The news from Russia is rarely good these days. The KGB is back,albeit with a new name, spying on UN weapons inspectors on behalf ofSaddam Hussein while former KGB boss Yevgeniy Primakov leads thecharge against the U.S. effort to punish Iraq. In Tehran, Russianstate-owned firms are helping the Iranians to develop new missilesthat will allow them to threaten U.S. forces and U.S. allies in theMiddle East for the first time. In Moscow itself, where BorisYeltsin's government has a hard time paying "non-essential workers"(such as security guards at nuclear warhead storage depots), theClinton administration has been providing billions of dollars in U.S.taxpayer money in military aid, investment credits, and IMF funding,benevolent gestures that have freed up scarce hard currency andallowed the Russians to embark on an astonishing across-the-boardmodernization of their strategic weapons systems. While the U.S. isdismantling nuclear warheads, submarines, and intercontinentalballistic missiles, the Russian federation is busy designing andbuilding new ones - arguably, with U.S. funds.
Russia's roguish behavior these days is uncannily reminiscent ofSoviet behavior during the Cold War, and critics of the Clintonadministration think they know why. "Russia respects strength,consistency, and candor," says Congressman Curt Weldon, a student ofRussian history and a Russian speaker. "If they do something wrong,you have to call them on it." Instead, the Clinton administration hasconsistently turned a blind eye to Russian misdeeds and found excusesfor Russian boorishness - sort of like a den mother offering milk andcookies to the neighborhood bully no matter how many times he beatsup on Johnny. The architect of our Cub scout policy toward Russia isa former Time magazine journalist who has admitted to a closepersonal and professional relationship to an alleged top KGB agentduring the Cold War - Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.
Allegations that Talbott had been used by the KGB during hisjournalistic career were briefly aired at his confirmation hearing onFeb. 8, 1994 by Senator Jesse Helms, who was then ranking minoritymember of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And despiteTalbott's equivocal answers, they were just as quickly ignored.Except for a single AP wire story, and a subsequent report in theWall Street Journal (and of course, the Washington Times), not asingle mainstream media organization picked up on Helm's queries thatTalbott owed his journalistic career at Time magazine to a suspectedKGB agent of influence named Victor Louis. Citing U.S. intelligencereports and statements by KGB defectors, Helms asserted that Louiswas responsible for leaking the memoirs of former Soviet leaderNikita Khruschev to Talbott in 1969 and for assisting Talbott atcritical moments later in his career with inside Kremlin information.
Talbott's past is significant today because he is in charge ofU.S. policy toward Russia, which has gone very, very wrong since hetook over the brief in the very first month of the Clintonadministration. "Our goal, like that of many Russians, is to seeRussia become a normal, modern state -- democratic in its governance,abiding by its own constitution and by its own laws, market-orientedand prosperous in its economic development, at peace with itself andwith the rest of the world," he told an audience at StanfordUniversity last September. But despite these lofty goals, shared bymost, Talbott has been very secretive about his actions with theAmerican public -- and especially with Congressional oversightcommittees. According to Congressman Weldon: "It is Strobe Talbottwho is determining what intelligence will or will not be given toCongress, what will or will not be said, what will or will not beperceived as a threat. That is simply not acceptable." To advance hisgoal of funneling more and more U.S. taxpayer dollars to Russia,Talbott has systematically been economical with the truth.
One reason for this secretiveness has been a series of highprofile disasters that the administration would prefer to keep underwraps, starting with Russia's absolutely scandalous transfer ofballistic missile technology to both Iran and Iraq. UN weaponsinspectors first unveiled Russian attempts to thwart the arms embargoon Iraq when they stumbled on an Iraqi-bound shipment of ballisticmissile gyroscopes in Amman, Jordan in November 1995. They seized 115gyroscopes, worth $25 million, with the help of Jordanian Customsauthorities. After interrogating one of the intermediaries who hadnegotiated the deal, the UN sent a team to Baghdad to dredge theTigris river and found dozens more of the same devices. These weren'tjust ordinary gyroscopes, top weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus told menot long after the discovery; they had been taken from SS-N-18nuclear missiles, submarine-launched city-busters Russia had pledgedto eliminate under the START agreements. Not only were the Russiansbreaking the UN arms embargo on Iraq by delivering the gyroscopes,but they were violating a strategic arms control treaty, a fact whichthe Talbott and other Clinton administration officials haveconveniently fail to mention in their public comments on thecase.
