HIGHEST-RANKING U.S. OFFICER CONVICTED OF ESPIONAGE SAYS HE IS A "PATRIOT," NOT A SPY -- "60 MINUTES II," WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27
George Trofimoff, a retired colonel from the U.S. Army Reserve and the highest-ranking American officer ever convicted of espionage, tells Correspondent Scott Pelley that the case against him was comprised of lies. "You're sitting with a patriot that served this country," says Trofimoff. "...That's who I am and that's how I'm going to die." Trofimoff tells his story publicly for the first time to Pelley from a Florida jail, where he is serving a life sentence. Following is Pelley's report, which will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES II Wednesday, March 27 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. You must credit: 60 MINUTES II.
GEORGE TROFIMOFF IS EITHER ONE OF THE GREATEST SPIES EVER TO BETRAY AMERICA OR A LOYAL ARMY OFFICER WHO SPENT A CAREER DEFENDING THIS COUNTRY -- IN A MOMENT YOU'LL SEE THE EVIDENCE AND YOU CAN JUDGE FOR YOURSELF.
ONE THING IS SURE, COLONEL TROFIMOFF, WHO RETIRED FROM THE U.S. ARMY RESERVE, IS THE HIGHEST-RANKING AMERICAN OFFICER EVER CONVICTED OF ESPIONAGE. LAST SUMMER, A FEDERAL JUDGE SENT HIM TO PRISON FOR LIFE. DURING HIS TRIAL, PROSECUTORS CALLED TROFIMOFF THE PERFECT SPY. PERFECT, THEY SAID, BECAUSE OF THE EXTRAORDINARY CRIME HE MANAGED TO PULL OFF WITHOUT EVER GETTING CAUGHT.
TROFIMOFF HAS NEVER TOLD HIS STORY PUBLICLY UNTIL TONIGHT.
(PELLEY) Am I sitting here with the perfect spy?
(TROFIMOFF) No, sir, you are not. You're sitting with a patriot that served this country for 46 years and a half or 47 years. That's who I am. And that's how I'm going to die.
WHO IS GEORGE TROFIMOFF? WE FOUND HIM IN A FLORIDA PRISON AT THE AGE OF 74. HE'D JUST BEEN CONVICTED OF ESSENTIALLY LEADING A DOUBLE LIFE -- WEARING THE UNIFORM OF AN U.S. ARMY COLONEL WHILE SECRETLY WORKING FOR THE SOVIETS.
(TROFIMOFF) Let me put it this way, my past proves who I belong to. There is not one dark spot, or moment in of suspicion in my whole life.
(PELLEY) The question, Mr. Trofimoff is, which past is true?
(TROFIMOFF) That's is up to you and the public to decide.
THE TRUTH STARTS IN THE BLOODY HISTORY OF EUROPE. THE TROFIMOFF FAMILY WAS RUSSIAN. HE SAYS HIS GRANDPARENTS WERE MURDERED IN THE REVOLUTION. AS A BOY IN WORLD WAR II, TROFIMOFF WAS RESCUED BY AMERICAN G.I.S. THIS PICTURE FROM 1948 SHOWS TROFIMOFF SWORN INTO THE U.S. ARMY, HE SAYS, TO FIGHT THE COMMUNISTS THAT MURDERED HIS GRANDPARENTS. TROFIMOFF LEFT BEHIND A BROTHER, IGOR, WHO BECAME A CLERGYMAN, A CARDINAL IN THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH.
TROFIMOFF SPENT HIS CAREER IN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE. HE WAS SO FAR ABOVE SUSPICION THAT HE WAS PUT IN CHARGE OF THIS HOUSE IN NUREMBERG, GERMANY -- A HOUSE WITH A SECRET. INSIDE WAS SOMETHING CALLED A JOINT INTERROGATION CENTER, A PLACE WHERE AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE WOULD INTERVIEW DEFECTORS FROM THE SOVIET UNION.
