Confession! My Trip to Moscow

SCOTT SHANE

October 11, 1992|By SCOTT SHANE

After discussions with my family and my closest advisers, I have decided to level with the American people about the trip I took as a student to the Soviet Union. Regardless of whether Bill Clinton heeds President Bush's advice and comes clean about his Moscow journey, I feel this is the right thing for me to do.

The facts are as follows: It is true that in the summer of 1976, I traveled to Leningrad and Moscow with 150 other naive young Americans who had inexplicably developed an interest in Russia and the Russian language.

As a result of my trip to Russia, they tried to recruit me as a spy.

Quite possibly we were targeted from the beginning for KGB recruitment. If so, however, the tactics were rather subtle. Living five to a room in an dilapidated dormitory with broken toilets and a dreaded parasite in the drinking water, we did not immediately perceive the advantages of life in the workers' paradise. Drowsing for hours in an ornate hall as lecturers droned on about the history of the Communist Party, few of us felt inspired by the cause.

Long evenings practicing our conversational Russian over vodka the cramped apartments of new friends likewise did little to fire our revolutionary spirit. Most young Russians seemed far more interested in Lennon than Lenin.

Truth be told, some of us sort of hoped the KGB would lay a trap for us -- what a story for the folks back home! Certain male students -- hey, I'm really leveling now -- were hoping the KGB might send a sultry temptress to test them. Alas, no such luck, even though we were in Russia for eight weeks, eight times longer than Bill Clinton. I went home unrecruited.

Two years later, while a student at Oxford University (Mr. Clinton was long gone by then, honest), I returned to the Soviet Union, with my wife and two friends, for a three-week driving trip, staying at campsites along the potholed highways connecting Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev. Again, no traps, no temptresses. I made it back to England without incident.

Then, a few months later, when I had dropped my guard, it happened: I was contacted by intelligence agents.

Not theirs, however. Ours.

Early in 1979, as I was preparing to return from England to the United States, I wrote to a number of U.S. companies and government agencies that I knew sometimes hired Russian speakers, asking about employment. I excluded defense and intelligence agencies, though they obviously had the lion's share of the job market, partly for political reasons and partly because I did not want to lose the right to travel to Russia in the future.

A few months later, I received a strange letter. It told me that "this Federal Agency," having received my resume from another agency, had expressed "tentative interest" in my qualifications and wanted to interview me for a possible job. It did not name the agency or describe the job. But I had a hunch.

The return address said "Office of Personnel" with a post office box. The letter gave a phone number to call. When I got back to the United States, I phoned.

A woman's voice answered, giving her telephone extension. I explained that I had received this bizarre letter, I didn't know from whom, and it had asked me to call this number. What did the letter mean?

"Read me the signature," the voice said. I did: Lawrence G. Woodward.

So, what does it mean? I asked.

"Well," the voice said tentatively, "it means that this federal agency has expressed interest in your qualifications."

Aha, I said. And what is this federal agency?

Pause. "The CIA," the voice said.

I said I didn't think I was interested in working for the CIA.

"All right," the voice said cheerily. "We'll put your file in the inactive section."

I mumbled my assent and hung up.

My file? What was in my file? The thought haunted me for a while. At times, I regret that I didn't go for the interview, just out of curiosity.

One of my questions would have been: Whom did they think they were fooling by leaving the name of the Federal Agency off the letter? Surely not the KGB?

It is a question one might put to George Bush, who was, after all, head of the CIA when I first went to Russia -- when, for all I know, "my file" was opened.

There, I have done it. I have told the people the truth, and I feel better. Now, about my involvement with anti-war groups during the years I was at Oxford. . . .

Scott Shane, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, swears he also was not recruited by the KGB when he was the newspaper's Moscow correspondent, from 1988 to 1991.

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