Pope case a resurgence for Russian spy agency
A verdict is expected this week in the first post-Soviet spy trial of an American.
MOSCOW — The controversial trial in Russia of American Edmond Pope, a former US naval intelligence officer accused of stealing state secrets, could end this week. But whatever the verdict, analysts say that Mr. Pope's case is one of many brought by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) that appear part of a wider crackdown designed to reestablish the influence of this successor to the KGB.
The result may be the end of the free-for-all sell-off in post-Soviet Russia - of everything from space technology to state secrets - that marked the 1990s. The case also blurs the line between what is and isn't classified information in the new Russia, and shows how the distinction is being redefined almost daily.
Pope - the first American put on trial for espionage here since 1960, when Gary Powers's U2 spy plane was brought down over the Soviet Union - was nabbed 10 months ago and charged with illegally obtaining secret designs for a Russian Shkval torpedo, which can reportedly travel underwater at speeds of 230 miles per hour - five times faster than any others.
His closed trial, which began on Oct. 26, has been marred by constant procedural upsets. These include the court's refusal to hear a key witness who wished to retract his testimony against Pope, on grounds it was extracted by the FSB under duress.
Pope's lawyers say he was seeking to buy old technology that Russia has already exhibited and offered for sale around the world, which was only classified as secret by a state commission following his arrest.
Pope says he accessed only legal sources of information in his plan to adapt a 20-year-old Russian military design to civilian purposes.
President Clinton has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin - a former KGB agent - for clemency on "humanitarian" grounds.
Open sources or secrets?
But Russian prosecutors - who have denied Pope medical treatment for cancer during his months in prison - say that the torpedo designs he was gathering were top secret. They have asked the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and a $250 million fine for damage to Russia's defense industry.
Pope's case is hardly unique. In the 16 months since Mr. Putin came to power, there have been a spate of arrests of Russians similarly accused of treason for handling materials they did not know were secret.
"The FSB is trying to rebuild their influence" after being sidelined in Russia's post-Soviet rush to open its society and adopt Western ways over the past decade," says Yuri Ryzhov, an influential expert and aeronautical engineer at the Russian Academy of Sciences. "They are not only supported by state power, but by many in society. People don't feel they need civil rights. There is almost no popular resistance against these cases."
Analysts say the current wave of treason trials is in some measure a reaction to the breakdown of order following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
"Over the past decade, things were too lax," says Alexander Pikayev, a security expert with the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow. "Our national security system collapsed, and we had political illusions about the goodwill of foreign countries."
Putin promised to establish a "dictatorship of law" in Russia, but the attorney for one arrested military journalist speaks instead of a "dictatorship of security services." The KGB was once an almighty structure in the Soviet Union, but until recently - Putin's ascent to power is often seen as the turning point - the FSB was on the defensive. Spy cases today help justify its worth.
"[FSB] attempts to prove their necessity follow the simplest way," Mr. Ryzhov says. "They are looking for internal and external enemies."
In the early 1990s, many former Soviet military and industrial secrets were peddled around the world, often by ex-members of the KGB. "Such a unique thing as the Buran shuttle was sold to Gorky Park, where it is now a restaurant," says an engineer who helped design the Soviet Union's only working space shuttle.
"The bosses at Roscosmos [the Russian Space Agency] are selling everything they can lay their hands on," says the engineer who requested anonymity.
But the current FSB crackdown could be flying out of control. "It's one thing to restore order," says Mr. Pikayev. "It's another thing to use national security to suppress free speech and open exchanges of ideas."
Problems have also afflicted the espionage trial of diplomat Valentin Moiseyev, charged by the FSB with handing over secret documents to South Korean intelligence. Just before the closing arguments late last month, the presiding judge pleaded "illness" and quit the court. Mr. Moiseyev was brought to a new courtroom, with a new judge, and told his trial would begin all over again.
"The FSB is incredibly incompetent in organizing cases because it has no experience with operating in a legal environment, where charges must be proven," says Andrei Piontkovsky, an independent political expert. "The FSB's blundering actually gives some hope that courts might manage to assert a bit of independence."
Another facing trial is Igor Sutyagin, a researcher at the prestigious Institute for Canada-USA Studies in Moscow. He was investigated for cooperating with two Canadian universities in a sociological survey of civil-military relations in Russia, and for providing a British firm with a digest of Russian press articles about military affairs.
As a social scientist, Mr. Sutyagin never had access to classified information. Still, he has been in prison for 13 months, and the FSB announced recently that he will be tried for treason.
"The FSB has always been suspicious about academic research and open exchange of ideas," says Pavel Podvig, an expert at the Center for Arms Control Studies in Moscow who worked closely with Sutyagin. On the day of the arrest, the FSB searched Mr. Podvig's office and seized all his records. "[The FSB] seem to sincerely believe that the way to protect secrets is ... to jail and otherwise intimidate people who do scientific research based on open and unclassified information," he says.
Alexander Nikitin, a former Russian Navy captain turned environmentalist, endured a five-year ordeal of incarceration and repeated trials after the FSB charged him with treason for writing a report on the Russian Navy's handling of nuclear wastes, in which he called rusting nuclear subs "floating Chernobyls." He was finally exonerated by the Supreme Court in September.
But Grigory Pasko, another ex-naval officer who revealed information on Russian nuclear abuses to a Japanese television station, was sent back for a complete retrial by a panel of military judges in November.
"Returning Pasko's case is an attempt by the FSB to take revenge for the loss of the Nikitin case," says Yury Schmidt, Mr. Nikitin's lawyer.
"The FSB is attempting to play an independent role, and to restore the important political positions it used to enjoy. There are a lot of negative signs," he adds.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society