Cold War-Era Spies Testify
TAMPA - Two former double agents tell stories of spying for the United States and the former Soviet Union.
By PAULA CHRISTIAN and JIM SLOAN of The Tampa Tribune
Two Cold War double agents - one who betrayed his country for love, the other for his convictions - told their astonishing stories to a mesmerized jury Friday in the spy trial of George Trofimoff. The first was Boris Yuzhin, a former KGB agent who narrowly avoided a firing squad after former FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen - the man at the center of the latest spy scandal in Washington - unmasked him to Moscow as a double agent working for the Americans.
The second was Clayton Lonetree, a former Marine who became a KGB spy because he fell in love with a beautiful woman who was a KGB agent. He confessed and served nine years in prison.
They were the first of many spies and spy masters expected to testify for the government in the weeks ahead as it presses its case against Trofimoff in U.S. District Court.
Trofimoff, 74, is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel who is charged with spying for the former Soviet Union. Prosecutors say he used his job as head of a critical Army intelligence center in Nuremberg, Germany, to obtain and sell more than 50,000 secret documents to the KGB, and that he did incalculable damage to U.S. security at the height of the Cold War.
Trofimoff is the highest-ranking U.S. military officer charged with espionage. He lived in a retirement community in Melbourne and worked part-time as a bagger at Publix when FBI agents arrested him last year.
Yuzhin, a KGB agent for 20 years, said he didn't know Trofimoff. Prosecutors used his testimony to give jurors a sense of the KGB's mission and makeup.
Yuzhin, now 59, was a rising-star scientist when he was recruited into the KGB in the late 1960s.
"I was a patriot of my country," he said in a thick Russian accent. "I was a romantic. I was a typical product of the system. I was ready to sacrifice my life for the benefit of my people."
He described the KGB as a massive organization that had agents in all walks of Soviet life, even Russian Orthodox priests. It had infiltrated the Roman Catholic Church, in one case using an Italian priest to pass information he gleaned in the confessional, he said.
Yuzhin was trained at Red Banner Institute, where he learned about spy drop sites, meeting contacts, secret writing and spy cameras. He mastered Marxist-Lenin philosophy, fired guns, jumped from airplanes and built his own spy equipment.
Just before he left for the United States in 1970, his supervisor gave him some advice.
"He said, `Boris, if you want to succeed in your mission in America, you have to learn to hate them.'... So I was pretty sure they were my enemies. I expected them to be hostile," Yuzhin testified.
Yuzhin went to the University of California at Berkeley as a visiting scientist, talked to students and read books about communism that had been banned in his homeland. His impression of the United States soon changed.
"I didn't know ... the real situation in the Soviet Union," he said.
Yuzhin became a double-agent for the United States, feeding the FBI information about his government in hopes of one day changing it. He returned to Russia in 1976 and rose through the ranks of the KGB.
He was sent back to San Francisco in 1978 with the same assignment -- to recruit Americans, dig up political information and engage in "dirty tricks," sabotaging the careers of politicians the Kremlin mistrusted, he said.
This time his cover was a journalist for the government news agency Tass. He returned to the Soviet Union a few years later and was arrested in 1986.
Jurors did not hear how the KGB learned of Yuzhin's double life. But federal prosecutors in Virginia have filed an affidavit accusing Hanssen, who is charged with being a longtime spy for the Soviets, of betraying Yuzhin and two other senior KGB officers who were working with the FBI.
Two of the three were executed. But Yuzhin escaped a death sentence and spent five years in Russian prisons and labor camps.
He was freed in 1992 by President Boris Yeltsin as part of a general amnesty for political prisoners.
"For me, it was a shock because I didn't think I would survive," Yuzhin said.
Lonetree's story was also compelling. He was a lonely, 22-year-old Marine with a drinking problem when he met a lovely Russian woman, Violetta Sanni, working as a translator at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
It started innocently enough, Lonetree testified. A loner whose American Indian heritage set him apart from his fellow Marines, he spotted Sanni walking across a Moscow park and struck up a conversation.
There were long walks, and clandestine meetings on the city's subway. Soon Lonetree was hopelessly in love.
He knew he was violating Marine regulations against fraternizing with Russians, Lonetree testified, but he still didn't report his meetings with Sanni.
"I had a career in the Marines and I didn't want to see it go down in flames," he said.
Sanni introduced him to "Uncle Sasha," who talked him into turning over the floor plans and personnel lists for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow,
"Did you bring me something?" Lonetree said Uncle Sasha would ask at each of their frequent meetings. "I did my damnedest not to," Lonetree said, "but, yes, I did bring him things."
Lonetree was strapped financially, and the Russians offered him money -- first $20, then as much as $500.
After Lonetree was transferred to guard the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Austria, Sasha introduced him to "George," another KGB spymaster who began upping the ante. He asked Lonetree to plant listening devices in the embassy.
George also wanted a fist of embassy personnel with their individual "weaknesses," Lonetree said.
"I was horrified," he said. "The money, it didn't make any difference. By this time, I was more than knee-deep and there would have been severe consequences."
Lonetree confessed, was court martialed and sentenced to 30 years. He served a little more than nine.
He is the only Marine ever convicted of espionage. His testimony continues Monday.