Book Details the Defection of 'Comrade J'In 2000, Sergei Tretyakov became one of the highest-ranking Russian spies ever to defect to the United States. Pete Earley, author of a new book about Tretyakov called Comrade J, and the former Russian spy discuss his case and his motivation.
Tretyakov at home with his cat, Matilda in March 2007.
Tretyakov at home with his cat, Matilda in March 2007.
Sergei Tretyakov was an operative of the KGB, the former Soviet intelligence service. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the agency changed its name, but its mission remained the same.
Tretyakov was nominally a press officer at the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York. In reality, he was running a number of intelligence agents who, in turn, were trying to get information out of Americans and others at the U.N.
In 2000, Tretyakov became one of the highest-ranking Russian spies ever to defect to the United States.
Four years later — with both FBI and CIA agents present — he met with Pete Earley, the author of books about several Americans who had spied for Russia.
The result of their meeting is Earley's book, Comrade J, the story of Tretyakov's career.
Tretyakov says he sees the book as a kind of "wake-up call" for Americans.
"Americans are a little bit naive when they say, '[The] Cold War is over, and right now, we can relax.' [That's] not the case for intelligence [work]," he tells Robert Siegel.
Just as in the Soviet era, Russia's main targets remain the United States, NATO and China.
Tretyakov and Earley discuss the Russian's contacts and espionage work in New York and Ottawa: Tretyakov brought the U.S. more than 5,000 top-secret Russian cables and exposed Russian spy operations in New York.
Tretyakov emphasizes that no one approached him, bought him or seduced him.
"My defection was the major failure of the Russian intelligence, probably in all of history," he says.
At the time of Tretyakov's defection in 2000, his estate was worth $2 million. He says the money was inherited wealth, however, and that he spied for the United States because of his disillusionment with the Russian system, not for money.
"I never worked for money. I never asked for a penny from any foreign government. It was my decision, it was our family decision. Because finally I understood that I must do something good with my life," he says.
Excerpt: 'Comrade J'
Epilogue: The words of Sergei Tretyakov
In Moscow, lies are being spread about my disappearance and why I escaped. I would like to address these rumors. No one recruited me. No one pitched me. No one convinced me to do what I did. I was never approached by a foreign intelligence service. I was never targeted by U.S. intelligence, I believe, because of my image. I was not perceived as a new Russian democrat, and although I was young, I had a reputation for thinking like the old-style KGB officer. I was considered a tough, untouchable Russian. It is important for me to explain that I was neither seduced nor blackmailed nor bribed. The decision that I made was mine without any outside influence.
It is important for me to explain that I never suffered any unfair attitude inside the SVR. I had a skyrocketing career, promotions, decorations, respect, and a very promising future. I did not have any financial concerns or any need for money.
I've been told some of my former colleagues in the SVR believe I am now living under a bridge, in total poverty and so unhappy that I would immediately return to Russia if only the United States were not holding me hostage. This is nonsense. It is true that I forfeited my professional future, and with the publishing of this book, I am confident the Russian government will now feel legally justified to seize all of our family property and real estate and private possessions in Moscow and our dachas. But neither Helen nor I have had to work a day since we escaped. We are living comfortably and none of us has ever regretted — even for a moment — our decision. Even our beloved cat Matilda seems happier!
I want it known that I never asked even for a penny from the U.S. government. When I decided to begin helping the U.S., money was never mentioned by me. What has been given to me — this has all been done by the U.S. government by its own choosing. It was not something I demanded or negotiated. I did not present a bill for services or even once discuss any financial remuneration.
What was done financially, I believe, was done because of genuine appreciation and respect for the risks that I took. I knew nearly all of the Russians who were exposed by Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, and knew they were executed because they were helping the U.S. This means that I was — better than anyone else — fully aware of the dangers that I was taking and the danger that my family was placed in as a result of my actions. Because of my high rank and position, which were uncomparably higher than those of the KGB officers who were executed, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have shared their fates if I had been arrested.
Why, then, did I choose to do what I did — given that I had a promising career and money was not my motivation? Why would I put my life and the lives of Helen and our daughter in jeopardy? There were two reasons. I have tried to express both in this book. But
I will repeat them now, for they explain everything.
