Skip to main content

Suzanne Mintz, Making Family Caregiving Easier

Suzanne Geffen Mintz, president and co-founder of the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA), talks with Terry Gross on how to make caregiving easier. Mintz speaks from experience. Her husband has multiple sclerosis.

21:17

Other segments from the episode on January 30, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 30, 2008: Interview with Suzanne Mintz; Interview with Pete Earley and Sergei Tretyakov.

Transcript

DATE January 30, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Suzanne Geffen Mintz on family caregivers
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Being a family caregiver, taking care of a loved one who is ill, elderly, or
disabled, is hard; but it's harder than it needs to be and there are things we
can do to change that, according to my guest Suzanne Geffen Mintz. She speaks
both as a caregiver and as the co-founder and president of the National Family
Caregivers Association, which provides information, support and advocacy.
Mintz is the author of the book "A Family Caregiver Speaks Up." Her husband
has had MS since 1974. He now needs help with the daily activities of living,
dressing, bathing, toileting, eating, mobility, and transferring from bed to
wheelchair. Mintz's book describes many of the emotions and day-to-day issues
that affect caregiving families.

Suzanne Mintz, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Ms. SUZANNE GEFFEN MINTZ: Thank you.

GROSS: Let's get to a scary moment in your life that you bring up in your
book, and like one of the scary moments is when your loved one is getting
released from the hospital in a very compromised situation, maybe right after
surgery or right after a stroke, and suddenly they're going to be in your care
and you're not prepared for it and you don't know how to do it. So you tell
the story in your book--this happened to you--your husband, who has MS, on top
of that had bladder surgery. So he's getting released from the hospital with
this big incision, and you live alone with him. You're five feet tall. What
are some of the problems you had to deal with as soon as he was released back
home?

Ms. MINTZ: Well, I think the problem started in the hospital where they
wouldn't agree to give us a home care aide; because I knew that coming back
home, Steven was going to be in worse shape than when he went in, and I don't
think we fully comprehended how much more difficult it would be. But it was
very obvious, as soon as we got home and we were trying to transfer him from
the chair that we used for transportation to a manual chair in the house, and
he--because of the incision across his stomach--he just was not able to use
whatever strength he still had to help propel himself up. And so I went
running around the neighborhood. We heard a lawn mower going in the yard
behind us and I just went running around the corner to see who I could find,
and luckily there was this tall, young strapping guy. And I said, `I need
your help. Come with me.' And he, you know, was able to help; but it's silly
to be put into a situation like that, which can certainly be extremely
dangerous.

GROSS: So what do you think should have been done? What kind of help should
you have had when your husband was discharged?

Ms. MINTZ: Discharge planning is a misnomer, I would say. I would say it's
not planning, it's just discharge; and there needs to be a more comprehensive
way of helping families make that transition from hospital to home, or
hospital to nursing home. And we advise people to look into the discharge
process as soon as they enter the hospital.

I think part of the problem comes from the fact that people in hospitals,
general hospitals, don't really understand disability. They don't seem to
comprehend that if somebody's body does not work because of a spinal cord
injury or whatever, that once you do a medical procedure that they are going
to be in worse shape than when they entered the hospital, and therefore will
need some extra assistance for a while going home. We reached out to a
neighbor who was quite wonderful and came over during that first week every
evening around 10:30 and every morning around, you know, 6:30, to help me get
Steven in and out of bed, because I just couldn't do it by myself.

GROSS: You mentioned that family caregivers aren't trained, and let's talk
about a great and terrifying example of that. Often nowadays when your loved
one is sent home from the hospital, they have to continue to be on IV, and you
are expected to administer it. And so what happens is someone from the
hospital--well, not someone from the hospital, someone who the hospital has
called comes to your home, gives you the home IV equipment and the bags of
medicine, gives you a very brief demonstration of how to do it, and suddenly
you're giving IV to your spouse or friend or parent or whatever. And it can
just be terrifying because you've read in the instruction manual that if
there's like an air bubble in the IV that you can kill the person. And you're
thinking like, `I don't know how to do this. I'm not a nurse. I'm not a
doctor.' Can you talk about this a little bit and why we're in this position?