(PELLEY) WHENEVER A SOVIET DEFECTOR CROSSED ANYWHERE INTO WESTERN EUROPE, U.S. INTELLIGENCE WOULD WANT TO FIND OUT EVERYTHING IT COULD FROM THAT PERSON. ANYTHING FROM THE LOCATION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS TO THE SIZE OF THE SOVIET GRAIN HARVEST. SO THEY WOULD BRING THE DEFECTOR TO ONE OF THE INTERROGATION CENTERS. TO HELP WITH THE INTERVIEWS, THE INTERROGATORS HAD ACCESS A VAST STORE OF CLASSIFIED INFORMATION. ESSENTIALLY EACH INTERROGATION CENTER CONTAINED A LIBRARY OF EVERYTHING WE KNEW ABOUT THE SOVIET UNION.
TROFIMOFF'S BUILDING HELD ONE OF SEVERAL DUPLICATE LIBRARIES FILLED WITH SECRET INFORMATION WE'D GATHERED ABOUT THE SOVIETS. THE U.S. THOUGHT THE SECRETS WERE SAFE. BUT IN 1992 A SOVIET KGB FILE CLERK NAMED VASILI MITROKHIN DEFECTED AND HE REVEALED THAT ONE OF OUR INTERROGATION CENTERS WAS BEING LOOTED BY A SPY. CHRISTOPHER ANDREW, A CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, HELPED BRITISH INTELLIGENCE ANALYZE MITROKHIN'S REVELATIONS.
(PELLEY) What sorts of secrets did the United States lose?
(ANDREW) They revealed A, what the United States knew about the Soviet Union, and in particular, about its armed forces and secondly, what military intelligence operations were being planned and carried out by the United States against the Soviet Union.
WHEN HE DEFECTED, MITROKHIN HANDED OVER KGB RECORDS THAT SHOWED THE STOLEN AMERICAN SECRETS EXCEEDED 80 VOLUMES, 50-THOUSAND PAGES TAKEN OVER 25 YEARS.
(ANDREW) some of this material is being considered so important that it is being passed to the Soviet leadership, to the Politburo.
ALL THE WAY TO SOVIET RULER LEONID BREZHNEV. WHEN THE KGB SENT BREZHNEV A LIST OF ITS VERY BEST SPIES IT PUT THE AMERICAN WHO STOLE THE INTERROGATION CENTER SECRETS AT THE TOP OF THE LIST.
(ANDREW) Now that kind of material from time to time, must simply have been gold dust.
THE KGB DEFECTOR, MITROKHIN, DIDN'T HAVE THE NAME OF THE TRAITOR. BUT THE SOVIET FILES THAT MITROKHIN DELIVERED DESCRIBED THE SPY AS A "CAREER AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICER." AND THERE WAS THIS-- THE COURIER WHO CARRIED THE SECRETS WAS A "CLERGYMAN" IN THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH.
(TROFIMOFF) An American officer who gave it to the Soviets through a Russian priest. And that fit me like a glove. No question about it.
TROFIMOFF AND HIS BROTHER IGOR, THE RUSSIAN CARDINAL, KEPT IN TOUCH AND OFTEN MET IN GERMANY.
(TROFIMOFF) My brother was traveling outside the Soviet Union. So I have no doubt in my mind that the KGB had their eyes on him. And controlled him in a way.
IN 1994, TROFIMOFF AND HIS BROTHER WERE ARRESTED BY THE GERMANS -- AN ARREST BASED SOLELY ON THE SKETCHY DESCRIPTION IN MITROKHIN'S KGB ARCHIVE. BUT THE BROTHERS WERE RELEASED IMMEDIATELY. A JUDGE SAID THERE WAS SIMPLY NO EVIDENCE THEY WERE THE MEN DESCRIBED IN THE FILES.
(TROFIMOFF) Could I hide all of this for 25 years? Could I take these documents out of my office, over and over and over again? I give you this much. I could do it once. I could do it twice. I could do it 10 times. And get away with it. But some where around the 11th or 12th, I would get caught.
FREE AND CLEAR, HE LEFT GERMANY TO RETIRE IN MELBOURNE, FLA., WHERE HE BOUGHT A HOUSE ON PATRIOT DRIVE. HE SETTLED INTO QUIET RETIREMENT FOR YEARS, COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN, OR SO HE THOUGHT.
(PELLEY) And then a letter came, July 10, 1997.
(TROFIMOFF) That's correct the letter was hand delivered.
