thumbnail of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
Hide -
JIM LEHRER: Good evening. Four Soviet stories lead the news of this Monday. A former high-level KGB agent redefected to the Soviet Union. The U.S.-Soviet confrontation in Afghanistan ended when a Russian soldier also decided to go home. Secretary Shultz was in Moscow finalizing the summit's agenda, and President Reagan's interview with Soviet journalists was dominated by talk of the space defense system. We'll have the details in a moment. Charlayne Hunter-Gault is in New York tonight. Charlayne?
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Here's tonight's NewsHour lineup. A former CIA official sheds light on that Soviet redefection. Two journalists give different views on President Reagan's pre-summit messages, and we begin a major four-part series on the AIDS disease as essayist Roger Rosenblatt examines this new plague and three of the nation's top experts brief us on the latest scientific developments.News Summary
LEHRER: It was a most busy and interesting day on the U.S.-Soviet relations beat, the most interesting development of all coming late today when a high-ranking Soviet defector redefected to the Soviet Union. He is Vitaly Yurchenko, a former KGB officer, who came over to the American side in August. He had been the head of KGB intelligence operations in the U.S. from 1975 to '80 and was considered the number-five man in the KGB leadership when he defected. The news of Yurchenko's change of heart first surfaced this afternoon from an official of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was then fully confirmed by Yurchenko himself at a news conference at the Soviet Embassy.
VITALY YURCHENKO, Soviet KGB defector: In early August, 1985, while on a business trip in Italy. I was forcibly abducted in Rome by some unknown persons. Unconscious. I was brought from Italy to the USA. Here I was kept in isolation, foreced to take some drugs and denied the possibility to get in touch with offical Soviet representatives. Only on November the 2nd, due to the momentary lapse of attention on the part of the persons watching me. I was able to break out to freedom and come to the Soviet Embassy.
LEHRER: The redefection was only one of several of the Soviet events of the day. President Reagan added another angle to the Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as Star Wars. He said SDI would never be deployed until all U.S. offensive nuclear weapons were destroyed, along with those of the Soviet Union. The comment came in an interview with four Soviet journalists published today in the Soviet Union. It was conducted last Thursday at the White House. And in Moscow Secretary Shultz met for nearly eight hours with Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze; the purpose was to put final touches on the agenda for the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Geneva, now only two weeks away. U.S. spokesmen afterward declined to characterize the meeting. Charlayne?
HUNTER-GAULT: There was also no word on whether Shultz and Shevardnadze talked about the battle of words and nerves in Kabul, Afghanistan, but it did end today when the Soviet soldier decided to go home to Russia. The 19-year-old had been in the U.S. Embassy three days, after seeking refuge on grounds he was fed up with life in Afghanistan. Soviet and Afghan troops surrounded the embassy, which drew protests from the U.S. Today the soldier turned down a U.S. offer of asylum and said he wanted to go home. The Soviet ambassador promised he would not be punished.
Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Dr. Yelena Bonner, spoke by telephone today with his stepchildren and other relatives in the United States for the first time in six years. Reporters were given permission to record the first few minutes of the conversation, conducted in Russian. Dr. Bonner has received permission to travel to the West for an eye operation, and she and Sakharov talked about her plans. Our report is from Maryanne Kane.
MARYANNE KANE [voice-over]: Six years of imposed Soviet silence ended this morning when Tatiana Yankelevich made contact with her parents, Soviet dissidents Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner, who have been exiled to the closed Soviet city of Gorky. First, in a conversation with Dr. Bonner, family members confirmed that she's been granted a three-month exit visa to obtain medical treatment in the West. She plans to go to Italy first to consult with an eye doctor about her glaucoma. Then she will come to Boston for coronary bypass surgery. Then, in a conversation with Dr. Sakharov, relatives learned that he has ended a six-week hunger strike because of his wife's release, his third in recent years. The Nobel prize winner's heart condition, angina, is serious but there is no indication that he will be permitted to leave Gorky. At a news conference, Tatiana revealed why her mother believes she is being released.
TATIANA YANKELEVICH, Dr. Bonner's daughter: From what she said, that the authorities wanted her to leave immediately, it's really clear that they did not want to have Sakharov on a hunger strike during the summit.
KANE [voice-over]: Bonner isn't leaving immediately. She's helping her husband prepare for the winter he will spend at their Gorky apartment. And what does Sakharov think of all this?
Ms. YANKELEVICH: There is no doubt he felt relieved and overjoyed. He went on three hunger strikes for it.
KANE [voice-over]: Yelena Bonner's 85-year-old mother Ruth is aware of that and hopes that Sakharov will not be forgotten.
FAMILY MEMBER [speaking for Ruth Bonner]: She says it's important now not to forget about Andrei.
KANE: The family plans to meet Yelena Bonner in Italy. Then they will bring her here to their home in suburban Boston for treatment at a local hospital.
LEHRER: There was congressional silence and there was congressional outrage today over a Sunday Washington Post story saying the CIA was out to destabilize Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. House Speaker O'Neill among others said it was all too classified to even talk about. Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma, among others, said expulsion should be the punishment for any member of Congress found to have leaked the story to the Post. Yesterday President Reagan ordered an investigation to find the source of the story. And, in another intelligence leak story, a high U.S. official said today U.S. spy plane photos revealed the Soviet Union has stepped up shipments of tanks, trucks and other military hardware to Nicaragua. The information came in an authorized leak to the Associated Press from government officials who declined to be identified.
HUNTER-GAULT: In South Africa the government said a black policeman was killed while guarding the home of a black councilman in one of the townships near Johannesburg. There were also scattered incidents of arson and strone-throwing elsewhere in the country. And the wife of Nelson Mandela, the jailed leader of the African National Congress, said he was recovering well after an operation to remove his prostate gland.
