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In simplest terms, the defector may reach the conclusion that he is being treated inhumanely, without consideration for his importance and previous accomplishments, by persons of lower social rank than he perceives appropriate and in an unfriendly setting. Objectively, this may not be the case at all, but what counts are the defector's impressions and conclusions about his status.

History, organizational developments, and bureaucratic considerations of and within the '.s. intelligence agencies have led to the situation that defector handling is not necessarily or primarily the job of those who can establish empathy with Russians, or who have intimate knowledge of Soviet realities, social mores, culture, history, or living conditions. Handlers may have insufficient understanding of the Russians' emotional requirements including the extent to which Russians depend human contact for entertainment.

The need to provide defectors with appropriate human relations and psychological as well as material support has been of continuing concern to those handling defectors in the United States, but recognition of the problem is far easier than its resolution.


The redefection of Lt. Colonel Vitali Yurchenko in 1985 brought the C.I.A.'s competence in defector handling once again into the focus of public attention. This is not the time or place to determine the degree, if any, of C.I.A.'s culpability in the affair, but there have been sufficiently disturbing aspects surrounding the Yurchenko case that questions were bound to arise with respect to the adequacy of integration of the various elements required for the secure and efficient exploitation of defectors.

A spectacular redefection like that of Yurchenko hurts our cause in more ways than one. Apart from the loss of benefits because of prematurely terminated interrogation, there is loss of prestige, demoralization, and time-wasting search for blame within our own ranks. More importantly, however, a potent weapon is provided to the Soviet state security services with which to discourage further defections.

The latter is of ever-present concern to the Soviets whose concepts of state security, even in these more open days of Gorbachev, remain at the quasi-paranoid level. Careful screening, special indoctrination, psychological preparation, testing, even keeping de facto hostages are routinely employed measures for securing the good behavior of those given permission to travel abroad. Soviet delegations are accompanied by security personnel to monitor the foreign contacts and activities of delegation members. The Soviet practice of having most of their people in foreign countries housed in Soviet compounds and the virtual sequestering of groups of traveling Russians, whether tourist, athletes, economic delegations, influenced by security



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I do not mean to suggest that in the absence of such security measures most Russians who have the opportunity to travel abroad would defect, but the record shows that all the protective measures have been unable to prevent a tiny but significant and continuing trickle of defections. There always have been and there will continue to be people who will free themselves of all the restraining factors. This is not necessarily or solely the result of Communist pressures. As we suggested earlier, the urge among Eastern Europeans to move West has been a motivating force over many centuries, reflected in the movements of many millions of people long before the establishment of the Soviet Union or of the so-called Peoples' Democracies. What is different today is that because of travel restrictions most of the defectors are from among the ranks of the selected few who are abroad with official permission.

What Is to Be Expected

It is a certainty that defections from East to West will continue and that defectors will provide human drama and valuable intelligence along with occasional headaches and frustrations.

Regardless of the American Administration in office in Washington, the Western World and the United States in particular remain a magnet and a dream, best symbolized by the Statue of Liberty known the world over. Many, many millions can identify with the concept so beautifully expressed by Winston Churchill on May 3, 1941, in the darkest hours of Great Britain at war:

and not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look, the land is bright.

As long as that land in the West is seen to be bright, there will be defectors. Our task is to match the quality of our handling of them with their potential.

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*Uri Ra'anan is Professor of International Politics and Director of the International Security Studies Program, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, as well as Fellow of Harvard University's Russian Research Center. Major portions of this testimony appear in a chapter (written by Professors Uri Ra'anan and Richard H. Shultz), under the title of "Methodologies for Assessing and Projecting Soviet Strategic Defense and Arms Control Policy,“ in a forthcoming book on Emerging. Doctrines and Technologies: Implications for Global and Regional PoliticalMilitary Balances.. Lexington Books, 1987, as well as (in article form) in Strategic Review, Vol. XV. No. 2, under the title of "Oral History: A Neglected Dimension of Sovietology,", also coauthored with Professor Richard H. Shulta, whose invaluable contribution is acknowledged hereby.


In order to comprehend fully the significant contribution that

may be made by Oral History Projects, it is essential to grasp the

problems and the scope of other, more traditional, approaches practiced by Sovietologists, as well as the constraints within which the art of interpreting the functioning of the Soviet system


Analysts of the USSR are obliged to grapple with two

fundamental misconceptions concerning the modus operandi of the

Soviet leadership:

One of these was articulated by that otherwise most admirable

of statesmen, Winston Churchill, for whom the USSR was "a riddle within an enigma inside a sphinx." This was a recipe for

abandonment of any attempt to decipher the workings of the Soviet

system, since there is no point, obviously, in making efforts that

are foredoomed to failure.

The other misleading concept, which is no less damaging to the

art of analyzing Soviet affairs, belongs essentially to the category of "mirror imaging." In that particular case, one has to proceed from the assumption that "the USSR is not much of a

mystery, since it functions, in all probability, pretty well as we

do, with a few cultural idiosyncrasies, to be sure."

Such an

approach may not be a prescription for giving up, but, regrettably,

it is simply misleading.

Those who subscribe to such a view

habitually resort to gems of media oversimplification, with
considerable emphasis on terms like "hawks" and "doves,"
"moderates" and "hardliners," with a particular penchant for
"resource allocation,“ usually preceded by the words "lobbying



The imagination boggles a little at the thought of Admiral

of the Fleet Vladimir Chernavin "lobbying" members of the Supreme

Soviet for "naval allocations."

Such an approach, of course, fails

to take into account the fundamental "cultural" peculiarities of

the Soviet leadership

and here the reference is less to

anthropology, language, literature, and history than to profound

differences between open societies and the type of polities to

which the Soviet state belongs.


The modus_cperandi (and the related operational jargon) of the

USSR reveals startling similarities with other closed societies, of the past as well as the present, at the state and even the sub

state level, producing analogies which appear to be no less

relevant than lessons learned from Russian history under the Tsars

or the Grand Dukes of Moscow.1

These analcgies suggest that "mirror imaging" does not provide

us with useful criteria for the comprehension of Soviet affairs,

and also that, despite Winston Churchill and others who have

followed in his path, there are methodological keys for opening the

locks of the doors behind which the Soviet leadership conducts its



One of these keys, paradoxically, relates to the inability of

"monolithic" systems to terminate the workings of the political

process altogether by means of a fiat or ukase.

Whatever the

1 This is not to suggest, of course, that Russian history is unimportant merely that there are other factors that play a crucial role.

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