The Orlando SentinelWASHINGTON -- A Brevard County retiree who bagged groceries at the local Publix and lived on Patriot Lane seemed to have the life story to go with his address: a long career as both a civilian Army official and an Army Reserve officer.
June 15, 2000
Brevard Retiree is Accused of EspionageBy Tamara Lytle of The Sentinel Staff
But today retired Army Reserve Col. George Trofimoff of Viera sits in a Tampa prison, accused of being the highest-ranking military official ever charged with espionage. An indictment unsealed Wednesday charges Trofimoff, the son of Russian emigres, with a 25-year conspiracy of selling secrets to the Soviet Union.
The indictment reads like a spy novel, telling a tale of Trofimoff and his childhood friend, Vladimirovich Susemihl, an archbishop in the Russian Orthodox Church who allegedly recruited Trofimoff to work for the Russian intelligence agency, the KGB. It details secret cameras, code names and copies of confidential documents, along with rendezvous all over Austria to hand over rolls of film bearing U.S. secrets.
Trofimoff allegedly was paid $250,000 to $300,000 over 25 years, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Donna Bucella.
"This is very disturbing. It went on for 20-some-odd years," said Bucella, who would not comment further on the importance of the information leaked to the Soviet Union.
The news is just the latest in a series of reports of security lapses that have plagued the U.S. intelligence community in recent months. Computers with top-secret information have disappeared from the U.S. State Department and from the nuclear laboratory at Los Alamos.
Trofimoff, now 73, headed an Army and Air Force center in Nuremberg, Germany, that interviewed refugees and other emigres from Russia and the rest of the Eastern bloc. The indictment accuses him of handing over information about what the United States knew about Soviet military capabilities.
The center was closed in 1995 the same year Trofimoff retired after 35 years as a civilian Army official. He moved to Brevard County and bought a home in a gated community.
But, Trofimoff allegedly thought he was still owed money by the Russians. He had been under suspicion before of spying. He and his childhood friend, who died last year, were arrested in Germany in 1994. But the case was dropped because of concerns about the statute of limitations.
The United States, however, does not have a statute of limitations for spying. After a seven-year investigation, the FBI allegedly lured Trofimoff into a sting. Investigators called, posing as Russian agents, and offered to pay him the rest of what he was owed. Trofimoff showed up Wednesday morning -- Flag Day -- at the West Shore Hilton in Tampa and was arrested.
Later Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office unsealed an indictment that had been handed down by a grand jury. It accuses Trofimoff of 32 overt acts of conspiracy. Trofimoff handed over, according to the indictment, "documents, photographs, photographic negatives and information relating to the national defense of the United States, with intent and reason to believe that the same would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation."
Trofimoff handed over some of the secrets to Susemihl, his close friend since their childhood days in Germany, according to the indictment. He allegedly handed over other secrets to KGB agents in secret drops in Austria.
The extent of the damage is hard to assess, according to espionage experts. The dollar figure allegedly paid to him indicates the information was useful but not on the order of that from a spy like Aldrich Ames, who was paid $4.6 million and handed over information that led to the executions of 10 Russians working for the United States, according to David Wise, author of books on Ames and on the history of Cold War espionage.
But one indication of the value of Trofimoff to the Soviets was the fact he was given a top Soviet award for spying, the Order of the Red Banner, according to the indictment.
An FBI spokesman said Wednesday that the length of time the spying covered was "alarming" and "significant."
The Cold War may be long over, but there is still unfinished business, said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.
"If nothing else, it sends a message about the persistence of our counterintelligence effort," Aftergood said. "Even retirees are not safe from the long, hairy arm of the FBI."
Some long-ago spying activities are coming to light now for a variety of reasons, said Wise, whose latest book details the case of Joe Cassidy of Tampa, who pretended to be an Army officer selling secrets to the Russians. East German secret police files are now in the hands of the CIA, and some Russians with KGB secrets have defected.
There are still spies out there who have not been caught, Wise said. "I'm sure they're always hoping the knock on the door won't come. Today it came for George Trofimoff."
One problem with prosecuting spy cases, Aftergood said, is that it can require the exposure of classified information. Ames, for instance, pleaded guilty in exchange for reduced charges for his wife and a promise that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty.
The indictment says Trofimoff's current wife and past wives did not know of his KGB activities.
Trofimoff's wife, Jutta, reached at their Viera home, on Wednesday said she had no comment. His attorney, Daniel Hernandez of Tampa, was in court on another case when he was assigned to represent Trofimoff and did not even know about his new client Wednesday, according to his office. Because of Hernandez's schedule, Trofimoff's case was postponed until Tuesday, when he is scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo.
Hernandez was assigned to represent the Viera man under a court program that provides lawyers for defendants who cannot afford them. That need seems somewhat at odds with Trofimoff's circumstances, although the indictment does seek the forfeiture of assets from Trofimoff. He lives in a 2,154-square-foot home valued at $141,240 in Indian River Colony Club, records show.
Federal agents searched that home Wednesday afternoon as neighbors reacted with shock.
"He's a lovely person," said retired Navy Capt. John D. Callaway Jr., who lives three houses down from Trofimoff. "They have been guests in our home, and we've been guests in his home. I' m very shocked."
Callaway and his wife, Janet, said they saw Trofimoff and his wife several times a week. They described Trofimoff, who worked part time as a bagger at the Publix Super Market on Wickham Road, as friendly and down to earth. "My house is full of knickknacks they've brought us from Germany," Janet Callaway said. "They are wonderful people. I don't think you could find any neighbor who would ever say anything against him.
"I can not believe George would ever, ever put any of his neighbors in any situation that would harm them."
Janet Callaway described the neighborhood as a close-knit community of retired military officers "who stick together."
Trofimoff, who had top-secret security clearance, worked as a civilian in military intelligence from 1959 to 1994. The indictment alleges that his spying began in 1969 and continued until 1995. He had retired from the U.S. Army Reserve in 1987 as a colonel.
An Army spokeswoman in Washington did not offer much information about Trofimoff's service history, and the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis was less forthcoming and referred all calls to the Army's department of public affairs.
He headed the Nuremberg Joint Interrogation Center in Germany, which was established with U.S. allies in Western Europe in 1955 and served as the first stopover for people fleeing the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union. The facility, jointly operated by the Army and Air Force, was used to debrief defectors and other individuals, Army Spokeswoman Martha Rudd said. The center closed in 1995 after the Cold War tensions waned.
Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, said the Trofimoff case is a reminder the spying headaches did not end when the Berlin Wall fell.
Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official with the Defense Department, criticized the Clinton administration for not paying enough attention to protecting secrets. "Buckle your seat belts. We just keep accumulating these instances of problems, and you ultimately get a feeling for the fact we are likely to have a huge bill coming due because we have substantially neglected security."
Also, he said, China's spying efforts are more intense and broader than anything done by the Soviet Union and will make the Cold War look like "child's play."
Copyrightę 2000 Sentinel Communications Co.