Memorandum Prepared in the Office of Eastern European Affairs, Department of State1

top secret

US-Bulgarian Relations


To determine what course of action the Department should take as a result of the Bulgarian refusal to permit Michael Shipkov, local employee of the US Legation, to leave Bulgaria.


[Here follows a review of the efforts by the Bulgarian Government to restrict the operation of the United States Legation. Particular attention is devoted to the developments in the Shipkov case (see telegram 658, August 5, from Sofia, page 341 and following).]


In the light of the delaying tactics employed by the Bulgarian Foreign Office, it seems likely that the Shipkov case was referred to Moscow. There does not appear to be any further possibility that the Bulgarian Government will act favorably on our request to have Shipkov leave Bulgaria. Making allowances for the possible sincerity of the Bulgarian Foreign Office’s protestations that the arrest of Shipkov was a mistake and against the policy of the Bulgarian Government, the unpleasant facts in the matter at this point are:

Shipkov was arrested and forced to make false confessions of espionage and sabotage activities against the Bulgarian Government, implicating fellow Bulgarian citizens and officers of the Legation;
His signed confession is in the hands of Bulgarian authorities;
The Bulgarian Government has been informed that unless Shipkov and his family were allowed to leave Bulgaria the United States Government would be forced to make public all the information [Page 355] in its possession concerning this and other acts of mistreatment of its employees by the Militia; and
Shipkov is being given what amounts to sanctuary in the Legation at the present time.

Possible Next Moves by the Bulgarian Government

In view of the facts outlined above, it can be anticipated that the Bulgarian Government will follow one of three courses:

Make public Shipkov’s confession, branding him as a traitor and enemy of the country, and issue a warrant for his arrest in an effort to discredit in advance any information which the US Government may make public. Such action might take place so as to be utilized in connection with the pending trial of Traicho Kostov, the former number two Communist in Bulgaria.
Present the US Legation in Sofia with an unpublicized diplomatic note asking that Shipkov be turned over to the Bulgarian authorities.
Bide its time and withhold for the moment a request for the release of Shipkov, in order to see if the US Government will make the affair public and will risk breaking relations over an issue such as this.

If the Bulgarian Government is aware that Shipkov is staying in the Legation, it has given us no indication to that effect. However, police have made a visit to Shipkov’s apartment in Sofia where his wife and child are staying.

It is difficult to estimate, on the basis of information available, which course of action the Bulgarians will follow. Whichever is adopted, the fundamental considerations bearing on our own choice of a policy remain the same.

Possible Courses of US Action and Issues Involved

The following courses of action are open to the Department:

To allow the Bulgarian Government to take the initiative, releasing Shipkov if requested to do so, and make public his statement together with related material in the form of a formal protest only if he is brought to trial, imprisoned or killed.
In the absence of precipitate Bulgarian action, to continue to pursue the matter through diplomatic channels, awaiting an opportunity for Minister Heath to see Premier Kolarov. If still unsuccessful in obtaining consent to Shipkov’s departure, the Legation might ask for a written pledge that Shipkov would not be arrested or persecuted.
To put out without delay a press release exposing the recent acts of the Bulgarian Government against the Legation and its personnel, including Shipkov’s signed statement, and revealing his presence in the Legation; and refuse to turn him over if and when the Bulgarian authorities so demand.

The major questions of policy affecting the decision to be taken are whether the position and prestige of our Legation in Sofia (not to [Page 356] mention humanitarian considerations) will permit us to accept the Bulgarian conduct in this case without a vigorous reaction at this juncture, and whether we are prepared to embark on a course which might lead us, without possibility of retreat, to a break in relations.

Apart from the primary necessity of having a listening post for the collection of intelligence information of a military, political and economic nature and the necessity of protecting residual American interests in Bulgaria, one of the major political considerations for maintaining a Legation at Sofia has been to provide a means of exerting the influence of the US Government and to serve as a symbol to the Bulgarian people of the continuing interest of the United States in their struggle to resist Soviet and Communist domination.

