No. 664

711.5849/2–1051: Telegram

The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Briggs) to the Secretary of State 1


508. Point of Czechoslovakia’s self-inflicted indignation over jet plane accusations is not that charges are false but what is purpose behind charges and what they portend.2 Propaganda obviously (more warmongering chatter and also probably hoping divert local interest from tensions and rumors in domestic political field). Likewise may be another show of anger over US action with respect Czech National Air Line, in which connection it was with considerable satisfaction yesterday, after Hajdu had finished his performance and I had given him my estimate of his government’s latest charges, that I delivered to Hajdu our note encouraging better behavior on part CSA.3

But we must also recognize that latest overflight charges, preposterous though they appear to us, may represent carefully prepared move seeking to build up pretext for some next step already decided upon. When we consider number and variety false charges made during past year—all the way from potato bugs4 to secret radios—to espionage—this becomes less far-fetched. Moreover, Hajdu’s performance (show of outraged virtue, indignation over violated sovereignty, threat next time to produce “corpus delicti” and finally threat not contained in note, but reiterated by Vice Minister in conversation, to hold this Embassy responsible next time overflight occurs) was not only reminiscent his declarations last year preceding steps against Embassy, but could scarcely have been more offensively [Page 1342] phrased, were next step to be severance relations by Czechoslovakia.

Other possible straws in wind are emphasis on espionage Czech January 22 overflight note,5 plus series espionage charges mentioning Embassy or its personnel in various recent trials. These give only passing press attention at time, but could easily be resurrected as part of government’s “array of proof.” Lastly, policy surveillance over American members of staff and over chancery, residence, staff houses, et cetera, is now occupying full time substantial number local police, and we are trailed wherever we go.6

Seems not improbable therefore that at any time Czechoslovakia may announce new American overflight or even declare that Czech Air Force has downed US plane (story complete with counterfeit photos showing US insignia), and that this may be represented as ultimate “intolerable provocation” forcing Czechoslovakia to act. Short of severance relations, most likely moves would be restriction on movement Embassy personnel, declaration some one PNG or arrest of member of staff—any of which I believe we must now consider as early possibility.

Foregoing not to say we should swallow these latest charges. Last night following local broadcast Czech note I authorized “Embassy spokesman” statement quoted Embtel 507 February 10.7

Recommend our official reply be forceful, fully convincing, unintimidated and promptly forthcoming.8

  1. Repeated to Frankfurt, Moscow, Paris, and London.
  2. Regarding these accusations, see the editorial note, supra.
  3. On February 9 Ambassador Briggs delivered to the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry a note regarding a recent request by the Czechoslovak Government for permission for the Czechoslovak National Airline (CSA) to make an additional weekly flight over Germany on its Praha-London route. The Embassy note informed that the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany could not accede to the Czechoslovak request in view of the Czechoslovak Government’s unsatisfactory replies regarding American complaints of illegal CSA overflights over Germany. (Telegram 492 from Praha, February 6; telegram 384 to Praha, February 7, 949.5262A/2–651; telegram 504 from Praha, February 9, 949.562A/2–951)
  4. In a reply made on July 6, 1950, to charges by the Czechoslovak Government that the United States was responsible for the dissemination of potato bugs in Czechoslovak potato crops, the Embassy “ventured to suggest the inherent unsuitability of the potato bug (doryphora decomlineata) as an instrument of national policy.” The Embassy further “doubted whether the potato bug, even in its most voracious phase, could nibble effectively at the fabric of friendship uniting the Czechoslovak and American people.” (Department of State Bulletin, July 24, 1950, p. 135).
  5. Regarding this note, see the editorial note, supra.
  6. Regarding Czechoslovak police surveillance of the Embassy in Praha, see telegram 321 to Praha, Document 662.
  7. See the editorial note, supra.
  8. On February 13–14, the Department of State learned that U.S. aircraft had accidentally strayed across the Czechoslovak frontier; regarding the note delivered to the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry on February 17, see the editorial note, supra.