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]

The National Security Archive – NSA Retaining “Useless” and Highly Personal Information of Ordinary Internet Users, Spying …


Snowden did get the FISA data, contrary to Keith Alexander's insistence to the contrary. Photo: EPA

Ordinary internet activity accounts for the overwhelming majority of communications collected and maintained by the National Security Agency (NSA). A recent report by The Washington Post, based on communications leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden, revealed that nine out of 10 communications collected belonged to average American and non-American internet users who were not the targets of investigations. Much of the highly personal communications –including baby pictures and revealing webcam photos– provide little intelligence value and are described as useless, yet are retained under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments. The Post’s findings clearly contradict former NSA head Keith Alexander’s assertions that there was no way Snowden could “touch the FISA data,” and give credence to the argument that “the NSA has been proven incapable of safeguarding” the intelligence it collects, irrespective of its value.

In one 2005 document, intelligence community personnel are instructed how to properly format internal memos to justify FISA surveillance. In the place where the target’s real name would go, the memo offers a fake name as a placeholder: “Mohammed Raghead.”

Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain’s latest Intercept expose reveals that the NSA, along with the FBI, covertly monitors the communications of prominent, upstanding Muslim-Americans under provisions of the FISA intended to target terrorists and foreign spies, ostensibly solely because of their religion. The FISA provision that seemingly codifies the surveillance requires that “the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also ‘are or may be’ engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism.” In practice, however, the agencies monitored the emails of Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country, Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases, and other civically inclined American Muslims.

Why did the CIA take a chance on a BND employee naive enough to volunteer to spy for Russia via email?

White House officials are questioning why President Obama was left in the dark about the CIA’s German intelligence informant and his recent arrest, a somewhat baffling omission in the wake of revelations the NSA monitored the private communications of Chancellor Merkel and the resulting state of US-German relations. “A central question, one American official said, is how high the information about the agent went in the C.I.A.’s command — whether it was bottled up at the level of the station chief in Berlin or transmitted to senior officials, including the director, John O. Brennan, who is responsible for briefing the White House.” Of further interest is why the CIA made use of the German intelligence official in the first place, who not only walked into the agency’s Berlin office in 2012 and offered to spy, but also volunteered his spying services to Russia via email.

The internal affairs division of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is being investigated again, this time for mishandling the personal information of the agency’s 60,000 employees. Under investigation are defunct CBP programs that shared employees’ Social Security numbers with the FBI and that “automatically scanned the Social Security numbers of all the agency’s employees in a Treasury Department financial records database.” Both programs were part of the agency’s response to the Obama administration’s Insider Threat initiative.

Cause of Action’s latest “FOIA Follies” provides some insight on what qualifies for a (b)(5) “withhold because you want to” FOIA exemption at the IRS, and reinforces Archive FOIA Coordinator Nate Jones’ arguments of how the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 would address this overused exemption and help ordinary requesters. Cause of Action submitted a FOIA request to the IRS seeking records related to any requests from the President for individual or business tax returns in 2012, after which the IRS released 790 heavily redacted pages. Cause of Action filed suit in 2013 challenging the IRS’ use of exemption (b)(5) to withhold large portions of the records, prompting the IRS to “reconsider” some of its withholdings. The newly-released portions of documents reveal the agency was using the (b)(5) exemption to withhold mundane information contrary to Attorney General Holder’s 2009 guidance that “an agency should not withhold information simply because it may do so legally.”

"Allegations of Torture in Brazil."

The Brazilian military regime employed a “sophisticated and elaborate psychophysical duress system” to “intimidate and terrify” suspected leftist militants in the early 1970s, according to a State Department report dated in April 1973 and made public last week. Peter Kornbluh, who directs the National Security Archive’s Brazil Documentation Project, called the document “one of the most detailed reports on torture techniques ever declassified by the U.S. government.” This document, and 42 others, were given to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff by Vice President Joe Biden and were made available for use by the Brazilian Truth Commission, which is in the final phase of a two-year investigation of human rights atrocities during the military dictatorship which lasted from 1964 to 1985.

The Pentagon and the Justice Department are going after the money made by former Navy Seal Matt Bissonnette from his book on the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, No Easy Day, for failing to submit the book for pre-publication review to avoid disclosing any top secret information about the raid. It’s worth noting that while the government goes after Bissonnette for releasing his book without pre-publication review, both the CIA and DOD provided unprecedented access to Hollywood filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal for their bin Laden raid blockbuster, Zero Dark Thirty, while simultaneously refusing to release the same information to FOIA requesters

A partially redacted 29-page report recently found low morale at the US government’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which is responsible for Radio and TV Marti. “Some of the reasons cited for low morale included the lack of transparency in decision-making, the inability to offer suggestions, and the lack of effective communication. Others were concerned about raising any issues to the inspection team because of fear of retaliation by management.”


Inside the biological weapons factory at Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan, where the Soviet Union was prepared to make tons of anthrax if the orders came from Moscow [Photo courtesy Andy Weber]

Finally this week, our #tbt document picks concern Eduard Shevardnadze, the ex-Georgian president and Soviet foreign minster who recently died at the age of 86. The documents themselves comes from a 2010 Archive posting on high-level Soviet officials debates during the final years of the Cold War about covering-up the illicit Soviet biological weapons program in the face of protests from the United States and Great Britain. The documents show that Eduard Shevardnadze, along with defense minister Dmitri Yazov, and the Politburo member overseeing the military-industrial complex, Lev Zaikov, were aware of the concealment and were actively involved in discussing it in the years when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was advancing his glasnost reforms and attempting to slow the nuclear arms race. Check out the documents here.

