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Hack in the USSR; taking dictation, clipping Kissinger's columns, feigning allegiance, and other noble pursuits of one of Gorbachev's ace reporters.

Taking dictation, clipping Kissinger's columns, feigning allegiance, and other noble pursuits of one of Gorbacbev's ace reporters he editor shook his head in disappointment. "No, it won't work. We are not in the business of writing diaries here. The story should be more politically aggressive, more pathetic, if you wish."

He fished his pen out from under the pile of Reuters and Agence-France dispatches and newspaper clippings, bent over my neatly typed story, and started to write between the lines. "In his speech the head of the Rhodesian racist regime, Ian Smith, called upon his military to kill everyone who would be suspected of sympathy toward the patriotic guerrilla fighters. "

I looked at him in surprise. "Wait a minute-Smith didn't say that. He said he would be firm in defending law and order in Rhodesia, but there was nothing in his speech about killing civilians."

The boss looked at me the way a corporal inspects a virgin draftee. "That's what he had in mind," he said impatiently. "Always try to remember: We are engaged in an ideological war. We cannot work with white gloves on."

It was my first lesson in journalism, and I was learning from a master: Vladimir Alekseevich Korochantsev, chief of the African Desk of the Soviet news agency TASS. I had prepared myself for harsh criticism of my phraseology and word choice; I didn't know a thing about white gloves. But over the next 10 years, from Africa to Paris to Washington and back to Moscow, I would learn the craft from the best journalists in the Soviet Union-men whose skills had nothing to do with curiosity or resourcefulness and everything to do with the subtleties of making propaganda. Like that of his peers, Korochantsev's talent was knowing exactly how to navigate the stormy and treacherous waters of Soviet journalism, where a single mistake could sink your career without a trace.

Every young college or university graduate who goes to work for TASS is first taught to correctly answer one question: "Is the general public supposed to know about that?" It's a difficult science to learn, because it depends so heavily on one's political intuition. Yet decades of practical work had helped Korochantsev develop a perfect sense of what his bosses would like to see in his stories; he never disappointed them. Under his tutelage, I, too, honed that special sense. For a long time, it served me well.

In recent months, glasnost and perestroika haven't had the same ring to them. But as a journalist under four Soviet leaders-Gorbachev, Chernenko, Andropov, and Brezhnev-I never quite bought the idea of a new, improved Soviet Union. A nation's journalism is, obviously, a bellwether of that nation's freedom. And despite the democratic talk, knowledge in the Soviet Union today is still an exclusive privilege of the Moscow elite-just so much caviar and sturgeon. My job as a journalist for TASS? To make sure that privilege stayed exclusive.

It's 11 p.m. in Washington, D.C., and 15th Street is virtually deserted, save the unmarked car of a Soviet official parked outside the entrance of The Washington Post. Suddenly, a man steps out of the car, grabs tomorrow's paper, and rushes away. He will be back-same place, same time-tomorrow.

This is reporting, Soviet-style, and the driver is a TASS correspondent. Paper in hand, he will hurry back to his warren at the National Press Building to begin his night of work. One of the chief priorities of any young Soviet journalist is to learn which Post news items are supposed to run on the TASS wire and which are to be delivered in sealed envelopes to certain Soviet officials.

He clips out the most important articles and sends them by fax to Moscow. Next, he summarizes the contents of the paper in a three- or four-page review, in Russian, and attaches the report to his clippings. Tomorrow, you will not find this summary in any newspaper in the USSR. Instead, it will appear in a classified TASS news bulletin, "cleaned" by editors of all quotations judged to be anti-Soviet and then circulated by couriers around Moscow and certain other parts of the country. The Post's editorials and front-page articles will be parsed at the Communist party headquarters, the foreign and defense ministries, the KGB, and in dozens of other government institutions. The man on the street, of course, won't be informed enough to know what he's missing.

What is done by TASS in Washington is repeated on a daily basis in New York, London, Paris, Bonn, Tokyo, and other foreign capitals. Newspaper and magazine articles sent overnight to Moscow are followed by parliamentary reports and transcripts of speeches by heads of state and foreign ministers. The motto of TASS's intricate system for the dissemination of information could be: Let the right people know what they need to know. And only that.

