“When another blames or hates you, or when men say injurious things about you, approach their poor souls . . . and see what kind of men they are.”
– Marcus Aurelius

In 1944 Viktor Kravchenko defected from the Soviet Union and wrote a now obscure book, I Chose Freedom, published in 1946. “I was to learn slowly and incredulously,” he wrote, “that those who venture to tell the truth about the Stalin tyranny, who speak up for the Russian people and against their oppressors, are discount­ed and dismissed and sometimes pil­loried as ‘anti-Russian.’ . . . I realized that I must expect to be denounced and ridiculed by precisely those warm­ hearted and high-minded foreigners on whose understanding and support I had counted.” More than 40 years and thousands of defectors and émigrés later, many Americans still prefer the comforting illusions of Soviet propa­ganda to the unsettling realities of eyewitness reports. The reception given Arkady Shevchenko’s recent book Breaking With Moscow is yet another case in point.

Shevchenko, the highest ranking Soviet diplomat ever to defect, arguably knows more about the moti­vation, reasoning, mechanics, and personalities of the Soviet foreign poli­cy establishment than any American. His best-selling book is a devastating indictment of the Soviet system and has now been on the public record since February. Yet among commenta­tors, journalists, and intellectuals, the suspicion persists that he is a CIA pawn, double agent, or scoundrel. Since his defection in June of 1975, Shevchenko has endured a truth-or­-consequences ordeal that may yet cost him his life. (His wife of 27 years died in the Soviet Union shortly after his public declaration of defection in April of 1978.)

Shevchenko has already run a rigor­ ous gauntlet to establish his credibility. He has successfully passed exacting tests from U.S. counterintelligence agents looking for a possible Soviet mole. While a Soviet diplomat at the UN, he fed information to the CIA for over two years, providing valuable in­ sight and information on Soviet affairs and proving the sincerity of his inten­tions. CBS’s 60 Minutes had a crack at Mr. Shevchenko last February and found no chink in his armor. Recent­ly, however, new doubts have been expressed about Shevchenko and his book.

Prior to his defection, the 48-year­ old Shevchenko had just finished a five-year assignment as the highest ranking Soviet in the UN, undersecre­tary general for political and security affairs, a position previously held by Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the United States since 1962. From 1970 to 1973 he reported directly to the Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko, as an advisor with access to all secret information, and in 1972 he joined with Dobrynin in meeting with Henry Kissinger in the Kremlin to draft a joint Soviet-U.S. communiqué. He had direct contact with the Politburo and key figures in the Central Committee, including Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and Gorbachev. At 29, he had traveled to the United States with the Khrushchev entourage. For seven years (1963-1970), he served as part of the Soviet mission to the UN. Noted Soviet watcher John Barron has writ­ten that at the time of Shevchenko’s defection, he would have been on everyone’s top 100 list of Soviet leaders.

Shevchenko’s book provides an ac­count of his experiences under the Soviet system and a stern warning about dangerous Soviet intentions. Filled with attacks on the cruelties of the Soviet system (including the unjust deportation of 300,000 Tartars in 1944), Breaking With Moscow depicts a government that hides failure behind brutality and hypocrisy. When—at age 11—Shevchenko’s candor con­cerning Red Army performance came to the attention of a political commis­sar, his father warned him: “Arkasha, it doesn’t matter what the truth is. lt matters what people think. . . Do you want us to be shot? . . . You have to keep your mouth shut about what you see and think.” When the person to be manipulated is not a Russian adolescent, but an American Presi­dent, Soviet leaders resort to more subtle tactics. Participants in the Yalta conference from the Foreign Ministry told Mr. Shevchenko that their strate­gy had been to play upon President Roosevelt’s illness to “make him sus­ceptible to their influence in the diffi­cult, heated, and tense discussions.” This last tidbit—there are hundreds in the book—should serve as a caution for those in the State Department now planning the Reagan/Gorbachev summit.