Happy FOIA-ing!

Anatoly S. Chernyaev Diary, 1974 – Ideological Superpower with Empty Stores


Washington, DC, May 25, 2014 – Today the National Security Archive is publishing — for the first time in English — excerpts from the diary of Anatoly S. Chernyaev covering the year 1974, along with edits and a postscript by the author. This is the ninth set of extracts the Archive has posted covering selected critical years from the 1970s through 1991 (see links at left).

Anatoly Chernyaev, the deputy head of the International Department of the Central Committee (and later the senior foreign policy aide to Mikhail Gorbachev), started keeping a systematic diary in 1972, in which he recorded the highlights (and low points) of his work at the International Department, his attendance at Politburo meetings, participation in speech — and report — writing sessions at state dachas, as well as his philosophical reflections on daily life in the Soviet Union from the point of view of a high-level Soviet apparatchik.

Today, Anatoly Sergeyevich remains a champion of glasnost, sharing his notes, documents and first-hand insights with scholars seeking a view into the inner workings of the Soviet government, the peaceful end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 2004, he donated the originals of his detailed diaries, covering the years 1972 through 1991, to the National Security Archive in order to ensure permanent public access to this record – beyond the reach of political uncertainties in contemporary Russia.

In his diary for 1974, Chernyaev continues to write about his work in one of the Central Committee’s key departments, documenting and reflecting on the preparations for the European Conference of Communist Parties, relations within the international Communist movement, the revolutions in Chile and Portugal, the crisis in the Middle East and the ongoing Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) negotiations that would lead to the Helsinki Final Act the following year. The year 1974 brings about the resignation of President Richard Nixon, who in the three previous years has been Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s respected partner in détente.

On the domestic front, Chernyaev follows the internal dynamics of Brezhnev’s leadership and the concentration of power in the General Secretary’s hands. On several occasions in 1974, Chernyaev provides a fascinating glimpse of the personal struggle that his boss, International Department head Boris Nikolayevich Ponomarev, experiences in connection with Brezhnev’s growing cult of personality; and illustrates Ponomarev’s own smaller personality cult. The little details of everyday Soviet politics — such as worrying about how many times to include the General Secretary’s name in a report — show the progression of the cult and the internal mechanisms of Soviet bureaucracy under a microscope.

The theme of ideology is a leitmotif for Chernyaev in 1974. A deep thinker, Chernyaev constantly analyzes the trends he observes in the leadership, in the apparatus, and in Soviet society. In 1974, the author is attempting to reconcile the bureaucratic reality of the ossifying Soviet apparatus with the fact that ideology is still a major part of the Soviet Union’s identity. The ideology of class struggle is an obstacle to Brezhnev’s détente and the CSCE negotiations, and yet Chernyaev sees that the Soviet Union cannot afford to back down ideologically: “Europe is a case in point. We already have détente and security in Europe. But in response they launched a counterattack. They demand an ideological détente. This is unthinkable for us.”

Chernyaev notes that the Soviet Union is “an ideological superpower” and thus it needs ideology to maintain its following and sustain its domestic and international legitimacy. This role as an ideological hegemon is exemplified in the diary by Chernyaev’s descriptions of financial support the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) provides to other fraternal parties, which come to Moscow as supplicants.

The subject of European Communist parties and the international Communist movement is at the core of Chernyaev’s work in 1974. The USSR’s dominance as an ideological authority is eroding as European Communists and Socialists look to establish independence from Soviet influence. At the same time, Chernyaev realizes that “the real work that Brezhnev does every day will push us to tone down our ideology above all in our international relations. And our connection to the Communist movement will feel more and more like an impediment.” The balance between maintaining authority over the Communist movement and moving forward on the world stage is closely reflected in Chernyaev’s diary during this period.

In 1974, Chernyaev visits for the first time the city that would become his favorite — London. He describes his meetings with Labour Party members and their internal politics. On his trips abroad, he makes comparisons between the standard of living in the West (including some fraternal countries in Eastern Europe) and in the Soviet Union, where shelves are empty and even Party bureaucrats have to stand in lines hunting for decent clothes and shoes. Chernyaev’s personal experiences, astutely recorded in his diary, sharply illustrate the paradoxical dissonance of the ideological superpower with empty store shelves.

Anatoly Chernyaev’s diary for the year 1974 presents a rich portrayal of the last year of Brezhnev’s détente, depicting the political nuances of the Soviet government, the social atmosphere in Moscow’s intellectual and cultural circles, and the author’s insights into the superpower’s uncertain future.



Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, 1974

The NSA – Snowden Docs Reveal NSA Spied on American Law Firm and Targeted WikiLeaks, DHS Scraps Plan to Build National License Plate Tracking System

Snowden leaks reveal NSA monitored US law firms representing foreign governments and targeted WikiLeaks and its supporters. (Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP/File)

Snowden leaks reveal NSA monitored US law firms representing foreign governments and targeted WikiLeaks and its supporters. (Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP/File)

A Top Secret document leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden, reveals that the agency spied on an American law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute against the US. The document raises both concerns for US lawyers with clients overseas and accusations of economic espionage. While the NSA is prohibited from targeting American organizations, including law firms, attorney-client conversations “do not get special protections under American law from N.S.A. eavesdropping,” and the agency “can intercept the communications of Americans if they are in contact with a foreign intelligence target abroad, such as Indonesian officials.”

