Elite security service secrets: How to thwart presidential assassinations

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.

Bolshoy Theater

– 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. READ MORE

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