Soviet secret police took an American reporter into custody Saturday after a Soviet acquaintance handed him a closed package that ostensibly contained newspaper clippings but was said to hold maps marked “top secret,” the reporter’s wife said.
The United States immediately branded the detention of Nicholas Daniloff, Moscow correspondent for the weekly magazine U.S. News & World Report, a crude provocation, and demanded his immediate release.
A man who identified himself as a KGB investigator named Sergodeyev said by telephone that Daniloff, 52, was being held at a KGB facility in eastern Moscow. He refused to say why Daniloff was held or if charges would be filed.
Daniloff’s wife, Ruth, told foreign journalists in Moscow that her husband telephoned and said KGB officers were trying to force him to say he is a spy.
She said her husband believed his detention was in retaliation for the Aug. 23 arrest in New York of a Soviet U.N. employee, Gennady F. Zakharov, 39, on spy charges. Zakharov, who does not have diplomatic immunity, is being held without bail.
A Farewell meeting
Daniloff’s wife, 51, said her husband, who was being reassigned to Washington, went to a farewell meeting with a Soviet acquaintance and was seized by KGB agents after the individual gave him a packet he later found contained maps.
She said the source was a young man named Misha from the city of Frunze, the capital of the Kirghiz Republic, whom Daniloff met four years ago in Frunze and had seen half a dozen times since.
She said her husband told her he gave Misha some novels by American writer Stephen King, and the Soviet gave him a packet, saying it contained newspaper clippings. She said the two parted.
“Then he (Daniloff) was jumped by eight KGB agents who took him to a KGB punkt (office)” near Lefortovo Prison in eastern Moscow, she said.
The packet was opened and appeared to contain “two maps marked ‘top secret,’ ” Daniloff’s wife quoted her husband as saying. She said he could not see what the maps showed.
In Washington, Henry Trewhitt, the magazine’s foreign editor, denounced the Soviet action as a “frame-up”.
“We vehemently reject any suggestion that he (Daniloff) was engaged in any improper activities,” Trewhitt said. “We demand his immediate release.”
In a statement issued in Santa Barbara, Calif., where President Reagan is on vacation, the White House said:
“We are currently making every effort to gain access to Daniloff and to secure his release from custody. Regrettably, Soviet authorities have thus far not allowed us access. Based on the information we have, however, it is clear that the grounds on which he has been detained are contrived. We have thus lodged strong protests at high levels here and in Moscow, in which we have rejected any suggestion that Daniloff may have been engaged in activities incompatible with his status as a journalist and demanded his release.”
Daniloff was the first American reporter to be detained by the KGB since 1977.
Questioned About Contacts
Western journalists occasionally are held by Soviet police while covering stories and sometimes are questioned about their contacts with Soviet citizens.
In February, 1977, Associated Press reporter George Krimsky was expelled after being accused of spying and violating Soviet currency laws.
Robert C. Toth, a Los Angeles Times correspondent, was detained and questioned by the KGB in June, 1977, after a Soviet scientist handed him a paper on parapsychology. The scientist had called Toth, saying he needed to see him urgently. Toth, who was about to be transferred, eventually was allowed to leave the country.
Newsweek correspondent Andrew Nagorski was expelled in August, 1982, after being accused of “impermissible methods of journalistic activity.”