The riddle of Harrison’s mission

Marguerite’s later account of her Asian travels and her subsequent capture and imprisonment strains credulity. The trip around the edges of Soviet Russia had posed obvious risks, but she later wrote that her capture completely surprised her. She said she believed overzealous local officials in Chita were just taking precautions in detaining an American visitor in wake of the Soviet coup.

Letters written by officials with the American Relief Administration at this time show they thought Harrison was reckless and foolish . Officials with the state department raised alarms that she might be a double agent. Her poor father-in-law, Joseph Ames, didn’t know what to think as he frantically tried to get answers and arrange her rescue.

The clues about her mission are tantalizing. Months before the Asia trip she told friends and relatives that she intended to return to Russia, despite her earlier imprisonment and expulsion. She had told her superiors in the Military Intelligence Division that she had seen maps outlining Russia propaganda network throughout Asia.

Two months before she departed the United States, Marlborough Churchill had summoned Harrison to Washington to discuss a proposition and she had met Maj. Robert L. Eichelberger who was helping run America’s spy network in Asia. Once in Asia, Harrison applied for a visa to enter Russia.

Yet some clues are perplexing. After Churchill met Marguerite in Washington, he sent warning letters to attaches throughout Asia telling them to give her no documents attesting to her spy activities lest she be captured again. Did he distrust her? Was she a double agent trying to make it back to Russia? Was she simply conducting research for a series of magazine articles as she claimed? One more possibility should be considered—that Harrison was on a mission so sensitive and secret that only a few knew its nature.

Solomon Mogilevsky in 1923 Photo courtesy of Vladimir Sergeevich Antonov.

Could her mission have been to recruit a double agent who had the power to affect relations with Western democracies? Was she attempting to win over a man who might have been demoted to the outer fringes of the Soviet Russia, but who nevertheless held a powerful position in an explosive part of the world? Was her mission to turn her old nemesis, Solomon Mogilevsky?

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