WASHINGTON — The United States today expelled a senior Soviet military official who was trapped red-handed trying to dig up top secret documents buried next to a telephone pole at a "dead drop" in a Maryland woods, officials said.
FBI Director William H. Webster identified the official as the senior Soviet air force officer at the Soviet Embassy, Col. Vladimir Makarovich Izmaylov, and said he had been meeting for months with a U.S. Air Force officer voluntarily working under cover for the FBI.
The State Department, which ordered Izmaylov, 43, out of the country, said the Soviet officer will be leaving the United States on Sunday, when the next scheduled Aeroflot flight leaves New York.
He was turned over to Soviet Embassy officials late Thursday once his diplomatic immunity was established.
In Arlington, Va., at Izmaylov's Wildwood Towers apartment building, two cars with Soviet diplomatic licenses picked up seven people and departed this afternoon.
Approached in Woods
The passengers, believed to include Izmaylov's wife, Nina, and two children, declined to talk to a reporter. The cars were loaded with grocery bags.
FBI agents approached Izmaylov on Thursday night in a secluded woods across the Potomac River from Washington while he was trying to dig up a stack of documents, FBI special agent Dana Caro said. The Russian claimed to be lost and looking for a fishing spot.
When agents moved to apprehend him, a surprised Izmaylov struggled and swung at the agents, who quickly handcuffed him. He was carrying a knife, which he did not try to use.
The apprehension ended more than a year of clandestine espionage activity in which the Soviet military intelligence agency had paid the unidentified U.S. officer more than $41,000--in payments usually buried in milk cartons--for bogus U.S. secrets, Caro said. Among them were phony plans for President Reagan's prized "Star Wars" space shield.
Caro refused to identify the U.S. military officer who was in contact with Izmaylov, saying only that he has access to top U.S. secrets and has "impeccable credentials."
Agents Always Near
Air Force officials also declined to identify the officer "for a variety of reasons." But law enforcement sources said he is high-ranking and volunteered to work with undercover agents after the Soviet approached him to spy. The officer never met Izmaylov without agents near, the sources said.
The active-duty officer was the subject of an intensive Soviet recruitment effort and was tested by the Soviets for almost a year before they would deal with him, Caro said.
Izmaylov, who has tried to recruit others, was most interested in secret information on the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as "Star Wars," as well as for the cruise missile, stealth bomber technology and plans for a hypersonic passenger jet dubbed the "Orient Express," Caro said.
Asked why so senior a Soviet would personally make such a drop, Caro said: "He was going after a whale."
The information slipped to the Soviets was cleared by the U.S. Air Force and made to look authentic.
Izmaylov had promised the U.S. officer $8,000 for the documents he was to deliver Thursday night, Caro said.
He was previously paid $33,100 during several earlier drops and meetings.
The FBI also said Izmaylov is a known member of the Soviet military intelligence agency, GRU, which consistently attempts to recruit U.S. military officers. Izmaylov supplied the high-tech spy equipment, including several cameras and special film, the FBI said.
Izmaylov was first assigned to the Soviet Military Office, an adjunct office of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, as assistant air attache from December, 1976, through October, 1980.
His current tour of duty began in October.