57. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- The Lithuanian Defector2 Case
In accordance with your request,3 reports have been submitted to you on this incident by Acting Secretary of State Irwin (Tab B) and Secretary of Transportation Volpe (Tab C).4 Both reports agree generally (but diverge on specifics) that the investigations revealed the following two problems were immediately involved in this case:
- —the Coast Guard unit involved was not adequately informed of the standing instructions and procedures for dealing with potential defectors;
- —there was inadequate communication between the State Department and the Coast Guard.
In addition, Secretary Volpe notes that when this incident arose the State Department did not inform the Coast Guard of the existence of the general guidelines relating to defectors, but also points out that the Coast Guard failed to retain the defector on board the cutter pending receipt from State of specific guidance, nor did it notify, in a timely way, the State Department of subsequent developments.[Page 177]
Both memorandums report that the following actions have been taken:
- —Guidance on defectors has been provided to all Coast Guard commands and units, as well as to all other agencies of the Government which had not heretofore been involved in refugee and defector affairs.
- —The Coast Guard has now assumed membership on those interagency bodies dealing with refugee and defector affairs.
- —Steps are being taken to establish a direct communications link between the Coast Guard Headquarters and the Operations Center at the State Department.
Secretary Volpe also reports that pending the conclusion of a formal Board of Investigation, the three Coast Guard officers directly concerned with this incident have been suspended from their duties without prejudice. He suggests that any public announcement of the suspensions at this time could conceivably prejudice the legal proceedings of the Board of Investigation and any actions which may follow under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. However, he notes that a factual statement to the effect that an investigation is being conducted to determine whether or not there is a basis for courts-martial would not prejudice any subsequent legal actions.
The memorandums relate generally consistent statements of the factual situation of the events of Monday, November 23. There are, however, significant differences with respect to some of the details. At Tab A is a rough chronology of the actions that day, drawn from both memorandums. It is clear, however, that during the entire day and night of the attempted defection and return, no attempt was made to contact the White House or the Interagency Defector Committee.5[Page 178]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 908, Soviet Defector Case, November 70. Confidential. Drafted by Kissinger and Downey on December 2. Printed from an uninitialed copy.↩
- Simas Kudirka.↩
- On November 30, Kissinger notified Rogers and Secretary of Transportation Volpe that the President wanted an “immediate investigation of the circumstances surrounding the alleged defection of the Soviet seaman to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant.” Kissinger added that the two agencies should report their findings by the close of business on December 2. (Ibid.)↩
- Both memoranda dated December 2; attached but not printed.↩
- On December 11, Nixon read a summary of a wire report on his failure to meet more often with the press, including the following passage: “The President’s isolation was nowhere more discernible than in the case of the Lithuanian seaman. RN learned of the event six days after it occurred. Not only were his intelligence reports lacking, but news stories available to millions of newspaper readers did not reach him.” Nixon underlined the last sentence and wrote a message for Kissinger in the margin: “K—did we drop one here?” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Member and Office Files, President’s Office Files, Box 32, Annotated News Summaries, December 1970) Haig answered this question on December 21 as follows: “I believe that the White House staff should not be faulted for not providing this information rapidly because there was no official reporting and the sketchy unofficial reports we did receive did not reveal the full circumstances or significance of this tragedy.” (Memorandum from Haig to Staff Secretary; ibid., NSC Files, Box 908, Soviet Defector Case, November 70) For the subsequent Congressional investigation, see U.S. Congress, House, Subcommittee on State Department Organization and Foreign Operations of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Attempted Defection by Lithuanian Seaman Simas Kudirka, Hearings and Report (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971).↩
- Drafted by Kissinger and Downey on December 2. In a memorandum to Kissinger on November 30, Sonnenfeldt forwarded the “best obtainable chronology,” including the following background information: “The Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant tied up with a Soviet fishing vessel [Sovetskaya Litva] off Martha’s Vineyard (in US territorial waters) to discuss the question of limiting the size of the Soviet catch of yellow-tailed flounder. This was the first US-Soviet meeting on yellow-tail, but there are informal meetings on fishing matters a couple of times a year. The discussions take place generally under the auspices of the North West Atlantic Fisheries Convention. The meeting was set up some weeks ago with State Department approval. Participating in the meeting were Coast Guard, industry representatives, and Marine Fisheries officials from Interior. The meetings switched back and forth between the two vessels. State had also obtained Port Security clearance for the Soviet vessel.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 908, Soviet Defector Case, November 70)↩
- The documents cited in the chronology are attached to the memoranda at Tabs B and C.↩
- According to Kissinger: “It later turned out that Kudirka had a valid claim to US citizenship. He was permitted to emigrate to the United States after President Ford interceded privately on his behalf with Brezhnev.” (Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 795–796)↩