The Magazine


Soviet Espionage in America

May 3, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 31 • By ARNOLD BEICHMAN
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Leftward-leaning academics have always insisted that the United States started the Cold War. And Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, which is probably the definitive public study of Soviet espionage in the United States, may not persuade them otherwise. But -- after the mounds of sobering research assembled by co-authors John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, two distinguished historians who have been studying decrypted Soviet KGB cables for the past five years -- those academics will be able to persist in blaming America only by an enormous and disingenuous act of will.

"From 1942 to 1945," Haynes and Klehr conclude,

the Soviet Union launched an unrestrained espionage offensive against the United States. This offensive reached its zenith during the period when the United States, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, adopted a policy of friendship and accommodation toward the USSR. The Soviet assault was of the type a nation directs at an enemy state that is temporarily an ally and with which it anticipates future hostility, rather than the much more restrained intelligence-gathering it would direct toward an ally that was expected to remain a friendly power.

For the Soviet Union the Cold War began long before V-E Day in 1945. In 1939, Whittaker Chambers, the defecting Soviet spymaster, gave assistant secretary of state Adolf A. Berle a list of thirteen Americans, eight of them serving officials, "who had had compromising relationships with Soviet intelligence." But -- Berle told me a decade later -- when he presented the list to the president, Roosevelt merely scoffed, "Adolf, you're seeing them under the bed."

During the 1930s and throughout the war, there were Americans in important Washington offices who day in, day out, were handing documents over to their Soviet masters. From Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, the reader gets an almost unbelievable picture of American bureaucrats all over the capital doing their patriotic duty to Stalin and the proletariat. They would bring their "work" home in briefcases and, after sending wife and kids to bed, prepare secret documents for delivery to their Soviet trawlers.

Haynes and Klehr concede that they haven't been able to tell the complete story. The brilliant American cryptanalysts who, under Project Venona, broke the codes were still not able to identify all of the American traitors mentioned by cover names in the three-thousand KGB cables they intercepted and decrypted.

There is, for example, someone so high up in the administration that he was invited by Roosevelt and Winston Churchill for a closed discussion after the Trident Conference. Haynes and Klehr eliminate Harry Hopkins and Vice President Henry A. Wallace as possible suspects. The only other suspect in my opinion is millionaire fellow-traveler Joseph Davies, who Roosevelt appointed U.S. ambassador to the USSR and author of the egregious Mission to Moscow. In an Associated Press interview in 1946, he said, "Russia in self-defense has every moral right to seek atomic-bomb information through military espionage if excluded from such information by her former fighting allies."

But the Venona cables do identify 108 men and women, many of whom willfully blinded themselves to the evils of Communism. As Malcolm Muggeridge wrote about an earlier and more innocent generation of Sovietophiles, these men and women.

resolved, come what might, to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook nothing, however villainous, to approve anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good liberal causes.

Stalin's wildly successful espionage onslaught had three specific targets: the laboratories doing atomic research and other scientific endeavors, the major U.S. diplomatic and military agencies, and the Trotskyite and White Russian organizations legally operating on American soil. Stalin found Americans willing and even eager to do his bidding.

In the case of the Trotskyites, American KGB agents were used to penetrate Leon Trotsky's Mexican residence, where a KGB assassin finally killed him in 1940. Many Stalinists were recruited directly by the Communist Party USA under the direction of Earl Browder, the KGB's chief talent scout of this "fifth column." Some of the Venona cables show that Elizabeth Bentley, the famous KGB defector, often acted on Browder's orders.