The NSA unveils The Gorbachev File

British and CIA Assessments, Presidential Letters and Summit Conversations Illuminate Perestroika and the End of the Cold War

First and Last President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev Turns 85

National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 544
Compiled and edited by Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton
Posted – March 2, 2016
For more information, contact: National Security Archive
202.994.7000 or


Secretary of State James Baker, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Raisa Gorbacheva, Adviser Anatoly Chernyaev, President Mikhail Gorbachev at Camp David, June 1990 (from A.S. Chernyaev’s personal archive)

Washington, D.C., March 2, 2016 – Marking the 85th birthday of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the National Security Archive at George Washington University ( today posted a series of previously classified British and American documents containing Western assessments of Gorbachev starting before he took office in March 1985, and continuing through the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The documents show that conservative British politicians were ahead of the curve predicting great things for rising Soviet star Gorbachev in 1984 and 1985, but the CIA soon caught on, describing the new Soviet leader only three months into his tenure as “the new broom,” while Ronald Reagan greeted Gorbachev’s ascension with an immediate invitation for a summit. The documents posted today include positive early assessments by Margaret Thatcher and MP John Browne, CIA intelligence reports that bookend Gorbachev’s tenure from 1985 to 1991, the first letters exchanged by Reagan and Gorbachev, the American versions of key conversations with Gorbachev at the Geneva, Reykjavik and Malta summits, German chancellor Helmut Kohl’s credit to Gorbachev in 1989 for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, and the U.S. transcript of the G-7 summit in 1990 that turned down Gorbachev’s request for financial aid.

The Archive gathered the Gorbachev documentation for two books, the Link-Kuehl-Award-winning “Masterpieces of History”: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe 1989 (Central European University Press, 2010), and the forthcoming Last Superpower Summits: Gorbachev, Reagan and Bush (CEU Press, 2016). The sources include the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, and Freedom of Information and Mandatory Declassification Review requests to the CIA and the State Department.

Leading today’s Gorbachev briefing book is British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s “discovery” of Gorbachev in December 1984 during his trip to Britain as head of a Soviet parliamentary delegation. In contrast to his elderly and infirm predecessors who slowly read dry notes prepared for them, Gorbachev launched into animated free discussion and left an indelible impression on Lady Thatcher. The Prime Minister, charmed by the Soviet leader, quickly shared her impressions with her closest ally and friend, Ronald Reagan. She commented famously, “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.”

Alexander Yakovlev, Mikhail Gorbachev, Eduard Shevardnadze walking in the Kremlin, 1989 (personal archive of Anatoly Chernyaev)

Soon after Gorbachev became the Soviet General Secretary, a Conservative member of the British parliament, John Browne, who observed Gorbachev during his visit to Britain and then followed information on Gorbachev’s every early step, compared him to “Kennedy in the Kremlin” in terms of his charisma. By June 1985, the CIA told senior U.S. officials in a classified assessment that Gorbachev was “the new broom” that was attempting to clean up the years of debris that accumulated in the Soviet Union during the era of stagnation.

But Reagan had to see for himself. For four years before Gorbachev, as the American president complained in his diary, he had been trying to meet with a Soviet leader face to face, but “they keep dying on me.” In his first letter to Gorbachev, which Vice President George H.W. Bush carried to Moscow for the funeral of Gorbachev’s predecessor, Reagan invited Gorbachev to meet. Gorbachev and Reagan became pen-pals who wrote long letters – sometimes personally dictated, even handwritten – explaining their positions on arms control, strategic defenses, and the need for nuclear abolition.

Their first meeting took place in Geneva in November 1985, where in an informal atmosphere of “fireside chats” they began realizing that the other was not a warmonger but a human being with a very similar dream—to rid the world of nuclear weapons. That dream came very close to a breakthrough during Gorbachev and Reagan’s summit in Reykjavik; but Reagan’s stubborn insistence on SDI and Gorbachev’s stubborn unwillingness to take Reagan at his word on technology sharing prevented them from reaching their common goal.

Through a series of unprecedented superpower summits, Gorbachev made Reagan and Bush understand that the Soviet leader was serious about transforming his country not to threaten others, but to help its own citizens live fuller and happier lives, and to be fully integrated into the “family of nations.” Gorbachev also learned from his foreign counterparts, establishing a kind of peer group with France’s Mitterrand, Germany’s Kohl, Britain’s Thatcher, and Spain’s Gonzalez, which developed his reformist positions further and further. By the time George H.W. Bush as president finally met Gorbachev in Malta, the Soviet Union was having free elections, freedom of speech was blossoming, velvet revolutions had brought reformers to power in Eastern Europe, and the Berlin Wall had fallen to cheers of citizens but severe anxieties in other world capitals.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl wrote in his letter to Bush at the end of November 1989: “Regarding the reform process in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the CSSR [Czechoslovakia], and not least the GDR [East Germany], we have General Secretary Gorbachev’s policies to thank. His perestroika has let loose, made easier, or accelerated these reforms. He pushed governments unwilling to make reforms toward openness and toward acceptance of the people’s wishes; and he accepted developments that in some instances far surpassed the Soviet Union’s own standards.”

In 1989, the dream of what Gorbachev called “the common European home” was in the air and Gorbachev was the most popular politician in the world. When he was faced with discontent and opposition in his country, he refused to use force, like his Chinese neighbors did at Tiananmen Square. And yet, the West consistently applied harsher standards to Gorbachev’s Soviet Union than to China, resulting in feet dragging on financial aid, credits, and trade. As Francois Mitterrand pointed out during the G-7 summit in Houston in 1990: “the argument put forth for helping China is just the reverse when we are dealing with the USSR. We are too timid […] regarding aid to the USSR. […].”

What Gorbachev started in March 1985 made his country and the world better. In cooperation with Reagan and Bush, he ended the Cold War, pulled Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, helped resolve local conflicts around the globe, and gave Russia the hope and the opportunity to develop as a normal democratic country. As with many great reformers, he did not achieve everything he was striving for – he certainly never intended for the Soviet Union to collapse – but his glasnost, his non-violence, and his “new thinking” for an interdependent world created a legacy that few statesmen or women can match. Happy birthday, Mikhail Sergeyevich!


Memorandum of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher. December 16, 1984, Chequers.
This face-to-face encounter between British Prime Minister and the leader of a Soviet parliamentary delegation produced a conversation that both Thatcher and Gorbachev would refer to many times in the future. Gorbachev engaged Thatcher on all the issues that she raised, did not duck hard questions, but did not appear combative. He spoke about the low point then evident in East-West relations and the need to stop the arms race before it was too late. He especially expressed himself strongly against the Strategic Defense Initiative promoted by the Reagan administration. Soon after this conversation Thatcher flew to Washington to share her enthusiastic assessment with Gorbachev with Reagan and encourage him to engage the Soviet leader in trying to lower the East-West tensions. She told her friend and ally what she had told the BBC, “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together” – and described him to Reagan as an “unusual Russian…. [m]uch less constrained, more charming,” and not defensive in the usual Soviet way about human rights.
Letter from Reagan to Gorbachev. March 11, 1985
Vice President George H.W. Bush hand delivered this first letter from President Reagan to the new leader of the Soviet Union, after the state funeral for Konstantin Chernenko in March 1985 (“you die, I fly” as Bush memorably remarked about his job as the ceremonial U.S. mourner for world leaders). The letter contains two especially noteworthy passages, one inviting Mikhail Gorbachev to come to Washington for a summit, and the second expressing Reagan’s hope that arms control negotiations “provide us with a genuine chance to make progress toward our common ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.” Reagan is reaching for a pen-pal, just as he did as early as 1981, when he hand-wrote a heartfelt letter during his recovery from an assassination attempt, to then-General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev suggesting face-to-face meetings and referring to the existential danger of nuclear weapons – only to get a formalistic reply. Subsequent letters between Reagan and the whole series of Soviet leaders (“they keep dying on me,” Reagan complained) contain extensive language on many of the themes – such as the ultimate threat of nuclear annihilation – that would come up over and over again when Reagan finally found a partner on the Soviet side in Gorbachev. Even Chernenko had received a hand-written add-on by Reagan appreciating Soviet losses in World War II and crediting Moscow with a consequent aversion to war.
Gorbachev Letter to Reagan, March 24, 1985
This lengthy first letter from the new Soviet General Secretary to the U.S. President displays Gorbachev’s characteristic verbal style with an emphasis on persuasion. The Soviet leader eagerly takes on the new mode of communication proposed by Reagan in his March 11 letter, and plunges into a voluminous and wide-ranging correspondence between the two leaders – often quite formal and stiff, occasionally very personal and expressive, and always designed for effect, such as when Reagan would laboriously copy out by hand his official texts. Here Gorbachev emphasizes the need to improve relations between the two countries on the basis of peaceful competition and respect for each other’s economic and social choices. He notes the responsibility of the two superpowers for world peace, and their common interest “not to let things come to the outbreak of nuclear war, which would inevitably have catastrophic consequences for both sides.” Underscoring the importance of building trust, the Soviet leader accepts Reagan’s invitation in the March 11 letter to visit at the highest level and proposes that such a visit should “not necessarily be concluded by signing some major documents.” Rather, “it should be a meeting to search for mutual understanding.”
Reagan Letter to Gorbachev. April 30, 1985
Perhaps as a reflection of the internal debates in Washington (and even in Reagan’s own head), it would take more than a month for the administration to produce a detailed response to Gorbachev’s March 24 letter. The first two pages rehash the issues around the tragic killing of American Major Arthur Nicholson by a Soviet guard, before moving to the sore subject of Afghanistan. Reagan vows, “I am prepared to work with you to move the region toward peace, if you desire”; at the same time, U.S. and Saudi aid to the mujahedin fighting the Soviets was rapidly expanding. Reagan objects to Gorbachev’s unilateral April 7 announcement of a moratorium on deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe, since the Soviet deployment was largely complete while NATO’s was still underway. The heart of the letter addresses Gorbachev’s objections to SDI, and Reagan mentions that he was struck by Gorbachev’s characterization of SDI as having “an offensive purpose for an attack on the Soviet Union. I can assure you that you are profoundly mistaken on this point.” Interestingly, the Reagan letter tries to reassure Gorbachev by citing the necessity of “some years of further research” and “further years” before deployment (Reagan could not have suspected decades rather than years). This back-and-forth on SDI would be a constant in the two leaders’ correspondence and conversations at the summits to come, but the consistency of Reagan’s position on this (in contrast to that of Pentagon advocates of “space dominance”), not only to Gorbachev but to Thatcher and to his own staff, suggests some room for Gorbachev to take up the President on his assurances – which never happened.
“Mr. Gorbachev-a Kennedy in the Kremlin?” By John Browne (Member of Parliament from Winchester, England). Impressions of the Man, His Style and his Likely Impact Upon East West Relations. May 20, 1985.
British MP John Browne, member of the Conservative party, was part of the Receiving Committee for Gorbachev’s visit to London in December 1984 and spend considerable time with him during his trips (including to the Lenin museum). This long essay, sent to President Reagan, and summarized for him by his National Security Adviser, describes Gorbachev as an unusual Soviet politician-“intelligent, alert and inquisitive.” Browne notes “that Gorbachev’s charisma was so striking that, if permitted by the Communist Party system, Mr. and Mrs. Gorbachev could well become the Soviet equivalent of the Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy team.” On the basis of his observations in 1984 and after Gorbachev was elected General Secretary, Browne concludes that politicians of Western democracies are likely to face an increasingly sophisticated political challenge from Mr. Gorbachev both at home and abroad.
Letter from Gorbachev to Reagan. June 10, 1985
In this long and wide-ranging response to Reagan’s letter of April 30, the Soviet leader makes a real push for improvement of relations on numerous issues. The date June 10 is significant because on this day in Washington Reagan finally took the action (deactivating a Poseidon submarine) necessary to keep the U.S. in compliance with the unratified (but observed by both sides) SALT II treaty. Here Gorbachev raises the issue of equality and reciprocity in U.S.-Soviet relations, noting that it is the Soviet Union that is “surrounded by American military bases stuffed also by nuclear weapons, rather than the U.S. – by Soviet bases.” He suggests that all previous important treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union were possible on the assumption of parity, and that Reagan’s recent focus on SDI threatens to destabilize the strategic balance – yet again demonstrating Gorbachev’s deep apprehension about Reagan’s position on strategic defenses. The Soviet leader believes that the development of ABM systems would lead to a radical destabilization of the situation and the militarization of space. At the heart of the Soviet visceral rejection of SDI is the image of “attack space weapons capable of performing purely offensive missions.” Gorbachev proposes energizing negotiations on conventional weapons in Europe, chemical weapons, the nuclear test ban, and regional issues, especially Afghanistan. He calls for a moratorium on nuclear tests “as soon as possible” – the Soviets would end up doing this unilaterally, never understanding that the issue is a non-starter in Reagan’s eyes. Here, the Soviet leader also welcomes horizontal exchanges between government ministers and even members of legislatures. However, Gorbachev’s position on human rights remains quite rigid-“we do not intend and will not conduct any negotiations relating to human rights in the Soviet Union.” That would change.
Dinner Hosted by the Gorbachevs in Geneva. November 19, 1985.
In their first face-to-face meeting at Geneva, which both of them anticipated eagerly, Reagan and Gorbachev both spoke about the mistrust and suspicions of the past and of the need to begin a new stage in U.S.-Soviet relations. Gorbachev described his view of the international situation to Reagan, stressing the need to end the arms race. Reagan expressed his concern with Soviet activity in the third world–helping the socialist revolutions in the developing countries. They both spoke about their aversion to nuclear weapons. During this first dinner of the Geneva summit, Gorbachev used a quote from the Bible that there was a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones which have been cast in the past to indicate that now the President and he should move to resolve their practical disagreements in the last day of meetings remaining. In response, Reagan remarked that “if the people of the world were to find out that there was some alien life form that was going to attack the Earth approaching on Halley’s Comet, then that knowledge would unite all peoples of the world.” The aliens had landed, in Reagan’s view, in the form of nuclear weapons; and Gorbachev would remember this phrase, quoting it directly in his famous “new thinking” speech at the 27th Party Congress in February 1986.
Last Session of the Reykjavik Summit. October 12, 1986.
The last session at Reykjavik is the one that inspires Gorbachev’s comment in his memoirs about “Shakespearean passions.” The transcript shows lots of confusion between just proposals on reducing ballistic missiles versus those reducing all nuclear weapons, but finally Reagan says, as he always wanted, nuclear abolition. “We can do that. Let’s eliminate them,” says Gorbachev, and Secretary of State George Shultz reinforces, “Let’s do it.” But then they circle back around to SDI and the ABM Treaty issue, and Gorbachev insists on the word “laboratory” as in testing confined there, and Reagan, already hostile to the ABM Treaty, keeps seeing that as giving up SDI. Gorbachev says he cannot go back to Moscow to say he let testing go on outside the lab, which could lead to a functioning system in the future. The transcript shows Reagan asking Gorbachev for agreement as a personal favor, and Gorbachev saying well if that was about agriculture, maybe, but this is fundamental national security. Finally at around 6:30 p.m. Reagan closes his briefing book and stands up. The American and the Russian transcripts differ on the last words, the Russian version has more detail [see the forthcoming book, Last Superpower Summits], but the sense is the same. Their faces reflect the disappointment, Gorbachev had helped Reagan to say nyet, but Gorbachev probably lost more from the failure.
Letter to Reagan from Thatcher About Her Meetings with Gorbachev in Moscow. April 1, 1987
Again, Margaret Thatcher informs her ally Reagan about her conversations with Gorbachev. The cover note from National Security Advisor Carlucci (prepared by NSC staffer Fritz Ermarth) states that “she has been greatly impressed by Gorbachev personally.” Thatcher describes Gorbachev as “fully in charge,” “determined to press ahead with his internal reform,” and “talk[ing] about his aims with almost messianic fervor.” She believes in the seriousness of his reformist thinking and wants to support him. However, they differ on one most crucial issue, which actually unites Gorbachev and Reagan-nuclear abolition. Thatcher writes, “[h]is aim is patently the denuclearization of Europe. I left him with no doubt that I would never accept that.”
Letter to Bush from Chancellor Helmut Kohl. November 28, 1989.
This remarkable letter arrives at the White House at the very moment when Kohl is presenting his “10 points” speech to the Bundestag about future German unification, much to the surprise of the White House, the Kremlin, and even Kohl’s own coalition partners in Germany (such as his foreign minister). Here, just weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the German leader encourages Bush to engage with Gorbachev across the board and to contribute to peaceful change in Europe. Kohl points that Gorbachev “wants to continue his policies resolutely, consistently and dynamically, but is meeting internal resistance and is dependent on external support.” He hopes Bush’s upcoming meeting with Gorbachev in Malta will “give strong stimulus to the arms control negotiations.” Kohl also reminds Bush that “regarding the reform process in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the CSSR [Czechoslovakia], and not least the GDR [East Germany], we have General Secretary Gorbachev’s policies to thank. His perestroika has let loose, made easier, or accelerated these reforms. He pushed governments unwilling to make reforms toward openness and toward acceptance of the people’s wishes; and he accepted developments that in some instances far surpassed the Soviet Union’s own standards.”
Malta First Expanded Bilateral with George Bush. December 2, 1989.
Being rocked by the waves on the Soviet ship Maxim Gorky, President Bush greets his Russian counterpart for the first time as President. A lot has changed in the world since they last saw each other on Governor’s Island in December 1988-elections had been held in the Soviet Union and in Poland, where a non-communist government came to power, and the Iron Curtain fell together with the Berlin Wall. After Bush’s initial presentation from notes, Gorbachev remarks almost bemusedly that now he sees the American administration has made up its mind (finally) what to do, and that includes “specific steps” or at least “plans for such steps” to support perestroika, not to doubt it. Gorbachev compliments Bush for not sharing the old Cold War thinking that “The only thing the U.S. needs to do is to keep its baskets ready to gather the fruit” from the changes in Eastern Europe and the USSR. Bush responds, “I have been called cautious or timid. I am cautious, but not timid. But I have conducted myself in ways not to complicate your life. That’s why I have not jumped up and down on the Berlin Wall.” Gorbachev says, “Yes, we have seen that, and appreciate that.” The Soviet leader goes on to welcome Bush’s economic and trade points as a “signal of a new U.S. policy” that U.S. business was waiting for. Gorbachev responds positively to each of Bush’s overtures on arms control, chemical weapons, conventional forces, next summits and so forth, but pushes back on Bush’s Cuba and Central America obsessions.
First Main Plenary of the G-7 Summit in Houston. July 10, 1990.
The bulk of discussion at this first session of the summit of the industrialized nations is devoted to the issue of how the club of the rich countries should react to the events unfolding in the Soviet Union and how much aid and investment could be directed to the support of perestroika. The summit is taking place at the time when Gorbachev is engaged in an increasingly desperate search for scenarios for radical economic reform, and fast political democratization, but he needs external financial support and integration into global financial institutions in order to succeed – or even to survive, as the events of August 1991 would show. Just before this 1990 G-7, Gorbachev wrote in a letter to George Bush that he needs “long-term credit assistance, attraction of foreign capital, transfer of managerial experience and personnel training” to create a competitive economy. Yet, the U.S. president throws only a bone or two, like “step up the pace of our negotiations with the Soviets on the Tsarist and Kerensky debts [!] to the U.S. government” (instead of forgiving or at least restructuring the debt), and “expand our existing technical cooperation.” Bush concludes his speech by stating flatly “It is impossible for the U.S. to loan money to the USSR at this time. I know, however, that others won’t agree.” The leaders who do not agree are Helmut Kohl (in the middle of providing billions of deutschmarks to the USSR to lubricate German unification) and Francois Mitterrand. The latter decries the double standards being applied to the Soviet Union and China, even after the Tiananmen massacre. Mitterrand criticizes the proposed political declaration of the G-7 as “timid” and “hesitant,” imposing “harsh political conditions as a preliminary to extending aid.” He believes the EC countries are in favor of contributing aid to the USSR but that other members, like the U.S. and Japan, have effectively vetoed such assistance.
CIA Memorandum, The Gorbachev Succession. April 1991.
On April 10, 1991, the National Security Council staff asked the CIA for an analysis of the Gorbachev succession, who the main actors would be, and the likely scenarios. The assessment opens quite drastically: “The Gorbachev era is effectively over.” The scenarios offered have an eerie resemblance to the actual coup that would come in August 1991. This might be the most prescient of all the CIA analyses of the perestroika years. The report finds that Gorbachev is likely to be replaced either by the reformers or the hard-liners, with the latter being more likely. The authors point out that “there is no love between Gorbachev and his current allies and they could well move to try to dump him.” They then list possible conspirators for such a move– Vice President Yanaev, KGB Chief Kryuchkov, and Defense Minister Yazov, among others, all of whom whom participate in the August coup. The report predicts that the “traditionalists” are likely to find a “legal veneer” for removing Gorbachev: “most likely they would present Gorbachev with an ultimatum to comply or face arrest or death.” If he agreed, Yanaev would step in as president, the conspirators would declare a state of emergency and install “some kind of a National Salvation Committee.” However, the memo concludes that “time is working against the traditionalists.” This turned out to be both prescient and correct – the August coup followed the process outlined in this document and the plot foundered because the security forces themselves were fractured and the democratic movements were gaining strength. But indeed, the coup, the resurgence of Boris Yeltsin as leader of the Russian republic, and the secession of Russia from the Soviet Union during the fall of 1991 did mark the end of the Gorbachev era.


