Your coverage in those days
U.S.News & World Report wanted in-depth descriptions of the following subjects from Moscow and maintained a one-man bureau for more than a decade: U.S.-Soviet relations, inside Kremlin politics, the ordinary life of Russians, the privileges of the Russian elite, shortcomings in Soviet technology, the operations of the KGB. In the mid-1980s, the U.S.-Soviet relationship was at a low. The American side felt there was no strong, capable leader on the Soviet side (both Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko were ill and died in office). When Gorbachev came to power, Reagan was impressed by his vitality and was willing to enter into negotiations. Both sides were talking about a presidential summit in the fall of 1985, to follow up on the 1985 "fireside" summit. Simultaneously, Reagan was appalled at the level of Soviet spying in the United States. For that reason, the Reagan administration was happy to arrest Zakharov, a Soviet physicist employed by the United Nations Secretariat. They were well informed on his spying efforts. When the KGB arrested me in retaliation, Gorbachev and company regarded the campaign on my behalf as a hostile effort by American hard-liners to upset or cancel the projected summit. In 1993, Gorbachev said at a public meeting at Harvard that my arrest was "a retaliatory action" and wished me well on future visits to Russia.
Your visit to the White House after your release
Our meeting with Reagan in early October 1986 also included Nancy Reagan, Vice President George H. W. Bush, White House spokesman Larry Speakes, Rozanne Ridgeway from the State Department, Zuckerman, David Gergen, and my wife and children. Reagan told a few jokes (his Alzheimer's was beginning to show), but Nancy Reagan was the powerhouse who conducted the meeting. She wanted to know all about life in Russia. I don't recall anyone else asking any questions. They left it to her.
On the celebrity status that befell you
There were two sides to de facto celebrity status. It was exhilarating to have people listen to my views about Russia and take me seriously. To be invited to give paid talks. To be recognized on the streets. But publicity—which included some hostile suggestions (you must be a spy since the Russians said so...)—often came at unexpected and unwanted moments. I prefer to work hard and be recognized once in a while [as opposed] to high public recognition, momentary adulation.
After you left the magazine
I worked on a book, Two Lives; One Russia, which compared and contrasted my arrest to the arrest of my great-great grandfather in 1826. In 1989 I joined Northeastern University as a tenure-track assistant professor. I served as director of the School of Journalism, 1992-1999. I survived all the academic scrutiny and became an associate, then a full professor. I teach courses in news writing, foreign reporting, ethics and journalism for undergrads and grad students. I wrote a book with my wife about a Chechen surgeon under fire, The Oath, published in 2003. I have been active in helping the Chechens achieve greater autonomy within the Russian Federation. I have been back to Russia three or four times since my arrest.
On the Russia of today
Russia went through a period of chaos humiliation under President Boris Yeltsin. It is now getting rich on oil at $114 a barrel. It's no wonder that President Vladimir Putin has been throwing his weight around and that Soviet-style dirty tricks have begun to re-emerge: Witness the murders of Alexander Litvinenko in London and Chechen leader Zemlikhan Yandarbiev in the Arab Emirates. Or the pressures the Kremlin is putting on British Petroleum and the British Council in Russia these days. Or Putin's harsh comments on U.S. plans to emplace missile warning radars in Poland and the Czech Republic; beckoning Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. I think we are headed into a period of difficult relations with Moscow that I call "Cold Peace" but not a new cold war with Russia.