After the gyroscope incident, the U.S. intelligence communitystepped up its monitoring of Russian arms trafficking, and discoveredmore than a dozen addition cases where the Russians had transferredjet fighter aircraft spare parts, ammunition, and weaponsmanufacturing gear to Baghdad over the past three years, according toreports in the Washington Times and elsewhere. And yet Talbott, whoproudly claims responsibility for everything Russian, hasconsistently failed to report such outrageous Russian activities toCongress. Instead, when intelligence reports that should have beenshared with Congress are leaked to the press, Talbott and his cronieshave sought to identify the leakers and prosecute them rather thanpressure the Russians to stop the sales - a curious conversion for aformer journalist. "This administration is so intent on not upsettingBoris Yeltsin, at not embarrassing Boris Yeltsin, that they preventinformation from coming to the forefront that will prompt Congress totake action which they say will undermine their relationship withBoris Yeltsin," says Congressman Weldon. "There are those in Russiawho misinterpret that as weakness."
Weldon and Congressional leaders all agree that Talbott is the mandriving the administration's dangerous neglect of Russianroguishness. "US policies toward Russia are being calculated toStrobe Talbott's estimation of how it will affect internal Russianpolitics," a top aide to Majority leader Trent Lott said. "I thinkinstead we should peg our policies to Russian behavior."
A mistaken sense of priorities also characterizes Talbott'shandling of Russia's transfer of missile technology to Iran, an issuehe has tried to sweep under the rug for more than a year. Because ofU.S. inaction, the CIA now believes the Iranians will be able tofield an entire arsenal of long-range missiles equipped withchemical, biological, and possibly nuclear warheads within 12 to 18months. If they succeed, those missiles will have Strobe Talbott'sname written all over them.
Israel began warning the U.S. of these transfers in October 1996,when the research director of Israeli Military Intelligence raisedthe subject during a routine intelligence exchange in Washington.When the Americans failed to take any action, the official, BrigadierGeneral Amos Gilad, returned to Washington in late January 1997 witha dog and pony show. After laying out in great detail what theIsraelis had gathered from their sources in Russian defense plantsand in Iran, Gilad presented the Americans with an alarmingconclusion: unless the transfers were stopped very soon, Iran wouldfield an entire arsenal of these new missiles, called Shahab-3, thatwould give it the ability to attack Israel directly for the firsttime. General Gilad urged his American counterparts to use all theirpolitical capital with the Russians to stop the transfers, but hisplea fell on deaf ears. "They told us they knew of a missile programthat was being aided by the North Koreans and the Chinese," oneofficial told me in Tel Aviv, "but that it was not considered to bevery close to success. What we were talking about was somethingcompletely different. These contracts have been signed betweenindustries - companies - that are at least partially-owned by theRussian government. This is not a private operation by some crazyengineers. This is seen by Russia as a strategic option." And it wasall happening with breakneck speed.
Gilad shared his information with key members of Congress, andeventually the word reached the White House. Vice President Gore madean initial query about the transfers during a February 6 meeting inWashington with Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin, but the Russianfeigned ignorance. Because the issue involved Russia, it wasofficially turned over to Strobe Talbott. According to knowledgeablesources in Washington and Tel Aviv, Talbott dismissed the idea thatRussia was transferring missile technology to Iran as Israelialarmism. "Strobe basically told our people not to worry, he wastaking care of it," one senior Israeli told me. "But in fact, hemerely swept the whole issue under the rug."
In April 1997, a U.S. spy satellite picked up a plume of fireshooting several hundred feet back from a known missile test sitejust east of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Using environmentalsampling techniques, the CIA was able to determine that the Iranianshad conducted a test of a liquid-fueled rocket booster, whichappeared to be similar to a Soviet SS-4 strategic missile. It wasthe first piece of hard evidence the Americans had from their ownsources that verified what the Israelis had been saying. By June, theCIA and the DIA had picked up signs of specific transfers ofequipment from Russian to Iran that indicated the Iranians wereworking on a long-range missile, similar to the SS-4 which theRussians were supposed to have destroyed under the IntermediateNuclear Forces (INF) treaty signed by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachevin 1987. They reported their findings to Congressional oversightcommittees. By mid-summer, the U.S. assessment that the Russiangovernment was transferring missile technology to Iran matched thatof the Israelis. This was the same Russian government, led by BorisYeltsin, that Strobe Talbott argued was America's best chance for apeaceful world in the future.
