Yurchenko Describes His ‘Escape’ in the United States
MOSCOW (AP) _ Vitaly Yurchenko, the reputed KGB defector who returned home claiming he was kidnapped by U.S. agents, today said he escaped when his ″CIA guard″ excused himself in a Washington restaurant to go to the men’s room.
Yurchenko, speaking at a 21/2 -hour news conference, repeated allegations that he was kidnapped, drugged and held prisoner by the Central Intelligence Agency. He denied that he had defected willingly, as U.S. officials maintain.
He also declined to say whether he worked for the KGB, as U.S. officials have said. He replied to questions from Western reporters about a possible affiliation with the Soviet secret police and spy agency by accusing them of working for the CIA.
Pressed for a specific response, Yurchenko replied, ″I am a minister- counsel lor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I worked in the Soviet Embassy in Washington on security matters.″
The State Department has said Yurchenko defected while in Rome on Aug. 1 and sought asylum in the United States.
A CIA profile of Yurchenko released last Friday described him as deputy chief of the KGB department responsible for espionage in the United States and Canada. It gave his rank as general-designate, and said from 1975-1980 he was chief of security at the Soviet Embassy in Washington.
Yurchenko returned to the Soviet Union this month after appearing at a news conference at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, where he told reporters he had been kidnapped while in Italy and brought to the United States, where he escaped.
Press reports in the United States have said Yurchenko walked out of a restaurant in Washington and returned to the Soviet Embassy after asking the U.S. official with him if he would try to stop him.
Yurchenko’s own account today conformed with that report in part.
On Saturday, Nov. 2, Yurchenko said he asked one of his three guards at the Virginia location where he was being held to take him shopping at a department store.
He identified the guard as Tom Hannah and said, ″He was younger than the others and seemed to be a bit ashamed of his role.″
Yurchenko said he was allowed to go to the men’s department by himself, and that he quickly purchased an overcoat, a hat and an umbrella that he planned to use to change his appearance.
While in the store, he said he also made a collect call to the Soviet Embassy and told an official he was coming back.
Yurchenko said he and the man identified as Hannah went for lunch at a French restaurant 500 yards from the Soviet Embassy.
″Tom said he would go wash his hands,″ Yurchenko said. ″I broke out, put on my coat and hat″ and went to the embassy.
Speaking in Russian peppered with occasional English words, Yurchenko repeated many of the statements he made at his Washington news conference.
He said he was kidnapped Aug. 1 on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and woke up ″several days later″ in a Washington hospital.
For two months, Yurchenko said, CIA officers kept him on drugs day and night. He said the CIA tried to persuade him that he had defected and was providing them with intelligence information.
″I began to realize the only way out was to outsmart these people,″ said Yurchenko, adding later that he began plotting an escape ″a few hours″ after he was brought to what he called a CIA ″safe house″ in Fredericksburg, Va., near Washington.
Yurchenko said he feared for his life and claimed he was given drugs that affected his health.
Yurchenko, who appeared tanned and fit, said he was now in ″satisfactory″ condition. He said the CIA forced him to sunbathe and ″made me go in for sports, even play golf″ to make him look more healthy after giving him drugs.
The reputed KBG agent would not answer questions about his future in the Soviet Union. Vladimir Lomeiko, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told the news conference that ″no one at any time in the Soviet Union had any doubts as to Vitaly Yurchenko.″
He declined to say why, if the Soviets thought Yurchenko was kidnapped, they said nothing about it in public until he reappeared at the embassy.
When Soviet journalist Oleg Bitov defected to Britain in 1983, the Soviet Union quickly accused Western intelligence of kidnapping him.
A year later, after writing a series of critical articles about the Soviet Union for the British press, Bitov resurfaced in Moscow at a news conference similar to Yurchenko’s.