INTERVIEW WITH SANDY GRIMES - 30.1.98
INTERVIEWER: Sandy, I want you just tell me how you got involved in the Dmitri Polyakov case and what your job was, I suppose without sort of breaking too many official secrets, but what job were you doing when Polyakov sort of came into your life and what was your role in all that?
SANDY GRIMES: I first became involved in the Polyakov case, it was in the fall of 1967. I had joined the agency in July, joined CIA in July of that same year and was assigned to the Soviet... what was then the Soviet bloc division and specifically to the GRU branch. Now, I thought when I first got there that the GRU branch was responsible for advising our geographic components on how to run operations against GRU officers. Little did I know until that Fall that it was really cover for the Polyakov case, so quite a way to start a career, but that was the first thing I was introduced to and I was what I described the low man on the totem pole. I ran the Xerox machine, I did all the filing, extracted what we called personality information, that he reported on various Soviets or other nationalities on to three by five cards on a typewriter, a non-electric typewriter, and I didn't know how to type, and I used Scotch tape and scissors to extract his reporting on particular subjects, whether it be GRU, cameras, the KGB, in Rangoon and I cut and pasted.
INT: How important was Dmitri Polyakov, what sort of spread of information was he giving you?
SG: In order to understand how important Polyakov was, and of course initially I certainly didn't understand it, I didn't know anything about spying, I didn't know anything about spies, so in some respects he was my first teacher., but you have to understand the Soviet system, to understand the breadth of information he was giving us. First, he was a Soviet military officer and as such he had access to reporting on tanks, missiles, Soviet military philosophy, the whole spectrum. He was also an intelligence officer, so that he could provide us everything on the GRU's agents, their modus operandae, where they where running operations, why they were up running operations, identify all their officers, and in some respects, most important in terms of the value of what he reported, or at least as important as the military information, was because he was a member of the GRU, but one of the top Soviet organizations, GRU, KGB and FAR Party. he had access to Soviet foreign policy as well and economic policy, and certainly as he rose up within his service and rose in rank from Lieutenant Colonel to General that just expanded.
INT: In terms of the other of the other defectors or agents in place, whatever you want to call them, in Cold War history, a sort of global sense, how important do you rate Dmitri Polyakov?
SG: I would say that he was absolutely at the top., there's a book by Tom Clancy called 'Cardinal of the Kremlin' and that's what Polyakov was, at least to me, and I think to all of us who were involved in his case.
INT: I'm going to ask you to do it again because I don't want you to refer to the book.
INT: I want you to say Polyakov at the beginning.
INT: Um, I mean there were obviously other agents who supply information, some great names Popov and Penkovsky and so on and so forth, how significant in the full range of the Cold War do you believe Dmitri Polyakov to have been?
SG: I believe Polyakov was the crown jewel. He was the one, the standard set that I'm not so certain that, it will ever be achieved again by any intelligence service in the world, for two reasons. Two reasons, one because, as I stated earlier, he had access to geo...
INT: Talk to me about he value of this man.
SG: Polyakov was our crown jewel,... the best source at least to my knowledge that American intelligence has ever had and I would submit, although I certainly can't be certain, but the best source that any intelligence service has ever had. There was really no one to compare him to, because he worked for us for so many years and he achieved such a rank that rather than us looking at an organization through the eyes of one of our sources, looking at that organization from the bottom up, with Polyakov eventually we were able to look at that organization, the GRU, his organization, from the top down, as well as look at the KGB and the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Communist Party apparatus, again through Polyakov's eyes, from the top to the tops of the other organizations and it's very unique. The perspective certainly is a lot different when you're the CFO or a corporation than if you're the secretary in a middle manager's office.
INT: Did you have any understanding... can you tell us as clearly as possible why he decided to work for the West and what you can tell us about his motivation?
SG: In my opinion they were rather simple reasons why he decided to work for the West
SG: In my opinion, the reasons Polyakov decided to work for us were not terribly complex, because I believed he was rather a simple man with simple tastes, but he was also a man that was very principled and he loved his country. He was a Russian first and foremost and he was always going to be a Russian and he loved his people. What he didn't love was the leaders of his country. He didn't love the system that they had established and he combined this with his view, again his perception of the United States and the western world and I think he believed that we were not strong enough to fight the Soviet system, that the Russian leaders were going to win and he could play a role in assisting us, that we did not stand a chance unless he participated on our side.
INT: That's very interesting. So in effect, there's a picture that you get from him of a level of ruthlessness that the Soviets are going to go all the way.
SG: I think Polyakov was afraid of that because he didn't...
SG: I think Polyakov was afraid that the Soviets might... that their goal was world domination and he didn't want that for himself, for the Russian people and he certainly didn't want it for his family and because... Can I start again?
INT: Yes you can start again...
INT: Sandy, what do you think that Polyakov... tell me about his fears and the thoughts that he expressed, as it were, what the Soviet Union might be capable of, how far they were prepared to go and... therefore how urgent, as it were, it became that he passed information on to you?
SG: Well, I think Polyakov had such a distrust of the Soviet leadership, that he was fearful that they might take any action. It was something he couldn't predict. That, combined with what his perception of the United States was, that we were weak, that we wouldn't face up to the Soviets, frightened him and he truly believed that this was a war. we weren't shooting at one another, but it certainly could come to that and his role was to assist us in any way he could, not just assist the United States, he viewed us obviously as the military power, but assist the western world in countering the Soviet leadership and where he saw his country going.
INT: How good was his trade craft, 'cos this is a guy, as I understand it, who's spied for a very, very long time, and didn't get caught by his own actions. Can you tell me anything about how he worked? I mean don't make it too technical for us, but you know, this is a long time to be doing something as dangerous as he was doing?
SG: Um, Polyakov was a consummate intelligence officer. He knew or certainly believed and in many respects he was absolutely right. He knew how to operate in Moscow far better than we knew. We followed his lead on dead-drops that should be selected, where to put 'em down, when to pick them up. He considered himself an expert in what we term internal communications, and he was. So, that combined with his very cautious personality, a man who would only take risks if he felt that the information was justified, acquiring that information was justified, would do so. We really had very few worries that Polyakov was going to do something to put himself at risk, in harm's way.
INT: Um, did you ever get the impression from him... do you know of anything that would help us understand the degree to which he was aware of the risks that he was running if he were caught?
SG: Polyakov was completely aware of the risks, and from the moment he volunteered to the bureau, to the FBI, he was aware of the risks. He knew that if he were caught, he would be sentenced to die, he would be taken into the room, asked to kneel down and be shot in the head. no there was nothing in his mind that would mitigate his understanding of those risks, he was well aware of what was facing him if he were caught.