Don't Mention the KGB!

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month, April 8–9 and 12, the Cato Institute is hosting a conference
in Moscow and St. Petersburg entitled “A
Liberal Agenda for the New Century: A Global Perspective
” and
co-sponsored with The Institute of Economic Analysis and The Russian
Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

Putin, president of the Russian Federation, will give the opening
address. My guess is that he was invited to speak in order to provide
legitimacy in Russian eyes and so boost attendance at the conference.
Why else invite the Autocrat of all the Russias to address a Cato
conference? What
is remarkable, however, is how Cato describes or, more accurately,
doesn’t describe the Russian president
. “Putin graduated from
the law department of the Leningrad State University in 1975. After
graduation he worked at the Foreign Intelligence Service and in
Germany. After his return to Leningrad, Putin became an aide to
the vice-president of the Leningrad State University in charge of
international issues.”

reader would not realize from this that the Foreign Intelligence
Service was a branch of the KGB for which Putin worked for sixteen
years. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect Cato to provide this sort of
detail in this context except that even his
official biography
explains that “After graduation, Mr. Putin
was assigned to work in the KGB. From 1985 to 1990, he worked in
East Germany.”

I fully expected, the irony is that the public broadcasters National
Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corporation publish more
complete biographies of Vladimir Putin than does the Cato Institute.
The NPR website carries a
detailed account of his career in the KGB
. There we are informed
that in 1975 he “graduates from the law department of Leningrad
State University” and “joins the KGB’s Foreign Intelligence Service.”
In 1985–90 he “is assigned to work for the KGB in East Germany”
and in 1990 “becomes assistant rector for international affairs
at Leningrad State University.” Finally, on August 20, 1991 he “resigns
from the KGB” but later, July 1998–August 1999, he “serves
as director of the Federal Security Service, a successor agency
to the KGB.”

the inquiring reader can turn to the account on the BBC website.
I should point out that the BBC is the organization which Tom G.
Palmer, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, demonizes as the Ba'athist
Broadcasting Corporation. He claims that it is “afraid to assert
the universal value of freedom and surrender[s] when faced with
renewed anti-Semitism, hate-mongering, violent attacks on the innocent,
and a frontal assault on civilization itself.” (See his
comments for January 17 and 25, 2004
) I must say I find this
a bit overwrought, to say the least. Indeed, all this talk about
“renewed anti-Semitism, hate-mongering, violent attacks on the innocent,
and a frontal assault on civilization itself” reminds me of nothing
so much as the KGB itself. And certainly the BBC is a more reliable
source of information about Putin’s career than that available at
the Cato website. The
BBC states:

in Leningrad, six months before the death of Stalin, the young
Putin experienced a poverty-stricken childhood tempered by a good
education. He developed lifelong passions for judo and spy novels,
and first applied to the KGB at the age of 17. When they told
him to go away and come back with a degree, he complied with an
efficiency that would later serve him well.


duties for the agency, including economic espionage in Germany,
brought him swift promotions and a reputation for integrity. But
the downfall of the Soviet Union brought him back to his hometown
where, as deputy mayor, he pursued reform and eventually to Moscow,
where he became the Kremlin’s golden boy.

to great surprise, by Boris Yeltsin as his successor, Putin used
his KGB training, plus his own discipline and common sense, in
a series of jobs that included running the security service.”

lesson I draw from all this is that you’re better off visiting NPR
or the BBC than the Cato Institute – at least when it comes
to checking the credentials of the criminal class.

9, 2004

Brady [send him mail] has been
a libertarian for over thirty-four years. He was born in Windsor,
Berkshire, England, and now lives in Fairfax, Virginia. He has taught
economics in schools and colleges in Britain, Ireland and California.


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