FBI Arrests Top Soviet Air Attache as Spy : Colonel Seized When Digging Up ‘Secrets’ Left by Double Agent

Times Staff Writer

FBI agents arrested the senior Soviet air attache in Washington as he was attempting to recover purported military secrets buried at a drop site 10 miles south of the Capitol by a U.S. Air Force officer cooperating with the FBI, officials announced Friday.

The attache, Col. Vladimir Makarovich Izmaylov, had been trying for several months to develop the American officer as an agent in order to obtain documents on the “Star Wars” program, the cruise missile, the hypersonic plane program and Stealth aircraft technology, Dana E. Caro, special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office here, said.

Izmaylov, 43, struggled briefly with FBI agents who detained him Thursday night at the drop site in suburban Maryland but was released to Soviet authorities Friday because of his diplomatic immunity. The State Department said he will be declared persona non grata and sent back to the Soviet Union.

Struck FBI Agents

When agents closed in on him, Izmaylov maintained that “he was lost and that he was looking for a fishing spot,” Caro said. He struck at the agents with his fist and had to be handcuffed, but he made no attempt to reach for the four-inch switch-blade knife that agents found when searching him.


When asked why so senior a Soviet military official would become directly involved in a risky espionage operation, Caro said: “He was going after a whale,” suggesting that the Soviets believed they were on the track of invaluable secrets.

The Air Force officer, whose identity the FBI and Air Force refused to disclose on grounds of privacy and security of the undercover operation, was paid $41,000 in $100 and $20 bills that the Soviets buried in milk cartons at several drop sites in rural Maryland and in Virginia near Washington.

Tools of Trade Displayed

The FBI’s announcement that an “aggressive” Soviet military intelligence operation had been foiled was accompanied by an unusual display of espionage “tradecraft” items that the Soviets had given to the Air Force officer. They ranged from a “rollover” camera about the size of cigarette pack, which can copy documents by being rolled over each page three times, to material that looks like ordinary cellophane but carries written messages that appear when it is chemically treated.

The Soviets, apparently fearful that tightened U.S. security might cast suspicion on the Air Force officer, gave him a booklet entitled “Beat the Box--the insider’s guide to outwitting the lie detector.”

Caro said that the Soviet advice on deceiving the polygraph machine was “terrible.”

According to Caro, the investigation yielded “significant insights” into methods used by Soviet intelligence operatives, what they seek from American agents and Soviet knowledge of U.S. classified programs. The investigation was conducted jointly by the FBI and the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations.

Investigators refused to say whether the Air Force officer had been used by U.S. intelligence officers as bait to “sting” Izmaylov, or whether Izmaylov first approached the Air Force officer on his own. But they had nothing but praise for the “bravery” and “impeccable integrity” of the officer.


A sting operation would be in line with FBI Director William H. Webster’s philosophy of countering intelligence efforts by spinning “spider webs” around sites where foreign agents are likely to make contact with American “assets.”

Officer Reported Contact

“The FBI and Air Force . . . became aware of this Soviet recruitment effort almost from the outset,” the FBI’s official statement said. “Coincidentally, the Air Force officer reported his contacts to the FBI and (Office of Special Investigations) and voluntarily agreed to work with and under the control of the FBI and OSI to determine the Soviets’ target objectives and modus operandi.

Izmaylov, described by the FBI as a known agent of the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence service, had served a tour in Washington as assistant air attache from 1976 to 1980. He had experience as a squadron navigator and staff officer in the Soviet Air force and returned to Washington in the senior attache post on Oct. 11, 1984. Soon after his arrival, he began seeking to develop clandestine relationships with U.S. military personnel, according to the FBI.

After making initial contact with the Air Force officer, Izmaylov held several clandestine meetings with him that were controlled, monitored and, in some cases, photographed by U.S. counterintelligence agents, according to the FBI. For a period of less than a year, the officer was “tested” by the Soviets to establish his value as an agent.

Photographs Shown

A photograph taken at a suburban Virginia shopping center of Izmaylov and the Air Force officer, whose back was toward the camera, was among items displayed by the FBI Friday. Another photograph showed Izmaylov leaving a Safeway store at the same shopping center, where he had gone to “dry-clean himself,” or shake any surveillance, an FBI agent said.

In a communications plan, the Soviets directed the Air Force officer to bury secret Air Force documents at drop sites. The Soviets would then bury at a second site a package for the American containing cash for documents he had provided earlier, along with instructions on the next meeting and a list of what they wanted him to provide.

The Air Force officer then would proceed to a third site, known as a signal site, and leave such items as a soda can or a Christmas tree ornament as a sign that all had gone well and that he had received his package, according to the FBI.


Data Left at Drop Sites

In January and March, information cleared by the Air Force was passed to Izmaylov at drop sites, and, in turn, payment in U.S. currency was left for the U.S. officer.

None of the information relayed to the Soviets was valuable, according to Nicholas J. Walsh, who heads the Soviet branch in the FBI’s Washington field office. His assessment seemed to be supported by a letter, handwritten on the special cellophane, from Izmaylov, who signed his name as “Jerry,” to the Air Force officer, addressed as “Dear Smith.”

The letter, among items seized by FBI agents Thursday from a drop site that had been filled Tuesday, referred to information that the Air Force officer had passed earlier and expressed “some disappointment that it was not all Grade A.”

‘The More You Learn’

Surveillance photographs and items recovered from earlier drops indicated that Izmaylov might have been arrested earlier, but an FBI source underscored the value of continuing the operation. “We get a shopping list from them and, the longer you go, the more you learn,” he said.

The operation was not carried on longer because “it gets harder and harder to string them along--to give them clean information,” the FBI source said.