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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/15/09

Igor Sutyagin and I. F. Stone: Spies?

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A Review of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev

My first and only meeting with Igor Sutyagin occurred on 7 September 1998, in what was then the Taiga Café of Moscow's Aerostar Hotel. A senior scholar in the Department for Military-Political Studies at the Institute for the USA and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Sutyagin was given the task of dining with an American "People to People" delegation - of which I was a member - and briefing its members on the economic crisis ravaging Russia since its catastrophic default just three weeks earlier.

Although we peppered Igor with questions about Russia's economic collapse, his answers clearly demonstrated - to me, at least -- that the Russian economy was not his area of expertise. Which is why, near the end of our dinner, I changed the subject by asking him a series of questions about the Russian military, my specialty. "What was Russia doing to capture the so-called "revolution in military affairs?" Was he familiar with the massive American study, Atomic Audit (which I reviewed in the July 13, 1998 edition of The Nation) especially its startling revelations about the high risk of accidental nuclear war that was hanging over our unwitting heads during the Cold War? What is Russia doing today to assure control over its nuclear arsenal?

After Igor gave lengthy answers to each question, I asked him what he thought of President Clinton's recent decision to permit the expansion of NATO. Much to my surprise, Igor's face turned crimson as he reached into his wallet to withdraw a folded newspaper article that described a deal struck between former Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

According to the article, Baker assured Gorbachev that, in return for the Soviet leader's assistance in accomplishing the peaceful unification of Germany, the United States would not pursue any further expansion of NATO. (Gorbachev reiterated Baker's promise as recently as March 2009) Having read Baker's promise, Igor characterized Clinton's decision to expand NATO as a "stab in the back." He quickly added: "Why should Russians trust the United States to honor any of its agreements?"

After dinner, I invited Igor to my room, where we spent two hours discussing the collapse of the Russian military, the consolidations currently occurring in defense industries of both countries, FIGS (financial industrial groups) and Gorbachev's role in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Like most Russians I've met, Igor didn't share my high esteem for Gorbachev.

But, he seemed quite interested in my soon-to-be-published review of Gary Hart's book, The Minuteman: Restoring and Army of the People, which called for a sharp reduction in active-duty forces and increased reliance on arguably less competent reserves, because "a permanent standing military seeks causes for its continued existence and resources to maintain itself."

In fact, the smiling Sutyagin suggested the world would be better off, were the American military compelled to rely more on arguably less competent reserves. There would be much less "adventurism" around the world, he said.

After giving him a few of my recent articles, including my review of Atomic Audit, we ended our conversation by agreeing to remain in touch. Most importantly, Igor agreed to serve as my point of contact in Moscow (to coordinate visits and meetings) for the People to People delegation of defense experts I planned to bring to Russia in 1999.

In fact, People to People approved and advertised my proposed delegation for 1999, but it never got off the ground. It became a casualty of the widespread and widely broadcast protests by angry Russians against NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia that year. (One of the few individuals who expressed interest in the delegation was a man who claimed to be with the CIA. He called me to ask whether CIA analysts could participate. Although I doubted the caller's motives and bona fides, I told him that transparency and information in the public domain would be the rules for our delegation. Under those conditions, if People to People and the Russians didn't mind CIA participation, neither did I.)

Igor, himself, sent me a blistering email about the U.S./NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. After listing the international laws violated by NATO's unprovoked attack, he once again asked why Russia should trust the U.S. to honor its international obligations. Notwithstanding this outburst, we continued to exchange emails (and I mailed a few books to him, including one containing Vasili Mitrokhin's archival revelations about the KGB) up until his arrest.

His arrest? Yes, you might imagine my surprise and dismay when I learned that Igor Sutyagin had been arrested in late October 1999 and, in November, charged with high treason under Article 275 of the Criminal Code. The charge? Passing Russia's nuclear secrets to the West.

Having personally witnessed examples attesting to Igor's unwavering Russian patriotism, I concluded that he had been set up -- especially after I learned that Igor's boss, the Director the Institute for the USA and Canada Studies, asserted that Igor did not have access to classified information. In fact, the Director asserted that none of his employees has access to secret documents.

As part of Igor's persecution, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) staged a bogus TV news story on December 26, 2000, in which Igor supposedly confessed to his crime. (Yet, years later, when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution urging Russia to release Sutyagin, Russia's Presidential Pardon Commission declined to pardon Sutyagin because he had not admitted guilt.)

In 2004 Igor was sentenced to 15 years for his "crime," notwithstanding the fact that the prosecutors never established that Igor ever possessed classified information. Prior to his conviction, the charade got so bad that the Federal Security Service even attempted to persuade the Director of the Institute for the USA and Canada Studies that "the Criminal Code says that if you pass information to foreigners and get paid for it, then it doesn't matter…[whether or not] the information contains state secrets."

The international outcry was enormous. As the U.S. State Department's 2007 Report on Human Rights noted: "Sutyagin and human rights groups claimed that he had no access to classified information, and that the government sought a severe sentence to discourage others from sharing sensitive information with other countries. Amnesty International has deemed Sutyagin a political prisoner, and other domestic and international human rights groups raised concerns that the charges were politically motivated and that there were problems in the conduct of the trial and the lengthy sentence."

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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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