Never Before Published: KGB Training Manual Reveals Soviet Failings in the Middle East

Soviet intelligence efforts in the late 20th century for influence in the region were thwarted by Israel's unexpected gains in the Six-Day War, document acquired by The Daily Beast shows

File photo: Lubyanka Square, the popular name for Soviet KGB headquarters pictured in 1991.
Vladimir Fedorenko / Wiki Commons

A trove of never-before-published documents belonging to the KGB, the Soviet Union's main security agency, reveals the organization's self-assessed failings of its intelligence efforts in the late 20th century Middle East, including during Israel's wars in 1967 and 1973.

The document "Acquisition and Preparation," acquired by The Daily Beast, is part of a KGB training manual. It can be read, according to the report, as an "epitaph on KGB penetration of Arab nations published less than a year before the Wall came down and the Cold War receded."

It's these losses, the report finds, that Russian president Vladamir Putin has set out to rectify "with a vengeance" in his current foreign policy efforts in the region. Putin served as an operative in the KGB from 1975 to 1991.

More specifically, the document examines manpower and tradecraft necessary to recruit American officials as spies in a time when U.S. counterintelligence was undergoing a period of increased aptitude.

Soviet efforts vying for influence in the region were thwarted, the documents show, by the Six-Day War. As the dominant weapons-supplier to Egypt, the Soviets "failed badly" to anticipate Israel's overwhelming gains in 1967. But thanks to improved intelligence, the Soviets proved far more prepared in 1973 when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Yom Kippur. "Washington was caught blind, deaf and dumb," in that war, the report reads, but Moscow was not.

The report notes, however, that what was celebrated as a Soviet gain in 1973 became the rise of Henry Kissinger to the position of U.S. diplomatic power broker in the region, an unintended consequence of the war that sped up the decline of Soviet influence in Egypt and the Middle East.

The KGB document also went on to highlight, says the report, one successful recruit within the inner circle of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sami Sharaf. However, the CIA knew of Sharaf's identity as a Moscow spy, then employing its own mole in Moscow. Not long after Sadat set out to arrest Sharaf and other pro-Soviet plotters, known collectively as the "crocodiles," he pivoted toward Jimmy Carter's favor and flew to Tel Aviv for his now-famous gesture of peace. 

Clichés on the part of Soviet intelligence, such as stereotyping Arab actors as merely looking to snag a sweet deal, were just one of the errors that led to the Soviet Union's decline not only in the Middle East and ultimately its collapse, reporter Michael Weiss claimed.