800.01B11 Registration—Ovakimian, Gaik (Dr.)/33

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador of the Soviet Union (Umansky)

The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the Ambassador of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and has the honor to make the following observations on the various points raised in the Ambassador’s note of May 31, 1941 regarding the arrest of Mr. Gaik Ovakimian, a Soviet citizen who is charged with failure to give prior notification to the Department of State of his activities as an agent of a foreign government in the United States:

(1) The Ambassador’s attention is invited to the provisions of law and regulations governing the notification of agents of foreign principals as set forth under Part II of the pamphlet78 enclosed with the Department’s note of September 23, 1939.79 The regulations in question provide that such notification may be made by the agent’s government through appropriate diplomatic channels or consular offices or by the agent directly. The pamphlet referred to quoted the following section of the law of June 15, 1917:

“Whoever, other than a diplomatic or consular officer or Attaché, shall act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Secretary of State, shall be fined not more than $5000, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

It is clear from the wording of this section of the law, which was brought to the attention of the Soviet Embassy in September 1939, that liability for the failure to submit notification to the Secretary of State rests upon the agent himself and not upon any intermediary notifying office. It is not possible under the law, therefore, to transfer the liability of an agent of a foreign government, who may fail to comply with the notification requirements, to his Government or to any agency of his Government.

It is not believed that the references made by the Ambassador to the procedure of notification arranged informally between the Embassy and the Department is pertinent in the case under discussion since the [Page 977] records of the Department indicate that a notification form on Mr. Ovakimian was not received by the Department in accordance with that procedure, notwithstanding the fact that the Embassy, in conformity with the procedure, agreed to submit, commencing early in 1940, notifications with regard to Soviet officials in the United States, and did in fact submit notifications covering, according to the understanding of the Department at that time, all officials who were acting as agents of the Soviet Government in the United States during the year 1940.

(2) Statements made to American consular officers by persons planning to enter the United States in connection with an application for an American visa, or made to the American immigration authorities by persons entering this country, or statements made by persons in connection with applications for the extension of permitted sojourn in the United States are not considered as satisfying the requirements of law providing for notification to the Secretary of State of agents of foreign governments.

(3) In regard to the statements made by the Ambassador concerning the discrepancies between the files of the Department and those of the Embassy, the Secretary of State has nothing to add to his note of May 28, 1941.

(4) With regard to the concern displayed by the Ambassador relative to the legal position of officials of the Soviet Government with respect to whom notifications were sent to the Department during 1940, the Ambassador’s attention is invited to the Secretary’s note of September 23, 1939 in which he advised the Chiefs of Mission that information already submitted to the Department in conformity with the Department’s circular note of March 30, 1939,80 on behalf of persons affected by the provisions of law and regulations set forth in the pamphlet which he enclosed would be considered as constituting compliance with the provisions of those laws and regulations. In this connection the Secretary of State considers that notifications made to him by the Soviet Embassy in conformity with the informal arrangement entered into between the Department of State and the Soviet Embassy were in conformity with the Department’s circular note of March 30, 1939.

(5) Since according to the records of the Department no notification was sent to it by the Soviet Embassy with regard to Mr. Ovakimian under the procedure agreed upon by the Embassy and the Department and since there is no record to the effect that Mr. Ovakimian notified the Department directly of his status, the Department is unable to share the view expressed by the Ambassador that the invoking of the 1917 act in the case under discussion is unwarranted.

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(6) The Secretary’s note dated December 16, 194081 transmitted to the Chiefs of Mission blank forms which had been prepared for the purpose of harmonizing and consolidating in a single form the notifications to the Secretary of State required under the various acts of Congress pertaining to the notification or registration of foreign officials in this country. Although this form (PR–1) superseded all previous forms, the transmission on March 31, 1941 by the Soviet Embassy of such a form with respect to Mr. Ovakimian can not be considered as absolving Mr. Ovakimian for having failed, prior thereto, to notify the Secretary of State of his status in this country.

(7) The Department is investigating the allegations of mistreatment of Mr. Ovakimian and will communicate again82 with the Ambassador when it has received more complete information from the appropriate American authorities in regard to these allegations.

[For the report on an unsatisfactory conversation between Ambassador Steinhardt and Assistant People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Lozovsky on June 5, 1941, in which there was discussion of the detention of American citizens for various reasons, see telegram No. 1099, June 6, page 750.]

  1. Department of State publication No. 1370, Agents of Foreign Principals and of Foreign Governments (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1939).
  2. Not printed.
  3. Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, p. 926.
  4. Not printed.
  5. See note of July 8 to the Ambassador of the Soviet Union, p. 983.