I spent from 1983 to 1987 at the New York and D.C. TASS bureaus, a cog in a complicated system of political information that's at least as old as Stalin. Although its foundation was probably laid in the final years of Lenin's life, the rationale for such elaborate secrecy is timeless. Knowledge and ignorance have always been important factors in the politics of any country; the well-informed always have a significant advantage over the less-informed. Presidents and high-level officials intuitively understand this-which is why, even with glasnost, Soviet information is so jealously and nervously guarded.

As all young journalists are carefully instructed, how a Post or Times article is to be published or summarized depends wholly on the sensitivity of the information to the Soviet Union. The clipping of every article involves an act of political judgment. Into the "A" bulletin-the paper with the largest circulation-goes the harmless information: generalized stories about world events that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Soviet Union, or at least nothing unflattering or political. A newsman knows that anything remotely critical of Soviet policies could never go into the A, because among the institutions allowed to receive it, one could find middle-level government offices, research institutes, and even the embassies of countries that, at least until recently, were regarded as "fraternal."

What those midlevel bureaucrats and researchers miss aren't critical military documents and KGB staff lists. They're the op-eds of Richard Perle and the writings of Marshall Goldman and other Sovietologists" who criticize the Soviet leadership. For these hot properties, there is a special bulletin called, at least until this year, "AD." AD is a compendium of articles and documents either criticizing Soviet policies or containing facts perceived to be detrimental to Soviet prestige-a category that includes virtually everything by Henry Kissinger, whose analyses are especially despised by the Kremlin; all the evil-empire rhetoric of former president Ronald Reagan; and columns by Jack Anderson, Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, and George Will. More recently, those regular authors were joined by Boris Yeltsin and the leaders of the Baltic and other rebellious republics, who, in their interviews with the foreign press, do not sweeten their characterizations of Moscow's policies.

But some of the most closely monitored writers in the USSR are not the Kissingers and Perles. In my last months of work for TASS, many articles by Bill Gertz, The Washington Times's national security correspondent, turned up solely in the AD. The Soviet leaders were apparently interested in the information provided by his numerous contacts within the intelligence community, but didn't want that information widely publicized.

The number of people cleared by the Moscow leadership to read AD's nasty and informative news-bytes is relatively tiny: the senior functionaries of the foreign policy departments of the Central Committee of the Communist party, major ministries, and newspapers. The AD is never sold to foreigners-who in this case include party officials outside Moscow.

Glasnost or no glasnost, misclassification is one of the biggest mistakes a Soviet journalist can make. When I returned to Moscow after a tour of duty as a TASS correspondent in the United States, I found the foreign editor irritated. The director general has just given him hell," one of my colleagues explained. "The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article alleging a conflict between Gorbachev and Ligachev in the Politburo. We translated it, and someone sent it to the A instead of the AD by mistake. Ligachev was fuming. He called the director general and accused him of trying to develop a rift between the members of the Politburo."

I was surprised by the viciousness of the charge.

"Yes," my colleague nodded, "because too many people may read it in the A-even foreigners. Ligachev feared that they could interpret the very fact that the article appeared in the bulletin as TASS's silent endorsement of these allegations."

There is some information with which even senior functionaries are not trusted. Newspaper stories about Raisa's shopping sprees in London, Paris, and Reykjavik; allegations about Gorbachev's new dachas; and reports about the poor performance of Soviet forces in Afghanistan and all KGB activities are to be found only in the bulletin called Nulevka-"Zero." It is edited behind the steel doors of TASS's First Department and compiled by the foreign editor and his deputies; no one of lower rank ever lays eyes on the galleys. Its subscribers are assumed to be limited to no more than a few dozen high-level functionaries.

The reason for such caution is obvious. This bulletin concerns the behavior and decisions of the president and his entourage-in other words, it contains information that could be used to weaken Gorbachev. Last year, after five years of glasnost, there was discussion in TASS about declassifying at least some of the bulletins. But the order from the top was not to touch the Nulevka. The leaders of perestroika didn't want to take chances.