The man briefing Congress on Russia's cooperation with Iran wasGordon Oehler, a career intelligence officer who headed the CIA'sNonproliferation Center. For his candor, Oehler was forced intoearlier retirement last autumn - a move which Congressional sourcesand CIA insiders said was prompted after intense pressure from StrobeTalbott.
"Talbott didn't want anything to interfere with his agenda of aidto Russia,"say congressional aides familiar with his role in quashingthe information and lobbying to get Oehler fired. "Raising the issueof Russian missile transfers to Iran was sure to anger the Russians -something Talbott wanted to avoid at all costs." A top aide toIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it more politely:"Israel is on the receiving end of these missiles, whereas StrobeTalbott views this issue in the broader context of U.S.-Russianrelations." By mid-summer, however, with the Russian transfersaccelerating, not slowing, Lott teamed up with Senator JosephLieberman to introduce legislation that would impose sanctions on theRussian firms engaged in the transfers and cut off U.S. aid toTalbott's pet Russian projects, including the high profile flights ofAmerican astronauts on board the Mir space station. To quell thestorm, Talbott finally agreed to hand the issue over to retiredAmbassador Frank Wisner, who in July was asked to be the U.S.delegate to a joint committee with the Russians to investigate theallegations of missile transfers to Iran. His Russian counterpart wasnone other than Yuri Koptev, the head of the Russian Space Agency -the very man the Israelis claimed was behind some of the Russianmissile deals with Iran.
But Wisner also had a conflict of interest that should have beenobvious to Talbott and to the administration: he had direct businessinterests in Russia through the American International Group, thegigantic insurance underwriter that had just launched the largestprivate investment fund in the former Soviet Union. AIG announcedWisner's appointment as Director and Vice Chairman on September 17,1997, only two months after he was put in charge of negotiating withthe Russians over their missiles sales to Iran. And AIG had a specialreason for wanting to keep the missile issue out of the public eye:their $300 million "Millennium Fund," launched one year earlier toback Russian infrastructure and industrial projects, was beingsupported by another U.S. government program championed by StrobeTalbott, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. As part ofTalbott's overall Russian aid package, OPIC was providing U.S.government guarantees to AIG and others to protect Russianinvestments..Under Talbott's watchful eye, OPIEC and the Exminbankand extended a whopping $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to supportU.S. exporters and investments in the former Soviet Union.
Talbott continued monitoring the missile issue closely. Late lastSeptember, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported on a confrontationbetween Talbott and Shimon Shtein, the head of the Israeli ForeignMinistry's Arms Control Department, who during a Washington visitbriefed Talbott on the most recent transfers of missile technology toIran by Russian state-owned firms. Shtein provided Talbott with hardintelligence information gathered by Israeli sources in Russia. Itdetailed the activity of dozens of Iranian "students" working atRussian state universities on the rocket projects, and described howthe two countries were jointly designing the new missile. Ha'aretzreported that Talbott responded by shouting Shtein down and promisingthat he'd personally to see to it that the administration scaled backU.S. aid to Israel if the Israelis didn't stop complaining toCongress about the Russian misdeeds. Talbott's office wouldn'tcomment on the incident when I investigated it last autumn forReader's Digest. But in Tel Aviv, a senior Israeli official told methat the meeting had occurred, and that it was rocky, although hetried to minimize its import by saying the two had "a difference ofopinion on tactics." Congressional aides in Washington also confirmedthe story.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, isnot surprised by Talbott's refusal to act on Israel's warnings andhis determined efforts to prevent Congress from learning the truthabout Russian assistance to Iranian weapons programs. Four years ago,Klein led a furious lobbying campaign to block Talbott's nominationas deputy secretary of state because of Talbott's legendary hostilityto the U.S. strategic partnership with Israel. Klein got Sen. JesseHelms to blow up to poster-size quotes from Talbott's essays in Timemagazine and display them around the Foreign Relations Committee roomduring his February 8, 1994 hearing.