Ms. MINTZ: The system, if you will, obviously is constantly trying to save
money. Well, one way to do that is to have people come home sooner and
because of advances in science they can come home sooner; but as I mentioned
before, they're not healing any sooner, it's just that they're doing it on our
watch. And I personally think it is unsafe and irresponsible to put that
responsibility on us without giving us the support. We need a buddy. We need
a navigator, a person who aids us through this entire process. There is so
much money lost and so many errors because of the lack of really good care
coordination. There are constant transitions long the way and there is not
one person, other than us, who has that connection.

GROSS: What are some of the most challenging things you've had to learn how
to do medically as a caregiver for your husband, who has MS?

Ms. MINTZ: Probably the most challenging thing is how to catheterize him.
Steven has a neurogenic bladder, which basically means that the muscles of his
bladder will not open automatically. It's the opposite side of people who
can't control their urine. And so we have to catheterize him four or five
times a day. And we, of course, were petrified. We were hoping it might be
something Steven could do himself but he really just does not have the hand
dexterity. We had been looking through a copy of Paraplegic News, which is a
magazine that I actually write for; and there was an advertisement about this
whole new intermittent catheter system, which instead of having a separate
catheter and a separate urinal, was a totally self-contained package. And we
got a couple of samples, but again, there was nobody to ask. Finally, you
know, we got it to work. It probably would have worked sooner if we
weren't--hadn't been so nervous or we had somebody looking over our shoulder.

GROSS: This is horrifying though. I mean, it's great you could do it at
home. You don't need to go to the hospital for it. You would have to go four
times a day. I mean, this wouldn't work, but to have to do it by trial and
error on your own is just horrifying.

Ms. MINTZ: But that's how most family caregivers learn. We learn on the
job. Family caregivers are thrown into the health care system and asked to be
a part of it but are not given the respect, are not given the education and
training, so we're thrown out there and it certainly doesn't make any sense.
I mean, you're not going to have somebody who you pick up off the street do
brain surgery, but you pick us up off the street and have us do some elements
of health care work without any support or education, without any
understanding of what we bring to the situation in terms of both of our assets
and our problems.

GROSS: My guest is Suzanne Mintz, co-founder and president of the National
Family Caregivers Association. Her new book is called "A Family Caregiver
Speaks Up."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Suzanne Mintz. She's the
co-founder and president of the National Family Caregivers Association and
author of the book, "A Family Caregiver Speaks Up: It Doesn't Have to Be This
Hard."

In the best of all possible worlds, what kind of help do you think you should
have with your husband's chronic condition?

Ms. MINTZ: I think that it is really important to have Steven's doctors
communicate with each other, to monitor medications, to understand how a
symptom from, you know, his urinary tract has an impact on, you know, his
mobility, or just putting all the pieces together so that there is one health
professional. And it doesn't have to be the doctor. It could be somebody in
the doctor's office, a PA or an RN who's doing the coordination; but somebody
needs to have a complete record of Steven's medical life. And there also
needs to be an understanding of my abilities, or lack of abilities, to assist
him. There needs to be a complete picture of our situation. But I don't
think all the help that caregiving family needs is something that can be
provided, or should be provided by the health care system. I think we need to
return to the image of barn building, where neighbors and family come together
to help each other. We're all going to be in caregiving situations at some
point in our lives, whether as the caregiver or as the care receiver. And so
there are many things that communities can do to be supportive of each other.

GROSS: Like what?

