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December 22, 2016
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June 24, 2010
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Publication Date: 
October 1, 1984
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CTA-r Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2010/06/24: CIA-RDP90-00552R000100580004-5 ARTICLE APPEARED ON PAGE TIME 1 October 1984 published, the security net around Bitov began to relax, and he was no longer ac- companied everywhere by an intelligence agent. Bitov seemed to be settling into a nor- mal life. In March he signed a contract with the British publisher Hamish Hamil- ton to write a book on Soviet censorship called Tales I Could Not Tell. In May he visited the U.S. as a guest of Reader's Di- gest. On his return, Bitov went to Paris, where he was offered a job with Radio Liberty, the U.S.-supported radio station that broadcasts to the Soviet Union, and gave three 15-minute interviews. But something was not quite right. Friends noticed that Bitov was growing touchy and suffering from fits of depression. He seemed especially affected. by the long separation from his wife Ludmilla, 38, and daughter Xenia, 15, whom he once described as "the dearest creature in all the world." Just before his disappearance last August, he reportedly told several fel- low Soviet emigres that he had cancer and was going into the hospital for tests and treatment. Precisely how and when Bitov re- turned to the Soviet Union remains a mystery. Some observers speculate that he was abducted by the KGB. Others suggest that he could'have been a KGB plant. sent by the emlin to gather useful informa- tion about the British intelligence alea ss with defectors. Both theories, how- ever, were discounted by a senior British intelligence officer involved in the case. Said he: "Bitov was certainly not a double agent, of that we are sure. He was, in our assessment, enticed back, not abducted." Bitov's future position could provide clues to his new role. He told Western reporters last week that he would resume his former job, which would imply some kind of offi- cial blessing. If he becomes a nonperson, as British intelligence officials predict it will suggest he was operating on his own. D erek Thomas, political director of the Foreign Office, summoned Soviet Charge d'Affaires Nikolai Posilyagin and informed him that London found Bitov's statements in Moscow "absurd and offen- sive." The Soviets, for their part, did not appear eager to turn the episode into an East-West diplomatic incident-especial- ly on the eve of Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko's meetings with President Ron- ald Reagan and other U.S. officials this week. Indeed, the Soviet press seemed to downplay Bitov's torture charges. Said a Western diplomat in Moscow: "It looks as if the Soviet authorities do not want to make an enormous issue out of this." Whatever the explanation, the Bitov affair has clearly damaged the prestige of British intelligence. What had appeared a triumphant success has turned into an em- barrassing failure. As for the Soviets, they have again proved the value of one of their most useful weapons against defection: rarely allowing a citizen to travel abroad with family. -By Thomas A. Sancton. Reported by Frank Melville/London, with other bureaus Back Home in the U.S.S.R. A Soviet defector recants, spinning a yarn worthy of a spy novel T he story had all the makings of an espionage bestseller. Chapter 1: Against a romantic backdrop of canals and palaces, Oleg Bitov, a high-level So- viet journalist, disappears from his hotel while covering the Venice Film Festival in September 1983. Chapter 2: Bitov, the former foreign culture editor of Moscow's Literaturnaya Gazeta, surfaces in London a month later and issues a statement de- claring that he has fled his homeland to protest the repression of intellectuals and. in particular, to denounce the Sovi- ets for shooting down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on Sept. 1, 1983. His defection is hailed as a major coup for British intel- ligence, which provides the journalist with money, a Toyota and a house in ru- ral Sussex. Chapter 3: Bitov vanishes from London, leaving his car illegally parked near the Soviet embassy and about 550.000 untouched in his British bank account. Last week Bitov wrote Chapter 4 at a Oleg Bitov at his Moscow press conference curious press conference held in Moscow. Looking tired and dranwn, the 52-year-old judged him to be a genuine defector. gray-haired editor read an account of Arrangements were quickly made to what he called his kidnaping, torture and By him to London. There, after- exhaus- blackmail at the hands of tive debriefing, he began to write and gence agents. As Bitov told it, his ordeal broadcast articles portraying himself as a began on the night of Sept. 8, 1983, when Soviet intellectual who had realized his he returned to his hotel room in Venice secret ambition to escape to the West. In "'only to get a terrible blow at the back of two lengthy pieces that appeared in the my head." He claimed that he was London Sunday Telegraph last February, drugged and put on an Alitalia flight from Bitov described how Moscow's leadership Pisa to London with a forged British pass- used the press as an Orwellian "Ministry port in the name of David Locke. of Truth," relying on an all-pervasive cen- . Bitov declared that the "Sherlock sorship largely imposed by Soviet journal- Holmeses" who interrogated him at an ists themselves. After the articles were army barracks near London were unable to prove that he was a KGB spy, despite their use of "blackmail," "bribery" and "physical violence." Once British agents realized that he had no intelligence valu ,e he said, they offered him "a well ,~aid,ob in the gallery of mud_slin ing anti-Sovie- teers" Bitov said he escaped by gaining ifi s captors' trust and then slipping off un- noticed to buy a one-way airline ticket to Moscow. In an attempt to add credibility to his story, he named his alleged captors, gave the addresses of two safe houses where e was ^ en y British intelli- gence, and read out the telephone num- rs o t e ante igence services London offices-which enterprising Fleet Street reporters promptly called. The phones were answered by operators who refused to give any information, and shortly after- ward the lines were disconnected. The British government, which had granted Bitov political asylum last Janu- ary, told quite a different story: Bitov orig- inally had approached Italian police in Venice in September 1983 and informed them that he wanted to defect to the U.K. The Italians in turn alerted the British embassy in _Rome;_ an agent_of the Secret London safe house cited by the journalist Intelligence Service met with Bitov and A Toyota, a book contract and $50,000. Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2010/06/24: CIA-RDP90-00552R000100580004-5