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You are the first American since Gary Powers to be convicted of espionage in Russia. Were the charges against you in any way justified?
I was in no way spying on Russia. My Russian colleagues and I discussed the sensitivity of various aspects of our cooperation on numerous occasions and were always careful to avoid any classified information. We were well aware that information existed that we, the American side, could not be allowed access to. As we proceeded to expand our cooperation, we obtained official Russian government authorization for our activities. An agency of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Russian Technologies, was working with us, though it was disbanded shortly after my arrest. Russian FSB investigators refused to take this point into account or accept any documentation concerning this authorization during the investigation or trial. It was obvious at that point that the Russian governmental structure and coordination were in disarray, but the FSB decided to proceed with their "show trial" against me. This tactic is one frequently used under the old Soviet system in which foreigners, outsiders, or other "agitators" are blamed for virtually all of their ills.
Do you think your arrest and imprisonment would have been different if Putin had not been elected president?
I believe that my arrest, imprisonment, trial, and conviction were all directly tied to Putin's election as president. The confirmation of his electoral win was officially announced on March 26. On Monday the 28th, the Russian Prosecutor's office signed the authorization for my arrest. I seriously doubt that Putin picked me as their candidate for a show trial; however, I do believe he at least tacitly supported numerous changes in policy that fostered the "spy mania" paranoia of the KGB/FSB, as well as other internal policy changes that were designed to tighten control. During his tenure as director of the KGB, Putin himself openly identified environmentalists and other groups as fronts for spying and called for tighter security controls. His former colleagues were well aware of his outlook and would have known that he would be sympathetic, if not outright supportive, of their actions to tighten security. Had I not been in Russia at the wrong time--during the presidential election--it may well have been another Westerner who would have been singled out for their show trial.
How important is it for Russian scientists to be able to find profitable outlets for their products and research now that their former military roles have been diminished? How was your work helping to do that?
The mindset engendered by the Soviets has left many scars on the current population, one being that the consumer is subordinate to the state and military. Numerous achievements from the Russian scientific community have found practical and rewarding interest in the civil sector; unfortunately, this has almost exclusively come from the West. As the Putin regime has tightened down on technology export, it is harder for Russian scientists to convert their work toward useful and meaningful civil uses.
Before entering the private sector, you did work for Naval Intelligence. Given this background, what challenges do you think face the intelligence community today?
First, I want to note the difference in "intelligence" work in the Navy as opposed to other objectives such as those tasked to the CIA. My work in Naval Intelligence focused on analysis and reporting, mostly in direct support of fleet operations, a far cry from covert, undercover work that is strictly the domain of the CIA. Since my release, I have spent far more time with government organizations than I had during the previous ten years. My debriefing with them has provided what I hope are valuable human intelligence insights on the thinking, perceptions, and behavior of a foreign country who could still pose a serious threat to us in many ways. The events of September 11 only strengthened my conviction that certain corrections are needed in the intelligence community. Specifically, we must put more resources and attention to human intelligence, loosen some of the tight restrictions that have been placed on our intelligence organizations, and do a better job of coordinating and analyzing the volume and disparate sources of information available to us. We have some excellent technical collection assets, still valuable, but really best suited to the superpower confrontation of the Cold War. To counter the new primary threat to our society, we must penetrate the thinking of organizations such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda. No technical collection asset can do an adequate job of penetrating the minds and thinking of these groups and individuals.
Russia has pledged their help to the United States in the war on terrorism. Based on your experiences there, how do you think the Russian public views this stand?
The Russian public, I believe, will be very supportive of their joining a world coalition to fight an evil that has touched them in recent years and threatens to remain a serious problem for them with other Islamic nations on their southern border. The Russian mindset is methodical; they would not have so readily joined the world outcry unless they have a direct gain. I believe that the Russian public is now frightened by what happened in our country because it will embolden and encourage the separatist and terrorist groups from Chechnya and elsewhere.
What frustrations did you and your wife encounter in dealing with the United States government to work for your release?
Cheri and I had very different experiences dealing with US government individuals and organizations. I was being held in fairly isolated conditions and had little knowledge of or influence on what was actually being done in my defense. American Embassy officials who visited me appeared sympathetic, but were bound by rules and regulations that prevented them from even helping me find an acceptable lawyer in a timely manner. But had they not reported the precarious nature of my health in late July/early August and helped put pressure on Russian officials to take better care of me, I'm not sure that I would be alive today.
What role did the media play, both in Russia and in the US, in your release?
Media response, both in Russian and in the US, was detrimental to me when I was first detained because the FSB controlled all the information released and made anyone knowledgeable about the case sign affidavits not to talk. Public opinion in Russia drastically changed in my favor as the trial began and Russian media started to gain information and criticize the FSB. The media there exposed the case against me for what it was--a politically motivated show trial.
How can my organization schedule a personal appearance or interview with Edmond Pope?
To schedule an interview with Edmond Pope, please contactHeather Fain
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