Revealed – Concerned About Nuclear Weapons Potential, John F. Kennedy Pushed for Inspection of Israel Nuclear Facilities



John F. Kennedy was a member of Congress when he first met Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in 1951.  In this photograph taken at Ben-Gurion’s home, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., then a member of Congress from New York, sat between them. (Image from Geopolitiek in Perspectief)


Kennedy, Dimona and the Nuclear Proliferation Problem: 1961-1962

by Avner Cohen and William Burr


Washington, D.C., April 21, 2016 – President John F. Kennedy worried that Israel’s nuclear program was a potentially serious proliferation risk and insisted that Israel permit periodic inspections to mitigate the danger, according to declassified documents published today by the National Security Archive, Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.  Kennedy pressured the government of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to prevent a military nuclear program, particularly after stage-managed tours of the Dimona facility for U.S. government scientists in 1961 and 1962 raised suspicions within U.S. intelligence that Israel might be concealing its underlying nuclear aims.  Kennedy’s long-run objective, documents show, was to broaden and institutionalize inspections of Dimona by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

On 30 May 1961, Kennedy met Ben-Gurion in Manhattan to discuss the bilateral relationship and Middle East issues. However, a central (and indeed the first) issue in their meeting was the Israeli nuclear program, about which President Kennedy was most concerned.   According to a draft record of their discussion, which has never been cited, and is published here for the first time, Ben-Gurion spoke “rapidly and in a low voice” and “some words were missed.”  He emphasized the peaceful, economic development-oriented nature of the Israeli nuclear project. Nevertheless the note taker, Assistant Secretary of State Philips Talbot, believed that he heard Ben-Gurion mention a “pilot” plant to process plutonium for “atomic power” and also say that “there is no intention to develop weapons capacity now.” Ben-Gurion tacitly acknowledged that the Dimona reactor had a military potential, or so Talbot believed he had heard.  The final U.S. version of the memcon retained the sentence about plutonium but did not include the language about a “pilot” plant and  “weapons capacity.”

The differences between the two versions suggest the difficulty of preparing accurate records of meetings. But whatever Ben-Gurion actually said, President Kennedy was never wholly satisfied with the insistence that Dimona was strictly a peaceful project. Neither were U.S. intelligence professionals. A recently declassified National Intelligence Estimate on Israel prepared several months after the meeting, and published here for the first time, concluded that “Israel may have decided to undertake a nuclear weapons program. At a minimum, we believe it has decided to develop its nuclear facilities in such a way as to put it into a position to develop nuclear weapons promptly should it decide to do so.” This is the only NIE where the discussion of Dimona has been declassified in its entirety.

Declassified documents reveal that more than any other American president, John F. Kennedy was personally engaged with the problem of Israel’s nuclear program; he may also have been more concerned about it than any of his successors. Of all U.S. leaders in the nuclear age, Kennedy was the nonproliferation president. Nuclear proliferation was his “private nightmare,” as Glenn Seaborg, his Atomic Energy Commission chairman, once noted. Kennedy came to office with the conviction that the spread of nuclear weapons would make the world a much more dangerous place; he saw proliferation as the path to a global nuclear war. This concern shaped his outlook on the Cold War even before the 1960 presidential campaign – by then he had already opposed the resumption of nuclear testing largely due to proliferation concerns – and his experience in office, especially the Cuban Missile Crisis, solidified it further.

This Electronic Briefing Book (EBB) is the first of two publications which address the subject of JFK, his administration, and the Israeli nuclear program. It includes about thirty documents produced by the State Department, the Atomic Energy Commission, and intelligence agencies, some of which highlight the president’s strong personal interest and direct role in moving nonproliferation policy forward during the administration’s first two years. Some of the documents have been only recently declassified, while others were located in archival collections; most are published here for the first time. The compilation begins with President Kennedy’s meeting with departing ambassador to Israel Odgen Reid on January 31, 1961, days after Kennedy took office, and concludes with the State Department’s internal review in late 1962 of the of the second U.S. visit in Dimona.

The documents published today also include:

  • The Atomic Energy Commission’s recently declassified report on the first official U.S. visit to the Dimona complex, in May 1961. The Ben-Gurion-Kennedy meeting was possible only after that visit produced a positive report on the peaceful, nonmilitary purposes of the reactor. According to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Dimona “was conceived as a means for gaining experience in construction of a nuclear facility which would prepare them for nuclear power in the long run.”
  • A letter from the State Department to the AEC asking it to place prominent Israeli nuclear scientist Dr. Israel Dostrovsky of the Weizman Institute, who was a visiting researcher at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, under “discreet surveillance” as a “precautionary step” to safeguard U.S. nuclear know-how. The document notes Dostrovsky’s reputation as one of the individuals “primarily responsible for guiding Israel’s atomic energy program.” In 1966 Dostrovsky was appointed by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol as director-general of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, which he reorganized and gave new impetus.
  • Recently declassified records of U.S.-U.K. meetings during 1962 to discuss the possibilities of putting pressure on Israel to accept inspections of Dimona by the International Atomic Energy Agency. While State Department officials did not believe that pressure would work, they agreed that “IAEA controls should be our objective.” In the meantime, “interim ad hoc inspections” were necessary to satisfy ourselves and the world-at-large as to Israel’s intentions.”
  • An assessment of the second AEC visit to the Dimona site in September 1962. After weeks of diplomatic pressure by the Kennedy administration for a second visit, two AEC scientists who had inspected the U.S.-supplied Soreq reactor were “spontaneously” invited for a [tk: Bill, 40 or 45 minutes? All other references are to 40.] 45-minute tour to Dimona, while on their way back from an excursion to the Dead Sea. They had no time to see the complete installation, but they left the site with the impression that Dimona was a research reactor, not a production reactor. CIA and State Department officials were skeptical about the circumstances, unable to determine whether the spontaneous invitation was a treat or a trick.


President-elect John F. Kennedy and Secretary of State-designate Dean Rusk Meet with President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State Christian Herter, 19 January 1961. At this meeting Herter warned Kennedy about the Israeli nuclear problem (Photograph AR6279-D, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

More than any other country, it was Israel which most impressed upon President Kennedy the complexity of nuclear proliferation. Israel was the first case with which he had to struggle as president. Only weeks before his inauguration, the outgoing Eisenhower administration quietly discovered and confirmed the secret reactor at Dimona. In mid-December the news leaked out while the Eisenhower administration was pondering a Special National Intelligence Estimate, which asserted that, on the basis of the available evidence “plutonium production for weapons is at least one major purpose of this effort.” According to the estimate, if it was widely believed that Israel was acquiring a nuclear weapons capability it would cause “consternation” in the Arab world, with blame going to the U.S. and France for facilitating the project. The United Arab Republic (Egypt/Syria) would “feel the most threatened,” might approach the Soviets for more “countervailing military aid and political backing,” and the Arab world in general might be prompted to take “concrete actions” against Western interests in the region. Moreover, Israel’s “initiative might remove some of the inhibitions to development of nuclear weapons in other Free World countries.”

On January 19, 1961, on the eve of his inauguration, President-elect Kennedy visited the White House – for the last time as a guest – along with his senior team. After 45 minutes of one-on-one conversation with President Eisenhower, the two men walked to the Cabinet Room to join their departing and incoming secretaries of state, defense and treasury to discuss the transition. One of Kennedy’s first questions was about the countries which were most determined to seek the bomb. “Israel and India,” Secretary of State Christian Herter fired back, and added that the newly discovered Dimona reactor, being constructed with aid from France, could be capable of generating 90 kilogram of weapons-grade plutonium by 1963. Herter urged the new president to press hard on inspection in the case of Israel before it introduced nuclear weapons into the Middle East.[1]

With his concern about stability in the Middle East and the broader nuclear proliferation threat, Kennedy took Herter’s advice seriously. Within days he met with departing Ambassador Reid for discussions of Dimona and other regional matters. To help him prepare for the meeting, new Secretary of State Dean Rusk provided an updated report about Israel’s nuclear activities and a detailed chronology of the discovery of Dimona. For the rest of Kennedy’s time in office, Dimona would remain an issue of special and personal concern to him and to his close advisers.

The most important event covered in this collection was the “nuclear summit” held at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City on May 30, 1961, between Kennedy and Ben-Gurion. We refer to it as a nuclear summit because Dimona was at the heart of that meeting. The encounter was made possible thanks to a reassuring report about the first American visit to Dimona, which had taken place ten days earlier.

Kennedy had tirelessly pressured Ben-Gurion to allow the visit since taking office, insisting that meeting the request – made initially by the Eisenhower administration after the discovery of Dimona – was a condition for normalizing U.S.-Israeli relations. In a sense, Kennedy turned the question into a de facto ultimatum to Israel. For weeks Ben-Gurion dragged his feet, possibly even manufacturing or at least magnifying a domestic political dispute (what was known in Israel as the Lavon Affair) into a government resignation, primarily as a ploy to stall or delay that Dimona visit.

By April 1961, after a new government had been organized, Israeli Ambassador Avram Harman finally told the administration that Israel had agreed to an American tour of Dimona. On May 20, two AEC scientists, U. M. Staebler and J. W. Croach Jr., visited the nuclear facility on a carefully crafted tour. The visit began with a briefing by a Dimona senior management team, headed by Director-General Manes Pratt, who presented a technological rationale for, and historical narrative of, the project: the Dimona nuclear research center, the Americans were told, was “conceived as a means for gaining experience in construction of a nuclear facility which would prepare them [Israel] for nuclear power in the long run.” In essence, according to Pratt, this was a peaceful project. As the American team’s summary report, which was highlighted in a memorandum to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, made very clear, the AEC team believed that the Israelis had told them the truth: the scientists were “satisfied that nothing was concealed from them and that the reactor is of the scope and peaceful character previously described to the United States by representatives of the Government of Israel.”

The AEC’s team’s official report (document 8A) is now available for the first time. Previously only draft notes written by the team’s leader had been accessible to researchers. The differences between the two versions are minor except for a noteworthy paragraph in the final report, under the headline “General comment.” That paragraph is important because it reveals that the Israeli hosts told the AEC team that the reactor’s power was likely to double in the future. “It is quite possible that after operating experience has been obtained the power level of the reactor can be increased by a factor of the order of two by certain modifications in design and relaxation of some operating conditions.” The AEC team could have seen that acknowledgement as a red flag, a worrisome indication that the reactor was capable of producing much more plutonium than was then acknowledged. But the team’s one-sentence response was benign: “Design conservatism of this order is understandable for a project of this type,” On the basis of such a positive report, the Waldorf Astoria meeting was able to go ahead.

The Kennedy-Ben-Gurion Meeting

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs G. Lewis Jones, an Eisenhower administration hold-over, was on the receiving end of President Kennedy’s telephone calls asking for updates on the requests for a visit by U.S. scientists to Israel’s Dimona complex. (National Archives, Still Pictures Branch, 59-S0, box 20)

This collection includes both American and Israeli transcripts of the Waldorf Astoria meeting. One of the transcripts is a previously unknown draft of the Kennedy-Ben-Gurion memcon, which has interesting differences with the final version. The U.S. official memorandum of conversation, declassified and published in the 1990s, was prepared by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Phillips Talbot (and approved – possibly corrected – by White House Deputy Special Counsel Myer “Mike” Feldman). The Israeli minutes, prepared by Ambassador Avraham Harman, were also declassified in the 1990s and historians have made extensive use of them.[2]

Ben-Gurion provided Kennedy with a rationale and narrative of the Dimona project that was very similar to what the Israeli hosts provided to the AEC team visiting Dimona (albeit in non-technical and more political terms): the Dimona project was peaceful in nature; it was about energy and development. However, unlike during the Dimona visit, Ben-Gurion’s narrative and rationale left a little wiggle room for a future reversal. The prime minister did that by qualifying his peaceful pledge and leaving room for a future change of heart. The Israeli transcript makes Ben-Gurion’s caveat pronounced: “for the time being, the only purposes are for peace. … But we will see what will happen in the Middle East. It does not depend on us” (italics added). The American transcript, by way of rephrasing Ben-Gurion, reveals a similar caveat as well: “Our main – and for the time being – only purpose is this [cheap energy, etc.],” the Prime Minister said, adding that “we do not know what will happen in the future” … Furthermore, commenting on the political and strategic implications of atomic power and weaponry, the Prime Minister said he does believe that “in ten or fifteen years the Egyptian presumably could achieve it themselves” (italics added).

In his draft minutes, Assistant Secretary Talbot notes (in parentheses) that during that part of the conversation, Ben-Gurion spoke “rapidly and in a low voice” so that “some words were missed.” Nevertheless, Talbot thought that he had heard Ben-Gurion making reference to a “pilot plant for plutonium separation which is needed for atomic power,” but that might happen “three or four years later” and that “there is no intention to develop weapons capacity now.” Talbot’s draft was declassified long ago but has been buried in obscurity; it needs to be taken into account by scholars. Notably, the Israeli transcript is even more straightforward in citing Ben-Gurion on the pilot plant issue: “after three or four years we shall have a pilot plant for separation which is needed anyway for a power reactor.”

Days after the meeting, Talbot sat with Feldman at the White House to “check fine points” about “side lines of interest.” There was the key issue of plutonium, about which Ben-Gurion mumbled quickly in a low voice. Ben-Gurion was understood to say something to the effect that the issue of plutonium would not arise until the installation was complete in 1964 or so, and only then could Israel decide what to do about processing it. But this appeared to be incompatible with what the prime minister had said to Ambassador Reid in Tel Aviv in January 1961, namely that the spent fuel would return to the country which provided the uranium in the first place (France). But Israeli affairs desk officer, William R. Crawford, who looked further into the record, suggested that what Ben-Gurion had said was more equivocal and evasive. Upon close examination, Ben-Gurion might have meant to hint in passing that Israel was preserving its freedom of action to produce plutonium for its own purposes. Kennedy may not have picked up on this point, but he, like Talbot, may not have been sure exactly what Ben-Gurion had said.

Intelligence Estimate

The most intriguing – and novel – document in this collection is National Intelligence Estimate 35-61 (document #11a), under the headline “Outlook on Israel,” which was declassified only in February 2015. This NIE left no doubt that the AEC scientists’ impressions from their visit to Dimona had no impact on the way which the intelligence community made its own determination on Dimona’s overall purpose. While the visit clearly helped to ease the political and diplomatic tensions between the United States and Israel over Dimona, and removed, at least temporarily, the nuclear issue as a problem from the bilateral agenda, it did not change the opinion of U.S. intelligence professionals. In their view, while acknowledging the Israeli official narrative of Dimona as peaceful, it was truly about weapons capability. The Dimona complex provided Israel with the experience and resources “to develop a plutonium production capability.” NIE 35-61 reminded its readers that France had supplied “plans, material, equipment and technical assistance to the Israelis.”

