An alleged attempt by two Russian emigres to recruit former FBI Agent Richard W. Miller as a Soviet spy was part of a carefully planned Soviet KGB espionage operation directed from Moscow, a federal prosecutor charged Friday.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Richard B. Kendall made the charge during opening statements at the start of the long-delayed spy trial of Svetlana Ogorodnikova and Nikolai Ogorodnikov in Los Angeles federal court.
The Ogorodnikovs, who moved to the United States in 1973, were described by Kendall as "utility agents" of the KGB who had become spies because they were disillusioned with the United States and hoped that they would eventually be permitted to return to the Soviet Union.
But, challenging the prosecution's claims, defense lawyers for the Ogorodnikovs told a jury of six men and six women in the crowded courtroom of U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon that the Russian couple had never intended to hurt the United States.
Ogorodnikova, 34, was portrayed by one of her two defense attorneys, Brad Brian, as a woman with an IQ "no higher than 74" with severe emotional problems who had been used as a "pawn caught in a high-stakes chess match" by both the FBI and the Soviet Union.
"Svetlana was an informant for the FBI long before she met Mr. Miller, and she had provided the FBI with valuable information," Brian said. "She believed she was authorized by the FBI to do what she did."
Ogorodnikov, 52, had little knowledge of his wife's relationship with Miller and her involvement with the FBI and was continuing to live with her only because of their 13-year-old son, added Randy Sue Pollock, the federal public defender assigned to represent him.
"In 1983, they did separate for a time," she said. "Nikolai strongly disapproved of her drinking and keeping late hours, and he also spoke of his suspicions that she was seeing other men. But he stayed with her because of their son, Matthew."
Called 'Simple Man'
Pollock described Ogorodnikov as a "simple man" who had become homesick for the Soviet Union while working in Los Angeles as a meatpacker.
"Nikolai Ogorodnikov was outspoken that he missed his homeland," she told the jury. "But it is important for you to distinguish that just because someone misses his homeland does not mean he would betray the country that took him in and gave him a home 12 years ago."
After months of delays and postponements of the spy trial--originally scheduled to begin on Dec. 4--Kenyon's courtroom was packed as the opening arguments finally began, with Kendall addressing the jurors first in a three-hour narrative.
"This case involves a conspiracy by the Soviet intelligence services working through the Ogorodnikovs to recruit an FBI agent," Kendall said. "The KGB and the Ogorodnikovs got Miller to betray his country for money and for gifts and for sex."
Kendall said Ogorodnikov had applied to the Soviet consulate in San Francisco for permission for his family to return to the Soviet Union as early as 1976, but was rejected because he was part of a "third wave" of Russian immigrants during the 1970s who had been stripped of their Soviet citizenship and classified as "stateless outcasts."
Ogorodnikov was told by Soviet officials, however, that "if he would serve the Soviet Union, they might allow him to go back," Kendall said.
According to Kendall, the Ogorodnikovs were subsequently set up with a film business by Soviet officials, which gave them extra status in the Russian emigre community and provided them with a legitimate reason for traveling frequently to the San Francisco consulate and to the Soviet Union.
The Ogorodnikovs made nine trips to the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1984, Kendall said, and their son was allowed the "special favor" of going to Pioneer Camp in the Soviet Union in exchange for their espionage services, Kendall said.
Before meeting Miller in May, 1984, said Kendall, Ogorodnikova had been contacted by another FBI counterintelligence agent named John Hunt because of her contacts with Soviet officials and had "hinted" to Hunt that she might be willing to become an FBI informant.
But, Kendall continued, Ogorodnikova repeatedly attempted to compromise Hunt sexually, on one occasion throwing her arms around him on a Hollywood street and saying, "I love you. Let's go to a motel."
Kendall said Hunt, a retired FBI agent expected to be one of the major witnesses during the trial of the Ogorodnikovs, refused Ogorodnikova's alleged sexual advances and finally decided she wasn't suitable as an FBI informant because of her erratic behavior and unreliability.
Brian, disputing the prosecution's version of the Hunt-Ogorodnikovs relationship, said Hunt had tried to use her as a double agent for the FBI by suggesting that she tell Soviet officials that she had a "boyfriend" in the FBI.