WASHINGTON — A retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel was accused by federal authorities Wednesday of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia for 25 years while working as a senior civilian official at a U.S. military intelligence unit in Germany.
George Trofimoff, 73, the son of Russian emigre parents, was charged in a federal indictment with selling information from 1969 to 1994 that revealed what the U.S. military knew about Soviet capabilities. That information, in turn, allowed the Soviet military to refine its own capabilities, authorities said.
Trofimoff, who retired in 1995, headed a joint Army-Air Force intelligence center that interrogated defectors and refugees arriving from Eastern Europe. He is, as an Army reservist, the highest-ranking military officer ever charged with espionage, said Donna A. Bucella, the U.S. attorney for central Florida, where Trofimoff was indicted.
Although his first client was the KGB, authorities said, Trofimoff continued to work for the spy agency after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and a succeeding Russian government took over. Over the years, he received a total of $250,000, authorities said. The charges against him, which result from a seven-year federal investigation, could bring life imprisonment.
"This is a very serious crime that affects not only our community, but our national security," Bucella said.
Trofimoff--who with his wife owns a home on Patriot Drive in Melbourne, Fla., on the state's east coast--traveled to Tampa on Wednesday to pick up money offered to him by an FBI agent posing as a Russian spy, U.S. officials said. He was arrested at a Hilton Hotel in Tampa, wearing a blue-flowered, Hawaiian-style shirt.
He went to Tampa "to get money that he felt was due him for past activities," Bucella said in an interview.
At an afternoon hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo ordered Trofimoff held without bail and assigned him a court-appointed attorney.
Born in Germany, Trofimoff became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1951. He enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1953 and was honorably discharged from active duty in 1956. He retired from the reserves with the rank of colonel in 1987.
A civilian employee of the Army from 1959 to 1994, Trofimoff had "secret" and "top secret" security clearances throughout his career.
According to the indictment, Trofimoff had access to documents showing the U.S. military's top intelligence "objectives," its knowledge of the Warsaw Pact military organizations and capabilities and its understanding of Soviet chemical and biological weapons. He also had clearance to see information passed on by defectors and refugees about Warsaw Pact capabilities.
Trofimoff, the indictment said, was recruited into the KGB by Igor Vladimirovich Susemihl, a childhood friend who was a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church. Susemihl rose high in the Russian church's hierarchy--serving as Russian Orthodox archbishop of Vienna and Austria and, later, Metropolitan of Vienna and Austria.
Authorities say the KGB awarded Susemihl the Red Banner, a decoration given for "courage in defense of the homeland."
Trofimoff and Susemihl were arrested by the German government in 1994 on suspicion of espionage, but they were released because of the statute of limitations. But the United States has no statute of limitations on espionage.
The federal indictment alleged 32 overt acts of espionage. Among them, Trofimoff was accused of secretly taking classified documents, photographing them and taking the images to Susemihl or other KGB agents.
Trofimoff reportedly went by several code names, including "Antey," "Markiz" and "Konsul."
In Washington, two U.S. defense officials said they did not believe that Trofimoff's spying created a great risk for U.S. security.
"We did win the Cold War," said one official who requested anonymity. He said the military intelligence that the KGB obtained from the Joint Interrogation Center in Germany may not have been entirely accurate, since "we always thought [Soviet] capabilities were greater than they actually turned out to be."
In January 1995, according to public records, Trofimoff bought a $25,000 lot in the Melbourne subdivision of Indian River Colony--a gated retirement community--and built a three-bedroom home now assessed at $121,000. He has recently worked as a bagger in a local supermarket.
"He is very outgoing, very friendly and a very fine gardener," said neighbor Eleanore Schweppe. "His home and his place always look very attractive."
Schweppe described Trofimoff's German-born wife, Jutta, 50, as "an attractive younger woman known at the Indian River Colony Club as an accomplished tennis player."
"This comes as a big shock," Schweppe said.
According to the 15-page indictment, Trofimoff for a while used a KGB-purchased Minox camera to secretly photograph documents, but gave it back to Susemihl because "it was too dangerous to have."
The indictment lists a busy itinerary of undated trips in which Trofimoff allegedly traveled to several towns in Austria to meet with KGB contacts to turn over photographs of documents. It says Trofimoff concealed his spy work from his "wives," and also hid the source of his money.
In Moscow, Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service was unavailable for comment.
Richter reported from Washington and Clary from Miami. Times staff writer Robyn Dixon in Moscow and researcher Anna M. Virtue in Miami contributed to this story.