The first was my growing disgust and contempt for what has happened and is happening in Russia. These feelings of revulsion first surfaced in Ottawa when I saw a new breed of bureaucrat who was taking power. Neither I nor Helen was naive, nor did we idealize theSoviet system, its immorality, cruelty, repression, and ineffectiveness. Yet it was our motherland, which, like your parents, you cannot choose. I was trying to serve my country the best possible way and was always ready to sacrifice myself defending its national interests. I became extremely enthusiastic and optimistic when Gorbachev came into power and started his famous perestroika and glasnost. Even though he often sounded as if he were an uneducated Russian peasant, I believed that Gorbachev would start a new era of democratization in the Soviet Union. But instead, the Soviet Union ceased to exist, civil war started in different parts of Russia and in the Soviet republics. The economy collapsed, and people became desperate and miserable. Since then Russia has been repeatedly raped and looted by its leadership. I call this process GENOCIDE of the Russian people performed by a group of immoral criminals.
Yeltsin may be best remembered in the West for his impassioned speech outside a besieged White House in Moscow while standing on a tank. But as a president, he was an alcoholic with a deranged mind who surrounded himself with gluttons who stole and robbed and cheated our nation in order to become billionaires. His successor, President Putin, is not a drunk, thankfully. But he was created and chosen by Yeltsin's clan, and for years his presidency was controlled and supervised by the former head of Yeltsin's administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, who remained in his position as chief of staff. In what normal country does a president inherit the administration of the previous president and for years is helpless to appoint his own?
For fifteen years I have waited for any positive changes in the "new" Russia. Working in intelligence for a long time in a high position, I had access to the real information about what was going on in Russian politics. I saw firsthand what kind of people were and are running the country. I came to an ultimate conclusion that it became immoral to serve them, and I didn't want to be associated with them in any way. I developed a strong allergy toward every new wave of Russian leaders. My friends often ask me if I ever met Putin during my years in the KGB/SVR. I explain that of course I did not. Not only because we worked in different regions of the world, but first of all because I was a successful officer working in the Center and Putin was never successful in intelligence and never had a chance to work in the headquarters. He was always kept in a provincial KGB station in a low and unimportant position.
I realized that it didn't matter what intelligence information I delivered to the Center, it didn't in any way affect the Russian people or make their lives better, but only was used to contribute to the totally corrupt political system that didn't show any signs of improvement.
Ironically, I started thinking that I could do something good for my people working not for the corrupt Russian bureaucrats, but instead helping the world democratic leader — the United States of America — to better understand who it was dealing with.
The second reason I decided to escape was my daughter. She deserved a better future — in a nation that has a future.
Those are my two reasons.
Now there is something else I wish to address — why I have chosen to tell my story. I want my new compatriots to know who and what I am, and why I am now in this country. Speaking out enables me to give my qualifications, and after giving them, I can sound an alarm.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and Russia entered into what was supposed to be a new era of cooperation. The Cold War was behind us. We could become friends. Many in the U.S. believe today the old Spy-versus-Spy days are finished. The September 11 terrorist attacks shifted the American public's attention away from Russia toward international terrorism, especially Islamic fanaticism. Russia was suddenly, and is today viewed as, an ally, even a friend of the U.S.
In speaking out, I hope to expose how naive this is. During the Cold War, in the Soviet military doctrine there was the definition of the MAIN ENEMY, which was also used by intelligence as a basic guiding principle. It was the United States, followed by NATO and China. What is the official guiding line for the modern SVR today? The terms have changed. It is now called the MAIN TARGET. But it is exactly the same: the United States, followed by NATO and China. Nothing has changed. Russia is doing everything it can today to embarrass the U.S. Let me repeat this. Russia is doing everything it can today to undermine and embarrass the U.S. The SVR rezidenturas in the U.S. are not less, but in some aspects even more active
today than during the Cold War. What should that tell you?
This year, Helen, Ksenia, and I became U.S. citizens. We went through the same process as everyone else. The day that we became citizens was one of the very best in our lives. Ironically, as new citizens we have found ourselves easily being offended when we see how natural-born Americans take their liberties for granted. Sometimes I believe only someone who has lived in a corrupt society can truly understand the importance of America's liberties. I find this frustrating.
As a professional intelligence officer who specialized in North American matters, I was studying U.S. history all the time and I could probably lecture as a part-time university professor about it.
Yet it was a totally different feeling and meaning for me when I was refreshing my memory reading the Declaration of Independence before taking the citizenship test. I found its words of special importance.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
I have tried to explain in this book the "causes" that made me separate myself from Russia. The Declaration continues:
. . . Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive . . . it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it. . . . It is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government . . .
My wants and my desires were not much different from those early colonists'. In the end, I came to believe I was not betraying Russia. I felt its leaders had betrayed Russia and me.
If I attempted to return to Russia, I would be immediately arrested, sentenced to death, and executed. But I really don't care what they think about me in Russia, especially in the SVR. I am now an American, and I consider myself — not a traitor nor a spy, but a new patriot.