RED IN TOOTH AND CLAWhttp://www.nytimes.com/1986/
INSIDE THE AQUARIUM The Making of a Top Soviet Spy. By Viktor Suvorov. 249 pp. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. $17.95. VIKTOR SUVOROV is the pseudonym of a gifted Russian who served as an officer in Soviet military intelligence, known as the G.R.U. Several years ago he escaped to Great Britain, learned to write in English and became a successful author. In this, his fourth and best book, he illuminates life within the secret order to which he belonged.
At the outset, the author is watching a training film for inductees into the G.R.U., a silent, grainy film that shows him the inside of the G.R.U. crematorium. Attendants clad in protective gray gowns gently glide a coffin between furnace fire doors into an inferno. Next the camera focuses on the handsome, sweating face of an elegantly attired man lashed by steel wires to a stretcher. He is very much alive, and Mr. Suvorov realizes the man is about to be burned alive.
''He strains to the point of breaking his own bones, and tearing his own tendons and muscles. It is a superhuman effort. But the wire does not give. And the stretcher slides smoothly along the rails. The furnace doors move aside again and the fire casts a white light on the soles of the man's dirty patent leather shoes. He tries to bend his knees in an effort to increase the distance between his feet and the roaring fire. But he can't.''
I am not sure that the G.R.U. actually incinerates heretical officers, which is what the film was intended to demonstrate. Neither am I sure that many other stark scenes actually occurred precisely as the author relates. But better than any other, this book bares the spirit and mentality of a formidable clandestine force at work in much of the world.
''Inside the Aquarium'' (''Aquarium'' is Mr. Suvorov's term for the G.R.U.) is not a polemic; the underlying themes of boundless cynicism and pitiless inhumanity naturally emerge from a superbly written narrative that should engross all who enjoy stories of adventure, espionage, conflict and courage.
Mr. Suvorov re-creates his experiences as a tank commander, member of a commando unit (Spetsnaz), a G.R.U. trainee and, finally, operational intelligence officer in Western Europe. In training, he is compelled to dupe an innocent employee of a Soviet missile plant into divulging technical data to him. If he succeeds, the employee will be dealt with just as if an American agent had recruited him. If Mr. Suvorov does not get the data and thereby destroy a fellow citizen, however, he fails the course.
In Vienna, the G.R.U. orders Mr. Suvorov to stealthily deposit a miniature Bible in the mailbox of a brother officer who also happens to be a friend. Uncertain about whether he or his friend is being tested, Mr. Suvorov does not warn him. The officer, instead of immediately reporting the provocation, simply discards the little Bible in a trash bin. For this, he is quickly lured to the G.R.U.'s redoubt, or Residency. Disinfecting the officer's arm with gin, the G.R.U. chief, or Resident, gives him a disabling dosage of ''Bliss'' and under armed guard he is ''evacuated'' to Moscow and jail.
Ultimately, Mr. Suvorov himself has to administer a shot of ''Bliss'' to the Resident's principal deputy, a distinguished and widely admired man who once saved the Resident from execution. No matter. He too must be ''evacuated'' to prison, for he has strayed into the arms of a foreign woman. In the dramatic ending of the book, Mr. Suvorov finds and chooses a way out. Because he does, the G.R.U. is much the poorer and all who desire to understand it are much richer.
Aside from suggesting that not every word should be interpreted literally, I would submit only a minor caution, and I may be mistaken even about it. But I do not think that the G.R.U. is quite the all-conquering apparatus one might infer. Western intelligence services repeatedly have recruited its officers in place and a number have fled to the West. STILL, the G.R.U. - together with the larger Soviet secret police apparatus, the K.G.B. -does threaten individual liberty everywhere.
By massive theft of Western technology and inventions, it helps sustain a dangerous status quo in a state that, in addition to nuclear missiles, keeps tens of thousands of tanks poised on the frontiers of Western Europe. Reflecting in a Viennese cafe, Viktor Suvorov says:
''Do you like the smell of tanks? I do too. The smell of a tank is the smell of metal, of enormously powerful engines, of field tracks. Tanks roll into towns from the woods and fields, bringing with them the lingering smell of leaves and fresh grass. . . . I can picture the thousands of grimy tanks on the streets of Vienna. The city seethes, seized with fear and indignation, and along its streets thunder column upon column of tanks. . . . An old man, weeping, with shaggy grey beard, shouts something and shakes his fist, but who hears him? Is it possible to silence the roaring of the tanks' engines? Too late, old man, you started to cry out too late.''