Ms. MINTZ: There are a number of mechanisms now that people are using.
There's a great program called Lots of Helping Hands. It's a Web-based
program which is an expanded calendar, if you will, by which friends and
family can sign up to do specific tasks that a caregiving family needs. One
of the most important things is for the caregiving family to be able to say
what it is they need. There's the typical situation, people say, `Call me if
you need me,' and you know, the caregiver says, `I will,' and then never does
and can't necessarily define a lot of the things they need help with. But
some of the things we need help with are standard items. It's going to the
grocery store. It's picking the kids up from soccer practice. It is mowing
the lawn in the summer and shoveling the snow in the winter, and these are all
part of our normal lives; but caregiving, of course, comes on top of those, so
the things we need help with expand exponentially. And people can sign up for
as much or as little help as they want to give, but in the process they form a
community of helpers.

GROSS: There is the option of the home health care agencies who will provide
aides to your home, at a fee. It's expensive. It's a pretty expensive way of
doing it, but sometimes it's, if you can afford it, it's an essential option.
However, I think the home health care that you get through these agencies is
erratic. You might get somebody who is caring and skilled and wonderful and
attentive; and you might get somebody's who's not skilled, not caring, and not
attentive. And you're not going to know until after you've paid for them a
while which category they fall into. If you've gotten somebody who isn't very
good, it might take you three more tries to find somebody who is good. It's
all very hit and miss, and in the meantime you're just paying. So I'm
wondering what your experiences have been with that kind of paid home health
care and how you think we could maybe improve on that front.

Ms. MINTZ: Medicare does not pay for ongoing home care. They actually call
it custodial care, which I think is extraordinarily pejorative. We are not
custodians. And it raises the entire issue of our need for a better home
health care work force. People who are better trained, have a living wage and
benefits, who have a career ladder that they can move up, but for the most
part, right now, that is not the circumstance and so...

GROSS: No, I should say they are really low paid. When you take away what
the agency is getting and...

Ms. MINTZ: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...you figure out what the health care worker's actually making, they
are really low paid.

Ms. MINTZ: Right. And, you know, here they are giving health care and
they're not often getting any health care benefits themselves, and so you
really have to love doing this work. And there are some people who are
amazing; and as you said, you can go through several times until you find
somebody who's really--who's really working. And so there are the issues of
expense. You know, most people can't necessarily afford ongoing care, even if
it's just a couple a days a week, for four hours, you know, two days a week or
something.

GROSS: I want to talk a little bit about some of the emotional needs of
family caregivers. And you write about this a little in your book, "A Family
Caregiver Speaks Up." Your husband was diagnosed with MS in 1974 and shorter
after his diagnosis, as he started to become symptomatic, you were raped, in
your home, while your husband was away from home. And you were both going
through trauma, and you realized eventually that you both handle trauma and
grief different from each other and that this is an area you weren't
particularly compatible. You weren't fulfilling each other's needs in this
area. Would you describe those differences and the problems that they caused
in the relationship?

Ms. MINTZ: You know, people talk about opposites attracting and I suppose it
is true. Steven is the type of person who tends to keep things in. I tend to
like to share and, you know, get support in the talking out of it, so we
approach things in a different way. But we were both going through grief for
ourselves and for each other and everybody does that differently. You may
start out in denial, and I may start out in anger. And there are, you know,
multiple feelings that one goes through in a grieving process. And I used to
view Steven as just being totally stubborn, not fighting but more complacent;
and what I realized is that he actually is a very strong and quiet fighter.
His refusal to look into a new piece of equipment or his still trying to climb
stairs when it was so obvious how very, very difficult it was for him, that
these were all not being stubborn, but rather his way of defying the MS.

I learned to understand that once you admit that you really can't do something
the way you were doing it anymore, it is a statement that you're going down
hill, that you're not going to be going back in the other direction. That it
is a nail in the coffin of your independence. And he came to understand that
how my nudging him to, well, `Why don't we, you know, get a stair glide or
let's get hand controls or why don't we look at it this way?' wasn't to be a
nag, but because I was so concerned about his safety and it was so painful for
me to watch him struggling. And so we came up with a mechanism for dealing
with things and it has served us extremely well.

