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The American Spectator

April 1998

Strobe Talbott: Russia's Man in Washington

by Kenneth R. Timmerman

 


The man in charge of U.S. Russia policy has turned a blind eye to new security threats from moscow which, for all intents, are setting off a new Cold War that he doesn't seem to mind.


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 of Saddam Hussein while former KGB boss Yevgeniy Primakov leads the charge against the U.S. effort to punish Iraq. In Tehran, Russian state-owned firms are helping the Iranians to develop new missiles that will allow them to threaten U.S. forces and U.S. allies in the Middle East for the first time. In Moscow itself, where Boris Yeltsin's government has a hard time paying "non-essential workers" (such as security guards at nuclear warhead storage depots), the Clinton 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 and allowed the Russians to embark on an astonishing across-the-board modernization of their strategic weapons systems. While the U.S. is dismantling nuclear warheads, submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Russian federation is busy designing and building new ones - arguably, with U.S. funds.

Russia's roguish behavior these days is uncannily reminiscent of Soviet behavior during the Cold War, and critics of the Clinton administration think they know why. "Russia respects strength, consistency, and candor," says Congressman Curt Weldon, a student of Russian history and a Russian speaker. "If they do something wrong, you have to call them on it." Instead, the Clinton administration has consistently turned a blind eye to Russian misdeeds and found excuses for Russian boorishness - sort of like a den mother offering milk and cookies to the neighborhood bully no matter how many times he beats up on Johnny. The architect of our Cub scout policy toward Russia is a former Time magazine journalist who has admitted to a close personal and professional relationship to an alleged top KGB agent during the Cold War - Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Allegations that Talbott had been used by the KGB during his journalistic career were briefly aired at his confirmation hearing on Feb. 8, 1994 by Senator Jesse Helms, who was then ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And despite Talbott's equivocal answers, they were just as quickly ignored. Except for a single AP wire story, and a subsequent report in the Wall Street Journal (and of course, the Washington Times), not a single mainstream media organization picked up on Helm's queries that Talbott owed his journalistic career at Time magazine to a suspected KGB agent of influence named Victor Louis. Citing U.S. intelligence reports and statements by KGB defectors, Helms asserted that Louis was responsible for leaking the memoirs of former Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev to Talbott in 1969 and for assisting Talbott at critical moments later in his career with inside Kremlin information.

High Profile Disasters

Talbott's past is significant today because he is in charge of U.S. policy toward Russia, which has gone very, very wrong since he took over the brief in the very first month of the Clinton administration. "Our goal, like that of many Russians, is to see Russia become a normal, modern state -- democratic in its governance, abiding by its own constitution and by its own laws, market-oriented and prosperous in its economic development, at peace with itself and with the rest of the world," he told an audience at Stanford University last September. But despite these lofty goals, shared by most, Talbott has been very secretive about his actions with the American public -- and especially with Congressional oversight committees. According to Congressman Weldon: "It is Strobe Talbott who is determining what intelligence will or will not be given to Congress, what will or will not be said, what will or will not be perceived as a threat. That is simply not acceptable." To advance his goal 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 high profile disasters that the administration would prefer to keep under wraps, starting with Russia's absolutely scandalous transfer of ballistic missile technology to both Iran and Iraq. UN weapons inspectors first unveiled Russian attempts to thwart the arms embargo on Iraq when they stumbled on an Iraqi-bound shipment of ballistic missile gyroscopes in Amman, Jordan in November 1995. They seized 115 gyroscopes, worth $25 million, with the help of Jordanian Customs authorities. After interrogating one of the intermediaries who had negotiated the deal, the UN sent a team to Baghdad to dredge the Tigris river and found dozens more of the same devices. These weren't just ordinary gyroscopes, top weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus told me not long after the discovery; they had been taken from SS-N-18 nuclear missiles, submarine-launched city-busters Russia had pledged to eliminate under the START agreements. Not only were the Russians breaking the UN arms embargo on Iraq by delivering the gyroscopes, but they were violating a strategic arms control treaty, a fact which the Talbott and other Clinton administration officials have conveniently fail to mention in their public comments on the case.