The red phone

The telephone rang at my desk in Moscow shortly before 10 a.m. The ring was mild and melodic, but it made my guts tighten. It was coming from the ivory-colored phone with the insignia of the Soviet Union on the dial-a government communications phone. Only the highest officials in the party, or the nomenklatura, had the right to use it. I picked up the receiver.

This is Zamiatin," cracked the voice on the other end of the line. "Tell me, my friend, what's new in the world?" It was Sunday, and the chief of the international information department of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), now ambassador to Great Britain, was calling from his Moscow apartment. I started to read to him from the summary of international news that had been prepared and left to us by the night shift.

What?" he interrupted me somewhere in the middle. "The U.S. Congress has allocated new money for Afghani dushmans? You should write this story in the following way. . . ."

I had just enough time to switch on the imported tape recorder, bought by TASS with hard currency especially for such occasions. Zanliatin's style was well known. He began to dictate offhandedly, without even reading the agencies' reports from Washington or going into tiresome details. His sentences were stuffed with expressions like "imperialist conspiracy" and undeclared war." When he finally finished, he coughed and ordered in a terse voice: "Send a telegram saying that this story is for obligatory publication in Pravda. What else have you got there?"

I told him that there had been rallies protesting price increases and lowered standards of living in several West European countries. "We are planning to make a good summary out of these reports," I added, thinking that Zamiatin would be pleased with our initiative-another installment of "Capitalist Countries Gone to Hell." I was stunned when I heard a flat "no" from the receiver.

"Don't touch this subject at all," he ordered. "Not today, not in the following weeks. And tell your colleagues that the protests against the deterioration of living conditions in the West won't see the light of day in our press for a certain period of time."

A few days later, the reason for this strange instruction became clear. The Soviet government had just raised the prices of furs, jewelry, radios, home appliances, and some other important items. It didn't want even the idea of protests in the air.

What happened that Sunday in 1981 was a perfect example of how the Soviet leadership controls and directs the press. Later, when I worked at the African Desk, a Mr. Shubin, who oversaw Africa from the Central Committee of the Soviet Union headquarters, used to call the desk two or three times a week to give us instructions. What has changed since Gorbachev came to power? Nothing essential. As far as I know, Shubin still calls, although probably not as often as before. Stories are still dictated to TASS, if not as often as before. And at crucial moments, Gorbachev's team acts the same as its less liberal-tongued predecessors.

Pinko slips

A story overheard in the corridors of TASS:

In the late seventies, then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev arrived on an official visit to Bulgaria. He stepped off the plane and into the most festive welcome imaginable-flags, portraits, music, flowers, and a warm embrace with then-Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov. Soviet television carried the welcoming ceremony live. All the major Western news agencies were also running stories about the event. But TASS, which was supposed to carry the news about Brezhnev's arrival first, was silent, as if the Soviet leader had not arrived in Sofia at all.

Gloomy is probably not the right word to describe the mood that reigned at the TASS foreign desk in Moscow at that moment. The editor and his deputies were glued in bewilderment to a TV set showing Brezhnev's motorcade in the colorfully decorated streets of the Bulgarian capital. But still there was no word from TASS. It was TASS's moment-and TASS missed it.

A few hours later, Moscow learned the cause of this scandalous delay. It turned out that the bureau chief in Sofia had permitted himself some freedom in the wording of the draft story. As a result, a Brezhnev aide killed it at once; the reporter had to rewrite the dispatch, catch the aide somewhere in the corridors of the official residence, and finally get his clearance before the new version could be put on the wire.

Of course, not all TASS stories are dictated or delivered by courier. Most of the time, journalists are forced to type their own words into TASS's slick European computers-an exercise fraught with peril. No story about the activities of high-level officials can be published without prior approval. Not a single word from a leader's speeches may be dropped, not a remark omitted. All the dignitaries surrounding Gorbachev are to be mentioned in specific order, according to their rank. And TASS has a series of standardized cliches for official arrivals, talks, state dinners, and departures.

