I was working in the Soviet army. I spend quite some years also in the Afghanistan war. It was such a nasty experience that I wanted to orient myself to a more peaceful atmosphere. So I joined the Moscow Institute that trained KGB staff. Of course it is not publicly known to be in that function. I chose the justice line, for to become some spy in the foreign countries did not fit with my mind either.
Once I had a discussion with one of my friends. He was a son of a highly placed KGB man. His father was a captain for a boat that was ‘exporting goods’. Actually they were transporting weapons. My friend’s father was involved in bringing weapons to Vietnam and also participated in the conflicts in Egypt and in Greece.
So we were discussing once about religious movements. My friend said his father had disembarked on one occasion at some Western harbor. He went to visit the Soviet embassy near the harbor to do some visa-things. He was away only half an hour, but when he came back a few members from the crew showed him some “indian books” and he became so furious. More books were found. Altogether 27 or 28 books. They were falling from everywhere. They were placed on the doorways, in the shelves. In the cabins. One was under the captain’s bridge on the deck. My friend related how his father commented afterwards to him, being very irritated: “I really chastised all the men. I’m hardly away from the boat for one moment – and immediately the whole boat becomes totally flooded and ‘radioactive’ from those books. That lazy guard fell asleep somewhere. I yelled at him that everyone should know that our enemy is watching and is always ready!”
In due course I started to prepare my diploma. It was about narcomania, but there was no public statistics about that. Everything was secret, in the Moscow KGB library. So I complained about this to my tutor. That man was also a big shot in the KGB. So he gave me access to secondary level of confidential department in the library. I was namely fascinated by occultism and thought that now I have my chance to read all the forbidden literature. And indeed – there was tons and tons of stuff, right from the beginning of tsar’s time.
I became friends with the fellow who was in charge of the library. Really a fanatic communist. He at one point showed me different religious departments in the library. Islam had their own room. Christianity it’s own. Also Buddhism. And ISKCON! A whole department just about us. The man showed various life stories that were collected about different ISKCON gurus. There was a video film about famous “Riga-evening”, where Harikesh Maharaja was caught. Even some KGB man managed to film how an ISKCON devotee was beaten up on the street in Pakistan. He said: “These Krsna fanatics are so crazy… look! They just beat him up but this fellow just continues to say his mantra. These people are so dangerous. They are so determined. And their books… don’t touch them! So many of our agents have burned themselves.”
We were already sitting behind our coffee-table… but this KGB fellow was just speaking about ISKCON and was becoming more and more agitated. And I couldn’t figure out why. This man bit his teeth together and shook his finger in disgust: “Those hooligans! They are such HOOLIGANS! They are shaking the whole basis of our system. So clever! Those people are so sharp! Everywhere they sneak in with their books. We check the boats that come from Germany for example. And Scandinavia. The books are found in the most incredible places – from the cupboards in cabins, even some were lying in the kitchen on the cook’s recipe-shelf. We even opened the ventilation-system and THERE were these damn books and brochures! What damn American brain is behind all this? Hooligans! We are not able to figure out what to do…”. Then this man proceeded to explain that the biggest problem for KGB was that most people refused to give the books away. They usually hid them.
Once they got to know that one KGB security man on one cargo managed to find two books. But when they went to him to inquire about them, he denied that he had any books. One man went to sleep in his cabin, locked the door, and in the morning he woke up and saw a Bhagavad-gita on his table! Probably some devotee had opened the window from the street-level cabin during midnight. But for a KGB all these things was such a puzzle! They were so disturbed and fearful of the activities of ISKCON. They though “there must be some high-level intelligence planning these actions”. Of course I became quite curious. So I took Srila Prabhupada’s Gita from there, against all the warnings. And indeed! It totally smashed all of my ideas for life. Within a very short period I became a devotee and went to join the Begovaya temple in Moscow!
But before that one day I was sitting together with my teacher in his room. He had spent over ten years abroad where he was engaged in his “confidential service”. Afterwards he settled down in Moscow in a more convenient engagement. That’s what most of KGB men used to do at some point.
We were discussing about this and that. Then one of my fellow student entered the room. He sat down, and for a while he and my teacher talked and noticed that the student had some book with him. I thought it was some studying material.
