122. Memorandum From William Odom of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Weekly Report

How Not to Deal with the Russians

State learned of the “technical penetration” of our Moscow Embassy in the early morning hours on Thursday, at 11:00 AM2 Moscow time. All that day and throughout the night until about 6:00 AM Friday in Moscow, the embassy had the opportunity to pursue the cables through the tunnel to their source on Soviet territory. The embassy leadership took no initiative and the desk at State did not encourage initiative and counter aggressiveness. They did not even alert Vance. [Page 412] Instead, in the name of moderation and “legality” the time was wasted and the cables cut, clearly inside our grounds.3

Once the “opposition” (as the embassy referred to the KGB personnel) was alerted, the value of moderation and passivity proved small, perhaps even a handicap.

—Soviet personnel violated our tunnel aggressively, even making a hole in the wall we built to close off the tunnel, cursing our workman, and physically trying to block our effort on our grounds.

—While we worried about what this might do to our bilateral relations, the Soviets seized the initiative and protested that we had engaged in illegal work in our chimney which in fact belongs to the Soviet Union! Our surprised DCM called this a “classic in the annals of Soviet chutzpah.”4

Three days after this “chutzpah,” State pulled itself together to respond5 to the Embassy’s request of six days earlier for the authority to “protest”6 the Soviet placement of “spying devices” on our grounds and for repeated violations of our grounds.

—Meanwhile, back in the US, Gromyko sent Bessmertnykh to intimidate Shulman with a list of alleged US technical penetrations of Soviet installations.7 Moreover, the Soviets took the initiative against “linkage” of this Moscow affair with any other, vaguely suggesting that it could be “explosive for the relationship.”

These few points merely give a brief sense of tactics and style of US-Soviet diplomatic relations at the cutting edge in Moscow and back-stopped by State. They reveal the fecklessness of our approach. Had State looked into the record, or had they even asked some old hands, they could have predicted the Soviet behavior with incredible accuracy. Aggressive false accusations were precisely to be expected, not something to be surprised at as a “classic in the annals.”

First principle: Always attack when guilty. Several times in the past the Soviets have delivered pre-emptive protests wholly at odds with the facts (i.e., bald lies) when caught in crimes. For example, in 1959 in Prague, in a similar “technical penetration” case, the British were accused of “breaking and entering” when in fact the reverse was true.

Second principle: Intimidate the opponent. Strike a grave pose and sadly predict disastrous consequences (“explosive for the relationship”) so that one’s opponent is put off balance. It is more than a week [Page 413] since this began in Moscow, and we still are not on the offensive in an effective way.

Third principle: Make things so outrageous that the opponent is afraid to go public with it. The Norwegian Prime Minister in 1974 went to Moscow with agreed conditions that the Spitzbergen issue would not be discussed. Kuznetsov, an hour before the meeting in Moscow, announced that it would be discussed. When the Norwegians tried to resist, Kuznetsov cursed them in “the vilest language” and told them they had no choice. Reportedly the Norwegians did not give in, but they were afraid to tell anyone, even the home office, of this treatment because it would make them look impotent. Even today this incident is virtually unknown because the Soviets clearly understood how an outrageous tactic can trap an opponent with what Stalin called the “dilemma of one alternative.” When we let the Soviets put us off balance in this episode for a week, we look as helpless as the Norwegians.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Unfiled Files, Box 152, USSR: Technical Penetration of the US Embassy in Moscow: 5–6/78. Secret.
  2. May 25. See footnote 2, Document 106.
  3. See Documents 108, 110112.
  4. See footnote 5, Document 118.
  5. See Document 119.
  6. See Document 113.
  7. See Document 118.