In addition to page after page of documentation of the pervasive hypoc­risy and duplicity within the Soviet system, Shevchenko carefully de­scribes how the Soviets exploit the UN. We learn, for instance, that the Soviets employed at the UN—who routinely commit perjury by taking an international civil service oath they intend to ignore—contribute their sal­aries to the Soviet Mission. At least half the Soviet nationals working in the UN, it turns out, are not diplo­mats, but KGB or GRU (Soviet mili­tary intelligence) professionals.

In his analysis of how Soviet foreign policy is shaped and implemented, Shevchenko reviews the roles of the Politburo, Foreign Ministry, Defense Department, International Depart­ment, and various propaganda and front groups, like the Institute of the United States and Canada and the World Peace Council. He explains the relations between Gromyko and Dobrynin as one of respect coupled with careerist competitiveness. Since Gromyko’s appointment to the Soviet presidency and his replacement by Eduard Shevardnadze as Foreign Min­ister, the secondary figures that Shev­ chenko describes have moved closer to center stage. What indeed will become of Dobrynin now that Shevardnadze, a novice in foreign policy, holds that portfolio?

Are the Soviets really interested in arms control? Shevchenko documents the repeated Soviet decision to dissem­inate peace propaganda while building military might. They know that the sounds of peace can restrain congres­sional approval of U.S. defense budg­ets. He also points out that it’s in the Soviet Union’s military interest to re­strain the development of U.S. forces through arms control. Even if it may cost them some types of military restraints, the trick is to maximize U.S. restraint and minimize the Soviet price for it. The fear of a U.S. techno­logical breakout is enough to ensure that the Soviets will not shut the door to negotiating arms control. Mean­ while, almost half of the 2,500 Soviet officials in this country are busy trying to steal our secrets. The Soviets do fear nuclear war and would prefer to achieve world domination through other methods.

The Soviets approach arms control negotiations knowing that their na­tional system is geared to producing excellent weapons and defense capa­bility at the expense of adequate food, housing, consumer goods, and health care. Military spending, at the present pace, will preclude even minimal cap­ital expenditures for agriculture, in­dustry, and technological innovation. Failures in these areas will inevitably weaken military strength as well. So the Soviet dream for arms control is not a quest for disarmament. It has at its root a military objective: to restrain the rapid advancement of U.S. mili­tary capability.

How should the U.S. deal with the Soviets? Shevchenko advises us to seek out areas of cooperation where it is reasonable and to avoid extreme shifts in our policies with the Soviets. But finally he writes, “What the men in the Kremlin understand best is mili­tary and economic might; energetic political conviction, strength of will. If the West cannot confront the Soviets with equal determination, Moscow will continue to play the bully round the globe.”

Through his decision first to defect and then to write Breaking With Mos­cow, Shevchenko has dealt the Soviets a devastating blow. After all, the book is a best-seller in the glavni vrag (main enemy, i.e., the USA). But just as Mr. Shevchenko’s new life and occupation seemed successfully launched, the Washington Post published an article last June which raised questions about his importance and honesty. In a long piece that alleged suspicious changes from the original manuscript and chal­lenged Shevchenko’s stature as an in­telligence source, David Remnick re­ported that Michael Korda, editor-in-chief at Simon and Schuster, signed a $600,000 contract in the fall of 1978 with Mr. Shevchenko for a completed manuscript by September of 1979. In the spring of 1980, Mr. Korda wanted out of the contract and the return of about $165,000 so far disbursed to Mr. Shevchenko. The early manuscript, Korda claimed, was “not interesting,” “not worth the money,” and “not filled with inside stories.” Shortly afterward, Ashbel Green, editor at Knopf, cut a deal with Shevchenko for less than $200,000. After extensive revisions over the next several years, the manuscript became a best-seller. It is understandable that Korda now asserts that the manuscript was “juiced up.” Otherwise, it would appear that he is “not worth the money.” Anyway, it seems incredible that Korda thought a finished manu­script could be produced in 12 months, while Shevchenko was still adjusting to American life.