In view of the ever increasing restrictions placed upon the Legation, the quantity and quality of intelligence information is becoming more and more limited. Similarly, although a United States Legation has been maintained in Bulgaria since the conclusion of the peace treaty, its influence has not been sufficient to save from imprisonment, torture or death the democratic leaders who have opposed the present government, the Protestant ministers, or its own local employees such as Peev, Dimitrov and Secoulov. It has not been able to exert any influence with regard to the holding of free elections, the maintenance of freedom of the press, speech and public assembly, or the observance by the Bulgarian Government of other Peace Treaty obligations. Certainly it is open to question, in the light of these circumstances, whether the Legation in Sofia will be looked upon with respect either by the Communist authorities or by the Bulgarian people and whether it can serve as a beacon of hope and encouragement to the people irrespective of what it allows to happen to its employees and of the restrictions and indignities to which it is forced to submit.

The first course of action mentioned above, which would leave the initiative to the Bulgarians, would be predicated upon several considerations: that the persecution of local employees, a practice not confined to Bulgaria, is not in itself sufficient cause to provoke a crisis likely to lead to a break in relations; that the US Government has no right, on the basis of international law, to shield Bulgarian citizens from Bulgarian law enforcement (see the opinion of L/P on this point in the attached memorandum2); and that the national interests of the US and the advantages we gain from maintaining a Mission in Sofia cannot be jeopardized because of humanitarian considerations for individual Bulgarians even though their personal sacrifices are the result of their employment by the US Government and their loyalty to the democratic cause. Under this course of action, the Department would endeavor to persuade the Bulgarian Government that it would [Page 357] be against its interests to arrest Shipkov. However, if it insisted that Shipkov must be given up, he would be released. If he were then imprisoned or killed, with or without trial, the statement which he has made available to the Legation would be published as further evidence of the US Government’s charge that the Bulgarian Government has flagrantly disregarded its treaty obligations to respect human rights.

The second course of action involves a probably hopeless attempt to gain our point by further negotiation. If Minister Heath, after his return from London, is able to see Kolarov, he could renew the request for an exit permit for Shipkov, which is not likely to be granted. He could then ask for written assurances that Shipkov would not be molested further. It is not probable that the Bulgarian Government would give such assurances. If it did not, we should still have to decide whether to adopt alternatives (1) or (3) above. If it did and then violated them—and there is good reason to believe that this would happen, as it did in the case of Shipkov’s brother who worked for the British Legation in Sofia—we would have an additional broken promise and to add to our public statement of Bulgarian misdeeds. On the other hand we would have failed to save Shipkov, and the Bulgarian Government would be encouraged in the belief that we would continue to put up with almost any restrictions and indignities in order to maintain official representation in Sofia.

In following this second course we would be playing out the string of negotiation to the end, in the hope that something might develop to make possible a solution that could be accepted by both sides. If the Bulgarians, knowing that we have the full story of what the Militia did to Shipkov, wished to let the matter die down and not ask the Legation to hand him over, it might be desirable to do nothing for a while. If nothing further developed, we would have at some point to decide whether to keep Shipkov in the Legation, openly giving him sanctuary, or tell him to return to his home with the consequent risk of death. In any case we probably cannot keep him hidden indefinitely (presumably his presence in the chancery attic is known only to a few American employees, as reported in Legtel 883, October 183).