Well, first of all, just the recognition that we both, you know, had rights in
the relationship and that we looked at things differently was a lightbulb
going on. But what we had come up with is, since he's the one with the MS,
that he's the initial driver and we go with his direction. And I leave it
alone, I try and be as supportive as I can and not say anything. But when I
reach a point where I am just so overwrought by it, where I really am
concerned that he's going to hurt himself, I call time out; and at that point
we begin to look at things from my perspective. That it might be time for a
new piece of equipment or it might be time to get some help of one type or
another. And then we work it out. We do it in a very understanding and
supportive way that helps things be activities of mutual concern and love as
opposed to a battle.

GROSS: Suzanne Mintz, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. MINTZ: Thank you so very much for having me.

GROSS: Suzanne Mintz is president of the National Family Caregivers
Association and author of "A Family Caregiver Speaks Up."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Journalist Pete Earley and former Russian spy Sergei
Tretyakov discuss "Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's
Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The Cold War ended in the early '90s. Most of us would assume that also ended
the decades of spy warfare between the Soviet spy agency the KGB and US
intelligence services. But veteran Soviet agent Sergei Tretyakov found that
when the KGB morphed into the new Russian intelligence service, the SVR, it
continued to target US military and diplomatic secrets and worked to undermine
US foreign policy. Tretyakov had been the highest-ranking SVR operative
working in the US, but during part of that time he was working as a counterspy
for the US, stealing top-secret Russian diplomatic cables and classified
Russian intelligence reports. In 2000 he defected to the US and provided
American authorities with a bounty of sensitive information about Russian
intelligence activities in the US and other countries. In return he received
the biggest resettlement package ever given by the US. Tretyakov's story is
told in a new book by journalist Pete Earley, who wrote two earlier books
about American spies who gave secrets to the Soviets. His new book is called
"Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the
End of the Cold War." FRESH AIR's contributor Dave Davies spoke to Sergei
Tretyakov and Pete Earley.

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Well, Pete Earley and Sergei Tretyakov, welcome both to FRESH AIR.

Sergei Tretyakov, let's hear your story...

Mr. SERGEI TRETYAKOV: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ... and it begins in the Soviet Union. Your grandmother worked for
the Russian government.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: Your mother did briefly.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes.

DAVIES: Didn't want you to become a spy, but you wanted to become a KGB
agent. Why?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes.

DAVIES: Why?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Oh, you know. Probably because I was an idiot, you know.
Why I want to be a KGB agent? Because for me it was fascinating. It's, you
know, why people join intelligence services all over the world, you know. But
anyway, it was my choice and my parents told me, `OK, it's your choice. What
we can do?'

DAVIES: When you joined the KGB...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes.

DAVIES: ...were--what was your impression of the quality of talent in the
organization. Were these the best and brightest of Soviet society?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: From the beginning, the impression was awful because for five
years I worked in this research institute. And who worked there? The
leftovers from the operational field, people, you know. People who had
problems with drinking and whatever, you know. That's why--that's why these
people didn't impress me. But when I finally was accepted to the American
department of the first shield directorate intelligence, I was impressed and I
thought that I won't survive among this people for more than six month.
Brightest people, great personality, you know. I was impressed.

DAVIES: You know, one of the interesting things, the early years that you
spent in the KGB worked at this research institute, which...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...in which, I guess a couple thousand of employees were sifting
through American newspapers and magazines, and this is...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Not on...

DAVIES: No?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Not only American.

DAVIES: OK.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: European, American...

DAVIES: Western. Right. Right?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes. Western. Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: You did a piece of research that got you noticed when you were doing
this research early in your KGB career. What was it?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: I did many researches which were noticed. One of them was:
I was looking in the archives and I found on microfilms the document prepared
for Congress. It's called American Overseas Installations Abroad. It was not
a secret document; but when this document was translated, we understood that
it was the best description of America overseas military installations for
that time.

