Nicholas Daniloff's Exclusive Story; Thirteen Days in a KGB Prison

This story originally appeared in the October 13, 1986, issue of U.S.News & World Report.

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During this time Ruth and I developed what you might call a strategy. We were opposed to a trial being held for the reason that I considered myself innocent, and in the Soviet Union courts don't often acquit somebody who has been charged. So I was not going to cooperate in the trial. My body might be physically present, but I was not going to speak in my defense or answer questions. But at the end I would get my last word, a statement attacking the entire thing as a farce. We talked a lot about our strategy over international telephone lines and other places where we hoped that the ears would pick it up to discourage the KGB from pursuing the idea of a trial.

Since getting back my freedom, since I've come back home I've read a couple of stories leaked out of the State Department to the effect that they had to deal to get me out of prison because I was weakening in prison and perhaps developing the Stockholm syndrome—a sense of bonding with my captors. That's not true. I didn't lose my marbles. I didn't weaken. Right in the beginning I had feelings of despair and helplessness. I said to myself, "My God, what a fool I have been ever to have gotten into Soviet studies and to learn this language and to have been interested in this country!" It was totally conceivable that I was going to be in the pokey a long time; I knew the minimum sentence for espionage was seven years.

I answered the interrogator's questions, and I did not behave obstinately, because I knew that the KGB could make my conditions much worse and might well cut off all my contact with the outside, with Ruth. But I did not develop any bond with Sergadeyev. It was always unpleasant.

It may sound strange, but now that I am out of the Soviet Union there is a great feeling of loss. I've been a journalist now for nearly 30 years, nine of them in the Soviet Union. I have friends there, Soviet citizens, who are as close to me as any friends I have anywhere else in the world. They are ordinary, real people. Some of them are heroic. Being forced to leave there the way I did poses a question as to whether I will ever be able to go back.

I never had any illusions about the KGB or the Soviet system of government. The state's power is limitless and abusive. And yet what happened to me doesn't change my view that the Russian people and the American people must put their relations on a stable basis. We've got to get to know each other better.