The KGB's Ninth Division was established under Yury Andropov to protect Soviet leaders and high-profile foreign guests. KGB officer Valeriy Velichko played an essential role in founding of the institution. Today, Velichko chairs the Vega State Security Veterans Club. He is also the publisher of the project "Lubyanka." KP asked Velichko to share some insider information from his time protecting Soviet leaders. Read how today's leaders are protected in the next issue of our weekly.
Snipers storm apartment over TV remote control
Velichko rarely speaks with journalists, but decided to make an exception for KP.
- I'm a physicist by education. I worked at an engineering department developing rocket engines for "Energy." Later I worked as a KGB counterintelligence officer. In 1985, I became the assistant to the state protection department head and subsequently ran the so-called Ninth Division. I was tasked with protecting Russian and foreign civil servants. I handled all the visits made by Reagan, Mitterand and Bush to Russia, as well as several Palestinian leaders.
- Did anything ever occur?
- There were a number of curious incidents. When Gorbachev and his family first went to Foros, his daughter tried to open the curtains and the ledge fell on her head. She wasn't injured, but everyone party to the incident (about 15 people) was fired. Several Socialist Labor Heroes ended up without a job. We had a Ninth Division deputy head — a remarkable engineer who received the honor of Socialist Labor Hero on two different occasions — who was let go because because of what happened.
...It was during the May 1 celebrations in Moscow. The time was 10:00 on the nose. Everything had been checked thoroughly and our stations were set up. Soviet state officials began climbing the stairs to Lenin's Mausoleum when all the sudden a huge black cloud of smoke could be seen above the GUM department store. Someone looking at the Spasskaya Tower passed the word along that the Nikolskaya Tower was burning. But it turned out some crank had decided to protest by burning a tire on an electric hotplate.
...And right over here (Velichko points to a building), I had positioned snipers when Reagan and Bush stayed at a home near the embassy. If somebody would have tried to climb on this rooftop...! I remember Bush was leaving (ed. It was during a visit while Gorbachev was in office.) and the snipers told me: "Pay close attention to some house or the other." And I looked through my binoculars and saw a man sitting behind a curtain with some remote in his hand. Bush had already left and I couldn't stop him and bring him back. He was on a political visit and such a move would result in an international outcry. So I gave the command to my men to find the individual immediately. Within three minutes my guys had found the apartment, stormed in and indeed the supposed terrorist was standing there next to the window looking at the street with... a TV remote control in his hands! He had been changing the channels. The whole time the snipers were waiting for my command to open fire.
- Were there ever any victims?
- No. We were able to check all our leads before making the decision to shoot. But I was always in very stressful situations.
- I was responsible for handling the Bolshoy Theater that Gorbachev loved to visit with his wife Raisa. And ever since I hate the Bolshoy! Several days before the VIPs visited the theater, I held an operational and technical inspection of the premises. The standard of the inspection was such... For example, I would place a bullet in some place or another like the cellar or attic. If my guys didn't find the ammunition, then the check was executed poorly. We had trained dogs on the job, gas analyzers...
But the theater hadn't been remodeled since the 1930s and we discovered all the armature had rotted. So I wrote an official report stating that it was dangerous to hold mass events at the Bolshoy as the building was in decay. But Gorbachev wrote back with the zeal of a Komsomol saying an exception must be made.
...When I first accompanied Gorbachev and his wife to Washington DC, I worked with Raisa and we were making a visit to the ambassador's wife. And out of the blue I saw the Americans suddenly running over. "What happened?" I asked. "You Russians sure are strange," they said. "Why is Raisa Gorbacheva going out among people? We don't have control of the situation!" Their leaders didn't have the right to break the rules, while Gorbachev was able to stop a procession whenever he chose.
Heading abroad with the ZiL!
- I'll explain why we took our ZiL automobiles with us during our official state visits abroad. It sure did cost a lot! But it all started when Nikita Khrushev flew to the U.S. The Americans gave him a Cadillac to ride around in. And when the negotiations ended, Khrushev sat in the car with his ministers and talked about how stupid the Americans were and how he was going to turn them around his finger the next day. But the Cadillac was bugged. When our intelligence unit found out and explained everything to Khrushev — that the Americans had heard the whole conversation — the party leader just waved it off and said he'd give the Americans their gruel!
