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Study Predicts Rise in Soviet Defections

October 08, 1987|ROBERT L. JACKSON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A Senate staff study of Soviet and East Bloc defections to the United States predicts that "a noticeable increase" will occur within the next few years, ironically because of internal reforms being pushed by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The study by the Senate Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations--to be released at a hearing today--declares that "following periods of internal reform, defections increase rather than decrease for a period of time . . . in part due to thwarted expectations after the reform period ends."

But the study, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, says that the U.S. government and private organizations are failing to meet the resettlement needs of most defectors, thereby wasting potentially valuable human resources.

The subcommittee staff said its two-year study of the defector problem was spurred by the case of KGB agent Vitaly S. Yurchenko, who defected to the United States in August, 1985, but returned to the Soviet Union three months later after walking away from his CIA handler at a Georgetown restaurant.

Although Yurchenko's reasons for re-defecting still are debated by U.S. intelligence experts, the staff report criticizes U.S. government "mishandling of his case," which led to "needed improvements" made by the CIA in the handling and protection of high-level defectors like Yurchenko.

More Needs Cited

The report said that much more needs to be done to accommodate lower-ranking defectors, including scientists and other private citizens.

Sen. Sam Nunn (D--Ga.), the subcommittee chairman, said in a statement accompanying the report that "the defector offers our country a unique insight into an otherwise closed world."

"The genuine defector . . . usually arrives at our doorstep in his flight for freedom with nothing more than the shirt on his back," Nunn said. "If we as a society ignore him, we may be turning our backs on the very important contributions that he can make . . . to learning more about our adversaries."

Government officials must more thoroughly debrief defectors to ensure that all useful information is obtained, check back with them periodically after resettlement to see how they are adjusting and take steps to help them blend into American life, the study says.

The staff report, written by Deputy Chief Counsel John F. Sopko, estimates that fewer than 50 Soviets successfully defect each year to the United States or other Western nations. But citing a trend of increased defections after periods of internal reform, the report declares:

"Whether Gorbachev succeeds or not in reforming the internal structure of Soviet society, in the long run we should expect a noticeable increase in defections within the next few years. This may balance out the immediate shortfall in defections while those inside the system wait and see what will happen."

While high-level government or intelligence officials who defect to the United States are debriefed and supported by U.S. authorities, the report noted, lower-ranking defectors "often face additional and unique problems that are not currently being addressed by the government or by voluntary organizations."

The Immigration and Naturalization Service handles initial contacts with lower-level defectors, but "no government program currently exists designed to specifically handle their resettlement and integration into U.S. society," the report said.

As a result, it said, "no satisfactory mechanism exists for the defector to get access to an interested government agency with his information once he is in the United States. . . . The defector who is not resettled under the auspices of the intelligence community is soon lost to government analysts."

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