Significantly, the intelligence community estimated in 1961 that Israel would be in a position to “produce sufficient weapons grade plutonium for one or two crude weapons a year by 1965-66, provided separation facilities with a capacity larger than that of the pilot plant now under construction are available.” In retrospect, in all these respects, NIE 35-61 was accurate in its assessments and predictions, although no one on the U.S. side knew for sure when Israel would possess the requisite reprocessing facilities. The language about “separation facilities” raises important questions. If Israel was to produce nuclear weapons it would require technology to reprocess spent fuel into plutonium. Whether and when U.S. intelligence knew that Israel had begun work on a secret, dedicated separation plant – larger than a pilot plant – at the Dimona complex has yet to be disclosed. But if the CIA knew about such plans, it may have meant that key information was concealed from AEC scientists who visited Dimona (or perhaps they were instructed to locate such facilities).[3]

Probably lacking secret knowledge of internal Israeli government thinking, the authors of NIE 35-61 may not have fully understood the depth of Israel’s nuclear resolve, or at least, the modus operandi by which Israel proceeded with its nuclear project. They could not be fully clear – both conceptually and factually – on the nature of the Israeli nuclear commitment, i.e., whether Dimona was a dedicated weapons program from the very start, or, alternatively, whether it was set up as infrastructure leading to a weapons capability upon a later decision. At a minimum, however, the authors of NIE 35-61 believed “that the Israelis intend at least to put themselves in the position of being able to produce nuclear weapons fairly soon after a decision to do so.”

Notwithstanding the lack of clarity, the NIE’s findings were incompatible with what Ben-Gurion told Kennedy about the overall purpose of the Dimona project as well as with what he said about Dimona’s plutonium production capacity. Similarly, the NIE was inconsistent with the AEC report whose writers accepted the Israeli narrative and rationale. The bottom line was that as early as 1961 the CIA already knew – or at least suspected – that the Israeli official account of the Dimona project – either by the prime minister or by Israeli scientists – was a cover story and deceptive by nature.

The Second Visit

The AEC visit and the Ben-Gurion Kennedy meeting helped clear the air a bit, but the wary view embodied in the NIE shaped U.S. perceptions of the Dimona project. The Kennedy administration held to its conviction that it was necessary to monitor Dimona, not only to resolve American concerns about nuclear proliferation but also to calm regional anxieties about an Israeli nuclear threat. In this context, the United States did not want to continue to be the only country that guaranteed the peaceful nature of Dimona to the Arab countries. Hence, during the months after the meetings, State Department officials tried to follow up President Kennedy’s interest in having scientists from “neutral” nations, such as Sweden, visit the Dimona plant. The British also favored such ideas but they sought U.S. pressure to induce the Israelis to accept inspection visits by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Kennedy administration believed that IAEA inspections of Dimona were a valid long-term goal but recognized that a second visit by U.S. scientists was necessary if a visit by neutrals could not be arranged.

The talks with the Swedes did not pan out; by June 1962, the Kennedy administration decided to “undertake the responsibility once more.” On 26 September 1962, after “repeated requests over several months,” a second American visit to Dimona finally took place. Until recently little was known about that visit except that Ambassador Walworth Barbour referred to it as “unduly restricted to no more than forty five minutes.”[4] Also, the late professor Yuval Ne’eman, at the time serving as the scientific director of the Soreq nuclear research center and the official host of the American AEC visitors, was cited in Israel and the Bomb to the effect that the visit was a deliberate “trick” (the word “trick” was used but was not cited in the book) he devised and executed to ease American pressure for a second formal visit in Dimona.[5]

Phillips Talbot, who succeeded Jones as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, and as a note-taker at the Kennedy/Ben-Gurion meeting had to make sense of the Prime Minister’s rapid and “low” voice. (National Archives, Still Picture Branch, 59-SO, box 41)

This collection includes archival material that sheds light on the second visit. The key document is a memo, written on 27 December 1962, by deputy director of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Rodger Davies to Assistant Secretary Talbot on the September visit. It was hiding in plain sight in a microfilm supplement to the State Department historical series, Foreign Relations of the United States. The memo narrated the improvised circumstances of the visit which fit well with the way Ne’eman told the story in the late 1990s. As the two AEC scientists who had arrived to inspect the small reactor at Soreq – Thomas Haycock and Ulysses Staebler – were being driven back from their Dead Sea tour, Ne’eman noted that they were passing by the Dimona reactor and that he could spontaneously “arrange a call with the director.” Notably, Staebler was among the two AEC scientists who had visited Dimona in May 1961, so he must have met director Pratt. It turned out that the director was not there, but the chief engineers gave them a 40-minute tour of the reactor.

The 27 December document reveals that the circumstances of that tour made the AEC visitors feel a little awkward, “not certain whether they were guests of their scientist-host or on an inspection.” They did not see the complete installation, nor did they enter all the buildings they saw, but they believed that what they saw confirmed that Dimona was a research reactor, not a production reactor; and that, from their point of view, made the visit worthwhile and “satisfactory.” The memo also notes that the AEC scientists were presented with the option to come back to the site to complete the visit the next morning, but because that would have forced a four-day layover they declined the offer.

According to Rodger Davies, the highly unconventional nature of the visit stirred suspicion within the relevant intelligence offices in Washington. During one interagency meeting to discuss the visit’s intelligence value, the CIA’s “Director of Intelligence,” probably a reference to Deputy Director of Intelligence Ray Cline, was quoted as saying that “the immediate objectives of the visit may have been satisfied, [but] certain basic intelligence requirements were not.” It was also observed that “there were certain inconsistencies between the first and second inspection reports insofar as the usages attributed to some equipment were concerned.” The fact that the inspectors were invited to visit again the next day seemed to indicate that “there was no deliberate ’hanky-panky’ involved on the part of the [ Israelis,” but the fact that such a return visit would have caused a major delay in the team’s departure flight made the Israeli offer impractical and perhaps disingenuous.

Whatever the doubts about the intelligence value, the State Department deployed the visits’ conclusions to assure interested countries that Dimona was peaceful. A few weeks afterwards, just as the Cuban Missile Crisis was unfolding, the State Department began to quietly inform selected governments about its positive results. U.S. diplomats told Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, during a briefing on the Cuban situation, that the recent visit confirmed Israeli statements about the reactor. The British and Canadians were also told similar things about the “recent brief visit” to Dimona, without explaining what had made it so short. By the end of October, the Department had sent a fuller statement to various embassies.

Davies’ memorandum cites a formal report, dated October 12, 1962, prepared by the AEC team about their visit. But the report was not attached to the memorandum found in State Department files. Unfortunately, except for the 1961 visit report, the Department of Energy has been unable to locate the 1962 report or other such reports from the following years.





Documents 1A-B:  Briefing President Kennedy

Document 1A: Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy, “Your Appointment with Ogden R. Reid, Recently Ambassador to Israel,” 30 January 1961, with memorandum and chronology attached, Secret, Excised copy  

Document 1B: Memorandum of Conversation, “Ambassador Reid’s Review of His Conversation with President Kennedy,” 31 January 1961, Secret

Source: National Archives College Park, Record Group 59, records of the Department of State (hereinafter RG 59), Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Office of Near Eastern Affairs (NESA/NEA). Records of the Director, 1960-1963, box 5, Tel Aviv – 1961

On 31 January 1961, only days after his inauguration, President Kennedy met with Ogden Reid, who had just resigned as U.S. ambassador to Israel, for a comprehensive briefing on U.S.-Israel relations, including the problem of the Dimona nuclear reactor (an issue in which the new president had a “special interest”).  To help prepare the president for the meeting, Secretary of State Dean Rusk signed off on a briefing paper, which contained also a detailed chronology of the discovery of the Dimona reactor, and which reviewed the problems raised by the secret atomic project as well as U.S. interest in sending scientists there to determine whether there was a proliferation risk.

In their 45-minute meeting, Ambassador Reid told President Kennedy that he believed the U.S “can accept at face value Ben-Gurion’s assurance that the reactor is to be devoted to peaceful purposes” and that a visit to Dimona by a qualified American scientist could be arranged, “if it is done on a secret basis.”


Document 2A-E: Pressing for a Visit

Document 2A: Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs to Secretary of State, “President’s Suggestion re Israeli Reactor,” 2 February 1961, Secret

Document 2B: Memorandum of Conversation, “Israeli Reactor,” 3 February 1961, Confidential

Document 2C: Memorandum, Secretary of State Rusk for the President, “Israeli Reactor,” 8 February 1961, Secret

Document 2D:   Memorandum of Conversation, “Inspection of Israel’s New Atomic Reactor,” 13 February 1961, Secret

Document 2E:   Memorandum of Conversation, “Israel’s Security and Other Problems,” 16 February 1961, Secret

Sources: A: RG 59, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Office of the Country Director for Israel and Arab-Israeli Affairs, Records Relating to Israel, 1964-1966 (hereinafter, Israel 1964-1966), box 8, Israel Atomic Energy Program 1961;  B: RG 59, Central Decimal Files, 1960-1963 (hereinafter DF), 884A.1901/2-361; C: John F. Kennedy Library, Papers of John F. Kennedy. President’s Office Files, box 119, Israel Security, 1961-1963; D: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/3-1361; D: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/2-1361; E:  RG 59, DF, 784A.5612/2-1661 (also available in Foreign Relations of the United States)

Concerned about a recent visit to Cairo by Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Semenov and the possibility that the Soviets might exploit Egyptian concerns over Dimona, President Kennedy pressed State to arrange an inspection visit at Dimona by a U.S. scientist.  Assistant Secretary of State G. Lewis Jones soon met with Israeli Ambassador Harman, who explained that the Israeli government was preoccupied with an ongoing domestic political crisis.  Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announced his resignation and his intention to take a four-week vacation while still being head of a “caretaker government.” Moreover, Ambassador Harman could not understand why Washington had not simply accepted Ben-Gurion’s assurances about Dimona.  Jones responded that suspicions remained and that as a “close friend,” Israel needed to help allay them.

After informing Kennedy about the Harman-Jones conversation, Secretary of State Rusk had his own meeting with Harman, where he also raised the desirability of a visit, noting that Israeli “candor” was important to the state of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.  During that conversation as well as another with national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, Harman disparaged Dimona’s importance, arguing that its existence had leaked out “unnecessarily.”  But Bundy emphasized “legitimate” Arab concern about the Israeli nuclear project.   It is interesting to note that in internal American documents the reference is always to an “inspection,” but when the issue was discussed with Israeli diplomats, U.S. officials avoided raising their hackles by always referring to a “visit.”


Documents 3A-F: Raising Pressure for an Invitation

Document 3A: U.S. Mission to the United Nations (New York) telegram number 2242 to Department of State, “Eyes Only” from Reid to Secretary, 20 February 1961, Secret

Document 3B: Memorandum of Conversation, “U.S.-Israeli Relations – The Dimona Reactor,” 26 February 1961, Confidential

Document 3C: Memorandum by Secretary Rusk to President Kennedy, “Israeli Reactor,” 3 March 1961, with memo from Jones to Rusk attached, Confidential

Document 3D: Memorandum of Conversation, “Dimona Reactor,”13 March 1961, Secret

Document 3E: Memorandum of Conversation, “Dimona Reactor,” 28 March 1961, Secret

Document 3F: Memorandum from Secretary Rusk to President Kennedy, “Dimona Reactor in Israel,” 30 March 1961, with “History of United States Interest in Israel’s Atomic Energy Activities,” attached, Secret

Sources: A: RG 59, DF, 784A.5611/2-2061. B: RG 59, NESA/NEA, Records of the Director, 1960-1963, box 5, Tel Aviv – 1961; C: John F. Kennedy Library, Papers of John F. Kennedy. President’s Office Files, box 119, Israel Security, 1961-1963; D: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/3-1361; E and F: RG 59, DF, 611.84A45/3-3061.

It took many more weeks of back-and-forth American-Israeli exchanges after departing Ambassador Reid told President Kennedy that an American inspection could be arranged.  While visiting the United States for fund raising purposes, Ben-Gurion’s chief of staff (and future mayor of Jerusalem) Theodore “Teddy” Kollek met with Ogden Reid in New York and with Assistant Secretary Jones in Washington.  He told Reid that Ben-Gurion would accept a visit to Dimona once a new government had been formed in six to eight weeks.  Kollek told Jones that a visit “during March” was possible and personally agreed that it would allay suspicions if Dimona was under the control of the Weizmann Institute instead of the Defense Ministry.

The news about a possible March visit went to President Kennedy, but on 13 March Ambassador Harman had nothing to report, claiming that the Israeli government was still preoccupied with domestic politics. At month’s end, Kennedy intervened, apparently calling Jones directly for information about the status of the U.S. request.  Following up, Jones called in Ambassador Harman for an update, noting Kennedy’s keen interest in the matter and the importance of Israel removing any “shadow of doubt” about the purpose of Dimona.  Harman had no news but believed that nothing would be resolved until Passover ended on 10 April.  A chronology that Rusk attached to his memo to Kennedy indicated that the State Department had been asking about the visit at “approximately weekly intervals.”


Documents 4A-B: The Invitation

Document 4A: Memorandum of Conversation, “U.S. Visit to Dimona Reactor Site,” 10 April 1961, Secret

Document 4B: Memorandum by Assistant Secretary Jones to Secretary of State Rusk, “Your Appointment with Israeli Ambassador Harman,” 11 April 1961, Secret

Source: A: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/4-1061 (also published in Foreign Relations of the United States); B: DF, 033.84A11/4-1161

By early April, Ben-Gurion realized he no longer could postpone the American visit to Dimona. His  diary revealed that he was persuaded by White House special counsel Myer “Mike” Feldman, and Kennedy political ally Abraham Feinberg, who was involved in  fund raising for Dimona, that a meeting between him and Kennedy, in return for an American visit at Dimona, could save the nuclear project. On 10 April, Ambassador Harman finally told Jones and Philip Farley, the special assistant to the secretary of state for atomic energy and outer space matters, that Israel was formally inviting a U.S. scientist to visit the Dimona complex during the week of 15 May, but that the visit should be secret.  Jones and Farley agreed that the visit should not be publicized but worried that secrecy could be “counter-productive.”  As Jones explained to Rusk the next day, “It seems to us to defeat the objective of establishing that the reactor is a normal civilian atomic project if extreme measures of secrecy are taken in connection with the visit.” Jones also informed Rusk that the Atomic Energy Commission had selected two of its scientists to make the visit:  Ulysses Staebler, assistant director of reactor development and chief of the Civilian Power Reactors Branch, and Jesse Croach Jr., a heavy water reactor expert with Dupont, the AEC’s principal contractor for heavy water reactor work.

Jones wrote a briefing paper to help Rusk prepare to speak with Harman about the Dimona invitation, but the only record of their meeting that has surfaced publicly is the part of the conversation concerning Ben-Gurion’s request for a meeting with President Kennedy, possibly as early as the week of April 23. Rusk responded that he would pass on the request to the president but expressed his doubts as the president’s schedule was already full until the first week of June.


Documents 5A-F: Arrangements for the Visit

Document 5A: Memorandum of Conversation, “U.S. Visit to Dimona,” 17 April 1961, Secret

Document 5B: State Department Telegram 798 to U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, 28 April 1961, Secret

Document 5C: Memorandum of Conversation, “Visit to Israeli Reactor,” 1 May 1961, Secret

Document 5D: Memorandum by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Philips Talbot to Secretary of State, “Ben–Gurion Visit and Israel’s Reactor,” 1 May 1961, Secret

Document 5E: Memorandum by Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy, “Visit to Israeli Reactor,” 5 May 1961, Secret

Document 5F:  Robert C. Strong to Armin H. Meyer, “Suggested Points to be Made to U.S. Scientists, Dr. Staebler and Dr. Croach, at the Meeting at 2:30 p.m., May 15,” 15 May 1961 Secret

Sources: A: Source: RG 59, Records of the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, Records Relating to Atomic Energy Matters, 1948-1962 (hereinafter SAE), box 501, Z1.50 Country File Israel f. Reactor 1961, Part 2 of 2; B: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/4-2861; C: RG 59, SAE, box 501, Z1.50 Country File Israel f. Reactor 1961, Part 2 of 2; D: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/5-161; E: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/5-561; F: RG 59, Israel 1964-1966, box 8, Israel Atomic Energy Program 1961

Israel kept pushing the necessity for secrecy, but Washington insisted that a “quiet visit” was enough to keep Croach and Staebler out of the spotlight.  Moreover, the Kennedy administration wanted to be able to inform allies, such as the British, about the visit’s findings. While the Israelis wanted Washington to agree to push the visit back until after the Ben-Gurion-Kennedy meeting, the State Department, under instructions from the White House, refused to change the schedule: the administration wanted the visit to occur before Kennedy met with Ben-Gurion, so that the findings could be fully assessed. The State Department was determined to meet that goal, as was evident from the preparations for a meeting with the inspectors.


Document 6: A Private Debate

Memorandum of Conversation, “Israeli Atomic Energy Program,” 16 May 1961, Secret

Source: RG 59, SAE, box 501, Z1.50 Country File Israel f. Reactor 1961, Part 2 of 2 

The second-ranking diplomat at the Israeli Embassy, Mordechai Gazit, raised questions to Phillip Farley about the real purposes of the U.S. visit to Dimona.  Justifying the secrecy as protection for suppliers against the Arab boycott of Israel, Gazit argued that it would be years before the reactor could have any military potential  and, in any event, Israel needed whatever “means it could find” to defend itself.  Taking in Gazit’s implicit admission, Farley noted that Washington was concerned about the impact that an Israeli nuclear project aimed at weapons could have on the region and that an Israeli nuclear weapons program would be disastrous for world stability.   “I could not see how Israel could long expect to have nuclear weapons without its enemies also getting them in some way.  Once there, were nuclear weapons on both sides, I thought Israel would be in a desperate state.” Its territory was simply too small for it to survive even a small exchange.” Farley’s argument reflects the fundamental Israeli nuclear dilemma to this day.