And in the Philippines, President Ferdinand Marcos began campaigning today after his surprise call over the weekend for a January 17th presidential election. Two weeks earlier he had said there would be no call for early elections, but there is speculation that U.S. pressure for democratic reforms may have helped spur the announcement. Marcos said that he was the only issue in the election.
LEHRER: James Groppi died today in Milwaukee. He was the former Catholic priest who made a name for himself in the 1960s as an activist for open housing and other civil rights causes. He broke with the Church in 1976 and married. Groppi had been partially paralyzed since a tumor was removed from his brain last year. He was 54 years old.
HUNTER-GAULT: Still ahead on the NewsHour, the defection and redefection of a high-level Soviet spy, then two different journalistic views on President Reagan's pre-summit signals, and the beginning of a four-part series on AIDS with Roger Rosenblatt's essay on this new plague of fear and a look at the latest scientific developments. KGB Defector
LEHRER: Another day, another pack of pre-summit dramas and developments. Today it was a big interview, a big phone call, a big meeting in Moscow and a big solution in Afghanistan, capped off late in the day by the biggest story of all, the redefection of former KGB official Vitaly Yurchenko. Yurchenko, the number-five man in the KGB leadership, defected to the U.S. in August. Today at a news conference at the Soviet Embassy in Washington he said he had changed his mind and wanted to go home.
Mr. YURCHENKO [through interpreter]: In the period when I was conscious and controlled my behavior, I did not pass any secret information. When I was under -- when I was drugged with the use of some special drugs, I don't know what I was saying or what I was doing. The thing which I want to mention outright is that I was threatened when I was conscious. And when they were talking with me they were telling me that, well, you see, everyone thinks that you are a traitor. And they showed me documents which were written in my hand or they were saying that they had recordings of my conversations. Nevertheless, I did not believe -- I did not believe them. They were trying to say that everybody will believe what they were saying, but will not believe me if I will say something else. And they, I think, were hoping that eventually I will start to believe that I had indeed passed some information of secret nature.
LEHRER: There are many guesses available tonight on what happened and why, and we turn again to those of George Carver. He is a former high-level CIA official who is now a senior fellow at the Georgetown University Center for Stragetic and International Studies. Mr. Carver, Yurchenko said a few moments ago at this news conference that he was abducted and drugged in Rome in August, and that's what caused all this. Do you believe that?
GEORGE CARVER: No, I don't. When something is absolutely too bizarre to be true, it probably isn't. And in this case I think that that story is false.
LEHRER: What do you think happened? What's your guess?
Mr. CARVER: My guess -- as you said, Jim, we're speculating. My guess is that there was a defection, it was genuine, and that either he went through a psychic sea change or the Soviets managed to remind him of what was in store for his family, his friends, his superiors, everyone who had ever known him, how much he would have on his conscience, and gave him this option to try to work his passage back.
LEHRER: But now he was supposedly at some safe location near Washington being debriefed by CIA agents. How in the world could the Soviet Union have gotten that message to him?
Mr. CARVER: Hindsight is always 20fi20, and obviously when something this bad has happened, the professionalism attending it could not have been all that would have been desired.
LEHRER: What do you mean?
Mr. CARVER: I mean that he should not -- the Soviets should not have been able to communicate with him, on the assumption that they did, which I think is plausible. But if you have a defector, senior man, whom you are protecting and whom you are trying to interrogate in essentially friendly surroundings, you can't keep him from ever going to a telephone without putting him under some kind of duress that changes the whole atmosphere. And it would have taken only one phone call to tell him, for example, there was some family emergency, he needed to call back to find out what was going on, to have opened up a channel of communication. To my mind, if the CIA had done, in fact, what Yurchenko claimed that he did, Bill Casey's head would have been on the block along with everyone else's senior on the seventh floor at Langley, and the oversight committees would have been howling, and I just cannot conceive of this having even been thought of, let alone approved. So I think Yurchenko had a change of heart and a change of mind and is now telling what the Soviets told him to say.
LEHRER: He just made up the story?
Mr. CARVER: No, I don't think he made up the story. I think the story was very carefully made up for him with some input, but I think the Soviets were faced with a very serious problem. One of their most senior officers had defected; they had to get him back, and they wanted to get him back in a way that minimized the damage of the defection and did as much -- spread as much blame and cast as much mud as they could possibly spread and cast on the U.S. and particularly on the U.S. intelligence, such as the CIA.
LEHRER: All right, now what happens to all the information that he reportedly revealed during this debriefing? For instance, there's a guy named Edward Howard that is apparently on the lam in Helsinki, Finland, who was a former CIA man. He was in Albuquerque, New Mexico; the FBI paid a call on him and then he beat it out of the country, apparently on information -- at least that's what everybody said, based on information -- that Yurchenko gave. What's all this mean now?
Mr. CARVER: Well, the short answer, again, Jim, is that I don't know, and if I really did I wouldn't be talking about it on MacNeil-Lehrer.
LEHRER:Feel free to speculate, George.
Mr. CARVER: But I will speculate. If this was a -- a very careful decision has to be made by the intelligence people at Langley in consultation with their oversight committees and for the White House as to whether this was some sort of Soviet trap de novo or whether you had a genuine defector who had a change of heart. If it was the latter, most of the information that he provided in the early part of his debriefing was probably essentially accurate. It has to be looked at, but it has to be looked at with a certain amount of skepticism, but not paranoia. Howard, for example, independently flunked a polygraph examination, to oversimplify things, and there were independent reasons for believing that Howard had in fact cooperated with the Soviet Union. Indeed, he's alleged to have admitted as much to some of his friends. Now, if Yurchenko was a sour apple from the beginning, if he was very clever bait on some sort of hook as yet to be discerned, then everything that he said was disinformation, was said for a purpose, and it has to be examined with consummate paranoid care.
