861.20211 Gubitchev, Valentine/3–549

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Rusk)

Participants: The Soviet Ambassador1 and Interpreter
The Under Secretary2
Mr. Rusk—G
Mr. Kennan3S/P

The Soviet Ambassador called upon the Under Secretary at noon today regarding the arrest in New York of Valentine A. Gubitchev.4

The Soviet Ambassador stated that he had heard radio news reports of Mr. Gubitchev’s arrest, that the USSR wished to protest this arrest and the detention of Mr. Gubitchev and requested his immediate release. He stated that Gubitchev was a diplomat, had diplomatic immunity and could not be arrested or detained by officials of the U.S.

The Under Secretary asked Mr. Rusk to review briefly the circumstances of the arrest. Mr. Rusk recounted receiving information from our law enforcement authorities during the previous night, spoke of the strenuous efforts made by the Justice Department to locate a judge for immediate arraignment of Gubitchev in order to facilitate setting of bail and release, summarized the steps taken to consult immediately with UN authorities in view of Gubitchev’s UN status, and indicated that our most recent information was that Gubitchev’s bail had been [Page 777] set at $100, 000. Mr. Rusk also informed the Ambassador that UN officials agreed that Gubitchev had no diplomatic immunity and that the acts charged were not covered by such immunity as Gubitchev had as a Secretariat employee.

The Soviet Ambassador went over his earlier position again, stating that Gubitchev entered this country on a diplomatic passport, was a Soviet diplomat, had diplomatic immunity, was covered by existing agreements respecting UN privileges and immunities, that there could be no question of bail since Gubitchev should be released immediately without further detention. He also stated that the matter was not one for consultation between the U.S. and the UN but was one for the Soviet Ambassador to take up since Gubitchev was a Soviet citizen and a Soviet diplomat.

The Under Secretary stated that we accepted the fact that the Soviet Ambassador could properly take up this matter with us, that we had tried to clarify the situation as soon as possible upon being informed of the arrest, and that we were in consultation with UN authorities since the question of Gubitchev’s status derived from his employment in the Secretariat and was a UN affair.

Upon further reiteration of the question of status by the Soviet Ambassador, Mr. Rusk asked him whether this status was supposed to derive from Gubitchev’s membership in the USSR Delegation to the UN or in the Soviet Embassy in Washington. The Ambassador promptly replied that neither was the case. His argument rested upon the fact that Gubitchev was a Soviet diplomat and had a diplomat passport. When the legal question of status was reviewed in somewhat more detail by Mr. Rusk, the Soviet Ambassador quoted a Russian proverb to the effect that “The law is like a wagon tongue; the wagon travels in the direction in which it is pointed”.

The Ambassador repeated his protest and demand for Gubitchev’s immediate release.

The Under Secretary informed the Soviet Ambassador that we take note of the Ambassador’s views although they were not our own, that we would continue to examine the matter and would consult with the UN Secretariat.5

D[ean] R[usk]
  1. Alexander Semenovich Panyushkin.
  2. James E. Webb.
  3. George F. Kennan, Director, Policy Planning Staff, Department of State.
  4. Valentin Alexeyevich Gubiehev originally came to the United States in July 1946 as a member of the delegation of the Soviet Union to the United Nations. He soon left this assignment to work for the United Nations Secretariat as an architectural engineer on the United Nations headquarters building staff. At 9:36 p. m., on March 4, 1949, Gubiehev and Miss Judith Coplon, an employee in the Foreign Agents Registration Section of the Department of Justice, were arrested by Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who properly identified themselves, on Third Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets in New York City. The arrest was made on charges of conspiracy to obtain United States Government information by Gubiehev through Miss Coplon.

    Details of the public press coverage of the arrest and subsequent trials can be found in the New York Times Index, s.v., US—Espionage, Coplon, J. and Gubitchev, V. A., 1949, pp. (1065–1067; and 1950, pp. 1154–1155.

  5. The Embassy in the Soviet Union was advised of these events in telegram 133 to Moscow on March 5, 5 p. m., not printed.