The Secretary of State to the Ambassador of the Soviet Union ( Litvinov )
The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the Ambassador of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and has the honor to refer to the memorandum left at the Department by the Ambassador on March 4, 1943 drawing attention to certain alleged instances of discrimination against organizations in the United States engaged in the dissemination of printed material emanating from the Soviet Union. In this memorandum the Ambassador cites a number of instances which in his opinion “cannot but be regarded as discriminatory with regard to the Soviet Union and creating obstacles to the maintenance of cultural relations and mutual information between the two countries and as incompatible with the present relations between the two countries and are brought by the Embassy to the notice of the State Department under instructions of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs”.
Since the matters to which the Ambassador has reference in this memorandum fall within the competence of other Departments of the Government, the Secretary of State requested the Attorney General38 to have a careful investigation made in the premises with a view to ascertaining whether there had been in fact any discrimination against the Soviet Union in the application of existing American laws regarding the registration of Foreign agents. A similar request was made of the Postmaster General39 in regard to the alleged discriminatory action of the Postal authorities of the United States in connection with publications emanating from the Soviet Union.
The Secretary of State is now in a position to inform the Ambassador that the Attorney General after a thorough investigation in the premises has stated
“I am satisfied that the Ambassador is misinformed both as to the scope and effect of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and as to the interpretations and administrative sanctions which have been applied under it. In particular, I can assure you that in the administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act there has been no such discrimination against the Soviet Union as he suggests, and that on the contrary the Act has been interpreted and administered with a full appreciation of the importance of maintaining satisfactory cultural and other relations between the Soviet Union and the United States.”
For the Ambassador’s further information there is quoted below from the reply of the Attorney General the following passages dealing [Page 836] with the history and purpose of the Foreign Agents Registration Act:
“The Act was originally adopted in 1938, and committed to the State Department for administration. Its purpose was not in any way to prohibit or restrict the activities of foreign agents in this country, or to prevent their dissemination of information or propaganda on behalf of their foreign principals. In line with long legislative experience in comparable fields, the Congress elected to control the effects of propaganda from abroad not by prohibition but by publicity. The Act, therefore, did not prohibit the propaganda activities of agents of foreign principals, but merely required that such agents, as a condition of the right to engage in their activities, should register as foreign agents with the Department of State, furnishing in the registration statement and supplemental reports basic information regarding the nature and terms of the agency. These statements were required to be maintained as public records, so that, through the process of disclosure, the American public could be adequately equipped to appraise the meaning and purpose of propaganda disseminated from abroad.
“After the entrance of the United States into the war the Foreign Agents Registration Act was revised to meet the heightened exigencies of wartime, and its administration was transferred to the Department of Justice. Among the principal revisions of the Act was a requirement that all political propaganda, in whatever form, disseminated by a foreign agent, should be filed with the Librarian of Congress and with the Attorney General, and should be labeled so as to show that the disseminator was an agent of a foreign principal, that his registration statement was available for inspection at the Department of Justice, and that the fact of his registration did not indicate approval by the United States Government of the contents of his propaganda. It will be noted that these requirements of disclosure, while an extension of the provisions of the original Act, were consistent with the basic legislative assumption that the American people can be trusted to appraise the merits of foreign propaganda so long as they are given full information as to its source.
“At the same time, it was recognized in the revisions that the interests of wartime security required special handling of the informational activities of those nations with which the United States was allied. At the suggestion of the President, made to Congress when the revisions of the Act were under consideration, provisions were inserted under which the agents of foreign governments friendly to the United States could be exempted, conditionally, from the strict public disclosure requirements otherwise applicable. The conditions of the exemption are set out in Section 3(f) of the amended Act, and since the text of that section is known to you, and available to the Ambassador, I need say no more of it than that it clearly covers duly acknowledged agents of the USSR.
“The foregoing brief review of the history and purposes of the Act (which, for precision, should be read in the light of the exact language of the Act) should be sufficient to show that the Ambassador is misinformed [Page 837] in his assumption that ‘printed matter on the Soviet Union may be allowed for circulation in the United States only if it does not contain any data or if it does not even allow any inferences favorable to the Soviet Union or its Government; or when it contains criticism and adverse information about the Soviet Union, its leaders and organizations.[’] The Act, both in its original and in its amended state, imposes no restriction whatsoever upon propaganda and other informational matter disseminated by a foreign agent, provided only that the disseminator makes the required disclosure as to his agency: and if a friendly foreign government (such as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) is willing to comply with the provisions of Section 3(f) of the amended Act by furnishing to the Secretary of State the required information regarding the identity and activities of its agents in the United States, those agents are exempted even from the strict requirements of public disclosure otherwise applicable.”
