″I Am Really Vitaly Yurchenko″
WASHINGTON (AP) _ ″First of all,″ the dapper man with the droopy wild west mustache said, ″I would like to confirm that I am really Vitaly Yurchenko.″
Then, for the next hour, he spun a tale that might have coy lapse of attention on the part of the persons watching me.″
The story so far, is one-sided, although the State Department said Yurchenko’s charges were ″completely false.″ The Central Intelligence Agency, which had hailed him as a prize-catch defector who had fingered other spies, had not told its version although a senator described the agency as ″surprised at this as anyone else.″
Yurchenko’s story was not rich in detail. That, he said, he was saving for his return to Moscow - for the representatives of the press there.
″On a business trip in Italy, I was forcibly abducted in Rome by some unknown persons,″ he said at a news conference remarkable for being held in the first place - and in the Soviet residential compound at that. The Soviets in Washington are not known for spashy public relations shows. But they timed this one for the prime time network news.
″Unconscious, I was brought from Italy to the United States. Here I was kept in isolation, forced to take some drugs and denied the possibility to get in touch with official Soviet representatives.″
With that, just like a senator or astronaut or movie star plugging a book, he said ″Now, I’m ready to answer questions.″
The first question to Yurchenko was ″are we to believe″ that he did not tell any secrets to the Americans about Soviet intelligence or other activities.
Yurchenko answered in Russian and was translated. Long answer in Russian; short answer in English.
″In the period when I was conscious and controlled my behavior,″ he said, ″I did not pass any secret information. When I was not drugged, they were telling me that I came to them, came to the Americans myself of my own will, of my own accord ... I did not believe them, I was convinced they were deceiving me.″
Later, he said, they started ″giving me some facts of a business nature,″ but he didn’t believe them. Yurchenko did not identify the ″business.″
At one point in the news conference, he grew impatient with the interpreter, so he interrupted him and spoke in English. ″Ask your officials what secrets I gave them. I’d like to know. Mr. Charlie was my main torturer. He is a psychologically sick person who was wounded in Vietnam. At the hotel I saw his real name: Colin Thompson. Twice divorced, alcoholic.″
At some point in his captivity, Yurchenko said, he was taken to see William J. Casey, the director of the CIA.
″They gave me drugs also several hours before that meeting with Mr. Casey,″ he said. ″But in lesser amounts than before ... I was in a condition that was obviously at a point of the strongest effect of the drug. When Mr. Casey entered the office, I didn’t recognize him. Mr. (Charles) Thompson gave me a push and said ’Say hello to Mr. Casey. This is Mr. Casey.″
Yurchenko may have let out one of the CIA’s prize secrets. He described the place he was held as being near Fredericksburg, on Virginia Route 17, some 22 miles from Washington. He described the place as being on 500 acres with a lot of big buildings, with laser beams and other security devices.
And, he said, six persons were there ″all the time.″
He was asked directly, was he a spy.
He answered just as directly that ″if you’re speaking about the spying business, I know I’m not going to make any comments about the spying business. I have no comment, as you say.″
Neither, for the moment, did the CIA.