Other Top Secret documents provided by Edward Snowden and posted on The Intercept (the new website edited by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill) disclose the agency’s strategic targeting of WikiLeaks, its supporters, and other activist groups –including Pirate Bay and Anonymous. The documents confirm that the NSA’s British counterpart, GCHQ, electronically monitored WikiLeaks website visitors; that the Obama administration urged foreign governments to file criminal charges against WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, over publication of Afghanistan war logs; that the Obama administration discussed labeling WikiLeaks “a malicious foreign actor” to ease extensive electronic surveillance of its activities; and that a 2008 US Army report identified ways to destroy the organization.

DNI Clapper says government should have been more forthcoming about NSA surveillance programs.

DNI Clapper says government should have been more forthcoming about NSA surveillance programs.

In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said the NSA should have informed Congress and the public about its surveillance programs far sooner. Clapper argued that the shock value of Snowden’s revelations are the main reason the public and privacy advocates are opposed to the programs, and that had the agency been more forthright, the programs would be more widely accepted. Regardless, in light of Snowden’s disclosures and President Obama’s avowed “efforts to overhaul the intelligence community,” outgoing NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander will be sending President Obama proposals for storing the data collected by the bulk phone records collection program outside the NSA sometime this week. In his NSA reform speech, Obama suggested that private phone companies might store the data, though the private companies themselves remain adamantly opposed to such a move.

The British High Court upheld London police’s August 18, 2013, detention of David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, at London’s Heathrow Airport. The police detained Miranda for nearly nine hours after invoking terrorism legislation, and seized devices that contained documents leaked by Edward Snowden, including nearly 60,000 “highly classified UK intelligence documents.” Miranda’s lawyers argued “that the government’s use of terrorism legislation to detain the Brazilian citizen was improper, disproportionate, and ran counter to the principle of free expression,” citing further concerns that the detention would intimidate other journalists. However, the Court ruled Miranda’s detention “was a proportionate measure in the circumstances.” The majority of the information Miranda carried was encrypted, and, as of August 30, 2013, Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, SO15, had only reconstructed 75 of the 60,000 documents.

White House seeking potential new drone bases near Pakistan's NW border. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

White House seeking potential new drone bases near Pakistan’s NW border. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The White House is seeking potential new bases in Central Asia for the CIA’s lethal drone program in Northwest Pakistan in the event US forces are forced to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year. However, officials are concerned that their ability to target operatives in Pakistan will be greatly reduced if they are forced to relocate from their Afghan bases, in large part because the amount of human intelligence required to support the strikes necessitates being close to Pakistan’s Northwest border. However, a recent Intercept report examines the NSA’s role in the CIA’s drone program, and argues that the NSA uses “electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets,” and the CIA, “[r]ather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) scrapped its plan to build a national license plate tracking system to catch fugitive illegal immigrants yesterday “after privacy advocates raised concern about the initiative.” Earlier this week, a DHS spokeswoman announced that the database “could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals,” and stressed that it “would be run by a commercial enterprise, and the data would be collected and stored by the commercial enterprise, not the government.” However, outcry arose after the Washington Post reported the program could “contain more than 1 billion records and could be shared with other law enforcement agencies, raising concerns that the movements of ordinary citizens who are under no criminal suspicion could be scrutinized.” Even though the national tracking system has been nixed, a 2012 Police Executive Research Forum report found that 71% of all US police departments already use automatic license plate tracking.

Finally this week, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently released a report examining FOIA statistics, backlogs, and potential policy options to improve the FOIA. The report cautions against taking all agency reporting at face value, pointing out, “a reduction in backlog does not necessarily mean an agency is more efficiently administering FOIA. For example, an agency could eliminate a backlog by denying complex requests that could otherwise be released in part.” The report also cites the Archive’s latest FOIA audit on outdated agency FOIA regulations, and suggests that Congress “may wish to consider whether it should direct agencies to examine their FOIA regulations, to determine whether they reflect statutory amendments, and to update any regulations that do not reflect FOIA, as amended.” The report further notes that Congress could monitor the expansion of (b)(3) exemptions to “prevent the creation of exemptions written more broadly than intended,” and preventing “certain agencies from operating without the public being able to access data and records.”

Battle Rages Between CIA and Senate Intel Committee over Torture Report, Conflicting Intelligence Analysis of the Ukraine Crisis,

CIA director John Brennan sits between FBI head James Comey, and director of national intelligence, James Clapper. Brennan implied that it was Congressional staff, not the intelligence agency, that acted inappropriately. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

CIA director John Brennan sits between FBI head James Comey, and director of national intelligence, James Clapper. Brennan implied that it was Congressional staff, not the intelligence agency, that acted inappropriately. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The battle between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Committee’s scathing 6,000-page report on the CIA’s defunct detention and interrogation program escalated this week after complaints that the CIA was “inappropriately monitoring” Committee staff while it completed its report. The complaints from Congress compelled the CIA’s inspector general (IG) to begin an inquiry, and the CIA’s IG has reportedly already referred the matter to the Department of Justice for action. The 6,000-page Committee report has yet to be declassified, despite pressure from the White House that it be disclosed, “in part because of a continuing dispute with the C.I.A. over some of its conclusions.” The report has taken more than four years to complete, and has cost more than $40 million –partially because the CIA insisted that Committee staff only be allowed to review classified materials pertinent to the investigation at the agency’s secure facility in Northern Virginia, “[a]nd only after a group of outside contractors had reviewed the documents first.” According to government officials, CIA officers gained access to the computer networks used by the Committee after the CIA became concerned that the Committee itself had inappropriately gained access to parts of the CIA’s computer network it was not authorized to view.

