Daniloff Gives Account of KGB Prison Experience
Sep. 14, 1986
MOSCOW (AP) _ In his first news conference since he was freed from a Soviet prison, Nicholas Daniloff spoke Sunday of suffering ''mental torture'' during 13 days of interrogation, and warned reporter colleagues they also were potential KGB targets.
He spoke in a room in the U.S. Commercial Office packed with Western reporters, whom he often called by their first names during an informal, 40- minute question-and-answer session.
The mood alternated from serious to light as Daniloff described his fears as he lay in his cell, the informal courtesy code among prisoners, and the give-and-take with his KGB interrogator over the wording of questions.
Daniloff, flanked by his wife, Ruth, and by Henry Trewhitt, deputy managing editor of U.S. News & World Report magazine, emphasized he was never physically abused during his stay at Lefortovo Prison.
But Daniloff said the loneliness and the 30 hours of interrogation took their toll.
''The end result is that when you go back to your cell, you can't get your mind off of the problem, the misfortune which has occurred to you,'' he said.
''And frankly, I have to tell you, it's mental torture, mental torture.''
The 51-year-old reporter, who says he was framed by the KGB in revenge for the FBI arrest of a Soviet on spy charges in New York, also had a sober warning for fellow journalists:
''All of you are potential targets for this sort of action, and it's deplorable. One has to ask: is this an acceptable way of behaving, snapping up people off the street in order to gain political leverage in some other case?''
Daniloff appeared at the conference wearing light brown courderoy pants, a maroon velvet sports jacket, a light colored shirt and a white and red paisley tie that he said his wife had made for his birthday.
His voice was strained at times, but he mostly was articulate and matter of fact, and even joked a little about his experiences. He was released Friday in the custody of the U.S. Embassy.
Daniloff described in detail his arrest by eight KGB agents on Aug. 30 after a meeting with a Soviet acquaintance called Misha, a nickname for Mikhail A. Luzin. He said the two were to say goodbye because Daniloff was being transferred by the U.S. News & World Report news weekly magazine.
Daniloff gave Luzin some American novels as a farewell gift. Daniloff said that to his surprise, Luzin gave him a package that Luzin said contained newspaper clippings. The envelope contained secret maps and military photographs.
Asked whether he had second thoughts about taking the packet, Daniloff replied:
''Well, you know, once you have been sandbagged by eight men on a street, totally unsuspecting, put into a van, your hands pinned behind your back, your hands in handcuffs, of course you wonder - why the hell did I do that?''
Daniloff described his KGB interrogator, Col. Vasily D. Sagodeyev, as ''a civilized and sophisticated man.''
''I would say that he was reasonably fair in putting down my answers,'' Daniloff said. ''There were times when I made corrections in my answers. We went back and corrected them.
''There was a time when he gave me a leading question, which immediately suggested that I was guilty.''
Daniloff said that when he pressed Sagodeyev about the wording of the question, the KGB officer agreed to change it.
Daniloff said he signed a ''bill of indictment,'' but he emphasized that his signature was only an acknowledgement that he had acquainted himself with the document.
''I never signed anything that said I agreed with the charges,'' he said.
Some Soviet press accounts have said Daniloff admitted during his testimony that he worked for the CIA, which he termed a ''crude distortion.''
Daniloff said the medical staff at the prison took his blood pressure three times daily, a frequency he believed was prompted by a high reading after one interrogation.
Daniloff shared a cell with a Soviet prisoner. He said the prison staff was polite and the prisoners were expected to respond in kind.
''Another rule I found interesting,'' he said, ''is that in the prison cell, which was by my count three paces wide and five paces long, there is an open toilet. And the rule is you do not relieve yourself in any way while the other fellow is eating. In other words, you hold your water.''
Reporters repeatedly asked Daniloff if, in retrospect, he would perform his journalistic duties differently to avoid drawing the attention of the KGB.
''I am a journalist who has been carrying out his journalistic activity, much as you have,'' he said. ''It's true that I've written about atomic energy.''
He said he also wrote about the Soviet military, and about Afghanistan.
''But I was just doing journalistic activity,'' he said. ''And I suppose I dug deeply, at least I hope I dug deeply. And because I did that, I became a little more obvious than people who just rewrite (the official Soviet news agency) Tass.''