Current Status June 1999: The Pasko case

This Current Status focuses on the Pasko case, which echoed the case of Aleksandr Nikitin in the Russian Far East. The Status will not discuss the legal part of the Pasko case, where all possible violations of the law were committed by both the prosecution and the judges. It will rather describe the prehistory which gives a fairly good account of how the successor to the KGB is able to punish a person who dared to confront it and sneaked into the area where he was not allowed to be. In this case the restricted areas were the practice of radioactive waste management in the Pacific Fleet and corruption among the FSB high ranks and admirals etc.

On June 23, prosecution called for 12-year sentence against Grigory Pasko, a Russian naval officer and journalist being tried for high treason in Vladivostok, Russian Far East.

The last phase of the closed trial resumed on June 21, but was suspended for one week on June 23 for unclear reasons.

Pasko, an investigative journalist who worked for the Pacific Fleet’s newspaper, was arrested on 20 November 1997 and since then held in custody. The Russian Secret Police (FSB, successor to the KGB) is in charge of the case and says Pasko committed high treason when working with Japanese journalists. The FSB put more than 20 agents to investigate this case. Pasko’s defence says all the information their client handed over to Japanese was already in the public domain.

Pasko’s publications were focusing primarily on nuclear safety issues in the Russian Pacific Fleet. In the classified indictment against Pasko available on the Internet, FSB lists a number of alleged secret documents confiscated from Pasko, which reveal irresponsible practice of radwaste management in the Pacific Fleet.

The charges against Pasko are based on secret military decrees in violation of the Russian Constitution and international principles of human rights.

The Pasko case received world-wide attention. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

How it all started
The account below is based on extracts from Pasko’s testimony in the court. It is officially classified, but available on the Internet.

Back in 1986, Grigory Pasko was onboard the Revnostny cruiser visiting Vietnam. A KGB officer onboard (A. Matrosov) suggested to him for the first time to become a KGB’s informer. Pasko declined the proposal. Later, he found out that his unwillingness to collaborate was reported to the Pacific Fleet Counter-Intelligence HQ (a part of the KGB, now FSB, system).

In 1989, a group of foreign journalists visited Vladivostok, then a closed city. Pasko interviewed one of them and published an article in his newspaper, Boevaya Vakhta (Battle Watch). A few days later KGB officer, Datsuk, invited him to a meeting to say that they planned to interview the same journalist as he was an agent of Japanese intelligence service. Datsuk suggested Pasko to become a KGB’s undercover agent. Pasko rejected the proposal once again.

In 1990-1991, Grigory Pasko was interviewing for Battle Watch a captain of an American frigate, which came to Vladivostok. After finishing the interview he stepped some meters aside to complete some notes in his notebook. A few moments later the American captain was approached by a person, whom Pasko had never met before, who said he was a journalist from the Battle Watch and wanted to ask a few questions. The American looked puzzled and refused to talk to the stranger. Pasko told his colleges at the newspaper office about the incident referring to the KGB agents as "a bunch of idiots." This conversation was apparently reported to the very same KGB.

Pasko says that all the foreign military ships, which came to Vladivostok, he visited in a company with "interpreters" – FSB/KGB agents (Rusetsky, Smirnov, Sevast’yanov, Schapov, Sivachenko, Yanin, Kozhemyako, Zhuravlev and others). The HQ of the Pacific Fleet favoured such procedure.

Pasko also says that all his visits to the so-called restricted areas were approved beforehand by the FSB. An FSB officer was quite often accompanying him. In 1993, Pasko together with a photographer from his newspaper took a trip to Kamchatka Peninsula where laid up nuclear submarines are stationed. An FSB officer who was guarding them did not allow the photographer to take a picture of the old submarines. Pasko started a quarrel and finally made a phone call to the Pacific Fleet HQ asking for permission to film. The permission was granted, but the incident was recorded by the FSB. It is now in the descriptive part of the indictment against Pasko.