Mr. PETE EARLEY: What Sergei did was he contacted the Congressional Library
and got a copy of the congressional report that was prepared for senators
about the status of military bases...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yeah.

Mr. EARLEY: ...and then was able to extrapolate from that where the bases
were, what kind of conditions they were in. And then even judging things like
how long the runways were, what kind of military planes could land there, and
based on things like how many movie theaters were in the area, how many people
might be there. So it was a prime example of taking a public document that
seems innocuous enough and information we share all the time in this country
and then extrapolating out military information that could be helpful to an
enemy.

DAVIES: Well, Sergei Tretyakov, you finally got an overseas assignment for
the KGB in 1990, where you went to...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...Ottawa, Canada; and your job there was to sort of make friends
among the Canadian government and Canadian nonprofit organizations and get
information from them. And you were good at it. I mean you got several
people who gave you really good information that was helpful to the Soviet
Union...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: But at the heart of it was deception and, you know, most of us
deceive people in our lives, I mean, in little ways. I mean, we make up
excuses for not wanting to go to a social obligation or pretend we like people
we don't, or some people cheat on their girlfriends...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...or husbands. But it bothers us. I mean, I think most of us who
deceive somebody, we're uncomfortable with it. And I'm wondering, how do you
get comfortable with living a life of deception?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: It's my profession. It's professional, any intelligence
officer all over the world. And the job is is to provide your government with
valuable information, to recruit people and just to extract information from
them. It's nothing personal. It's not the deception or whatever, you know.
It's how it works.

Mr. EARLEY: What he did was he became friends with people, he got them to
relax; and an important thing to remember is, in dealing with the Canadians,
he didn't go after them saying, `Tell us something about Canada,' because the
truth was, they didn't care about Canada. He said, `Oh, you know, the United
States, they're big bullies. They're the last, you know, they're doing this,
they're doing that.' And he picked out people who had a strong anti-American
streak and he focused on them, and then he got them as his partner. So when
it comes to deception, I think, Sergei, you were pretty open with, I mean, I
think most people you dealt with knew you were Russian intelligence...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Absolutely.

Mr. EARLEY: ...did they not? And you were trying get them to not betray
their own country but this awful United States.

DAVIES: It was, of course, while you were in Canada...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...that the end of the Cold War occurred and the Soviet Union fell
apart, and you tell a remarkable story of a visit in 1991 of some executives
of new Russian companies...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...who had plans to make money. One of them was a company
called...(unintelligible)...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes.

DAVIES: ...which had this scheme to make money by treating toxic wastes.
What was the idea?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: This organization...(unintelligible)...came to Canada. They
were accompanying the guy who was the head of conversion program of the Soviet
Union, Mr. Kolenikov...

DAVIES: Nuclear conversion, you mean? Conversion of nuclear...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: No no. Conversion--no...

DAVIES: No.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: He was the head of the conversion, means conversion of
military industrial complex to civilian, you know, sector.

DAVIES: OK.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: And they came, three of them, and I had assignment from
Moscow to assist them; but when I heard what they had, I was shocked, because
Dmeter, the president of this privately owned company, he claimed that he has
his own nuclear bomb--atomic bomb. And his idea was to drill a deep hole
somewhere up north in Arctic and, for big money, collect the nuclear waste,
chemical waste from all over the world to put it into this deep whole, and
then to blow up the bomb; and in his opinion, the chemical and other waste
could be disappear.

DAVIES: Just to be clear, the plan was to drill holes in the Arctic...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes.

DAVIES: Accept chemical and nuclear waste from other countries, for a fee?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes.

Mr. EARLEY: When...

DAVIES: Dump it down the hole and then detonate it with a nuclear weapon?

Mr. EARLEY: When...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes.

