me to lecture other students. Intelligence is different. You can’t go work abroad at the station (legal or illegal rezidentura) without special training. Besides, experienced former spies have to share their knowledge with you - it’s very important. I don’t know how you get this privately - via Hollywood movies ? No way.
It’s “attitude adjustment hour” at the Russian Vodka Room.
ABOUT MY SOURCE
Born in Kolomiya, his father was a deputy mayor and his mother worked at a bank. He displayed early signs of intelligence, excelling in school and graduating at the top of his class. In 1975, a friend gave him a Beatles record, and he started the first rock band in his town, playing for 5 years at the University… songs about Lenin and the Communist Party.
"I wanted to be a spy since I was 10, maybe," he says. But first he had to get higher education and join the Communist Party. He quickly adds, "I never believed in Communism. The thing is - KGB officers were 100% Communists but KGB was very independent, it was a “state inside a state”. Communism is a dead-end project because if there’s no competition, there’s no quality and there’s no progress.”
He was then recruited by Chernovtsy, Regional KGB Department (2nd,counterintelligence division) and he states that it changed his personality a lot, “First, it gave me power”.
We will be discussing more personal aspects of my source shortly. I’m interested in who he is, what exactly changed and how did this effect his work in the KGB and how does it effect his life now, as he seeks political asylum in the U.S., to start a new life.
Above: My source in Kolomiya, Soviet Union, 1976.
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan still imprison dissidents in psychiatric hospitals. As a part of their stunning mutlimedia retrospective on the Soviet Union, RFE/RL reports on the Soviet roots of such a despicable practice.
When the KGB declares you insane. Your speaking my language with this post. So, of course I showed this to my ex-KGB counter intelligence source to get his off the cuff thoughts on this. And, as it’s becoming quiet routine with him, I get schooled and verbally paddled when it comes to thinking the psychology of the KGB is exclusive of the political environment. Honestly, I’m not sure how he puts up with me.
What do you know about this case, or instances of KGB putting people in mental institutions to keep them silent or tucked away… until they are truly insane?
xKGB: It’s a big question, bigger than you think. First, decent, intelligent people don’t go into politics and are not crazy about political power. Second, politics is all about economy of the country and money for political leaders. Third, both republics are just cards in a big geopolitical Russian and AMERICAN STRATEGIES - LOOK AT THE MAP. Fourth, if political opposition appears anywhere on this planet, they start looking for foreign support right away, mostry from USA (Russian opposition don’t even hide the fact that US Dept of State and different American foundations give them money.)
Now, about mental institutions: 1. Situation might be much worse- in Byelorussia, another former Soviet rep. people just disappear. 2. They don’t break your brain there - they just calm you down, mostly before and during elections. Some haloperidol, for example. It doesn’t mean that I approve this practice. And what about CIA holding suspects (“terrorists”) in secret prisons where they’ve been tortured ?
xKGB: Any wrongful act is subject to a psychiatricanalys, arguing that under socialism there are no social causes for criminal acts.Eskulpatsiya, is recognition of the insanity of dissidents, in one form or another expressing his disagreement with some moments of domestic and foreign policy of the Soviet government, carried out deliberately. For this purpose, mainly for psychiatric diagnosis: creeping form of schizophrenia and paranoid personality development.If and when I pursue this line, I’m certain for another stern “sit down”. Wish me luck!
Interrogations and Tortures, Part III
In 2002, the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah was the “test case for new methods of interrogation that would eventually become an international controversy — methods that would come to be known as “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Such acts such as sleep deprivation, placing the object nude in a cold room, dumping cold water on him regularly, loud music are considered enhanced interrogation techniques. Later permission was given to use slapping, shoving, stress positions and confined in boxes with insects.” Via
When we continued our conversation regarding interrogations, my ex-KGB source tells me that “In 1942 German psychiatrists suggested to SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler that: “Officers and soldiers of the German army shouldn’t execute, torture or watch these special actions, because they risk the mental health of their future kids”. A very useful tip which Himmler immediately turned into an order for SS Einsatzgruppen (killing squads) - since then, Germans used local police for these jobs.” The idea is that even being present during these acts, experiencing the moment of inflicting, observing such severe, violent trauma is in effect, somehow translated from perception/experience to a possible genetic predisposition towards PTSD.
It seems to be a calculated and deliberate balance of knowing what do to, how much and when, that separates interrogation from torture, which is a significant topic of debate and concern given the delicate line between the two. My source explains torture as “a category of methods of interrogation designed to shock, hurt and humiliate the object and get information or to make him do something (if used for blackmail).” There are different types of torture and professionals often combine them depending on the object. Several issues that the interrogators keep in mind while looking for indicators of potential problems are:
- Ongoing torture decreases pain sensitivity
- People with strong will power take torture as a test
- Resistance to torture is often a form of hysterics after arrest
- The object could take himself as a martyr if you torture him too much
- Too harsh of a torture could damage object’s psyche and you won’t be able to work with him. He adds, “That’s why we keep terrorists/informants in Guantanamo Bay without trial – we turn them into idiots.”
Just to clarify, are you saying the torture used to against detainees to gain information deteriorates their competency to stand trail?
xKGB: 100 %.