Lawmakers are seeking explanations for conflicting and erroneous intelligence reports on the Ukraine crisis. AP Photo

Lawmakers are seeking explanations for conflicting and erroneous intelligence reports on the Ukraine crisis. AP Photo

The House Intelligence Committee is seeking explanations for conflicting intelligence reports from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the CIA, and the Office of National Intelligence on the Ukraine crisis. Lawmakers reported that a classified DIA report issued earlier this week concluded that Russia’s troop movements near the Ukrainian border would not lead to military intervention, while a classified CIA report found that while there was a possibility that Russia would intervene in Ukraine, an invasion was unlikely. A closed-door briefing to members of Congress last Thursday by Robert Cardillo, Deputy Director of National Intelligence, further reported that military action in Ukraine was not imminent. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, told POLITICO that, “[w]e have to better deploy our resources… because we have large resources and it should not be possible for Russia to walk in and take over the Crimea and it’s a done deal by the time we know about it.”

While intelligence officials said it was possible that Putin’s decision to take military action was a spontaneous one, a former CIA officer speaking on the condition of anonymity argued that “the agency’s focus on counter-terrorism over the last 13 years has undermined its ability to conduct traditional espionage against key adversaries, including Russia.” The former officer further noted that the agency’s office in Kiev could not be larger than two or three agents.

The White House released an overview of Obama’s FY2015 budget request earlier this week, revealing that the administration is asking for $45.6 billion to fund the National Intelligence Budget. Matthew Aid points out that the proposal sets the goal of enhancing transparency and reforming signals intelligence programs, specifically stating that the intelligence community “will use its signals intelligence capabilities in a way that protects national security while supporting foreign policy, respecting privacy and civil liberties, maintaining the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures.”

According to the agency’s inspector general report, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which oversees the US’ intelligence satellites, makes frequent mistakes when making classification decisions. The IG report revealed that out of a sample of 134 documents, 114 contained classification mistakes. The report, which was conducted in response to the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2010 and obtained in response to a FOIA request, found that NRO classification officials “lack sufficient knowledge of classification principles and procedures necessary to perform their duties…One OCA [original classification authority] had almost no knowledge of his responsibilities.” Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood notes that, like other reports completed for the Reducing Over-Classification Act, “the NRO Inspector General review does not allow for the possibility that an agency could be in full compliance with classification rules and nevertheless be overclassifying information.”

The USS Pueblo docked in Pyongyang in 2010. For good measure, here is the official North Korean news agency report on the status of the spy ship:

The USS Pueblo docked in Pyongyang in 2010. For good measure, here is the official North Korean news agency report on the status of the spy ship:

The National Security Agency (NSA) recently released its fourth installment of documents on the 1968 capture of the USS Pueblo, a U.S. Navy intelligence collection ship, by North Korean forces. The 61 documents “comprise 236 pages of material, including maps, NSA memoranda, analytic assessments, chronologies, North Korean press releases, and other miscellaneous documents.” A previously declassified 1992 NSA report of the incident claimed that the massive amounts of classified material on board, as well as cipher equipment, were confiscated by the North Koreans and likely passed on to the Soviet Union and China. Despite the compromise of enormous amounts of sensitive information, LBJ conceded that “[p]robably the luckiest thing that happened to us was that we did not send people in there and have another Bay of Pigs.” The USS Pueblo is currently on display at the renovated Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang.

Happy FOIA-ing!

SECRET: 60th – Anniversary of Castle BRAVO Nuclear Test, the Worst Nuclear Test in U.S. History

Sixty years ago, on 1 March 1954 (28 February on this side of the International Dateline), on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the U.S. government staged the largest nuclear test in American history. The BRAVO shot in the Castle thermonuclear test series had an explosive yield of 15 megatons, 1000 times that of the weapon that destroyed Hiroshima and nearly three times the 6 megatons that its planners expected. To recall this shocking event the National Security Archive posts today a selection of documents about the BRAVO shot and its consequences, mainly from State Department records at the National Archives.


Castle BRAVO spewed radioactive fallout around the world and gravely sickened nearby inhabitants of the Marshall Islands, then under a U.S. trusteeship, and 236 were evacuated as well as 28 American military personnel on a nearby island. Twenty-three Japanese fishermen were also contaminated, which made the test known to the world and roiled U.S-Japanese relations. While the U.S. government claimed at the time that a shift in the wind spread the fallout far from the test site, a recent U.S. government report demonstrates that it was the volcanic nature of the explosion that dumped the fallout nearby. The adverse health effects for inhabitants of Rangelop Atoll, 110 miles away from the test site, were severe and some islands remained uninhabitable for years. This radiological calamity had a significant impact on world opinion and helped spark the movement for a nuclear test moratorium which ultimately led to the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty.

