The Magazine

Professors of Denial

Ignoring the truth about American Communists.

Mar 21, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 25 • By HARVEY KLEHR and JOHN EARL HAYNES
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In a section of the memo titled "Failures in the U.S.A. (1938-1945)," Gorsky noted five groups of agents that had been compromised by defectors from Soviet espionage. The first was "Karl's Group." "Karl" is identified as Whittaker Chambers, and the group includes Alger Hiss (code-named "Leonard"), Donald Hiss (code-named "Junior"), Henry Wadleigh, Frank Reno, William Pigman, Joseph Peters, Harry Dexter White, Felix Inslerman, and a number of others whom Chambers himself identified. Indeed, of the 21 names listed in Karl's group, who are all identified by code name and real name, Chambers discussed 15 in his testimony and his autobiography, Witness. And, without providing names, he mentioned three minor participants whose jobs match the positions of three others on Gorsky's list.

Because the code name for Hiss given in the deciphered 1945 KGB cables (the Venona decryptions) was "Ales," and because earlier KGB memos discussed in The Haunted Wood referred to Hiss as "Lawyer," several diehards on H-HOAC and H-DIPLO astoundingly found the Gorsky memo exculpatory. But the KGB frequently changed cover names. That Hiss has a new one in this memo does not prove his innocence; his mere inclusion is yet additional proof that Chambers was telling the truth and that Hiss was a Soviet source.

Gorsky's memo also documents a number of agents compromised by the defection of Hedda Massing, who quietly dropped out of KGB service in the late 1930s but did not provide the FBI with an account of her activities until 1947. Among those Gorsky listed as compromised was Laurence Duggan, a senior State Department official who committed suicide when faced with inquiries from the FBI about his work for the Russians. Other Soviet sources Gorsky thought were at risk included those known to senior Communist party officer Louis Budenz, a Daily Worker editor whose conversion to Catholicism was dramatically reported in the New York Times in 1945. Budenz, whose account of his own connections to Soviet intelligence has been disparaged by many historians, knew a number of Communists selected to infiltrate and disrupt the American Trotskyist movement.

THE MEMO'S LARGEST GROUP of names--counting 44--come from two large networks of agents supervised by Elizabeth Bentley. Bentley began talking to the FBI in late 1945. In her statement to the FBI and later in congressional testimony, she discussed all but 6 of the 44 on Gorsky's list. Several agents she named who were not also identified in the deciphered Venona messages turn up in Gorsky's memo, including Joseph Gregg, Robert Miller, William Remington, and Bernard Redmont (former journalist and professor at Boston University).

Finally, Gorsky listed a group of Soviet sources compromised by Alexander Koral, a New York school district maintenance engineer and KGB courier who broke under FBI interrogation in 1947 and provided a partial account of his group. Among those potentially compromised by Koral, Gorksy noted, was Byron Darling, a physicist who had the KGB code name "Huron." Huron appears in the deciphered Venona cables as a KGB source involved in scientific espionage, including work on the atomic bomb project. The FBI was never able to identify Huron's real name. In 1953, Darling, then teaching physics at Ohio State University and working on a U.S. Air Force research contract, refused to answer questions about secret links to the American Communist party in testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Ohio State fired him. Darling left the country and taught physics for the rest of his career at Laval University in Canada. He has been lionized by some historians of the McCarthy era as an innocent man hounded by Neanderthals for his innocuous political beliefs. In fact, Darling was no martyr, he was a spy.

The Gorsky memo reminds us that historians who underestimate the extent of Soviet espionage in America fail to comprehend just how serious an issue the loyalty of government employees was. That this damning list of spies is cited by a handful of academics to clear the name of anyone on it shows that hope springs eternal among a dwindling band of espionage-deniers. Increasingly, these people resemble the pathetic remnants of the Imperial Japanese Army who refused to believe that the emperor had surrendered and continued to wander the jungles of Southeast Asia for years after 1945. They, at least, had the excuse that they were out of communication with the real world.

Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes's latest book, In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage will be released in paperback next month by Encounter Books.