(PELLEY) What did it say?
(TROFIMOFF) It said something to the effect that we are your friends and we'd like to help you.
HIS NEW FRIENDS EXPLAINED THEY WERE WITH THE RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN WASHINGTON. ONE OF THEM, IGOR GALKIN, WROTE AND PHONED FROM THE EMBASSY AGAIN AND AGAIN. HE SAID HE WANTED TO MEET TROFIMOFF AND HE WAS OFFERING MONEY. TROFIMOFF SAID THIS DURING ONE OF GALKIN'S CALLS.
(TROFIMOFF) I really don't know what you want from me. I've been out of work for the last seven years, six years already, and I'm, I'm sick. I think maybe this is a big mistake or something
WHY WOULD THE RUSSIAN EMBASSY BE CALLING TROFIMOFF? WELL, AS INCREDIBLE AS THIS MAY SOUND, TROFIMOFF TOLD US HE THOUGHT HIS BROTHER'S CHURCH WAS TRYING TO SEND HIM MONEY THROUGH RUSSIA'S WASHINGTON EMBASSY. TROFIMOFF WAS IN DEBT AND ONCE TOLD HIS BROTHER THE CARDINAL THAT HE NEEDED CASH. SO, TROFIMOFF DECIDED TO MEET THE EMBASSY'S MR. GALKIN, IN FLORIDA.
(PELLEY) Did it ever cross your mind that it might be an FBI man?
(TROFIMOFF) Much later yes. Much later. I thought so. But then I thought to myself, no it can't be. Why would they do this to me? I couldn't ... no.
OF COURSE GALKIN WAS AN UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT AND THERE WAS A HIDDEN CAMERA IN THE ROOM. THE FIRST THING TROFIMOFF ASKED WAS WHETHER THE ROOM WAS BUGGED. GALKIN TURNED THE CONVERSATION TO MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AND ASKED TROFIMOFF WHETHER HE HAD EVER MET KGB AGENTS IN EUROPE.
(TROFIMOFF) The only meetings I remember is the first one, that was in Amstetten. And then I remember I had two, and it was in Bad Ischl and one or two in Zell am See.
FOR SIX HOURS, THE CONVERSATION ROLLED OUT LIKE A CONFESSION.
Undercover lasted for 6 hours. One session in the morning and then Trofimoff went to work. He returned in the evening for another session with "Igor Galkin."
GALKIN ASKED WHAT DOCUMENTS TROFIMOFF HAD STOLEN FROM THE INTERROGATION CENTER.
(TROFIMOFF) If I got it, then you got it.
AND WHAT ABOUT AMERICAN PLANS FOR FIGHTING A NUCLEAR WAR?
(TROFIMOFF) I know we had a list of where your nuclear targets were. So this is where they were really happy.
THEY WERE REALLY HAPPY, "THEY" PRESUMABLY MEANING, THE KGB.
(TROFIMOFF) My whole story was completely invented. It was a complete ... it was an accumulation of lies.
TROFIMOFF SAYS HE INVENTED THE STORY BECAUSE HE BELIEVED IF HE PRETENDED TO BE A RETIRED SPY--THEN THE RUSSIAN CHURCH WOULD HAVE REASON ENOUGH TO GIVE HIM MONEY.
(PELLEY) Mr. Trofimoff, one of the first things you ask him is -- is the room bugged. And at a later time you say now tell me please that you are not working for the Americans.
(TROFIMOFF) Yeah, well...
(PELLEY) Mr. Trofimoff why would you say that to a person you thought was a representative of the church, the church isn't going to bug that hotel room. The church isn't working for the Americans.
(TROFIMOFF) I know, but at the time, I wanted to convince him that I worked for the KGB, I want to create an impression that I am afraid.
(PELLEY) How on earth does that help you? To convince a member of the church that you were a spy for the KGB? And that a member of his own clergy, your brother was a spy for the KGB.
(TROFIMOFF) Well, I can't explain the logic behind it anymore. My major logic was, they need a reason to help me, they need a justification, so I'm going to try to provide them with that. And that's what I did.
(PELLEY) Mr. Trofimoff you are either one of the greatest spies of the cold war or the unluckiest man on earth.