LEHRER: And Howard could in fact be an innocent man if that theory were true.
Mr. CARVER: Relatively unlikely because, again, Howard had problems with a polygraph deriving from drug use on his own, and Howard, quite independently of Yurchenko, boasted to a couple of friends that he had been working for the Soviet Union to get revenge for the way he was treated.
LEHRER: Well, those of us who read spy novels who would be tempted to go with the sour apple theory, in other words that Yurchenko was set up by the KGB to do just exactly what he did today, all two weeks before the Gorbachev-Reagan summit. Now, tell me why we shouldn't think that happened.
Mr. CARVER: Well, nobody can keep you from thinking that it happened, Jim. I just think it's relatively unlikely. Elaborate deceptions like that are a lot easier to set up in Chapter 23 of a spy novel than they are in the real world. And the damage that Yurchenko presumptively did in fingering some of the people that he brought out in the early stages, because some of his information was extremely valuable and did check out, means that there was a very high price tag put for a rather elaborate game of obscure purpose. To my mind the simpler theory and the more persuasive one, is that you had a man who genuinely wanted to defect, then had second thoughts and changed his mind.
LEHRER: All right, now, what happens to him now? Does he become a hero of the people, or does he get shot when he goes home?
Mr. CARVER: To quote Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, "Not bloody likely." He does not become a hero. Various promises were undoubtedly -- on the assumption that it was an induced redefection, various promises were undoubtedly made to him about how he would be forgiven and his family would not be adversely affected, etc., etc. If he believes those promises, he is even dumber than I thought he was.
LEHRER: Okay. George Carver, thank you. The redefection of the Soviet spy was only one of many things that happened today on the Soviet front. Judy Woodruff has more on that. Judy? Summit Overtures
JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on this thicket of pre-summit news we turn to two veteran Moscow reporters, Dusko Doder, former Moscow bureau chief of the Washington Post, and Andrew Nagorski, Newsweek's correspondent in Bonn, West Germany. Nagorski covered the Soviet Union for Newsweek in the early 1980s. Soviet authorities ordered him out of the country in 1982. He's the author of the recently published book, Reluctant Farewell. He joins us from the studios of public station WHYY in Philadelphia.
Mr. Nagorski, let me begin with you. Do you see any relation between this redefection of Mr. Yurchenko and the upcoming summit?
ANDREW NAGORSKI: Only the kind of connection that you get that they're trying to clear the agenda as much as possible. They're trying to get a very strong PR image projected to the West that the Soviet Union can set the agenda for the summit and it's going to be a Star Wars summit, and we're going to get spies, human rights, Afghanistan off the agenda. And they've been pretty successful in doing a lot of these things, but we've had a lot of surprises in these last few days which has set Moscow scrambling.
WOODRUFF: Mr. Doder, do you think this helps the Soviets as they head into the summit?
DUSKO DODER: Well, it strikes me like a pretty good operation. I would disagree with Mr. Carver. I think the Russians didn't have an opportunity to contact this man. Even -- if you're in this line of business you know in advance what's going to happen to your family, so you don't have to be told about it in Washington.
WOODRUFF: What do you think happened?
Mr. DODER: I think this was a setup that obviously embarrasses the United States, shows that, you know, we're trying to -- I don't believe one word of the story. I don't think these things are done, that we would drug the man. He is not a senior officer of the KGB, because in the last two years we have the names of people who are senior officers. He's an operative. All senior officers don't leave the country. And I think it's a part of a public relations propaganda war that's going on in advance of the summit.
WOODRUFF: And timed just to develop two weeks before the summit.
Mr. DODER: I think so. I have no information, but just logic tells me that this is the case.
WOODRUFF: What about that, Mr. Nagorski? Does that sound plausible to you?
Mr. NAGORSKI: Obviously, there's no question that this man was drugged by Western intelligence services, dragged off. It's simply a matter of whether -- I still think there are two possible interpretations here, as Mr. Carver said. I would lean as Dusko does, toward the first, but I would not totally rule out the second. They have been highly effective in getting to people who try to defect. Obviously, the seaman is a case in point, a much simpler case, a much simpler individual. But I would not totally rule this out.
WOODRUFF: This is the seaman on the Soviet ship near New Orleans that you're mentioning.
Mr. NAGORSKI: That's right. In that case I think there was no question that when that seaman was brought back aboard he was threatened with every -- he was told very graphically what would happen to him if he continued to try to defect, if he did not cooperate and sign that statement. He was told what would happen to his family, what would happen to his friends, and that's a lot of pressure to put on a young man.
WOODRUFF: All right, let me ask you both about some of the other developments leading into the summit. The President's interview with the Soviet journalists took place last week. It wasn't printed in the Soviet press, in Izvestia, until today. What's the significance of the President's comment that SDI, that Star Wars is now not going to be operative until after offensive weapons on both sides are done away with? Is that significant? I mean, that seems to be the big news out of this. Mr. Doder?
Mr. DODER: I don't think that's significant in the sense that, you know, what the Russians are really concerned about is not SDI as such, because their scientists tell them it won't work. What they're concerned about is miniaturization of weapons. They're worried, and even the terminology that they use indicates what they're worried about, that we will be able to miniaturize these weapons and put them in space. And I think that they really mistrust the President a great deal. He had an opportunity to talk to the people and they undercut him by eliminating -- and I nd it inconceivable that they actually did that, but they censored the text of the speech, which I thought extremely unfair --
WOODRUFF: They cut out the comments on Afghanistan, the occupation of Afghanistan.
