A retired American naval intelligence officer chronicles his detention, trial, and conviction for espionage in Russia.
Like many businessmen who went prospecting for opportunities in the wilds of post-Communist Russia, Pope was pursuing a wide variety of semi-promising technologies while steering clear of still-classified projects. He succinctly depicts the nature of business in the new Russia: “Honesty, truthfulness, fair dealings . . . to Russians these are unfamiliar and ineffectual business practices.” Thus, it was hardly surprising when the FSB (the KGB’s still-feared successor) detained Pope for interrogation regarding his interest in the propulsion system of the Shkval torpedo. Although Pope protested that these pursuits were legitimate, the FSB focused on his earlier career with naval intelligence as proof he was a spy in their midst. Worse, the State Department and Pope’s employer, Penn State, virtually disowned him following his arrest, which seemingly emboldened his captors. Eventually, due to intense pressure from his devoted wife Cheri and a few stalwart connections in science and the military, a nonbinding House of Representatives resolution censured Russia for the prosecution, and then-President Clinton lobbied on Pope’s behalf with incoming Russian Federation President Putin, who insisted that Russia’s judicial process must proceed. As his trial slowly continued, Pope deduced that his prosecution was emblematic of a spy mania sweeping the shaky Russian society; many believed it was part of ex-KGB spymaster Putin’s campaign to roll back Yeltsin-era civil liberties. Putin ultimately pardoned Pope, who had spent 253 days in jail. He exhibits empathy for his cellmates (including some likely FSB plants), for others ensnared in the Russian criminal justice system, and for ordinary Russians. But he is not optimistic about the nation’s prospects, noting in conclusion that “Putin and his minions are combining the worst aspects of Communism with the worst aspects of Fascism.”
An unsettling narrative of “business as usual” gone awry, and a timely warning for post–Cold War optimists.