Svetlana Ogorodnikova was not a major in the Soviet KGB as she once claimed, but she and her husband, Nikolai, served as "utility agents" performing "day-to-day tasks" for the Soviet Union, a government prosecutor said Friday in a pretrial hearing.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Bruce Merritt said that the government will contend that the Ogorodnikovs were acting on behalf of the Soviet Union but were not actually intelligence officers.
"Our expectation is the evidence will show they were what has been described as utility agents who performed day-to-day tasks which intelligence officers couldn't perform themselves," Merritt told U.S. District Judge David Kenyon.
The prosecutor said he would present testimony from an expert on the several categories of spies employed by the Soviets.
Trial Next Week
Merritt's comments came in one of the final court sessions before the couple go on trial for espionage next week. A jury already has been impaneled, and opening statements are to begin Wednesday in Kenyon's downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
The Ogorodnikovs were indicted last October with Richard W. Miller, the FBI agent they allegedly recruited to steal secret documents. Miller's trial will immediately follow theirs, and Miller is expected to be a key witness in the Ogorodnikovs' trial.
Svetlana Ogorodnikova's attorney, Brad Brian, asked Kenyon on Friday to bar any mention at her trial of her reported claim to Miller that she was a KGB major. "It's completely false and nobody in the case believes it's true, so it should be absolutely inadmissible," Brian said.
Kenyon commented that both sides seemed to agree that she never held the rank of major in the KGB. But he refused Brian's request to eliminate all mention of such allegations, saying they might be relevant.
Trips to Russia
Kenyon also ruled that prosecutors could tell jurors that the Ogorodnikovs made "two or three trips a year" to Russia. Merritt said he would present evidence "that it is extremely unusual for recent emigres to be allowed to go back."
The judge also approved the admission of a picture of Nikolai Ogorodnikov photographing an anti-Soviet demonstration in Los Angeles, saying it could be relevant to showing the couple's political sentiments.
Merritt said the government would call witnesses to testify about how the couple publicly attempted to persuade other Russian emigres to leave the United States.
Friday's hearing ended with a private session in the judge's chambers to discuss matters involving classified information. The judge said he will set ground rules for handling sensitive information before the start of testimony.