The Magazine


Nov 13, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 09 • By HARVEY KLEHR and JOHN EARL HAYNES
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Take the case of the left-wing British journalist Cedric Belfrage. Belfrage worked for the British intelligence office that served as the liaison between Britain and the U.S. government during World War II. Afterward he was one of the founders of the American left-liberal magazine the National Guardian. After Bentley testified that Belfrage had been a Soviet spy, Belfrage refused to testify to congressional committees that questioned him. The U.S. tried to deport him, and he eventually left voluntarily. Later, Belfrage wrote several books and many articles denouncing the fearful mania about Communist espionage and subversion he said had taken hold in America. The Venona messages show that Belfrage was indeed a spy. He handed over to his Soviet masters documents that British intelligence had been given by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Bentley also claimed that Duncan Lee, legal adviser and assistant to OSS chief "Wild Bill" Donovan, had been a Soviet agent. Unlike most of those she accused, Lee denied under oath that he provided the Soviets with OSS material, but then left the U.S. and spent most of the rest of his life abroad. Venona makes it official: Lee committed perjury. The documents show that he reported to the NKVD on discussions between Roosevelt and Churchill over diplomatic conflicts with the Soviet Union. Lee discussed with his Soviet controllers the risks of bringing documents out of his office for photographing, and setting up recognition signals for a Soviet agent to contact him in Chunking, China, when he planned a trip there on OSS business.

Bentley said that Maurice Halperin, head of the Latin American research branch of the OSS, was a major source for her network. Halperin denied it but, like Lee, left the United States. Decoded Venona messages show that Halperin turned over numerous secret OSS reports and American diplomatic cables to the NKVD.

The Venona messages also confirm that the following persons named by Bentley were Soviet agents: J. Joseph Julius (OSS Far Eastern section), Jane Foster ( OSS Indonesian section), Thomas Bisson (Board of Economic Warfare), Harold Glasser (Treasury Department), William Ullman (Treasury Department and U.S. Army Air Force headquarters), George Silverman (U.S. Army Air Force headquarters), and Nathan Silvermaster (Board of Economic Warfare). The Soviets even had an spook in pundit-land: Mary Price, Walter Lippmann's secretary, was a Communist spy.

One of Bentley's most controversial claims was that Lauchlin Currie, a Roosevelt White House aide, was a Soviet source. Currie denied it but, like Halperin and Lee, left the U.S. after Bentley's charges surfaced. Venona proves that Curtie did turn over U.S. diplomatic reports to the NKVD and warned them that the FBI was investigating Nathan Silvermaster as a possible security risk.

In addition to those named by Bentley, Venona also confirms previously denied charge s of Soviet spying by Laurence Duggan (State Department official), John Scott ( OSS Russian section), Ilya Wolston (U.S. Army Military Intelligence), Joel Barr, and Alfred Sarant. The last two were engineers and associates of Julius Rosenberg who worked on high-technology American weaponry in the 1940s. Both vanished at the time of Rosenberg's arrest and surfaced decades later in the Soviet Union working on Soviet military electronics.

The Venona decryptions hammer home another point. The consensus among historians has been that while some individual Communists may have worked with the NKVD, the Communist party as an institution was not involved. If there had been no link between Soviet intelligence and the CPUSA, then the obsession with security inside the Truman and Eisenhower administrations -- forcing officials to sign loyalty oaths, laborious efforts to classify and restrict documents -- was simply irrational. Worse yet, congressional inquiries about government employees with Communist links would have been grotesque at best and undemocratic at worst.

These objections crumble in the face of the Venona decryptions. The 300 messages released thus far deeply and profoundly implicate the American Communist movement in Soviet espionage. In these messages, NKVD officers repeatedly acknowledge that U.S. Communist party officials and members were assisting their activities. Jacob Golos, a senior American party official, relayed messages from Belfrage, Ullman, Silvermaster, and Currie.