May 26

This Day in History

Cold War

May 26, 1960:

United States charges Soviets with espionage

During a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge charges that the Soviet Union has engaged in espionage activities at the U.S. embassy in Moscow for years. The charges were obviously an attempt by the United States to deflect Soviet criticisms following the downing of an American U-2 spy plane over Russia earlier in the month.

On May 1, 1960, a highly sophisticated (and supposedly invulnerable) U.S. spy plane, the U-2, was shot down over the Soviet Union. Although U.S. officials at first denied the existence of any such spy planes, the Soviets gleefully produced both the wreckage of the plane and its pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Embarrassed U.S. officials, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, were forced to publicly admit that the United States was indeed spying on the Soviet Union with the high altitude planes. However, the U.S. government consistently declared that it was doing nothing that the Soviets themselves were not doing. As evidence of that charge, Henry Cabot Lodge brought the issue before the U.N. Security Council. There, he produced a wooden reproduction of the Great Seal of the United States. Nestled inside was a small listening and transmitting device. Lodge claimed that the seal had been presented to the U.S. embassy in Moscow in 1945 by a group of Russian citizens. In 1952, a security sweep of the embassy discovered the listening device. Lodge went on to note that more than 100 other such devices had been found in the U.S. embassies in Russia and other communist-bloc countries during the last few years. The Soviet representative on the Security Council chuckled often during Lodge's presentation and then asked, "From what plays were these props taken and when will it open?"

Despite the U.S. charges of Soviet espionage, nothing could undo the damage of the downed U-2 spy plane, the subsequent denials, and the public embarrassment suffered by Eisenhower and other U.S. officials when they were caught in a lie. Just 10 days before Lodge's presentation in the Security Council, a summit meeting between Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ended with each side exchanging angry accusations about spying and bad faith.

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