Former US army colonel sentenced to life for Cold War spying

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The Independent US

The highest-ranking US military man ever accused of spying was sentenced yesterday to life in prison.

George Trofimoff, 75, showed no reaction as US District Judge Susan Bucklew handed down the sentence. Trofimoff, a retired army reserve colonel, was a civilian intelligence chief for the army in Germany at the height of the Cold War. Assistant Secretary of Defence John Stenbit told the judge in a letter that anything less than a life term would be neither adequate punishment for him nor a deterrent.

Trofimoff was convicted of a single espionage count in June following a four-week trial that produced a parade ex-officials of the KGB, the former Soviet secret police, and international intelligence experts.

Trofimoff's spying career is believed to have spanned decades, beginning in the late 1960s or early 1970s and ending with the fall of the Soviet Union.

As head of the US section of a joint interrogation centre in Nuremberg, Germany, Trofimoff had easy access to secret military documents that detailed what America knew about its adversaries. The centre was set up to debrief Iron Curtain defectors.

Trofimoff told the court yesterday that he was innocent of the charges.

During the trial, Trofimoff, who was born in Germany to Russian emigres and later became a US citizen, testified that he was a loyal American who had made up a story about being a spy to collect money to pay off his debts.

He had told the story to a man he believed to be a KGB officer, but who was really an undercover FBI agent. The six-hour meeting was videotaped and the tape was shown to the jury. Jurors laughed at Trofimoff when he testified it was a coincidence that he was able to name several Soviet spies when shown them by the undercover FBI agent.

A former KGB general testified that Trofimoff was such a valued spy that his name topped a list of important KGB sources given to then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in the 1970s.