INTERVIEW WITH JOE BULIK - 31.1.98
INTERVIEWER: This 10963 and it's an interview with Joe Bulik. Joe, when you joined the agency, how did you see the Cold War, how did you see the job that you were trying to do there?
JOE BULIK: I was the Agricultural Attaché in Moscow from 1944 through 1948 and it didn't take me very long to realize that some day that country would be our mortal enemy. That is why when I was still in Moscow and the CIA was established in 1947, I was determined I would join the agency to make a better contribution than I could have in the Department of Agriculture.
INT: And what was the culture like inside the CIA when you joined? I mean, what were the kinds of problems you faced and how were you working about...?
JB: Well, initially I was on the overt side of the agency and we were just setting up shop, so it took a while, quite a while before we could get really organized, the first couple of years or so that I was involved with the agency. Later on I transferred to the covert side of the agency.
INT: When you were on the covert side, Joe, how did you regard the KGB, what view did you take of it?
JB: Oh, I regarded the KGB as a very powerful organization and there were times when I felt if they were an American agency, I would have liked to work for them, except for some of their very restrictive practices, but I had high regard then for them and an enemy to be feared.
INT: And what were the problems of trying get agents in to try and find out about this closed world, this closed society?
JB: Initially our efforts were rather coarse. We were dropping agents by plane into the Soviet Union and that was not only very risky, but it couldn't have gotten the kind of intelligence that we needed, in other words top secret information and we failed for the most part in that respect. It wasn't until we grew up and began our operations inside the Soviet Union that our successes then became apparent.
INT: I mean, tell me about when you yourself... Tell me what your job consisted of at the point when Penkovsky came into your life, and you can explain in as lively a fashion as possible. I'd very much like... when you said before you thought you had the best damn job in the agency and I'd be grateful if you'd use that phrase again, 'cos it tells us something about how you saw your job. Tell us what it was at that time.
JB: Well, since the Soviet Union was the mortal enemy of the United States, the best job one could have had was chief of that branch within the Soviet Russian division that was operating within the Soviet Union, that was my job and I enjoyed it very much. I had it for seven years and they were seven good years.
INT: And what sort of things did you do? What was the way you worked in your job?
JB: Well, we were establishing, believe it or not...
INT: OK, start again.
JB: When I started we had no station in Moscow, which shocked me, even though the British did have a station in their embassy and it was my job to build up a station, so I had to convince people, not only my leadership, but the State Department particularly, which was very much against CIA, to set up a station in Moscow with people to work in that station.
INT: Now, I want you to try and tell me when you first got wind of Penkovsky and what you heard about him and perhaps in that answer go on to talk about the very first meeting with him?
JB: Well, there were two American students from Indiana University who had studied Russian at Indiana University and, as was the case, they traveled to the Soviet Union to practice the Russian they learned. And Penkovsky happened to see them, this whole group, on a train going from Kiev to Moscow and he followed these two young men to their hotel Moscow, then from the Bolshoi Theatre, where they went, back to the hotel and he approached them on a bridge in Moscow and asked them to take certain material to the American Embassy and that material was eventually passed on to me and I studied it and it didn't take me long - 'cos we've gotten so many invitations from the KGB to fall into their trap, that I learned to smell provocations from the genuine stuff. But studying he gave us the names of eighteen GRU officers who had become illegal agents for the United States and I did traces on as many as we could and one of them was in Japan at the time and he was destined to go as a GRU agent in South America and so help me God, he looked like a Latino and I showed that to Dick Helms and Dick Helms was convinced at the time, he said, let's go.
INT: And tell me about the meeting then.
JB: The first meeting in Paris was, I believe, on April twenty first 1961 and he knocked on the door, he was told where to go obviously by Greville Wynne, and I met him, shook hands with him, squeezed very hard, and we brought him in, I introduced him to Harold Shergold and Mike Stokes, the British MI6 officers, and to George Kisevalter, my compatriot and we started work.
INT: Joe, I want you to tell me about the first meeting with Penkovsky and I'd like in your answer to bring in a couple of things. I mean, you guys must have been quite nervous as to what this guy looked like and what sort of a person he was...
JB: [Interrupts] Oh, I knew what he looked like.
INT: No. Well, OK.
JB: From a photograph.
INT: Yeah, but his character and stuff must have been quite curious and how he would respond to you and there are a couple of other things you might bring into the answer. I mean one of the things is I think that you were chosen actually physically to be the guy that opened the door to him.
INT: And I'd quite like you to mention that and what that was about and you described somewhere - and I think it's a nice phrase - it was a bit like a first date, when you're not quite certain about the girl, you know, and that there's a sort of nervousness in the air. Now, none of our audience will have been through this experience, so you can be as lively as possible in trying to tell us about that first meeting.
JB: The first meeting with Oleg Penkovsky was about seven p.m. April twenty first 1961 and he was told what room to go to at the Mount Royal Hotel in London and thanks to my MI6 friends, they permitted me, since he first wanted to meet the Americans, to be the one to answer the door and meet him. And I was looking forward to it, I knew what he looked like from a photograph, but I wanted to meet him in person and there was this very military-bearing, good-looking young man, just a few years younger than I at the time, and I shook hands with him with a firm grip and invited him to come in and introduced him to Harold Shergold, who was counterpart from MI6, and Michael Stoke, who was a junior member from MI6, and to my American compatriot, who was the official interpreter, George Kisevalter. And we were all four of us very anxious to find out - and of course we were a wee bit nervous - but we were anxious to find out what motivated this man and this is the job that I took on to myself, what makes this man tick, why is he like he is and why is he doing this for us? And so we spent a lot of time going into that aspect and it came out rather clear that he thought Khrushchev was a tyrant, that he was going to destroy the Soviet Union with his illicit activities and since Oleg was a colonel in the Red Army, he resented particularly the way Khrushchev treated the military and Marshal Zhukov, who really won the war militarily for the Soviets, who... Zhukov thrown aside and made it very difficult for Soviet officers who had retired to live on their pensions. And so he had very low regard for Khrushchev, it was a hate actually, and he felt that he would some day destroy the Soviet Union with his actions. So we went into that quite a bit. We asked about his family - he had a wife and a daughter at the time and... we were satisfied with his bona fides in that respect. Matter of fact, I was satisfied with his bona fides before he ever entered that room, but this we wanted to hear from his own lips. we spent a fair amount of time talking about his access and he had remarkable access. It would have been very difficult to describe similar access in the United States or in the United Kingdom for that matter, but he had access to high leaders, he had access to the head of the GRU, General Serov , he had access to a marshal who was in charge of the missiles in the Soviet Union, Marshal Vorensov , who considered Oleg to be practically his son and Vorensov was also a member of the Supreme Military Council of which Khrushchev was chairman and Vorensov used to talk to Oleg about the meetings that took place in that Supreme Council and that's where we got a lot of our information.
INT: So was there in that first meeting... I mean did it take you long to realize that if you could cultivate this source, you could have something you hadn't had before, as I understand, which was this window into a range of Soviet life?
JB: Yes. We have never had anything in terms of access to the Soviet top secret... that we had through Oleg Penkovsky. He had access not only to top secret documentation, but to high people, political and military.