Retired officer aided KGB

Ex-Army employee gave Moscow NATO documents

Jury convicts on first vote

25 years' espionage did incalculable damage, officials say

June 27, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - A Florida jury took only one vote yesterday to unanimously convict a retired civilian employee of the Army, who also had been a colonel in the Army Reserves, of spying for the Soviet Union and then Russia over a period of at least 25 years.

George Trofimoff, 74, was found guilty of providing highly classified documents to Moscow from a NATO interrogation center where he worked in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1969 to 1994.

Trofimoff, a naturalized American whose parents were Russian emigres, could be sentenced to life in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 27.

As the verdict was read in a Tampa courtroom yesterday, Trofimoff, a balding, slightly overweight man with a military bearing, silently glanced at his weeping wife and shrugged, a prosecutor said. His lawyer, Daniel Hernandez, said he would appeal.

Law enforcement officials said it would be difficult to assess fully the damage Trofimoff did to U.S. and allied intelligence. He is believed to have furnished Moscow with the testimony of East Bloc defectors interviewed at the center, which is administered jointly by German, British, French and U.S. officials.

In addition, he is suspected of passing along classified materials that included Soviet and Warsaw Pact Order of Battle documents, which would have divulged U.S. knowledge of the military structure and capabilities of the Soviet Union and its allies at the time, they said.

One indication of Trofimoff's value to Soviet officials arose in the monthlong trial when Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general, testified that Trofimoff had been listed in the 1970s at the top of the KGB's list of American assets. Trofimoff was even invited to a resort for Soviet military officers as a reward for his labors, Kalugin said.

"You can gauge the significance of that information by how the KGB ranked him as their No. 1 spy in terms of giving them information," said Mac Cauley, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida. "It was pretty vital information."

Cauley called the verdict "a great victory for our office," the product of an eight-year investigation that involved the FBI and Army intelligence.

Until his arrest last June, Trofimoff had been leading a quiet retirement in a military community in Melbourne, Fla. He worked bagging groceries at a supermarket in his spare time, friends said.

At the time, Trofimoff's neighbors expressed disbelief at the charges. They said that Trofimoff and his wife, Jutta, a beauty shop employee, had settled comfortably into the community of retired military officers.

The Tampa jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before convicting Trofimoff on a single count of espionage. The jury foreman, Mark King, later told reporters that only one round of voting was required for the unanimous verdict.

Trofimoff, who was born in Germany, became a U.S. citizen in 1951, served in the Army and rose to the rank of colonel in the Army Reserves in the 1950s.

A childhood friend, Igor Vladimirovich Susemihl, became a Russian Orthodox priest and eventually the archbishop of Vienna. Susemihl recruited Trofimoff into the service of the KGB around 1969, after Trofimoff had settled into his position as chief of the interrogation center's U.S. Army element, prosecutors said.

Trofimoff began removing classified documents from his office and photographing others, passing the materials to Susemihl at first and, later, to other KGB operatives. He received at least $300,000 for the documents, prosecutors said.

Over the years, he traveled frequently to Vienna to consult with his archbishop friend. During the Soviet regime, the Russian Orthodox Church was heavily penetrated by the KGB. Susemihl died in 1999.

Trofimoff, who was married five times, apparently managed to conceal his activities from his wives as well as from U.S. authorities. In an odd twist, he and Susemihl were arrested by German officials on espionage charges in 1994. But the charges were dropped because of a technicality.

The U.S. case against Trofimoff emerged largely from the notes of a former KGB archivist, Vasili Mitrokhin, who defected to England in 1992. The notes set investigators in search of a valued Soviet spy in Trofimoff's unit at the interrogation center.

Amid the evidence presented against Trofimoff at trial were six hours of videotaped conversations between him and an FBI agent posing as a Russian diplomat working for the KGB. In one 1999 meeting, Trofimoff placed his hand over his heart and declared his loyalty to Moscow.

The tapes clinched the case, prosecutors said.

"He discussed exactly what he did over the years," Cauley said. "It can't get much better than that."

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