267. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

15038. Subject: Detention of U.S. Correspondent Nicholas Daniloff. Ref: Combs-Parris Telecon of August 30, 1986.2

1. Summary. Confirming referenced telecon, U.S. News and World Report Bureau Chief Nick Daniloff was detained by Soviet authorities midday August 30 in Moscow, ostensibly for possessing classified Soviet documents. Daniloff’s detention clearly was a KGB set-up. Embassy has registered a stiff oral protest with the Foreign Ministry and is pressing for immediate consular access. End summary.

2. Daniloff telephoned his successor, Jeff Trimble, around 5:30 pm August 30 at the U.S. News and World Report Bureau in Moscow to report the following:

—Morning of August 30 Daniloff met a long-time Soviet contact, “Misha,” in Moscow to say goodbye (Daniloff is scheduled to depart the USSR in October). Daniloff had met Misha in Frunze several years ago.

Daniloff gave Misha two Steven King novels as a goodbye gift. Misha gave Daniloff a package, which Daniloff did not open. Misha said it contained clippings from Frunze newspapers.

—Shortly after leaving Misha, Daniloff was apprehended by some eight plainclothesmen, who seized and opened the package. It contained two Soviet maps marked “Secret.”

Daniloff was then taken to an office at Ulitsa Energetischeskaya 3A. After being questioned, and denying all allegations, Daniloff was allowed to call his Moscow office.

Daniloff told Trimble Daniloff had been treated correctly.

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Daniloff also told Trimble Daniloff felt his apprehension was in retaliation for the Zakharov arrest in New York.3

Daniloff said that as of the time of his call no formal charges had been brought against him.

3. Embassy registered stiff oral protest of the incident with MFA duty officer at about 6:30 pm August 30, terming Daniloff’s detention a crude provocation, and requesting immediate consular access (noting, in this regard, prompt access granted Soviet Embassy in Zakharov case).

4. Embassy dispatched consular officer to the address given by Daniloff. Consular officer was denied access to the building and told to deal directly with KGB headquarters.

5. In addition, we have informed MFA duty officer that Chargé wishes to speak urgently with Deputy Foreign Minister Bessmertnykh. As of 8:00 pm, we have been unable to contact anyone at Foreign Ministry other than the duty officer.

6. That Daniloff’s detention was a KGB set-up was corroborated by tip-off given to New York Times bureau mid-afternoon August 30. A non-Soviet contact called NYT bureau to say he had heard from a Soviet source connected to TASS that an American had been arrested, would be charged with espionage, and a TASS announcement to that effect would be released later August 30.

Combs
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860663–0226. Limited Official Use; Niact Immediate.
  2. Not found.
  3. In his book, Matlock recounted the reasons for the arrest of Gennady Zakharov in great detail, explaining that he was a Soviet official with the UN Secretariat, and therefore did not have diplomatic immunity. Zakharov recruited a defense contractor, who was actually working for the FBI, to pass information to him. Matlock wrote: “On August 23 the FBI arrested Gennady Zakharov as he paid the FBI’s double agent a substantial sum of money for a package of classified material. Zakharov was arraigned in the Federal District Court of Brooklyn and held without bail for subsequent indictment and trial.” Matlock noted that the Department of State and CIA had approved the FBI plan to arrest Zakharov, and when it reached the NSC for approval, Matlock “commented to John Poindexter that I thought he should not oppose the arrest since no agency objected, but we could expect the KGB to arrest an American without diplomatic immunity in the hope of forcing a trade.” (Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev , pp. 197–199)