Terror's KGB Roots
By BORIS VOLODARSKY
Wall Street Journal
November 23, 2007
A year ago today, my friend Alexander Litvinenko died in a London hospital, leaving behind a wife and young son. Sasha was poisoned by a tiny nuclear device containing polonium-210 -- which, the British Crown Prosecution Service concluded, was planted on him by Russian secret agents. In its way, his murder was an act of state-sponsored terrorism.
This is nothing new for Russia. The KGB has long used terrorist tactics and worked closely with organizations like Yasser Arafat's PLO. The year before, in July 2005, Sasha wrote in a confidential report prepared for a special commission of the Italian Parliament investigating KGB activities in Italy that, "Until recently the KGB had been in charge of all international terrorism." The manner of his death suggests that Russia today, under the leadership of former KGB lieutenant colonel Vladimir Putin, is up to its old tricks.
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The KGB's forerunner, the Cheka (later NKVD), was created by Lenin and Felix Dzerzhinsky expressly to eliminate Russia's aristocracy, intellectuals and dissidents -- anyone who threatened the Soviet state from the inside. Under Stalin, the NKVD started to murder its opponents abroad: Ignatz Reiss near Lausanne in 1937, Yevhen Konovalets in Amsterdam in 1938, Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940. In 1953, the Soviet secret service tried to kill Marshal Tito in Belgrade.
Stalin's death didn't dampen the Kremlin's appetite for international terror. After the Litvinenko murder, the Russian foreign intelligence service claimed that Russia had not taken part in any assassinations abroad since 1959. That is not true. An Afghan leader, Hafizullah Amin, was first poisoned and then shot by a KGB special squad in Kabul in 1979. A former Chechen president, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, was blown up by Russian agents in Qatar in 2004.
In 1964, the KGB station in Mexico City set up a sabotage and intelligence group led by Manuel Andara y Ubeda, a Nicaraguan KGB agent. He led a group of Sandinistas to scope out the U.S. border with Mexico for possible targets, such as oil pipelines, for KGB sabotage teams. Its codename was Iskra, or "spark," inspired by the title of Lenin's revolutionary newspaper. The KGB also trained and financed the Sandinistas who seized the National Palace in Managua and dozens of hostages in 1978. They briefed a senior KGB official on the plan on the eve of the raid.
In the Mideast, one of the KGB's star recruits was Wadi Haddad, the deputy leader and head of foreign operations of the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In 1970, the KGB made him an agent, according to files delivered to British intelligence by Vasili Mitrokhin, a former KGB archivist who defected to the U.K. in 1992. The most dramatic terrorist strike organized by Haddad was the Sept. 6, 1970 attack on four airliners bound for New York. The hijacking attempt on an El Al Boeing 707 departing from Tel Aviv failed after one of the two terrorists was shot by an air marshal. The other three airlines were successfully diverted to other landing strips by the hijackers. The passengers and crew of a Pan Am Boeing 747 were evacuated and the plane was blown up; in the other two cases, the terrorists negotiated prisoner swaps. (Those were more innocent pre-9/11 times.) Thanks to the Mitrokhin files, we know that the KGB provided arms to Haddad, and it is a fair assumption that his handlers were aware of his plans.
A KGB officer, Vasili Fyodorovich Samoilenko, cultivated Arafat for a long time. A 1974 photograph shows them together at a wreath-laying ceremony in Moscow; during this visit, the Soviets called the PLO "the sole legitimate representative of the Arab people of Palestine," a controversial stance for that era that sealed their close alliance. From then on, the KGB trained PLO guerrillas at its Balashikha special-operations training school east of Moscow and provided most of the weapons used in its attacks on Israeli targets. PLO intelligence officers also attended one-year courses at the KGB's Andropov Institute; some of them ended up being recruited by the KGB.
Soviet satellites did their share. During the late 1960s Arafat had also been courted by the Cairo station chief of the Romanian foreign intelligence service (DIE), Constantin Munteanu, who brought him to Bucharest. Arafat and Nicolai Ceausescu became good friends. Late in 1972 Romanian intelligence formed an alliance with the PLO, according to former KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, who said the Romanians "suppl[ied] it with blank passports, electronic surveillance equipment, and weapons for its operations." Ceausescu told acting head of the DIE (and future defector) Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa: "Moscow is helping the PLO build up its muscles. I am feeding its brains." According to Mr. Pacepa's 1987 book, "Red Horizons": "Arafat and his KGB handlers were preparing a PLO commando team headed by Arafat's top deputy, Abu Jihad, to take American diplomats hostage in Khartoum, Sudan."
According to various sources, Ilyich Ramíres Sánchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, the most notorious terrorist in the 1970s and early 1980s, was among those who attended Soviet and Cuban training camps. He lived for a time in East Germany.
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The murder of Sasha Litvinenko should be called what it really was: a terror attack on British soil. Countless people were endangered by radiation, traces of which were found on British Airways planes, in London hotels and restaurants. In the meantime, the suspected murderer, Andrei Lugovoi, is a candidate for the Russian parliament in next month's elections, and openly mocks British attempts to have him extradited to face trial.
Sasha was right. Post-Soviet Russia is a breeding ground for terrorism just like the Soviet Union was.
Mr. Volodarsky, an independent intelligence analyst who lives in London, is a former GRU (Soviet military intelligence) special operations officer.
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