The general secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, the president of the USSR,_____, left today on an official visit to____________. On his trip he is being accompanied by______. At the Vnukovo airport, he was bid farewell by______and other officials."

Every dispatch about the president's departures must be written this way; the TASS reporter is expected to know which dignitaries should be mentioned by name and title and which may be embraced by the impersonal "and other officials." A mistake here can cost a TASS reporter his career. In 1983, the foreign desk supervisor, Nikolai Pozdniakov, was demoted for three months after airing a dispatch in which Yuri Andropov was named "the first secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU" instead of "the general secretary." The TASS correspondent at the UN who had written the story was severely reprimanded.

Since one has to know so many titles and phrases by heart, writing about the president and other dignitaries has become sort of a separate profession in Soviet journalism-TASS maintains a separate desk, supervised by Ludmila Shvedova, to oversee copy on state occasions. But such special training does not mean that Soviet journalists gain the trust of Soviet officials. Everything they write must always be cleared with the official's press aide. This job is usually done by Anatoly Chernyaev for President Gorbachev and by Vitaly Churkin for the foreign minister. The defense minister, Dmitri Yazov, has his own people to clear all press reports.

Despite all the talk about "glasnost" and "freedom of the press," Gorbachev has left this practice unchanged. Full transcripts of his speeches and street conversations must be made and presented for his vetting. This process costs a fortune, but he doesn't seem to care. Transmitted live by television, Gorbachev's press conferences are recorded on VCRs in Moscow. Professional typists make transcripts that are then faxed to whatever city Gorbachev is visiting, for the sole purpose of showing them to Gorbachev's aide and getting his clearance.

The costs are even greater for major newspapers, which must be ready to print at 10 p.m. Moscow time. Printers are routinely ordered to wait until the report about Gorbachev's activities is cleared. The newspaper delivery system, which relies heavily on trains and airplanes, is crumbling throughout the country. Losses are counted in hundreds of thousands of rubles. But the president clearly believes his personal image is more important than public money.

This problem was raised several times during a meeting between Gorbachev and Soviet newspaper editors. He listened to their complaints attentively, but when asked to scrap the system of prior approvals, some editors present recall that his answer was immediate: "No." Government newspapers, after all, can be very useful tools for a president to have on hand.

In February 1990, around the same time as the editors' meeting, TASS came under fire from the opposition forces for publishing a typically biased story about a huge rally in Moscow. The participants were labeled "extremists" trying to "destabilize the country."

The day after the story ran, angry demonstrators gathered at the entrance of TASS in Moscow, accusing the journalists of being liars. What they didn't know was that TASS had nothing to do with the version of the story that appeared in the press. The report was simply delivered to TASS in a sealed envelope from the party's Central Committee. According to one informed source, it came directly from the office of Vadim Medvedev, then a member of the Politburo and the main party ideologue. Medvedev edited the story the way he saw fit. Another well-placed source pointed out that Medvedev, known for rarely taking the initiative himself, had served only as an intermediary between TASS and an even more important official." It's not hard to figure out who in the Soviet hierarchy is more important than a member of the Politburo, and thus who the real author of the story was.

This situation existed under Stalin, and Khrushchev, and Brezhnev, and Andropov. Some of these leaders were tougher than others, but on the whole the picture is unchanged. As for Gorbachev, it seemed to me that from the beginning he had been very careful to shield some areas of Soviet political life from his own perestroika.

The paper chase

One of my American friends presumed recently, "After having worked three years as a foreign correspondent in Washington and New York, you must have a lot of contacts here."

"God, no! Absolutely none!" I replied.

What did I need them for? For a TASS journalist, flesh-and-blood sources are a headache.

Contacts require a lot of time. Why go out and make them if American newspapers and TV throw more information at you than you can possibly digest? And besides, the Soviet news agency doesn't trust anything that isn't already written on paper or recorded on a VCR. No matter how important the information a source promises, TASS never takes the responsibility of disseminating it on its open wires. Instead, it quotes newspapers, other agencies, and TV reports-only things that have already been printed or aired somewhere. It's safer that way.