Mr. DODER: Extremely unfair.
WOODRUFF: Did you really expect them to print all of that?
Mr. DODER: I did. Maybe I'm naive, but I did. I'm not that naive. I spent seven years in the Soviet Union. I never trusted anybody, and particularly never trusted people who were too anti-Soviet because --
WOODRUFF: But you still expected them to print the whole thing?
Mr. DODER: Yes.
WOODRUFF: Mr. Nagorski, what about you? Were you surprised they didn't?
Mr. NAGORSKI: No, I don't think I was surprised that they did not print the whole thing. They are trying very definitely to make this a Star Wars summit. They don't want questions like Afghanistan and Eastern Europe to come up, so they cut it out. But they also were conscious that here you had a PR problem. They have total access to the Western media; Reagan had no access to the Soviet media. This was the least they could do to try to deflect that argument. Now, getting back to Star Wars for a moment, I think what -- they're not afraid of an American first strike. I think that what they're afraid in Star Wars is, as Dusko was saying, miniaturization, but the whole range of technology that this implies. They see the gap, the technology gap, widening between East and West and it's Gorbachev's mission in the summit to try to prevent that gap from getting any larger, because at home they've got real problems. How do you introduce new technology?
WOODRUFF: But don't you think the President's comment was of some reassurance to the Soviets, that, you know, maybe Star Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative, is farther off into the future than what maybe some of us had been led to believe? I mean, that it's not as likely as some of us have thought?
Mr. NAGORSKI: They have their own estimates on how likely it is, and again, it's not a matter of necessarily when all of this equipment might be deployed. It's what it implies for the whole range of military technology and whether they can keep up. That's what they're worried about. Because if they can't keep up, then this is the only factor -- this is the only area of the Soviet system that is functioning well, projecting military power which brings with it political influence. If they cannot project that power well anymore because they're not keeping up technologically, they've got a real problem whether or not we deploy Star Wars.
WOODRUFF: All right, moving on. What about the decision to permit Mr. Sakharov, Andrei Sakharov to call his family in the United States? Clearly, now, this is an attempt by the Soviets to deflect the human rights criticism.
Mr. DODER: Yes, I think that they are trying to do that. I mean, Mr. Sakharov has become a symbol in the West which they simply cannot ignore it. And I think they are trying to be nice about it. They are trying to score points, showing to people in the West that, well, you know, they will be accommodating and so forth, create a better climate.
WOODRUFF: Well, is that all they have to do, I mean, just to make a few gestures, is to let Ms. Bonner come to the U.S. for medical --
Mr. NAGORSKI: I'm afraid that's really all they have to do in many ways. They know that there are only a few very visible symbols of the human rights abuses. You make a few gestures -- and allowing Yelena Bonner out for eye treatment is a minimal gesture you can make and it doesn't cost you much -- and you deflect a lot of the criticism. There are a lot of cases that are never going to be mentioned even in the pre-summit discussion, and they're simply trying to get rid of those visible symbols.
WOODRUFF: Are we at a point, gentlemen, where both sides are really doing just about everything they can to avoid not having some kind of a success that they can declare coming out of the Geneva meeting?
Mr. DODER: Well, I don't think so. I think that they would like to have some kind of success in Geneva, and I think that Mr. Shultz is now in Moscow; obviously they're talking about something. I think that the optimum that you can hope for is some kind of a Vladivostok-type agreement which would mean that they would agree and set an agenda of what to talk about in the future. I don't think it's in anybody's interest to have the summit collapse and a lot of invective on both sides and so forth.
WOODRUFF: Mr. Nagorski?
Mr. NAGORSKI: I would agree with that, but I would also feel there's an element here that the Soviet system needs a fear quotient to justify the failures of its own society, and therefore, while Gorbachev wants to be able to say, "Look, I dealt with the American leader, I accomplished something," keeping a certain edge on the relationship is in his interest, at least until he can determine what his agenda is at home -- what's he going to do about the economy? What's he going to do about the failures of the system that he's inherited?
WOODRUFF: Can he still do that and have the United States, have President Reagan be able to walk away and say that he too came away with some kind of a success?
Mr. DODER: Well, you know, all societies need the fear factor, you know. What would we do without the Soviet threat? I mean, it would be very hard to mobilize people on these major expenditures. I think that they are now setting up an agenda, economic agenda, for the next five years. It's very important for him to make a decision what -- where the money is going to go. You are talking about an enormous amount of money, allocation of resources. And people are going to be engaged in it and it seems to me that is the main purpose of the summit, to sound out which way they'll be going.
WOODRUFF: Well, I know it's a subject we're going to be continuing to look at for the next two weeks. Andrew Nagorski, Dusko Doder, thank you both for being with us. AIDS: Plague of Fear
LEHRER: It wasn't long ago that launching a four-part, four-night series on a disease called AIDS would require a long lead-in and an A-B-C, 1-2-3, who, what, where, why explanation. But not now. All that is required is a reminder of what we already know, which we provide now in launching just such a series with these words from our regular essayist Roger Rosenblatt.
1st DEMONSTRATOR: In every other epidemic we've ever had, we quarantined carriers.
2nd DEMONSTRATOR: It's akin to, say, some dog having rabies.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Is this how it went in the old days? Are we in for another Plague of Justinian that lasted 150 years and took 100 million lives? In the 14th century the Black Plague in Western Europe killed 75 million, depopulating one quarter of the world. Between 1918 and 1919 a world plague of influenza killed 25 million. There have been others, in China, Russia, India, even here -- cholera, polio, malaria, typhus, smallpox, yellow fever. Ugly things, these plagues. The skin erupts, faces explode from the inside.
