Was Marguerite really on a secret mission?

Marguerite wrote two accounts of her second Russian imprisonment. In both, she described being interrogated repeatedly by a man named Roller, who tried to make her confess that she was spying in Siberia. He told her that she would be tried in secret and, if found guilty, she could receive the death sentence.

In her second account, she added startling new details. She reported that before New Year’s Day, she was summoned to the offices of the Presidium where she confronted her old nemesis: Solomon Mogilevsky. Now stationed in Tbilisi, Georgia, he had returned to Moscow to offer her the chance to work in Russia as a spy.

Documents in the Federal Security Bureau archive offer yet a third version of the events surrounding Marguerite’s second imprisonment. While numerous pages in the file remain sealed, it is clear she did not languish months or even weeks awaiting questioning. Roller cross-examined Marguerite on December 11, just a little over a week after she arrived in Moscow. According to the report, she described her travels through Asia, and insisted she was not spying, but instead collecting material for the Hearst syndicate. She admitted to meeting with Maj. Robert L. Eichelberger and other officials in the State Department before she left the United States, but she said these were informal meetings to help her understand the countries where she would be traveling. The file of her second imprisonment makes no mention of Mogilevsky.

So what really happened? Did Mogilevsky orchestrate her capture and then fly from the Caucasus to persuade her to stay in Russia as a spy? If so, why did she omit such a sensational anecdote from her first account of her capture? On the other hand, why would she invent the story?

Lubyanka Prison, a few years after Harrison’s second imprisonment.

The Mogilevsky meeting becomes more credible in light of the positions Mogilevsky and her interrogator, Roller, held at the time. The interrogator known as Roller mentioned in her memoirs and in Russian documents was most certainly Karl Frantsevich Roller-Chelek, an Austrian who defected to Soviet Russia in 1920 and became a special agent for Cheka. In 1922, he was assigned to counterintelligence, including recruiting foreign spies. Unknown to the Russians, Roller was actually a Polish spy.

Mogilevsky, meanwhile, had continued to rise through the ranks of Cheka. Within days after Marguerite’s release from prison in 1921, he had assumed control of the Foreign Department, helping create and expand Russia’s spy network in Europe. In 1922, he helped foil an attack against Russian delegates at an international conference in Genoa. But with the reorganization of Russian intelligence operations and the creation of GPU in February 1922, Felix Dzerzhinsky inexplicably appointed Mogilevsky to oversee internal troops and intelligence operations in the Caucasus. Such a post far removed from Moscow would appear to be a demotion, although his work for GPU remained vital: His job was to recruit foreign spies. Could Marguerite, the agent who had brazenly told Army officials that she could capture  Robert Minor in Germany in 1919, have concocted a plan to turn Mogilevsky into an American agent? That mission would obviously have been a closely guarded secret, but one worthy of the risk Marguerite took in exposing herself to capture.

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