After the gyroscope incident, the U.S. intelligence community stepped up its monitoring of Russian arms trafficking, and discovered more than a dozen addition cases where the Russians had transferred jet fighter aircraft spare parts, ammunition, and weapons manufacturing gear to Baghdad over the past three years, according to reports in the Washington Times and elsewhere. And yet Talbott, who proudly claims responsibility for everything Russian, has consistently failed to report such outrageous Russian activities to Congress. Instead, when intelligence reports that should have been shared with Congress are leaked to the press, Talbott and his cronies have sought to identify the leakers and prosecute them rather than pressure the Russians to stop the sales - a curious conversion for a former journalist. "This administration is so intent on not upsetting Boris Yeltsin, at not embarrassing Boris Yeltsin, that they prevent information from coming to the forefront that will prompt Congress to take action which they say will undermine their relationship with Boris Yeltsin," says Congressman Weldon. "There are those in Russia who misinterpret that as weakness."

Weldon and Congressional leaders all agree that Talbott is the man driving the administration's dangerous neglect of Russian roguishness. "US policies toward Russia are being calculated to Strobe Talbott's estimation of how it will affect internal Russian politics," a top aide to Majority leader Trent Lott said. "I think instead we should peg our policies to Russian behavior."

Missiles for Iran

A mistaken sense of priorities also characterizes Talbott's handling of Russia's transfer of missile technology to Iran, an issue he has tried to sweep under the rug for more than a year. Because of U.S. inaction, the CIA now believes the Iranians will be able to field an entire arsenal of long-range missiles equipped with chemical, biological, and possibly nuclear warheads within 12 to 18 months. If they succeed, those missiles will have Strobe Talbott's name written all over them.

Israel began warning the U.S. of these transfers in October 1996, when the research director of Israeli Military Intelligence raised the subject during a routine intelligence exchange in Washington. When the Americans failed to take any action, the official, Brigadier General Amos Gilad, returned to Washington in late January 1997 with a dog and pony show. After laying out in great detail what the Israelis had gathered from their sources in Russian defense plants and in Iran, Gilad presented the Americans with an alarming conclusion: unless the transfers were stopped very soon, Iran would field an entire arsenal of these new missiles, called Shahab-3, that would give it the ability to attack Israel directly for the first time. General Gilad urged his American counterparts to use all their political capital with the Russians to stop the transfers, but his plea fell on deaf ears. "They told us they knew of a missile program that was being aided by the North Koreans and the Chinese," one official told me in Tel Aviv, "but that it was not considered to be very close to success. What we were talking about was something completely different. These contracts have been signed between industries - companies - that are at least partially-owned by the Russian government. This is not a private operation by some crazy engineers. This is seen by Russia as a strategic option." And it was all happening with breakneck speed.

Gilad shared his information with key members of Congress, and eventually the word reached the White House. Vice President Gore made an initial query about the transfers during a February 6 meeting in Washington with Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin, but the Russian feigned ignorance. Because the issue involved Russia, it was officially turned over to Strobe Talbott. According to knowledgeable sources in Washington and Tel Aviv, Talbott dismissed the idea that Russia was transferring missile technology to Iran as Israeli alarmism. "Strobe basically told our people not to worry, he was taking care of it," one senior Israeli told me. "But in fact, he merely swept the whole issue under the rug."

In April 1997, a U.S. spy satellite picked up a plume of fire shooting several hundred feet back from a known missile test site just east of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Using environmental sampling techniques, the CIA was able to determine that the Iranians had conducted a test of a liquid-fueled rocket booster, which appeared to be similar to a Soviet SS-4 strategic missile. It was the first piece of hard evidence the Americans had from their own sources that verified what the Israelis had been saying. By June, the CIA and the DIA had picked up signs of specific transfers of equipment from Russian to Iran that indicated the Iranians were working on a long-range missile, similar to the SS-4 which the Russians were supposed to have destroyed under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty signed by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987. They reported their findings to Congressional oversight committees. By mid-summer, the U.S. assessment that the Russian government was transferring missile technology to Iran matched that of the Israelis. This was the same Russian government, led by Boris Yeltsin, that Strobe Talbott argued was America's best chance for a peaceful world in the future.