Document 7: President Kennedy’s Concerns

Memorandum, by L.D. Battle, Executive Secretary, to McGeorge Bundy, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, “American Scientists’ Visit to Israel’s Dimona Reactor,” 18 May 1961, Secret

Source: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/5-1861

President Kennedy told the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, Walworth Barbour, that he was concerned about Israel’s insistence on a secret visit as well as the “absence of a ‘neutral’ scientist” in the visit to Dimona.  Addressing Kennedy’s concerns, the State Department took the position that it was better to put up with Ben-Gurion’s “sensitivities” about secrecy than “have no visit” at all. Nevertheless, the Department advised the White House that “complete and continued secrecy as to the results of the visit would [not] be possible.”  The results of the visit would be conveyed to appropriate U.S. agencies “in due course” and would be shared perhaps with some “friendly” governments. Moreover, the U.S. believed that once the Israelis became used to visits to Dimona it might be possible to persuade them to accept visits by scientists from other countries or a publicized inspection by the IAEA.


Documents 8A-B: The Visit to Dimona

Document 8A: Memorandum from Executive Secretary L. D. Battle to McGeorge Bundy, “U.S. Scientists Visit to Israel’s Nuclear Reactor,” 26 May 1961, Secret

Document 8B: Atomic Energy Commission AEC 928/1, “Visit to Israel by U.M. Staebler and J.W. Croach, Jr.,” 7 June 1961, Confidential

Sources: A: RG 59, SAE, box 501, Z1.50 Country File Israel f. Reactor 1961, Part 2 of 2; B: declassification release by DOE

During their visit to Israel (May 17-May 22), AEC scientists Croach and Staebler visited the Weizman Institute, the Technion, the USAEC-funded swimming pool experimental reactor at Soreq, and finally the Dimona complex then under construction. It was in that first visit that Israel provided its “cover” story for the Dimona project, a narrative of “plausible deniability” that would be observed during all future visits.[6] When Croach and Staebler met with State Department officials on their return, they said that they were “satisfied” that the reactor was “of the scope and peaceful character” claimed by Israeli officials.   That could only be a tentative judgment because Dimona was still an unfinished project. Although Croach and Staebler found no evidence that the Israelis had nuclear weapons production in mind, they acknowledged that “the reactor eventually will produce small quantities of plutonium suitable for weapons.”  Their official report to the AEC was far more circumspect, not mentioning the weapons potential or a capability to produce plutonium.  Nevertheless, as noted earlier, they mentioned the Israeli statement about the possibility that the reactor’s power could be doubled in the future, which would increase the potential to produce plutonium.


Documents 9A-D: Kennedy’s Meeting with Ben–Gurion

Document 9A: Briefing Book, “Israel Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s Visit to the United States,” n.d. [circa May 29, 1961], Secret, excerpts 

Document 9B: Memorandum of Conversation, “President Kennedy, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, Ambassador Avraham Harman of Israel, Myer Feldman of the White House Staff, and Philips Talbot, Assistant Secretary, Near East  and South Asian Affairs, at the Waldorf Astoria, New York, 4:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.,” 30 May 1961, Secret, Draft

Document 9C: Ambassador Harman’s  Record of the Meeting, with attachment on the “Atomic Reactor” (and transcript), sent with cover letter by  Mordechai Gazit to Israeli Foreign Ministry, 7 June 1961

Document 9D: Memorandum by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs Armin H. Meyer of White House discussion on Ben-Gurion/Kennedy Meeting, n.d. [circa 9 June 1961], Secret

Sources: A: RG 59, SAE, box 501, Z1.50 Country File Israel f. Reactor 1961, Part 2 of 2; B: RG 59, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Office of Near Eastern Affairs, Records of the Director, 1960-1963, box 5, Tel Aviv – 1961; C: Israeli State Archives, file 130.02/3294/7; D: RG 59, Israel 1964-1966, box 8, Israel Atomic Energy Program 1961

On his way to the Vienna summit with Nikita Khrushchev, Kennedy stopped in Manhattan to meet with Ben-Gurion.[7]   For both leaders, the Dimona question was a top priority; just as Kennedy wanted Israel to “remove any doubts” that other countries had about its purposes, so Ben-Gurion wanted to resolve this outstanding problem and to let the project be finished quietly.  Ben-Gurion stood by his earlier statements that the “main” purpose of the reactor was peaceful – namely, internal economic development.  Given Kennedy’s interest in regional stability and aversion to nuclear proliferation, he wanted to be able to let Israel’s Arab neighbors know about the positive results of the recent Dimona visit by American scientists.

The official U.S. memorandum of conversation is published in the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States (the file copy at the National Archives is classified even though the FRUS volume has been published), and an Israeli English-language version is also available.   As noted earlier, a draft of the official memcon has surfaced which has some interesting differences with the final versions: for example, Ben-Gurion’s tacit acknowledgement of a nuclear weapons potential and a statement suggesting freedom of action about eventual reprocessing.  The Israeli minutes of the conversation manifest Ben-Gurion’s ambiguities and evasiveness even more strongly, for example, his assertion that “for the time being, the only purposes of [the Dimona reactor] are for peace.”  Moreover, he said, “we will see what happens in the Middle East.”


Documents 10A-C: Sharing the Findings

Document 10A: State Department telegram 5701 to U.S. Embassy United Kingdom, 31 May 1961, Secret

Document 10B: Memorandum of Conversation, “The Dimona Reactor,” 16 June 1961, Secret

Document 10C: State Department Circular Telegram 2047 to U.S. Embassy Jordan [et al.], 17 June 1961, Confidential

Sources: A: RG 59, DF, 033.84A41/5-3061, B: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/6-1661; C: Record Group 84, Records of Foreign Service Posts, U.S. Embassy Vienna, U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, International Atomic Energy Agency, Classified Records, 1955-1963, box 1, Atomic Energy Developments- Israel, 1959-1961

When Kennedy said that he would like to share the findings of the Dimona visit with other governments, Ben-Gurion did not object to that or the possibility of visits by “neutral” scientists.  The British had already asked for information on the Kennedy-Ben-Gurion meeting and one day later, their embassy was given the gist of the Dimona visit report as well as a brief description of the meeting.   The State Department made plans to brief Arab governments, but Deputy Assistant Secretary Armin Meyer asked Ambassador Harman if his government would be willing to work with U.S. representatives at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting to make an announcement of the visit to Dimona and also to undertake quiet discussions at the meeting about a possible neutral visit to Dimona. Harman, however, objected to an IAEA role in the Dimona matter until the rest of the world had accepted the idea of inspections and he wanted Washington to coordinate any visit by neutral scientists.

The State Department had already sent a message to Egyptian Foreign Minister Fawzi about the visit and soon sent a circular telegram to embassies in the region, but also to Oslo (Norway was interested because of its heavy water sales to Israel).  Through those messages the “highest levels” of those governments were to be informed that the U.S. scientists had “found no evidence” of Israeli preparations for producing nuclear weapons.


Documents 11A-B: Lingering Suspicions

Document 11A: National Intelligence Estimate No. 35-61, “The Outlook for Israel,” 5 October 1961, Secret

Document 11B: Letter, Howard Furnas, Office of Special Assistant to Secretary of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, to Dwight Ink, Atomic Energy Commission, 15 November 1961, Secret

Source: A: CIA declassification release; B: RG 59, SAE, box 501, Z1.50 Country File Israel f. Reactor 1961, Part 2 of 2

The State Department’s assurances notwithstanding, within U.S. intelligence circles doubts lingered. In a National Intelligence Estimate on Israel, declassified in 2015 at the request of the National Security Archive, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that:

Israel may have decided to undertake a nuclear weapons program. At a minimum, we believe it has decided to develop its nuclear facilities in such a way as to put it into a position to develop nuclear weapons promptly should it decide to do.

 Moreover, if the Israeli had made such a decision, by 1965-1966, the Dimona reactor would produce enough plutonium to build one or two nuclear weapons a year, although to do that they would need larger processing capabilities than the pilot plant then in the works. Other obstacles were the lack of testing facilities and the problem that a test would use up scarce fissile material supplies. Another obstacle, cited by State Department atomic energy adviser Philip Farley in a letter to an AEC official, was a lack of weapons design information.  In light of that concern, Farley advised the AEC to be “alert” to the possibility that Israeli scientists might try to acquire nuclear weapons design information “through clandestine means in the United States.”  Thus, “discreet surveillance” was necessary of Dr. Israel Dostrovsky, an eminent Israeli chemist, who had recently been given a teaching fellowship at Brookhaven National Laboratory.  An expert on isotopes and isotope separation, Dostrovsky was a key figure in Israel’s nuclear-scientific establishment, later becoming the director general of the Atomic Energy Commission (1966-1970).  That Dotrovsky had close ties to the Israeli defense establishment may have influenced the notion that he should be a target for surveillance.[8]


Documents 12A-B: Exploring Visits by a “Neutral” Scientist

Document 12A: Robert C. Strong to Phillips Talbot, “Your Appointment with Israel Ambassador Harman, 4:45 p.m., Tuesday, November 14,” 14 November 1961, Confidential

Document 12B:  Memorandum of Conversation, “Broadened Access to Israel’s Nuclear Reactor,” 14 November 1961, Secret

Sources: A: RG 59, SAE, box 501, Z1.50 Country File Israel f. Reactor 1961, Part 2 of 2; B: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/11-1461

The Kennedy administration had to balance its apprehensions over Dimona with other concerns, such as the broader implications of the status of Palestinian refugees.  With respect to Dimona, the State Department kept in mind President Kennedy’s interest in visits by neutral scientists and Ben-Gurion’s approval of such.  Moreover, State Department officials believed that a neutral visit could “obviate any overtones of inspections, which is [sic] unacceptable to Israel,” and also make it possible for Washington to avoid being the sole “guarantor of Israel’s nuclear intentions” on the basis of the May 1961 visit by AEC scientists.  During a meeting with Ambassador Harman, Phillips Talbot brought up again the idea of neutral visits and mentioned that Farley had some suggestions to make.  Harman said that he would be happy to meet with Farley but that Israel would “prefer a visit by Scandinavian or Swiss scientists.”


Document 13: Memorandum by Robert Amory, Deputy Director of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, to Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs [McGeorge Bundy], 18 January 1962, Secret, excised copy

Source: CIA mandatory declassification review release, under appeal; original file copy at Johnson or Kennedy libraries

That the Central Intelligence Agency has kept secret important findings about the Dimona project is evident from this heavily excised report to McGeorge Bundy, which has been under appeal since 2010.  Whatever the findings were, they were enough to induce Bundy to ask his aide, Robert Komer, to “prod” the State Department to arrange “another periodic check on this by scientists.”  That, however, would take time.

Among other records, the CIA has also withheld in its entirety a scientific intelligence report, from early 1962, on the Israeli nuclear program; it is currently under appeal with the Interagency Security Classification Appeals panel.


 Documents 14A-D: Whether the IAEA Could Be Brought In

Document 14A: Nicolas G. Thacher to James P. Grant, “Your Appointment with Dennis Greenhill and Dennis Speares of the British Embassy,” 12 February 1962, Secret 

Document 14B: Memorandum of Conversation, “Israel’s Atomic Energy Program,” 14 February 1962, Secret

Document 14C: William C. Hamilton to Robert C. Strong, “Reply to U.K. Paper on Safeguards,” 9 April 1962, with British memorandum, “Israel’s Nuclear Reactor,” dated 7 February 1962, attached, Secret

Document 14D: Memorandum of Conversation, “Israel’s Atomic Energy Program,” 9 April 1962, with U.S. memorandum attached, Secret

Sources: A: RG 59. Israel, 1964-1966, box 8, Dimona Reactor, 1962-1967; B: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/2-1462; C: Israel, 1964-1966, Box 8, Dimona Reactor, 1962-1967; D: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/2-1462

Worried about the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, especially in light of Egyptian talks with West Germany about the acquisition of a reactor, the British wanted to find ways to meet Arab concerns about Dimona by bringing the site under scrutiny of the emerging IAEA safeguards/inspection system.  The British recognized that achieving this would be very difficult – the Israelis objected to IAEA inspection because they professed to be worried about the inclusion of Soviet bloc officials on the inspection teams; moreover, the French, who had supplied the reactor and fuel elements, were also unlikely to accept international inspection of the irradiated fuel.  Nevertheless, because Dimona was not yet an operating reactor (and the IAEA Safeguards Division was still being created), the British suggested preliminary, ad hoc steps, such as inspection by a “neutral” (in terms of the Arab-Israeli dispute) observer such as Canada.   They believed that because of Israel’s reluctance, U.S. “pressure” would be required.

The State Department concurred with the objective of the British proposal: “we fully agree on the desirability of bringing Near East nuclear development under IAEA control.”  Nevertheless, believing that Israeli and French objections were not likely to yield to “pressure,” State Department officials also favored pursuing such steps as visits by “neutral” scientists.. They believed, however, that Canada was not neutral enough because it was so closely associated with the IAEA; nor was Ottawa likely to get any more information than Washington could.  Washington had been holding talks with the Swedes, but if they did not pan out, the U.S. could arrange a second visit by its scientists.


Documents 15A-E: Trying to Arrange a Second Visit

Document 15A: Robert C. Strong to Phillips Talbot, “Another Visit to Israel’s Dimona Reactor,” 22 June 1962, Secret

Document 15B:  Memorandum of Conversation, “A Second Visit by U.S. Scientists to Israel’s Dimona Reactor,” 22 June 1962, Secret

Document 15C: State Department telegram 233 to U.S. Embassy Egypt, 11 July 1962, Secret

Document 15D: Memorandum of Conversation, “Proposed Visit of U.S. Scientists to the Dimona Reactor,” 14 September 1962, Secret

Document 15E: William Brubeck, Executive Secretary, to McGeorge Bundy, “Second Visit by U.S. Scientists to the Dimona Reactor,” 18 September 1962, Secret

Sources: A: RG 59, DF, 611.84A45/6-2262; B: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/6-2262; C: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/7-1162. D: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/9-162; E: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/9-1462

No documents about U.S. efforts to find a “neutral” visitor have surfaced so far, but apparently the Swedes expressed only “faint interest” in playing a role, which led Washington to decide to “undertake the responsibility once more.” As it had been over a year since the first visit, U.S. diplomats believed that if the Israelis agreed to another one it would provide an opportunity for Washington to preserve a “favorable atmosphere” in the region by making assurances about the reactor to Cairo and other Arab capitals (as long as the assurances were warranted).   On 22 June, Talbot renewed the question with Ambassador Harman but the lack of response led Talbot to bring up the matter on 14 September. By then two AEC scientists were scheduled to visit the U.S.-financed reactor at Soreq in a matter of days and it made sense for them to include a visit to Dimona.  Harman, however, said that no decision could be made until later in the month when Ben-Gurion was back from a European trip.


Documents 16A-B: The Second Visit

Document 16A: A: State Department telegram 451 to U.S. Embassy Egypt, 22 October 1962, Secret

Document 16B: Memorandum of Conversation, “Second U.S. Visit to Dimona Reactor,” 23 October 1962, Secret

Document 16C: Rodger P. Davies to Phillips Talbot, “Second Inspection of Israel’s Dimona Reactor,” 27 December 1962, Secret

A: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/10-2262; B: RG 59, DF, 884A.1901/10-2362; C: U.S. Department of State, Microfiche Supplement, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volumes XVII, XVIII, XX, XXI (Microfiche Number 10, Document Number 150)

Never making a formal reply to the U.S. request, the Israelis used the ploy of an improvised visit to evade the substance of a real visit.  As noted in the introduction, decades later an Israeli source confirmed to Avner Cohen that this was indeed a trick. While the two AEC scientists, Thomas Haycock and Ulysses Staebler, did not see the complete installation, they believed that they had enough time to determine that Dimona was a research reactor, not a production reactor, which, from their point of view, made the visit “satisfactory.”  U.S. intelligence did not agree because the visit left unanswered questions, such as “whether in fact the reactor might give Israel a nuclear weapons capability.”

A few weeks after the visit, just as the Cuban Missile Crisis was unfolding, the State Department began to inform selected governments about its results.  U.S. diplomats told Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, during a briefing on the Cuban situation, that the visit confirmed Israeli statements about the reactor.  The British and Canadians were also told about the “recent brief visit” to Dimona, without explaining what had made it so short.  By the end of October, the Department sent a fuller statement  to embassies in the Middle East, as well as London, Paris, Ottawa, and Oslo.



[1]. Richard Reeves, President Kennedy: Profile in Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), pp. 29-33.

[2]. Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb (New York, Columbia University Press, 1998), 108-11; Warren Bass, Support Any friend, 2003, 200-02.

[3]. In conversations Avner Cohen had with the late John Hadden, the CIA station chief in Israel during 1964-68, he made it apparent that his office was fully clear about “what was Dimona doing,” including reprocessing, and was not allowed to maintain any contact with the visiting AEC scientists. See also Israel and the Bomb 187-90.

[4]. Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, 112.

[5]. Yuval Ne’eman told Avner Cohen about his “trick” on the visit of 1962 in many of the conversations during the 1990s and 2000s. When Cohen published Israel and the Bomb in 1998 he cited only a condensed version of Ne’eman tale—Ne’eman still considered it sensitive in the 1990s. Now, almost ten years after his passing (2006), Cohen is comfortable citing his tale in more detail.
According to Ne’eman in an interview conducted in March 1994, as the host of the two AEC scientists who had arrived to inspect the Soreq reactor (under the terms of the “Atoms for Peace” program) he “arranged” to take them for a tour of the Dead Sea. This was a well-planned pretext to bring them to Dimona on Israeli terms. So, on their way back, by late afternoon, as they were passing near the Dimona reactor, Ne’eman “spontaneously” suggested to arrange a quick visit at Dimona to say “hello” to the director whom inspector Staebler had known from the visit a year earlier, in May 1961. Ne’eman told them this was a great opportunity since their government was pressing for such a visit. The purpose was, of course, to have a much more informal and abbreviated visit rather than the formal one the US government wanted.  In doing so, Israel would ease American pressure and convince the visitors that Dimona was a research reactor, not a production reactor.  When the United States continued to press for a visit, Ne’eman told them, “you just did it.”

