S/S–NSC Files: Lot 63 D 351: NSC 78 Series1

Memorandum by the Legal Adviser (Fisher) to the Secretary of State 2


Subject: Treatment of Finnish Ships under United States Port Control Measures.


NSC 783 does not list Finland as a Soviet satellite for purposes of the new Port Control measure. However, a JCS memorandum of August 10 on this subject4 recommends that Finnish ships “be restricted as are actual satellite ships or at least be rigorously inspected before being allowed access to our ports”. The reason advanced is that “the USSR is capable of subjecting Finnish ships to its control for whatever purpose it desires”. Although the situation is not clear, it is understood that in the light of this the President has agreed that all Finnish ships shall be inspected.

As indicated in the attached memorandum to the NSC, the Department does not agree that the USSR is capable of subjecting Finnish ships to its control short of installing a Communist government by coup or using overt military measures. Our Legation in Helsinki has analyzed in detail in the attached telegrams5 the possibilities for the USSR covertly to utilize Finnish ships for unconventional attack against the United States and has concluded, with the concurrence [Page 51] of the Service Attachés, that there is no greater possibility in the case of Finnish ships than of those of Scandinavian and West European countries. The Legation has urged the danger in terms of undermining the Finnish position of appearing to classify Finland as a satellite state. Such action on our part seems to be contrary to the policy of support we have, with successful results, followed toward Finland since the war. Automatic inspection of Finnish ships would, in view of the contemplated procedures, result in diversion of ships from harbors unsuited for inspection, enforced lighterage, and other measures causing great commercial hardship to the Finns and having the political implications mentioned above.

The Finnish Government has already protested both here and in Helsinki against the action of the Philadelphia Customs earlier this month in holding up two Finnish ships fifty miles from port.6 The Finns pointed out the disruptive effects on their trade and reserved their rights under our Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Eights. The two ships were later released and in view of NSC 78 we have in confidence indicated to the Finns that our new Port Control measures would not discriminate against Finnish ships.

We are presently examining with our Legation in Helsinki the possibilities of obtaining with the help of the Finnish Government advance information concerning future Finnish ship sailings to the United States which would increase the effectiveness of our security measures.7


It is recommended that you present the attached memorandum on this subject at the National Security Council meeting on Thursday, [Page 52] August 24 as a matter of urgency with a view to having Finnish ships treated on a non-discriminatory basis as among non-satellite countries.8


Paper Prepared in the Department of State9



To clarify the treatment of Finland in proposed measures of United States port control.


It has been suggested that Finnish ships be restricted in the same manner as satellite ships or at least be rigorously inspected before being allowed access to our ports with the result that Finnish ships would, in fact, be singled out. The reason given for this recommendation has been that the USSR is capable of subjecting Finnish ships to its control for whatever purpose it desires.
In view of the difficulties of a foolproof inspection and the proposed procedures to carry out this inspection, automatic inspection of Finnish boats whether or not they have docked at satellite ports may involve their exclusion from harbors that do not have an area suited for inspection and in some instances the use of lighters for unloading in other harbors. This would be in violation of our Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights with Finland10 and would cause considerable hardship to Finland both politically and commercially.
There is no evidence that there exists any control over Finnish ships by the USSR or that there exists such capability by the USSR short of overt measures. While Finland is prevented from aligning itself with the West due to Treaty obligations and proximity to the USSR, Finland is an independent country with a freely elected parliamentary government friendly to the free world. There are no Communists [Page 53] in the cabinet and civil rights are safeguarded. The USSR exercises no control or surveillance over internal Finnish affairs and could not exercise control over Finnish shipping unless by internal coup installing a Communist government or by direct military or naval action. A coup is regarded as very unlikely, and Soviet military-naval action would probably occur only as a prelude to general war.
This Government since the war has successfully endeavored to support Finnish independence and forestall encroachments by the Soviet Union. To that end we have assisted substantially in Finnish economic recovery. Finland has maintained a very stiff front toward the USSR as is indicated by the limited scope of the Soviet-Finnish Treaty of Mutual Aid11 which is an example of successful resistance to Soviet demands by Finland. The treatment of Finland in this case as if it were a satellite would tend to undermine the strong Finnish will to resist and would have a very damaging effect on Finnish-American relations, as well as on our relations with other Scandinavian countries.
While the top ranks of the Finnish Seamen’s Union are heavily penetrated by Communists, this is balanced by several other factors, including the facts that the Union leader is strongly independent and the rank and file in overseas shipping are believed mostly non-Communist. The Social Democrats are stronger among the dockworkers and there are no Communists among the masters or other ships officers on Finnish ships. An official of the dominant and tightly organized Social Democratic Party has told the American Legation in Helsinki that his organization can prevent sabotage materials from being smuggled aboard Finnish ships.12 The Finnish Foreign Minister has offered to consider proposing to his Government that Finnish ships en route to the United States not be permitted to call at intervening ports. It is apparent that there is not any greater possibility for Soviet utilization of Finnish ships covertly for purposes harmful to the United States than for Soviet utilization of other Scandinavian or West European ships.


