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Spies turn travel agents

Tourists might go to New York's Bronx Zoo to see animals. But readers of the KGB Guidebook to Cities of the World will recognize the zoo as a favorite spot for passing secret information.

In London, most out-of-towners know Harrods as a department store. Few realize its crowds and back stairwells make it a great place to get lost when someone's tailing you.

The guidebook, which went on sale Monday, offers regular travelers a view of the world's most glittering capitals through the shaded glasses of retired Soviet spies.

Seven ex-KGB agents introduce Russian readers to Bangkok, Cairo, London, Mexico City, New York, Paris and Rome, lacing their descriptions with spicy bits of spy lore and undercover travel tips.

Posing as journalists, economists and United Nations employees while feeding information to Moscow's spy center, the agents clearly fell under the spell of their glamorous host cities.

"Strange as it may seem, I forgot tomorrow's rendezvous when we ate the moules a la provencale," Mikhail Brazhelonov wrote, reminiscing about his days as a secret agent in Paris.

The 300-page volume, put out by the private publishing house Top Secret, was unofficially vetted by Russia's spy agency and doesn't let any cats out of any bags.

Although many of the authors' reminiscences date to the 1960s and are sparse on specifics, the book is intended to give tourists a feel for the foreign capitals.

Mikhail Lyubimov, who retired from a prominent spy career in London and now writes spy novels, stuffs his description of the city with stories about espionage, history and literature.

"We decided to relax and write this book just for the fun of it," Lyubimov said as he signed books Monday at the downtown Moskva bookstore. "An intelligence agent views a city as a battlefield, and of course he must know it like the palm of his hand."

Lyubimov loved fish and chips, flannel trousers and talking up the ladies in Hyde Park. He posed as a Swede.

"I read the book and I liked it a lot," said Boris Labushov, a spokesman for Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, successor to the KGB. "In fact, we are giving them our premises in the Lubyanka for the book party," Labushov said, referring to the service's headquarters in Moscow.

The book's chief editor, Alexander Benenson, said the publisher never talked to the intelligence service about the book.

But Labushov said the seven ex-spies brought their manuscripts themselves to the service to make sure they weren't giving away any secrets.

Since the Soviet collapse in 1991, Russia's intelligence agencies have tried to create an impression of openness, giving guided tours through the ominous yellow Lubyanka. The latest such effort is a new CD-ROM put out by the Foreign Intelligence Service that describes the history and operations of Russian spying.

The tourist guide is a lot less serious.

Some of the authors write with the awe of a country kid in the big city _ noticing how nice the roads are, how full the menus are, how often people smile. For their audience of Russian readers, unable to travel freely for decades, such small details still have the air of the exotic.

"I like to read about spies and the KGB," said Oksana Ivanova, a student who said she bought the book because it "tells about all those cities much better than a magazine or a guidebook."

"And besides, their work is now a part of our country's and the world's history."

That work includes a lot of flubs, too.

There was the time when Nikita Khrushchev visited New York's Empire State Building and his security detail failed to get into the elevator with him before the doors closed. The guards ran up 86 flights.

Or the time New York-based spy Oleg Brykin was sent to a secret rendezvous at the lions' cage of the Bronx Zoo. There isn't one.

"The task," he wrote, "became super-difficult."