Home > History of Wine > “I…had drunk a bottle of wine…After that I remembered nothing.”: An Encounter with Soviet Secret Police

“I…had drunk a bottle of wine…After that I remembered nothing.”: An Encounter with Soviet Secret Police


"Introduction page from "Report on Encounter with Soviet Secret Police". July 17, 1961. [1]

“Introduction page from “Report on Encounter with Soviet Secret Police”. July 17, 1961. [1]

On July 17, 1961, an unnamed individual typed a report about his trip to the Soviet Union.[1] This was his sixth trip to the Soviet Union since 1934 but his first as a journalist of an unnamed publication instead of “on a diplomatic passport or on official business.” These official trips had occurred during his 26 years of Federal service including being on the staff U.S. High Commissioner to Germany, Department of State, where he worked out of the Office of Eastern European Affairs. From his experience he understood that in the Soviet Union there were cases of prosecution and expulsion under the pretext of “vodka, women, espionage or some combination of these factors.” and “was determined to avoid trouble on any of these counts.”

He entered the country on June 6, 1961, and the “provocatory acts began soon” after his arrival. The first act began with a man wanting to share vodka. This was soon followed when “a not unattractive blonde of uncertain age attached herself” to him in “Gorki Park”. This self-declared widow pressed into his hand an already prepared slip of paper with her contact information. He “destroyed the slip of paper.” Other acts involved “mysterious and semi-mysterious” phone calls which he was comfortable handling. The narrative account of his detainment begins with the reflection “Whether any of these incidents were part of a deliberate campaign of provocation I cannot say…In view of what transpired subsequently, I am inclined to believe that they were.”

U.S.S.R. Political. Pergamon World Atlas. 1967. David Rumsey Map Collections.

U.S.S.R. Political. Pergamon World Atlas. 1967. David Rumsey Map Collections.

The narrative appears under the heading “The Trap”. One June 21, 1961, he departed Moscow for the Caucasus and Central Asia. As he had not taken any of the previous bait it became clear that his handler “decided that the time had come for more direct action.” Having arrived at his hotel in Tashkent at 9:30pm he dined at the hotel restaurant then took an evening walk around 11:00 or 11:30pm. The streets were not “well lighted” and “particularly deserted” until a car drew up beside him and “two husky men in civilian clothing” jumped out and approached him. Without a word they seized his arms but he was able to surprise them and “wrench” himself free. They were not runners and he soon “outdistanced them.” He remained hidden in a courtyard where he “considered his next step” and concluded he was “faced with a deliberate attempt to trap.” After time had passed he crawled out from underneath a wooden gate, “ripping his shirt in the process”, then spent the night on a bench.

The next day he caught a plane to Samarkand where he was met at the airport by an Intourist guide. After a “strenuous tour” he ate dinner at the hotel where he had “a bottle of the local wine”. Around 9pm he set out for a walk in a sort of amusement park which adjoined the hotel. It was well lit and full of people. He subsequently ran into the Uzbek man who sat next to him on his flight. The Uzbek man was with his brother’s “very attractive” fiancée and invited him to come home to meet the family. In weighing “the pros and cons” he decided this “had been too much of a coincidence to be planned” and thus accepted their hospitality.

There were roughly 20 people at the house and they sat around to “sample the father’s homemade wine.” The Voice of America was playing on the powerful radio as various family members entered and left. The father and “aged mother” stay and engaged him “in lively conversation.” Around midnight he caught a taxi back to the hotel but asked to be dropped off a few blocks away. As he turned to go down his street “three men suddenly jumped [him] from the shadows. This time there was no escaping”. He was hit, kicked, and then rolled into a concrete drain where he lost consciousness.

Tashkent, U.S.S.R. (topographic) [Current: Tashkent, Uzbekistan] Portion of Series N502, sheet NK-42-8, U.S. Army Map Service, 1957. Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. University of Texas.

Tashkent, U.S.S.R. (topographic) [Current: Tashkent, Uzbekistan] Portion of Series N502, sheet NK-42-8, U.S. Army Map Service, 1957. Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. University of Texas.

He awoke some hours later in what turned out to be a militia station. He was lying naked on a hard bunk with various injuries that had been treated but not bandaged. One thing that was “uppermost in” his mind was “the protection of my Uzbek friends.” He was bathed then visited by an Intourist agent and the militia chief. It was decided he could return to his hotel but his clothes were torn and dirty, as well as one shoe was lost. Clothes were eventually purchased for him. He was taken to the hotel manager’s office which he assumed “was bugged.”

He anticipated the questions of the Intourist director Mr. Burkhanov and “decided to feign a complete lapse of memory.” As part of his story he had dinner where he “had drunk a bottle of wine (the brand was OK)” then gone for a walk where he “remembered nothing.” Mr. Burkhanov found this hard to believe asking how could he “konk out on one bottle of wine?” He explained he had been tired, it was hot, and he “was not used to Uzbek wines.” He stuck to this story and despite being “unshaven and uncomfortable” he “felt surprisingly calm and collected.”

At midday the Colonel of the militia arrived stating he had assaulted a woman on the street.   The supposed victim, a Mme. Svelova, was brought in and recounted her story with tears.  He apologized “while denying any knowledge” and agreed to pay for the dress. He decided to continue in Russian rather than English which would involve an interpreter and run the risk “of error or misunderstanding from poor translation.” He rejected the idea of legal counsel for they were “not noted for providing any great assistance” as well as contacting the embassy to avoid making an international event that would “make it much more difficult for the Soviets to drop it”.

What followed were a series of interrogations and the writing of a petition to ask the criminal charges be dropped. He eventually returned to Moscow where he was interrogated again and felt they were developing some kind of proposition he would have to reject causing him to “be faced with a prison sentence.” He prepared a list of instructions in case he “was detained for a period of years”. These he dropped off with the Marine guard on duty at the embassy. The final set of interviews with Vladimir M. focused in on the workings of the embassy and the government. More than one month after his arrival, on July 17, 1961, he left the Soviet Union and arrived safely in Vienna, Austria. The journalist concluded as for Vladimir M. and his interrogations that he did not “quite know what to make of it. But it would be naïve to suppose that I have heard the last of him.”

[1] REPORT ON ENCOUNTER WITH SOVIET SECRET POLICE INTRODUCTION, Doc No/ESDN: CIA-RDP80B01676R000800090011-5.  Freedom of Information Act Reading Room, Central Intelligence Agency. URL: http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/document_conversions/5829/CIA-RDP80B01676R000800090011-5.pdf

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