In "What to Do About Israel," which appeared in theSeptember 7, 1981 issue of Time, Talbott argued that Israel's attackon the Osirak nuclear bomb plant in Iraq had imperiled U.S. interestsin the Middle East to such an extent that the Reagan administrationshould radically review its relationship to the Jewish state. (Mostanalysts today agree that if the Israelis hadn't taken out Osirak,the Iraqis would have gone nuclear by the mid-1980's). "Israel iswell on its way to becoming not just a dubious asset but an outrightliability to American security interests," Talbott wrote. He blamedthe Israelis for an extraordinary laundry list of the world's ills,real and imagined, from weak government in Jordan to pushing PersianGulf states such as Kuwait into the arms of the Soviet Union. Israelwas "a rather nasty and bitter nation, even a violent one...shrill,self-righteous and even a bit frightening.... Israel is a problem,and a growing one...an embarrassment...a mixed blessing." On one ofthe poster-boards was this statement from the same essay: "It is adelusion that Israel is, or ever has been, a strategic ally" of theUnited States.
Talbott's reaction to questions about his views towardIsrael from Democrats and Republicans was positively Clintonesque. "Ifully savor the irony of the position I find myself in as a formerjournalist being confronted on easels and elsewhere with fragments ofmy past writings," he began. "But I do want to set the recordstraight on the question of my view of Israel as a strategic asset.On that, I have simply changed my opinion."
Talbott attributed his confirmation conversion to a 1991trip to Israel that was sponsored by the Washington Institute forNear East Policy, a think tank established by the American IsraelPublic Affairs Committee, AIPAC. He was shepherded about by MartinIndyk, who went on to become U.S. ambassador to Israel underPresident Clinton and who shamelessly lobbied in the corridors of theIsraeli parliament during the 1996 Israeli elections on behalf of theLabor Party candidate for prime minister, Shimon Peres. ConservativeAmerican Jews are only now waking up to the fact that the Clintonadministration's superficially pro-Israel policies are in factpro-Labor policies.
Klein's lobbying campaign against Talbott split theAmerican Jewish community and got Klein labeled a right-wingrenegade. Leading the charge against Klein was AIPAC president SteveGrossman, a friend of Bill Clinton who now serves as finance chairmanof the Democratic National Committee.
During the Gulf war, Talbott swallowed Saddam Hussein'sline that his invasion of Kuwait was analogous to occupation of Arablands, and that the two issues should be linked together andnegotiated as a region-wide package deal. "Israel's policy today doesindeed have something in common with Iraq's," Talbott wrote onOctober 29, 1990, less than three months after the Iraqi invasion ofKuwait. Israel's policy toward its Arab neighbors "is as ominousfor...real and lasting peace in the region as Saddam's militantnostalgia for Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian empire." If that statementwas bizarre, Talbott's commentary at the outset of the air waragainst Iraq in January 1991 was downright goofy. Noting that theU.S. bombing occurred at the same time that Mikhail Gorbachev wasunleashing Soviet tanks to crush Lithuanian dissent, he asserted,"There was a bizarre similarity between what Gorbachev and Bush feltcompelled to do last week. Each was resorting to the use of force inthe name of law and order."
Rarely has one man been wrong so often and been rewarded so muchas Strobe Talbott. His Cold War writings on the Soviet Union would begreat laugh lines on Jay Leno. He continues to have the ear of BillClinton, who has never opposed a single Talbott give-away to Russia,whether it involves expanded U.S. taxpayer credits for the Yeltsingovernment, the unilateral U.S. concession not to develop ballisticmissile defenses, or the administration's intense lobbying ofCongress to make sure no legislation is passed punishing Russia forits bad behavior in selling missiles to Iran and Iraq. Talbott'srelationship to the president is so strong that one State Departmentcolleague, quoted in an otherwise glowing cover profile of Talbott inthe Washington Post magazine, revealed that no career diplomat wouldeven think of opposing Talbott and his Russia-first policies, unlesshe was avidly seeking to join the ranks of the unemployed.
While at Time, Talbott repeatedly took positions identicalto those being promoted by the KGB and its mavens ofdisinformation-primary among them, Talbott's friend Victor Louis.Talbott opposed President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiativebecause he believed it would encourage the Soviets to increasespending on offensive weapons. "This was the same argument used bySoviet propagandists," says Herbert Romerstein, a former USIAspecialist in Soviet disinformation. "In fact, SDI was one of themain factors that brought down the Soviet dictatorship."