The third course of action outlined above, although involving the risk of a rupture in diplomatic relations, would place the US Government on the offensive. It would present to the world clear and strong evidence of the Bulgarian Government’s cynical disregard for solemnly incurred treaty obligations with respect to human rights. At the same time it would serve as a means of ascertaining whether the Kremlin desires to have Bulgaria, and possibly the other satellite nations, break relations with the US. A decision to force the issue by publicizing the Shipkov case and refusing to give up Shipkov himself would [Page 358] involve jumping the gun on the study now being made under S/P guidance with the purpose of formulating a considered policy on the entire question of maintaining diplomatic missions in Soviet satellite countries.4 If we are to take this action we should do so promptly, without awaiting completion of the study, since if the Bulgarians act first—and they may act at any time5—we shall have lost much of the advantage to be gained by this course. It must be recognized, of course, that if a break in relations results, the existing sources of intelligence information within Bulgaria, even though they are becoming noticeably more restricted, would be completely cut off. This is a matter of concern to the National Military Establishment. However, even without a break in relations, it is believed that serious consideration must be given at this time to developing sources other than the official personnel stationed in Sofia for the collection of information on Bulgaria.

This course would involve giving asylum to a Bulgarian citizen who probably would be charged with serious crimes. As L/P’s memorandum points out, there is no justification in international law for doing so, although it might be possible to claim diplomatic immunity for Shipkov as an employee of the US Legation. This would be a difficult position to maintain. Should we decide not to give up Shipkov, probably our justification should be based on political grounds and the extraordinary situation of our Legation in Bulgaria where the practices of the Government and its attitude toward foreign diplomatic missions do not conform to the standards of normal diplomatic relations and international comity.


There is increasing evidence that the Bulgarian Government intends to utilize every means available to intimidate and to isolate completely the US Legation and its personnel, so long as this Government indicates its unwillingness to adopt strong measures of retaliation. To date, it has brought about the death of three US local employees and it has arrested and intimidated many others. The possibility of a fourth employee being killed is imminent.

In an effort to save the life of Shipkov, the Legation has informed the Bulgarian Government that the US Government would make public the facts in its possession surrounding the death of Secoulov and the arrest and intimidation of Shipkov if the latter were not permitted to leave Bulgaria. If, following the refusal of the Bulgarian Government to accede to this request, the Department does not make public the information available to it, the Bulgarian Government will naturally conclude that we are willing to accept any amount of [Page 359] intimidation and restrictions in order to maintain a Legation in Bulgaria.

While there are ample reasons for not pushing ahead with alternative (3) above if it is considered desirable to maintain our Legation in Sofia at all costs, or in any case pending a policy decision on that point as a result of the S/P study, there are on the other side obvious political reasons justifying an offensive course of action. It should enhance the prestige of the US, whereas a passive course of action could result in considerable damage to the position of the US and its reputation for good faith in the eyes of the Bulgarian people. When the full story became known, a passive attitude might well be difficult to defend before Congress and the US public, which is not likely to favor the continuance of diplomatic relations if it means sacrificing one by one the lives of all the local employees and accepting further indignities on the part of a Communist government. Course (3) above should force the Bulgarians (and the Russians) to show their cards as to whether or not they wish to proceed to a break in US-Bulgarian relations, putting the burden on them to take that step or to give our Legation better treatment. Moreover, by taking the risk of a break with Bulgaria we might indirectly bring about better treatment of our missions in other satellite states.

  1. This memorandum was drafted by John C. Campbell, Officer in Charge of Balkan Affairs, Office of Eastern European Affairs, and by Charles E. Hulick, Jr., of the Office of Eastern European Affairs. On October 21 Campbell transmitted the memorandum to Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs George W. Perkins and to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Llewellyn E. Thompson, under cover of a memorandum dated October 21. In his transmittal memorandum, Campbell observed that the Department of State had to take a decision whether to consider the negotiations in the Shipkov case at an end and to publicize the affair or to continue to hope for a quietly negotiated solution to the controversy. Campbell further observed that the Office of Eastern European Affairs had refrained from recommending in positive terms any of the alternatives presented in this paper, but it was inclined to favor the third alternative—early publication of the facts in the Shipkov and preceding cases.
  2. Memorandum under reference here not attached to source text and not further identified.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Regarding the role of the Policy Planning Staff in the review of policy with respect to staffing problems in the missions in Eastern Europe, see the editorial note, p. 26.
  5. In the source text the phrase “most likely in Heath’s absence” is crossed out.