SECRET SERVANT: My Life with the KGB and the Soviet Elite by Ilya Dzhirkvelov

SECRET SERVANT: My Life with the KGB and the Soviet Elite

Email this review


Dzhirkvelov joined the KGB in his late teens during WW II, and after three decades fell into disfavor, defecting to the West in 1980. His fascinating book, written in England, is part psychological memoir, part organizational outline showing the functions of the various departments to which he was assigned in the KGB. Dzhirkvelov began as a low-level agent, engaged in kidnapping enemies, learning to bug foreign embassies and collect photographic data, and to review the backgrounds of new recruits. In this last, he was himself put on the carpet when it was discovered that--unknown to him--his own father had not died during a naval operation when Ilya was two years old, but had actually been executed as an enemy of the state. Dzhirkvelov lived in the shadow of his father's execution for the rest of his KGB career. Yet his book is not an attack on the KGB; it is more of a sympathetic blueprint of how things work in the Soviet secret police state, and that makes it more valuable than any bilious analysis. He defends the KGB's operations even during the purges and show trials of the 30's, showing how the secret police had to work within the law and write legitimate case histories of each of the many millions of accused citizens. Russia has never had democratic institutions, and the country demands a strong hand at the helm, argues the author; the majority of the Soviet people ""in spite of all the shortcomings and difficulties, believes in the present system and in its superiority over capitalism."" Earlier so-called thaws, as during Khrushchev's reign, were merely ""playing at democracy"" and changed nothing: the people accept cradle-to-grave surveillance (""every single person is only too well aware of the way his every move is watched""). Revealing, clearly written, never sensational.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1988
Publisher: Harper & Row