Talbott opposed the development of the cruise missilesthat were later used with success against Iraq, and urged the U.S.not to deploy Pershing II missiles in Europe-a deployment that led tothe first arms control treaty eliminating an entire class of nuclearweapons, the 1987 INF treaty. Talbott's disdain for Ronald Reagan andlove for Mikhail Gorbachev were legendary. In his sycophantic "Man ofthe Decade" profile of Gorbachev that appeared January 1, 1990,Talbott waxed eloquent on the Soviet leader's prowess and Reagan'sobstinacy. "Whether he was fantasizing about a perfect space-baseddefense or the abolition of ballistic missiles, [Reagan] wasimplicitly repudiating the system of deterrence that had kept thenuclear peace for 40 years. No wonder Mikhail Gorbachev looked sogood."
All during the 1980's, Talbott argued that the Cold Warwas being perpetuated by wrong-headed U.S. policies and NATObelligerence, and that negotiation and olive branches would do moreto encourage reform than weapons-spending and the rollback of Sovietexpansionism in Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua. Says formerReagan White House official Stefan Halper: "Mr. Talbott found littleto criticize in the Brezhnev Doctrine, Soviet expansionism, Communistideology...except to describe them as sources of vulnerability thatwould have brought Moscow down sooner if the West hadn't challengedthe Kremlin's security."
In his "Man of the Decade" piece, Talbott said it all."Scenarios for a Soviet invasion of Western Europe have always had atouch of paranoid fantasy about them...Gorbachev is helping the Westby showing that the Soviet threat is not what it used to be. The realpoint, however, is that it never was." Commented Romerstein: "IfTalbott was not influenced by his KGB contacts, it could only bebecause he was already convinced of the themes that they werepushing."
Under Talbott's stewardship, the United States embarked on a vastaid program to Russia which administration officials voluntarilyadmit is aimed at propping up Yeltsin's government, not at reformingthe Russian system or dismantling the vestiges of the Communiststate. Even staunch administration supporter Lee Hamilton wasskeptical of the aid programs by the time Talbott took over thenumber-two job at the State Department, after Talbott had spent afull year throwing money at Moscow with little to show for it. "Thereal question in Russia today is whether you have any reform,"Hamilton said. For Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan Defense officialwho now runs the Center for Security Policy. Talbott's Russia policyis a train wreck waiting to happen. "If this were a highway project,you'd have people hanging from the yardarms for the scandalous lackof transparency."
The largest visible program is known as the Nunn-Lugar"Cooperative Threat Reduction," after its two Senate co-sponsors.First proposed during the last year of the Bush administration, ithas provided some $400 million a year to aid with nuclear weaponsdismantlement and the physical security of Russia's nuclear weaponsstockpile. After actively promoting Nunn-Lugar while at Time, Talbottwas put in charge of the program when named by Clinton as ambassadorat large to Russia and the newly independent states in February 1993.He invented the mantra "no more Russian missiles are pointed at theUnited States," a comment that has been repeated on no fewer than 137occasions by the president and top national security officials sincemid-1994 (while Russian security officials are quick to point outthat the missiles can be re-targeted against the United States "in amatter of minutes"). To date, $2.25 billion has been committed byCongress for Nunn-Lugar. But according to a Congressional ResearchService report dated March 25, 1997, "the program has failed toresult in the verified dismantlement of any nuclear warheads," whichmost supporters have always said should be the measure of theprogram's success. In response, the administration now says that "theCTR program never set out to dismantle warheads directly,[but] to facilitate 'the transportation, storage,safeguarding and destruction of nuclear and other weapons.' "
The congressional report continues by alleging that theNunn-Lugar money has allowed Russia to spend less of its own money onweapons dismantlement "because it has continued to commit resourcesto weapons modernization programs.... Two programs in particular-thecontinuing production of the follow-on to the SS-25 ICBM (nowdesignated the SS-27 ICBM) and reports of continuing work on a hugeunderground military complex at Yamantau in the UralMountains-provide evidence of excessive military modernization inRussia." In other words, Russia has been able to divert scarceresources to weapons modernization because the U.S. taxpayer isfooting the bill of Russia's nuclear disarmament obligations underthe START I and START II treaties. "Strobe is absolutely thegodfather of all this aid to Russia," says Gaffney. "At best, thismoney is going down black holes in Swiss bank accounts or to theRussian mob; at worst, it is being funneled directly into the Russianmilitary-industrial complex."
Talbott has also worked hard to ensure that the InternationalMonetary Fund continues to pour money into the Russian economy. Since1992, the IMF has approved more than $20 billion in loans to theRussian government, one-fifth of which comes from the U.S. taxpayer.Unlike direct U.S. aid programs to Russia, however, IMF funds aretransferred directly to the Russian Central Bank "to be spent as theKremlin chooses," according to J. Michael Waller, vice president ofthe American Foreign Policy Council and a former aid to SenatorHelms.