Included in this posting is a U.S. Air Force documentary film on the Joint Task Force 7 commander’s report on the Castle Series. It includes footage of the BRAVO shot as well as coverage of the evacuation of U.S. personnel and Marshall Islanders in the wake of the test. The documentary is sanitized at points apparently to protect nuclear weapons design information. A Freedom of Information request by the Archive for a fresh review and a subsequent appeal failed to dislodge more details.

Documents in this posting include:

  • Japanese government accounts of the Fukuryu Maru incident
  • The May 1954 petition by Marshall Islanders for an end to nuclear tests in the area
  • U.S. Embassy Tokyo telegrams on BRAVO’s adverse impact for U.S.-Japanese relations
  • Internal U.S. government consideration of compensation to the Japanese government and the Marshall Islands for losses incurred by nuclear testing
  • Decisions to delay the return of the inhabitants to Rongelap Atoll because of unsafe conditions
  • A comprehensive Defense Threat Reduction Agency report from 2013 on Castle BRAVO exposing “legends and lore” about the test
Source: Document 17: Thomas Kunkle and Bryon Ristvet, Castle Bravo: Fifty Years of Legend and Lore: A Guide to Offsite Radiation Exposure, page 35
Source: Document 17: Thomas Kunkle and Bryon Ristvet, Castle Bravo: Fifty Years of Legend and Lore: A Guide to Offsite Radiation Exposure, page 5.

Why and how exactly U.S. scientists miscalculated the yield remains classified but what made the 15-megaton Bravo shot the worst nuclear test in U.S. history is no secret. The device detonated on an islet in a coral reef, producing massive levels of fallout that quickly reached the stratosphere before falling to earth. It is worth comparing BRAVO to the most powerful nuclear test ever, the Soviet Union’s 50-megaton “Tsar Bomba” of 30 October 1961. That test’s radiological consequences were far less severe because the “Tsar Bomba’s” fireball never touched the earth’s surface producing significantly less fallout than BRAVO. Historian of science Alex Wellerstein has written that Castle BRAVO is a “cautionary tale about hubris and incompetence in the nuclear age — scientists setting off a weapon whose size they did not know, whose effects they did not correctly forecast, whose legacy will not soon be outlived.”[i]

While the “Tsar Bomba” was almost immediately known to the world, the architects of the Castle test series worked in secrecy; the Eisenhower administration wanted to keep words like “hydrogen” and “thermonuclear” out of public discourse and only the fact that tests would be held in the Pacific in 1954 went to the public. After the BRAVO shot occurred, the AEC and the Defense Department sought to control what could be known about the event. But the cat was out of the bag when the Fukuryu Maru crew returned to port which gave Washington a serious damage control problem as information about the 1 March test began to reach the public. At the end of the month AEC chairman Lewis Strauss gave a generally misleading press conference about BRAVO but he managed to alarm the public when he acknowledged that hydrogen bombs could be “made large enough to take out a city … any city.”[ii]

Until recently, an extensive collection of documents on nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands was readily available on a Department of Energy Web site, The Marshall Islands Document Collection. It no longer has an on-line presence. In the fall of 2013, at the time of the U.S. government shut-down, this important collection disappeared from the Web. It is unclear whether the Department intends to restore it as a distinct Web page. Many documents on the Marshall Islands can be found on the Energy Department’s OpenNet but whether they are essentially the same items is also unclear at present. Moreover other documents on nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands that the Energy Department declassified in the 1990s and were once available at the National Archives or on-line were reclassified early in the last decade after the Kyl-Lott amendment went into effect in 1999.[iii]

Unique non-U.S. government documents about the consequences of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands are also at risk. The case files of the Nuclear Claims Tribunal for the Marshall Islands, which went out of existence in 2010, are an irreplaceable record of the impact of nuclear testing on a vulnerable population. The collection of paper records resides in a building in Majuro, the Marshall Island’s capital city, but no arrangements are in place to assure their long-term preservation.[iv]



Sources information: Unless otherwise noted, all documents in this collection are from the State Department’s central decimal files, 1950-54, at the National Archives. Documents are from two decimal files, 711.5611 or 211.9441. Other important documents can be found in the U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954,Volume XIV Part 2:Japan (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1985).


Document 1: U.S. Air Force Lookout Mountain Laboratory, Joint Task Force 7 Documentary Film, “Operation Castle Commander’s Report,” n.d., Sanitized copy

Source: FOIA request to Department of Energy processed by Sandia National Laboratories Video Services

This film, posted previously on other Web sites, covers the Castle nuclear test series, consisting of six detonations during 1 March-14 May 1954. It represents the report of the commander of Joint Task Force 7, which carried out nuclear tests during the period. Because of security concerns, the Department of Energy excised all coverage of the third shot, Koon, on 6 April 1954 (which was a fizzle). Produced for military planners and senior U.S. government officials, the film depicts the elaborate preparations for the test, including the extensive array of diagnostic equipment used to measure the detonations and gauge their effects. Despite the excisions, the film conveys that U.S. nuclear planners found the test series valuable for understanding fallout effects and for future military planning. Castle further demonstrated that it was possible to field megaton-class nuclear weapons that weighed less than 10,000 pounds. Thus, the narrator found the Castle tests were “vital” for U.S. national security.

Note: Thanks to Howie Southard, George Washington University Academic Technologies, for converting the film into digital format.


