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Gave Soviets Nothing, Miller Says : Espionage: The former FBI agent says his relationship with a Russian woman spy was 'the dumbest thing I did in my whole life.'

December 08, 1989|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In his first interview since being released from prison, former FBI agent Richard Miller said Thursday that he never gave secret information to a Soviet spy and hopes to be cleared next spring when his case comes to trial for the third time.

Miller, the first FBI agent ever accused of espionage, was released on $337,000 bail from a federal prison Oct. 30 after his conviction was overturned by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The portly ex-agent declared that he is "not a traitor" to the United States and never gave "any kind of document" to Soviet spy Svetlana Ogorodnikova, with whom he carried on an adulterous affair in 1984.

Admitting to the affair, he called his relationship with Ogorodnikova and his self-described attempt to infiltrate the KGB through her "the dumbest thing I did in my whole life."

Asked to describe Ogorodnikova, Miller said: "She was charming, outgoing, vivacious--and her English was atrocious."

In a wide-ranging interview with a group of journalists at his lawyer's Los Angeles office, Miller, 52, professed his devotion to the Mormon Church, which has excommunicated him; to the FBI, which has fired him, and to his wife, who has divorced him.

He spoke at length about his three years in prison where he received psychotherapy, played Santa Claus at Christmas parties, learned how to program computers and befriended controversial right-wing political figure Lyndon Larouche and ex-Syracuse Mayor Lee Alexander, two of his fellow inmates.

Miller was convicted by a federal court jury in 1986 of trading a secret FBI guide for money, sex and gold and was sentenced to two life terms plus 50 years. An earlier trial had resulted in a hung jury.

His conviction was overturned in April by the federal appeals court and a new trial is scheduled to begin May 15.

Ogorodnikova and her husband, Nikolai, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and are serving federal prison terms.

Miller did not take the stand in either of his trials, but he told his FBI superiors that he was trying to resuscitate his flagging FBI career by penetrating the Soviet KGB through his affair with Ogorodnikova.

"I probably have more guilt over that (the affair) than any single thing," he told reporters, adding that he felt he had "betrayed" his former wife, Paula.

The ex-FBI agent conceded that sexual indiscretion had led to his personal downfall, noting that he had had five affairs in two years.

"I've always considered myself a very moral person," he said. "I guess I got caught up in the sexual revolution of the '80s. It could partially have been a mid-life crisis."

Nonetheless, Miller said that he has been in contact with his ex-wife and their eight children and that he planned to spend Christmas with them at her home in Utah if he is given permission to go there. One of the conditions of his bail is that he not travel beyond seven Southern California counties that comprise the central California federal judicial district.

Asked how he felt about being depicted throughout his trials as a bumbler, not unlike Ralph Kramden, the television character played for years by comedian Jackie Gleason, Miller responded: "I like Ralph Kramden. He has a lot of good qualities."

On numerous occasions during the two-hour interview, Miller declined to criticize the FBI or his former supervisor, Richard Bretzing, to whom Miller confessed his affair with Ogorodnikova. Bretzing, who has left the FBI and is now a Mormon official, implored Miller to tell federal agents everything that he had done.

Soon thereafter, Miller was interrogated for five days and failed several lie-detector tests, according to testimony introduced at his second trial. A federal appeals court ruled that U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon, who presided over the trials, erred in allowing prosecutors to present information about the tests.

"I was extremely tired, exhausted" during the interrogation, Miller said, but he declined to discuss the specifics of what he told his superiors.

"I was not a good FBI agent in the sense that I didn't have sense enough to protect myself," he added. "I try to be an open, honest person and that honesty and openness was misconstrued as a confession."

Despite this, Miller said, "I still have a certain amount of loyalty to the FBI," later adding, "I do feel I've been mistreated by a handful of people in the FBI."

Miller expressed considerably stronger sentiments about what happened during his trials, claiming he had been "treated unfairly" by the judicial system.

"I feel I didn't get a fair trial," he said. "I got the impression that the prosecution as well as the judge were not so much interested in a fair trial or the truth of the matter as in getting a conviction." Federal prosecutors declined comment on Miller's statement.

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