History showed dark drawings of bodies dumped in carts like trash, shuttered windows over silent streets. Red crosses marked the doors. During the Great Plague of London in the 1660s, the city government carried the dead away only at night to diminish the panic of the citizens. We have not yet come to that. This is the remarkable 1980s, after all, the age of erythromycin and the Jarvik heart. Any day now we will conquer AIDS, don't you think?
Yet slowly the panic temperature rises. Kids with AIDS are shunned in schools; mothers rail at city officials. Groups of all stripes protest. The doctors step forward to reassure the public: it is highly unlikely here and barely possible there. But the public's inner ear is cocked to terror. The disease runs beyond homosexuals to entire families. The nation talks less of God's revenge and eyes with disbelief reports of AIDS here, AIDS there.
Rock Hudson? Would you ever have believed Rock Hudson? Hollywood knew he was gay all along, but the fans didn't know it. And when they learned, the news came not as a scandal but as a tragedy. People discovered that Hudson was homosexual and human simultaneously. Small victories for gay rights to be followed by a backlash, that's for sure. But it isn't Hudson's homosexuality that people recall now. It is the relentless confidence of the virus. No announcements from special clinics in France, no chartered 747, no care and kindness of celebrities was enough to hold the virus back. One day we were told that Hudson had stabilized; the next day we watched a memorial service.
You would think that the bomb would have made us used to the idea of doom by now, but there is a distance between what we imagine and what we see. From television screens, helpless eyes implore the fates. We recognize that look. Who does not remember the peculiar lassitude any disease engenders? The listless posture, the semblance of ennui while waiting for some magic antibody to take effect and restore your body to your control. AIDS makes blood a football field. Push 'em back, T-cells and B-cells! Suddenly we are acutely aware of blood, of transfusions, donations, of others' blood, of our own. Suddenly we are acutely aware of sex, of systems, of connections, of life. Suddenly we are dying of things that never killed before.
Between optimism and panic the mind watches everybody warily, the doctors as well as the strangers in the streets. But where is one to move in this new game? Science? Civil rights? Tolerance? Government action? The issues reproduce as rapidly as the virus. Most of the time we simply try to look away. Only the victims are certain of the future. Too many lie low and in hospital beds, disowned by family and friends, untouched by human hands. Odd, if understandable, this reaction to the doom. The plague revives the oldest lessons: we are afraid of one another, and we need one another. AIDS: Tracking the Killer
HUNTER-GAULT: Part of the AIDS story resides in the numbers, numbers that grow weekly, counted and released each Monday in a kind of grim ritual at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. As of this Monday the numbers look like this. A total of 14,519 Americans had contracted AIDS. Of them, 7,450 already have died. The two largest groups are still gay or bisexual men, with 10,491 victims, and intravenous drug users, with 2,448 victims. Together they make up about 90 of all AIDS cases. The total number of children with AIDS has reached 206. Despite the very publicized warnings about AIDS spreading to the general population, the official tally shows that only 148 people got AIDS through heterosexual contact. Most of them were women who had sexual relations with drug users or with bisexual men. There are only 18 cases on record of men getting AIDS from heterosexual contact with women. We try and sort out what these numbers mean now with Dr. Harold Jaffe, head of epidemiology for the AIDS Task Force at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. He joins us tonight from public station WTG-TV in Atlanta.
Dr. Jaffe, first, what can you tell us about how fast AIDS is growing?
HAROLD JAFFE: Well, the number of AIDS cases continues to increase fairly rapidly. We believe, based on projections that we've developed, that the number of cases may double within the next year.
HUNTER-GAULT: And that's what they've been doing, doubling every year, isn't that right?
Dr. JAFFE: Well, actually, the rate of doubling has slowed down a bit. Several years ago the cases were doubling every six months, then every 10 months, now about every 12 months.
HUNTER-GAULT: Do you have any idea why that's happening?
Dr. JAFFE: Well, we're not really sure. We're hopeful that this does reflect some change in behavior that's spreading the virus, but we may also be seeing the effects of an epidemic in groups of people where most are already infected.
HUNTER-GAULT: Change in behavior of the people spreading the virus? Do you mean mostly gay men, changes in their behavior?
Dr. JAFFE: There's certainly a lot of information now that suggests that gay men are changing to a much safer lifestyle, so we're hopeful that that will slow the epidemic.
HUNTER-GAULT: You mean, when you say changing to a much safer lifestyle, you mean stopping promiscuous sex, is that not right?
Dr. JAFFE: That's what we mean. We mean having fewer number of sexual partners and engaging in fewer behaviors with those partners that would likely spread the virus.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, is there any new information about how the virus is spread? I mean, up to now we've assumed it was sexual transmission, transmission in the blood or saliva. Are those still the three main ways it is transmitted?
Dr. JAFFE: The ways the disease is transmitted I think are pretty well understood now, and those include sexual contact, exposure to blood through needle-sharing in drug addicts or in transfusions, and also from mother to newborn child. And we really haven't identified any other way that the infection can be transmitted.
HUNTER-GAULT: All right, one of the biggest worries in recent months has been AIDS creeping over into a heterosexual population, yet the statistics I gave show that there's a very low number of cases in the heterosexual population. How do you explain that?
Dr. JAFFE: Well, AIDS clearly has affected heterosexuals and about 1 of all the cases we call heterosexual transmission cases. However, that 1 has stayed quite constant over time. We're not really seeing a shift in the disease from the gay to the straight population. So we have to assume heterosexuals are at risk, but presently that risk seems to be quite low.