"No sooner did the IMF agree in early January to releaseits latest tranche of $667.5 million to Moscow," says Waller, "thanthe Finance Ministry, which lobbied hard for the release, announcedthe money would be poured into the military industry" to pay arrearsdue on next generation military systems.
Among the Russian reformers whose very survival Talbotttouts as a success of U.S. policy is first deputy prime ministerAnatoly Chubais. His pet project is the Yuri Dolgoruki, the first ina series of fourth-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missilesubmarines. Progress at Shipyard No. 402 of the Russian State Centerfor Nuclear Shipbuilding in Severodvinsk, where the Yuri Dolgoruki isbeing fitted out, has ebbed and flowed to the tide of IMF payments,Waller says. When one payment was delayed, in late 1996, Chubaissuddenly postponed the public keel-laying ceremony for the newboomer. On the very day the IMF finally released the money, February7, 1997, the Russian Finance Ministry announced it had come up withthe cash to pay workers at the Severodvinsk shipyard, averting astrike.
The Yuri Dolgoruki will be equipped with SS-NX-28missiles, the next generation submarine-launched ballistic missile,which is expected to have a range in the neighborhood of 5,000 miles.In response, the U.S. is not developing a follow-on to the currentgeneration Peacekeeper missile and Trident II submarine-launchedmissile. In "Man of the Decade," Talbott called these and other U.S.strategic weapons programs "monuments to old thinking. They arethrowbacks to the days when the strategists accepted, as an articleof their dark faith, the vulnerability of the U.S. to Kremlincrapshooters." In Talbott's view, not only are there no crapshootersin the Kremlin today-there never were.
At the same time, U.S. intelligence analysts have beenfollowing with increasing alarm the construction of a huge nuclearblast-proof underground city in the Ural Mountains near Yamantau.U.S. satellite imagery has detected work on huge exit stations fromthe complex in a radius as far apart as the Beltway girdlingWashington, D.C. Says Frank Gaffney: "The Russians are spendingbillions of dollars on this project, and nobody knows where the moneyis coming from. We have no idea what the true purpose of thisfacility is, and the Russians won't tell us, but it lends itself to anuclear war fighting strategy."
Even more troubling than the Russian strategic rearmamentprograms have been the extraordinary efforts undertaken by StrobeTalbott personally to make sure that no one in Congress learns aboutthem. Curt Weldon's Research and Development subcommittee is requiredby law to oversee U.S. strategic weapons development programs such asmissile defense, and needs to have an accurate assessment of thethreats facing the U.S. in order to determine which programs shouldreceive taxpayer funding. Weldon believes that Talbott's influencehas reached deep within the intelligence community to affect the typeof information shared with Congress. On several occasions over thepast three years, Weldon says, he has requested briefings on Russianstrategic weapons research, only to have them denied at the politicallevel by the administration. "Once I received an anonymous letter,which I have here in my office in Washington, saying, 'DearCongressman Weldon: Please continue to pursue the Silver Bulletsbriefing. That briefing is being denied to you, and you need tounderstand what's in it.'" The Silver Bullets briefing details newoffensive weapons under development in Russia, including "specialweapons" designed to destroy U.S. command and control computers andcommunications networks using electromagnetic pulse generators."Strobe Talbott has been trying to sanitize and manipulateintelligence information that is being been done in a very sound wayby hard-working, dedicated analysts, to support a pre-drawn policyposition that he has taken," Weldon said. "And that is absolutely themost outrageous thing that I think could happen in this country. Howcan we believe that the threat assessment we're getting is candid andhonest when I can't even get access as a member of Congress to thesebriefings?"
Strobe Talbott remains a leftist, the sort of ideological leaningthat attracted him to Bill Clinton when the two roomed together atOxford in 1968. Along with his romantic attachment to Russian poetryand culture, it also prompted his first visit to the Soviet Union inthe winter of 1968, at the peak of the anti-war protests. Accordingto fellow Rhodes scholar David Satter, Talbott returned from thismonth-long odyssey full of enthusiasm for "the romanticism of theplace. He was full of impressions."
Talbott went back to Moscow in the summer of 1969 as anintern for Time, where he met with Soviet dissidents and dreamedabout Russia's romantic past. "This is my spiritual homeland,"Talbott was quoted in the Washington Post magazine as telling onedissident. It was also that summer that Talbott first met with VictorLouis, the Soviet "journalist" and suspected KGB spy. Soon after,Talbott's career took off.
