Frontpage Interview's guest today is Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, a former KGB agent who became one of the KGB’s harshest critics. He is the author of seven books about the KGB and Japan. His new book is KGB/FSB's New Trojan Horse: Americans of Russian Descent.
FP: Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Is Russia America’s ally in fighting Islamic terrorism?
Preobrazhenskiy: No absolutely not. And this is one of the many American prejudices and misunderstandings of Russia.
Americans generally believe that Russia is as afraid of Islamic terrorism as the U.S. is. They are reminded of the war in Chechnya, the hostage crisis at the Beslan School in 2004 and at the Moscow Theater in 2002, and of the apartment house blasts in Moscow in 1999, where over 200 people were killed. It is clear that Russians are also targets of terrorism today.
But in all of these events, the participation of the FSB, Federal Security Service, inheritor to the KGB, is also clear. The FSB’s involvement in the Moscow blasts has been proven by lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin, a former FSB Colonel. For this he was illegally imprisoned in 2003.
A key distinction between Russian and American attitudes towards Islamic terrorism is that while for America terrorism is largely seen as an exterior menace, Russia uses terrorism as a tool of the state for manipulation in and outside the home country. Islamic terrorism is only part of the world of terrorism. Long before Islamic terrorism became a global threat, the KGB had used terrorism to facilitate the victory of world Communism.
FP: Give us the background of Soviet involvement with Islamic terror.
Preobrazhenskiy: Russian Communists began working with Islam immediately after coming to power. To whom did Lenin address his appeal in November, 1917, just a few days after the Communist revolution? To the “Muslim Toilers of Russia and Orient”, which meant the whole world. At that time many Muslims were very poor and were colonized by the West. Lenin considered them an ally in the world Communist revolution. He has disclosed the greatest anti-Western potential of the Islamic world, exploited by all Lenin’s successors up to Putin. It was an Islamic country that was the first to acknowledge Soviet Russia in 1919: Afghanistan.
And the USSR was the first to acknowledge Saudi Arabia in 1925, even at that time Russians were penetrating this oil region. Monitoring the Islamic tradition, the Russians appointed the Ambassador Kerim Khakimov, a Tartar national, who had a Muslim name and Communist heart. Being an experienced intelligence officer, he made friends with the Saudi king. The king respected him so much that when Kerim Khakimov was executed in Moscow in the 1930s during Stain’s massive repressions, he broke off diplomatic relations.
Now, Russia is enjoying support in the Islamic world. In 2005, Russia became a permanent observer at the Organization of the Islamic Conference in spite of the war in Chechnya
Communists have inherited the successful tactics with Islam from imperial Russia. Let us not forget that the only one Russian General to protest against the dethroning of the Tsar Nicolas II in 1917 was a Muslim. His name was Hussein Khan of Nakhichevan. All other "true" Russian Generals betrayed their Tsar. General Khan of Nakhichevan refused to take the oath before the new government and was shot. The Russian Empire colonized Central Asia and the Caucasus by introducing their rulers into the highest circles of the Russian aristocracy. This method was very effective: the new members of the Russian nobility were becoming the flagmen of Russian interests and sincere Russian patriots.
Russia has a half-millennium of experience in turning conquered Muslim nations into obedient citizens.
There are many Soviet Muslims, therefore, who seem to face no conflict of spirit. One can be a Muslim in name only, whose heart belongs to Communism. There have been a lot of such people among Russian Muslims, especially among the Tartars. The Soviet Union has typically preferred to appoint them as ambassadors to Muslim countries. Their Muslim names give them a pass to the local society, but their Communist hearts order them to serve world Communism and not the world of Islam. Many of them were the KGB intelligence officers.
In the Soviet period, the highest leadership of the Muslim republics like Uzbekistan was unofficially allowed to practice Islam under the guise of folk rites, even though their Russian colleagues were severely reprimanded for participating in such Christian “rites” as Christmas or Easter.
Muslims of the Uzbek and other Central Asian republics’ elite joined the KGB intelligence in order to spy on fellow Muslim countries. In the KGB, I have met a lot of such quasi-Muslim officers.
In 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they have turned out to be the only one “westernized” group of local bureaucracy able to run international relations. They have occupied most of important governmental positions in Central Asia. Also, they all have former class mates of the KGB schools in Moscow. They highly appreciate such friendship.
These KGB officers have become a main tool of the Russian intelligence influence in Central Asia, from where it is spread to other Muslim countries.
FP: Tell us about the agents that Russian intelligence has in the Muslim world.
Preobrazhenskiy: The late Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned in London in November, 2006, told me that his former FSB colleagues had trained famous Al-Qaeda terrorists Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Juma Namangoniy during the 1980s and 1990s. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, one of the world's most wanted terrorists, has been responsible for the murder of U.S. nationals outside the United States. Before his death, Juma Namangoniy (Jumabai Hojiyev), a native of Soviet Uzbekistan, was a right-hand man of Osama bin Laden in charge of the Taliban's northern front in Afghanistan. This leads to the logical connection between Russian and Islamic terrorism.