HUNTER-GAULT: What do you make of the fact that only 18 men have been infected by women?
Dr. JAFFE: We're not really sure why there seems to be such limited transmission from women to men in the United States. In part it may be because the number of infected women is relatively small, and it may also be that transmission from women to men simply isn't as efficient as from men to women.
HUNTER-GAULT: Is there any way to infer from that that you probably will be able to contain the disease within the gay population?
Dr. JAFFE: Well, I don't think we can say that the disease will be contained within one population or another, but we can say the risk for the general population of heterosexuals in the United States seems to be quite small right now.
HUNTER-GAULT: Do you have any concern about what I've read to be called the AIDS timebomb, that a lot more people may be infected but it may take years, perhaps beyond the five years that it has taken up to this point, for the AIDS to come out in the open?
Dr. JAFFE: There clearly is a major problem in the large number of persons who have already been infected with the virus and some estimates are that perhaps a million or maybe even a million and a half people have already been infected with the virus but are not ill. And the real question is, what will happen to those people over the next five, 10, 20 years? Some of them will become sick, but we don't really know how many.
HUNTER-GAULT: All right, Dr. Jaffe, we'll come back. Jim?
LEHRER: AIDS of course is not just an American problem. Central Africa has a high incidence of it, particularly in Zaire. It has surfaced in Europe, in Great Britain, France, West Germany, Denmark and Belgium particularly; in the Caribbean, Haiti has the most; in South America, Brazil is the leader. Dr. Thomas Quinn tracks the overseas tracks of the disease for the National Institutes of Health. He is an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Dr. Quinn, is there any country with a more serious AIDS problem than the United States?
THOMAS QUINN: Certainly, there are several countries in Central Africa that really have a growing incidence in the number of cases of AIDS and those people infected with the virus that causes AIDS. To them it may be as equally serious as it is here in the United States. I think within several years we're going to be seeing a large number of cases just like we have witnessed in the last several years here in the U.S. starting to occur in just about every country of the world.
LEHRER: Every country in the world?
Dr. QUINN: I think we're in the midst now of the beginning of a global epidemic. Not to be overly alarmist, I think it's important that people throughout the world are aware of this disease and that the disease is now presently felt in small numbers in many countries of the world. It's becoming a major health priority for the World Health Organization.
LEHRER: Are the patterns the same everywhere? I mean, as Charlayne just went over with Dr. Jaffe in the United States? Is that holding everywhere?
Dr. QUINN: Pretty much. It's the proportions in the individuals that are developing the disease. We mentioned here for the U.S. homosexual men are the major risk group. In many other areas, particularly tropical countries, it's more heterosexuals. It's a one-to-one male-to-female ratio of cases that are being identified in Central Africa.
LEHRER: More so than homosexual?
Dr. QUINN: Much more so. Much more so. They're also seeing a large number of cases being transmitted through blood transfusions and through re-use of needles. Now, in the U.S. we have that as a problem among intravenous drug abusers. In Africa it's re-use of needles for medical purposes because they can't afford to use disposable needles. And so needles are re-used for medical purposes and they're being implicated in the transmission of this disease.
LEHRER: Are you and others who are involved in your kind of work able to track this backward as well, as to where it really began, where it started in Africa. Did it go to Haiti or did it come to the United States and then to Europe? Can you help me there at all?
Dr. QUINN: You just listed the most popular hypothesis, for which there isn't a great deal of fact. Surveillance for this disease really originated here in the U.S. because it was originally identified here. To go back retrospectively into other countries to try and pull out where the disease originally occurred is nearly impossible at the present time. Certainly we can go back to serum that's been stored away and try to analyze that, and that is presently being done. It's clear that the disease --
LEHRER: Blood serum?
Dr. QUINN: Blood serum. Serum from individuals that's been stored away from the early 1970s. I think it's clear to say that the disease almost simultaneously was being recognized now in Haiti and the United States and in Central Africa. Whether it occurred several years earlier in Central Africa or some other area of the world is an unknown fact, so we really at this point, as we're speaking, do not know really where this virus came from that caused this disease.
LEHRER: Is there any way to know -- you said in your opinion that a global epidemic is coming. Is there any way to tell people in country A, in country B, hey, it's coming, do something? Or can you do anything like that?
Dr. QUINN: That's exactly what we're trying to do. We've learned a great deal in the last four years about this disease here in the United States. We're carrying out other studies in other countries. We're learning a great deal about how it spreads. And, as I mentioned, it spreads somewhat differently in other countries, depending on cultures and other medical issues. I think from the knowledge that we've gained we can now start educating the public, as we're doing right now, as to how this disease is transmitted. And we can tell them how to avoid some of those high-risk factors that are associated with transmission of the disease.
LEHRER: Thank you very much, Dr. Quinn. Charlayne?
HUNTER-GAULT: Finding a cure for AIDS has become the fulltime job of hundreds of scientists around the country as well as in France and elsewhere. In just four years the federal research money for AIDS in this country has multiplied from $5.5 million in 1982 to $109 million this year. And it's expected to double to $200 million next year. There is still no cure in sight, but there have been some breakthroughs. In April of last year it was announced that the cause of AIDS, a virus, had been found and that a blood test would be available for the first time. For a look at where we are now in the fight against AIDS we turn to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. He also oversees all AIDS research for the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Fauci, last year Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler predicted we'd have an AIDS vaccine in two years. How close are we?
ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, it's very difficult to predict when we will have what we call an effective vaccine. That's really the problem. In a situation in which you have identified the agent that causes the disease, which we have, this HTLV-3LAV, one would expect that after the agent is purified and its components broken down that you might be able to have a vaccine readily available. The difficulty that's unique about AIDS is that we're not sure what the mechanism [is] that the body uses to defend itself against the virus. If we know that, one could predict that if you injected vaccine material into andividual you would elict what we call an appropriate immune response against response against the virus which would be protective. So if you're talking about a vaccine, we have the material to make a vaccine right now; what we need to determine is just what the appropriate response of the body is to that particular component of the virus. And we don't know that yet.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, what made her so hopeful last year that we'd be able to see one in two years? Did something go wrong?
Dr. FAUCI: No, no. Actually not. Nothing went wrong. What it was, it was an extrapolation from what we know about viruses in general. When you do have the purified virus in hand, it usually takes about that time to be able to develop and early test a vaccine for its efficacy. What was not known at that time was the fact that we were dealing with a virus that was so unique in that its very effect was to destroy the immune system, so it became very complicated as to what the appropriate immune response would be against the virus.
HUNTER-GAULT: What about the drug cyclosporine, which two French doctors made news with last week in announcing that they had made some very dramatic results with that?
Dr. FAUCI: Well, cyclosporine is an agent that has been used for some time in transplantation situations. In fact, it is an agent that suppresses the immune response, that very immune response that you want to reconstitute. So from the standpoint of what you would predict based on the mechanism of action of cyclosporine, you would not think that it would have an effect of suppressing the virus or building up the immune response. We are keeping an open mind as to perhaps there is some mechanism that we're not aware of right now that might lead to the ultimate beneficial effect of that, but it seems rather doubtful that an agent in the long run which we know suppresses the immune response woud have an ultimate beneficial effect, but that remains to be seen.
HUNTER-GAULT: Are there any other drugs that look promising in the treatment of AIDS?
Dr. FAUCI: Yes, there are. There are a number of agents that have been identified which have the particular activity of blocking the ability of the virus to replicate or to grow. A number of these are already being tested in patients in a number of medical centers, including the NIH and also overseas in Europe. These agents hopefully will suppress the multiplication and the growth of the virus such that one of two situations will arise. The suppressed immune response or the body's defenses will either spontaneously regenerate themselves or we'll have to come in and artificially boost up the immune response; for example, by a bone-marrow transplant or by injecting materials that we know have enhancing effect on the immune system.
HUNTER-GAULT: Can you give any kind of an educated guess about how long it might be before some kind of cure is found?
Dr. FAUCI: Again, it's very difficult to do that. I can tell you that there are some agents that clearly have been shown to suppress the replication of the virus. This is a very unique virus because even if you block its ability to replicate, it also has the unique ability to hide or live within the cells such that you might suppress its multiplication, but you might not everus unless perhaps the body's own defenses come in and do that.
HUNTER-GAULT: Just very briefly, there's been a lot of concern about the blood supply. How safe is the blood supply now?
Dr. FAUCI: The blood supply is really quite safe. It always was quite safe, even before the tests to screen donors for the presence of antibodies were available. Now that that test is available it's even more safe. There's not a 100 guarantee that you won't get it from blood, but the incidence of -- projected incidence of getting it from blood now, in November of 1985, is extraordinarily small, making the blood supply quite safe.
HUNTER-GAULT: And they're heating -- is it not right that they're heating the blood that they're giving hemophiliacs now because the virus can't live when exposed to heat?
Dr. FAUCI: Right. They're not heating the blood; they're heating what's called the plasma concentrates or the material that's extracted from the plasma which is part of the blood before they give it to hemophiliacs, and it is in fact having some effect of suppressing the transmissability by that route.
HUNTER-GAULT: All right, Dr. Fauci, thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Dr. Jaffe, do you agree with the safety estimate that Dr. Fauci just put on the blood supply?
Dr. JAFFE: I agree with Dr. Fauci for two reasons the blood supply really is very safe. First of all, high-risk group members have been asked not to donate blood, and we think that has been largely effective, and secondly we have a very good test to screen donated blood for evidence of the virus.
LEHRER: Do you agree, Dr. Quinn?
Dr. QUINN: I do. That's exactly right.
LEHRER: Okay, back to you, Dr. Jaffe, with the bad -- to ask you to project in a negative way, which I realize is difficult. Let's say it's five years before that vaccine or that cure that Dr. Fauci and his folks are looking for is found. What is the down side of what that could mean in the United States in terms of AIDS incidence?
Dr. JAFFE: There is no question that AIDS is going to get considerably worse in the United States, and I think all of us have to plan for that. On the other hand, we know enough right now to prevent new infections. We know that if gay men can limit their number of sexual partners, we know that if intravenous drug abusers won't share needles, that we can stop the bulk of new infections. That sounds simple in principle, but implementing it may be quite difficult.
LEHRER: Do you agree? Is that the same thing internationally as well?
Dr. QUINN: That's what I was commenting on earlier, and I agree with Dr. Jaffe. We now know how the disease is spread. We know the means in which we could try and prevent it. Education of the public as to the high risk factors responsible for transmission could indeed slow the spread of the disease. It will still occur, but at a lower rate. And I think some of the beneficial studies coming from looking at homosexual men, we know gonorrhea rates are going down, syphilis rates are going down, and hopefully the spread of HTLV-3LAV is slowing.
LEHRER: All right, let's go through some basic consumer information here for the folks. The screening processes that are in effect, would you recommend that everybody who's been given an opportunity, who feels for whatever reason they should -- I mean, should everybody take a screening for this disease if in a position to do so?
Dr. FAUCI: No. At this point, no. There really is no medical indication at all for the general population to be screened.
LEHRER: Who should be screened?