[6]. For more information on the visit, see Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, 105-108.

[7]. For the Kennedy-Ben-Gurion meeting, see ibid, 108-109.

[8]. Ibid , 21.


The NSA Archive – Obama Declassification Holds Promise of Uncovering New Evidence on Argentina’s Dirty War

Reinforcing the Obama administration’s planned “comprehensive effort to declassify” historical records on Argentina’s dirty war, the National Security Archive today posted examples of the kinds of materials in U.S. government files that would most likely enhance public understanding of that troubled period in Latin American history.  The posted documents, relating not just to regional developments but to official U.S. policy and operations, were declassified either through similar government decrees — thus setting a useful precedent for current administration officials — or the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

In August 2002, the State Department released 4,700 documents on Argentina dating from 1975 to 1984. Declassified under a directive from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during the Clinton administration, the documents were processed and delivered to the public during the administration of George W. Bush. The State Department acted in response to numerous requests in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s from human rights groups as well as from Argentine judges investigating abuses under military rule.

That release produced valuable information but was limited mostly to reporting from the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires on Argentina events. The U.S. Justice Department tried to elicit similar responses from other agencies to the Argentine judges’ requests under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), but only State chose to comply by undertaking a major declassification. The FBI, CIA and Defense Department declined to participate in the process,

Yet, in the case of other countries like Chile, Guatemala and El Salvador, declassified U.S. intelligence, defense and FBI records have been key to supplying critical information about local command structures, clandestine operations, and human rights violations. In 1999, for example, intense international pressure following the arrest of Augusto Pinochet led the Clinton White House to release over 20,000 pages of documentation on “human rights abuses, terrorism, and other acts of political violence in Chile.”  Unlike the later Argentina case, that project involved several agencies: the Department of State, the CIA, the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the U.S. National Archives.

These materials have had a powerful impact not only on the public’s awareness of events but on the personal lives of numerous victims and relatives of victims.  For example, one of the records from the 1999 Chile Declassification posted today is a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) information report providing details about an operation carried out by Argentine intelligence and Uruguayan military intelligence in September 1976 against the Uruguayan insurgent organization, OPR-33 in Buenos Aires.

Jorge, Maria Emilia, and their daughter Mariana Zaffaroni, were kidnapped by Argentine and Uruguayan intelligence agencies in 1976.
(Source: Sin Olvido)

As a result of this raid, dozens of Uruguayans living in Buenos Aires were disappeared. Among them were Jorge Zaffaroni and Maria Emilia Islas de Zaffaroni, and their 18 month old daughter Mariana Zaffaroni Islas. Mariana was illegally appropriated and raised by one of the Argentine SIDE officers. She was DNA tested and her identity “recovered” by the Argentine Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in 1992, when she was 17 years old.

The documents posted here today attest to the fact that these kinds of materials have the same potential to help Argentines in their pursuit of truth, human rights and justice. Still-classified documents in U.S. files undoubtedly describe similar operations against Argentine insurgents, dissidents and opposition, and would therefore significantly advance public comprehension of another historically significant episode of military repression in the region.

Furthermore, as important as the State Department’s 2002 Argentina declassification was, those records excluded an essential category of materials: documentation on U.S. policy toward Argentina. Only through dedicated research efforts over many years by individuals, news media and civil society organizations has the public managed to gain critical insights into previously classified aspects of the Washington decision-making process.

The most prominent case is that of then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.  Shortly after the 1976 coup, according to declassified State Department minutes of Kissinger’s staff meetings located at the National Archives and included here, his own Latin America specialists warned him “to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina.” Kissinger, however, made clear that he wanted to show unstinting support for the new military junta (see document below).  This approach, which effectively granted protective cover for major regime human rights violations, lasted until the end of Kissinger’s tenure in January 1977.

In addition to the policy process, another area of significant public interest would be what U.S. intelligence and military personnel were aware of, and what kinds of operations they conducted, during the coup and subsequent counterinsurgency campaign that started in 1976.  According to Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Pat Derian in early 1977: “The U.S. military and our intelligence agencies… [are] sending a dangerous and double message. If this continues, it will subvert our [President Carter’s] entire human rights policy.” (See document below)

It was on the basis of documented historical examples like those posted here today that The New York Times, in an editorial published on March 17, 2016, concluded that during his visit to Argentina, President Obama “should make a pledge that Washington will more fully reveal its role in a dark chapter of Argentine history.”




Document 1
FBI Cable, [Capture of Chilean MIR Member Jorge Isaac Fuentes Alarcon, AKA Ariel Nodarse Ledesma], Secret
Source: Martin Andersen FOIA request
The Legal Attache in Buenos Aires Argentina, Robert Scherrer, sent this cable to the Director of the FBI reporting on the capture in Asuncion of Chilean Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR) member Jorge Isaac Fuentes Alarcon, who was using a false Costa Rican passport under the name of Ariel Nodarse Ledesma. Fuentes Alarcon was carrying a phone book with contacts in Dallas, New York and San Juan, Puerto Rico. This explains why Scherrer at the end of the cable registers a request to instruct those offices to conduct “appropriate investigations.”
The National Security Archive Southern Cone Documentation Project has been able to cross-check this document with Paraguay Archivo del Terror records and learn the names of those individuals and the interactions of the Chilean, Paraguayan, Argentine and American intelligence agencies involved. Alarcon was traveling and got captured along with Argentine Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo member Amilcar Santucho. The cable is key to corroborating the information in Paraguayan documents and determining responsibility for the disappearance of Fuentes Alarcon in 1975.
This document was not part of the Department of State 2002 declassification on Argentina. It was obtained through a FOIA request by Journalist and author Martin Andersen who donated it to the National Security Archive.
Document 2
Transcript of Proceedings, “The Secretary’s Staff Meeting – Friday, 3/26/76,” Secret, [pages 19-23 relate to Argentina]
Source: National Archives and Records Administration
Two days after the military coup in Argentina, Secretary of State Kissinger convenes his weekly staff meeting. In this declassified, formerly secret transcript of the first conversation on Argentina, Assistant Secretary for Latin America William Rogers informs Kissinger that for the military government to succeed the generals will make “a considerable effort to involve the United States — particularly in the financial field.” Kissinger responds “Yes, but that is in our interest.”
Rogers advises that “we ought not at this moment rush out and embrace this new regime” because he expects significant repression to follow the coup. “I think also we’ve got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long. I think they’re going to have to come down very hard not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents of trade unions and their parties.” But Kissinger makes his preferences clear: “Whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement … because I do want to encourage them. I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States.”
On March 27, 1976, the IMF released $127 million in credit for the military junta, and soon after the Videla government came to power the Ford administration quietly approved $49 million in security assistance. This marked the beginning of a series of policy decisions that extended essentially unrestricted support to the Argentine generals. This document was not part of the Department of State 2002 declassification on Argentina. It was obtained by Archive Senior Analyst Peter Kornbluh at the U.S. National Archives.
Document 3
Secret Staff Notes, “Latin American Trends,” SNLA 76-050
Source: John Dinges FOIA request
This CIA “Staff Notes” on Latin America reports that “Argentine security forces last month captured Patricio Biedma and Mario Espinosa, Chileans …” Biedma was the delegate to the Junta Coodinadora Revolucionaria (JCR) for the Chilean Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). Espinosa was both a member of MIR and of the Argentine Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP) Both disappeared in Buenos Aires in 1976 and were believed to be held at the Argentine State Secretariat for Information (SIDE) clandestine detention center, Automotores Orletti. The “Staff Notes” was introduced as evidence by Carlos Osorio, Director of the National Security Archive’s Southern Cone Documentation Project, in the Orletti trial in Buenos Aires in November 2011. The document was not part of the Department of State 2002 declassification on Argentina. It was obtained through a FOIA request by National Security Archive Advisory Committee member, journalist, professor and author John Dinges.
Document 4
Special Operations Forces [Secret/NoForn Intelligence Information Report]
Source: DOD Chile Declassification Project Tranche I (1973-1978)
This Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Intelligence Information Report (IIR) provides information on a joint counterinsurgency operation by Southern Cone countries in what was known as Operation Condor. It reads, Operation Condor is the code name given for intelligence collection on leftists, communists and Marxists in the Southern Cone Area.” The member-states of Condor up to that date were Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
“During the period 24-27 September 1976,” according to the document, “members of the Argentine State Secretariat for Information (SIDE), operating with officers of the Uruguayan Military Intelligence Service, carried out operations against the Uruguayan terrorist organization, the OPR-33 in Buenos Aires. As a result of this joint operation, SIDE officials claimed that the entire OPR-33 infrastructure in Argentina has been eliminated …
” The introduction to the IIR states: “Information was provided by US Embassy Legal Attaché who has excellent contacts within the State Secretariat for Information and Federal Police Force.” The document has been presented at trials in Argentina and constitutes evidence of the responsibility of government agencies in the disappearance of Uruguayans Jorge Zaffaroni, Maria Emilia Islas de Zaffaroni, and their daughter Mariana on September 27, 1976. The IIR was part of the Department of Defense declassification of records on Chile in 1999.
Document 5
[Notes from U.S. State Department Human Rights Coordinator Patricia Derian]
Source: Martin Andersen Donation
Returning from a four-day visit to Argentina where her mission was to impress on Argentine officials the seriousness of the Carter administration’s human rights policy, recently appointed Coordinator for Human Rights Patricia Derian realizes there is work to be done at home, too. Her notes first describe what she has discovered about the junta’s repressive measures.
The [Argentine] government method is to pick people up and take them to military installations. There the detainees are tortured with water, electricity and psychological disintegration methods. Those thought to be salvageable are sent to regular jails and prisons where the psychological process is continued on a more subtle level. Those found to be incorrigible are murdered and dumped on garbage heaps or street corners, but more often are given arms with live ammunition, grenades, bombs and put into automobiles and sent out of the compound to be killed on the road in what is then reported publicly to be a shootout or response to an attack on some military installation …
Derian goes on to explain how U.S military and intelligence agencies may be having a harmful effect on the situation.
Through these agencies the United States government is sending a dangerous and double message. If this continues, it will subvert our entire human rights policy.
It is widely believed by our military and intelligence services that the human rights policy emanates only from the Department of State, is a political device and one with a short life due to its wide impracticality, the naiveté and ignorance of individuals in the Administration and to the irresponsible headline grabbing of members of Congress.
This document was obtained by journalist and author Martin Andersen from Assistant Secretary Derian. He donated a copy to the National Security Archive.

Unveiled – DHS Militia Extremist Movement Reference Guide

Reference Aid Militia Extremist Movement

Page Count: 8 pages
Date: August 1, 2011
Restriction: Law Enforcement Sensitive
Originating Organization: Department of Homeland Security, Office of Intelligence and Analysis
File Type: pdf
File Size: 238,855 bytes
File Hash (SHA-256): 0ED77BA06FE8FDDD4A05DBF4C0C8E679D52A0E03D9C973EB352BB796F947DB79

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(U) Homeland Security Reference Aids, prepared by I&A, provide baseline information on a range of homeland security issues. This product is one in a series of reference aids on violent domestic and foreign extremist groups that assess the nature and scope of the threat they pose to the Homeland. This product is intended to support federal, state, local, and tribal agencies and authorities with responsibilities relating to homeland security to assist in the deterrence, prevention, preemption of, or response to terrorist attacks against the United States. To maintain timely and accurate intelligence, DHS encourages state and local law enforcement to respond with any updated information they may have concerning the status, composition, or activities of violent extremist groups in their jurisdictions.

(U) Overview

(U//FOUO) The violent militia extremist movement in the United States is comprised of a collection of distinct, but organized, paramilitary groups that have engaged in violent criminal activities and terrorism-related plots to advance their anti-government beliefs. Individual violent militia extremists have been convicted of a range of firearms and explosives violations and criminal conspiracy charges. The violent militia extremist movement is a subset of the larger militia movement; many groups and individuals involved in the overall militia movement do not commit criminal or violent acts.

(U//LES) The violent militia extremist movement peaked in membership in 1996 and then steadily declined due to negative publicity after it was erroneously linked to the Oklahoma City bombing and as a result of increased law enforcement scrutiny. After several years of significant decline in membership and violent criminal activity, the violent militia extremist movement has rebounded in the past few years as new groups have formed and new recruits have joined its ranks.

(U) Background

(U//FOUO) The militia movement in the United States formed circa 1994 in response to the perceived unwarranted and overzealous aggression of federal authorities at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 and Waco, Texas in 1993. The movement’s violent fringe element emerged shortly afterward. During the mid-to-late 1990s, several violent militia extremists were arrested and ultimately convicted of multiple plots to bomb federal buildings, military bases, highways, bridges, and other infrastructure in the United States. More recently, several violent militia extremists have been arrested for possessing illegal firearms and explosives and plotting to kill law  enforcement officers.

(U//FOUO) Factions within the larger militia movement and its violent fringe element often form, disband, or change names in short periods of time and are rife with internal turmoil stemming primarily from disagreements among leaders over missions, focus, and training. Militia members maintain the ability, however, to organize meetings and train within a particular militia group in their own state and to network with other militia groups in neighboring states. Despite the turmoil, some violent militia extremist groups and individuals have demonstrated the ability to instigate and support violence that targets government officials, institutions, and facilities in the United States.

(U) Ideology and Objectives

(U//FOUO) Violent militia extremists oppose most federal and state laws, regulations, and authority. Violent militia extremists have also been known to adopt anti-government belief systems found in the violent sovereign citizen and white supremacist extremist movements and form violent militia extremist groups based on this ideology.

(U//FOUO) Violent militia extremists often combine their antigovernment beliefs with various conspiracy theories. Some tout the existence of a despotic “New World Order” (see text box) or cite apocalyptic or “end times” beliefs to support their outlook. Individuals within both the nonviolent elements of the militia movement and the more violent extremist minority profess that militias are the last line of defense in protecting US constitutional freedoms against a federal government that they see as increasingly eroding citizens’ personal rights, property rights, and the right to own firearms.

(U//FOUO) New World Order

(U//FOUO) This conspiracy is described by militia members as a plot by a secret cabal of powerful individuals whose alleged goal is to create a one-world socialist government under the auspices of the United Nations. The US Government is seen as collaborating with the New World Order to strip Americans slowly of their freedoms in the takeover, which allegedly would involve establishing large numbers of detention camps for American dissidents.

(U) Symbols

(U//FOUO) Violent militia extremists have co-opted several common symbols that represent patriotism and a willingness to defend oneself against a tyrannical government. The most popular symbols include a Minuteman holding a rifle with the words “honor,” “defend,” and “liberty,” and the Gadsden Flag with the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” The Minuteman logo is a reference to the American colonial militia that battled British troops during the American Revolutionary War and symbolizes patriotism and militia successes during the war. The Gadsden Flag emerged as a symbol of the colonies in their fight against the British military during the American Revolutionary War. Both the Minuteman symbol and Gadsden Flag image are used widely outside the violent militia extremist movement, and the presence of these symbols alone does not necessarily indicate an association with a violent extremist militia.

Revealed – Brazil Truth Commission Releases Report

Truth commissioners giving the report to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff this morning. Photo Credit: National Truth Commission website.

Almost thirty years after the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship, the Comissao Nacional da Verdade [National Truth Commission] today released its long awaited report on human rights violations by the security forces between 1964 and 1985. The report, which took two-and-a-half years to complete and totals over 1000 pages, represents the first formal attempt by Brazil as a nation to record its repressive past and provide a detailed accounting of the system of repression, the victims of human rights violations, as well as the identities of those who committed those crimes.

In contrast to the U.S. Senate report on torture released yesterday in Washington which redacted even the pseudonyms of CIA personnel who engaged in torture, the Brazilian report identified over 375 perpetrators of atrocities by name.

The report contains detailed chapters on the structure and methods of the repression during the military era, including targeted violence against women and children. The commission identified over 400 individuals killed by the military, many of them “disappeared” as the military sought to hide its abuses. During its investigation, the Commission located and identified the remains of 33 of the disappeared; some 200 other victims remain missing.

The report also sheds significant light on Brazil’s role in the cross-border regional repression known as Operation Condor. In a chapter titled “International Connections: From Repressive Alliances in the Southern Cone to Operation Condor,” the Commission report details Brazil’s military ties to the coup in Chile, and support for the Pinochet regime, as well as identifies Argentine citizens captured and killed in Brazil as part of a Condor collaboration between the Southern Cone military regimes.

This report opens a Pandora’s box of historical and legal accountability for Brazilians. For now it provides a verdict of history, but eventually the evidence compiled by the commission’s investigation could lead to a judicial accounting. “The Truth Commission’s final report is a major step for human rights in Brazil,” according to Brown University scholar, James Green,  “and the pursuit of justice for the victims of the state’s terror.”

In its recommendations, the Commission took the bold step of calling for a repeal of Brazil’s 1979 amnesty law which has, to date, shielded military officers from human rights prosecutions.

Those prosecutions could be aided by evidence from declassified U.S. documentation. In support of the Commission’s work, the Obama administration agreed to a special declassification project on Brazil, identifying, centralizing and reviewing hundreds of still secret CIA, Defense and State Department records from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Last June, Vice President Biden personally delivered 42 documents into President Dilma Rousseff’s hands; more recently the U.S. Embassy passed another tranche of over 100 records, many of them from the CIA, to the Brazilian government. As part of a commitment Biden made to open U.S. archives, the administration is continuing to review hundreds of additional records to declassify and provide to the Brazilian government next year.

The Commissioners presented their report to President Rousseff on International Human Rights Day. Rousseff, herself a victim of torture by electric shock during the military dictatorship, was “moved to tears” as she received the report and received a standing ovation from the crowd that had gathered for the ceremony, according to the Washington Post. In her speech accepting the report, the President stated that “We hope this report prevents ghosts from a painful and sorrowful past from seeking refuge in the shadows of silence and omission.”


