Home News Jerrold Schecter, Time magazine correspondent and author, dies at 90

Jerrold Schecter, Time magazine correspondent and author, dies at 90


Jerrold L. Schecter, a journalist and author who as Time magazine’s Moscow bureau chief helped spirit the memoirs of former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev into publication in the West, and who later co-wrote a book with a Soviet spymaster who alleged — without evidence, according to the FBI — that architects of the American atomic program had spied for Moscow, died Feb. 6 at his home in Washington. He was 90.

His son Barnet Schecter confirmed his death but did not cite a cause.

Mr. Schecter joined Time magazine in the late 1950s and reported from across Asia, with postings in Hong Kong and Tokyo, before becoming Moscow bureau chief in 1968. He became perhaps best known for his role in the publication of a multivolume set of Khrushchev’s memoirs, which offered a rare glimpse into the Soviet Union and the experiences of the leader who had led the Communist power for more than a decade during the Cold War.

After his ouster in 1964, Khrushchev lived in a compound near Moscow, where, with the assistance of his son Sergei Khrushchev, he recorded hundreds of hours of recollections.

Khrushchev’s “family and friends insisted that no details be revealed on how the memoirs were created,” Mr. Schecter wrote years later in a publication of the Nieman Foundation, recalling that he had set about “acquiring and secretly validating the authenticity of Khrushchev’s terrifying revelations of how Stalin’s excesses led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

Strobe Talbott, a Rhodes scholar and Time intern who later became a correspondent for the magazine, deputy secretary of state under President Bill Clinton and president of the Brookings Institution, was hired to translate the memoirs into English.

The first two volumes of the memoirs were published in book form in 1970 and 1974. Taken together, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Harrison E. Salisbury wrote in the New York Times, they represented a “torrent” of “observations, firsthand accounts, after‐thoughts, musings, political backstabs, rambling anecdotes, warnings for the future, pietistic platitudes and political common sense by one of the most idiosyncratic (and vital) statesmen of our day.”

A long-awaited third volume, translated and edited by Mr. Schecter and Soviet scholar Vyacheslav V. Luchkov, appeared in 1990. By that time, Khrushchev had been dead for 19 years, and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had ushered in a period of glasnost, or openness. The release of the final volume, journalist Kevin Klose wrote in The Washington Post, completed “a personal and political saga without parallel in our time.”

Among the revelations contained in the third volume was that Fidel Castro implored the Soviet Union to attack the United States during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962; the Cuban leader was a “hothead,” Khrushchev declared.

Marvin Kalb, a veteran television news journalist and Russia scholar, said in an interview that he regarded Mr. Schecter’s work on the Khrushchev memoir as “a masterful feat on his part, working in that terribly restrictive environment, to be able to get to Khrushchev, to people around Khrushchev, to get to his memoir, and actually to be able to publish it.”

Mr. Schecter left Moscow in 1970 and later became a White House correspondent and diplomatic editor for Time. During the administration of President Jimmy Carter, he served as associate White House press secretary and spokesman for the National Security Council. He was later vice president of public affairs at the Occidental Petroleum Corp.

Mr. Schecter’s book “The Palace File” (1986), an account of U.S.-South Vietnamese relations during the Vietnam War written with Nguyen Tien Hung, a former South Vietnamese official, was selected by the New York Times as a notable book of the year.

Mr. Schecter later generated significant controversy with the publication in 1994 of his book “Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness — a Soviet Spymaster,” written with high-ranking KGB officer Pavel Sudoplatov, his son Anatoli Sudoplatov, and Mr. Schecter’s wife, Leona P. Schecter.

Pavel Sudoplatov, who died two years after the book was released, claimed in the volume that nuclear scientists J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi and Niels Bohr had shared atomic secrets with the Soviet Union.

A panel of the American Physical Society expressed “profound dismay at unsubstantiated allegations” against “some of the most eminent scientists of this century.” But Mr. Schecter stood by his account, writing in The Post in 1994 that “documents proving Sudoplatov’s oral history are in Moscow archives and eventually will emerge.”

The FBI conducted an investigation that in 1995 found no “credible evidence” to implicate the scientists. FBI director Louis J. Freeh further said at the time that “the FBI has classified information available that argues against the conclusions reached by the author of ‘Special Tasks’” and “therefore, considers such allegations to be unfounded.”

The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, for its part, said Sudoplatov’s accusations “do not correspond to reality.”

Jerrold Leonard Schecter was born in New York City on Nov. 27, 1932. His father was an insurance executive, and his mother was an interior designer.

After graduating from high school in the Bronx, Mr. Schecter enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he worked on the campus newspaper with his future wife, Leona Protas. They married in 1954, the year Mr. Schecter graduated.

After college, Mr. Schecter began working as a stringer for Time while serving in the Navy in Japan.

Mr. Schecter’s first book, “The New Face of Buddha” (1967), was based on his early reportage on Asia. With his wife and children, he wrote “An American Family in Moscow” (1975), based on their experience in the Soviet Union during his time as bureau chief. The family returned to the Soviet Union in the 1980s for a PBS “Frontline” special that also produced the book “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (1988).

Mr. Schecter was also the author with KGB defector Peter S. Deriabin of “The Spy Who Saved the World: How a Soviet Colonel Changed the Course of the Cold War” (1992) and, with Leona Schecter, “Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed American History (2002).

Besides his wife, of Washington, survivors include five children, Evelind Schecter of Phrao, Thailand, Steven Schecter of Oakland, Calif., Kate Schecter of Washington, Doveen Schecter of Queens and Barnet Schecter of Manhattan; 10 grandchildren; and three great-granddaughters.