Tangled Affair Resolved--Everyone Lost Something : Sorrow Displaces Anger, Daniloff Says at Airport

Times Staff Writer

American journalist Nicholas Daniloff, showing obvious emotion for the land where he worked for nine years and then was imprisoned for 13 days, borrowed a phrase from Shakespeare on Monday to express his feelings on being set free.

“I leave, I must say, ‘more in sorrow than in anger,’ ” he said in a strained voice at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, shortly before he and his wife, Ruth, boarded a flight to Frankfurt, West Germany, and freedom.

Then Daniloff, who comes from a family of Russian exiles, read aloud, in Russian, a poem that is memorized by millions of Soviet schoolchildren:

Farewell to you, unwashed Russia,


Land of slaves, land of gentry,

And to you, the blue uniforms,

And to you, the people who obey them.

Maybe behind a Caucasian ridge,

I will hide from your pashas,

From their all-seeing eyes,

From their all-hearing ears.

The poem was written by Mikhail Lermontov in 1840 after his exile to the Caucasus Mountain region by order of the czar. But the references to “all-seeing eyes” and “all-hearing ears” seemed directed at his KGB captors, if they chose to read between the lines.


Daniloff’s departure was swiftly arranged from the U.S. Embassy apartment where he had been living with his wife since his release from Lefortovo prison on the night of Sept. 12.

Daniloff said he was informed only Monday afternoon, a few hours before his Lufthansa flight took off for Frankfurt, that he was free to leave.

“My passport was returned by the Foreign Ministry with my multiple-entry visa and my press card, which is still valid,” he said with a note of triumph in his brief airport remarks.

Just hours earlier, he had lunched with several colleagues at the cafe at the U.S. Embassy and showed no sign, if he knew then, that he was about to be released.


A Guard’s Remark

“I really thought something might be happening last night when the (KGB) guard in front of the embassy wished me ‘spokhonoy noch’yu, "' he laughed, referring to the traditional Russian phrase for “a peaceful rest.”

But Daniloff said he turned on his short-wave radio as usual Monday morning to listen to the Voice of America broadcast for any word on his fate from New York, where Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze were locked in negotiations.

“It’s been agony,” he said, “never knowing whether you’re going to wake up and find that the negotiations have broken off. . . . " He stopped in mid-sentence, evidently thinking about the alternative of facing trial on spying charges that he has called ludicrous.


Daniloff said he was still haunted by memories of the 13 days he spent in prison. His four hours of interrogation a day were a relief, he said, from idle hours in his cramped cell, though a constant reminder of the serious charges he was facing, alone, without a lawyer, isolated from friends and family.

“Mental torture--that’s what it was,” he said with a slight shudder.

6 Miles in 44 Minutes

Since his release to the custody of the U.S. Embassy here, he said, he had tried to improve his health by resuming regular jogging. He reported with pride that he had run about 6 miles in 44 minutes on Sunday.


Between bites of his $1.80 spicy hamburger special and sips from a can of Heineken beer,, he joked about plunging into politics when he returned to the United States, to capitalize on his new-found celebrity.

“What states haven’t had their primaries yet?” he asked with a broad grin.

Antero Pietila of the Baltimore Sun then asked, with a wink, whether comedian Woody Allen had been selected to play Daniloff’s part in a movie of the KGB caper.

“I have been told there is a resemblance,” replied Daniloff, a thin, slightly built man with oversize eyeglasses. “The trouble is that I am not as funny as he is.”


On a more serious note, Daniloff said an agent is handling offers for a book contract.

May Write Two Books

“I was going to write one book--now I may have to write two,” he said, referring to his experience as the only American journalist ever jailed in the Soviet Union on spy charges.

Before his brush with the KGB, Daniloff had planned to take a year’s sabbatical from his magazine and write a book about a Russian great-great grandfather, a military officer who was exiled to Siberia for 30 years for his part in the Decembrist Uprising of 1825 against Czar Nicholas I.


The veteran correspondent for U.S. News & World Report chuckled as his colleagues recalled that rival Newsweek magazine had written a cover story on him without once mentioning where he worked. Besides a 5 1/2-year tour here for U.S. News, he previously served as a correspondent here for United Press International.

Typically, Daniloff also steered the conversation into more serious channels.

“I thought a lot about the value of an independent judiciary and a free press while I was in that prison,” he said, solemnly.

After his release, Daniloff said, he had decided that no matter what happened, he would not willingly participate in any Soviet trial because its outcome would be pre-determined just like the famous Moscow “show trials” of the Stalin era.