And so it turned out to be cheaper to ship an automobile halfway across the world than to lose important state negotiations due to an informational leak. I told participants of official state visits to consider they were being listened to at all times.
- Did you find bugs in Gorbachev's office?
- That's a secret for now.
Black guards impress Raisa
- Once during a visit to the U.S., Raisa was really impressed by the black guards at the White House. She wanted to be protected along with her husband by a big "brickhouse." So we had to give her one for appearance's sake. We have tough guys in our Alfa units, but they've been taught to attack and take things by storm. These chaps can knock a door down with their forehead, but they don't know how to act delicately. And Raisa and her husband were walking along, talking and the "forehead" wouldn't give them an inch. So Raisa asked us to give her back a cultured guard.
Once she went onto the street and the operating officer was sitting in the bushes.
- "Young man, could I talk to you for a moment?" she asked him. "What's your education? You don't have a higher education?! You don't know any foreign languages?"
- "Well I studied German in school," he said.
- "Mikhail, look, we're being guarded by people who don't know any languages! How can we trust them with our lives?" she said.
So someone else was sent in to man the bushes. He had graduated from two academies and knew several foreign languages. A few weeks later he handed in his papers. He couldn't bear the "sitting" any longer. So he ended up going back to his previous place of employment.
Conspiracy first and foremost
- Which leaders do you remember most for their strange behavior?
- Former President of Finland Urkho Kekkonen came to Moscow and was given a guard. But it turned out Kekkonen was a big fan of long morning jogs. The guard kept up with him, of course, but he didn't have enough energy left to execute his duties as required. So we immediately found a new guard who was a professional runner.
... It was difficult to work with Arafat. He never flew in on time because he always thought there was a conspiracy. Castro's protective service head said that the Cuban leader once flew to Venezuela to attend a presidential inauguration. Many of his enemies were there. His guards had asked him not to go, but he replied: "What do you want? Me to die in my bed? I'm a revolutionist. I have to die like a revolutionist — in battle. Your job is to make sure that happens as late as possible." He said that he didn't even know which automobile or airplane Castro took because he would change vehicles when he entered a tunnel. Over 600 assassination attempts were made on his life. But his guards were always in top form.
Who fired the shot?
- When I was made assistant to the state protection department head, the first thing I did was request all the files about assassination attempts in the Soviet period. I wanted to learn from past experience. But I learned that many archives had been destroyed. The only documents I received concerned an assassination attempt on Stalin. It was the renowned Shilova-Tavrin case. Stalin was supposed to be killed on a motorcycle, but the culprit was exposed by a counterintelligence officer. The second assassination attempt on Stalin was made by an individual who misfired and shot Mikoyan instead. We received about 300 signals per year about assassination attempts against highly positioned state leaders. So we would change our transport routes or send off two processions as opposed to one. There were times when we gave the "green light" to only one procession on accident and forgot about the second procession where Gorbachev was actually riding.
Two assassination attempts on Gorbachev are known. The mentally ill Shmonov attempted to shoot him during a demonstration in November 1990 on the Red Square. Later he gave me a book that he published himself about why he was shooting at Gorbachev. And another resident of Georgia tried to kill Gorbachev during a demonstration in 1987 using a homemade pistol. But the firearm went off in his pocket and injured him instead.
Journalist against Reagan
Generals of the former Ninth Division are proud to have prevented an assassination attempt on Reagan in Moscow. In 1988, they received a warning that a journalist who would be accredited during Reagan's visit was intent on committing an act of terrorism — to kill two presidents at once: Reagan and Gorbachev. They took action. The journalist turned out to be terminally ill with cancer. He had received a large sum — over 6 figures — to commit the crime. But he was caught and deported from the country.
Medvedev and Putin — Protected by the Federal Protective Service
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev are guarded by Federal Protective Service employees.
The president works with the officers who he received when first entering the Kremlin before his inauguration. The prime minister continues to be guarded by officers who protected him during his 8 years as president.
The Federal Protective Service is run by General Evgeniy Murov.
Valeriy Nikolaevich Velichko
Valeriy Nikolaevich Velichko worked in state protective organs from 1973 for around 25 years. Today he is the chairman of the Vega State Security Veterans Club and general director of the Center Bureau of Protecting Commercial Structures.
See the photo gallery: How state leaders are protected
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