As to Mr. Shevchenko’s importance as a source of information, “highly placed” and unnamed sources in the CIA and Department of Defense said that “Mr. Shevchenko had little infor­mation to offer on codes, satellites, defense installations, and other is­ sues.” But if Mikhail Gorbachev de­fected, it is doubtful he could add to our knowledge about these matters. You need specialists to defect or spy for that type of information. A man posted at the UN for his last five years wouldn’t have it. What Mr. Shevchenko did possess was insight and information about foreign policy and activities in the U.S. Both Senator Daniel Moynihan, former vice chair­ man of the Senate Intelligence Com­mittee, and Admiral Stansfield Turn­er, former director of the CIA, came to his defense in the Post story, vouching for the quality of information he had provided. All in all, it was a suitable story for the style section, one perfectly adapted to the interests and presuppo­sitions of a Washington audience.

Then the July 15th issue of The New Republic published an eight-page “book review” featured as the cover story with the teaser: “The Shevchenko Fraud: Edward J. Epstein on the Invention of a Supermole.” The cover showed a mole resembling Mr. Shevchenko-with sunglasses and an “S” on his chest, a la Superman-breaking ground. The headline inside the magazine: “The Spy Who Came in to Be Sold.” There followed page after page of highly spe­cific assertions of detailed “fact” mar­shaled to prove that Shevchenko is a fraud. In his first paragraph, Epstein asserts that it was not until Shevchenko appeared in February on CBS’s 60 Minutes that he assumed his new identity as a sensational supermole. But Judy Chavez, Mr. Shevchenko’s mistress for several months after his defection, reported the CIA spy mission to an NBC report­er back in October I978. She then described it in a literal “kiss and tell” book, The Defector’s Mistress. Epstein ignores these previous accounts of Shevchenko’s work as a spy because such facts run counter to his theory “that the material about Shevchenko’s espionage career has either been spun out of formulaic spy fiction or invent­ed out of whole cloth.” Simple igno­rance does not account for this omis­sion, because Epstein cites the Chavez book when it suits his purposes. In fact, Epstein himself admits—late in his review—that John Barron had al­ ready identified Shevchenko as a spy for the U.S. in his 1983 best-seller, KGB Today: The Hidden Hand. Sena­tor Moynihan, Admiral Turner, and the CIA are likewise on record about Shevchenko’s role as a spy prior to his public defection.

Edwin McDowell, who had seen an early release of the Epstein exposé, meticulously dissected the review on July 1 in the New York Times. After conceding the difficulties of reporting on spy matters, McDowell concludes that “some of Mr. Shevchenko’s asser­ tions that have been questioned by Mr. Epstein can be supported, and certain inconsistencies of Mr. Epstein’s account have come to light.” A modest understatement.

For example, Epstein reports and places much weight on the “fact” that Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State in 1975 and 1976, apparently did not know Shevchenko was passing on in­ formation about Soviet positions in arms negotiations. Members of the intelligence community have con­firmed that this type of information is protected by the highest levels of secre­cy: not even the Secretary of State knows the names and locations of all sensitive sources. Strobe Talbott, a Sovietologist who has written an ac­claimed book on arms negotiations, checked and then rechecked the story for Time magazine, which ran excerpts of the book last February. He is con­vinced that the Shevchenko story holds up.

The Shevchenko book opens with him driving by himself to his first meeting with the CIA in 1975 and getting a speeding ticket. Epstein alleg­es that Shevchenko did not get a New York driver’s license until October 20, 1977—more than two years after he got a ticket for speeding. But Epstein did not report, and Mr. McDowell does, that when a license is reissued in New York, the old issue date is com­pletely expunged from the record. Epstein also reports that there is no record of a traffic ticket issued in 1975 to Shevchenko. But McDowell reports that Shevchenko accepted the ticket rather than claim diplomatic immuni ty on the spot and simply turned it in at a later date to the security officer of the UN to have it dropped. And so forth, and so forth, ad nauseum. . . .