Read the three-volume Report

Brazil Truth Commission Report Website

Volume I: Part I – III

Volume I: Part IV-V

Volume II

Volume III: Introduction


Read Key Documents Provided by the United States

Document l: Department of State, “Widespread Arrests and Psychophysical Interrogation of Suspected Subversives,” Confidential, April 18, 1973

This intelligence cable, sent by the U.S. Consul General in Rio de Janeiro, provides detailed reporting on a “sophisticated and elaborate psychophysical” method of torture being employed by the Brazilian military against suspected militants. In response to growing international condemnation of human rights violations, the cable suggests, the Brazilian torturers have adopted more modern interrogation methods that leave less visible evidence of abuses. In cases where detainees are “eliminated,” the military is also deceiving the press by claiming they were killed in a “shoot-out” while trying to escape.

The cable was declassified on June 5, 2014, only eleven days before Biden’s trip to Brazil in order for him to provide it to President Rousseff as a diplomatic gesture. But key sections of the document are redacted, presumably at the request of the CIA, that identify the military units responsible for these atrocities — information that would be of critical use to the Brazilian Truth Commission as it attempts to hold the military accountable for the atrocities of the past.


Document 2: Department of State, “Political Arrests and Torture in São Paulo,” Confidential, May 8, 1973

The Consul General in Sao Paulo, Frederic Chapin, reports on a source described as “a professional informer and interrogator working for the military intelligence center in Osasco,” an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo. The source has provided graphic details on methods of abuse, including a Brazilian form of “waterboarding” that involved putting prisoners in vats of water that forced them to stand on their tiptoes for prolonged periods of time to be able to breath. The informant also provides a description of methods of executing prisoners so that their bodies could not be identified. Prisoners would be machine gunned from head to toe — a method referred to as “sewing” the suspect up.

This document was declassified in 2005, and initially provided to the Truth Commission by National Security Archive Brazil project director Peter Kornbluh. It played a key role in enabling researchers to identify the April 18, 1973, cable on psychophysical abuses, which is cited as a reference telegram. A memorandum of conversation with the informant/torturer, however, is also cited in this document and would be of exceptional value to the Truth Commission in obtaining additional information about the torture center in Osasco.


Document 3: Department of State, “Allegation of Torture in Brazil,” Secret, July 1, 1972

U.S. Ambassador William Rountree advises the State Department that openly protesting human rights “excesses” by the Brazilian military government will be counterproductive and “damage our general relations.” Ambassador Rountree encourages the State Department to oppose a piece of human rights legislation known as the “Tunney Amendment” which would link U.S. aid to Brazil to a U.S. government certification that the Brazilian regime was not engaged in human rights violations.


Document 4: Department of State, “The Esquadrão da Morte (Death Squad),” Limited Official Use, June 8, 1971

Ambassador Rountree submits an 11-page report on death squad activity in Brazil. He advises that there has been an “upsurge” of victims of unofficial operations in recent months, believed to be the work of off-duty policemen. In Sao Paulo, the death squads are reportedly led by Sergio Fleury, who has now been charged in at least one murder. Some of the victims are common prisoners, others political figures and militant opponents of the regime. Much of the information in the report is gleaned from newspaper articles; the report appears to contain almost no intelligence information.


Document 5: Department of State, “Conditions in DEOPS Prison as told by Detained American Citizen,” Confidential, October 7, 1970

This memorandum of conversation contains a report by a U.S. businessman, Robert Horth, who was detained by the military police in an apparent case of mistaken identity. Horth relates hearing from fellow Brazilian prisoners about torture at the prison where he is held in downtown Sao Paulo. The torture techniques include the Parrot Perch — known in Portuguese as “pau de arara” — and electrical shock to all parts of the body, as well as the “telephone technique” where an interrogator stands behind the seated prisoner and smacks both sides of his/her head repeatedly, almost destroying their eardrums.

The National Security Archive – The United States, China, and the Bomb


Washington, D.C. – The National Security Archive has initiated a special project on the Chinese nuclear weapons program and U.S. policy toward it. The purpose is to discover how the U.S. government monitored the Chinese nuclear program and ascertain what it knew (or believed that it knew) and thought about that program from the late 1950s to the present. Besides investigating U.S. thinking about, and intelligence collection on, the Chinese nuclear program as such, the Archive’s staff is exploring its broader foreign policy significance, especially the impact on China’s relations with its neighbors and the regional proliferation of nuclear weapons capabilities. Through archival research and systematic declassification requests, the Archive is working to collect key U.S. documents on important developments in Chinese nuclear history, including weapons, delivery systems, and strategic thinking. To put the nuclear issue in the broader context of the changing relations between the United States and China, the Archive is also trying to secure the declassification of key U. S. policy papers that elucidate changes in the relationship.

In particular, the Archive’s project is exploring Washington’s thinking about the Chinese nuclear weapons program in the context of U.S. nuclear proliferation policy. The Archive is probing Washington’s initial effort to brake the development of the Chinese advanced weapons program by encouraging allies and others to abstain from the shipment of products that could have direct or indirect military applications. Moreover, the Archive is seeking the declassification of materials that shed light on an important concern since the late 1980s, China’s alleged role as a contributor to the proliferation of nuclear capabilities in South Asia and elsewhere. To the extent possible, the Archive will try to document the U.S. government’s knowledge of, and policy toward, China’s role as a nuclear proliferator and its efforts to balance proliferation concerns with a policy of cooperation with Beijing.

In the spring of 1996, the Archive began a series of Freedom of Information and mandatory review requests to the CIA, State Department, Defense Department, National Archives, and other agencies to prompt the release of relevant documents. Although this will take time, the State Department’s own systematic declassification review of central files from the 1960s has already made available some very useful material. Moreover, previous declassification requests by the Archive are beginning to generate significant material. This makes it possible for the Archive to display, on our Web site, some newly released documents on U.S. policy toward the Chinese nuclear weapons program.

The documents that follow are from 1964 when U.S. government officials recognized that China would soon acquire a nuclear weapons capability. As this material indicates, the degree of apprehension varied, with some officials truly worried that a nuclear armed China would constitute a formidable threat to the security of China’s neighbors as well as the United States. Others, however, believed that Beijing’s orientation was fundamentally cautious and defensive and that the political and psychological implications would be more immediately consequential than any military threat. Although China’s attitude toward U.S.-Soviet nonproliferation efforts was hostile, as far as can be determined, no one anticipated a development of later decades: the PRC’s apparent role as a purveyor of nuclear weapons and delivery systems technologies.

* * *

This briefing book was prepared by William Burr, the Archive’s analyst for the China nuclear weapons project and for a related project on U.S. nuclear weapons policies and programs. Currently a member of Dipomatic History‘s editorial board, he has published articles there and in the Bulletin of the Cold War International History Project. He previously directed the Archive’s project on the Berlin Crisis, 1958-1962 (published by Chadwyck-Healey in 1992).

The National Security Archive thanks the W. Alton Jones Foundation for the generous financial support that made this project possible. Anthony Wai, Duke University, and Matthew Shabatt, Stanford University, provided invaluable research assistance for this project.



Document 1: “Implications of a Chinese Communist Nuclear Capability”, by Robert H. Johnson, State Department Policy Planning Staff, with forwarding memorandum to President Johnson by Policy Planning Council director Walt W. Rostow, 17 April 1964.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 59, Department of State Records, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1964-1966, file DEF 12-1 Chicom.

Robert Johnson (now associated with the National Planning Association) was one of the Department’s leading China experts. Between 1962 and 1964, he directed a number of studies on the Chinese nuclear program and its ramifications, not only for the United States but also for China’s neighbors in East and South Asia. This document is a summary of a longer study which remains classified but is undergoing declassification review. In this paper Johnson minimized the immediate military threat of a nuclear China, suggesting instead that Chinese leaders were more interested in a nuclear capability’s deterrent effect and were unlikely to engage in high-risk activities. Consistent with his relatively moderate interpretation, Johnson ruled out preemptive action against Chinese nuclear facilities except in “response to major ChiCom aggression.” Johnson explored the issue of preemption in another study: “The Bases for Direct Action Against Chinese Communist Nuclear Facilities,” also April 1964. That study is unavailable but is discussed in document 5.


Document 2: Special National Intelligence Estimate, “The Chances of an Imminent Communist Chinese Nuclear Explosion” 26 August 1964.

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library

The timing of a Chinese atomic test was a controversial subject during the summer and fall of 1964. As this document shows, CIA officials believed that the Chinese would not test a weapon until “sometime after the end of 1964.” State Department China specialist Allen Whiting, an official at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, thought otherwise. Like his colleagues he was unaware that the Chinese had an operating gaseous diffusion plant which was producing weapons-grade material. Yet, he made more than the CIA of the fact that the Chinese had already constructed a 325 foot test tower at Lop Nur. Whiting was certain that the Chinese would not have taken the trouble to construct a tower unless a test was impending, although CIA technical experts were dubious. As other intelligence information becomes available, Whiting estimated a test on 1 October. (Interview with Whiting by William Burr, 13 December 1996).


Document 3: Memorandum for the Record, McGeorge Bundy, 15 September 1964

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library.

This report of a meeting between President Johnson’s top advisers discloses the administration’s basic approach toward the first Chinese nuclear test but nevertheless raises questions that have yet to be settled. Although it is evident that the administration had provisionally ruled out a preemptive strike, it is unclear whether Secretary of State Rusk ever had any substantive discussions of the Chinese nuclear issue with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin during the weeks after this meeting.

Until recently, paragraph 3 of this document was entirely excised but a successful appeal by the National Security Archive led the National Archives to release all but the date of the proposed “Chinat” overflight, presumably by a U-2. The date of the overflight is unknown although a number took place in late 1964 and early 1965 to monitor Chinese nuclear weapons facilities.


Document 4: “China As a Nuclear Power (Some Thoughts Prior to the Chinese Test)”, 7 October 1964

Source: FOIA request to State Department

This document was prepared by the Office of International Security Affairs at the Department of Defense, possibly by, or under the supervision of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Henry S. Rowen, who drafted other papers on the Chinese nuclear program during this period. It probably typified the “worst case” scenarios developed by those who believed that a nuclear China would become such a serious threat that it would be necessary to attack Chinese nuclear weapons facilities as a counter-proliferation measure.


Document 5: State Department Telegram No. 2025 to U.S. Embassy Paris, 9 October 1964

Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 59, Department of State Records, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1964-1966, file DEF 12-1 Chicom

This document provides one example of Washington’s efforts to get “hard” information on the PRC’s atomic test not long before it occurred on 16 October. In early September, several weeks before the State Department sent this cable, Allen Whiting saw a CIA report on a meeting earlier in the year between Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and President of Mali Modibo Keita, when Zhou was visiting West Africa. Zhou told Keita that China would be testing an atomic device in October and asked him to give political support to the test when it occurred. Whiting was sure that Zhou’s statement should be taken seriously and on the basis of this and other information he convinced Secretary of State Rusk to announce, on 29 September, that a test would soon occur. (Interview with Whiting). The CIA report is unavailable but this telegram suggests that Zhou’s statement or similar comments by PRC officials to friendly governments may have leaked to the press.


Document 6: “Destruction of Chinese Nuclear Weapons Capabilities”, by G.W. Rathjens, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 14 December 1964.

Source: FOIA request to State Department

George Rathjens, the author of this document, was an ACDA official serving on an interagency group, directed by White House staffer Spurgeon Keeny, that assisted the President’s Task Force on the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, better known as the Gilpatric Committee after its chairman, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric. Whether Rathjens prepared it as his own initiative or at the Committee’s request is unclear, but it may have been the latter because the Committee considered the possibility of recommending an attack on Chinese nuclear weapons facilities as part of a program to check nuclear proliferation. In this document, Rathjens summarized Roben Johnson’s still classified study of the costs and benefits of various types of attacks on the Chinese nuclear weapons complex. Apparently one of the possibilities, an “air drop of GRC [Government of the Republic of China] sabotage team” received serious consideration earlier in the year.

Taking a more bullish view of the benefits of attacking Chinese nuclear facilities, Rathjens took issue with Johnson’s conclusion that the “significance of a [Chicom nuclear] capability is not such as to justify the undertaking of actions which would involve great political costs or high military risks.” However confident Rathjens may have been that a successful attack could discourage imitators and check nuclear proliferation, that recommendation did not go into the final report, which has recently been declassified in full.

Before ACDA declassified this document in its entirety, a lightly excised version was available at the Johnson Library. Shane Maddock of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s History Department, published the excised version with stimulating commentary in the April 1996 issue of the SHAFR Newsletter.


Document 7: “As Explosive as a Nuclear Weapon”: The Gilpatric Report on Nuclear Proliferation, January 1965

Source: Freedom of Information Act request to State Department

Sections excised from previous releases are outlined in red.

Note: Since the Archive published this document, the Department of State has released Foreign Relations of the United States, Arms Control and Disarmament, 1964-1968, Volume XI, which includes the full text of the Gilpatric Report along with valuable background material.

Here the Archive publishes, for the first time, the complete text of the “Gilpatric Report”, the earliest major U.S. government-sponsored policy review of the spread of nuclear weapons. Largely motivated by concern over the first Chinese atomic test in October 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Wall Street lawyer and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric to lead a special task force in investigating, and making policy recommendations on, the spread of nuclear weapons. Owing to his extensive connections in high-level corporate and governmental circles, Gilpatric was able to recruit a group of unusually senior former government officials, including DCI Allen Dulles, U. S. High Commissioner to Germany John J. McCloy, White House Science Adviser George Kistiakowsky, and SACEUR Alfred Gruenther. Johnson announced the formation of the committee on 1 November 1964. The committee completed its report in early 1965 and presented it to President Johnson on 21 January 1965.

The report came at a time when senior Johnson administration officials had important disagreements over nuclear proliferation policy. Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk were already heavily committed to a Multilateral Force [MLF] designed to give the Germans and other European allies the feeling of sharing control over NATO nuclear weapons decisions while diverting them from developing independent nuclear capabilities. This complicated negotiations with Moscow which saw the MLF as incompatible with a nonproliferation treaty; nevertheless, Johnson and Rusk gave the MLF priority on the grounds that it would secure West Germany’s non-nuclear status1. Further, some senior officials thought that nuclear proliferation was inevitable and, among the right countries, potentially desirable. Thus, during a November 1964 meeting, Rusk stated that he was not convinced that “the U.S. should oppose other countries obtaining nuclear weapons.” Not only could he “conceive of situations where the Japanese or the Indians might desirably have their own nuclear weapons”, Rusk asked “should it always be the U.S. which would have to use nuclear weapons against Red China?” Robert McNamara thought otherwise: it was “unlikely that the Indians or the Japanese would ever have a suitable nuclear deterrent2.

The Gilpatric Committee tried to resolve the debate by taking an unhesitatingly strong position against nuclear proliferation, recommending that the United States “greatly intensify” its efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. Besides calling for an international treaty on “non-dissemination and non-acquisition of nuclear weapons”, the report included a range of suggestions for inhibiting proliferation in specific countries in Europe, the Near East, and Asia. The latter generally involved a carrot and stick approach: inducements to discourage independent nuclear programs but a more assertive policy if inducements failed. For example, with respect to Israel, Washington would continue to offer “assurances” against Egyptian-Syrian attack; however, “make clear to Israel that those assurances would be withdrawn if she develops a nuclear weapons capability.” With respect to the MLF controversy, the report questioned Johnson administration policy by suggesting the “urgent exploration of alternatives” to permanently inhibit German nuclear weapons potential.

Spurgeon Keeny, the Committee’s staff director, believes that the report “got to LBJ that the Establishment was really worried about nuclear proliferation and that steps could be taken to do something about it”3. Yet, however Johnson may have thought about the report’s line of argument and recommendations, his immediate response appears to have been skeptical because it challenged the Administration’s emphasis on the MLF as a means to manage the German nuclear problem. Unquestionably, this contributed heavily to his decision to bar circulation of the report except at the cabinet level. Dean Rusk fully agreed, according to Glenn Seaborg’s account of a briefing for Johnson, Rusk opined that the report was “as explosive as a nuclear weapon.” Like Johnson, Rusk worried about leaks; moreover, he opposed the report’s message on Germany as well as other countries that it singled out. Uncontrolled revelations about the report would have quickly complicated U.S. relations with France, Germany, and lsrael, among others4.

One important section of the report, on possible initiatives toward the Soviet Union and their relationship to nonproliferation goals, has been declassified for some time. In it (beginning on p. 16), the Committee called for a verified fissile material cutoff (although production of tritium permitted) and strategic arms control agreements. By recommending a strategic delivery vehicle freeze (misspelled “free” in text), significant reductions in strategic force levels, and a moratorium on ABM and ICBM construction, the report presaged (and went beyond) the SALT I agreement of 1972. Elsewhere (p. 8) the Committee called for U.S. efforts to work with the Soviets in building support for a comprehensive nuclear test ban. For the Committee, U.S.-Soviet cooperation in those areas were essential because they would help create an “atmosphere conducive to wide acceptance of restraints on nuclear proliferation.”

Participants and close observers have offered conflicting analyses of the report’s impact. Some, such as Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Glenn Seaborg, downplay its significance noting that other political developments had more influence on Johnson administration policy. Others, such as Keeny and Raymond Garthoff (who represented the State Department on the Committee’s interagency staff) believe that even if the Gilpatric report did not quickly lead to tangible policy changes, it educated the President as well as its members on the significance of the nuclear proliferation issue. Keeny further argues that the report helped prepare Johnson to give strong support to a nonproliferation treaty in 1966 after the MLF approach to the German nuclear problem had lost momentum5.

