The day was Wednesday, October 3, 1984 when FBI Special Agents arrested one of their own for espionage. Richard W. Miller was charged with providing classified FBI information to the USSR’s KGB. Miller at the time of his arrest was 47 years old and a 20-year veteran of the FBI. His position within the FBI was in a sweet spot from the KGB targeting perspective; he sat within the FBI Los Angeles Division’s counterintelligence squad. Also arrested that day were Svetlana and Nikolai Ogorodnikov, two citizens of the Soviet Union, with permanent resident status in the United States. FBI Director William H. Webster said upon hearing of Miller’s arrest that it was, “a very sad day for us.”
Espionage in the Ranks With Miller
Svetlana worked on Miller throughout early-1984, and in August 1984, she induced Miller to take classified materials from the FBI’s CI squad in Los Angeles and make a road trip with her to San Francisco. Once there, they parked near the Soviet Consulate General, and she walked into the building with Miller’s FBI credentials and a classified document, “Positive Intelligence Reporting Guide”. These items were to serve as Miller’s bona fides to the KGB. From that moment on, she was the conduit, the intermediary, and influencer on behalf of the KGB in the recruitment and handling of Miller.
In September 1984, Miller was prepared to travel to Vienna, Austria for meetings with the KGB. He had previously asked Svetlana to arrange for him to receive $15,000 cash and $50,000 in gold. The trip was set for October; it never happened.
The FBI thought Miller had detected their surveillance on Miller and Svetlana, which they had turned on in September 1984. The FBI’s counterintelligence technical operations targeted against the Consulate General no doubt was the avenue by which they learned of Miller’s subterfuge.
While Miller was not the most astute FBI Special Agent, he was not totally clue free, as such, he attempted to use a ruse to try and get out from under the stink of his actions. He approached his supervisor, Special Agent Bryce Christiansen, and told him about this plan he had cooked up to be a double agent for the FBI and how it was all good to go. Christiansen was having none of it, as he was privy to the results of the surreptitious entry into Miller’s home which uncovered damning and incriminating evidence of Miller and Svetlana’s relationship, and by extension, Miller’s relationship with the KGB.
FBI Puts Spy on Trial – More Than Once
Prosecuting Miller was not difficult, but convicting Miller of espionage proved to be more challenging.
At the first trial, Miller plead not-guilty and the jury, split 10-2 in favor of conviction having deliberated for 14 days. Federal District Judge David. V. Kenyon declared a mistrial on November 7, 1985.
The second trial of Miller ended on June 19, 1986, and the jury found him guilty of espionage. He was subsequently sentenced to two consecutive life terms and 50 years for the charges. Miller appealed on the grounds the polygraph results should not have been admitted as evidence against him. He won that appeal, and his conviction was overturned on April 25, 1989. He was released from prison on bail, to await a third trial.
The third trail, this time with the prosecution team being led by a young assistant U.S. attorney, Adam Schiff, convicted Miller on February 4, 1991. Miller was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. He appealed the conviction and lost in 1993. Miller would be released from prison on May 6, 1994, having served only a fraction of his sentence.
Miller passed away on October 16, 2013.
The Ogorodnikov couple and their Spy Story
Svetlana and Nikolai emigrated in 1973 from the Soviet Union to the United States. They were “utility assets” of the KGB from at least 1980. Neither were KGB officers, yet they were controlled by the KGB officers assigned to the Residentura in San Francisco. Nikolai provided support to Svetlana in her handling of Miller.
The FBI knew of Svetlana, as she had been targeted by the FBI as an “informant” or access agent to the Soviet community and official representation in San Francisco. The FBI Special Agent who did that targeting and assessing her was John E. Hunt, who would testify that he had over the course of 55 meetings, assessed her utility as a double agent/informant. He would also testify that she was found to be unsuitable. Interestingly, Svetlana would testify that she did in fact provide information to Hunt, and that she and Hunt were lovers. Hunt would deny the allegation of Svetlana being his paramour. Hunt’s part to this salacious tale quietly ends with his retirement from the FBI contemporaneously with Miller’s arrest.
There is no doubt Miller knew of Hunt’s having targeted Svetlana previously on behalf of the FBI. Indeed, it was after one of Svetlana’s calls into FBI Los Angeles trying to contact Hunt, that Miller initiated contact with her.
Not remarkable was how Svetlana seemingly took a page directly out of the espionage thriller, “Red Sparrow” and exerted her control over Miller via what evolved into a close, intimate, and highly sexual relationship. As noted above, she talked Miller into filching classified from the FBI, she took Miller to San Francisco, she arranged to take him to Vienna. She had control.
Following their arrest, Svetlana and Nikolai pleaded guilty to conspiracy and were each given prison time. Nikolai was given eight years, and Svetlana 18 years in prison.