NEW YORK — A federal grand jury in Brooklyn on Tuesday indicted Soviet U.N. employee Gennady F. Zakharov on three espionage charges and accused him of trying to buy U.S. military secrets from an FBI informant.
In Washington, the Justice Department said he would be prosecuted vigorously. "Protecting the national security of the United States is among the most fundamental responsibilities of the federal government," Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said in a statement. "No crime is more serious than compromising that security."
Meese's statement came as U.S. officials continued to insist that Zakharov would not be traded for Nicholas Daniloff, a U.S. News & World Report correspondent who is being held in Moscow on espionage charges. U.S. officials believe Daniloff was arrested in retaliation for Zakharov's arrest.
A senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, said Tuesday that the resolution of the Daniloff case as it relates to Zakharov has become "much less likely" with the hardening of legal processes in both the United States and the Soviet Union.
President Reagan, who called Daniloff's arrest "an outrage" on Monday, vowed again Tuesday that he would not trade Zakharov for the imprisoned American reporter. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said after a meeting with Reagan that the President repeated his promise there would be no exchange of prisoners.
Meese's statement that Zakharov would be prosecuted vigorously appeared to signal U.S. determination to move ahead in the sensitive case.
Zakharov, 39, a physicist and a former senior officer of the Soviet State Committee for Science and Technology, was assigned to the U.N. Secretariat before his Aug. 23 arrest by FBI agents.
The indictment, returned after the grand jury's hourlong meeting, charged Zakharov with conspiracy to commit espionage, trying to buy classified military information and attempting to transmit it to the Soviet Union.
Zakharov's arraignment was scheduled for Sept. 19, and the case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Joseph McLaughlin. Despite the formal legal processes, the intervening 10 days could still leave time for possible behind-the-scenes negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The sensitivity of the proceedings was underlined by the unwillingness of prosecutors in New York to discuss the indictment. All questions were referred to the Justice Department in Washington.
In a statement, the Justice Department said Zakharov's arrest was the culmination of almost four years of investigation by FBI agents assigned to the foreign counterintelligence squad in New York. As an employee of the Secretariat, Zakharov had no diplomatic immunity to shield him from espionage charges, prosecutors said.
The five-page indictment repeated much of the information contained in an FBI affidavit for the arrest and search warrants, obtained shortly before Zakharov was picked up at a New York City subway station. FBI agents seized him as he gave $1,000 to an FBI informant, an employee of a defense contractor, for classified documents relating to military jet engines.
The informant, identified in the indictment only as "Birg," a code name, went to the FBI after Zakharov allegedly attempted to recruit him while he was a student at Queens College in 1983.
The indictment said Birg worked for a company that "manufactured unclassified precision components used in the construction of engines for military aircraft and in radars." As part of the conspiracy, the indictment charged, Zakharov entered into an agreement with Birg requiring him to work for the Soviet Union for 10 years and to obtain classified defense information.
"It was a part of the conspiracy that the defendant . . . would and did attempt to communicate, deliver and transmit classified documents and information relating to the national defense of the United States to persons representing the Soviet Union," the indictment charged.
It alleged that during a meeting on May 10, Zakharov paid money to Birg, then met with him again on Aug. 2. On Aug. 23, Zakharov met Birg on the platform of a subway station and took possession of two classified documents in an envelope, it said.
An assistant U.S. attorney said in recent court proceedings that when FBI agents informed Zakharov he was under arrest, he said, "No," dropped the documents, "spun out of the grasp of one of the agents and attempted to run down the subway platform, where he was tackled."
Prosecutors also said that during the investigation, FBI agents observed that Zakharov engaged in diversionary driving tactics that could only have been designed to evade surveillance.
On Tuesday, federal marshals brought Zakharov to the Brooklyn federal courthouse from the Metropolitan Correctional Center for a preliminary hearing, which was canceled after the indictment was issued. Had he not been indicted, prosecutors would have had to produce new evidence in court Tuesday to continue holding him.
Zakharov, who could face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted, was later taken across the Brooklyn Bridge back to jail.
Times staff writer Robert L. Jackson, in Washington, contributed to this story.