It seems counterintuitive and contrary to the cases of false confessions and the research we hear about to trust the information received during such a traumatic process that is diminishing their cognitive capacity, memory and causing stress, leading to a possible false confession or untrue information.
xKGB: That’s natural – you expect the enemy to lie to you because he’s the actual enemy. People usually trust “after torture information” more than voluntary confessions.
You can tell that a certain method was effective if the information was the truth. Say, if the guy after torture said “2345 23 Ave is the terrorists warehouse”, you came there, you ambushed the place and got the terrorists – the method was effective.
Still seems to leave room for unnecessary violence, pain and error, did it actually work most times in order for it to be used so much? Is this a real life vs experimental scenario? We will get into this more later. How was interrogating moles or other highly trained officials who were trained as you were and knew what to expect?
xKGB: Yes, it worked or we wouldn’t have used it. it was extremely difficult. You must have a very strong case. Besides, after USSR collapsed, they don’t execute “moles” in Russia any more.
In your experience, what are the types of techniques of psychological torture were used?
- fake execution (waterboarding, Russian Roulette)
- complete isolation (“wall therapy”)
- Music box (playing loud, annoying music, an anxiety inducing technique)
- daylight deprivation
- forcible narcotics addiction. Here you can use also depressants, stimulants, opiates or hallucinogens (psychodelics), depressants (alcohol, barbiturates, antianxiety drugs
with effects of euphoria, tension reduction, disinhibition, muscle relaxation, drowsiness; stimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine (crystal meth).
- Food deprivation
- euphoria, exhilaration, high physical and mental energy, reduced appetite, perceptions of power , and sociability; hallucinogens with effects of euphoria, hallucinations, distorted perceptions and sensations
-making the object observe others being tortured (such as family members)
-abuse of object’s national, religious feelings or political views)
How did you feel being a part of this? Are you susceptible to mental health issues due to your exposure to such emotionally heightening situations?
xKGB: It’s just job. Professional does his job.
As for me…
Ah, we can keep the rest off the record for now. What are the effects of psychological torture you have seen?
xKGB: Anxiety, depression, fear, psychosis, difficulty concentrating, communication disabilities, insomnia, impaired memory, headaches, hallucinations, sexual disturbances, destruction of self-image and inability to socialize.
What are the techniques of physical torture were you trained to exercise?
- Food, water, sleep deprivation
- damage to vital body organs (brain, lungs, kidneys, liver, private parts) plus electric shock. The brain is particularly dependent on a continuous and stable supply of oxygen and glucose.
- rape by a fellow prisoner
- face deformation
- water cure (the torturer pours water down the throat of the subject to inflict the terror of drowning. In another variation, the subject is tied or held don in a chair, his face is covered with a cloth or plastic sheet, and water is poured slowly or quickly over his face to encourage him to talk.
What about genital mutilation?
xKGB: It all depends on the situation. If it’s a war and intel/sabotage team and they have the enemy officer, they have to get intel from him fast and kill him after that. Again, if you got a terrorist with a bomb, and you have no idea who he is and whether his partners a mile away are preparing to blow up a building tomorrow morning, you have to torture. But if it’s an Al Qaida guy and you torture him because you have no sources inside major terror organization, you better find another job. You are not professional, you are garbage.
I’ll take that as a yes. What are the effects of physical torture?
xKGB: Extreme, unbearable pain, hypertension, fatigue, cardiopulmonary (and other disorders) as well as brain atrophy.
Did it ever go too far too soon? Killing the object before info was obtained?
xKGB: You can’t kill the object before – why should you ? It’s different if you have three terrorists and you torture and kill one of them in front of others just to show what you gonna do to them. Often people take “light death” (torture) as a reward.
What happened to them after an interrogation? Prison?
xKGB: Again, it depends what you have. If it’s an enemy of state and he was involved in serious stuff like coup-d-eta, murders, etc, it’s prison. But if you recruit him during interrogation (it happens sometimes) his life in prison will be different. Then, if it’s a minor stuff, like talking about the possibility to, say, kill the President, the guy has to sign the paper, promise he won’t do it again and he’s free . Of course, in this particular case he’ll be under surveillance and surrounded by assets for life.
Can you tell me about any interrogations you were involved in?
xKGB: The objects were mostly enemies of state, anti-Soviets, anti-Communists, radical nationalists. You can interrogate them only if you have strong evidence. But they are mostly intelligent people and in the cell they might be pressed by my assets – beaten up, raped – “Get the money or we gonna do this every night!” After that, interrogation is much easier.
In other words:Those cells are named “press-khata.” Pressure is usually: menaces, advices to confess, vicious promises to kill you when you are asleep, etc. Strong person will stand up anyway, after few days then, you will be let alone and transferred from a press-khata to usual cell. via
How about any torture session that stands out in your experience?
xKGB: Sleep deprivation + “good cop - bad cop” trick for 1-2 days, ‘Conveyor”.
There’s a good and simple one – put pens between your left hand fingers and squeeze them with you right hand. How you feel?
We still have more to talk about. Stay tuned for the next topic: coercive persuasion AKA, brainwashing.