Robert C. Toth, Moscow correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, was seized by Soviet police this morning, held for three hours and accused of accepting state secrets from a Soviet scientist.
The incident is the most serious to date in Kremlin campaign to portray Western journalists here, particularly Americans, as spies and subversives. Until now the espionage allegations against correspondents had been confined to press attacks, but Toth was interrogated in the presence of a KGB security police officer and shown a document containing a formal statement of the allegation against him.
Toth, 48, is scheduled to leave Moscow in a few days, ending a three-year tour. He was released after the questioning, but police refused to tell him what their next move would be. It was not clear whether Toth will be allowed to depart as scheduled.
The correspondent said he was grabbed on the street by five men moments after a Soviet scientist, Valery Petyukov, had handed him a paper on parapsychology, the study of mental telepathy and extrasensory perception Petyukov had telephoned Toth a few minute earlier asking him to come immediately to a street near the correspondent's apartment.
Toth said he was introduced to Petyukov, a laboratory chief at the Moscow Institute of Medical-Biological Preparations, six months ago at a party for an emigrating Jewish scientist. Petyukov told Toth, who has written extensively on Soviet science, that he was preparing an article proving that parapsychology is genuine.
petyukov was also seized, and Toth later saw him at the police station. "He looked shaken up, but it could have been play-acting," the correspondent said.
The last American picked up here under similar circumstances apparently was Frederick Barghoorn, a yale political scientist, in October 1963. Barghoorn spent two weeks in custody after a Russian rushed up to him on a downtown street with papers. The police then grabbed the papers away, claiming that they were secret documents. The professor was released after President Kennedy protested.
Toth reported that while he was being questioned a man police identified as a senior researcher from the Soviet Academy of Sciences leafed through the Petyukov article and said it "contained secret material and showed the sort of work being done on some closed Soviet scientific institutes." These are institutes that have top-secret ratings.
Although the KGB officer told Toth it was not necessary to call the U.S. embassy, the correspondent insisted and a vice consul was finally summoned. Also present was an official of the Soviet Foreign Ministry press department.
The official protocol of the session read to Toth by authorities said he had been detained "when receiving state secrets from a Soviet citizens." The correspondent said he refused to sign the document.
"I asked them what was going to happen now and they said, 'We'll call you.'"
In March and again in May, the Soviet government newspaper Izvestia carried allegations by a "repentant" dissident who claimed that a number of Jews who had been refused permission to emigrate were working in collaboration with diplomats at the U.S. embassy to collect industrial and scientific secrets for the CIA. Although Izvestia implied that several correspondents were involved, Toth was not among those named.
Two weeks after the first article, Anatoly Scharansky, one of the Jews mentioned, was arrested and his family has subsequently been informed that he is being held for investigation on treason charges.
Los Angeles Times correspondent Toth filed this account from Moscow after being released by Soviet police.
There have been stories for years that the Soviets were trying to use extrasensory perception and other psychic phenomena for military purposes.
Senior research worker of the Soviet Academy of Sciences Milkhailov, called in by authorities to examine the documents given me, wrote in a statement:
"The article states that within the contents of living cells are partcles . . .and these PSI particles are grounds for discussing the fundamental problens of biology in the context of biology and parapsychology.
"There is also information about the uses of such PSI particles."
Petyukov's theses, as best I recall, was that the PSI particle is emitted when cells divide, that it can be detected and measured, and that this radiating particle can carry information. This would explain telepathy and the rest.
The question is why the Soviets should class parapsychological research work as a "state secret".
The subject is usually defined as covering three general fields of unexplained phenomena: Telepathy and other forms of ESP, psychokinesis including bending spoons and moving objects by "will power," and survival after death.
The subject has has its ups and downs in this country. In pre-revolutionary days Rasputin was said to have controlled the czarina and through her the czar by his "mystical powers."
Many sensational stories have appeared in the West about Soviet researchin the field, from killing baby rabbits in a aubmarine under Arctic ice while the mother's reactions in Moscow were moniteres, to reports that all scientific publication on the subject was forbidden by the military.
The Soviet encyclopedia once dismissed parapsychology as "non-scientific, idealistic consideration of super natural abilities of perceptual phenomena," but the 1970 edition takes a neutral and more serious view, calling it "an area of psychical and biophysical research.