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KGB’s Most ambitious Program: The Illegals and The Directorate S

During the cold war, the Soviet Union stationed many sleeper agents of KGB in Washington and many other prominent cities of the US. Their goal was to remain unofficially undercover for a very long time, in fact for their whole lifetime. They were disguised as American citizens and spoke English as good as the Americans. This program was one of the most secretive of all of KGB’s programs. It was headed by a branch called Directorate S which would oversee the operations. The chief of Directorate S managed the illegals program. Unlike "legal" spies, who were posted abroad under diplomatic or other official cover, illegals were on their own - working normal jobs, living in suburbs, and operating without the diplomatic immunity enjoyed by other agents should they be caught.

They were trained rigorously from their teenage years to be part of the program headed by Directorate S. Special attention was given to remove the Russian touch from their English accent. But most would ultimately be judged unsafe to deploy in the US. Only the top few who qualified and passed all the tests were deployed in the US. They were deployed in the US as couples and had to have children to maintain their cover. In most cases, they had two children to blend in with the American society. Before they were deployed, KGB agents in the US and Europe would wander around cemeteries in search of children who had died and would have been of the same age as the sleeper agents who were about to be deployed. And then a detailed ‘legend’ or biography would be created, birth certificates remade, and churches would be paid to erase the death record of the person. This way sleeper agents would steal real identities of similar aged people who were long dead. In the pre-internet age, this proved to be very successful. The illegals were trained from a very young age to think and act, even subconsciously like an American. They were trained in sports Americans played the most. They were shown Television series and Movies Americans watched the most. The main aim was to make them ‘The Perfect Americans’. According to a formal KGB general, the sleeper agents would be charged with disabling the city’s electric grids and poison the public drinking water, not to kill people but to make them sick, in the event of a military standoff.

Drozdov was once the head of Directorate S, the Agency which managed the illegals program. He died at the age of 91 and had spent most of his life working in the KGB’s highest ranks. In a 2010 interview, Drozdov described a pair of illegals - a man and a woman - deployed to the US via West Germany and posing as a couple." When I worked in New York, I would sometimes come around their house. I would drive past, look up at their windows," he told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.

But he didn't go inside - the risks being too great for such face-to-face meetings. There should be "no contact with illegals", he said. "None."

The illegals had no direct contact with the Soviet govt or the local embassy, each illegal had been assigned a handler who bridged the communication gap between the Soviet Embassy and the illegal couple. Information gathered by these "deep cover" agents was funneled back to handlers through clandestine means - including dead-drops, by radio, or covert meetings abroad. But after the fall out of KGB in 1991, nobody knows what happened to the sleeper agents stationed in the US. Some were caught, but many remain. But recently a few press organizations like the Insider have reported that Russia might have more undercover sleeper agents who can assassinate Western Targets today than during the Cold war, which is of course alarming…


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