- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Putnam Adult; First Edition edition (January 24, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0399154396
- ISBN-13: 978-0399154393
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Comrade J Hardcover – January 24, 2008
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"Delivers the spy-versus-spy frisson that espionage readers expect."
"Splendid...a five-cloak read."
"A fascinating account of Tretyakov's activities."
-Library Journal --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
About the Author
Pete Earley, a former reporter for The Washington Post, is the author of eight works of nonfiction, including the bestsellers The Hot House and Family of Spies, and the award-winning Circumstantial Evidence and Crazy. Washingtonian magazine ranks him as one of ten journalist/authors in America "who have the power to introduce new ideas and give them currency." He is also the author of three novels.
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Top Customer Reviews
Clearly there are limitations on the level of disclosure, so for the older the material, Pete provides several angles and perspectives on interpretation and importance. One spy’s treasure can be viewed as another spy’s insignificant junk. Some of the interesting stories are the extent to which the UN could be considered a “nest of spies”, it has to be the greatest single recruitment pool for all countries to build their information networks. The book also provides much insight into the Yeltsin administration and while it was a pivotal moment in Russian evolution, Yeltsin was not the right person to keep the democratic forces moving forward.
This is my first 5 Star rating on this genre of non fiction.
Tretyakov explains to the reader that under the Soviet Union the KGB and its members enjoyed great power and privileges. The "Center" -- the headquarters of the portion of the KGB that was responsible for spying on foreign countries, seemed like a palace to Tretyakov when he first reported there for duty. The premises were immaculate, and foreign consumer goods were available to KGB members at low prices -- something that the average Russian could only dream of. Discipline was rigid, harsh and arbitrary. KGB Generals lived like princes. This was Tretyakov's world and it was a world that he accepted and approved of and sought to rise within. When the Soviet Union fell, the KGB fell on hard times. It was split by Yeltsin into multiple security services much like the US model, with one service, the SVR, responsible for foreign intelligence much like the CIA is in the USA, while a different service performs internal security in a manner analogous to the FBI's functions in America. Tretyakov and his wife and daughter saw the prestige and power of the now-SVR fall on hard times. When he reported back to Russia shortly after Gorbachev's fall, the Center was no longer a palace. Like almost all institutions in Russia, the SVR was in a tremendous state of flux. For the first time it was underfunded such that the building became decrepit, (the restrooms lacked toilet paper and "resembled a latrine in a Russian railway station") and discipline at the Center disintegrated. KGB agents were resigning to try to make their fortunes in the private sector by seizing control of former State assets in gangster fashion. It is obvious that Tretyakov watched this upheaval with horror, and it was this, combined with the long years that he, his wife, and daughter had spent in the US and Canada, that ultimately caused him to decide to defect. Tretyakov cut a deal with the US intelligence services whereby he spied for America for a time in exchange for a promise, which America kept, to allow him and his family to eventually become Americans and be set up with financial security.
I have read a number of stories about former KGB agents and Tretyakov's story in "Comrade J" has many common elements with these other memoirs. "Comrade J" is unique, however, because the events that led to Tretyakov's defection, i.e. the fall of Communism and the rise of Yeltsin and Putin, are recent, and Tretyakov witnessed the fall of the KGB and its rebirth as the SVR. Tretyakov's message is that the SVR is just as determined as was the KGB to wage aggressive and hostile espionage against the USA and other powers. He explains that the modern Russian Federation still views America as the "Main Target" (under the Soviet Union the term defining the USA was the "Main Enemy") with NATO and China also marked as prime targets of Russian hostility and espionage.
One thing in this book eluded me to some extent, and that was the actual reason for Tretyakov's decision to change sides. One suspects that a large part of it was that his wife and daughter, who were allowed to travel with him and live in the US and Canada while he spied for the KGB, became Westernized. Certainly this was part of it. Tretyakov explains that his wife in particular was horrified at the gangsterism that rose as Communism fell, with former KGB and Soviet officials grabbing huge chunks of the Soviet economy, sometimes literally at gunpoint. The decay of the Center, and the decline of KGB power and discipline, which Tretyakov observed first-hand when he returned to Russia after the Soviet Union was dissolved, obviously jarred and horrified him. One suspects that if the old Soviet Union had somehow managed to survive in its Brezhnev form, with the KGB near the top of the Russian heirarchy, that Tretyakov would have remained a Russian patriot and not defected. Or did his family become sufficiently Americanized so that even then defection would have been a compelling option, as it has been for others? Perhaps even Tretyakov does not know for certain.
This is a well-written and fascinating look at the decline of the Soviet Union as seen from the vantage point of the KGB, one of the USSR's primary institutions of power. Tretyakov's warning about the nature of the modern Russian government and its intentions are well worth considering. Highly recommended. RJB.
Also recommended: The Cold War: A New History – by John Lewis Gaddis
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