The United States today accused a Soviet diplomat of spying and ordered him out of the country, the State Department said.
Spokesman Charles E. Redman said Yuri Nikolayevich Pakhtusov, a member of the Soviet military mission, “has been declared persona non grata for engaging in activities incompatible with his diplomatic status,” a diplomatic term for spying.
Redman said Pakhtusov “received classified documents from an American employee of a firm with classified government contracts” but declined to identify either the American or the company.
The documents “dealt with how the U.S. government protects classified and other sensitive information contained in its computer systems,” he added.
The FBI said Pakhtusov was arrested Wednesday before he had a chance to examine the classified documents. It was not disclosed how long he is being given to leave the United States.
State Department spokesman Dennis Harter said Pakhtusov approached the American last August and asked about the possibility of acquiring the secret documents. The American reported the contact to the FBI, which began monitoring contacts between the two.
FBI spokesman Nik Walsh said the case had no connection with the arrest last week of several West German computer “hackers” accused of selling codes to Soviet intelligence agents that would permit entry into Defense Department computer networks.
Although the FBI routinely conducts surveillance of Soviet diplomats stationed in this country, it is rare when the United States makes public any accusations of spying.
The Soviet Embassy was not immediately available for comment.
The last time a Soviet official was expelled from the United States for alleged spying was on June 20, 1986.
The FBI at the time said that Vladimir Izmaylou, an air attache at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, had been caught trying to steal top military secrets from a U.S. military officer posing as a traitor.
The latest incident occurs during a period of dramatically improved U.S.-Soviet relations in arms control, human rights and regional cooperation, and it was uncertain how much this case might sour the atmosphere.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III just met Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze in Vienna this week for their first formal meeting since Baker came to office.