This is not, of course, an especially enlightening approach: TASS is doomed to remain an eternal distributor of secondhand information. But the afternative-a journalistic high-wire act-appeals very little to a bureaucrat, and TASS is the consummate Soviet bureaucracy.

For proof of TASS's bureaucracy, I need only recall one week of work in Mozambique. The local bureau of the Novosti press agency, the Soviet version of the U.S. Information Agency, managed to get a long article about the involvement of American corporations in illegal trade with South Africa published in Noticias da Beira, the second-largest newspaper in Mozambique.

"Make a story out of this," TASS bureau chief Alexander Osipov told me, handing over the newspaper clipping. "But don't mention the Novosti," he said. Attribute it to Noticias da Beira."

I knew what lay behind his order. TASS would never run a story originating from Novosti and would definitely prefer quotations from a foreign source. So I did what I was told.

The story returned to Mozambique via the TASS wire and was picked up by Noticias, the largest national newspaper. It was published in full, but the article never mentioned TASS-Samora Machel's government didn't want to publicize its growing dependence on the Soviet Union.

My boss clipped it out and handed it to me-he wanted me to write the very same story again. I stared at him in disbelief

"Don't worry," the bureau chief comforted me. "Keep it for a few days and then send it again with a new lead."

An outsider would never have understood his logic. But I knew he was simply trying to build up the number of articles sent that week to Moscow. Back there, quantity was the chief criterion for evaluating correspondents' work.

Like so many other Soviet agencies, TASS is a self-serving, bureaucratic organization that cares much less about producing news than about justifying its own existence. It produces tons of paper; its teletypes work 24 hours a day. But hardly any attention is paid to what is actually on the wire. TASS correspondents are not expected to surprise the world with sensational news; they are expected to impress their bosses with a sensational amount of paperwork. Sitting at your desk and clipping papers, you will be able to produce two stories, while someone doing "street reporting" will have the time to write only one. And because, in the end, quantity determines everything, ultimately you will be the winner.

Until recently, the TASS bureau in Washington, D.C., was one of the few exceptions to the Soviet secretarial school of journalism. TASS correspondents there actually left their desks, heading off to the State and Defense departments and to the U.S. Congress. Of course, they weren't pursuing interviews or investigations; they were after transcripts or copies of reports. But the creation a few years ago of the Federal News Service, which sends transcripts directly to embassies and news bureaus, ended even that small adventure. My colleagues returned to their beloved desk-bound lifestyle.

Grave thoughts

Sometimes, though, even TASS correspondents need to call someone for a quote. When leaders of the USSR unveil a new peace proposal, or the Soviet president makes a major speech, they love to show the Soviet public the positive reaction of the West. When that reaction is not as enthusiastic as the Soviet leaders wish it to be, it must be artificially produced.

That's why every Soviet foreign correspondent maintains a stable of people who can give a positive interview at any moment, day or night. In the U.S., these sources consist mostly of members of the Communist party, the U.S. Peace Council, and various labor and antiwar organizations-for instance, New York City's National Council of American-Soviet Friendship and a few local chapters of SANE/FREEZE. Some liberal writers and scientists, like Kurt Vonnegut and Nobel prize-winning scientist George Wald, are often quite supportive of Soviet foreign policy initiatives.

Sometimes Moscow's urgent requests for positive reactions create unlikely situations, like the one described by a former colleague in New Delhi. in the seventies, TASS kept a member of the Indian Academy of Sciences in its interview stable. The academician gave TASS so many positive interviews, he apparently lost track of what he had told whom, when-and he didn't really seem to care.

One night, when the TASS bureau in New Delhi needed to provide a positive response to a Brezhnev speech on very short notice, it decided to "compile" an interview from some of his previous statements. The interview was quickly circulated by TASS wires all over the world. The next morning, a TASS correspondent called the old scientist to thank him for his longstanding cooperation.

"I am sorry, you cannot speak to my boss," the academician's secretary replied. "He died about three weeks ago."

Sworn to party

"Congratulations, young man! Now you are all set, and I hope we'll get a number of good stories from you when you are abroad. . . ."

