On-again, off-again defector Vitaly Yurchenko told a news conference today that CIA agents tried to intercept him at the gates of the Soviet Embassy on the night of his escape and later fabricated a story about a lover in Canada to cover up their incompetence.
Yurchenko, 50, who the United States says is a top KGB member who voluntarily defected in Rome last August, spoke at a news conference packed with Soviet and foreign journalists.
He repeated charges that he had been kidnaped by the CIA in Rome and treated with mind-altering drugs in order to make him confess to being a KGB agent and reveal information. He blamed the drugs for gaps or inconsistencies in his memory.
At one point, a simultaneous English translation on earphones began several seconds before he started speaking.
Describing his escape, Yurchenko said that on Nov. 2 he managed to persuade his guards, including a kind one called Tom, to take him on a shopping trip near CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
Having thrown them off in the men's department of a store, he bought and hid a hat to disguise himself, and then phoned the Soviet Embassy and told them he was trying to escape.
After the shopping trip, he told his guards he was hungry and persuaded them to drive him to a Washington restaurant.
From there, he slipped away to the nearby embassy when Tom went to the bathroom. When he reached the embassy, Yurchenko said: "I saw cars parked and knew (the CIA agents) were waiting for me to come. Some people were walking by and I started asking them questions. I opened my umbrella so they could not see my whiskers and got into the embassy."
Yurchenko dismissed CIA suggestions that he had returned to the Soviets only after being spurned by the wife of a Soviet diplomat in Canada whom he had expected to join him in his new life in the United States.
"The story of the woman in Canada was invented by the CIA to compromise me. . . . It was their last slim chance of compromising me because their earlier efforts failed," he said.
Yurchenko said he left the United States in secrecy after a dramatic Soviet Embassy news conference in Washington "because the CIA would have liked to eliminate me."
"I think there will be a lot of internal changes in the CIA," he said.
Yurchenko was not without a sense of humor. He told the news conference that he believed the restaurant he fled from, Au Pied de Cochon, was now serving a new cocktail called "Escape." In fact, the drink is called a "Yurchenko shooter" and is made of vodka and Grand Marnier. It comes with a twist.