Finnish ships are not above suspicion. Special suspicion, however, does not attach to them by mere reason of their being Finnish or coming from Finnish ports.
Directives issued to implement Public Law 679 should refrain from making mandatory special treatment of Finnish ships; and these directives should call for non-discriminatory treatment of Finnish [Page 54] ships, on a basis similar to that applied to other non-satellite flag ships proceeding from European ports.
The Department of State, through the American Legation, Helsinki, should devise, with the help of the Finnish Government and other appropriate groups in Finland, informal arrangements providing maximum possible security checks in Finnish ports.
  1. Lot 63 D 351 is a serial master file of the National Security Council documents and correspondence and related Department of State memoranda for the years 1947–1961, as maintained by the Executive Secretariat of the Department of State.
  2. This memorandum was drafted by Charles E. Rogers of the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs and was concurred in by James C. H. Bonbright, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs. The ribbon-copy source text was attached to a memorandum of August 23 from Ambassador at Large Philip C. Jessup to the Secretary of State, not printed, which suggested that the Secretary read this memorandum and the attached Department of State paper in advance of the National Security Council meeting of August 24. Jessup indicated that he had in mind discussing the question of the treatment of Finnish ships under proposed American port control measures at the Secretary’s briefing meeting prior to the Council meeting. There is no evidence that the Secretary actually saw this memorandum, but it appears clear that it was used in the aforementioned briefing. Regarding the NSC meeting of August 24, see footnote 8 below.
  3. Reference to the Report prepared in the White House Office, p. 41.
  4. Supra.
  5. Under reference here are telegrams 69, August 9; 70, August 10; 83, August 18; 86, August 19; and 89, August 22, all from Helsinki, none printed (960e.536/8–950, 960e.536/8–1050, 960e.536/8–1850, 960e.536/8–1950, and 960e.538/8–2250). Copies of these telegrams were subsequently circulated to the National Security Council at the request of the Department of State under cover of a memorandum of August 23 from Council Executive Secretary Lay, not printed (S/PNSC Files: Lot 61 D 167: NSC 78 Series).
  6. Finnish Chargé Otso Wartiovaara lodged his government’s protest regarding the detention of Finnish ships in meetings with Department of State officers on August 8 and 9 and with Under Secretary of State James C. Webb on August 10. Memoranda of these conversations are included in file 960e.536. Telegram 69, August 9, from Helsinki (see footnote 5, above), reported that Finnish Foreign Minister Ake Henrik Gartz had expressed to Chargé Warren M. Chase in Helsinki the Finnish Government’s concern over the examination of Finnish ships in American ports for the presence of atomic bombs, and he requested the removal or at least the alleviation of the new procedure. Foreign Minister Gartz described Finland’s disappointment at being treated in the matter as a satellite of the Soviet Union, and he also expressed the belief that the new procedure would create difficulties for Finnish exports. (960e.536/8–950)
  7. Telegram 63, August 21, to Helsinki, not printed, indicated that the contemplated preclearance procedures involved informal arrangements with the Finnish Government allowing for the obtaining of information on ships departing for the United States (960e.536/8–1950). Telegram 93, August 23, from Helsinki, not printed, reported that a procedure along the lines outlined above could probably be arranged with the Finnish Government (960e.536/8–2350). At the request of the Department of State, copies of these two telegrams were circulated to the National Security Council under cover of a memorandum of August 24 by the Council Executive Secretary Lay, not printed (S/PNSC Files: Lot 61 D 167: NSC 78 Series).
  8. At its 66th Meeting on August 24, in which President Truman participated, the National Security Council noted the President’s decision, pursuant to the consideration of the problem of port security at the Council’s 64th Meeting on August 10 (see footnote 1, p. 41), that arrangements should be made with the Finnish Government for preclearance control of Finnish ships destined for U.S. ports, but that otherwise Finnish ships should be treated as were the ships of all Other nations except the U.S.S.R. and the Eastern European satellite states (National Security Council Action 349: S/S–NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95: NSC Records of Action).
  9. Another copy of this memorandum included in the S/PNSC Files: Lot 61 D 167: NSC 78 Series, indicated that it was drafted by Charles E. Rogers of the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs.
  10. Reference is to the United States-Finnish Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Consular Rights, signed February 13, 1934 (49 Stat. 2659; TS 868: 152 UNTS 45).
  11. The reference here is to the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance between the U.S.S.R. and Finland, signed April 30, 1948.
  12. The incident referred to here was reported upon in telegram 70, August 10, from Helsinki, not printed (see footnote 5, above).