46. Memorandum From David Klein of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1



  • Attaché Incidents in the Soviet Union
[Page 109]

This is to bring you up to date on the developments of the September 28 incident in which Soviet officials forcibly entered the hotel room in Khabarovsk occupied by our military attachés and made a thorough search of their effects-including cameras, files, notes, etc.2

On September 29 a formal protest was made in Moscow (Tab A),3 which the Soviets rejected, charging that the attachés “engaged in activities incompatible with their diplomatic status.”4

Yesterday Bill Tyler called in Dobrynin (Tab B), repeating the charges made in Moscow and pointing out that such actions “will inevitably have an unfavorable effect on relations between the U.S. and the USSR”. He also told Dobrynin that we expected the Soviet Government “to respond in a manner which will keep the damage to these relations … to a minimum”. Dobrynin made no comment but promised to report Tyler’s remarks.5

In addition, a protest was made to the Soviet attachés by Army Intelligence on behalf of the three Services.

The powers are trying to keep the matter quiet, at least until after October 6 when the attachés should be back in Moscow. (They are concerned that premature publicity may force the Soviets to expel the officers involved.) The attachés are now in Tokyo and will return to Moscow via New Delhi. In the meantime, the Department is trying to get more precise information about the developments. What we have had thus far is sketchy information received in Moscow via a tapped telephone line from Khabarovsk.

A contingency press statement (Tab C) has been prepared in case the story leaks before October 6.6

There is debate between State and Pentagon on possible retaliatory action. State’s reaction is negative-feeling retaliation is uncalled for and politically unwise. The general tendency at State is to play the incident down, or better yet, try to wish it away.

Personally, I think this would be a mistake. The Khabarovsk affair is not an isolated episode. The British were also involved. Moreover, it was preceded by a weird German incident (the mustard gas). In my [Page 110]view, the Soviet antics call for a sharp response rather than noiseless acquiescence. I do not think we can hope to keep the lid on this story for long. When the episode hits the press our stance should be defensible.

We cannot acquiesce in such nonsense. An appropriate reaction would not jeopardize our basic relations with the Soviets. The Soviets must know they cannot play this kind of cops and robbers and come out unscathed. If we are going to get anywhere with Moscow, the Soviets must know that this kind of nonsense will not be tolerated, no matter how strong our desire for understanding. And if we make clear the rules of the game, the Soviets are likely to play it intelligently. For unless they are interested in some understanding too, there really is no deal.

Moreover, I think there is an advantage in our taking the lead in putting the story out. We used this formula in the microphone and East Berlin shooting incidents and came out well-and should do so here. We don’t want to be in a position of attempting to cover up for the Soviets.

When October 6 rolls around we should put out the story frankly, and with a position that makes sense. I do not think we need be overconcerned about putting the Soviets on the spot. They put themselves there and we will be in a difficult position politically if we do not react with sense and vigor.7

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Vol. V. Secret.
  2. A detailed debriefing on the incident was transmitted in telegram 1175 from Tokyo, October 3. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 17–2 USUSSR)
  3. None of the tabs is printed.
  4. Telegram 908 from Moscow, September 29, reported on the meeting between Toon and Smirnovsky when Toon delivered the note verbale. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 17–2 USUSSR)
  5. The Department of State informed the Embassy in Moscow of the meeting and Dobrynin’s statement in telegram 893, September 30. (Ibid.)
  6. For text of the press statement, issued on October 5, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, p. 667.
  7. On the same day Bundy replied that he “fully” agreed with Klein’s analysis. He instructed Klein to “feed this back as a strong White House view,” and if the State Department wanted to act differently, Rusk should bring it up with the President. (Memorandum; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Vol. V)