The man briefing Congress on Russia's cooperation with Iran was Gordon Oehler, a career intelligence officer who headed the CIA's Nonproliferation Center. For his candor, Oehler was forced into earlier retirement last autumn - a move which Congressional sources and CIA insiders said was prompted after intense pressure from Strobe Talbott.

A stunning conflict of interest

"Talbott didn't want anything to interfere with his agenda of aid to Russia,"say congressional aides familiar with his role in quashing the information and lobbying to get Oehler fired. "Raising the issue of Russian missile transfers to Iran was sure to anger the Russians - something Talbott wanted to avoid at all costs." A top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it more politely: "Israel is on the receiving end of these missiles, whereas Strobe Talbott views this issue in the broader context of U.S.-Russian relations." By mid-summer, however, with the Russian transfers accelerating, not slowing, Lott teamed up with Senator Joseph Lieberman to introduce legislation that would impose sanctions on the Russian firms engaged in the transfers and cut off U.S. aid to Talbott's pet Russian projects, including the high profile flights of American astronauts on board the Mir space station. To quell the storm, Talbott finally agreed to hand the issue over to retired Ambassador Frank Wisner, who in July was asked to be the U.S. delegate to a joint committee with the Russians to investigate the allegations of missile transfers to Iran. His Russian counterpart was none other than Yuri Koptev, the head of the Russian Space Agency - the very man the Israelis claimed was behind some of the Russian missile deals with Iran.

But Wisner also had a conflict of interest that should have been obvious to Talbott and to the administration: he had direct business interests in Russia through the American International Group, the gigantic insurance underwriter that had just launched the largest private investment fund in the former Soviet Union. AIG announced Wisner's appointment as Director and Vice Chairman on September 17, 1997, only two months after he was put in charge of negotiating with the Russians over their missiles sales to Iran. And AIG had a special reason for wanting to keep the missile issue out of the public eye: their $300 million "Millennium Fund," launched one year earlier to back Russian infrastructure and industrial projects, was being supported by another U.S. government program championed by Strobe Talbott, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. As part of Talbott's overall Russian aid package, OPIC was providing U.S. government guarantees to AIG and others to protect Russian investments..Under Talbott's watchful eye, OPIEC and the Exminbank and extended a whopping $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to support U.S. exporters and investments in the former Soviet Union.

Talbott continued monitoring the missile issue closely. Late last September, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported on a confrontation between Talbott and Shimon Shtein, the head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Arms Control Department, who during a Washington visit briefed Talbott on the most recent transfers of missile technology to Iran by Russian state-owned firms. Shtein provided Talbott with hard intelligence information gathered by Israeli sources in Russia. It detailed the activity of dozens of Iranian "students" working at Russian state universities on the rocket projects, and described how the two countries were jointly designing the new missile. Ha'aretz reported that Talbott responded by shouting Shtein down and promising that he'd personally to see to it that the administration scaled back U.S. aid to Israel if the Israelis didn't stop complaining to Congress about the Russian misdeeds. Talbott's office wouldn't comment on the incident when I investigated it last autumn for Reader's Digest. But in Tel Aviv, a senior Israeli official told me that the meeting had occurred, and that it was rocky, although he tried to minimize its import by saying the two had "a difference of opinion on tactics." Congressional aides in Washington also confirmed the story.

