New York was a useful place to cover the early years of the Vietnam War because it was the home of the United Nations. It’s diplomats offered an international perspective not otherwise available in the United States. In US media at the time, much was written about the war in Vietnam being a surrogate battle waged by the Soviet Union in its Cold War with the United States. That was Kennedy’s justification for going into Vietnam; we were fighting the global menace of communism.
On the other hand, the Vietnamese claimed they were getting little help from their Soviet and Chinese comrades. In 1962, the Chinese would allow only limited Soviet arms to travel through China if the destination was Vietnam. I decided that one way to get at this little known story was to confront the Soviet delegation to the United Nations with a counter intuitive question from an American journalist: Why aren’t you doing more to help the Vietnamese? That’s how I got to know Yuri Permigorof, a military attaché in the Soviet delegation. Yuri was quite defensive about the question and said that many of his comrades wished the Soviet Union was doing more.
After several meetings about Soviet policy toward Vietnam, Yuri invited me and my family to his apartment for dinner. We reciprocated. We were intrigued with getting to know a couple about our own age who represented the dreaded Cold War enemy. Both our families had young daughters and we soon exchanged children’s toys, bottles of vodka and cheap wine when we visited each other.
Some time in early September, Yuri asked me to meet him at a small Russian restaurant, upstairs off Broadway on 48th Street. It was a long way from WBAI and the United Nations. Dean Rusk was holding a news conference on Vietnam the next day in Washington. Yuri asked me if I planned to attend. I did and he asked if I would take notes on the press conference and give them to him. I said there would be a complete transcript of Dulles’ remarks in the New York Times the next day and he could simply read the written record of the press conference. Yuri insisted that my notes would bring an invaluable interpretation to Dean Rusk’s comments. I declined. Yuri persisted. He said he knew that I was strapped for money and he could help out with regular payments for any intelligence I provided. I asked Yuri if he was trying to recruit me as a spy. He didn’t like that word.
The luncheon ended badly and I didn’t see Yuri again socially, although we talked on the phone on one or two occasions. The next time I saw him was in late October. He dropped by the office unannounced and I met him at the receptionist’s front desk. “Yuri,” I beamed, “We are being investigated by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee about possible communist infiltration of Pacifica Foundation.” Yuri’s face fell and he put his hand up, as if warding off the devil. “I think it is better if we do not see each other for a while,” Yuri mumbled as he backed out the door. I never saw Yuri again. When I inquired about him at the Soviet Mission to the UN they said he had been reassigned to Switzerland.
Next week. Why SISS was investigating Pacifica.