268. Telegram From the Department of State to Secretary of State Shultz1

Tosec 170237/274937. Subject: Information Memo: Soviets Arrest U.S. News Reporter (S/S 8626863).2

To: The Secretary

From: EUR—Charles H. Thomas, Acting

1. (Secret—Entire text).

2. The Soviets detained U.S. news reporter Nick Daniloff today in Moscow on clearly trumped-up charges of espionage. Soviet contact of Daniloff’s handed him a packet of materials which turned out to be maps stamped Secret. Agents jumped Daniloff before he could determine what he was carrying.3 He remains in KGB custody, and the Embassy is trying to make contact with him.

3. Mike Armacost delivered a strong protest to Soviet Minister-Counselor Sokolov early this afternoon, demanding that the Soviets release Daniloff immediately.4 The Soviets clearly have nabbed Daniloff in response to our arrest last week in New York of a Soviet agent, Gennadiy Zakharov, who was caught in the possession of classified documents. Zakharov, a UN Secretariat employee with only limited immunity, is under detention and subject to prosecution.

4. The last time we arrested Soviet agents without diplomatic immunity was in 1978. Just as they have done now, the Soviets then arrested an American in Moscow without immunity. Ambassador Dobrynin formally requested the release into his custody of the Soviet defendants, and guaranteed they would obey all orders of the court while in his hands. Once we agreed to this arrangement, the Soviets released the American into Ambassador Toon’s custody. Dobrynin [Page 1095] kept his word and the Soviets were tried and convicted. They were ultimately exchanged for a group of dissidents.

5. Prior to the Daniloff arrest, Zakharov’s defense attorney had submitted to the magistrate handling the case a letter from Dubinin seeking Zakharov’s release in lieu of bail into Dubinin’s custody, as in the 1978 case. The U.S. attorney handling the case—apparently without consulting main Justice—opposed the Soviet gambit, which was rejected by the magistrate. Dubinin then raised the case with Mike Armacost on the margins of this week’s regional talks. Mike promised to look into the matter, but had not had an opportunity to respond by the time of Daniloff’s arrest.

6. After consulting with Abe Sofaer, Mike has since asked Justice to look into the advisability of requesting the U.S. Attorney to to endorse the Soviet proposal that Zakharov be released into Dubinin’s custody. We do not yet have a response from Justice. If there is resistance there—and the Soviet move against Daniloff makes this more likely—the most probable outcome will be a stalemate with Daniloff and Zakharov both facing indefinite incarceration. In such an environment, pressure to take further steps against Soviets in this country will grow both inside and outside the administration—raising the possibility of an escalatory cycle which would have a profound negative impact on other elements of our relationship.

7. The next step is to await Justice’s response to Mike Armacost’s call. Even in the event the Executive Branch endorses efforts to release Zakharov into Dubinin’s custody—and this it is far from certain Justice will go along willingly—the final decision rests with the magistrate.

8. In short, unless carefully handled, the Zakharov/Daniloff case has serious potential for upsetting our plans for this fall. We will keep you informed as we work with Justice and the Soviets.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860663–0267. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Purnell; cleared by Parris, by telephone by A. Surena (L), Coffey, Pascoe, and Smith; approved by Simons.
  2. The information memorandum was drafted by Purnell and cleared by Parris and Coffey.
  3. See Document 267. In telegram 15039 from Moscow, August 31, the Embassy reported that Mikol’chak met that day with the Political Counselor and delivered a formal oral protest against Daniloff. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860663–0351)
  4. In telegram 274953 to Moscow, August 31 1515Z, the Department provided a copy of Armacost’s talking points for the Chargé’s use in a possible meeting with Bessmertnykh. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860663–0411)