"Israel Is a Strategic Liability"

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, is not surprised by Talbott's refusal to act on Israel's warnings and his determined efforts to prevent Congress from learning the truth about Russian assistance to Iranian weapons programs. Four years ago, Klein led a furious lobbying campaign to block Talbott's nomination as deputy secretary of state because of Talbott's legendary hostility to the U.S. strategic partnership with Israel. Klein got Sen. Jesse Helms to blow up to poster-size quotes from Talbott's essays in Time magazine and display them around the Foreign Relations Committee room during his February 8, 1994 hearing.

In "What to Do About Israel," which appeared in the September 7, 1981 issue of Time, Talbott argued that Israel's attack on the Osirak nuclear bomb plant in Iraq had imperiled U.S. interests in the Middle East to such an extent that the Reagan administration should radically review its relationship to the Jewish state. (Most analysts today agree that if the Israelis hadn't taken out Osirak, the Iraqis would have gone nuclear by the mid-1980's). "Israel is well on its way to becoming not just a dubious asset but an outright liability to American security interests," Talbott wrote. He blamed the Israelis for an extraordinary laundry list of the world's ills, real and imagined, from weak government in Jordan to pushing Persian Gulf states such as Kuwait into the arms of the Soviet Union. Israel was "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 of the poster-boards was this statement from the same essay: "It is a delusion that Israel is, or ever has been, a strategic ally" of the United States.

Talbott's reaction to questions about his views toward Israel from Democrats and Republicans was positively Clintonesque. "I fully savor the irony of the position I find myself in as a former journalist being confronted on easels and elsewhere with fragments of my past writings," he began. "But I do want to set the record straight 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 1991 trip to Israel that was sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank established by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC. He was shepherded about by Martin Indyk, who went on to become U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Clinton and who shamelessly lobbied in the corridors of the Israeli parliament during the 1996 Israeli elections on behalf of the Labor Party candidate for prime minister, Shimon Peres. Conservative American Jews are only now waking up to the fact that the Clinton administration's superficially pro-Israel policies are in fact pro-Labor policies.

Klein's lobbying campaign against Talbott split the American Jewish community and got Klein labeled a right-wing renegade. Leading the charge against Klein was AIPAC president Steve Grossman, a friend of Bill Clinton who now serves as finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

During the Gulf war, Talbott swallowed Saddam Hussein's line that his invasion of Kuwait was analogous to occupation of Arab lands, and that the two issues should be linked together and negotiated as a region-wide package deal. "Israel's policy today does indeed have something in common with Iraq's," Talbott wrote on October 29, 1990, less than three months after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Israel's policy toward its Arab neighbors "is as ominous for...real and lasting peace in the region as Saddam's militant nostalgia for Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian empire." If that statement was bizarre, Talbott's commentary at the outset of the air war against Iraq in January 1991 was downright goofy. Noting that the U.S. bombing occurred at the same time that Mikhail Gorbachev was unleashing Soviet tanks to crush Lithuanian dissent, he asserted, "There was a bizarre similarity between what Gorbachev and Bush felt compelled to do last week. Each was resorting to the use of force in the name of law and order."

Dead Wrong on the Cold war

Rarely has one man been wrong so often and been rewarded so much as Strobe Talbott. His Cold War writings on the Soviet Union would be great laugh lines on Jay Leno. He continues to have the ear of Bill Clinton, who has never opposed a single Talbott give-away to Russia, whether it involves expanded U.S. taxpayer credits for the Yeltsin government, the unilateral U.S. concession not to develop ballistic missile defenses, or the administration's intense lobbying of Congress to make sure no legislation is passed punishing Russia for its bad behavior in selling missiles to Iran and Iraq. Talbott's relationship to the president is so strong that one State Department colleague, quoted in an otherwise glowing cover profile of Talbott in the Washington Post magazine, revealed that no career diplomat would even think of opposing Talbott and his Russia-first policies, unless he was avidly seeking to join the ranks of the unemployed.