Document 2: State Department Office of Legal Affairs, Memorandum of Conversation, “Injury to Japanese Fisherman by the Bikini Explosion,” 17 March 1954, Secret

When the Fukuryu Maru returned to port at Yaizu on 14 March, the secret of Castle BRAVO was out. The Japanese government informed Washington about the condition of the crew and State Department and Atomic Energy Commission officials immediately began discussions of liability issues, probable Japanese claims, and ways and means for compensation. After some consideration of using emergency funds available to the State Department and the White House, it became evident that the Bureau of the Budget would play a central role in making recommendations for compensation.


Document 3: State Department telegram 2090, 19 March 1954, Unclassified

Despite the claims by Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, the Fukuryu Maru was operating 14 miles outside the 57,000 square mile “Danger Area” established by the U.S. Navy around the test site. The crew had no warning that a test was imminent and U.S. radar and spotter planes did not detect the ship. The “Danger Area” had nothing to do with health and safety; instead it was a security zone “to deny information to enemy nations.” After the Fukuryu Maru incident became known, the U.S. Commander-in-Chief Pacific created a massive danger zone of 570,000 square miles, which raised serious problems for the Japanese fishing industry.[v]


Documents 4A-C: U.S. Embassy Telegrams on the Crisis in U.S.-Japan Relations:

A: U.S. Embassy Tokyo telegram 2261, 21 March 1954, Secret

B: U.S. Embassy Tokyo telegram 2264, 22 March 1954, Secret

C: U.S. Embassy Tokyo telegram 2279, 23 March 1954, Secret

Deep Japanese aversion to nuclear weapons and the Fukuryu Maru crew’s precarious health created serious difficulties for U.S.-Japan relations. Supporting compensation for the damage done to the fisheries and the Maru’s crew, Ambassador John M. Allison recognized that the Japanese government was in a difficult position, facing as it did questions about the United States closing off areas of the Pacific and the impact on the fishing industry. Perhaps not sufficiently appreciating the Japanese Government’s difficulty and the U.S. responsibility for the crisis, the Embassy reports were critical of Tokyo for a perceived lack of cooperation.. Sensitive data on radioactive fallout had reached the Japanese press, the press was “fanning extreme emotionalism,” and Japanese Communists were trying to capitalize on the affair. Besides an “irresponsible” attitude on security, the Embassy also saw bureaucratic rivalries and “resentment” of Japanese scientists toward the United States complicating the problem.


Document 5: Letter from Mrs. Tamaki Uemura, President of the Japanese Young Women’s Christian Association, to Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower, 30 April 1954, Unclassified

After Japanese doctors had issued public reports about the deteriorating health of the fishermen and had publicly requested information on treatment to remove radioactive strontium 90 from bone marrow, angry U.S. Embassy officials demanded that the Government correct the statements, which suggested that the U.S. had been less than cooperative. In the wake of this incident, YWCA president Uemura publicly protested to the president’s wife, Mamie Eisenhower, asking why the U.S. government had questioned the doctor’s statements, suggesting a lack of understanding about Japanese thinking about the horrors of radiation sickness. Uemura highlighted the serious damage the tests had inflicted on the fishing industry because fish was a “must item” in the Japanese diet.[vi]


Document 6: U.S. Embassy Tokyo Airgram 1481, “Transmittal of Preliminary Report of Dr. Merrill Eisenbud – ‘Contamination of the Fukuryu Maru and Associated Problems in Japan,’” 30 April 1954, Confidential

Merrrill Eisenbud, the AEC’s first health and safety chief, arrived in Tokyo on 22 March to investigate the irradiation of the ship, the cargo, and tuna catches, but also to offer technical support, mainly on radiological issues, to the Japanese scientists and doctors treating the crew. The Atomic Bomb Casualties Commission’s Dr. John Morton had already offered assistance on treatment of the patients. Eisenbud’s report cited the “uncooperative atmosphere” that he encountered, such as Morton’s inability to get access to most of the patients and the general refusal of the Japanese to provide access to all but small portions of the radioactive ash that had been collected. Not mentioned, however, is that, for security reasons, the U.S. specialists would not provide Japanese doctors with information they wanted about the composition of the radioactive ashes.[vii]

Eisenbud’s preliminary report reviewed issues that he believed needed further exploration, including the degree of dangerous beta and gamma radiation that the fisherman had received from the fallout. Noting estimates that exposure had been in the range of 70 Roentgens, Eisenbud believed that the “actual dose could have been 2, 10, or even a 100 times higher.” Later research indicated that the crew had been exposed to 290 roentgens, whereas 3.9 was the maximum allowable exposure for AEC personnel.[viii]


Document 7: U.S. Embassy Tokyo Airgram 1482, “Public and Private Official Papers Relating to the Case of the Fukuryu Maru No. 5: Documentation March 17-April 23 1954,” 30 April 1954, Secret, excerpts

This airgram is a compilation, with a detailed summary, of communications between the U.S. and Japanese governments during the first weeks of the crisis. Included is the Maritime Safety Agency’s initial report on the Fukuryu Maru incident as well as more detailed accounts of what happened to the crew on 1 March and during the return voyage to Japan. In light of concern among some U.S. officials that a hidden “Red” hand had played a role in the incident, the compilation includes a list of U.S. Embassy questions to the Japanese about the crew members’ political affiliations, whether they listened to Communist radio stations, or whether any of their relatives had Communist affiliations. The Foreign Ministry’s answers are included; not surprisingly, it discovered no Communist connections to the fishermen


Document 8: Admiral Arthur Radford, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Memorandum to Secretary of Defense, “A Proposal for a Moratorium on Future Testing of Nuclear Weapons,” 30 April 1954, Secret

Castle Bravo and its consequences sparked antinuclear protests around the world, with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru calling for a “standstill agreement” on nuclear tests.[ix] The Joint Chiefs of Staff quickly rejected proposals for a moratorium arguing that with the U.S. already enjoying an “indeterminate advantage” over the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons technology, a moratorium would provide Moscow with the opportunity to “neutralize” the U.S. advantage by abrogating or violating an agreement. While a moratorium might be politically advantageous for Washington, the advantages would be fleeting “whereas the military disadvantages would be far-reaching.”