Dr. FAUCI: Well, the test was originally designed for the screening of blood donors in order to keep the blood supply safe. It has now been used in a number of other situations in which it might become necessary for surveillance purposes or for projection purposes among certain study groups or risk groups to subject themselves to the test. But as a general broad screening, it really is not recommended that all people get it.
LEHRER: What's your view of that, Dr. Quinn?
Dr. QUINN: Oh, I fully agree. It's important that not everyone go running off to try and get this test. There's a number of -- it's not 100 accurate. There are some false positives.
LEHRER: Dr. Jaffe, what's your view of the test?
Dr. JAFFE: I agree with both Dr. Quinn and Dr. Fauci.
LEHRER: Okay. If somebody thinks he or she may be at risk as far as AIDS is concerned, Dr. Fauci, what should they do?
Dr. FAUCI: Well, when you say at risk, again, we may get into some semantics. If someone is in the risk group, then the recommendations that we heard from Dr. Jaffe about modification of sexual behavior -- for example, if a person is a gay man the recommendations for that individual is to try as best as possible to refrain from sexual interaction with a large number of partners, particularly anonymous sex or sex with someone who himself is having a large number of partners. Also, you can modify the type of sexual practices in order to avoid the exchange of body fluids.
LEHRER: But you say, Dr. Quinn, that overseas it's being spread through heterosexual sex as well as homosexual sex and in some cases more so. So what do you do about that?
Dr. QUINN: There is a great deal that can still be done. Certainly the heterosexuals that are developing the disease, many of these individuals are promiscuous individuals. They're having sex with large numbers of individuals in which they don't have a great deal of knowledge about that person's health background. Knowing who the person is, practicing certain steps in sexual activities, avoiding anal intercourse is one initial step to try and prevent transmission. Use of condoms, use of other types of barrier contraceptives with spermicides may be indeed effective. But certainly limiting the type of promiscuity that we initially saw with the outbreak of this disease would also help limit the spread among heterosexuals.
LEHRER: Dr. Jaffe, everybody's called this a unique virus, that it seemed to come out of nowhere and suddenly here we are and the whole world is talking about it. How does something like this happen?
Dr. JAFFE: Well, we don't really know, and I think Dr. Fauci and Dr. Quinn may know more about this than I do. But presumably this isn't a brand-new virus. Either it was a virus that perhaps infected animals and underwent a change that allowed it to infect humans, or perhaps it infected humans but didn't produce a serious disease, underwent some change to produce the lethal disease that we call AIDS.
LEHRER: Do you agree?
Dr. FAUCI: I do. I wish we knew more about it. We know that the virus is present in several different areas of the world now. What its ancestral pattern is or was, where it came from, would be indeed important in terms of development of vaccine. Perhaps there is a very close relative of this retrovirus which might be cross-protective against the one that's causing AIDS. If that's the case, it's important that we try to isolate that organism and develop it into a vaccine.
LEHRER: Okay. Well, all three doctors, thank you very much for being with us tonight, and we will be coming back to this subject tomorrow night, Wednesday night and Thursday night. Charlayne?
HUNTER-GAULT: That's right. Part two tomorrow night is a documentary report from Texas on how AIDS is affecting politics, employment and insurance.
We come now to the Lurie cartoon of the day. The subject? Secretary Shultz in Moscow.[RANON LURIE CARTOON:Secretary Shultz drives a golf ball of summit demands up a snow-covered hill to the summit. It gathers snow and becomes a dangerous boulder of counterdemands.]
LEHRER: Again the major stories of this Monday. A top Soviet KGB agent who defected to the United States last August has redefected. He told a Washington news conference he had been drugged by U.S. agents and held against his will. Also today the Soviet soldier holed up in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, decided to return to Russia, thus ending a tense standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Andrei Sakharov and his wife Yelena Bonner talked to relatives in the U.S. and confirmed that Mrs. Bonner would be coming to the U.S. at the end of the month for medical treatment. President Reagan said in his interview with Soviet journalists that an SDI space defense system would not be deployed unless all offensive nuclear weapons were destroyed first. And Secretary Shultz met in Moscow for eight hours with Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze to work out final details of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting. Good night, Charlayne.
HUNTER-GAULT: Good night, Jim. That's our NewsHour for tonight. We'll be back tomorrow night. I'm Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Good night.
The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
Producing Organization
NewsHour Productions
Contributing Organization
NewsHour Productions (Washington, District of Columbia)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/507-jm23b5x12k).
Episode Description
This episode's headline: News Summary; KGB Defector; Summit Overtures; AIDS: Plague of Fear; AIDS: Tracking the Killer. The guests include In Washington: GEORGE CARVER, Former CIA Official; DUSKO DODER, Washington Post; Dr. THOMAS QUINN, National Institutes of Health; Dr. ANTHONY FAUCI, National Institutes of Health; In Philadelphia: ANDREW NAGORSKI, Newsweek; In Atlanta: Dr. HAROLD JAFFE, Centers for Disease Control; Reports from NewsHour Correspondents: MARYANNE KANE, in Boston; ROGER ROSENBLATT, Time Magazine, in New York. Byline: In New York: CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, Correspondent; In Washington: JIM LEHRER, Associate Editor; JUDY WOODRUFF, Correspondent
Asset type
Global Affairs
Military Forces and Armaments
Politics and Government
Copyright NewsHour Productions, LLC. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
AAPB Contributor Holdings
NewsHour Productions
Identifier: NH-0555 (NH Show Code)
Format: 1 inch videotape
Generation: Master
Duration: 01:00:00;00
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1985-11-04, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2024,
MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” 1985-11-04. NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 21, 2024. <>.
APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from