KGB witnesses pledged as spy trial takes off
TAMPA - Was he a poor innocent caught up in the paranoia of the Cold War, or one of the KGB's ablest spies?
By PAULA CHRISTIAN of The Tampa Tribune
Published Wednesday, June 6, 2001
The trial of George Trofimoff, accused of spying, opened Tuesday with promises of explosive testimony from witnesses who might have stepped from the pages of a best-selling espionage thriller, including a former KGB spy master who will say the KGB's leadership ranked Trofimoff as their No. 1 asset in the West.
Prosecutors say Trofimoff, a 74-year-old retiree who was passing his golden years working as a grocery bagger at a Publix, actually was a turncoat who did incalculable damage to America at the height of the Cold War. They say he sold 50,000 documents to the KGB over 25 years and collected a small monthly salary for his espionage work.
"He doesn't think of himself as American. He never has," Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Furr said in opening statements. "He's Russian. He did it for the motherland."
But Trofimoff's lawyer, Daniel Hernandez, described his client as a patriot who loved America. After years in active duty, Trofimoff stayed in the U.S. Army Reserves until he retired as a colonel in 1994.
"In his many years of service, he has never asked what his country can do for him," Hernandez said. "He has always asked what he could do for his country."
The trial will be a production worthy of Steven Spielberg, Hernandez said. He accused the government of entrapping a poor old man and attaching sinister motives to innocent behavior.
The start of the trial in U.S. District Court drew more spectators than the courtroom could hold. Prosecutors, interns, reporters and others packed the benches. One spectator sat on the floor.
Trofimoff sat straight and alert in his chair. He wore a gray pinstriped suit, crisp white shirt and maroon tie.
He occasionally turned around and glanced through thick glasses at the spectators behind him. Sitting in the front row was a former neighbor, Andy Byers, who took notes all day and plans to write a book about Trofimoff.
Trofimoff lived in Melbourne on Patriot Drive in a retirement community restricted to former military officers but was arrested at a hotel in Tampa.
He was recruited into the KGB by a childhood friend, Igor Vladimirovich Susemihl, once the Russian Orthodox archbishop of Vienna, the government says. Both were born to Russian émigrés in Germany, grew up in the same house and were so close they called each other brothers.
Susemihl allegedly started the pitch by asking Trofimoff about his political views and lending him money when he was financially strapped. When he tried to repay it, Susemihl refused and promised him even more money if he would work for the other side, Furr said in his opening statement.
Trofimoff agreed and became a spy for the KGB, the old Soviet intelligence service, in 1969 at the height of the Cold War, Furr said.
As head of a critical Army intelligence center in Nuremberg, Germany, Trofimoff had access to scores of classified documents. Furr said he smuggled documents to his home in his attaché case at night. He furiously photographed them whenever his wife was out, using gooseneck lamp and a special tripod, Furr alleged. Then Trofimoff returned the documents to the center the next morning.
The documents he allegedly stole included lists of U.S. intelligence goals, papers identifying and ranking U.S. military needs, battle plans detailing U.S. military intelligence on Soviet and Warsaw Pact units, briefs on potential chemical and biological warfare theaters, and reports of defector interviews.
"This is nothing more than fantasy," Hernandez replied. Trofimoff used the gooseneck lamps to build model ships. The camera equipment was ordinary, Hernandez said.
Hernandez dismissed all of the government's evidence except for one key piece: a six-hour videotape showing Trofimoff confessing to an FBI agent pretending to be from the KGB.
Hernandez acknowledged that the case hinges on that videotape. He said his client lied, pretending to have worked for the KGB because he wanted the promise of money to pay off a second mortgage on his home.
But former KGB agents will tie Trofimoff to the Soviet espionage effort, Furr said.
A former archivist for the KGB will testify he knew Trofimoff by code names and saw the secrets he provided, Furr said.
And a former high-ranking KGB officer will testify he met Trofimoff in Austria in the early 1970s and warned him not to marry a younger woman because it would draw too much attention to him, the prosecutor said.
This same agent prepared a list of top spies for Yuri Andropov in the early 1970s, Furr said. Andropov was then the top man at the KGB; he later became head of the Soviet government.
"We have that document and you will see it," Furr said. "The No. 1 person listed on it is the defendant."