In this connection the Ambassador’s attention is invited to the fact that the agents of Governments of other countries which are members of the United Nations and which are participating in the war against Nazi Germany have found it possible to conduct legitimate information activities without any difficulty or embarrassment by reason of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. At least eleven major news agencies controlled by governments of the United Nations and fifteen similar information agencies, have, with the sponsorship of their respective governmental principals, been operating under the exemption provisions of the Act, and disseminating information in the interests of the common cause. The administration of the Act has been in the hands of the Special War Policies Unit of the Department of Justice, and representatives of these governments, or of their agents, have had no difficulty in working out their problems through conferences with representatives of the Special War Policies Unit.
In contrast, there has been no substantial use of the exemption provisions for the activities of persons disseminating information as to the Soviet Union. In only two cases, those of the Amtorg Trading Corporation and Kenneth Durant, agent for the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (Tass), has exemption under Section 3(f) been sought and received. At least seven other persons or organizations have registered publicly as agencies of Soviet non-governmental principals, but the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, while receiving the benefit of their activities in the United States, has thus far been unwilling to assume the responsibility for them which would bring them under the exemption provisions of Section 3(f).
With reference to the organizations in this country handling material from the Soviet Union, namely the Four Continent Book Corporation and the Inter-Continent News Services, to which the [Page 838] Ambassador makes specific reference, the following facts communicated by the Attorney General are pertinent:
“Four Continent Book Corporation specializes in the sale of Soviet books and newspapers to the public in the United States . . . .40 The agency contract under which Four Continent Book Corporation represents Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga is in all substantial respects identical with the earlier agency contract between Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga and Bookniga, Inc.41
“Four Continent Book Corporation is thus, and in the judgment of the Department quite properly, registered as an agent of a foreign principal. In July 1942 Four Continent Book Corporation inquired of the Special War Policies Unit whether its principal, Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga, was itself subject to registration. The Special War Policies Unit replied to the effect that it was likely that under Rule 50(a) Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga would be subject to registration unless it were certified by the Soviet Government as an official agency, in which case it might avail itself of exemption under Section 3(f) of the Act. No such certification has been furnished, nor has Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga registered.
“It is therefore clear that Four Continent Book Corporation has not been required to register as an agent of a foreign government, but only as an agent of Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga, concededly a foreign principal. Nor has Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga, or any other ‘Soviet publishing houses on the territory of the Soviet Union’, been required to register. Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga has merely been advised, in answer to an inquiry from its agent Four Continent Book Corporation, that if it acts itself as an agent of a foreign principal to disseminate political propaganda within the United States by use of means or instrumentalities of interstate or foreign commerce, or of the United States mails, it is subject to registration to the same extent as any other agent similarly acting. In this connection, you may wish to call the Ambassador’s attention to Rule 50(a), which makes it clear that agents of foreign principals who use the mails or means or instrumentalities of foreign commerce within the United States to disseminate political propaganda are subject to the applicable requirements of the Act regardless of whether they are physically located within or without the United States.”
With reference to the statement contained in the Ambassador’s memorandum that the Four Continent Book Corporation has been “prevented from using the American mails for carrying out the orders it receives” and that this corporation has been required to label all Soviet printed matter as “propaganda not approved by the American Government” it would appear that the Ambassador has misunderstood the cause and purpose of the letter from Mr. L. M. C. Smith, Chief of the Special War Policies Unit of the Department of Justice, [Page 839] dated November 23, 1942 to which he makes reference. On this point the Attorney General has informed the Secretary of State that:
“Agents registered under the Act are not ‘prevented from using American mails’ in disseminating political propaganda nor required to label it as ‘propaganda not approved by the American Government’. A registered agent, if he disseminates political propaganda, is required by the Act only to label it so as to disclose that he is a registered agent, that his registration statement is available for inspection at the Department of Justice, and that the fact of registration does not indicate that the United States Government has approved the contents of the material which he disseminates; and in administering this provision of the Act the Department of Justice has not even required that the information disseminated should be identified as propaganda. All public registrants not accepted and certified by friendly foreign governments are subject to the same labeling requirements and the … charge that these requirements discriminate against the Soviet Union is without basis.”