Mr. EARLEY: When Sergei first told me this story, I thought, `This is
fantastic. I mean, this has to be an exaggeration.' But I found all the
documents that support it. And it was not just one hole. They were going to
drill like 30-some holes. They had the actual meters figured out, how much
waste could they put in. And not only did they want to destroy all this waste
and they had how much they were going to charge for it, but this company
actually was going to destroy other nuclear devices too. And it was--it was
taken so seriously, it was presented to the UN at one point; and Sergei
actually alerted various Canadian officials about this plan and got press
about it that helped--the company eventually had to disband and was
embarrassed. And it was--the International Herald Tribune and other
newspapers covered it. And he also notified Yeltsin that this guy had an
atomic bomb supposedly in his dachas, that he'd gotten to, you know, in
payment from scientists to propose this idea.

DAVIES: So just to be clear, we're not talking about nuclear weapons that
were available for this waste burning exercise, but the guy, as payment from
scientists, as a down payment, he had his own personal nuclear bomb...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes.

DAVIES: ... in his country house?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes. Country house? Or his garage, you know. But it was
amazing. And these people from...(unintelligible)...how to put it in
political correct way, they were not very smart. They encouraged them. You
know, it's so green that you have this atomic bomb and there was a press
conference, like 26 journalists were present and they told them, `Tell
everyone about it. It's great.' And they voiced it and I was interpreting for
them; and the reaction was, you can imagine.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Sergei Tretyakov. He was a Russian intelligence
operative who defected to the United States. Also with us Pete Earley, the
journalist who tells his story in the new book "Comrade J."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with journalist Pete
Earley. He has written a new book, "Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of
Russia's Spy Master in America After the End of the Cold War." It's the story
of Sergei Tretyakov, a Russian intelligence operative who defected to the
United States. He also joins us for the interview.

Well, Sergei Tretyakov, there was a point when, in 1994...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...after, you know, the change had occurred and the Soviet Union no
longer existed, where you went back from your assignment in Canada to
the--what had been the KGB's central headquarters to work. It was now, I
guess, the SVR...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: In...

DAVIES: ...Russian intelligence.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes.

DAVIES: What were your observations about the place then. How--how did
it--how had it changed?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: It was really stressful. Before I went to Canada, it was
polished organization with interesting professional people working with you.

DAVIES: You say "polished organized"?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Polished. Yes. Polished because people were well dressed
with knowledge of several foreign languages. Good professionals. When I
returned back from Canada, I couldn't recognize it. In many departments of
the SVR--it's the headquarters in Yasenevo. In some departments at 11:00
everyone was drunk, believe it or not. And in men's restroom there were
dozens and dozens of empty bottles of vodka every day. It was a disaster and
it was so stressful. The second thing is that best officers, the most
talented, they left the service and they joined business community and became
well-off people.

DAVIES: Why do you think it deteriorated so badly? I mean, presumably
effective intelligence is important to any government. Why, I mean, the
picture you paint of the headquarters, and it's really dramatic, as you
said...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: It's dramatic.

DAVIES: ...vodka bottles all around. Why did it deteriorate so?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: It was a shock for the whole KGB. KGB ceased to exist, and
everyone like me who worked in the organization, we thought that we are
indestructible; and then all of a sudden, the organization ceased to exist and
people lost interest. Before that we were all motivated. We didn't work for
money. It was like a patriotic, core patriotic duty. But then the new
government, like people like Yeltsin, we--when you work in the intelligence,
you know exactly who is running the country and what kind of people are
running the country. And when you see all these drunks, you know, thieves,
you name it, the organization changed. We lost the reason to work for the
government, because you don't respect the government.

Mr. EARLEY: Let's not forget too that the KGB was hated by many of the
people in the Soviet Union, who were its victims, and that the KGB had certain
amount of privileges. They were elite, and when Yeltsin and the new democrats
came in, a lot of that shifted, and so it was not quite as glamorous to be in
the KGB or be in--you know, Sergei was in foreign intelligence so he wasn't
involved in the departments that were arresting and murdering people, but that
was also a part of the KGB's legacy.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes. Absolutely.

