WASHINGTON — FBI agents arrested a Soviet diplomat working for the United Nations on Saturday as he sought to buy classified documents related to a U.S. Air Force jet engine from a young man on a New York subway platform.
Disclosing the espionage case at FBI headquarters here, officials said Gennadiy Fedorovich Zakharov, 39, was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed at a subway stop in Queens by three agents who had just watched him buy the documents for $1,000. The young man he dealt with--a permanent resident alien from a Third World country--had been secretly cooperating with the FBI for three years.
Zakharov has had credentials as a scientific affairs officer assigned to the U.N. Secretariat. Because he has only limited diplomatic immunity, he will be prosecuted to the full extent of U.S. espionage laws and could receive a maximum punishment of life imprisonment, upon conviction, FBI spokesman Lane Bonner said.
The FBI declined immediately to disclose the identity of their informant or his nationality. But he was described as a graduate of Queens College in New York who is employed by a subcontractor to the Bendix Corp. and General Electric Co. The subcontracting firm was not identified.
GE has contracts to build 56% of all U.S. jet fighter engines next fiscal year. Bendix also has been seeking a larger share of U.S. aerospace business.
Bonner said the informant was first approached by Zakharov a few months after the Russian entered the United States in December, 1982. He said the FBI had been watching Zakharov for three years while he had numerous meetings with the informant and paid the informant, then a student, thousands of dollars for a wide range of valuable but unclassified data "in the areas of robotics, computers and artificial intelligence."
Apparently believing that the student had hostile feelings toward the United States, Zakharov told him he should feel rewarded not just for the money but because the two men could "hurt the United States," the FBI said.
When the student was graduated and got a job with the defense subcontractor several months ago, Zakharov began "questioning and encouraging his recruit regarding his obtaining classified national defense documents," the FBI said, but Saturday was the first time their informant had provided classified defense documents to him.
"Zakharov appears to have used his position with the United Nations, an agency established to further international peace and security, to carry out espionage, thus violating the U.N.'s spirit of trust and cooperation," FBI Director William H. Webster said in a statement.
Estimates Spy Activity
Webster has estimated that one-third to one-half of all Soviet and Soviet Bloc diplomats assigned to embassies or consulates in this country, or to the United Nations, have only one actual assignment--espionage.
Citing the growth in foreign espionage activities in the United States, Webster told a Senate committee last October that the FBI had arrested 25 persons in the last four years on charges of spying. Seventeen were convicted and eight cases were still pending, he said.
"This four-year total is the highest rate of arrest and conviction of espionage agents since World War II," Webster testified. "And during this period the U.S. government has formally or informally expelled over 20 Soviet and Eastern Bloc intelligence officers."
Evidence of KGB Ties
FBI Assistant Director John L. Hogan told a news conference in New York that there is evidence Zakharov is actually a member of the KGB, or Soviet intelligence service.
When asked if the FBI plans on using the former student for more undercover work, Hogan replied: "I think his cover has been blown."
The Soviet U.N. mission had no comment on Zakharov's arrest, which occurred just before 6 p.m. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the espionage charges Monday before a U.S. magistrate in New York.