Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Henderson) of a Conversation With the Chargé of the Soviet Union (Umansky)

In the course of a conversation today Mr. Oumansky inquired in some detail regarding the American diplomatic courier system operating at present in and out of the Soviet Union. After I had explained the system to him in some detail he asked if at any time members of the staff of the American Legation in Riga and the American Embassy in Moscow traveled as diplomatic courier on non-diplomatic passports. I replied in the affirmative, pointing out that frequently clerks possessing service passports were used as diplomatic couriers. He asked if in that event the American Government took [Page 838]the point of view that the personal effects of such couriers were immune to examination by the Soviet customs officials. I told him that in so far as I knew, neither the American Embassy in Moscow nor the State Department had at any time insisted that the personal effects of persons not possessing diplomatic passports who were traveling as couriers should be exempt from customs inspection. I added that naturally both the Embassy and the Department felt that such persons should be granted the courtesies which are customarily accorded to persons in possession of service passports and that since they were acting as diplomatic couriers they should also have extended to them the facilities which were customarily granted to diplomatic couriers. I asked if some incident had given rise to his inquiries. He stated that he did not know precisely why he was instructed to apply for this information.

I remarked to Mr. Oumansky that on several occasions American diplomatic couriers had not been treated by Soviet customs officials in the courteous manner to which international custom would entitle them. There had been instances in which customs officials had demanded that pouches be opened or had objected to the manner in which the pouches had been sealed. I was not aware, however, of any recent incidents of this nature.

I also took occasion to tell Mr. Oumansky that in view of difficulties encountered by the Embassy in obtaining in the Soviet Union certain types of merchandise, including foodstuffs, the Embassy couriers frequently brought in with them, not under seal, fairly large quantities of foodstuffs and other merchandise. In reply to his question as to whether the couriers were encountering difficulties in bringing in such merchandise I replied that I was not aware offhand of any serious difficulties. I said that the customs officials in Moscow had not shown any marked inclination to facilitate the release of fresh foodstuffs from customs; that some time ago, for instance, they had introduced a regulation which made it impossible to obtain the release from customs on the day of arrival of perishable foodstuffs coming in from Riga by courier. As a result some of the shipments spoiled during hot weather while standing in the customs, and others suffered damages during the cold weather.