No doubt owing to classification problems, the literature on the Gilpatric Committee and the early history of U.S. non- proliferation policy is sparse6. With the report fully declassified and other related information becoming available, it should now be possible for historians and social scientists to assess the Gilpatric Committee’s contribution to Lyndon Johnson’s nuclear proliferation policy. Whatever the Gilpatric report’s immediate impact may have been, the future turned out very differently than its critics anticipated. The slowing of nuclear proliferation has proven to be possible and a major goal of the Gilpatric committee–a nearly universal nonproliferation regime–came to pass. To the extent, however, that important measures supported by the Committee have yet to be acted upon–e.g., a fissile materials production cut off–or ratified, e.g., the CTBT–the report stands in harsh judgement of current international efforts to curb nuclear proliferation.



1. For a useful overview of the MLF-NPT interrelationships, see George Bunn, Arms Control By Committee, Managing Negotiations with the Russians (Stanford University Press, 1992), 64-72.
2. Presumably, Rusk thought it better that Asians use nuclear weapons against each other rather than Euro-Americans using them against Asians. Quotations from memorandum of conversation by Herbert Scoville, ACDA, “Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons- Course of Action for UNGA – Discussed by the Committee of Principals”, 23 November 1964, National Archives, Record Group 359, White House Office of Science and Technology, FOIA Release to National Security Archive.
3. Telephone conversation with Spurgeon Keeny, 24 March 1997.
4. Glenn Seaborg with Benjamin S. Loeb, Stemming the Tide: Arms Control in the Johnson Years (Lexington, MA: 1987), 143-145. This is the only generally available account of Johnson’s meeting with the committee. Neither Dean Rusk’s nor Lyndon Johnson’s memoirs mention the report.
5. Seaborg, Stemming the Tide, 148-149, although he provides a dissent from Keeny. Herbert York, Making Weapons, Talking Peace: A Physicists odyssey from Hiroshima to Geneva (New York, 1987), also downplays the report’s significance. Telephone conversation with Keeny, 24 March 1997; conversation with Raymond Garthoff, 28 March 1997. George Bunn, Arms Control by Committee, 75-81, is useful on the negotiations but does not mention the report.
6. George Perkovich’s “India’s Ambiguous Bomb” (forthcoming Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia), explores the impact of the Gilpatric report on Johnson’s policy, among other subjects.


For further reading:

Willis C. Armstrong et al., “The Hazards of Single-Outcome Forecasting,” in H. Bradford Westerfield, Inside ClA ‘s Private World: Declassified Articles from the Agency’s Internal Journal, 1955-1992 (New Haven, 1995), 238-254

Gordon H. Chang, Friends and Enemies: The United States, China, and the Soviet Union, 1948-1972 (Stanford, 1990)

Rosemary Foot, The Practice of Power, U.S. Relations with China Since 1949 (Oxford, 1995)

John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai, China Builds The Bomb (Stanford, 1988)

Chris Pocock, Dragon Lady: The History of the U-2 Spyplane (Airlife, England, 1989), especially ch. 6, “Parting the Bamboo Curtain”

Secret from the National Archive for Security – The Alexeyeva File

The Alexeyeva File

Soviet, American, and Russian Documents on the Human Rights Legend

Lyudmila Mikhailovna’s 85th Birthday Party Brings Together Generations, New Challenges

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 387

Compiled and edited by Svetlana Savranskaya, Tom Blanton and Anna Melyakova
Web production by Rinat Bikineyev and Jamie Noguchi.
Research and editorial assistance by Anya Grenier and Julia Noecker.
Special thanks to the Memorial Society, Archive of the History of Dissent, Moscow.

For more information: 202.994.7000,

Sergei Kovalev with Alexeyeva, 2011.

Arsenii Roginsky of the Memorial Society with Alexeyeva.

Kovalev and Alexeyeva.

Roginsky toasting Alexeyeva.

Alexeyeva with colleagues of the Helsinki Group.

Alexeyeva discussing the Helsinki Final Act with Ambassador Kashlev, one of the Soviet negotiators, at an Archive summer school in Gelendzhik.

Photos by Svetlana Savranskaya.

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The Moscow Helsinki Group 30th Anniversary
From the Secret Files

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Moscow, Russian Federation, July 20, 2012 – Marking the 85th birthday of Russian human rights legend Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the National Security Archive today published on the Web a digital collection of documents covering Alexeyeva’s brilliant career, from the mid-1970s founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group (which she now heads) to the current challenges posed by the Putin regime’s crackdown on civil society.

Today’s posting includes declassified U.S. documents from the Carter Presidential Library on Soviet dissident movements of the 1970s including the Moscow Helsinki Group, and KGB and Soviet Communist Party Central Committee documents on the surveillance and repression of the Group.

With the generous cooperation of the Memorial Society’s invaluable Archive of the History of Dissent, the posting also features examples of Alexeyeva’s own letters to officials (on behalf of other dissidents) and to friends, her Congressional testimony and reports, scripts she produced for Radio Liberty, and numerous photographs. Also highlighted in today’s publication are multiple media articles by and about Alexeyeva including her analysis of the current attack on human righters in Russia.

As Alexeyeva’s colleagues, friends, and admirers gather today in Moscow to celebrate her 85th birthday, the illustrious history documented in today’s posting will gain a new chapter. The party-goers will not only toast Lyudmila Alexeyeva, but also debate the appropriate responses to the new Putin-inspired requirement that any civil society group receiving any international support should register as a “foreign agent” and undergo frequent “audits.” No doubt Alexeyeva will have something to say worth listening to. She has seen worse.



Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva was born on July 20, 1927 in Yevpatoria, a Black Sea port town in the Crimea (now in Ukraine). Her parents came from modest backgrounds, but both received graduate degrees; her father was an economist and her mother a mathematician. She was a teenager in Moscow during the war, and she attributes her decision to come back and live in Russia after more than a decade of emigration to the attachment to her country and her city formed during those hungry and frozen war years. Alexeyeva originally studied to be an archaeologist, entering Moscow State University in 1945, and graduating with a degree in history in 1950. She received her graduate degree from the Moscow Institute of Economics and Statistics in 1956. She married Valentin Alexeyev in 1945 and had two sons, Sergei and Mikhail. Already in the university she began to question the policies of the regime, and decided not to go to graduate school in the history of the CPSU, which at the time would have guaranteed a successful career in politics.

She did join the Communist Party, hoping to reform it from the inside, but very soon she became involved in publishing, copying and disseminating samizdat with the very first human rights movements in the USSR. In 1959 through 1962 she worked as an editor in the academic publishing house Nauka of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1966, she joined friends and fellow samizdat publishers in protesting the imprisonment and unfair trial of two fellow writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel. For her involvement with the dissident movement, she lost her job as an editor and was expelled from the Party. Later, in 1970, she found an editorial position at the Institute of Information on Social Sciences, where she worked until her forced emigration in 1977. From 1968 to 1972, she worked as a typist for the first dissident periodical in the USSR, The Chronicle of Current Events.

As the 1960s progressed, Alexeyeva became more and more involved in the emerging human rights movement. Her apartment in Moscow became a meeting place and a storage site for samizdat materials. She built up a large network of friends involved in samizdat and other forms of dissent. Many of her friends were harassed by the police and later arrested. She and her close friends developed a tradition of celebrating incarcerated friends’ birthdays at their relatives’ houses, and they developed a tradition of “toast number two” dedicated to those who were far away. Her apartment was constantly bugged and surveilled by the KGB.


Founding the Moscow Helsinki Group

In the spring of 1976, the physicist Yuri Orlov – by then an experienced dissident surviving only by his connection to the Armenian Academy of Sciences– asked her to meet him in front of the Bolshoi Ballet. These benches infamously served as the primary trysting site in downtown Moscow, thus guaranteeing the two some privacy while they talked. Orlov shared his idea of creating a group that would focus on implementing the human rights protections in the Helsinki Accords – the 1975 Final Act was published in full in Pravda, and the brilliant idea was simply to hold the Soviet government to the promises it had signed and was blatantly violating.

Orlov had the idea, but he needed someone who could make it happen – a typist, an editor, a writer, a historian – Lyudmila Alexeyeva. In May 1976, she became one of the ten founding members of the Moscow Helsinki Group with the formal announcement reported by foreign journalists with some help from Andrei Sakharov, despite KGB disruption efforts. The government started harassment of the group even before it was formally announced, and very quickly, the group became a target for special attention by Yuri Andropov and his organization – the KGB.

Alexeyeva produced (typed, edited, wrote) many early MHG documents. One of her early – and characteristically remarkable – assignments was a fact-finding mission to investigate charges of sexual harassment against a fellow dissident in Lithuania. Several high school boys who would not testify against their teacher were expelled from school. She arranged a meeting with the Lithuanian Minister of Education, who did not know what the Moscow Helsinki Group was but anything from Moscow sounded prestigious enough to command his attention, and convinced him to return the boys to school. It was only when some higher-up called the Minister to explain what the Helsinki Group really was that he reconsidered his decision.

As one of ten original members of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Alexeyeva received even greater scrutiny from the Soviet government, including the KGB. Over the course of 1976, she was under constant surveillance, including phone taps and tails in public. She had her apartment searched by the KGB and many of her samizdat materials confiscated. In early February 1977, KGB agents burst into her apartment searching for Yuri Orlov, saying “We’re looking for someone who thinks like you do.” A few days later, she and her second husband, the mathematician Nikolai Williams, were forced to leave the Soviet Union under the threat of arrest. Her departure was very painful – she was convinced that she would never be able to return, and her youngest son had to stay behind.


Alexeyeva in Exile

Alexeyeva briefly stopped over in the UK, where she participated in human rights protests, before she eventually settled in northern Virginia, and became the Moscow Helsinki Group spokesperson in the United States. She testified before the U.S. Congressional Helsinki Commission, worked with NGOs such as the International Helsinki Federation, wrote reports on the CSCE conferences in Belgrade, Madrid and Vienna, which she attended, and became actively involved in the issue of political abuse of psychiatry in the USSR.

She soon met her best-friend-to-be, Larisa Silnicky of Radio Liberty (formerly from Odessa and Prague), who had founded the prominent dissident journal Problems of Eastern Europe, with her husband, Frantisek Silnicky. Alexeyeva started working for the journal as an editor in 1981 (initially an unpaid volunteer!). Meanwhile, she returned to her original calling as a historian and wrote the single most important volume on the movements of which she had been such a key participant. Her book, Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights, which was published in the United States in 1984 by Wesleyan University Press, remains the indispensable source on Soviet dissent.

The book was not the only evidence of the way Alexeyeva’s talents blossomed in an atmosphere where she could engage in serious research without constant fear of searches and arrest. She worked for Voice of America and for Radio Liberty during the 1980s covering a wide range of issues in her broadcasts, especially in the programs “Neformalam o Neformalakh” and “Novye dvizheniya, novye lyudi,” which she produced together with Larisa Silnicky. These and other programs that she produced for the RL were based mainly on samizdat materials that she was getting though dissident channels, and taken together they provide a real encyclopedia of developments in Soviet society in the 1980s. The depth and perceptiveness of her analysis are astounding, especially given the fact that she was writing her scripts from Washington. Other U.S. institutions ranging from the State Department to the AFL-CIO Free Trade Union Institute also asked her for analyses of the Gorbachev changes in the USSR, among other subjects. In the late 1980s-early 1990s, she was especially interested in new labor movements in the Soviet Union, hoping that a Solidarity-type organization could emerge to replace the old communist labor unions.


Back in the USSR

The Moscow Helsinki Group had to be disbanded in 1982 after a campaign of persecution that left only three members free within the Soviet Union. When the Group was finally reestablished in 1989 by Larisa Bogoraz, Alexeyeva was quick to rejoin it from afar, and she never stopped speaking out. She had longed to return to Russia, but thought it would never be possible. She first came back to the USSR in May 1990 (after being denied a visa six times previously by the Soviet authorities) with a group of the International Helsinki Federation members to investigate if conditions were appropriate for convening a conference on the “human dimension” of the Helsinki process. She also attended the subsequent November 1991 official CSCE human rights conference in Moscow, where the human righters could see the end of the Soviet Union just weeks away. She was an early supporter of the idea of convening the conference in Moscow – in order to use it as leverage to make the Soviet government fulfill its obligations – while many Western governments and Helsinki groups were skeptical about holding the conference in the Soviet capital.

In 1992-1993 she made numerous trips to Russia, spending more time there than in the United States. She and her husband Nikolai Williams returned to Russia to stay in 1993, where she resumed her constant activism despite having reached retirement age. She became chair of the new Moscow Helsinki Group in 1996, only 20 years after she and Yuri Orlov discussed the idea and first made it happen; and in that spirit, in the 1990s, she facilitated several new human rights groups throughout Russia.

When Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, Lyudmila Alexeyeva agreed to become part of a formal committee that would advise him on the state of human rights in Russia, while continuing her protest activities. The two did not go well together in Putin’s mind, and soon she was under as much suspicion as ever. By this time, though, her legacy as a lifelong dissident was so outsized that it was harder to persecute her. Even state-controlled television felt compelled to give her air-time on occasion, and she used her standing as a human rights legend to bring public attention to abuses ranging from the mass atrocities in the Chechen wars to the abominable conditions in Russian prisons.

When the Moscow Helsinki Group celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2006, with Lyudmila Alexeyeva presiding, Yuri Orlov came back from his physics professorship at Cornell University to join her on stage. Also paying tribute were dozens of present and former public officials from the rank of ex-Prime Minister on down, as well the whole range of opposition politicians and non-governmental activists, for whom she served as the unique convenor and den mother.


The Challenge in Russia Today

In 2009, Alexeyeva became an organizer of Strategy 31, the campaign to hold peaceful protests on the 31st of every month that has a 31st, in support of Article 31 of the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly. Everyone remembers the protest on December 31, 2009, when Lyudmila Alexeyeva went dressed as the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka in the fairy tales) where dozens of other people were also arrested. But when officials realized they had the Lyudmila Alexeyeva in custody, they returned to the bus where she was being held, personally apologized for the inconvenience and offered her immediate release from custody. She refused until all were released. The video and photographs of the authorities arresting the Snow Maiden and then apologizing went viral on the Internet and made broadcast news all over the world. The “31st” protests have ended in arrests multiple times, but that has yet to deter the protesters, who provided a key spark for the mass protests in December 2011.

The darker side of the authorities’ attitude was evident in March 2010, when she was assaulted at the Park Kultury metro station where she was paying her respects to the victims of the subway bombings a few days earlier. She had been vilified by the state media so often that the attacker called himself a “Russian patriot” and asserted (correctly, so far) that he would not be charged for his actions.

In 2012, the chauvinistic assault became institutional and government-wide, with a new law proposed by the Putin regime and approved by the Duma, requiring any organization that received support from abroad to register as a “foreign agent” and submit to multiple audits by the authorities. The intent was clearly to stigmatize NGOs like the Moscow Helsinki Group that have international standing and raise money from around the world. Earlier this month, Lyudmila Alexeyeva announced that the Group would not register as a foreign agent and would no longer accept foreign support once the law goes into effect in November 2012.

Other Russian human righters say they are used to being tagged as foreign agents. In fact, humorous signs appeared at the mass protests in late 2011 asking the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Hillary! Where’s my check? I never got my money!” So the debate over strategy, over how best to deal with and to push back against the new repression, will likely dominate the conversation at Lyudmila Mikhailovna’s 85th birthday party today (July 20). Yet again, when she is one of the few original Soviet dissidents still alive, she is at the center of the storm, committed to freedom in Russia today, and leading the discussion about how to achieve human rights for all.


Document 1: Lyudmila Alexeyeva, “Biography,” November 1977.

This modest biographical note presents Alexeyeva’s own summary of her life as of the year she went into exile. She prepared this note as part of her presentation to the International Sakharov Hearing in Rome, Italy, on 26 November 1977, which was the second in a series named after the distinguished Soviet physicist and activist (the first was in Copenhagen in 1975) that brought together scholars, analysts and dissidents in exile to discuss human rights in the Soviet bloc.

[Source: Memorial Society, Moscow, Archive of History of Dissent, Fond 101, opis 1, Box 2-3-6]

Document 2: Lyudmila Alexeyeva to Senator Jacob K. Javits, 4 July, 1975.

Even before she co-founded the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva actively worked to defend dissidents and political prisoners in the USSR. In this 1975 letter preserved in the Archive of the History of Dissent, the irreplaceable collections of the Memorial Society in Moscow, she is writing from Moscow to a prominent U.S. Senator, Jacob Javits, a Republican from New York and himself Jewish, who was outspoken in supporting not only the right of Jews to emigrate from the USSR to Israel, but also the Soviet dissident cause in general. The case she presents to Javits is that of Anatoly Marchenko, who asked for political emigration (not to Israel) and as punishment was sent to Siberia for four years’ exile – on top of the 11 years he had already spent as a political prisoner on trumped-up charges. Tragically, Marchenko would die in prison in the fall of 1986, just as Gorbachev began releasing the political prisoners.

[Source: Memorial Society, Moscow, Archive of History of Dissent, Fond 101, opis 1, Box 2-3-6]

Document 3: Yuri Andropov, Chairman of the KGB, Memorandum to the Politburo, 29 December, 1975.

Yuri Andropov gives the Politburo an alarming report on dissent in the USSR in connection with criticism of Soviet human rights abuses by the French and Italian Communist parties. The main thrust of Andropov’ report is how to keep the internal opposition in check in the aftermath of the signing of the Helsinki agreement and the following increase of international pressure on the USSR. He gives the number of political prisoners as 860, people who received the “prophylactic treatment” in 1971-74 as 63,108 and states that there are many more “hostile elements” in the country, and that “these people number in the hundreds of thousands.” Andropov concluded that the authorities would have to continue to persecute and jail the dissidents notwithstanding the foreign attention. This document sets the stage and gives a good preview of what would happen after the Moscow Helsinki Group was founded in May 1976.