The secretary of the Party Committee smiled and, rising from his armchair, handed me a brand new red card, which bore on its cover the profile of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, founder of the Soviet state. The words below, printed in black, read: "The Communist Party of the Soviet Union."

It was not by chance that new job opportunities were mentioned at this ceremony, which formally had nothing to do with journalism. According to internal regulations enacted for the Soviet press long ago, membership in the Communist party is a requirement for anyone who wants to be considered for a position as a foreign correspondent.

I knew the editor-in-chief wanted to send me to the United States. The party secretary knew it too. He also knew that this was the reason I was standing so earnestly before him, and he probably guessed that deep in my mind I wouldn't give a dime for a dozen Marxist ideas. In all probability, neither would he. At the same time, we both knew the rules of the game. We tried to follow them meticulously.

Thanks to the pro-central government articles that run on the TASS wires, it is customary in the West to label the agency as conservative, one of the pillars of the Communist old guard. But Western analysts may be oversimplifying the issue. Having spent 13 years in TASS, I know what many of the agency's journalists really think. True, there are a number of hard-line conservatives on staff, but the majority is very sympathetic to the reform movement. Even here, it seems, you can sense a "liberal" bias to the press.

Yes, it sometimes feels morally bankrupt to work in the big media of the USSR and be asked to do exactly the opposite of what you think is right. But Soviet journalists do it for bread. I have no doubt the same mixed emotions pervade the ranks of the armed forces and the KGB-the two institutions the West thinks of as the guardians of Soviet conservatism. The generals probably are conservative: They stand to lose everything if the regime changes. But the lumpenprole may harbor very different-and unvoiced-ideas about what the Soviet Union needs.

My own induction into the party took place in the fall of 1983, since, perestroika or no perestroika, membership in the Communist party still opens the right doors. It is the key to the Moscow elite. This fact protects the party from disintegrating entirely, fading out of the political scene in these grim times: People need party membership. As we say in Russia, it makes their loaf of bread thicker and sweeter.

I, of course, could claim no higher motives. "Didn't you know about all these dreadful things happening in the Soviet press?" people ask me now. "And if you knew, why did you join TASS?"

Of course I knew. I joined TASS for the same reason that, each year, hundreds of the best graduates in international affairs dream of joining the bureaucratized foreign ministry or the fearful KGB. They're not in love with these agencies, but they understand that only these jobs can offer an interesting and lucrative career-one that may even take them out of the USSR.

Sure, you could become a correspondent on the foreign desk somewhere in The Moscow News and never set foot outside the Soviet Union. But in TASS, Novosti, Pravda, Isvestia, and a couple of other newspapers you could be posted abroad for years, getting your salary in dollars. The choice? There hardly was one-which is why I became a card-carrying member of the party that day in 1983.

"Please describe your party activities, young man," ordered a woman who worked at the TASS canteen. Though she knew virtually nothing about journalism, she was a member of the party committee inside TASS. She had a say in the appointments of foreign correspondents.

I told her I was a member of the People's Control Group that helped the administration enforce discipline in the offices. She was apparently satisfied. "How is the atmosphere in your family?" another official bluntly asked-broaching an equally critical issue.

There is a rule in the USSR that everyone going to work abroad has to be married and accompanied by a spouse. It is more strictly applied to men because of a widespread belief in Soviet security agencies that, after a year of solitary life, a healthy adult male becomes so horny that he is open to recruitment by attractive females employed by hostile intelligence agencies.

It always seemed to me that if a journalist decided to become a spy, he'd do it for better reasons than pleasing his American girlfriend. On the other hand, the marriage requirement brings a lot of mercantilism into the family lives of the Soviet foreign service. Some manages exist only on paper-as a means to foreign travel and hard currency. I didn't, of course, offer my views on the subject at the time. "Everything's OK," I replied.

After 10 minutes of screening by party activists, key phrases were added to my resume: Politically educated, morally balanced. Relations in the family are good." My appointment was endorsed by the party. It was a green light to my career.

Of course, it takes a lot more than party membership and good marital status to become a foreign correspondent in the USSR. One has to learn to build the right connections and show loyalty to the right people-for instance, influential sponsors who can present your case to the decision-making bosses.

