Ellsberg embraces Russian chemist who exposed secret nerve gas Mirzayanov lauded by U.S. foundation

June 02, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Twenty years and two weeks after the Pentagon Papers case against Daniel Ellsberg was thrown out of court, America's most famous whistle-blower came to Moscow yesterday to lend his support to Vil Mirzayanov, the chemist who told the world about Russia's continuing chemical weapons program.

Dr. Mirzayanov, who once worked in a top-secret lab that created new poison gases, has been charged with revealing state secrets and faces two to five years in prison.

"I am here to honor and support Dr. Mirzayanov, who I believe exemplifies a kind of patriotism and conscientious duty of a citizen that is especially important in this era that we're entering," Dr. Ellsberg said at a news conference.

The two men, who first met Monday evening, presented something of a contrast yesterday. Dr. Ellsberg, now 62 and white-haired, was full of confidence -- the confidence, perhaps, of someone who had successfully resisted the full fury of the lTC Nixon administration, and gone on to build a career as an anti-nuclear activist.

Dr. Mirzayanov, 57, was firm, but quiet. His shoulders are slightly stooped. He was thrown out of his job and has been through months of police interrogations, with a trial still to come.

But he was defiant and unrepentant. He said he came forward last fall -- in an article he wrote for Moscow News and in an interview with The Sun -- because it had become clear to him that Russia was trying to keep a new potent nerve gas secret and therefore outside the control of a new treaty banning specific chemical weapons.

And because the new gas was secret, he said, "the public didn't fully realize the dangers of this sophisticated arms race in chemical weapons."

"The question I raised," he said, "concerns everyone."

Dr. Mirzayanov was arrested by the security police Oct. 22 and held for 11 days before being released pending trial. He was charged under a secret subsection of the law -- which was amended March 30 specifically to include chemical weapons under the state secrecy provisions.

He said he has been told that that amendment will have a retroactive bearing on his case.

The investigation against him has been completed, he said, and now he and his lawyer must review five volumes of documents. He expects a trial date to be set for next fall.

"Russia is fortunate and honored," Dr. Ellsberg said, "to have a citizen like Dr. Mirzayanov, who understands that the security of Russia lies in the avoidance throughout the world, the renunciation, the destruction of the sort of weapons his lab produced."

Next Wednesday, the Cavallo Foundation, of Cambridge, Mass., will bestow a "moral courage" award on Dr. Mirzayanov, along with $3,000. But under the terms of his release from jail pending trial, he is unable to leave Moscow.

The foundation instead invited both his wife, Nuriya, and a colleague who helped write the Moscow News article, Lev Fyodorov, to the Washington ceremony. But as of yesterday neither had received a passport from the Russian government, although Russian citizens are now ostensibly free to travel wherever they choose.

Dr. Ellsberg came to fame in 1971 when, as a young defense analyst, he had helped prepare a secret government history of the Vietnam war that he leaked to the New York Times.

The Nixon administration tried and failed to halt publication of the history, which became known as the Pentagon Papers. It then charged Dr. Ellsberg with theft and conspiracy, but those charges were dropped.

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