DAVIES: Well, Sergei Tretyakov, you were in New York for the Russian
intelligence from 1995 to 2000, there...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: yes.

DAVIES: ...with your wife, Helen, and your daughter.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes.

DAVIES: And one of the things, it's interesting, that you write, is that one
of the objectives, apart from gathering information, was to do all you could
do disseminate information which would undermine US foreign policy. And you
write--you are quoted as saying in Pete Earley's book, "Our goal was to cause
dissension and unrest inside the US and anti-American feelings abroad." Now
why was this a goal now that the Cold War was over and the US and Russia were
no longer, you know, ideological adversaries, you know, theoretically allies?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Cold War was never over. There was period of weakness in
Russia. When Russia economy deteriorated, it was a total chaos in Russia.
Then situation started to improve, not really Russian economy but because of
natural gas and oil. Russian government has a lot of money; and because they
have a lot of money, they're back in business. It's competition. And
nothing, nothing changed. If you look at what Russia is doing right now, in
any part of the world--like Iranian nuclear program. Iranians couldn't even
think about having their own nuclear program without Russian assistance. Go
to Middle East. Hamas and Hezbollah, which are well recognized in most
countries as terrorists, Russia supports them as national liberation movement.
If you go to Latin America, Hugo Chavez is the best friend of Russians and he
is buying more weapons than anyone else in the world; and Russians, they are
arming one of our--one who doesn't like us?

DAVIES: Sergei Tretyakov, while you were in New York, you managed to get a
Russian intelligence operative, Alexander Kramer, in the UN's Food-for-Oil
programme. And just to remind listeners, this was the program in which Iraq,
which was then under UN trade sanctions, was permitted to sell oil in return
specifically for food and other humanitarian goods. And the way it worked was
the UN would supervise these Iraqi oil vouchers, which would be matched with a
foreign buyer, who would then put money into a UN account, and theoretically
the oil could be sold and the goods sent for the benefit for the people of
Iraq rather than Saddam Hussein and his own uses. And a Russian intelligence
operative was actually, with your assistance, put into a position here to
monitor this program. And I'm wondering, what was the result of your Russian
intelligence operative getting involved in this UN Oil-for-Food programme.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: First of all, when Oil-for-Food programme started, there were
four international independent and--controllers: one Russian, one American,
one Belgian and one...

Mr. EARLEY: France.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: France, France. Yes. And with time, three left, found
better jobs. And Kramer was left alone to approve this contract.

DAVIES: That's the Russian intelligence operative? Alexander Kramer?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes. Yes. He was illegally introduced to this position, but
he was, in reality, he was colonel like me in the Russian intelligence. Of
course, no one knew about it because they wanted someone really neutral, a
professional expert working for this program. Alexander Kramer was a lousy
operative. Lousy. Below zero. And I always wanted to get rid of him, to
send him back to Russia; but all of a sudden, he was awarded, by the
presidential administration and approved by the gosudar Russian parliament
with one of the highest medals, awards, in Russia. And it was outrageous
because none of my officers got one--a reward like this, and they were good
officers.

DAVIES: What had Kramer done to earn this accolade?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: This is Pete Earley's research and I think it's excellent
because I didn't know exactly--I know I knew what he was doing. He was
stealing money for the Russian government but Pete Earley describes the
methods, how it was done.

Mr. EARLEY: When Kramer was put in charge...

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Mm-hmm

Mr. EARLEY: ...he was answering to Sergei and Sergei was reading his memos,
and he knew money was being stolen. But what he was doing was when he was the
only one in charge, he priced the difference between the vouchers by 35 cents.
Now, what did this mean? This means that if I got a voucher to sell 10
million units of oil and it was priced 35 cents under the market, I pocketed
that profit when I turned around and sold it, and he enabled the Russian
government to steal a half billion dollars. A half billion dollars went into
Russia, to--some of it went to the Russian presidential council. We were able
to track some of it to the office of the president; but you can't find, for
instance, Putin's fingerprints on all this. But Putin then, in turn, gave
this guy this high honor, but he personally set the price so that Russians
could steal a half billion dollars in profits.

