Plate Glass and Politics

Brass Tacks

Early in October in New York's stolid old Foley Square Courthouse, the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security began an investigation of U.S. subversives in the United Nations Secretariat. Senator O'Connor, a Maryland Democrat, the Committee's acting chairman, said the probe would be "solely to safeguard the internal security of the United States." The Committee, he promised, would steer clear of any interference in U.N. affairs.

This assurance, however, was little more than paper thin. In ensuing months, the Committee's loyalty check rapidly turned by innuendo into an attack on the Secretariat itself. When secretary-general Trygve Lie ordered employees to be silent on official U.N. business, O'Connor claimed this obstructed the Committee. He threatened any witness who followed Lie's order with punishment for contempt, and labeled the Secretariat a home of subversive activities in the United States.

But after a total of 22 months investigation, neither the Committee nor a Federal Grand Jury had found anything solid to add to O'Connor's original charge. In a year and a half of secret sessions the Grand Jury had named by indictment not one of the alleged subversives. Five months of Committee hearings had scattered suspicions and innuendoes, but no accusations.

However, in the first two weeks of their investigation, the Committee had pressured Lie into suspending or dismissing some 13 Secretariat members who refused to answer the Committee's questions on the grounds of incrimination. Under further pressure in later months, the number of dismissals swelled to over 20. The Committee's batting average was high--it had only called some 30 Secretariat members to testify.

This success was due, in part, to the weight of public condemnation the Committee's methods focused on the suspected Secretariat member. Those who answered all questions, the Committee recalled to secret, executive sessions. But it reserved public hearings for the admitted past communists or those who refused to answer questions on the grounds of incrimination.

Resignation and Suicide

In early November, just before the Committee adjourned, Trygve Lie resigned. Senator McCarran was quick to read this as the results of the "disclosures of the Committee." And only three days later, on November 14, Abraham H. Feller, the U.N.'s legal counsel, tore himself from his wife's grasp to leap from his twelve story apartment window.

Under new Committee pressure, but this time backed by the bulky report of a panel of lawyers, Lie announced his new personnel policy with a wave of dismissals. And in the future, he said, he would dismiss any employee who refused to answer the Committee's questions since their silence was the sign of guilt.

The Secretariat's response to this wave of investigators has been described as "absolutely demoralized," by the crippling of its staff and the injection of an atmosphere of fear into the United Nations. Many delegations including the Canadians, British and French have protested vigorously against the process. Their protest is, at bottom, a deep concern with any extension of McCarran's investigation to other parts of the U.N. Although Lie has protested that the Secretariat works in a "glass house," and is "unfertile soil" for subversives, he has not resisted the Committee's pressures. The French and British protests arise from the uncertainty at where the investigation, if extended, would stop. They also come from the fear of continued damage to the United Nations that such an investigation in the hands of the Committee would almost surely entail.