Magazine article Insight on the News

Expert Contends 'Defector' Was Actually an Emissary

Magazine article Insight on the News

Expert Contends 'Defector' Was Actually an Emissary

Article excerpt

For 10 years arguments have raged about Vitaly Yurchenko, the KGB officer whose apparent defection and redefection in 1985 turned U.S. intelligence circles upside down. Was he a true defector or a KGB plant?

He was neither, syndicated columnist Ralph de Toledano tells Insight. "He was sent as an emissary, not a defector, to get word to Reagan that he could negotiate with Gorbachev."

Toledano broke the initial story of Yurchenko's alleged defection in 1985. But the case continued to fascinate him. For two years he has cultivated intelligence sources around the world to get the rest of the story on the mysterious Russian. "It's rings within rings," he says.

The supposed redefection just didn't make sense. On Nov. 2, 1985, Yurchenko, a senior KGB officer who had defected in Rome three months earlier, walked out of a Washington restaurant and returned to a Soviet Embassy compound. He soon appeared before news cameras at the Soviet Embassy to claim he had been kidnapped and drugged by the CIA.

Something was being withheld, but what was it?

At the time of his first defection in Rome, Yurchenko said "he wanted to come to the United States to talk to Reagan," says Toledano. "And they said you can't but you can talk to [CIA Director William] Casey." And talk he did -- with all of Casey's questions being about the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Yurchenko "wasn't treated the way a defector is treated. He was allowed to wander around," says Toledano. "Defectors are put on ice," not parade.

The CIA reportedly had decided that Yurchenko had been a plant -- a false defector whose purpose had been to embarrass the United States, feed the CIA false intelligence and learn the agency's practices and procedures in cases involving high-level defectors. Eventually a failed love affair was presented as the prime motivation for Yurchenko's alleged redefection.

"Everybody knew in the CIA" that Yurchenko wasn't a defector, says Toledano. "The CIA was covering up for itself, making itself look very important, by saying 'Oh, we've got this important defector.'" U.S. and Soviet officials had agreed that there would be no public word on Yurchenko's message to President Reagan. …

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