(TROFIMOFF) I'm the unluckiest in this case on earth.
BUT AT HIS TRIAL HIS LUCK WOULD GET A WHOLE LOT WORSE. PROSECUTORS CALLED A STAR WITNESS, GENERAL OLEG KALUGIN, OF THE SOVIET KGB.
KALUGIN TOLD THE JURY THE NAMES OF KGB AGENTS WHO WORKED WITH TROFIMOFF. AND THEY WERE THE SAME NAMES TROFIMOFF REMEMBERED IN ONE OF THOSE PHONE CALLS WITH THE FBI UNDERCOVER AGENT.
(TROFIMOFF) God I don't remember now. The first one was Nikolay. I remember him. I had a guy Yevgeniy, and I had a guy, uh, gee, I don't remember now. I honestly. There was a man Vlodya, I think.
(TROFIMOFF) It's just like saying Tom, Dick and Harry. They just came - popped into my head.
(PELLEY) You would have had better luck in the lottery. Getting one of them right? Maybe. Two of them right? Not in a million years.
(TROFIMOFF) I realize that. But like I said, I have never met any of these people anywhere. And when I picked those names, I just happened to pick them.
NEVER MET ANY OF THEM? THE PROSECUTION'S STAR WITNESS KGB GENERAL KALUGIN HAD ANOTHER SURPRISE FOR THE JURY.
(PELLEY) IN HIS TESTIMONY, KALUGIN SAID THAT TROFIMOFF WAS SUCH AN IMPORTANT SPY, SUCH AN EXTRAORDINARY ASSET THAT HE JUST HAD TO MEET HIM FACE TO FACE. SO KALUGIN SAYS HE ARRANGED A MEETING ALONG THIS PATH IN BAD ISCHL, AUSTRIA, ABOUT 150 MILES FROM NUREMBERG. KALUGIN SAID HE HAD TO LOOK TROFIMOFF IN THE EYE TO SEE IF HE WAS TRUSTWORTHY. TRUSTWORTHY TO THE RUSSIANS AT LEAST.
KALUGIN WROTE ABOUT THIS UNNAMED AMERICAN SPY IN HIS MEMOIRS. BUT THERE ARE KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE STORY HE TOLD ON THE STAND AND THE ONE IN THE BOOK. AMONG OTHER THINGS, THE BOOK SAYS THERE WERE SEVERAL MEETINGS AND IN A DIFFERENT CITY. SO TROFIMOFF SAYS KALUGIN IS LYING.
(TROFIMOFF) If you look at the entire trial, they don't have single piece of evidence, except Kalugin. It's what Kalugin says against what I say.
(PELLEY) What Kalugin says, in addition to what you say. You said plenty, on the videotape, on the telephone calls.
(TROFIMOFF) I know.
(PELLEY) The telephone calls.
(TROFIMOFF) Kalugin says a lot of things in this book and he admits he lied, right? Now I said a lot of things during the interview with Galkin, which I admit were lies. If they believed Kalugin's lies were lies, why don't they believe my lies were lies? You see?
(PELLEY) That's the problem with espionage, who do you believe?
THE JURY BELIEVED THE PROSECUTION. PROSECUTORS SAID TROFIMOFF TOOK THE FILES FROM HIS INTERROGATION CENTER LITTLE BY LITTLE, PHOTOGRAPHED THEM, AND GAVE THE FILM TO HIS BROTHER IGOR. THEY SAID THE MOTIVE WAS MONEY. BUT THE PROSECUTION ALSO ADMITTED IT WAS A PERFECT CRIME. THERE'S NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE. JUST THE WORD OF A FORMER KGB GENERAL AND, OF COURSE, THE TALE OF THE TAPE.
(PELLEY) The communists have fallen. Your brother, God rest him, has died. Isn't it time to say what you know?
(TROFIMOFF) Sir, I can't say something that I don't know. Because I have never, never had anything to do with them. And I will repeat that until I die, or until I clear my name.
TROFIMOFF JUST SPENT HIS 75TH BIRTHDAY IN A FLORIDA PRISON -- WHERE HE IS PLANNING AN APPEAL.
Jeff Fager is the executive producer of 60 MINUTES II, and Margaret Ebrahim is the producer.