Former KGB Says Russia Gathers Kompromat All The Time, Just In Case
A former KGB officer tells Vocativ that Russian spy agencies gather compromising material on everyone from businessmen to politicians
As the row over Donald Trump’s alleged lewd sexual acts in Moscow escalates, a former KGB lieutenant colonel has rubbished the Kremlin’s claims that its spy agencies do not gather kompromat -compromising material – for possible use against public figures.
“The task of intelligence services all over the world is to gather any information whatsoever that could be useful for the state. Compromising material, non-compromising material, material on your allies, materials on your friends – intelligence services are obliged to gather all of this, and if possible record everything. It doesn’t matter who we are talking about – a businessman, a public figure, Jesus Christ himself,” Gennady Gudkov, who served in the KGB from 1981-1992 before continuing his work in the FSB, its successor agency, for another nine years, told Vocativ in an interview.
“Whether this will be used, however, is dictated entirely by circumstances. Your friend today could very well become your enemy tomorrow. And this obviously concerns Trump, too. If a person is under surveillance, then it’s very possible that he could be set up or entrapped. We were prepared very well at the KGB academy, both morally and psychologically, for such things.”
Trump says startling, if uncorroborated claims that he paid prostitutes to urinate on the bed that U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, once slept in during a stay in the opulent presidential suite of an upmarket Moscow hotel are fake.
Russian officials and state media have also been lining up to rubbish accusations that the Kremlin’s FSB spy agency filmed Trump with the prostitutes in Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in 2013, providing President Vladimir Putin with explosive kompromat against the U.S. president-elect.
The allegations were contained in an unverified 35-page dossier believed to have been produced by Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 officer, and handed over to U.S. intelligence and media outlets last year. Steele is now in hiding.
“[The] FSB has compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him,” the dossier says. U.S. intelligence agencies considered the claims serious enough to inform both Trump and Obama of them last week.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, has dismissed the allegations as “pulp fiction” and part of a “witch hunt” to harm U.S.-Russia relations. He also flat out denied that Russia gathers kompromat. His denial was echoed by Nikolai Kovalyov, the ex-head of the FSB, who said Russia would have had no reason to compile compromising material against Trump in 2013.
Gudkov, the former KGB man, who also served as a lawmaker in Russia’s parliament from 2001-2012 before being expelled in apparent revenge for his support for the anti-Putin protest movement, pointed out that recent Russian history is full of examples of kompromat being used against public figures.
Perhaps the most infamous example of the use of kompromat – a word that now seems set to enter the U.S. political lexicon – is that of Yury Skuratov, Russia’s former prosecutor general.
In 1999, Skuratov was investigating claims that Boris Yeltsin, then Russia’s president, and his family members had accepted bribes worth up to $15 million from a Swiss construction company in exchange for a lucrative Kremlin renovation contract. Yeltsin pushed for Skuratov’s resignation, and when he refused to go quietly, Russia’s RTR television channel aired grainy footage that showed the prosecutor general in bed with two prostitutes. The man who reportedly delivered the tape to RTR? Vladimir Putin, then the head of the FSB. Skuratov, who did not dispute the authenticity of the video, was later fired by presidential decree. In an apparent confirmation of the FSB’s penchant for forward planning, the footage is thought to have been filmed months before Skuratov launched his ill-fated investigation.
Putin’s long stay in the Kremlin has also witnessed multiple examples of kompromat.
Most recently, in the fall of 2016, Russian state television broadcast footage of Mikhail Kasyanov, leader of the Parnas opposition party, engaged in an extramarital sexual encounter with his assistant, Natalia Pelevina. The scantily-clad couple could also be heard mocking fellow opposition activists and politicians. The videotape was aired as Russia’s fragmented opposition movement was preparing for that fall’s parliamentary elections, and had the predictable effect of dividing it even further. Kasyanov defied calls for him to stand down as Parnas leader, and several high-profile party members quit as a result. Parnas flopped badly at the elections.
This wasn’t the first time the Russian authorities have gathered kompromat with the aim of discrediting the opposition movement. Sometimes, the consequences have been relatively mild, such as in 2010 when the pro-Putin youth movement, Nashi, allegedly employed a prostitute nicknamed Moomoo to have sex with several Kremlin critics in an apartment full of secret cameras. The resulting footage caused little damage, however. Indeed, Ilya Yashin, a young, unmarried anti-Kremlin activist, even jokingly lauded the videotape as proof of his and other opposition members’ virility.
Other examples of kompromat have resulted in far more serious consequences for those targeted.
In October 2012, the state-controlled television channel NTV aired low-quality footage that purported to show Sergei Udaltsov, a leftist opposition leader, meeting in Belarus with an influential Georgian politician named Givi Targamadze to plot Putin’s violent downfall. The grainy nature of the video meant it was impossible to identify with any certainty the figures in the clip. Udaltsov dismissed the film as “lunacy”, suggesting it was a frame-up put together by the security forces.
“The film shown on NTV is a montage,” he told me when I met him in central Moscow after the film was aired. “We could sit here, drink some tea or something stronger, and say anything. Like, it would be good to organize an uprising, or whatever. And, if they are filming us, they can use this for whatever purpose. I don’t know how they put that recording together, if they took fragments of real conversations from wherever or however.”
Less than two weeks after the NTV documentary had been broadcast, after Russia’s top cop, Alexander Bastrykin, had declared the footage genuine, masked police officers raided Udaltsov’s apartment. In June 2014, he and another leftist activist named Leonid Razvozzhayev were found guilty of planning mass disorder and sentenced to four and half years in prison. An NTV journalist told the Moscow court that he had been handed a disc containing the alleged footage by “some Georgian,” while walking in the street.
Foreigners are also not immune. In August 2009, footage appeared online of Kyle Hatcher, an American diplomat who worked at the U.S. embassy, purportedly having sex with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room. The U.S. embassy insisted the footage was fake, but Hatcher was reassigned to the Caribbean. That same year, British diplomat James Hudson was forced to resign after footage of him with Russian call girls was posted online.
We may never know the truth about the lurid allegations against Trump. Staff at the Ritz Carlton hotel, whose upper floors overlook the Kremlin and Red Square, were tight-lipped about his 2013 visit when questioned by Vocativ on Thursday. “Even if I did know anything, I wouldn’t tell you,” smiled a hotel employee.
As for the Kremlin’s insistence that it does not collect kompromat, however, all the available evidence seems to suggest that this assertion is – to borrow a term from the controversy-prone US president elect – phony.