Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


3-5Status of Detained American Richard Bliss

DPB # 174
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 4, 1997, 12:50 P.M.


QUESTION: An American has been detained by Russian authorities on suspicions of espionage. What can you tell us about Richard Bliss and his present situation?

MR. RUBIN: As I understand it, the Russian investigation is continuing. Mr. Bliss is still being detained, but he has not been charged with espionage.

The Russian-American Consular Convention provides for our regular access to American citizens who have been detained or arrested in Russia. This provision has been fulfilled, and we have had appropriate access to Mr. Bliss.

We are also in frequent telephone contact with Qualcomm's representative in Rostov, who is in touch with Mr. Bliss' attorney. The attorney has full access to Mr. Bliss. An American consular officer visited Mr. Bliss on Monday, December 1, and is returning to Rostov today, December 4.

By Russian law, the authorities must decide by the end of the day on Friday, tomorrow, December 5, whether or not there is enough evidence to charge Mr. Bliss. The basic facts remain unchanged of the case.

QUESTION: In this type of situation, does the American Government actually work on his behalf, or is he working on this on his own? Are you in --

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think I've indicated that he has a lawyer, and I think it's my understanding that he feels the lawyer is doing a good job.

The role of the United States, through the consular services, is to make sure that he is getting proper access to legal treatment, to make sure the Russians are allowing us to see that he's properly treated. Obviously, if the process continues, we occasionally have views as to the appropriateness of the actions. But at this point, he has not been charged.

QUESTION: Does this constitute any kind of precedent? An American working under contract, or at least an American company working under contract with a Russian concern, that they would be exposed to this kind of charge in the course of their duties?

MR. RUBIN: Well, certainly we hope there is a climate in Russia that permits the maximum kind of economic access for our companies to be able to promote developments in Russia that are good for the Russians and good for US companies. We obviously want to promote that environment. But I'm not going to make a comment about the linkage between a case that is still pending and there hasn't even been a charge, and an overall business climate.

QUESTION: Jamie, is this man an employee of the US Government in any way?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to comment on that kind of issue because it leads to the obvious next issue, which is the question that we went over in this room a few days ago.

QUESTION: Jamie, the Russians have said now, two days in a row, that Bliss admitted to having illegal equipment.

MR. RUBIN: I can say this - Mr. Bliss is a private sector engineer employed by the Qualcomm Corporation. The firm is working on the installation of a wireless telecommunications telephone network under a legal agreement with a Russian client.

Yes, sorry.

QUESTION: Two days running, the Russians have said Bliss admitted to having illegal equipment on the record at the Foreign Ministry. Can you address that in any way?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any information on that. I can try to get it for you.

QUESTION: Have you issued any kind of advisories to Americans working in Russia, that given the circumstances where he was arrested basically for possessing something that wasn't declared on his Customs form?

MR. RUBIN: Your questions are all making certain assumptions about the validity of the charges, and therefore, drawing conclusions about what our policy should or shouldn't be.

What I'm prepared to say in this forum is that we are getting consular access; we are trying to be sure that he is treated fairly and that he has a lawyer. As far as drawing conclusions about a case that hasn't even been charged yet, we're not prepared to do that.

QUESTION: Yes, but prior to the pending espionage charge, he was arrested and detained because he did not - say the Russians - because he did not declare on a Customs form that he was bringing into the country GPS equipment. Now, is that the kind of thing --

MR. RUBIN: That information hasn't been presented to me, but I'll certainly look into that and maybe we'll have a view on whether that was appropriate or not.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the Secretary's upcoming --

MR. RUBIN: Same subject? Yes. There's obviously a dearth of information.

QUESTION: I don't know if it was you or another briefer, but one of you all said the other day that he did have proper license or proper permission to bring GPS equipment into country.

MR. RUBIN: Again, I may have - we will try to get you our view of the issue of his equipment, as opposed to the other issue, which is what the Russians are presumably charging him with.


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