Document 9: U.S. Embassy Tokyo Telegram 2702, 4 May 1954, Secret

The U.S. Embassy reported that the Japanese Foreign Ministry had sent a note trying to explain why the Japanese reaction to the incident had been unfavorable to the United States and why Tokyo had found itself in an “embarrassing” position during the crisis. For example, information on the composition of the fallout had been reported publicly because Japan had no atomic secrecy regulations and U.S. doctors had not received full access to the patients because of the latters’ concern that they would be seen as “experimental material rather than as a therapeutic object.” The Embassy rejected the latter claim but agreed that the Government had cut “a poor figure” during the crisis.


Documents 10A-B: The Marshall Islands Petition

A: U.S. Mission to the United Nations Despatch 790, (UN-UND) Petition from the Marshallese People Concerning the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands,” 4 May 1954, Unclassified

B: State Department telegram 543, “Re: Marshallese Petition,” 4 May 1954, Official Use Only

On 20 April, representatives of the Congress of the Marshall Islands filed a petition with the United Nations. Citing the “increasing danger” from U.S. nuclear tests in the area and the suffering of the people of Rongelap and Uterik, the petition declared that land and access to it were the basis of the “very life of the people.” Therefore, the petitioners asked for a halt to nuclear testing in the area, but if that was not possible, for the United States to take “all possible precautionary measures” and to provide safety instruction for the inhabitants and compensation for losses. A response prepared by the AEC and the State Department conceded the suggestions were “eminently reasonable” but also claimed the nuclear tests were in the “interests of general peace and security” and that the Marshall Islanders “had no medical reason to expect any permanent after-effects on the general health of the inhabitants.”


Document 11: State Department Instruction A-836, “Estimate of Present Medical Status of the Twenty-Three Crewmen of the FUKURYU MARU,” 8 May 1954, Confidential

The Department sent the Embassy in Tokyo a recent report from the AEC’s Division of Biology and Medicine based on urine samples of some of the crew and blood counts provided by the Japanese. The news was bad: the urine samples showed that radioactive material had been “ingested” and the low white blood cell counts of the “most seriously affected patients” made it “unwise to assume at this point that all will recover.” A draft statement on the possible death of a crew member was being prepared. A copy of the AEC report was being made available to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy which had been asked to keep the information under wraps because publicity would have “unfavorable repercussions.”


Document 12: State Department Memorandum of Conversation, “Radioactive Tuna,” 6 July 1954, Confidential

A Food and Drug Administration official reported to the State Department that a West Coast cannery had discovered three radioactive tuna imported from Japan since 1 March. The tuna had probably eaten contaminated fish because the skull and bones of the fish were radioactive. For the time being, to keep the information under control the Department would not inform the Embassy in Tokyo and presumably Japanese diplomats would not be told either.


Document 13: U.S. Embassy Tokyo telegram 207, 26 July 1954, Confidential

Ambassador Allison reported that Prime Minister Yoshida had almost been persuaded to request a $4.2 million compensation claim but that the Foreign Ministry had talked the number down to $1 million. Allison favored a quick settlement to avoid adverse publicity, but it took months to finalize, even after one of the crew members, Aikichi Kuboyama, died in September from liver ailments possibly aggravated by the radioactive exposure. The U.S. government gave his widow a check for 1 million yen ($2,800) and in January 1955 it paid the Japanese government $2 million in compensation for losses caused by BRAVO and other tests.[x]


Document 14: Letter, James J. Wadsworth, Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to David W. Wainhouse, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, 4 August 1954, Official Use Only

Wadsworth recounted a recent memorandum from Mason Sears, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Trusteeship Council, to Ambassador to the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge about the diplomatic risks posed by the post-BRAVO situation. Noting that India’s representative to the UN Khrishna Menon had raised questions about the legality of nuclear testing in UN trust territories, Sears argued that Washington would have trouble getting the support of close allies if another BRAVO incident occurred. Moreover, Washington had to move forward on the matter of compensation; the claims of the Bikinians remained unresolved and “just and prompt settlements” for the former residents of Rongelap and Uterik were also necessary.


Document 15: U.S. Embassy Tokyo Telegram 849, 8 October 1954, Confidential

Tokyo kept up the pressure on Washington on various fronts. A note from the foreign minister requested the United States to move its nuclear testing grounds as far away as possible but if that could not be done, to reduce the size of the tests. The matter of compensation to the Japanese fishing industry for damage caused by nuclear testing also remained on Tokyo’s agenda.


