Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Henderson) to the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

Mr. Welles: It will be recalled that in his telegram no. 1487 of November 5, [1940,] 1 p.m.,65 Mr. Steinhardt, then Ambassador to the Soviet Union, pointed out that it was the common practice long known to the Department for the Soviet authorities to endeavor to prevail upon applicants for United States visas to sign agreements to work as Soviet agents, as condition precedent to receiving permission to depart from the Soviet Union.66 The Ambassador added that nearly all of these persons had relatives remaining in Soviet territory and would, therefore, be subject to pressure in the United States if they should [Page 436] fail to carry put their agreement. The Ambassador pointed out that in view of the situation he felt that the best interests of the United States would not be served by permitting aliens residing in territory under Soviet dominance to immigrate to the United States in any large numbers. Other telegrams from Ambassador Steinhardt as well as statements made to officials of the Department by persons arriving from the Soviet Union have indicated that the Soviet authorities frequently brought pressure upon persons in the Soviet Union desiring to come to the United States to act as Soviet agents.

It would appear that the decisions of the Interdepartmental Committees of Reviews to which the Board [of Appeals] takes exception are based on the situation described above.

We can understand the evident perplexity of the Board of Appeals at what seems, at least at first glance, to be a paradoxical situation. Although the United States and the Soviet Union are fighting a common enemy, the United States authorities continue to look with suspicion upon persons endeavoring to come to the United States from the Soviet Union over whom the Soviet authorities may be in a position to exert control by treating as hostages their close relatives remaining in the Soviet Union.

It would appear from the study of all the background, however, that the attitude of the United States authorities in this regard is by no means unreasonable. Their policies with regard to persons desiring to come to the United States from the Soviet Union must be based not upon the relations existing between the Soviet Union and Germany but upon the Soviet attitude toward the United States. The Soviet attitude toward this country is not entirely clear. Soviet authorities have not to any appreciable extent relaxed the close supervision and control which for years they have exercised over American citizens in the Soviet Union. They continue to prevent American officials in the Soviet Union from traveling throughout the country or from maintaining contact with the local population. They make it clear that they do not in general desire the presence of American citizens in the Soviet Union. Although little is heard of the Communist International at the present time we have no information which would cause us to believe that it is not continuing quietly to function with headquarters in the Soviet Union. The American Communist Party, the organ of the Communist International in this country, is supporting the war effort to the extent that such an effort might be helpful to the Soviet Union. It has not, however, ceased to work for the eventual overthrow by force of this Government and for the establishment of a Communist dictatorship. In these circumstances the American authorities would be derelict if they should fail to take adequate precautions to prevent secret Soviet or Communist International agents from entering, and carrying on activities in, the United States.

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We have thus far received no information which would indicate that the Soviet authorities have abandoned their practice of endeavoring, to [en]list persons emigrating to the United States from the Soviet Union as agents of the Soviet Government or of the Communist International and of treating relatives remaining in the Soviet Union as hostages in order to retain influence over persons enlisting as agents.

In order to assist in ascertaining whether there has been a change in this respect on the part of the Soviet authorities, it is suggested that a telegram similar to that attached hereto be sent to Ambassador Standley.67

L[oy] W. H[enderson]
  1. Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. iii, p. 234. See also the letter of November 22, 1940, from Under Secretary of State Welles to President Roosevelt, ibid., p. 236.
  2. The concern of the United States over the proclivity of Soviet authorities to persuade individuals to become their agents in the United States is shown in telegrams No. 39, January 9, 1941, No. 522, March 17, 1941, No. 1066, May 30, 1941, from the Ambassador in the Soviet Union, and in the Department’s circular telegram, June 5, 1941, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, pp. 598, 941, 617, and 619, respectively.
  3. By telegram No. 162, April 9, 11 p.m., the Department made inquiry of the Ambassador whether “conditions have changed during the last 6 months to such an extent as to warrant the assumption that this practice would not be followed in case the Embassy should resume the issuance [of immigration visas] in appreciable numbers.”