DAVIES: Now we should note that there was, you know, there are revelations of
corruption among other officials in the Oil-for-Food programme, but you have
here this Russian official stealing a lot for himself, for friends of the
Russian government, and for the Russians. And Sergei Tretyakov, what effect
did this have on your opinion of the government that you were working for?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Actually, it just was another proof that it became immoral to
work for this government, because Russian people--when--right now in Russia
they have a very strong propaganda campaign about how good the economy is,
etc. It's not true. The life is a kind of bearable in Moscow and St.
Petersburg; but the normal Russians, including retired people, veterans,
they're suffering, no one takes care of them. If you travel like 50 miles
from Moscow, it's 17th century. They don't have running water in many places,
you know. And a lot of people working for the government became extremely
rich. For example, you know, that Putin was nominated The Man of the Year
by...

DAVIES: Time Magazine, right?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: ...Time Magazine. And they claim, and I think they are
serious people, that his personal wealth is just several billion dollars. And
I'm asking the question--he was never with the business community, he was
always a state serviceman--how he managed to make this kind of money?

DAVIES: We're speaking with Sergei Tretyakov. He is a Russian intelligence
operative who defected to the United States. His story is told in a new book
by our other guest, Pete Earley. That book is "Comrade J."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with journalist Pete
Earley. He has written a new book, "Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of
Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War." It's the story
of Sergei Tretyakov, a Russian intelligence operative who defected to the
United States. He also joins us for the interview.

Sergei Tretyakov, tell us about your decision to defect. What convinced you
to do it?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Not only me, my wife, myself, we developed a very strong, if
you want--I'll put it this way--allergic reaction. I couldn't serve that
government anymore. And it was a dramatic decision because, you understand,
that if something went wrong, nothing good would happen to our family.

DAVIES: What can either of you tell me about Sergei's life today? He's
living under an assumed name somewhere in the United States?

Mr. EARLEY: No, he doesn't live under an assumed name. He became an
American citizen, and he believes that gives him, affords him, a certain
amount of protection and rights. He does not disclose in what state he lives,
but he lives a very ordinary life. He has a very nice house. He doesn't have
to work. Sergei, jump in.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Actually all three of us, we became American citizens. We
don't have relatives in Russia, which is good, because I will never--I would
never leave hostages. The last living relative was my mom, who died.

DAVIES: You don't fear for your safety, Sergei?

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Of course, we take safety issues seriously. But, you know,
we all three of us, we became American citizens, and I think that Putin and
others, they must send some special people to the United States to protect me,
because if something happens to me, like a drunk driver will run over me, you
know, it will be very difficult to explain that Russian officials didn't
participate in it. They...

DAVIES: Well, there certainly have been other officials who have died under
very mysterious circumstances.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Yes. I don't want to speculate because I don't know. Like
Litvinenkos, Pasachnik and others, I can't tell you because I have no--I don't
have any information. But again, mentioning my discussions with Mr. Zoltov,
with Mr. Moroff, the security guy and the physical protections of the
president, these people think in different categories, you know?

DAVIES: Well, Pete Earley and Sergei Tretyakov, thanks so much for speaking
with us.

Mr. TRETYAKOV: Thank you for having us.

Mr. EARLEY: Thank you.

GROSS: Sergei Tretyakov and Pete Earley spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave
Davies. Earley's new book about Tretyakov is called "Comrade J."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,
freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

07:43

< A Disgraced Interrogator Gambles On Redemption In 'The Card Counter'

Movie critic Justin Chang reviews The new independent drama "The Card Counter", starring Oscar Isaac as a professional poker player and former military man who was convicted of war crimes at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue