218. Memorandum From Marshall Brement of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • McHenry and The Vlasova Denouement (U)

McHenry’s final performance in the Vlasova affair2 (see attached cable)3 was abysmal and mystifying, perhaps a result of battle fatigue. It is difficult to understand why he violated specific instructions from us that the presentation should be lengthy enough to allow Vlasova to orient herself, to understand the situation, and to have total confidence that any decision she made would be honored and enforced by us. (C)

At the very least, McHenry should have given her a full and frank explanation as to why we had held up the plane and inconvenienced her and her fellow passengers for three days. Specifically, she should have been told (a) that we were led to believe on three separate occasions by Soviet officials that we would be allowed an opportunity to speak with her in non-coercive surroundings; (b) that we were therefore surprised when, without notice to us, she was spirited aboard a plane surrounded by goons; (c) that we could draw no other conclusion except that there was at least a possibility that she might have been forced to board the aircraft against her will; (d) that we therefore had to insist that any interview be conducted off the Soviet plane, which any fair-minded person would agree was a coercive atmosphere in which to hold such an interview; and (e) that we proposed to hold the meeting in a mobile lounge Friday night and are puzzled, perplexed, and not able to understand why it took until Monday morning for the Soviets to agree to our proposal. (C)

She should have also been told specifically that her husband desired to speak with her, that he was available to do so, and that we would facilitate such a meeting if she so desired. (C)

From nothing other than a public relations point of view, McHenry should have dragged the conversation on for at least an hour, allowing for translation, even if he did nothing other than to read the New York [Page 643] phone book to her. As it was, he only spoke with her for a maximum of ten minutes, since the entire interview only lasted fifteen minutes altogether. We could have been severely criticized for this lapse, and we are lucky to have escaped with relatively little damage. (C)

I do not recommend further action on this, but we should keep it in mind for future reference. (C)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 84, USSR: Ballerina Ludmila Vlasova, 8/79. Confidential; Outside the System. Sent for information. Brzezinski placed a check mark in the upper right corner and wrote: “too bad. ZB.”
  2. See Document 215.
  3. Not found attached.