After a short time the student excused himself and left the room. I was about to continue our conversation, when my teacher made a smile an inquired from me, whether I noticed which book the fellow student had wit him. I said no. “It was a book from Hare Krishnas.” Then the teacher proceeded to tell how he had sometimes observed devotees while he still was serving in the West. I knew very little about devotees at that time. So I asked what are these people actually about. My teacher seemed to be quite indifferent to Krishna consciousness; but he definitely showed some appreciation for certain qualities of the devotees: “Hare Krishna are very smart people. Really smart. Sometimes they are penetrating – like water going in holes.
There is practically speaking no place that they cannot sell their items. But such fanatics they are. And they have their music-sessions on the streets often. Joyous people… probably they don’t have so much problems. I have looked through some of their books. It’s nothing for me, that I can say. But something mystical there must be in those books. Some of our men really got into these books. We once had one agent in the West, for example…”
Then the man related quite a story. He did not mention where it took place. Neither he mentioned any names. And I knew the subtle etiquette that if someone tells you things like that, you don’t ask any questions. But just for the sake of convenience for the readers we can name the central figure of the story “Leonid”.
My teacher had never met Leonid. He himself got the story from the KGB man who had been assisting Leonid. So one time Leonid was on the way to meet a certain contact person. And those meetings were always strictly timed. A slight discrepancy and you were supposed to be dismissed. Leonid’ assistant was walking nearby; his duty was to make sure that nobody followed Leonid.
Everything seemed to proceed according to the plan. But then the men noticed that there was some fight on the street. Two devotees were attacked by some group of “big rowdies” (we call them of course by much more suitable name: demons). And it was not just some innocent teasing – they really were beating severely two young devotees. There was a heavy rule for agents that they should never get involved in anything, specifically to avoid unnecessary contact with the police.
Leonid, however, stopped and looked at the scene. Suddenly he rushed forward and attacked the fellows, who were harassing the devotees. His assistant was shocked. “What is this? This is forbidden! We are in a hurry for a meeting… and here he is just clashing with these guys.”
Leonid quite quickly managed to make a mush out of those fellows. I was not told too many details about the ghastly scene; but I know what our trained people are able to do – teeth are flying, heads are smashing against the wall, blood…
After Leonid protected the devotees he was in a hurry to get to his meting. But the devotees were following him. They wanted him to take a book. Finally, just to get rid of the boys, he took one and threw some money to them. He was on time to his meeting. His assistant inquired later on, why he partook in a fight. It was totally against the rules. Leonid had answered that he could not stand to see those young fellows being beaten like that. And there was something inside him, he said, that impelled him to act…
Two months later Leonid informed his assistant that somebody was after him. KGB men have this intuition. He was very depressed and frustrated. His assistant replied that he himself hadn’t noticed anything special. Bu Leonid was continuously disturbed. The assistant described: “One day we were in our villa. I did my cooking in the kitchen. Then I went to the corridor. There was a glass door leading to the TV room. And I saw Leonid on his knees in front of a sofa. And he had that Hare Krishna book placed on the sofa. His palms were folded together and he was murmuring something his eyes tightly closed. I thought, “My goodness! What’s happening? Has he gone mad? Or is there some microphone within the book, and he is reporting? They never instructed us to do like that! Maybe the opposite party has already got him to work for them? Or… maybe he does like this in a case ‘they’ come, find him like that, and think he’s a Krishnaite. He was murmuring some help… that he cannot take this any longer…”
“I contacted Moscow and said that now he’s getting crazy. Interests in Krishnaism. And that I think that soon they might catch him. But Moscow replied that this is true. They already knew from at least six different sources that local security was following him. I got the order to immediately leave Leonid and go.”
“However, almost six months went. They asked from Moscow, what’s happening with our Leonid. I said that I don’t know. There was even nothing in the newspapers. Maybe they did not capture him. I was instructed to check the situation. But I could not find Leonid in the house. For two months I tried to locate him. I made friends with the neighbors. It took another three months to gradually hear about him. The neighbors said Leonid had changed suddenly. He still visited them occasionally but did not accept alcohol anymore. He also criticized that they were offering him meat. He had accepted only an apple. Once the police came to his house and went away. Leonid explained that they were after somebody who had stolen a car and looked like him. Then they realized the mistake. I think there must have been something else going on. Perhaps they came after him and saw he is into Krishnaism… I don’t know. The last thing the neighbors knew was one day he shaved his head. And after that no one heard about him…”
This was all that my teacher had heard from Leonid’s assistant. Of course, as devotees we might guess what had happened. Krishna obviously reciprocated with the KGB agent after his helpful act for the sake of the devotees. And Srila Prabhupada’s books took care of the rest. Probably he is now somewhere happily engaged in Krishna’s service.