Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 25, 2014
William Martin and Bernon Mitchell

William Martin and Bernon Mitchell

June 25, 1960: William Martin and Bernon Mitchell go on vacation to Mexico. Martin was born in 1931 in Georgia but his family moved to Washington soon after. He earned a degree in mathematics from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1947. He enlisted in the US Navy and served from 1951 to 1954 working as a cryptologist with the Naval Security Group in Japan. Mitchell was born in 1929 in California and enlisted in the Navy after one year of college. His years of service were also 1951 to 1954 and he, too served in Japan with the Naval Security Group as a cryptologist. He stayed an extra year in Japan and worked with the Army Security Agency and when back stateside, he graduation from Stanford University.

The two men became friends while in Japan and both were hired by the National Security Agency (NSA) in 1957. They were disturbed by what they learned of American surveillance which included incursions into foreign airspace. They realized that Congress was unaware of NSA-sponsored flights. In violation of NSA rules, they approached Ohio Congressman Wayne Hays in February 1959 after he expressed frustration with the information he was receiving from the NSA. The two men visited Cuba in December 1959 without notifying their superiors, breaking another rule.

On this day, the two left for a vacation in Mexico and never returned. Instead, they traveled to Havana and from there sailed on a Russian freighter to the USSR. On September 6, 1960, the two men appeared at a joint news conference at the House of Journalists in Moscow and announced they were requesting asylum and Soviet citizenship. They announced their dissatisfaction with information gathering especially with invasion of airspace. Both were appalled by US first-strike capabilities for nuclear war and refusal to disarm. America’s response was to deny all allegations and to brand both men as sexual deviants (homosexuals).

Mitchell was happy, apparently, with his choice to defect to Russia and not much is known of him except that he died in St. Petersburg in 2001. Martin changed his name and continued his studies at Leningrad University. He married a Soviet woman whom he divorced in 1963. He later told a Russian newspaper that his defection was “foolhardy” and attempted to repatriate several times. He spoke with Donald Duffy (VP of the Kaiser Foundation) and Benny Goodman (musician) asking for help to return to the US. In 1979 he approached the American Consulate about coming home causing his case to be reexamined. He was stripped of his American citizenship. He was denied permission to immigrate and was also denied a tourist visa. Martin eventually got as far as Mexico where he died of cancer in 1987.

Setting people to spy on one another is not the way to protect freedom. – Tommy Douglas

But I think the real tension lies in the relationship between what you might call the pursuer and his quarry, whether it’s the writer or the spy. – John le Carre

My notion of the KGB came from romantic spy stories. I was a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education. – Vladimir Putin

Today’s difference between Russia and the United States is that in Russia everybody takes everybody else for a spy, and in the United States everybody takes everybody else for a criminal. – Friedrich Durrenmatt

Also on this day: Great Star of Africa – In 1905, The Cullinan diamond was discovered.
The End – In 1906, a bizarre love triangle ended badly.
Last Stand – In 1876, Custer was defeated at Little Bighorn.
Lady Doctor Elena – In 1678, Elena earned the first PhD awarded to a woman.

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