CIA Denies It Mishandled a KGB Defector
The CIA on Monday denied mishandling a Soviet defector and said he’s free to go if he doesn’t like it here.
In a rare public statement, the agency said it “welcomes an inquiry by the intelligence committees in Congress” into its handling of Victor Gundarev, 49, former security chief of the Soviet Embassy in Athens.
According to an article Sunday by David Wise on the op-ed page of the New York Times, Gundarev defected from the KGB in 1986.
Wise, who has written extensively about the CIA, said Gundarev wrote him: “I came to the conclusion after three years in U.S.A. that those people who would like to defect with the help of CIA should think twice.” Gundarev also said, according to Wise, that he is seeking an interview at the State Department with Soviet officials to discuss going home.
Wise compared the case to that of another celebrated defector, Vitaly Yurchenko, head of North American espionage for the KGB, who defected in Rome in 1985.
Less than three months later, Yurchenko walked out of a fancy Washington restaurant and into the Soviet Embassy, where he held a spectacular press conference two days later to the great embarrassment of the CIA.
Gundarev, wrote Wise, has written CIA Director William Webster that he and his wife and son were promised “a normal way of life as free citizens in a democratic country” but that his belongings were searched, his telephone tapped and his letters opened.
But Wise also said Gundarev’s information had proved less than top-notch in some instances.
The CIA statement said: “The allegation that CIA invades the privacy of individuals . . . is false. So, too, is the charge of mishandling.”
The agency said it and the FBI had tried hard to smooth Gundarev’s transition, had resettled him in an undisclosed location and had paid him “a substantial amount of money” for his information.
“To date, Mr. Gundarev has rejected the agency’s efforts to place him with firms in a position suitable to his experience.