In 1996, Litvinenko was responsible for securing the secrecy of Al-Zawahiri's arrival in Russia, who was trained by FSB instructors in Dagestan, Northern Caucasus, in 1996-1997. At that time, Litvinenko was the Head of the Subdivision for Internationally Wanted Terrorists of the First Department of the Operative-Inquiry Directorate of the FSB Anti-Terrorist Department. He was ordered to undertake the delicate mission of securing Al-Zawahiri from unintentional disclosure by the Russian police. Though Al-Zawahiri had been brought to Russia by the FSB using a false passport, it was still possible for the police to learn about his arrival and report to Moscow for verification. Such a process could disclose Al-Zawahiri as an FSB collaborator.
In order to prevent this, Litvinenko visited a group of the highly placed police officers to notify them in advance. "If you get information about some suspicious Arabs arriving in the Caucasus, please report it to me before informing your leadership," he told them.
Juma Namangoniy was once a student of the Saboteur Training Center of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB in 1989-91. The school was notorious for the international terrorists who matriculated from it. It now belongs to the FSB, and since only KGB staff officers were allowed to study there, Juma Namangoniy's presence clearly suggests that he was much more than a civil collaborator.
FP: The Godfather of Modern Terror, Yasser Arafat?
Preobrazhenskiy: Arafat was a KGB agent too. One of my supervisors in the KGB, Colonel Yuri Ya., used to be Arafat’s field supervisor during the war in Lebanon. In 1986 he told me, laughing, how he came to Arafat’s house at night and woke him up for an urgent talk. Arafat was changing his address every day, but the KGB always knew where he was.
What does it mean that Arafat was a KGB agent? It means that all his subordinates were supervised by the KGB too. That is why Putin has refused to consider HAMAS a terrorist organization. Because if Hamas members are terrorists, who are their supervisors? And Hamas is ruled by Russian intelligence nowadays too. Russian intelligence is recruiting new agents in the Middle East, using anti-American motivation. Also, it has retained a lot of facilities from the Soviet period. In particular, almost all the priests at the Russian orthodox churches in the Middle East have always been KGB officers. It is in a region fraught with war.
As these priests were not believers and had no interest in religion, they frequently got stuck in some awkward and humorous situations. Many KGB officers have told me about these episodes for fun. I am sure today’s Russian intelligence has retained and maybe broadened the number of the priest officers. The local Muslim counter-intelligence services are aware of it but they are not concerned, as such officers are working against the West.
And, finally, Alexander Litvinenko told me that Saddam Hussein was a KGB agent too. His field officer was Eugene Primakov. He was covered as Saddam’s personal friend frequently visiting him in Baghdad. This “friendship” was of world importance. It is widely known yet totally ignored.
FP: Does this lead to some troubling possibilities concerning who was involved in 9/11?
Preobrazhenskiy: Well, let me put it this way: Mohammed Atta, the pilot of the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague, Czech Republic, five months before the attack. Iraqi intelligence was just a client of Russia's intelligence service. It brings a new understanding to the fact that President Putin was the first foreign President to call President Bush on 9/11. Is there a possibility that he was just sitting near the TV and waiting? It’s a serious question. We might have to very well reconsider the entire system of American-Russian relations.
FP: In 2008, Russia closed the U.S. air force base in Kyrgyzia. This made Russia vulnerable to Taliban troops in Afghanistan. Isn’t Russia afraid of the Taliban?
Preobrazhenskiy: Not as much as America. According to Litvinenko, they have some agents in the Taliban leadership. One of them was general Abd al-Rashid Dustum. It is not surprising as he had studied at the KGB school in Tashkent in early 1980s.
Russians hope their agents will help them. It is a specific KGB professional shortsightedness. They overestimate agents and secret agreements. I have argued a lot with them about it.
But there is one more reason. Russian society is closer to Islamic than the American one. In Russia, women are openly discriminated against. Very frequently Russian employers tell woman candidates the following: “You are a good worker but we need a man instead of you. Because he will not require the pregnancy and childbirth allowance and leave.”
Imagine if these words were said in America. They would bring an employer to court. But in Russia they sound normal. Women reply with understanding.
Also, Russian society is vertical and paternalistic. Anti-American moods are widespread there. Both Russia and the Islamic world have the most sober understanding of the main vulnerability of the West: its political correctness. The West has voluntarily brought itself into this trap, invented by leftists. Political correctness makes the West unable to resist pressure.
Russia has openly declared that it is not a western country. The more freedom is shrinking in Russia, the more visibly it resembles an Oriental despotic kingdom.
That is why Russia has some chance of escaping the fate which might be awaiting America. But just for some time.
FP: So Americans should not wait on understanding from Russia in terms of Islamic terrorism?
Preobrazhenskiy: No. Americans are not aware of the popular Russian proverb:” You die today and I – tomorrow!” This proverb was born in Stalin’s prison camps during the massive repressions of the 1930s. This proverb is very popular now in Russia. It has become especially actual in today’s criminal capitalism. It might be interpreted as following; “Let me survive one more day at the expense of your death, because ‘tomorrow” the situation may change and I may really survive.”
America is quite a gigantic piece for Islamic terrorists to conquer and Russia will have a lot of time for maneuver. Russia might try to survive at the expense of America. The question is if it can really do it.
FP: Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.