The letter from Mr. L. M. C. Smith to Mr. Lambkin42 to which the Ambassador refers cannot be construed as containing a suggestion of discrimination against the Soviet Union since this letter was written at Mr. Lambkin’s request for his guidance in order to permit him to determine whether certain specific publications which he wished to disseminate in the United States would fall within the labeling requirements of the Act. He was informed that the material in question would fall within this category under the definition of the term “political propaganda” which in the Act is defined to include any communication
“which is reasonably adapted to, or which the person disseminating the same believes will, or which he intends to, prevail upon, indoctrinate, convert, induce, or in any other way influence a recipient or any section of the public within the United States with reference to the political or public interests, policies or relations of a government of a foreign country or a foreign political party or with reference to the foreign policies of the United States …”
It may be added that Mr. Lambkin was not prevented “from using American mail” for carrying out his orders but was merely advised in reply to his specific inquiry that if he used the mails for disseminating publications of this character, the wording of the Act would require their labeling as to source. The same considerations set forth above apply to the Inter-Continent News Service which is registered with the Department of Justice as an agent of a foreign non-Governmental principal and as such is subject to the requirement of the Act.
With reference to the statement contained in the Ambassador’s memorandum that certain foreign language publications in the United [Page 840] States have been requested to register as agents of a foreign government if they desire to be allowed to receive telegraphic information from the Soviet Information Bureau in Moscow, the Secretary of State has been informed by the Attorney General that a search of the files in the Department of Justice fails to show that any such requests have been made. If, however, the Ambassador is in possession of more precise details as to such demands the Secretary of State would be glad to ask the Attorney General to make a more thorough investigation in the matter.
In regard to the Ambassador’s suggestion that the Department of Justice appears inclined to cast doubt on the bona fide status of the correspondents of the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union, Tass, the Secretary of State has been informed by the Attorney General that this erroneous impression apparently arose as a result of the wording of the rule officially adopted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act and that steps are being taken to change the phrasing of this note in order to remove any possible inference that it reflects upon the good faith or character of any correspondent of a newspaper.
With reference to the Ambassador’s statement that the use of the United States mails have been denied perfectly innocent scientific books and even books of fiction, the Secretary of State has been informed by the Postmaster General that in so far as he is aware no publications or material of this type has been denied the use of the United States mails. The Postmaster General, however, has informed the Secretary of State that in accordance with the provisions of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and on the basis of the Attorney General’s opinion of December 10, 194043 material of a political nature disseminated by persons or organizations in this country who have not complied in full with the provisions of the Act in regard to the labeling of such material is excludable from the United States mails. The specific publications to which you refer were regarded by the postal authorities of the United States as falling within the definition of political propaganda as defined in the Act and as such could only be sent through the mails if properly labelled.
The Ambassador will perceive from the foregoing that there has been no discrimination whatsoever against organizations in this country engaged in the dissemination of material emanating from the Soviet Union or against the material itself. These organizations have merely been required to conform to the requirements of the United States law on this subject and have been asked to do nothing that is not required of other organizations of a similar nature engaged [Page 841] in disseminating in the United States information and material from a friendly foreign country.44
The Secretary of State would like again to draw the attention of the Ambassador to the fact that the information services controlled or operated by other members of the United Nations have found it possible to conduct legitimate information activities in conformity with the Foreign Agents Registration Act without difficulty or embarrassment. Should the Ambassador so desire the Secretary of State would be glad to arrange a meeting between him or such representatives of the Soviet Embassy as he may designate and officials of the Department of Justice who are charged with the administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and of the Department of State with a view to exploring the best means of avoiding in the future the misunderstandings and differences which form the subject of the Ambassador’s memorandum.
- Francis Biddle.↩
- Frank C. Walker.↩
- Omissions throughout this document indicated in the original note.↩
- Successor to Bookniga Corporation in 1939 and predecessor of the Four Continent Book Corporation. See telegram No. 311, December 22, 1939, 7 p.m., to the Ambassador in the Soviet Union, Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, p. 933.↩
- Cyril Lambkin, president of the Four Continent Book Corporation.↩
- 39 Op. Atty. Gen. 535.↩
- In a memorandum of May 11, 1943, the Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Henderson) pointed out: “It is apparent that the chief difficulty on this subject arises in the desire of the Soviet Government to have agents of a Soviet non-Governmental principal enjoy the immunities and privileges only accredited to agents in this country which have been recognized as agents of a foreign government and had so registered.” (800.01B11 Registration/1645)↩