Felix S. Bloch, a career diplomat who was suspected of spying for the Soviet Union but never charged, was fired from the State Department yesterday by Secretary of State James A. Baker III for allegedly making "deliberate false statements or misrepresentations to the FBI."
Baker acted under a national security law that does not require him to detail the charges against the employee, and he did not do so in the brief statement issued by department spokesman Richard Boucher.
However, the Austrian-born Bloch, 55, who spent 30 years in the Foreign Service, gained international notoriety last year when it became known that the FBI was investigating charges that he had passed secrets to the Soviets while serving as deputy chief of the U.S. embassy in Vienna.
He was put under 24-hour surveillance and was followed for weeks by large numbers of FBI agents, television crews and reporters who interviewed Bloch on the frequent long walks he took from his apartment. However, he steadfastly refused to admit any wrongdoing, and in the end, the government decided it had insufficient evidence to seek his indictment on espionage charges. Calls to Bloch's apartment yesterday reached an answering machine, but were not returned.
According to various unofficial reports, the KGB recruited Bloch in 1974 when he was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in East Germany. While in Austria from 1983 to 1987, he had access to highly classified intelligence and policy information. He was back in the department working on European affairs in July 1989 when ABC News touched off a media sensation by reporting that French intelligence had videotaped Bloch in Paris apparently passing a briefcase to a KGB operative.
Bloch sought to quit the foreign service last February. But while the State Department removed him from his post in the European affairs bureau and halted his $80,000-a-year salary, it refused to accept his resignation at that time and continued the investigation that culminated yesterday with his firing for cause.
The statement released by Boucher said Baker "found that Bloch's removal was necessary and advisable in the interest of national security because of his deliberate false statements or misrepresentations to the FBI in the course of a national security investigation, and his behavior, activities and associations."
Department sources said Baker's finding was based on evidence gathered by the FBI during its electronic surveillance of Bloch. Although that evidence was not used to seek an indictment, the U.S. District Court here ruled last May that the State Department could use this information in its administrative actions relating to Bloch.
Still undecided is whether the department will seek to deprive Bloch of a pension that would entitle him to up to 70 percent of his salary or about $56,000 a year.
Any action to deny the pension falls under a different statute, and department officials said yesterday that the legal adviser's office was studying its application in Bloch's case.