While at Time, Talbott repeatedly took positions identical to those being promoted by the KGB and its mavens of disinformation-primary among them, Talbott's friend Victor Louis. Talbott opposed President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative because he believed it would encourage the Soviets to increase spending on offensive weapons. "This was the same argument used by Soviet propagandists," says Herbert Romerstein, a former USIA specialist in Soviet disinformation. "In fact, SDI was one of the main factors that brought down the Soviet dictatorship."

Talbott opposed the development of the cruise missiles that were later used with success against Iraq, and urged the U.S. not to deploy Pershing II missiles in Europe-a deployment that led to the first arms control treaty eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons, the 1987 INF treaty. Talbott's disdain for Ronald Reagan and love for Mikhail Gorbachev were legendary. In his sycophantic "Man of the Decade" profile of Gorbachev that appeared January 1, 1990, Talbott waxed eloquent on the Soviet leader's prowess and Reagan's obstinacy. "Whether he was fantasizing about a perfect space-based defense or the abolition of ballistic missiles, [Reagan] was implicitly repudiating the system of deterrence that had kept the nuclear peace for 40 years. No wonder Mikhail Gorbachev looked so good."

All during the 1980's, Talbott argued that the Cold War was being perpetuated by wrong-headed U.S. policies and NATO belligerence, and that negotiation and olive branches would do more to encourage reform than weapons-spending and the rollback of Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua. Says former Reagan White House official Stefan Halper: "Mr. Talbott found little to criticize in the Brezhnev Doctrine, Soviet expansionism, Communist ideology...except to describe them as sources of vulnerability that would have brought Moscow down sooner if the West hadn't challenged the 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 a touch of paranoid fantasy about them...Gorbachev is helping the West by showing that the Soviet threat is not what it used to be. The real point, however, is that it never was." Commented Romerstein: "If Talbott was not influenced by his KGB contacts, it could only be because he was already convinced of the themes that they were pushing."

Down a Rathole

Under Talbott's stewardship, the United States embarked on a vast aid program to Russia which administration officials voluntarily admit is aimed at propping up Yeltsin's government, not at reforming the Russian system or dismantling the vestiges of the Communist state. Even staunch administration supporter Lee Hamilton was skeptical of the aid programs by the time Talbott took over the number-two job at the State Department, after Talbott had spent a full year throwing money at Moscow with little to show for it. "The real question in Russia today is whether you have any reform," Hamilton said. For Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan Defense official who now runs the Center for Security Policy. Talbott's Russia policy is a train wreck waiting to happen. "If this were a highway project, you'd have people hanging from the yardarms for the scandalous lack of 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, it has provided some $400 million a year to aid with nuclear weapons dismantlement and the physical security of Russia's nuclear weapons stockpile. After actively promoting Nunn-Lugar while at Time, Talbott was put in charge of the program when named by Clinton as ambassador at large to Russia and the newly independent states in February 1993. He invented the mantra "no more Russian missiles are pointed at the United States," a comment that has been repeated on no fewer than 137 occasions by the president and top national security officials since mid-1994 (while Russian security officials are quick to point out that the missiles can be re-targeted against the United States "in a matter of minutes"). To date, $2.25 billion has been committed by Congress for Nunn-Lugar. But according to a Congressional Research Service report dated March 25, 1997, "the program has failed to result in the verified dismantlement of any nuclear warheads," which most supporters have always said should be the measure of the program's success. In response, the administration now says that "the CTR 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 the Nunn-Lugar money has allowed Russia to spend less of its own money on weapons dismantlement "because it has continued to commit resources to weapons modernization programs.... Two programs in particular-the continuing production of the follow-on to the SS-25 ICBM (now designated the SS-27 ICBM) and reports of continuing work on a huge underground military complex at Yamantau in the Ural Mountains-provide evidence of excessive military modernization in Russia." In other words, Russia has been able to divert scarce resources to weapons modernization because the U.S. taxpayer is footing the bill of Russia's nuclear disarmament obligations under the START I and START II treaties. "Strobe is absolutely the godfather of all this aid to Russia," says Gaffney. "At best, this money is going down black holes in Swiss bank accounts or to the Russian mob; at worst, it is being funneled directly into the Russian military-industrial complex."

