KGB Directorate S Andropov

Andropov & KGB Directorate S

Major General Yuri Drozdov, the legendary last chief of Directorate S (Illegals) within the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (FCD – Foreign Intelligence) tells of working with KGB Chairman and future General Secretary Yuri Andropov. Andropov was known for his sophisticated approach to intelligence matters, and was a generous patron to Directorate S.

There were many leaders with whom I was to meet and work: Yuri Andropov, Andrei Gromyko, Boris Ponomarev, Viktor Chebrikov, Vladimir Kryuchkov, and others. On these meetings and conversations I could speak much and for a long time. I’ll say just a few words on Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov.

In recent times more is being written about Yuri Vladimirovich – as a KGB chairman, diplomat, and man overall – both here in Russia and abroad. 

In all my life I haven’t seen one nice politician. If a politician wants to be nice both to his own people and to others, he’s obviously in the wrong profession. Any state actor defends the interests of his state. Every state has its own history, occupies a certain place in the world, and has a traditional type of relationship with one or another country. Yuri Andropov knew that well and understood it. He was a son of his country and his time, and he acted in the spirit of that time.

I will speak of Yuri Andropov only as the head of the Committee for State Security (KGB), who directly ran the activities of illegal intelligence.

Our first acquaintance relates to the winter of 1964. I was called to the Center for a report about work on China and Southeast Asia.

After the report KGB Chairman Semichastny called Andropov at the CPSU Central Committee and reported that the intelligence resident had arrived from Beijing. Andropov requested for me to be sent to him immediately for a discussion.

Soviet Staraya Square Moscow
The view from Lubyanka: Staraya Square, headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).

I still remember that office on Staraya Square. I remember how he stood up from behind the desk and came toward me with a smile. We introduced ourselves, said hello, and he asked me, “Sit down; tell me of all your impressions that have formed after a half a year’s arrival there in China…”

I noted that much time would be required for that, which would hardly be permissible to take away from a secretary of the Central Committee. Smiling, he “ordered:” “Start in, tell me…For China we have sufficient time…”

The meeting continued around four hours. Yuri Vladimirovich knew how to listen and ask questions, how to always be active, and he brought others who came into his office into the conversation to participate.

Yuri Drozdov w wife 1957
KGB illegal Yuri Drozdov with his wife in 1957, the time of this service in Germany.

He treated attentively the impressions of a “fresh” man who had been transferred to the Far East after many years of work in Germany, to a country that began to present a serious concern for us. To a country in which our intelligence service, our army, and our state figures still recently, during the “friendly” period and during the period of civil war had rendered substantial assistance in the resolution of political and military questions. I don’t know how valuable the information I reported in that conversation was. But Andropov was interested namely in my impressions, observations, and point of view on how to cut the knot of Soviet-Chinese contradictions.

Knowing the essence of the matter, I noted jokingly: “Clearly it follows to rely on Marxism-Leninism, then Maoism, and then enlighten everything, and everything aside from Marxism can be cut away.” He smiled and answered that they had already tried that…To his offer to go to work in the Central Committee apparatus I answered with a refusal. Again he smiled: “Well think about it, think about it…” And when in a few years he would fly with Aleksei Kosygin to China, Yuri Vladimirovich would remind me of our conversation on the staircase at the embassy and “warned” me that we’d see each other again.

The next time we met was in 1968, when I had returned home, and he had already become chairman of the KGB. “So we meet again, and we’ll be working together,” he said.

Clearly my notes “Four Years in China” brought him to send me to the FCD’s Chinese Department and then return me to Directorate S.

How he and FCD chief Aleksandr Sakharovsky decided my fate is unknown to me until this day. Calling me in, Sakharovsky passed on the KGB chairman’s decision on my nomination as the new chief of illegal intelligence. I acceded, but I warned him that the process of getting “broken in” to a new leadership group could be difficult over friction that had taken place in 1963 over questions of organizing work. Sakharovsky asked me to carefully acquaint myself with Andropov’s views on the activity of illegal intelligence. He emphasized that the period of searching for a way was over and summed it up: “Inside the Directorate you can try things out, search, change, and do what you want, but Directorate S should find its place. Andropov asked me to pass that to you.”

So occurred my return to illegal intelligence. I am quite grateful to the collective of the whole Directorate for help – although with resistance at times – in resolving the most acute issues of intelligence work.

Andropov was not inaccessible. He lived the problems of illegal intelligence and thought together with us about the paths of its development. Much of what he spoke about we attempted to make a reality. From his past in the war, he knew how complex and dangerous the craft of intelligence was. He lived the lives of illegals and met with them. He brought all the participants of a meeting into conversations, chided those who stayed silent, and allowed us to argue and not agree with him. Yuri Vladimirovich didn’t always like when he met objections, but he knew how to provide the person who objected with the possibility of proving their correctness through consequent actions. He accepted objections that were, as we say, materialized and confirmed by convincing arguments, the results of serious work.

Andropov was deeply interested in the cultivation of perseverance, loyalty, and stoicism among intelligence officers in risky situations, in the case of capture by the enemy. After all, each of them would experience the state that was familiar to partisans who went behind enemy lines: you can act and risk your life, or you can just sit around. So it was.

