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The Press: The Letter

2 minute read

Moscow’s foreign press corps thought Cecilia Nelson Kohonen a fairly harmless person. A small (5 ft. 2 in.), pleasant-faced blonde of 33, she was a native of Michigan who had renounced her U.S. citizenship. She had done secretarial work for Visiting Reporters Edgar Snow and Maurice Hindus, and for the U.S. Embassy. For two years she worked part-time for Robert Magidoff, 42, correspondent for McGraw-Hill, Britain’s Exchange Telegraph news agency and NBC.

Like his secretary, Magidoff had switched allegiance. Born in Kiev, he was graduated from the University of Wisconisin, became a U.S. citizen and returned to Russia 13 years ago.

One day last week, Secretary Kohonen did not show up for work. A glance at Izvestia told Magidoff why. In a long letter to the editors, she roundly denounced him as a U.S. spy. In his files, she wrote, she had found queries from McGraw-Hill, asking for information on underground factories, atomic developments and air transport. She said that the replies had gone by diplomatic pouch, to avoid the censors.

“The capitalists,” she concluded darkly, “are hatching a new war and Magidoff’s collection of intelligence data about the U.S.S.R.undoubtedly was part of the dirty work American capitalists are doing . . .”

U.S. Ambassador Walter Bedell Smith denied that Magidoff had ever used the diplomatic mail. McGraw-Hill said that the queries were round-robin copies sent to several of the World News bureaus. Magidoff had not answered the query about underground plants. Nevertheless, Russia’s Foreign Office ordered Magidoff out of the country.

He flew to Berlin, where, still mystified by the charges against him, he said: “The Russian leaders first of all want to isolate their people from foreigners living in the Soviet Union . . . One way of doing this is to try to discredit the foreigners by making them appear evil people, degenerates or spies . . .”

While the real reason for his expulsion remained a mystery, other newsmen guessed that Magidoff might have been a stalking-horse in the Soviet campaign to clean up “impurity” in the arts. He had many friends among Russian writers and artists. Thus, branding him a spy would, later, make it easy to purge any writers he had known.

His departure left only half a dozen U.S. correspondents in Moscow. And if queries alone were to be the basis for espionage charges, they could be kicked out almost any week.

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