Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 235

Nikolai Kovalev, the Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), said yesterday that an American technician arrested November 25 on espionage charges is guilty and will not be allowed to travel freely before his trial. Richard L. Bliss, who is employed by the San Diego-based telecommunications company Qualcomm, is accused of bringing satellite equipment illegally into Russia and of using the equipment to make illegal land surveys of sensitive Russian sites. Energetic lobbying by the U.S. government, which has denied the charges leveled against Bliss, led Russian authorities to release the American on December 6, one day after he was formally charged, but Bliss must remain in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Kovalev indicated that Bliss’s trial might not take place for several more months.

According to the FSB head, "Bliss’s guilt has been objectively proved" because the American was caught making land surveys "to within an accuracy of three yards." Under Russian law, Kovalev said, survey measurements made to an accuracy of 30 yards or less are considered a violation of state secrets. Bliss has apparently confessed to making the surveys in the course of his work for Qualcomm, which has a contract to install a cellular phone system in the region. A Russian lawyer for Bliss has argued that Qualcomm’s Russian partner in the venture failed to get the proper clearances for Bliss. The U.S. ambassador to Russia, James Collins, said that Bliss is a victim of outdated Russian laws that were never meant to apply to modern telecommunications technology and that the espionage charges are groundless. (AP, UPI, Russian agencies, December 16)

Kovalev’s remarks yesterday come despite U.S. government warnings that prosecution of Bliss could harm broader U.S.-Russian relations and might also scare off foreign companies considering doing business in Russia. Kovalev indicated, moreover, that the FSB is continuing its investigation into Bliss’s real employers, despite Washington’s assurances that he had no connection to the U.S. government. Kovalev’s remarks yesterday also come despite a more conciliatory stance taken by Russia’s Foreign Ministry on the case, and could reflect friction between the two Russian bureaucracies.

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