The Soviet Union accused the CIA on Monday of trying to sabotage improved U.S.-Soviet relations by encouraging a KGB defector to concoct a story of Moscow's espionage and assassination activities.
Sergei Chetverikov, charge d'affaires of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, confirmed that the defector, Victor Ivanovich Sheymov, was a former KGB employee who disappeared in 1980. But he said the man was a low-level technician who would have no access to the kind of secrets he recounted to a crowded press conference earlier this month.
Chetverikov said a formal protest he handed to Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger accused the CIA of trying to rekindle the Cold War by ordering Sheymov to accuse Soviet intelligence of trying to assassinate Pope John Paul II. The Soviet official, Moscow's highest-ranking diplomat in Washington during the temporary absence of the ambassador, denied any Soviet participation in the attempt on the Pope's life.
"There are very influential quarters in this capital that don't like the improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations," Chetverikov said.
Sheymov, his appearance altered by a bushy wig, said he left Moscow with CIA help on May 16, 1980, becoming a real-life example of that staple of spy fiction--the defecting intelligence officer. At the time, the KGB and the CIA were involved in sometimes deadly clandestine warfare in which defections played an important role.
But Chetverikov said he was shocked by Sheymov's illegal departure from the Soviet Union.
"What is involved here is an unprecedented . . . subversive action by the U.S. intelligence involving a smuggling out (of Moscow) of a Soviet family, and a gross violation of rules of international law, which is, in fact, an act of state terrorism," the diplomat said. He read from a prepared statement that he said had been cleared at the highest levels of the Soviet government.
At his press conference, Sheymov said he had read a KGB internal memo in 1979 launching a plot to kill the Pope. He said he told the CIA about the message in 1980, months before Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, attempted to kill the pontiff in May, 1981. Sheymov also said the KGB had two "sources" in the State Department in the 1970s. That and other stories he offered were plausible, but none could be independently verified.
Chetverikov said the assertion of KGB involvement in a plot against the Pope was "totally untenable and malicious from beginning to end." He said the CIA must have realized that there was no truth to the charge because it did not offer Sheymov as a witness at Agca's trial in Rome.
Chetverikov said he did not know if Sheymov's other assertions were true or false, although he said the defector was "employed by the KGB as a coding equipment maintenance technician (whose responsibilities) allowed him no access to serious secret information, including documents."