Yurchenko: probably a KGB plant
THE KGB is very trusting. Or so we are asked to believe in the case of the mysterious redefection of Vitaly Yurchenko. Less than 48 hours after Colonel Yurchenko entered the Soviet compound in Washington, he was presented to the assembled news media at a KGB press conference in the United States capital. The stakes were high. Yurchenko's performance took place two weeks before the Geneva summit and precisely on the day when Secretary of State George Shultz and national-security adviser Robert McF arlane were negotiating with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. Only the Politburo could have approved the defector's press conference in America on a day like that. And the Soviet leadership had to be assured by the KGB that Yurchenko would not embarrass the Kremlin. But why would the KGB be prepared to provide such assurances unless Yurchenko were a Soviet plant? The Soviet secret police would not be so naive as to accept the tale of Yurchenko's being kidnapped and drugged by the CIA. The boys from Lubianka would at a minimum have to entertain the possibility that the colonel was a genuine defector who had a change of heart. Of course, the KGB had reason to believe that once inside the Soviet compound, Yurchenko would say whatever was required to win lenient treatm ent at home.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, there could be no complete certainty about his state of mind. It was not just a question of sticking to his story of being an innocent victim of the CIA's monstrous crime. On the eve of the summit it was imperative to have a flawless act, an act that could hardly be expected of a defector who was either a horrible liar or an emotional wreck, or both.
Yet, Yurchenko did not disappoint his Kremlin masters. Under intense questioning, his responses were calibrated and precise. Accusations against his CIA handlers were carefully balanced with suggestions that neither President Reagan nor even CIA Director William Casey was aware of the Yurchenko ordeal. That is despite the fact that the colonel actually had a meeting with Mr. Casey. With patronizing magnanimity Yurchenko explained that he was drugged before the session, that the conversation was quite ge neral, and that it was entirely possible that Casey was kept in the dark about his subordinates' actions against the KGB man.
Such generosity is deadly. On one hand, the CIA, and by implication the administration in general, were portrayed as a bunch of vicious fools. On the other, the Soviets sounded like wounded but sweet people who did not want to be too provocative just before the summit.
Throughout the press conference Yurchenko was professional. He was ill at ease only when he spoke English -- hardly surprising for a person whose command of it was less than flawless in front of TV cameras. There was no sign of nervousness when he was using his native Russian. Another remarkable feature of the press conference was the sense of authority with which the supposed former traitor handled himself. On three occasions he overruled the Soviet official in charge of the event, Victor Isakov,