Russian Media Differ Over Pope Spying Verdict

July 7, 2008 - 8:08 PM

Kiev, Ukraine (CNSNews.com) - "I have very deep respect and admiration for the people of Russia", RTR television quoted American businessman Edmond Pope as saying in Lefortovo Prison, shortly after being sentenced late Wednesday to 20 years' imprisonment in a maximum security penal colony.

Pope, convicted of spying, said that although he regretted what had happened, he did not regret going to Russia. He had had many "wonderful experiences [and had met] many wonderful people."

The Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, welcomed the court decision to give Pope the maximum sentence.

"We are satisfied with the court's decision," FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich told RIA Novosti. "Russia had and will have the secrets, despite what the [Pope] defense says, because we have enough scientists and inventors who can catch up with the Western countries' progress."

Zdanovich added that the Moscow City's Court verdict had "demonstrated Russia's firm intention to defend its state secrets."

Pope, a 54-year-old former U.S. Navy intelligence officer, denied charges that he tried to obtain secret information about a Russian torpedo, "with the purpose of transferring it to a foreign state."

The plans were not secret, Pope argued, as they had already been published in open sources.

Russian media expressed a variety of views on the case and its result.

The Moscow Times said Pope's guilt had in no way been established, and called for the verdict to be overturned.

"We cannot help but be outraged at his seemingly arbitrary conviction and punishment," the newspaper said. "The trial of Pope has been a sham, reminiscent of Stalin-era legal proceedings in which the state stopped at nothing to get the result that it sought. This trial has clearly demonstrated the weakness and unprofessionalism of the courts and further reinforced the notion that the state here is incapable of applying its own laws, to say nothing of administering justice."

The Moscow Times said the case was unfortunately not an isolated exception, although it got more attention than most.

"Defendants throughout the country sit for months and even years in 'pre-trial detention' before ever setting foot into a courtroom," it said. "They are often forced to accept incompetent legal counsel and face a virtually insurmountable presumption of guilt on the part of prosecutors and judges."

By contrast, the online news site SMI.ru seemed to approve of the verdict.

"The severe outcome of Pope's case holds a lesson for our Western partners first of all," it said in a comment on the court's decision. "The bewilderment of Pope's defense is quite normal. Technological spies, like Pope, felt themselves to be like fish in the water in Russia during the past ten years. No-one was likely to be brought to trial [at that time]."

"The sale of Soviet military secrets became a perfect business during [former President Boris] Yeltsin's administration, with its pro-American Ministry of Foreign Affairs," SMI.ru added. "Nowadays, the Kremlin is full of former KGB's employees who are going to deal with technological espionage. And Pope is the first victim of the campaign."

SMI predicted that Pope would not be imprisoned in Siberia, as the Kremlin did not want to present a harsh image.

The news service concluded that the verdict had a single meaning: the period of "spying for free" in Russia was over.

Pope, who is suffering from a rare form of bone cancer, is the first American to be convicted of spying in Russia or the Soviet Union in four decades. The U.S. has called for his release.

CNSNews.com London bureau chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.