Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 216

Vladimir Galkin, a former mid-level Soviet KGB agent, returned home a hero on November 17 following a U.S. Justice Department decision to drop espionage charges against him. The November 14 court decision brought to a close a spy wrangle that had begun with Galkin’s arrest by the FBI on October 29 and that escalated into a major confrontation between the U.S. and Russian intelligence communities. Moscow had described the arrest of the former intelligence officer as a dirty trick, and had repeatedly warned that it would retaliate in kind — probably against retired U.S. intelligence personnel working in Russia. (See Monitor, November 6, 11) Indeed, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic counter-intelligence agency, told reporters on November 15 that the FSB had prepared a "retaliation target list" for use in the event that Galkin was not released.

In the end, the convergence of developments on several fronts appeared to force the embarrassing retreat by U.S. authorities. The CIA, which according to a Justice Department statement had not originally opposed the plans to arrest Galkin, apparently took heed of the threats from Moscow and advised Galkin’s release. The State Department concurred. Finally, an 11th hour appeal from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to U.S. vice president Al Gore appeared also to have played a role in the decision.

In Moscow, representatives of the intelligence community welcomed the U.S. action, and said that it had averted a major diplomatic fall-out between Moscow and Washington. The same officials also made clear, however, that they remained angry over the incident. They suggested that strained relations between the intelligence communities of the two countries might linger, and intimated that joint actions in such areas as the fight against organized crime could be adversely affected. (Russian and U.S. agencies, November 14-17)

Doubts Over Authenticity of Kremlingate Tape.