Document 16: Letter, Chairman Atomic Energy Commission Lewis Strauss to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, 2 December 1954, with Memorandum from Gerard C. Smith attached, 13 December 1954, Confidential

Taking into account Sears’ argument for compensation [see document 14] Lewis Strauss described the state of play in this letter to the secretary of state. A lump sum payment was in the works for the Bikinians who had been displaced in 1946. Strauss misleadingly claimed that people on Rongelap and Uterik had been evacuated “immediately” after the test, but that did not occur until two days later, after huge amounts of radioactive debris had fallen on the atolls. With respect to their claims, the Defense Department would handle them but they had to be filed within a year of incident. The people on Uterik had been returned to their homes, but the Rongelap people would not be returned until May 1955.

Bikini’s former inhabitants received compensation in 1956, but it was not until the mid-1960s that the U.S. government provided any compensation for victims of the BRAVO exposures. It took another 24 years for Washington to establish a trust fund for the Marshall Islands.


Documents 17A-B: Postponed Return to Rongelap Atoll

A: Office of Special Assistant to Secretary of State for Atomic Energy Matters, Memorandum of conversation, Return of Inhabitants to Rongelap,” 22 April 1955, Official Use Only

B: Office of Special Assistant to Secretary of State for Atomic Energy Matters, Memorandum of conversation, Return of Inhabitants to Rongelap Atoll in the TTPI,” 18 May 1955, Official Use Only

Strauss’s hope for a return to Rongelap atoll by May 1955 was excessively optimistic. By April and May, discussions between AEC and State Department officials indicated that immediate return was impossible. The first conversation indicated serious problems: people could go back to the atoll as long as they “restrict” themselves to the southern islands and “do not eat too many shellfish.” But in mid-May, Deputy High Commissioner for the Pacific Islands Trust Territory Delmas Henry Nucker decided that it “would still be dangerous to the inhabitants, as would the shell fish in the lagoon.” It would take “another year” before the atoll was “completely safe for the people to return.” In 1957, people returned to Rongelap, but the area remained seriously contaminated. Controversy over the actual impact of the radiation persisted, but growing concern about the degree of hazard led the people on Rongelap to vote with their feet. In 1985 Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior transferred over 300 people from Rongelap to Majetto, an island in the Kwajalein Atoll.[xi]


Document 18: Thomas Kunkle and Bryon Ristvet, Castle Bravo: Fifty Years of Legend and Lore: A Guide to Offsite Radiation Exposure (Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Defense Threat Reduction Information Analysis Center, January 2013), DTRIAC SR 12-001

Source: Restricted Data Blog

This comprehensive work on the BRAVO shot was written for a highly specialized audience, although the fine selection of photographs will interest a wider audience. The report’s purpose is to explain exactly how local populations in the Marshall Islands were exposed to dangerous levels of fallout. That the MIKE thermonuclear test in late 1952 had produced relatively small amounts of fallout provided a “misleading lesson” which encouraged the Castle planners to believe the tests could be conducted without advance evacuation of nearby populations. A central element of the BRAVO disaster was that the device exploded on the surface of Bikini atoll with the resulting fireball “suck[ing] up…ten million tons of pulverized coral debris coated [with] radioactive fission products.” Like a volcanic eruption, BRAVO “injected a great mass of debris into the stratosphere” which rapidly fell to the earth. With this the authors laid to rest the “legend” that unanticipated shifts in the wind led to the fallout on Rongelap [See document 10B for an example]. While the report challenges claims that radioactive exposure was responsible for thyroid problems among the Marshallese, it includes this sobering conclusion: “It is clear beyond doubt that the people evacuated from Rongelap, especially the children, have suffered medically from their fallout radiation exposure” [p. 120].



[i] See Wellerstein’s analysis, “Castle Bravo Revisited” at Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog.

[ii] Lawrence Wittner, The Struggle Against the Bomb, Volume II: Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954-1970 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), 2-3; Barton Hacker , Elements of Controversy: The Atomic Energy Commission and Radiation Safety in Nuclear Weapons Testing, 1947-1974 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 136, 138.

[iii] April L. Brown, “No Promised Land: The Shared Legacy of the Castle Bravo Nuclear Test,” Arms Control Today March 2014, 43. This article includes a useful map of the Marshall Islands.

[iv] Information from Trudy Huskamp Peterson, e-mailed 20 February 2014.

[v] Martha Smith-Norris, “‘Only as Dust in the Face of the Wind,’: An Analysis of the BRAVO Nuclear Incident in the Pacific, 1954,” Journal of American-East Asian Relations 6 (1997): 1-34, (danger zone discussed at 13-14). This is highly useful assessment should be supplemented by Roger Dingman’s account of the Fukuryu Maru incident, “Alliance in Crisis: The Lucky Dragon Incident and Japanese-American Relations,” in Warren I.Cohen and Akira Iriye, The Great Powers in East Asia, 1953-1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990): 187-214. For the “Danger Area,” see also document 17 at page 88. Very important on radiological matters is Hacker , Elements of Controversy, 130-158.

[vi] Smith-Norris, “Only As Dust in the Face of the Wind,” 21-22.

[vii] Dingman, “Alliance in Crisis,” 38-39.

[viii] Smith-Norris, “Only As Dust in the Face of the Wind,” 9; Hacker, Elements of Controversy, 85.

[ix] Wittner, The Struggle Against the Bomb, 1-28, 98-99.

[x] Smith-Norris, “Only As Dust in the Face of the Wind,” 21-22

[xi] For a run-down on the history of the claims settlement, see Stephen Schwartz et al., Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Program, 1940-1998 (Washington, D.C. : Brookings Institution, 1998), 415-421.