Bigger and Better Nukes

Talbott has also worked hard to ensure that the International Monetary Fund continues to pour money into the Russian economy. Since 1992, the IMF has approved more than $20 billion in loans to the Russian government, one-fifth of which comes from the U.S. taxpayer. Unlike direct U.S. aid programs to Russia, however, IMF funds are transferred directly to the Russian Central Bank "to be spent as the Kremlin chooses," according to J. Michael Waller, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and a former aid to Senator Helms.

"No sooner did the IMF agree in early January to release its latest tranche of $667.5 million to Moscow," says Waller, "than the Finance Ministry, which lobbied hard for the release, announced the money would be poured into the military industry" to pay arrears due on next generation military systems.

Among the Russian reformers whose very survival Talbott touts as a success of U.S. policy is first deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais. His pet project is the Yuri Dolgoruki, the first in a series of fourth-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. Progress at Shipyard No. 402 of the Russian State Center for Nuclear Shipbuilding in Severodvinsk, where the Yuri Dolgoruki is being fitted out, has ebbed and flowed to the tide of IMF payments, Waller says. When one payment was delayed, in late 1996, Chubais suddenly postponed the public keel-laying ceremony for the new boomer. On the very day the IMF finally released the money, February 7, 1997, the Russian Finance Ministry announced it had come up with the cash to pay workers at the Severodvinsk shipyard, averting a strike.

The Yuri Dolgoruki will be equipped with SS-NX-28 missiles, 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 current generation Peacekeeper missile and Trident II submarine-launched missile. In "Man of the Decade," Talbott called these and other U.S. strategic weapons programs "monuments to old thinking. They are throwbacks to the days when the strategists accepted, as an article of their dark faith, the vulnerability of the U.S. to Kremlin crapshooters." In Talbott's view, not only are there no crapshooters in the Kremlin today-there never were.

At the same time, U.S. intelligence analysts have been following with increasing alarm the construction of a huge nuclear blast-proof underground city in the Ural Mountains near Yamantau. U.S. satellite imagery has detected work on huge exit stations from the complex in a radius as far apart as the Beltway girdling Washington, D.C. Says Frank Gaffney: "The Russians are spending billions of dollars on this project, and nobody knows where the money is coming from. We have no idea what the true purpose of this facility is, and the Russians won't tell us, but it lends itself to a nuclear war fighting strategy."

Even more troubling than the Russian strategic rearmament programs have been the extraordinary efforts undertaken by Strobe Talbott personally to make sure that no one in Congress learns about them. Curt Weldon's Research and Development subcommittee is required by law to oversee U.S. strategic weapons development programs such as missile defense, and needs to have an accurate assessment of the threats facing the U.S. in order to determine which programs should receive taxpayer funding. Weldon believes that Talbott's influence has reached deep within the intelligence community to affect the type of information shared with Congress. On several occasions over the past three years, Weldon says, he has requested briefings on Russian strategic weapons research, only to have them denied at the political level by the administration. "Once I received an anonymous letter, which I have here in my office in Washington, saying, 'Dear Congressman Weldon: Please continue to pursue the Silver Bullets briefing. That briefing is being denied to you, and you need to understand what's in it.'" The Silver Bullets briefing details new offensive weapons under development in Russia, including "special weapons" designed to destroy U.S. command and control computers and communications networks using electromagnetic pulse generators. "Strobe Talbott has been trying to sanitize and manipulate intelligence information that is being been done in a very sound way by hard-working, dedicated analysts, to support a pre-drawn policy position that he has taken," Weldon said. "And that is absolutely the most outrageous thing that I think could happen in this country. How can we believe that the threat assessment we're getting is candid and honest when I can't even get access as a member of Congress to these briefings?"