Professional performance counts, but it is the least important criterion in selecting journalists for overseas positions. The jobs are simply too lucrative to be given to just anyone. No matter where he is, a foreign correspondent has access to goods and a lifestyle an ordinary Soviet citizen cannot even imagine. Although the salary isn't big ($942 a month in the U.S.), the agency pays for housing, covers medical costs, and provides a company car. Compared to the USSR, that is the good life. A foreign assignment is the ultimate plum.

Because these jobs are so coveted, control over them gives TASS officials enormous political leverage in the USSR. The eighties were marked at TASS by the rule of the "American mafia"-a group of former American bureau heads that coalesced around Sergei Losev, the former New York bureau chief, after he became the agency's director general. Soon after his promotion, he began building his power base by promoting friends from TASS's bureaus in the U.S. By the end of the decade, five men from the "American mafia" were sitting at the Collegium of TASS, the supreme body of the agency. All four deputies to the foreign editor also came from the American clan. It didn't take long for people to realize that the way to good positions lay in American bureau connections.

I worked as a correspondent in D.C. and New York until 1987, when I was called back to be chief supervisor of TASS's foreign desk in Moscow. If that sounded like a promotion, it wasn't. My connections were clearly second-tier.

While I waited and hoped for another long-term American assignment, I comforted myself with brief reporting trips abroad, covering the Soviet-American Peace Walk in 1988 and visiting Finland in 1989. Before leaving on even these brief assignments, I was summoned to take the loyalty oath at TASS. Like so many others paraded before the committee, I became the good Marxist hard at work in Moscow-the good Maxist dying to get away.

Writing wrongs

In April 1990, I attended a party hearing for the last time in my life. Publicly, perestroika was in full swing, and Gorbachev was advocating multiparty democracy. But behind closed doors, nobody but Communist officials would be approved for foreign travel without those all-important words: "Politically educated, morally balanced. Relations in the family are good."

If in 1990 perestroika seemed barely to impinge on Soviet society as a whole, TASS seemed to be restructuring in the opposite direction. This was one reason why, as I made my last solemn testimony before the party, I was preparing to leave.

By the end of the eighties, the political polarization of Soviet society had become too obvious to ignore. The leadership of TASS sided with the conservatives, who started using the agency in their attacks against the reformist movement. Against my will, I found myself on the wrong side of the barricade.

To be honest, though, my objections to the newly militant TASS were as practical as they were philosophical. I didn't think-and still don't-that snuggling up to the hard-liners was a wise political move for TASS: Sooner or later the reformists will overcome because they have the only viable political and economic philosophy in the Soviet Union. And after coming to power, they will clean out the KGB, the military-and TASS. I had no intention of waiting for this moment.

Yet there was another reason for escaping, one that had nothing to do with politics. As the Soviet economy rapidly deteriorated, the value of jobs abroad-already high-became stratospheric. By the beginning of the nineties, everyone-and not just journalists was obsessed with getting away. Being at the Foreign Desk of TASS had become tantamount to standing in a long line to buy furniture. Only here, the competition was tougher.

So many high-level officials began claiming foreign slots for their relatives and friends that at some point, I understood: Despite my credentials, I didn't have a chance. I decided to leave TASS and relocate to the United States on my own.

Three years ago, I was a senior official at TASS. Today, I write a corporate newsletter and live in Maryland. Americans often ask me if I miss TASS; the answer is always no. Not the pointless bureaucracy. Not the official dictations. The oaths. The endless clippings. The glasnost I dutifully reported but never really felt in my heart.

Like all other veteran Soviet journalists, I was an expert at propaganda-I was trained by the finest in the world. By now, I have learned to recognize the work of masters. And here in Bethesda, watching American TV, reading American papers, I sometimes have to wonder: Might all this talk of Soviet glasnost in the American press be the result of just another propaganda campaign? And suddenly, I can hear the Washington journalists at their desks, snipping and clipping away.
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Title Annotation:Soviet news agency TASS
Author:Kniazkov, Maxim
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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