Saturday, September 26, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Deadly Fate Of 2 Cold War Victims -- Documents Reveal How They Were Imprisoned And Died In Soviet Union


MOSCOW - One was a Connecticut native who came to the Soviet Union in 1939 to work for a commercial concern. The other was a German-American who was passing through Soviet-held territory near the end of World War II in an attempt to return to the United States.

Linking Isaiah Oggins and Charles Brown Clifford together was their common fate: imprisonment on false charges in Soviet camps and then death under highly questionable circumstances during the Cold War.

In an interview Thursday, Russian security officials released new information about Oggins, of Willimantic, Conn., and Clifford, of Los Angeles. Russian President Boris Yeltsin on Wednesday handed over documents about the two men to Malcolm Toon, co-chairman of the joint U.S.-Russian commission searching for American victims of Soviet abuses.

Toon and his Russian counterpart, Gen. Dmitri Volkogonov, agreed in a joint news conference Thursday that the records uncovered until now contained no hint that any U.S. citizens are still held against their will on Russian soil.

Among the documents handed over to Toon were records of interrogations of captured U.S. pilots by Chinese officials during the Korean War, as well as transcripts of conversations between Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and Chinese and North Korean leaders about those POWs.

Volkogonov said Chinese leaders Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai discussed with Stalin a strategy of withholding 20 percent of the U.S. prisoners after the war as diplomatic bargaining chips. He said it was unclear if that strategy was carried out.

In a separate interview, an official in the archives section of the Russian Security Ministry, Vladimir Vinogradov, said Oggins had come to the Soviet Union to work for a commercial concern in 1939, but was arrested a short time later on false charges of being a spy and a Trotskyite dissident. On Jan. 5, 1940, he was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment in a labor camp in the northern Siberian town of Norilsk, Vinogradov said.

In July 1947, with his prison term nearing its end, Oggins, 49, was "liquidated" at the insistence of Soviet Security Minister Viktor Abakumov, Vinogradov said. Wednesday, Volkogonov said Abakumov had demanded Oggins' death because he feared the American knew too much about the inner workings of the Soviet penal system.

Another official in the archives section, Anatoly Krayushkin, said Oggins' grave has been located in a Jewish cemetery in the city of Penza, about 350 miles southeast of Moscow. The two officials said they presume Oggins was Jewish because of the location of his grave but do not know for certain.

Vinogradov said the second American, Clifford, was arrested in Soviet-occupied Romania in September 1944 while en route from Germany to Turkey. He said Clifford had moved to Germany in 1939 to take a job with a German company named Blonn & Foss and had taken out German citizenship, but decided in 1944 to return to the United States.

A Soviet security court sentenced Clifford to 25 years imprisonment on a charge of "participating in the preparation of an aggressive war against the Soviet Union," Vinogradov said. He said Clifford died May 17, 1953, at 35 in a prison in the town of Verkhne Uralsky in south central Russia.

Volkogonov said Wednesday that Clifford was supposed to have been released on the petition of U.S. officials, but "died mysteriously" after his release had supposedly been ordered. "They said this was due to illness," he said. "But I think that his illness was from the same opera as Oggins.' "

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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