Talbott still won't say who turned over the tapes ofNikita Khrushchev's memoirs to Time magazine that summer, but Helmsand others believe it was Victor Louis. "According to severalreports, it was Mr. Louis who provided the Khrushchev memoirs to Timemagazine-who gave them to Mr. Talbott to translate in1969-coincidentally the same year that Mr. Talbott first met Louis,"Helms told the Senate in a February 1994 speech protesting Talbott'snomination.
Helms quoted a 1986 State Department Report to illustratehis concern over Talbott's ties to Louis. The Soviets "gave highpriority to the recruitment of foreign journalists who can help shapethe opinion of elite audiences and the general public." The reportcontinues:
"The USSR also uses Soviet citizens as unofficial sources to leak information to foreign journalists and to spread disinformation that Moscow does not want attributed directly. One of the most prolific of these individuals is Vitaliy Yevgeniyevich Lui-better known as Victor Louis-a Soviet journalist who several KGB defectors have independently identified as a KGB agent. In addition to his leaking such newsworthy items as Khrushchev's ouster, the imminent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the reassignment of Marshal Ogarkov, he has been used to try to discredit the memoirs of Stalin's daughter Svetlana.... After the Chernobyl accident, Victor Louis was the vehicle for publicizing distorted statements by [Soviet dissident Andrei] Sakharov that implied he was supportive of the Soviet handling of the accident and critical of the Western reaction to it."
At the time the Khrushchev memoirs were turned over toTalbott, then KGB-boss Yuri Andropov was engaged in a muted powerstruggle with Party leader Leonid Brezhnev, whom he accused ofdestroying the Soviet economy and weakening the USSR. The Khrushchevmemoirs supported Andropov's thesis, painting Brezhnev as a fool whoreveled in pomp and ceremony, while letting the country go to ruin.By publishing the memoirs in the West, Talbott and Time aidedAndropov's rise. After the second volume came out in 1974, Brezhnevrewarded Talbott by revoking his Soviet entry visa. By the time itwas restored five years later, Brezhnev was deathly ill and Andropovclose to assuming power.
Asked in writing about his relationship to Victor Louis,Talbott gave what Helms took to be a candid answer. "I knew the lateVictor Louis, a Russian journalist who died a year or so ago. I firstmet him in the 1970's [emphasis added], when I was working asa reporter for Time magazine and making frequent trips to Moscow. Icontinued to see him over the years. Occasionally I would visit himand his family for lunch on Sunday afternoons at their home inPeredelkino, a village on the outskirts of Moscow. He brought hissons to Washington in the mid-1980's, and I showed them the touristsights in the city."
But when asked at his confirmation hearing to elaborate onthat statement, Talbott squirmed. This time he "remembered" that hehad known Mr. Louis "from 1969 until his death in the middle of1992," and that "even before I met him, I was familiar with him."
Helms was astonished at the discrepancy, and said so. "Wealready have the Department of State report and volumes of classifiedinformation about Mr. Louis. The evidence clearly points to the factthat Victor Louis reported to the KGB and his primary mission was towork foreign media contacts. Mr. Talbott's response to the Committeeclearly acknowledges that he had more than a casual relationship withthis KGB agent, Victor Louis."
I called Victor Louis's son, Anthony Louis, in Moscow andasked whether he had any recollections of visiting Talbott's house inWashington as a boy. "I think you'd need to talk to Mr. Talbott aboutthat," he said "I don't want to talk about this if he doesn't want totalk about it."
This is not to say, of course, that Talbott had any sortof formal relationship with Victor Louis or with the KGB. Talbottmade it clear that he understood that Mr. Louis was in all likelihoodworking for the KGB, and that "it did not matter terribly" since hetook the measure of his sources, and like any good journalist, onlyused information that checked out. "I never felt used or exploited ormanipulated by Mr. Louis," he told Helms.
That may be so. But whether Talbott was influenced by theKGB as a journalist, or was merely stricken with a romantic affectionfor Mother Russia, he repeatedly sang the tune of the KGBdisinformation artists and continues to do so. The big difference, ofcourse, is that today his mistakes will dramatically affect thesecurity of the United States for generations to come.
Kenneth R. Timmerman, publisher of Iran Brief, is a frequentcontributor to The American Spectator.