MOSCOW, FEB. 11 -- Former KGB agent Boris Yuzhin spent five years in prison for providing secret information to the FBI in San Francisco, but he said today that he would do it all again.
"I am proud of what I've done," Yuzhin told reporters here, just days after being released from the notorious Perm 35 prison camp. "There are some things in life that could justify plenty of years of punishment."
Yuzhin said he began giving U.S. agents information on KGB methods "free of charge" after his first exposure to the West made him see the evil in the Soviet system. Sent as a spy to the United States, he said, he had an opportunity "to pick up some real knowledge about what was doing in my own country . . . and the more I read, the more I realized that the official ideology I studied here was nothing but a big lie."
Yuzhin, 49, was among 10 political prisoners -- all convicted for treason -- who were released from Perm 35 Friday. Russian President Boris Yeltsin called them the last prisoners of conscience in Russia, but Yuzhin and the other freed inmates disputed that today, although none offered specifics.
"They called us the last political prisoners, but that's not so," said Viktor Makarov, another former KGB agent. "I do not believe the Russian government because under different slogans they continue the same policies."
"We didn't betray our country; we just tried to change it," said Vladimir Potashov, who served 5 1/2 years for giving information to the United States. "We did our best before perestroika. . . . Now, all our conclusions are justified."
Yuzhin, who served a third of a 15-year term, was a veteran KGB specialist in disinformation and "dirty tricks." He said he was sent to San Francisco in 1976 under cover as a journalist but that his real assignment was to gather military and industrial information in northern California.
He said he decided to cooperate with the FBI after giving a speech about the Soviet Union at a California university. "I was questioned for about six hours, by the students, the professors, journalists. And some questions . . . puzzled me because I didn't have the knowledge to answer them properly. Because here in my country, I couldn't get real information." He was arrested in Moscow in 1986.
Asked about his plans for the future, Yuzhin said with a smile: "Maybe I will work for some newspapers or magazines; there are so many of them now. I need some time to assess this new society in which we live."