One time we invited him to go and award the Order of the Red Banner to a foreign illegal who had to undergo a lot while carrying out his mission. He agreed. An interesting and lively conversation took place between them. Andropov somehow departed away from his high post, and having awarded the order, simply congratulated him as a comrade. On the way back in the car he suddenly asked:

“Tell me, Yuri Ivanovich, why does a foreigner, a former ideological enemy, serve the cause of socialism more loyally than our compatriot?”

“He serves in illegal intelligence, Yuri Vladimirovich,” I answered. “It’s not customary for us to tell an illegal an untruth and deceive him. He himself has the right to express everything, even the most unpleasant things. Without that there wouldn’t be any trust.” Andropov was silent, and then uttered, “Yes, there is much for us to correct.”

KGB Collegium 1982
Yuri Andropov (seated center left) with the KGB Collegium in 1982. Pictured are deputy chairmen and chiefs of directorates. Vladimir Kryuchkov, chief of the FCD (Foreign Intelligence) is standing to his upper left.

Andropov attentively followed the course of illegal operations, and some he knew in detail. Sometimes he couldn’t wait to find out something new, but he stopped himself, subordinating his wishes to rules of communication and the most stringent tradecraft.

I remember that when one of our illegals successfully completed a complex operation, the information we found out about the designs of our adversaries against the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries perturbed him. Be began to approach information from illegal intelligence with even greater attention. Before his departure from the KGB to Staraya Square again, to his last state-political post, he met with the leadership of illegal intelligence. He was already seriously ill, but considered it his duty to say farewell to us. Being tremendously well-informed on the situation in the world and in our country, he was able in sparse, though weighty words to set tasks, the execution of which has confirmed his conclusions to this day.

From his name Andropov requested that we radio all active illegal intelligence officers on his pronouncement of gratitude for their work. Our radio operators and cryptographers transmitted his last message for almost a whole month, and they received responses that went immediately to him at Staraya Square.

He departed from life impermissibly early.


And so in the second half of October 1979, we said farewell to New York and returned to Moscow. It was a golden autumn. I thought that while I my position was being formalized, I would be able to take care of my apartment and the dacha on which I “wasted” all my accumulated money.

A few days after my return, I was in KGB Chairman Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov’s reception room. Usually with an appointment to one’s previous position, having a conversation at this level wasn’t presumed. My briefing had already been written in New York, the question of my work resolved, and I simply needed to begin my job.

Andropov was clearly satisfied by the results of the residency’s work and immediately crossed over to a new problem. He said that the KGB’s leadership decided to bring changes into the plans for my use. “Vadim Kirpichenko is being transferred to other work. He’s on a trip right now, by the way. But we’re offering you the position of chief of Directorate S, all the more so since you’ve undergone the path from a rank-and-file officer to deputy chief, and you know everything therein.

He briefly described the situation; defined the basic operational directions of our work; clarified the mission of Directorate S; warmly said goodbye and advised me to “gear up.” Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kryuchkov, present during the discussion, asked me to turn my attention to Afghanistan.

Yuri Drozdov Directorate S
The leadership of KGB Directorate S in the 1970s: Yuri Drozdov is on the far left, directorate head Vadim Kirpichenko is center. Drozdov would become chief of Directorate S in 1979.

After the conversation with Andropov, I returned to office no. 655 at Lubyanka, now my office, overflowing with directives from the KGB chairman and chief of intelligence, as well as my own thoughts induced by this appointment.

What did Andropov say? He again emphasized that the determination of and search for illegal intelligence’s role in the intelligence system, protracted for many years, were long finished. He was satisfied with the practical results achieved by illegals over the last 10 years in the directions of combat work determined for them (active intelligence to prevent a surprise nuclear missile attack on our Motherland). A number of operations begun in the 1970’s were developing positively. We could not deviate from this direction, whatever changes happened in other units. Andropov advised me to carefully relate to the past experience of illegals’ activities – to cast away everything that became known to the opponent from traitors and as a result of failures, and ever to search out the new, but also the brave and bold, not forgetting tradecraft and diversionary maneuvers. It was then he recalled still another set of cases that we started well before my departure to the United States.

In conclusion Andropov stressed that illegal intelligence should live and work by its laws and rules and be maximally autonomous in the general foreign intelligence system, and he provided us the right to independently inform him and the Politburo (Instantsiya) in cases when this would be dictated by the security interests of illegals and their agents. (How thankful I was to him for all those years for this decision, although it sometimes also complicated our relations with the FCD’s Information Service, since we had begun to “acquaint” it with our data that gradually acquired an ever more weighty and substantive character.)

Afterward I had to act independently myself, leaning on the leadership and operational staff of Directorate S – illegal intelligence – which during my absence had strengthened thanks to the efforts of Vadim Kirpichenko.

On November 14th, 1979, I was confirmed in my new position, and for a good 12 years I bound my life to the tense and permanently restless life of illegal intelligence.


Work Translated: Дроздов, Ю.И. Вымысел исключен. Записки начальника нелегальной разведки. Артстиль-полиграфия. М: 2009.

Translated by Mark Hackard.

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