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Soviet Journalist Gets 15 Years as Spy for West

July 31, 1986|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — One of the Soviet Union's leading journalists has been convicted of selling military and scientific secrets to West Germany and sentenced to 15 years in prison, the trade union newspaper Trud reported Wednesday.

The story said that Ilya M. Suslov, an editor for the Novosti news agency and formerly the host of a popular television program on space exploration, had committed acts of "high treason" for more than a decade.

It was one of the most revealing disclosures about espionage activities of a Soviet citizen ever made by an official newspaper, although charges of spying by foreigners are commonplace.

Promised Publicity

Suslov cajoled "well-known people who had done much for Soviet science" into giving him secrets by promising to give them favorable publicity, and then he slipped the information to the Moscow representative of a West German company that was a front for West Germany's BND intelligence service, Trud charged.

Suslov, who had the same family name as the late Communist Party ideologist Mikhail A. Suslov, who died in 1982, calmed the fears of his scientific contacts by falsely claiming to be related to "a very distinguished man," the article charged.

The Trud article suggested that the uncovering of Suslov had inspired a widespread investigation of the Soviet scientific community. "Many big-mouthed holders of official secrets have been given their due, and some still face this procedure in the immediate future," the newspaper reported.

Testified Against Him

The alleged sources of Suslov's secret information, however, escaped prison terms, and their punishment was limited to expulsion from the Communist Party or dismissal from their jobs. Many of his sources, including some of the country's leading scientists, testified at his trial, the newspaper said.

One "business associate" of Suslov's, identified as Yakov Yakovlevich, "died suddenly" after learning of Suslov's arrest, the article said.

It was the latest in a series of spy stories in the Soviet media recently. The government newspaper Izvestia ran a photograph Monday of a diplomat assigned to the U.S. Embassy, Michael Sellers, disguised as a Ukrainian with a false mustache and wig attached to a rabbit-fur hat.

Izvestia said that Sellers, who was accused of spying and expelled from the Soviet Union, was one of several U.S. diplomats who tried to disguise their appearance for spying missions. Another man posed as a woman, the newspaper said, and a young American diplomat tried to pass himself off as an old man.

The Trud story suggested that many Western business firms are fronts for espionage, renewing accusations of spying against Ralph Gregorian, a Palo Alto, Calif., business executive who has successfully sued Izvestia for libel for making similar charges against him last year.

Tried by Military Court

In the Suslov case, Trud said the accused was tried by a Moscow military court last month on charges of spying. Although he could have been sentenced to death, he received a 15-year prison sentence instead.

As long ago as 1973, the newspaper said, secret documents about Soviet space flights were reported missing from his safe, but the episode was hushed up and Suslov was not punished. He was, however, asked to resign from his job as commentator for a popular televis1768910368when an uncle emigrated to Israel. Suslov had been decorated for his work as a television commentator.

Later, he became an editor for the Soviet press agency, Novosti, and edited a yearbook entitled "Soviet Science and Technology."

An investigation into his ties with Pavel Arsene, the Moscow representative of the West German firm, was started in July, 1985. The verdict against Suslov was handed down July 16.

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