Ashbel Green, editor at Knopf, found Epstein’s “review” so riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and leaps of judgment that “one scarcely knows where to begin a rejoinder.” Green wrote seven paragraphs of de­tailed rebuttal in a letter addressed to The New Republic.

William Geimer, an attorney who has worked closely with Shevchenko for the last seven years, called the Epstein review “vicious,” the product of a “malignant imagination.” Togeth­er, Geimer and Shevchenko have es­tablished a new institution, the Jamestown Foundation, to assist Soviet bloc defectors in getting adjusted to life in America and in getting their insights about the Soviet system into public policy debate.

John Barron, who has probably done more than anyone to educate the public about the KGB, was also at­ tacked in Epstein’s review of Shevchenko’s book. Barron, Epstein charges, misrepresented “the Shevchenko spy role” because he had received information from a defector, Stanislav Levchenko, who was “working under contract to the CIA, to hand-deliver to him certain particulars
about the Shevchenko case.” But in a letter on June 26, a day after he saw the prepublication copy of the story, Mr. Barron wrote to The New Repub­lic: “At no time during the period of my basic research with Levchenko [the defector] was he in any manner em­ployed by the CIA.” Levchenko, Barron pointed out, refused to take money from or cooperate with the CIA when he first defected. Instead, Levchenko sought Barron out in late 1979, convinced after reading Barron’s 1974 book KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Agents that he could be trusted. It was then that Levchenko revealed for the first time that the KGB had suspected Shevchenko of being a mole and was planning to call him back to Moscow at the time he defected. Levchenko was told this by KGB agents trying to teach him the dangers of defection. All of this appeared in Barron’s 1983 book.

Epstein, however, asserts that he knows about how the CIA uses defec­tors under contract because “I wrote a book for the [Reader’s] Digest called Legend: The Secret Life of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the CIA sent me Yuri Nosenko.” But here again, Barron writes, “Epstein also is inaccurate, and I fear consciously so, when he claims that the CIA ‘sent’ Yuri Nosenko to him.” Barron writes that Epstein asked him to intercede with the CIA for an interview of Nosenko. The CIA said the decision would have to be Nosenko’s. Nosenko met with Epstein once, and then Epstein made several requests to see Nosenko through Barron again, and Nosenko refused. In the August 26 issue of The New Re­public, Epstein offers further assertions and arguments in response to attacks on his original review. His defense of the driver’s license/traffic ticket charge is an exercise in the absurd. Epstein does seem to have uncovered an ap­parent error in Mr. Shevchenko’s chronology, but this error, admitted to by Shevchenko in a press conference, hardly proves Epstein’s theories of a KGB-and-CIA plot.

Epstein’s first book in 1966 was on the Warren Commission. His 1978 book on Oswald, which he plugs in his latest review, attempted to show that a Soviet defector, Yuri Nosenko, was in reality a mole sent by the Soviets to convince the U.S. that the Soviets were not involved in the assassination of John Kennedy. Nosenko, 21 years later, is presumably biding his time after accomplishing his first mission. It must be a big mission because since his defection in 1964, Nosenko has identified KGB and GRU agents and operations throughout the world. The implication in the original review for The New Republic is that Shevchenko has now been properly installed to disseminate Soviet disinformation. Epstein writes that Georgy Arbatov, head of the Soviet Institute of the U.S. and Canada, “could now claim that one of his former colleagues was a regular commentator ‘in place’ on ABC.” A reasonable and charitable person would conclude Epstein is a professional conspiracymonger. A cynic might conclude he may be an agent of Soviet disinformation. The charitable interpretation of The New Republic is that the decision to publish Epstein is a shameless grab at publici­ty. But wasn’t this practice of recklessly smearing people as Soviet agents gen­erally discredited 30 years ago—along with a certain junior Senator from Wisconsin?

Still, Epstein may have his reasons to “juice up” his own research on Nosenko, Shevchenko, and others. He is under contract to write a book on disinformation for, you guessed it, Mi­chael Korda, editor of Simon and Schuster.

Breaking With Moscow by Arkady Shevchenko; Alfred A. Knopf; New York; $18.95.