In 1996, FSB’s control over Pasko’s activities visibly intensified. After returning from Japan in 1996, the editor of the Battle Watch ordered Pasko to write an account to the FSB detailing all the contacts Pasko had had in Japan. In late 1996 and until October 1997 (in November 1997 Pasko was arrested), an FSB officer, Dorovenikh, was attached to Pasko. Dorovenikh suggested to Pasko to report verbally and in writing all the contacts he had with foreigners. The FSB agent also suggested Pasko to become "officially" an undercover agent. Pasko refused to face a growing pressure – the FSB started to interfere into his life on regular basis. Pasko was forced to write a few accounts for the FSB, but then requested his editor to make a contact then Pacific Fleet FSB chief Felix Ugrumov (now promoted to Moscow) and ask him to stop the harassment. Pasko also started to talk over with his lawyers the possibilities to send the FSB to court for such actions.

In 1997, Pasko was onboard the battleship Admiral Vinogradov visiting Tokyo. The FSB agents, who were also onboard, secretly ransacked the cabin where Pasko lived when he was absent. Later he was invited to a cabin to one of the FSB agents where they "recommended" him to report to them all the meetings with journalists planned in Tokyo. Pasko refused to co-operate and insisted on a meeting with deputy chief of the Pacific Fleet FSB, Tureysky, who was also onboard in a capacity of a deputy head of the Russian delegation (all Russian military delegations have still such deputy heads – a tradition, which traces back in the Soviet times). But Tureysky would not talk to Pasko.

In summer 1997 after the visit to Tokyo, Pasko reported personally to Admiral Kuroedov, then Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, that the FSB was harassing him. "Do not worry. Continue your work," Kuroedov replied. A month later Kuroedov was promoted to become a Commander of the Russian Navy and left for Moscow. A new Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Zakharov, to whom Pasko talked about the FSB’s harassment in October 1997, did nothing to help.

Vital corruption prove vanished
On November 13 1997, Pasko was on his way to Japan. A part of the files, none of them stamped "classified", where confiscated at the custom control. Upon coming back to Russia on November 20, he was arrested in the airport by the FSB agents and shipped to custody.

His apartment was ransacked. The FSB agents had been searching for classified documents the whole night. All the files were confiscated.

The past years, Pasko had been investigating corruption in the Pacific Fleet and had a number of documents he intended to use in his further publications. All the files related to corruption cases vanished. A part of them dealt with $250 million Japanese aid for radwaste treatment facilities in the Far East, which were allegedly misused. All these files were neither put on record, nor delivered back to Pasko’s wife.

The ransacking itself was a gross violation of the law. As it turns out now, the FSB forged a number of records and put in names of witnesses who never were present at the time of ransack. The FSB has also retroactively assigned a "classified" status to a number of documents confiscated at the journalist’s apartment.

FSB investigators promoted
The chief investigator in the Pasko case, Aleksandr Yegorkin, feels confident about the outcome of the trial. His farther, Nikolay Yegorkin, a KGB officer, became famous in 80-s for catching a "terrorist", Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda writes. The "terrorist" was planing an assassination of a Far Eastern Communist Party boss, but was tracked down by the KGB, which was always on guard. When the Perestroyka times came, the "terrorist" was released from prison and rehabilitated, as the KGB fabricated the whole case. Nevertheless, the infamous father was promoted to Moscow and nobody pressed charges against him later for putting an innocent man into prison. Aleksandr Yegorkin seems to have no fear for being tried for falsifying charges, as the example of his farther is inspiring.

The man, who stood behind the Pasko case, Felix Ugrumov, former head of the Pacific Fleet FSB, was promoted shortly after Pasko was put into custody. Now he is catching "spies" in Moscow. Yegorkin has become a head of an investigation department – a more brilliant carrier is looming in front of him if Pasko is sentenced to prison.

FSB’s revenge
FSB says Pasko had been committing the alleged espionage in the period from 1994 until 1997. During the same period two aircraft carriers, Minsk and Novorossiysk, stuffed with a great number of state secrets were sold abroad by the Pacific Fleet admirals. The FSB would not take a notice of such minor incidents, as the secret service was totally preoccupied by tracking down Pasko.

Corruption charges might now be brought forward against the son, of the former head of the Pacific Fleet FSB, Felix Ugrumov, Vladivostok newspapers report. Ugrumov himself is said to be involved into illegal business, but the charges against him are very unlikely.

Instead, the 12-year prison sentence is awaiting Grigory Pasko, a military journalist who dared to confront the successor to the KGB and went out of their control. Now he has to pay for it.