Former Soviet KGB Agent: Sadat Assassination Triumph for Soviet Policy

By TERRANCE W. McGARRY  |  Oct. 17, 1981
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LOS ANGELES -- Vladimir Sakharov thinks the KGB probably did not directly assassinate Anwar Sadat, but established the atmosphere that provoked others to kill the Egyptian leader, scoring a victory for Soviet policy.

Sakharov has grounds for his suspicion of the Russian secret service.

He used to be one of its agents in Egypt.

'The Soviet Union created the background for this and they should be held responsible,' Sakharov said in an interview.

'They probably did not do this directly, but they created a fertile ground for this sort of thing, creating a vicious hatred of Sadat by Arabs inside and outside Egypt, through propaganda on Moscow radio, Tass, Pravda, many publications or broadcasting stations they support.

'The primary thrust of Soviet policy in that area for years has been to undermine Sadat and the Camp David agreements.

'There was also a personal element involved. Sadat hurt the Soviets twice, ordering Soviet experts out of the country. They always hated him for that.

'This assassination is most definitely a step forward for Soviet policy.'

Sakharov was once one of the instruments of that policy, until he became a double agent for the CIA and defected to the United States 10 years ago. Now 36, he lived under an assumed identity until he surfaced this summer.

Sakharov, the son and grandson of Soviet diplomatic and secret service officials, was groomed for years to be a Middle Eastern specialist in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Once overseas, he spent much of his time working for the KGB.

Disillusionment with Communist ideology and a lifelong fascination with American culture, particularly jazz music, prompted him to accept overtures by the CIA to become a double agent.

'I have a great sentimental attachment to Egypt,' he said, 'because I so enjoyed living there and because I owe them my life.'

As a young diplomat in 1967, Sakharov was alone in the consulate in the remote port of Hoseida, Yemen, when it was surrounded by a mob of anti-Soviet Yemenis, throwing stones and firing rifles. He was rescued by some of the Egyptian troops then stationed there.

Even after Sadat's repeated attempts to oust the Soviets and root out their influence, 'Sadat could never have removed the whole KGB network,' Sakharov said.

'One of the KGB's foremost abilities is to develop a network of sleepers under deep cover in any given country. It is a historical capability. The roots of the KGB are in the Second World War, running partisan forces behind German lines.

'The KGB has been able to maintain vast networks of operatives in countries the Soviets lost -- Iran is one of the best examples. The KGB had a vast network of operatives in Iran while it was under the shah.

'The same thing was true in Egypt. Just because the Soviet diplomats were told to leave, do not think the KGB pulled out. They can still 'push the button' and cause strikes, disturbances, and other trouble through their operatives.

'I would look out for small outbursts of violence -- not in Cairo but by small fundamentalist groups in Aswan, Port Said, Alexandria, some places like that.'

A number of high ranking Egyptians worked for the KGB under Gamel Nasser, Sadat's predecessor, Sakharov said, and others, recruited in their youth, have probably risen to top positions since.

As a young officer, President-designate Hosni Mubarak accepted the usual favors from Russian diplomats, such as trips to Russian resorts, but that was so common it is no indicator of his future policies, Sakharov said.

'If Mubarak confirms the nationalistic Egyptian tradition, then we probably have little to worry about,' said Sakharov, now a U.S. citizen who clearly enjoys saying 'we Americans.'

'But if Soviet delegations begin showing up soon and getting friendly receptions, then we have grounds to be very concerned.

'If the Egyptians halt or suspend delivery of American military goods, that would be a very ominous sign. If channels of communications are expanded to militant Arab countries -- Syria, Libya, the PLO, I would regard that as suspicious.'

As a student at the Institute of International Relations, Sakharov relates in his recently published autobiography, 'High Treason,' he was told that his job would be to work toward Moscow's long range Middle Eastern policy goal:

To help bring about the economic collapse of the United States by depriving it of Arab oil, to be accomplished by eliminating U.S. political influence in the Middle East.

A key element of the plan was to keep tensions high so that Arab resentment of Israel would work against the United States and the need for military help would provide openings for Russian influence.

'With minor setbacks, the plan is working and it's very scary. If you compare the wins with the losses, you can see they are succeeding in getting the Americans out -- we're out of Iran, South Yemen, Syria, Libya.'

'The Soviet Union still has the same goal set out by Lenin, to destroy capitalism.

'The Soviets don't give a damn about the Arabs. The main objective is to make them see the United States and Israel as a common enemy. After that, it doesn't matter which group comes to power in an Arab country, as long as they are anti-American.'

Sakharov said he does not expect the Soviet Union to use military force against Poland, because the Kremlin is reluctant to risk its pipeline to western credit and technology, and because an invasion 'would bring on a bloodbath.'

'The Polish hate Russians. I went to school with them (in college in Moscow) and I know them. They hated our guts.'

Sakharov's book presents a detailed picture of what it is like to grow up today in Moscow's elite.

Sakharov and his friends, the children of powerful government officials, had access to limousines, rock music, imported clothes and liquors. They were carefully shepherded into the schools that would almost guarantee -- if they did not fall afoul of the ever-present snitches on the lookout for deviationists -- advancement into the privileged jobs their parents held.

'The Moscow elite does not know what is really going on in the rest of the Soviet Union,' he said.

'With the continual separation of the elite from the rest of the people -- you almost have to be born in it, and its members marry only each other -- by the year 2000 it will be so inbred that it will consist of only a few thousand people, trying to rule a nation too big for them to control.

'They are duplicating the conditions before 1916, when there was a czar and nobles, and that led to the revolution of the Bolsheviks.'

After being cut loose in the early 1970s by the CIA, with a phony identity as a Norwegian immigrant -- 'I met some real Norwegians and had to pretend I'd forgotten how to speak the language,' he laughs - Sakharov went through a glum period. He drank heavily, lived in a seedy Hollywood apartment and masochistically spent or gave away the money the CIA gave him to get established.

He later went to work, including enrolling in an American university which he will not name -- 'one of the top 10 schools in the country' -- where he earned a Ph.D. in international studies, the equivalent of the degree he won in Moscow.

'I went through the Soviet and then the American educational systems for diplomats, and it astounded me to see that the U.S. system leaves its diplomats and analysts totally unprepared to deal with the realities of the world.'

Several of his former classmates in Middle Eastern affairs are now stationed in the Soviet embassy in Washington 'to monitor the effect on the United States of events in the Middle East, to provide instant feedback.'

His Russian wife stayed behind with their daughter when he defected, and he has since married a 'blonde, blue-eyed California girl,' and has a son, 4.

He is, in a way, back at the old stand.

He lives 'somewhere south of Los Angeles,' and is a partner in the Human Intelligence Network, a firm that provides large businesses with advice 'on international risk assessments.'

It is run like an intelligence agency, with agents and informants in foreign countries, reporting to analysts specializing in certain countries or regions. Sakharov has his old specialty, the Middle East, and his homeland, the Soviet Union.

He has learned a lot more about the country that fascinated him as a boy, when he first saw the movie 'Sun Valley Serenade' and imagined that all Americans were rich and led glamorous lives. He's had the experience of starting back at the bottom and working his way up.

'Along the way, I worked as a cab driver in Los Angeles for some time. Let me tell you, driving a taxi in some parts of Los Angeles at night is more dangerous than being a double agent in the KGB.'

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