View Full Version : Question for spy novel/thriller gurus

08-13-2009, 08:58 PM
Hello all,

Iíve got a (naÔve, lay-person) question about the lives of intelligence officers. Iíve found a little info on this particular question, but a little more would be helpful. Iíll use KGB counterintelligence in the 70ís as a reference point.

Very generally speaking, how closely would such individuals be monitored by their own employers/higher-ups while in their own countries provided they havenít given any reason to make anyone suspicious?

So, for example, how much would they have monitored a KGB officer whom they felt to be trustworthy while that person was living in, say, Moscow? Are we talking ďKeep us informed if anything in your life changes.Ē or ďWe trust no one so weíve got a bug in your living room and wiretap on your phone?Ē Iím thinking the human resources required to monitor every worker that heavily would be make such monitoring entirely unfeasible, but the Stasi seemed to do a fairly efficient job of stuff like that, so I donít know.

Any info on any location is welcome. I realize there may be quite dramatic differences from one location to another, but I really would appreciate any input.

Thanks in advance.

08-13-2009, 09:22 PM
I only know about the Stasi in detail, and yes, they bugged everything that moved. Absolute paranoia. Not sure how the KGB operated, it was a much larger organisation stretching over a much larger area so keeping tabs on everyone would be very hard. Although, surveillance in Moscow couldn't have been that hard or expensive to organise.

08-13-2009, 09:42 PM
Not sure about day-to-day people in-country, but I stayed in the Olympic hotel in Moscow in the early 90's. You could actually see hundred of little pockmarks in the wall, some of which had little wires visible at the back.

Amusingly enough, most of them were located on the bed wall. The entire third floor was a dedicated security apparatus. (Double locked from the stairwell, no elevator button)

I think in most places, you were told to assume 'the walls had ears'. I can't say how it would be for their own trusted officers, but during earlier times, neighbors were encouraged to spy on neighbors and it fostered a lot of distrust for obvious reasons - I think officers, even trusted ones, would be under a fair amount of constant surveillance.

Anyhow, much of that is conjecture, some fact - use it or ignore as you will :)

08-13-2009, 11:37 PM
US agents are required to immediately report each and every contact they have with a foreign national. If such contact occurred at a State function, he would simply state Attended State function so and so had social conversations with Tom, Dick and Harry. At dinner, I sat next to Ambassador Pompadour of Mouseenstein. I was approached by Ms. Mata Harri, who asked me to join her for lunch next Friday at the Moulon Rouge. I agreed to the date.
On Wednesday, I received a call on my cell phone from Rasputin, who invited me to fill a foursome at the veryrich country club. I accepted. While walking in the 17th fairway, Rasputin offered me $5,000 to borrow the keys to my office so that he could make copies. I told him I would have to decline his request. We continued to play. I won the round.

It goes something like that.

08-14-2009, 01:28 AM
Thank you for your input, everyone.


I'm not surprised. As far as I know, they were one of the worst if not the worst at the time. My neighbor's from East Germany, but I can't ask her because she's still unsettled by certain things (which she mentioned herself once. I didn't bring the topic up.)


Yes, makes sense, hotels being full of potential spies and all. As for the mood reports or whatever they called them, I'd imagine that was going on all over the place. But then, that's largely conjecture on my part, too. A friend of mine once told me where he lived in the (at the time) Soviet Union if you even got a wrong number call from "the west," the police would show up and interrogate you. But even now in that particular now-independent country, landline international calls are still routed through an operator, so there was no need to wiretap to find out who got a call from the west.


I think I've heard something like that about U.S. intelligence workers. Thank you for the example. I would expect and hope the U.S. wouldn't be bugging their officers' sneakers, but then, what do I know? Makes sense other countries would also require the same type of reports at minimum.

Today I found this article (http://www.inteldaily.com/?c=126&a=3580) in which a former KGB worker claims they didn't really have the wherewithal to monitor all their workers efficiently. Of course, he may have lied or fudged the facts. So, hmm.

I'd go to the library and look up more info, but where I am at the moment, I can't read the books.

08-14-2009, 01:31 AM
It may be my mind playing tricks on me, but if I remember correctly, if all the notes the Stasi took on people were arranged end to end they would be able to reach mars (or possibly China, can't remember which)

08-15-2009, 12:46 AM

The all-the-way-to-China part wouldn't surprise me. They got their bad reputation somehow, after all.

I do remember reading something about surveillance in a book by a former KGB officer who defected to Britain. He said in the eighties while he was working outside the Soviet Union, he was told, "It takes 10 of them to watch one of us." If that's true, it would eat up a lot of resources and may not be/have been worth it for less paranoid nations.

Thanks again for responding.

Tsu Dho Nimh
08-15-2009, 01:06 PM
Iím thinking the human resources required to monitor every worker that heavily would be make such monitoring entirely unfeasible, but the Stasi seemed to do a fairly efficient job of stuff like that, so I donít know.

The STASI were (AFAIK) sucking up about 40% of the East German budget, and had so much information on so many people they couldn't process it all. Many of their informants were working at a regular job and getting a small stipend to report on everyone else.

That's one way to have heavy surveillance fail: TMI

The KGB had agents report on other agents, as well as on the person they were watching. So their minimum working group of agents overseas was 2.

In the 1970s, you could assume that of a small group of Russians overseas, at least 2 would be KGB keeping an eye on the others.

We had four visiting Russian "scientists" at a company I was working for, and it quickly became obvious that two of them knew nothing about the subject matter, and were far too interested in things like the military "base" behind us. (a convalescent annex hospital in the DC area). So we played mind games with them, casually splitting them up in ways that would make the KGB nervous, taking them to places that would make their reports to their boss sound crazy, or telling outright lies about a few things.

08-15-2009, 07:18 PM
Thanks for your reply, Tsu.

>>sucking up about 40% of the East German budget
Holy...! That explains a lot. Sad. And they say translators suck up too much of the EU common budget. Pfft.

>>The KGB had agents report on other agents, as well as on the person they were watching.
Ah ha! That's what I was wondering about. Of course, that was overseas, right? I wonder if they were more lax with counterintelligence workers on Soviet soil.

>>So we played mind games with them
LOL. How fun. Especially the jaunts to crazy places.

Thanks again.

ETA: Woo-hoo, this was my 100th post! :-)