Pasko: Committed to Telling the Toxic Truth
The St.Petersburg Times #711, Tuesday, October 9, 2001
Four years ago, Russian Navy
Captain Grigory Pasko - then a military journalist - was jailed on
charges of high treason for allegedly selling state secrets to
Japan, primarily concerning Russia's disposal of nuclear waste.
Pasko, who was a stringer for Japanese news station NHK, had
filmed the dumping of liquid radioactive waste in the Sea of Japan
and documented other environmental hazards created by the Pacific
Fleet. The charges against Pasko remained secret, but those leaked
to the press by Pasko's supporters bordered on the ludicrous. He
was accused, for example, of illegally covering a meeting at which
top brass planned a military training exercise - despite the fact
that he had been specifically invited to cover the meeting for
Boyevaya Vakhta, the Pacific Fleet newspaper. Amnesty
International adopted Pasko as a prisoner of conscience, and a
flood of letters arrived defending him as a second Alexander
Nikitin, another former navy captain who was tried repeatedly for
revealing environmental abuses by the Northern Fleet. Last year
after 20 months in jail, Pasko was acquitted of treason charges
and convicted on a minor charge of unmilitary conduct. He was
sentenced to time served and released. Both the Federal Security
Service, or FSB, and Pasko sought to overturn the decision. The
FSB wanted Pasko behind bars. Pasko wanted to clear his name.
Pasko spoke with The St. Petersburg Times' Russell Working
in Vladivostok about the case against him, his fight for
vindication and the environmental problems facing Russia's Far
Q:Where does your case currently stand, and
what verdict do you expect?
A: I suspect the appeal is two-thirds
done. On Sept. 28, the court declared a one-month recess. On Nov.
29, the court will announce the results of its review of all the
documents. Then both sides will present arguments. And finally,
the court will announce a verdict.
Nov. 20 will mark four years since this whole thing started.
Under the law, the court has no grounds for conviction. Our
opponents are grasping at all sorts of charges. They're even
trying to charge me under Article 283:divulging state secrets.
It's nonsense. No crime has been committed. They leak information
to the press, trying to convince the public that Pasko is a
criminal. They failed to prove that I was a spy, so now they think
any charge will do. Pasko must be convicted. But we think the
verdict will be "not guilty." If not, we'll appeal to
the international court in Strasbourg.
Q: It is said that since you no longer work
for the Pacific Fleet, no one covers its environmental problems
anymore. What dangers are people not hearing about?
A: I can't answer this concretely, because
I have been out of the loop for four years. But judging from what
Pacific Fleet officers tell me, and also from what I have learned
during my closed military trial - it was declared a
"secret" proceeding only to prevent the public from
learning about the lawlessness of the FSB and military officials
in contaminated areas - the biggest radiation threats in Primorye
are the decommissioned nuclear submarines and nuclear-waste
storage sites. In the Far East, nuclear submarines are located in
two places: Krasheninnikova Bay in Kamchatka and near Sysoyeva Bay
in Primorye. In these two spots there is potential for a disaster
of enormous proportions.
But the environmentalists say we suffer most from the garbage
dump at Gornostai Bay, and from the huge number of cars that
poison the air. And they are right. The local government can't
even cope with a relatively small problem like a garbage dump
within Vladivostok city limits on the shore of Peter the Great
Bay. How do you expect them to deal with decommissioned
Q: Have the authorities done anything
A: Yes, some things have been done. In Bol
shoi Kamen, they built a floating plant to purify radioactive
waste. The construction order was issued in 1992, but the plant
only came online this year. Thanks to American aid, they have the
capacity to store nuclear fuel at Sysoyeva Bay and to store
ballistic missiles from the submarines before they are processed.
I suspect that the countries that might help solve these
problems don't appreciate the truly horrific situation in our
dangerous radioactive zones. And they don't know because Russia,
following Soviet practice, classifies all information on
Last year, all the decommissioned submarines and storage
facilities were handed over to the Atomic Energy Ministry. Now the
Pacific Fleet bears no responsibility for them. The ministry
created a government-owned company, Dalrao, to handle the subs and
storage facilities. And they appointed a former military man, Rear
Admiral [Nikolai] Lysenko, to run it. Lysenko has demonstrated a
crude adherence to the government line. When he was asked in court
what he knew about Article 7 of the Official Secrets Act [which
stipulates that information about environmental dangers cannot be
classified], he replied: "I don't need to know anything about
that. The Defense Ministry issued a contrary decree, No.
075." Until someone charges officials like Lysenko with
criminal concealment of information affecting public health, he
and his ilk will never have any cause to shake up their petrified
Q: Did you ever knowingly photocopy secret
documents, as rumor has it?
A: I never broke the law. First of all,
military journalists are so restricted in their work that they
can't do anything without someone else's participation. It would
be impossible to get hold of secret documents containing evidence
of Soviet dumping of thousands of barrels of [the poisonous
chemicals] lewisite and yperite without anyone's knowledge. I
knew, however, that such documents existed, and that they
contained the exact amounts dumped and geographic coordinates for
the dumping sites. But I had no access to them.
Knowing that these documents existed, I exhausted every legal
avenue demanding that they be declassified. And when I published
articles about the environment I was protected by Article 7 of the
Official Secrets Act. Many officers understood this and provided
me with information. Strangely, after the articles came out,
portions of this information were suddenly classified. Under
Russian law, the FSB had no right to do this. They did so in order
to build a criminal case against me.
Q: There was talk in navy circles that some
of your sources were later punished for providing you with
A: That's nonsense. Fifty-three witnesses
have been interrogated. None of my regular sources ever gave me
classified documents. And none of them has been punished.
Q: If your cause hadn't been taken up by
human-rights groups and the international press, is it possible
that the judge in your first trial would have ruled to keep you in
jail instead of releasing you?
A: Had I been a Japanese spy, probably
yes. The court received 24,000 letters from all over the world -
from Australia, America, all over Europe. If 48,000 letters had
been delivered, but I had been guilty, they wouldn't have helped.
Faced with my clear innocence and 24,000 letters, the court still
found me guilty of a bizarre charge that doesn't apply to my case.
When I talk to journalists from other countries, I always thank
the people and organizations for their concern. For some reason,
the biggest number of letters to the court and various government
agencies came from Holland. So I thank all the countries that
supported me - we counted 98 of them - and to the Dutch I bear a
special debt of gratitude.
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