[Source: U.S. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Dmitrii A. Volkogonov Papers, Reel 18, Container 28]

Document 4: Moscow Helsinki Monitoring Group, “Evaluation of the Influence of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe on the Quality of Human Rights in the U.S.S.R.,” 1 August 1975-1 August 1976. (Summary of the document)

This document was written during a time of relative calm, when surprisingly, for the first six months of the existence of the MHG, the authorities did not undertake any repressions against members of the group, and allowed it to function. The document sounds more positive and optimistic than the group’s subsequent assessments of the effect of the Helsinki Accords. The report points out that the Soviet government was sensitive to pressure from foreign governments and groups and that several other objective factors such as the end of the war in Vietnam and increasing Soviet grain purchases made the USSR more open to external influences. Under such pressure, the Soviet government released the mathematician Leonid Plyusch, allowed some refuseniks to emigrate and generally relaxed the restrictions somewhat. The report also lists continuing violations of human rights but concludes that the Helskinki Accords did and probably would play a positive role. [See the Russian page for the original]

[Source: Memorial Society, Moscow, Archive of History of Dissent, Fond 101, opis 1, Box 2-3-6]

Document 5: KGB Memorandum to the CC CPSU, “About the Hostile Actions of the So-called Group for Assistance of Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR,” 15 November 1976.

The KGB informed the Politburo about the activities of the MHG for the first time six months after its founding. The report gives a brief history of the human rights movement in the USSR as seen from the KGB. Andropov names each founding member of the group and charges the group with efforts to put the Soviet sincerity in implementing the Helsinki Accords in doubt. The document also alleges MHG efforts to receive official recognition from the United States and reports on its connections with the American embassy.

[Source: U.S. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Dmitrii A. Volkogonov Papers, Reel 18, Container 28]

Document 6: Helsinki Monitoring Group, “Special Notice,” 2 December, 1976.

This notice, one of a series by the MHG publicizing official misconduct, testifies to the increasing harassment of members of the group by the KGB. This time it is the son of Malva Landa who has been warned that he might lose his job.   The document is signed by Alexeyeva, Orlov and other leading MHG members.

[Source: Memorial Society, Moscow, Archive of History of Dissent, Fond 101, opis 1, Box 2-3-6]

Document 7: KGB Memorandum to the CC CPSU, “On the Provocative Demonstration by Antisocial Elements on Pushkin Square in Moscow and at the Pushkin Monument in Leningrad,” 6 December, 1976.

This KGB report informs the Politburo about silent rallies in Moscow and Leningrad to celebrate Constitution Day by dissidents including members of the MHG. Nobody was arrested.

[Source: U.S. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Dmitrii A. Volkogonov Papers, Reel 16, Container 24]

Document 8: Moscow Helsinki Monitoring Group, “On the Exclusion of Seven Students From the Vienuolis Middle School (Vilnius),” 8 December, 1976.

This is a report of the first fact-finding mission undertaken by Lyudmila Alexeyeva with Lithuanian human rights activist and member of the Helsinki Group Thomas Ventslov to investigate charges of sexual harassment against a member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group Viktoras Petkus. Seven boys were expelled from the school and pressured by the KGB to say that they had spent time at Petkus’ apartment, where he engaged in illegal activities with them. The boys’ families were told that they were expelled on the basis of a school board decision that the parents were not allowed to see. The report concludes that the KGB was behind the charges and that the only reason for the expulsions was the refusal of the boys to give false testimony against their teacher. Alexeyeva met with the Lithuanian Minister of Education to discuss the situation, and he initially agreed to remedy it but then changed his mind upon finding out who his visitor was.

[Source: Memorial Society, Moscow, Archive of History of Dissent, Fond 101, opis 1, Box 2-3-6]

Document 9: Memo from Andropov to CC CPSU, “About Measures to End the Hostile Activity of Members of the So-called “Group for Assistance in the Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR,” 5 January, 1977.

After the two informational reports above, the KGB started to get serious about terminating the activities of the MHG. This report charges that the group was capable of inflicting serious damage to Soviet interests, that in recent months group members have stepped up their subversive activities, especially through the dissemination of samizdat documents (and particularly the MHG reports), undermining Soviet claims to be implementing the Helsinki Final Act. The Procuracy would later develop measures to put an end to these activities.

[Source: U.S. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Dmitrii A. Volkogonov Papers, Reel 18, Container 28]

Document 10: Resolution of Secretariat of CC of CPSU, “On Measures for the Curtailment of the Criminal Activities of Orlov, Ginsburg, Rudenko and Ventslova,” 20 January, 1977.

Following the recommendations of the KGB report above, and another report submitted by Andropov on January 20, the CC CPSU Secretariat decides to “intercept and curtail the activities” of Orlov, Ginzburg, Rudenko and Ventslov of the MHG, Ukrainian and Lithuanian Helsinki groups. All four would be arrested soon after the resolution.

[Source: The Bukovsky Archive, Soviet Archives at INFO-RUSS, Folder 3.2]

Document 11: Extract from CC CPSU Politburo Meeting, “About the Instructions to the Soviet Ambassador in Washington for His Conversation with Vance on the Question of “Human Rights,” 18 February, 1977.

After Orlov and Ginzburg are arrested and Lyudmila Alexeyeva goes into exile, and anticipating the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to Moscow in March, the Politburo discusses a rebuff to the Carter administration on human rights issues. Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin is instructed to meet with Vance and inform him of Soviet “bewilderment” regarding Carter administration attempts to raise the issue of Ginsburg’s arrest. Dobrynin should explain to administration officials that human rights is not an issue of inter-state relations but an internal matter in which the United States should not interfere.

[Source: TsKhSD (Central Archive of Contemporary Documents) Fond 89, Opis list 25, Document 44]

Document 12: “Dignity or Death: How they Plant Dirty Pictures and Dollars on Men Who Fight for Freedom,” The Daily Mail, London, 21 March, 1977, by Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Nicholas Bethell.

Documents 12-16 comprise a series of articles in the Western media printed soon after Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s emigration from the USSR. In interviews she described the deteriorating human rights situation in the Soviet Union, including the increased repression and arrests of Helsinki groups members in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Georgia, and calls on the West to put pressure on the Soviet government to comply with the Helsinki Accords.

Document 13: “Dignity or Death: My Phone was Dead and All Night the KGB Waited Silently at My Door,” The Daily Mail, London, 22 March, 1977, by Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Nicholas Bethell.

Document 14: “Why Brezhnev Must Never be Believed,” The Daily Mail, London, 23 March, 1977, by Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Nicholas Bethell.

Document 15: “Soviet Human Rights from Mrs. Lyudmila Alexeyeva and others,” The Times, London, 26 April, 1977, by Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Andrey Amalrik, Vadimir Bukovsky.

Document 16: “Soviet Dissidents on the Run,” The Washington Post, 2 June, 1977, by Joseph Kraft.

Document 17: “Basket III: Implementation of the Helsinki Accords,” Hearings before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe; Ninety-Fifth Congress, First Session; on the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords; Volume IV: Soviet Helsinki Watch Reports on Repression June 3, 1977; U.S. Policy and the Belgrade Conference, 6 June, 1977.

Document 18: National Security Council, Global Issues [staff], to Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. National Security Advisor, “Evening Report,” June 7, 1977.

This report to their boss by the staff of the Global Issues directorate of the National Security Council on their daily activities includes a remarkable initial paragraph describing internal U.S. government discussions of the Moscow Helsinki Group (called here “the Orlov Committee”). Staffer Jessica Tuchman says a State Department-hosted group of experts all agreed that “the hidden bombshell in the whole human rights debate with the USSR” was the fact that the nationalist movements in the Soviet Union all saw human rights activism as just the “first step” to autonomy – thus the real threat to the Soviet government.

[Source: Carter Presidential Library, FOIA case NLC 10-3-2-7-8, 2008]

Document 19: Central Intelligence Agency, “The Evolution of Soviet Reaction to Dissent,” 15 July, 1977.

This document traces the Soviet government’s response to dissident activity especially in light of their agreement to the human rights provisions outlined in Basket III of the Helsinki Accords. The CIA notes that the Soviet Union signed the accords assuming it would not result in an increase in internal opposition, but that instead the Basket III provisions have provided a rallying point for dissent. It also suggests that internal protests sparked by food shortages and open criticism of the Eurocommunists, including the French and Spanish communist parties, are further causes for the current Soviet crackdown on the opposition. It also mentions political unrest in Eastern Europe and the Unites States new human rights campaign, which has prompted dissidents to make their appeals directly to the U.S. government as reasons for Soviet anxiety. Next, it outlines the Soviet government’s much harsher measures against dissidents in the wake of the Helsinki Accords. These include arrests of members of the Helsinki group, cutting off Western access, and accusing dissidents of espionage. Further, it concludes that the Soviet government’s increased apparent anxiety over dissent is the result of a variety of factors, including the approach of the Belgrade conference and their general fears of increased Western contact leading to discontent and a variety of social vices.

[Source: The Carter Presidential Library]

Document 20: American Embassy Belgrade to Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State, Text of Speech Given by Ambassador Arthur Goldberg at the Belgrade Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe Meeting, November 1977 (excerpt).

This text, the second half of the U.S. Embassy Belgrade cable reporting the speech made by U.S. ambassador Arthur Goldberg to the Belgrade review conference, specifically raises the cases of Orlov, Scharansky and Ginsberg – three of the founding members, with Alexeyeva, of the Moscow Helsinki Group – in the face of major objections from the Soviet delegation, and no small amount of disquiet from other diplomats present. While considered “timid” by the outside human righters like Alexeyeva, this initiative by the U.S. delegation created a breakthrough of sorts that would heighten the human rights dialogue at upcoming Helsinki review conferences and in the media.

[Source: The Carter Presidential Library]

Document 21: Secretary of State, to American Embassy Moscow, “Statement on Orlov,” 18 May, 1978.

This public statement from the State Deparment’s noon press briefing, sent by cable to the U.S. Embassy Moscow and Consulate Leningrad, uses the strongest language to date on the Orlov case, no doubt informed by Alexeyeva and other Orlov colleagues in exile. Here, the U.S. “strongly deplores” Orlov’s conviction and calls it a “gross distortion of internationally accepted standards,” since the activities for which he was being punished were simply the monitoring of Soviet performance under the Helsinki Final Act.

[Source: The Carter Presidential Library]

Document 22: Joseph Aragon, to Hamilton Jordan, “Carter on Human Rights,” 7 July, 1978.

This memorandum from White House staff member Joe Aragon to the president’s chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, discusses the Soviet Union’s treatment of dissidents, as monitored by another White House staffer, Joyce Starr. Aragon notes that the overall Soviet campaign against dissidents continues despite Carter’s forceful public stance on human rights. He notes that if anything dissidents have become further shut out of Soviet society since Carter came to office. He specifically mentions the Helsinki group, and Slepak, Orlov, Scharansky, Nadel and Ginzburg as dissidents in need of United States help. He goes in depth into the Slepak case and the state of his family, characterizing Slepak as the Soviet equivalent of a Martin Luther King Jr. However, he writes that the administration so far has made public statements in support of the dissidents, but failed to act on the diplomatic level. Aragon concludes that Carter cares deeply about human rights, but that his reputation is at risk due to the failure of low-level officials to follow through the initiatives outlined in the Helsinki Final Act. Aragon calls for a meeting in which he and other will discuss a course of action for the president.

[Source: The Carter Presidential Library]

Document 23: Central Intelligence Agency, “Human Rights Review,” 18-31 August, 1978.

This document contains a general overview of human rights throughout the world, but begins with a discussion of the condition of dissidents in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It notes that the most recent dissident activity has been in their statements of support for the Czech Charter 77 dissident movement. It also discusses the Soviet Union’s fear of East European and Soviet dissidents forming a united front of opposition. It also mentions an incident in which dissident Aleksandr Lyapin attempted to commit suicide by self-immolation in protest of Helsinki group leader Yuri Orlov’s court sentence, and that he has since been confined to a mental institution.

[Source: The Carter Presidential Library]

Document 24: Senator Henry M. Jackson, Remarks at the Coalition for a Democratic Majority Human Rights Dinner, September 30, 1978.

Document 25: “Basket III: Implementation of the Helsinki Accords,” Hearings before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe; Ninety-Fifth Congress, First Session; on the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords; Volume X: Aleksandr Ginzburg on the Human Rights Situation in the U.S.S.R., 11 May, 1979.

Document 26: “A Helsinki Clue to Moscow’s Salt II Intentions,” The New York Times, June 18, 1979, by Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Aleksandr Ginzberg, Petr Grigorenko, Yuri Mnyukh, and Valentin Turchin.

Document 27: Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance, “Major Executive Statements on Behalf of Anatoliy Scharanskiy,” 16 July, 1979.

Document 28: Peter Tarnoff, Department of State, to Zbigniew Brzezinski, “U.S. Government Initiatives on Behalf of Human Rights in the U.S.S.R.” 17 April, 1980.

This memorandum from State Department Executive Secretary Peter Tarnoff to Zbigniew Brzezinski contains a list of actions and statements by the U.S. government on human rights and protection of dissidents in the USSR. The list covers the years 1977 through 1980. The actions include reports on the Soviet Union’s implementation of the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act, as well as discussions of these matters at international conferences. Another area of action has to do with investigating denials of exit visas to Jews and prisoners of conscience attempting to leave the Soviet Union. It also comprises various efforts to help imprisoned dissidents by sending observers to attend their trials and providing special aid to some families, including the Ginzburg/Shibayev and Sakharov/Yankelevich families. The document also includes a list of Carter’s addresses in which he voices concerns over human rights or the treatment of Soviet dissidents.

Document 29: Helsinki Monitoring Group [members of the Moscow Helsinki group in exile], “On the Madrid Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe,” c. summer 1980.

These recommendations were prepared by members of Helsinki groups in exile before the Madrid review conference of November 1980. The dissidents call the efforts of Western delegations at the earlier Belgrade conference “timid” and chide the lack of pressure on Moscow to observe the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The report describes the worsening human rights situation in the USSR after the Belgrade conference of 1977-78, arrests of the Helsinki Group members, persecution of religious believers, and restrictions on emigration. Recommendations include that the Madrid conference delegates demand that political prisoners, including Helsinki group members, be released, and that an international commission be created consisting of representatives of member-states to keep the pressure on the Soviets between the review conferences. Similar concerns, the report indicates, were raised by the MHG in its recommendations for the Belgrade conference in 1977.

Document 30: Lyudmila Alexeyeva, letter to friends in Moscow, undated, circa summer 1984.

This extraordinary personal letter provides a unique vista of Alexeyeva’s life in exile and her thinking about dissent. Here she describes how she found her calling as a historian (a “personal harbor” which is essential for enduring exile), came to write the book on Soviet dissent, and struggled to reform the radios (Liberty, Free Europe, Voice of America) against the nationalist-authoritarian messages provided from “Vermont and Paris” – meaning Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Vladimir Bukovsky, respectively – or, the Bolsheviks versus her own Mensheviks within the dissident movement, in her striking analogy. Also here are the personal details, the open window in the woods for the cats, the ruminations on the very process of writing letters (like cleaning house, do it regularly and it comes easily, otherwise it’s never done or only with great difficulty). Here she pleads for activation as opposed to liquidation of the Helsinki Groups, because “we have nothing else to replace them.”

[Source: Memorial Society, Moscow, Archive of History of Dissent, Fond 101, opis 1, Box 2-3-6]

Document 31: Liudmila Alexeyeva, edited by Yuri Orlov, Documents and People, “What Gorbachev took from samizdat.”

In this draft script prepared for a Radio Liberty show in 1987 together with Yuri Orlov, Alexeyeva traces the roots of Gorbachev’s new thinking to samizdat materials as far back as the 1960s. She finds an amazing continuity in terms of ideals and goals, especially in foreign policy-thinking about the primacy of human rights and an interdependent world.

[Source: Memorial Society, Moscow, Archive of History of Dissent, Fond 101, opis 1, Box 2-3-2]

Document 32: Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s handwritten draft paper on informal associations in the USSR.

This unique handwritten draft written for Alexeyeva on the emergence of informal organizations – the first NGOs – in the Soviet Union. The draft is undated but was most likely written in 1990 or early 1991. The main question is whether Gorbachev will stay in power and therefore whether the changes he brought about will stick. She sees the importance of informal organizations in reviving civil society in the Soviet Union and creating conditions for democratization.

[Source: Memorial Society, Moscow, Archive of History of Dissent, Fond 101, opis 1, Box 2-3-2]

Document 33: Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Trip to Nizhny Novgorod, 9 November, 1992.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva visited Nizhny Novgorod on August 29, 1992, and met with members of Dialogue Club and the independent trade union at the ship-building plant Krasnoe Sormovo. Semen Bulatkin, her main contact, talked to her about the political club they founded at the plant, whose outside member was governor Boris Nemtsov, and the difficulties of organizing a free trade union there. The independent trade union was founded in February 1992, with an initial membership of about 250-300 people. Two weeks later, threatened by the plant’s administration with the loss of jobs or social benefits, membership declined to 157. Alexeyeva also met with Governor Nemtsov – a radical reformer and close supporter of President Boris Yeltsin – who told her he had read her book on Soviet dissent and was an active listener of Radio Liberty.

[Source: Memorial Society, Moscow, Archive of History of Dissent, Fond 101, opis 1, Box 2-3-2]

Document 34: Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Trip to Moscow Report, 10-20 December, 1992.

Alexeyeva visited Russia in December 1992, just a year after the Soviet collapse, at the behest of the AFL-CIO Free Trade Union Institute, which had been a key international backer of Solidarity in Poland and sought to support similar independent union development in post-Soviet Russia. Alexeyeva’s trip report does not provide much cause for optimism. In it, she describes democratic reformers’ complaints about President Yeltsin and the lack of alternative progressive leadership; the resistance to change by older Party-dominated union structures; the lack of access to television by new, more democratic unions to make their case; and the effective transformation of Communist Party elites into quasi-capitalist owners and managers of the means of production – not because they are true reformers or effective producers, but because they know how to boss. Dozens of intriguing details and provocative conversation summaries fill the report, including a newspaper story alleging that Yeltsin was now privatizing his own appointment schedule with an outside company, selling access at $30,000 per meeting.

[Source: Memorial Society, Moscow, Archive of History of Dissent, Fond 101, opis 1, Box 2-3-2]