Louis, Louis

Strobe Talbott remains a leftist, the sort of ideological leaning that attracted him to Bill Clinton when the two roomed together at Oxford in 1968. Along with his romantic attachment to Russian poetry and culture, it also prompted his first visit to the Soviet Union in the winter of 1968, at the peak of the anti-war protests. According to fellow Rhodes scholar David Satter, Talbott returned from this month-long odyssey full of enthusiasm for "the romanticism of the place. He was full of impressions."

Talbott went back to Moscow in the summer of 1969 as an intern for Time, where he met with Soviet dissidents and dreamed about Russia's romantic past. "This is my spiritual homeland," Talbott was quoted in the Washington Post magazine as telling one dissident. It was also that summer that Talbott first met with Victor Louis, the Soviet "journalist" and suspected KGB spy. Soon after, Talbott's career took off.

Talbott still won't say who turned over the tapes of Nikita Khrushchev's memoirs to Time magazine that summer, but Helms and others believe it was Victor Louis. "According to several reports, it was Mr. Louis who provided the Khrushchev memoirs to Time magazine-who gave them to Mr. Talbott to translate in 1969-coincidentally the same year that Mr. Talbott first met Louis," Helms told the Senate in a February 1994 speech protesting Talbott's nomination.

Helms quoted a 1986 State Department Report to illustrate his concern over Talbott's ties to Louis. The Soviets "gave high priority to the recruitment of foreign journalists who can help shape the opinion of elite audiences and the general public." The report continues:

"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 to Talbott, then KGB-boss Yuri Andropov was engaged in a muted power struggle with Party leader Leonid Brezhnev, whom he accused of destroying the Soviet economy and weakening the USSR. The Khrushchev memoirs supported Andropov's thesis, painting Brezhnev as a fool who reveled in pomp and ceremony, while letting the country go to ruin. By publishing the memoirs in the West, Talbott and Time aided Andropov's rise. After the second volume came out in 1974, Brezhnev rewarded Talbott by revoking his Soviet entry visa. By the time it was restored five years later, Brezhnev was deathly ill and Andropov close 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 late Victor Louis, a Russian journalist who died a year or so ago. I first met him in the 1970's [emphasis added], when I was working as a reporter for Time magazine and making frequent trips to Moscow. I continued to see him over the years. Occasionally I would visit him and his family for lunch on Sunday afternoons at their home in Peredelkino, a village on the outskirts of Moscow. He brought his sons to Washington in the mid-1980's, and I showed them the tourist sights in the city."

But when asked at his confirmation hearing to elaborate on that statement, Talbott squirmed. This time he "remembered" that he had known Mr. Louis "from 1969 until his death in the middle of 1992," and that "even before I met him, I was familiar with him."

Helms was astonished at the discrepancy, and said so. "We already have the Department of State report and volumes of classified information about Mr. Louis. The evidence clearly points to the fact that Victor Louis reported to the KGB and his primary mission was to work foreign media contacts. Mr. Talbott's response to the Committee clearly acknowledges that he had more than a casual relationship with this KGB agent, Victor Louis."

I called Victor Louis's son, Anthony Louis, in Moscow and asked whether he had any recollections of visiting Talbott's house in Washington as a boy. "I think you'd need to talk to Mr. Talbott about that," he said "I don't want to talk about this if he doesn't want to talk about it."

This is not to say, of course, that Talbott had any sort of formal relationship with Victor Louis or with the KGB. Talbott made it clear that he understood that Mr. Louis was in all likelihood working for the KGB, and that "it did not matter terribly" since he took the measure of his sources, and like any good journalist, only used information that checked out. "I never felt used or exploited or manipulated by Mr. Louis," he told Helms.

That may be so. But whether Talbott was influenced by the KGB as a journalist, or was merely stricken with a romantic affection for Mother Russia, he repeatedly sang the tune of the KGB disinformation artists and continues to do so. The big difference, of course, is that today his mistakes will dramatically affect the security of the United States for generations to come.


Kenneth R. Timmerman, publisher of Iran Brief, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.