Gave Soviets Nothing, Miller Says : Espionage: The former FBI agent says his relationship with a Russian woman spy was 'the dumbest thing I did in my whole life.'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In his first interview since being released from prison, former FBI agent Richard Miller said Thursday that he never gave secret information to a Soviet spy and hopes to be cleared next spring when his case comes to trial for the third time.

Miller, the first FBI agent ever accused of espionage, was released on $337,000 bail from a federal prison Oct. 30 after his conviction was overturned by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The portly ex-agent declared that he is "not a traitor" to the United States and never gave "any kind of document" to Soviet spy Svetlana Ogorodnikova, with whom he carried on an adulterous affair in 1984.

Admitting to the affair, he called his relationship with Ogorodnikova and his self-described attempt to infiltrate the KGB through her "the dumbest thing I did in my whole life."

Asked to describe Ogorodnikova, Miller said: "She was charming, outgoing, vivacious--and her English was atrocious."

In a wide-ranging interview with a group of journalists at his lawyer's Los Angeles office, Miller, 52, professed his devotion to the Mormon Church, which has excommunicated him; to the FBI, which has fired him, and to his wife, who has divorced him.

He spoke at length about his three years in prison where he received psychotherapy, played Santa Claus at Christmas parties, learned how to program computers and befriended controversial right-wing political figure Lyndon Larouche and ex-Syracuse Mayor Lee Alexander, two of his fellow inmates.

Miller was convicted by a federal court jury in 1986 of trading a secret FBI guide for money, sex and gold and was sentenced to two life terms plus 50 years. An earlier trial had resulted in a hung jury.

His conviction was overturned in April by the federal appeals court and a new trial is scheduled to begin May 15.

Ogorodnikova and her husband, Nikolai, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and are serving federal prison terms.

Miller did not take the stand in either of his trials, but he told his FBI superiors that he was trying to resuscitate his flagging FBI career by penetrating the Soviet KGB through his affair with Ogorodnikova.

"I probably have more guilt over that (the affair) than any single thing," he told reporters, adding that he felt he had "betrayed" his former wife, Paula.

The ex-FBI agent conceded that sexual indiscretion had led to his personal downfall, noting that he had had five affairs in two years.

"I've always considered myself a very moral person," he said. "I guess I got caught up in the sexual revolution of the '80s. It could partially have been a mid-life crisis."

Nonetheless, Miller said that he has been in contact with his ex-wife and their eight children and that he planned to spend Christmas with them at her home in Utah if he is given permission to go there. One of the conditions of his bail is that he not travel beyond seven Southern California counties that comprise the central California federal judicial district.

Asked how he felt about being depicted throughout his trials as a bumbler, not unlike Ralph Kramden, the television character played for years by comedian Jackie Gleason, Miller responded: "I like Ralph Kramden. He has a lot of good qualities."

On numerous occasions during the two-hour interview, Miller declined to criticize the FBI or his former supervisor, Richard Bretzing, to whom Miller confessed his affair with Ogorodnikova. Bretzing, who has left the FBI and is now a Mormon official, implored Miller to tell federal agents everything that he had done.

Soon thereafter, Miller was interrogated for five days and failed several lie-detector tests, according to testimony introduced at his second trial. A federal appeals court ruled that U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon, who presided over the trials, erred in allowing prosecutors to present information about the tests.

"I was extremely tired, exhausted" during the interrogation, Miller said, but he declined to discuss the specifics of what he told his superiors.

"I was not a good FBI agent in the sense that I didn't have sense enough to protect myself," he added. "I try to be an open, honest person and that honesty and openness was misconstrued as a confession."

Despite this, Miller said, "I still have a certain amount of loyalty to the FBI," later adding, "I do feel I've been mistreated by a handful of people in the FBI."

Miller expressed considerably stronger sentiments about what happened during his trials, claiming he had been "treated unfairly" by the judicial system.

"I feel I didn't get a fair trial," he said. "I got the impression that the prosecution as well as the judge were not so much interested in a fair trial or the truth of the matter as in getting a conviction." Federal prosecutors declined comment on Miller's statement.

Miller's defense lawyers, Stanley Greenberg and Joel Levine, argued on numerous occasions during the past four years that Kenyon was prejudiced against their client. In October, they announced to the news media that they would try to have Kenyon disqualified from presiding over the third trial.

In a surprising move, Kenyon recused himself from the case in November even though he said Miller had "received a fair trial." Kenyon said he feared that if he continued to preside, "there is a strong likelihood that the proceeding will become a trial not of the defendant's guilt or innocence but of the objectivity of this court."

Miller declined to answer a number of questions that might have given hints about his strategy for the upcoming trial.

But Miller did discuss various aspects of his personal life, from religion to his experiences in prison.

An ex-communicated member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Miller nonetheless said "in my heart" he still believed he was a Mormon and said the church's teachings "gave me the emotional stability" to get through the last five years.

Miller said his religious beliefs had increased during his years in custody. "I gear my life to how I feel God wants me to live it. . . . I feel my heavenly father has given me a second chance to get my life together."

He also disclosed that he had undergone psychotherapy at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., the prison where he spent three years.

Miller lives in an apartment in the Westlake section of Los Angeles, riding the bus to and from Manhattan Beach, where he works as a private investigator at a company owned by Albert Sayers, one of his former FBI supervisors.

Sayers had been the chief defense investigator on the espionage case since it began. He said Miller had played a key role in helping solve two cases for his firm, in part through his use of Spanish.

"I'm calling on his knowledge, his expertise and his character," said Sayers.

Miller joined the FBI in 1964, a few months after graduating from Brigham Young University. He said he initially responded negatively when an FBI recruiter came to his parent's home in Lynwood. At the time, Miller said he was "selling tires at the Sears Roebuck store in Compton with my college degree."

He said he reluctantly filled out the FBI application to pacify his mother.

Asked what his proudest moment as an FBI agent was, Miller surprisingly did not point to some case he had cracked. Rather, he said, it came in 1972 when then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover agreed to be photographed with Miller and his family in Hoover's Washington office.

But "the proudest moment was also the most embarrassing," Miller recalled, when one of his young sons climbed up on one of Hoover's bookshelves to grab a baseball that had been autographed by players on the Washington Senators.

"Mr. Hoover was getting a big kick out of this though," Miller recalled. "I apologized. He gave my son the baseball."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
74°