Bliss flying home to U.S.
December 24, 1997
Web posted at: 4:03 p.m. EST (2103 GMT)
ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (CNN) -- U.S. telecommunications
engineer Richard Bliss, accused by Moscow of being a spy, was
finally on his way home Wednesday after bad weather delayed
his trip for several hours.
Iced-over runways had kept Rostov airport closed earlier in
the day. On Tuesday, the Russian Federal Security Service
agent handling his case gave him permission to travel to the
United States for the Christmas holidays.
His plane, chartered by his company, left about 8 p.m., but
it was not clear when it would touch down in San Diego,
The FSS stated Wednesday in Moscow that Bliss is still under investigation, and that Bliss and his employer Qualcomm have given written promises that Bliss will return to the Rostov area "if his presence is required by the investigation."
The FSS spokesperson said that the agreement allowing Bliss to leave was motivated by humanitarian considerations, and that the actual decision was taken by the Rostov FSS inveatigator overseeing Bliss's case, as "that official is the only person who has the authority to make a decision of this sort".
One point that is still unclear are the conditions of Bliss's trip; Qualcomm says that they were required to sign papers promising that Bliss would return to Rostov in two weeks, while the FSS in Moscow is saying that Bliss will need to return to Rostov "if and when his presence is required for the purposes of the investigation."
The U.S. State Department said Bliss's departure was arranged in a deal worked out among Bliss, the San Diego, California-based Qualcomm Corp., and the Russian security services.
The FSS maintains that Bliss, 29, is guilty of espionage but that he would be allowed to go home for two weeks. He was previously was free on bail but not allowed to leave the area of his arrest.
Bliss, his company and U.S. officials have all denied that
he was spying. They said he was using standard land-surveying equipment as part of his work.
He was arrested in Rostov-on-Don on November 25. He had been on an assignment from Qualcomm and was using a global positioning system to develop a cellular telephone network. Bliss and Qualcomm have maintained he had permission to use
this equipment in Russia.
Russians officials said the decision to allow Bliss to return home was made because U.S. Vice President Al Gore intervened with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Spokesman James Foley said the State Department was not privy to the agreement and therefore has no details.
Correspondent Betsy Aaron contributed to this report.