Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Daniloff through Soviet eyes: checkmate

By Daniel Schorr / September 25, 1986



Washington

LET'S look at the situation created by the arrest of Nicholas Daniloff as they might in the Kremlin. Memorandum to: General Secretary Gorbachev.

Skip to next paragraph

From: Secretariat, Central Committee.

Subject: Review of American Relations.

It should first be remembered what preceded the decision to arrest correspondent Daniloff on Aug. 30.

Background: By August we were all but convinced that President Reagan was maneuvering to bring you to Washington to negotiate from a position of weakness and humiliation.

In March, American warships brazenly entered our territorial waters in the Black Sea. (You will remember, Comrade Gorbachev, being at your seaside dacha at the time, how furious you were.)

In April, the American media wildly exaggerated the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident (and Reagan patronizingly offered you technical assistance).

In May, the Americans bombed Libya (leading Shevardnadze to cancel his pre-summit trip to Washington).

In August, Reagan stated at a press conference in Chicago that we needed the summit because of economic desperation.

During this time a well-orchestrated spy mania was directed at our representation in the United Nations.

Zakharov and Daniloff: Against this background, a KGB line officer employed at the UN Secretariat, Gennady Zakharov, was handed classified documents by a contact he had been cultivating for three years. The FBI, which had staged this provocation, was on hand to make an immediate arrest and expose our officer to television cameras, followed by an enormous hoopla in the American media.

We arrived at three possible motivations for this event:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency were acting as ``rogue elephants,'' contriving a ``success'' to offset their embarrassing failures with Soviet defector Yurchenko and American defector Edward Howard.

The American public had to be whipped up in order to justify the attack on our representation at the UN.

Hard-line elements in the Reagan administration were trying to throw a monkey wrench into preparations for the summit.

Furthermore, departing from normal practice, the US authorities refused Zakharov bail or remand in embassy custody. As you know, the KGB tries, at all costs, to keep agents out of jail, where they may be ``turned around'' by pressure tactics or discourage other agents in the field.

In accordance with the KGB's standard guidelines, an available dossier was selected and an American in Moscow without diplomatic immunity arrested for barter purposes. In retrospect, it may have been a tactical error to single out a journalist (rather than a businessman, tourist, or academic, as in the past). Since our correspondents normally perform intelligence functions, it did not occur to us that Americans would be so aroused by the jailing of a journalist.

Analysis of the outcome: Although the furor in America was greater than anticipated, the consequences of our resolute response have turned out to be most positive.

Zakharov (like Daniloff) was released from jail, maintaining the symmetry of the two cases and easing the KGB's chief concern about protecting its agents. To get Zakharov home after American ``justice'' has been satisfied may cost a few dissidents, but that is not seen as a major problem.

The big surprise was the electrifying effect of this episode on American arms control positions. It was as though the Reagan administration, desperate for Daniloff, felt a need to make the summit too tempting to us to be canceled.

Within a short time, leading up to President Reagan's UN Assembly speech, American positions were modified to produce agreement in Stockholm on monitoring of troop movements and narrowing the gap over nuclear weapons in the Geneva talks.

You can be assured that whenever you go to Washington for the summit, it will be with prestige enhanced -- as an equal not to be trifled with by provocation.

Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst with National Public Radio. In 1955, he opened the CBS News bureau in Moscow, and, in 1957, after being arrested and briefly detained by the KGB, was barred from the Soviet Union.