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Spies Like Us

Chapter and verse on Moscow’s campaign to subvert America

May 10, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 32 • By RONALD RADOSH
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HKV reveal that Rosenberg had recruited another atomic spy besides his brother-in-law David Greenglass, a hitherto unknown engineer named Russell McNutt who was not only brought into espionage by Rosenberg but instructed by him to seek work in the area of atomic energy and the bomb. While Greenglass was, by chance, assigned by the Army to work on the bomb assembly, McNutt was recruited on Rosenberg’s “initative .  .  . to cultivate ‘Enormous’ ” (the Manhattan Project). McNutt worked at the Kellex design office in New York, which had the contract for building the massive atomic facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. An agent who lived undetected, he later became a vice president of Gulf-Reston and helped develop the planned community of Reston,Virginia, ending his career as chief engineer at Gulf Oil. 

The files also reveal that Ethel Rosenberg was fully involved in the recruitment of her sister-in-law and brother, and was no innocent figure. As for David Greenglass, it has long been claimed that whatever information he gave the Soviets was primitive and inconsequential. But new evidence proves this to be false. While not as important as the information given to the Soviets by the physicists Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall, the chief of the KGB in Moscow noted that the information provided by all three “mutually overlap[ped].” A report from the New York KGB station revealed that Greenglass had given them a floor plan and sketches of buildings, material on preparation of a uranium bomb, calculations on a structure solution for obtaining U 235, which they called “highly valuable,” and a description of the bomb. As HKV write, “It was an impressive list of materials from an Army sergeant with only a limited technical education.”


Moreover, citing the report of Anatoly Yatskov, they reveal for the first time that Greenglass gave Rosenberg in September 1945 the actual “model of .  .  . a detonator” for the fuse of the bomb’s explosive substance built in his workshop—not, as previously thought, a primitive sketch of the mechanism. So Julius Rosenberg was an atomic spy, contrary to those who minimize his network’s importance; and his brother-in-law David Greenglass gave the Soviets valuable and important material. 

Once Greenglass was arrested and became a cooperative witness, the KGB developed a defense strategy that would be employed to the letter by the Rosenberg defense group. The KGB instructed that “it would be preferable to publish articles about the trial first and foremost in the non-Communist press,” and to emphasize the trial as an exercise in “coarse anti-Soviet propaganda” and an attempt to shift blame for the Korean war away from the United States and “onto Jews and Communists,” as well as an attempt to turn America into a fascist country. They also suggested emphasizing the horror of the execution of Ethel Rosenberg, a mother of two young boys, “because of some villainous brother’s slanderous denunciation” and the argument that, in fact, there are no real atomic “secrets.”

The Rosenberg network was a key part of the Soviet “XY line,” the KGB’s name for networks seeking scientific, technical, and industrial data. It was in this area that Morton Sobell, who recently confessed that he was a spy, and others previously unknown such as Nathan Sussman, worked. This group gave the Soviets data on radar, radio, aerodynamics, sonar, and jet fighters. The American physicist William Perl gave the KGB documents on long-distance jet fighter planes, and blueprints of the Lockheed P-80 jet fighter, and his data were used to jump-start Soviet jet fighter development, surprising the U.S. Air Force in Korea when it faced Soviet MIGs. At the same time, HKV go out of their way to show that, contrary to what some have argued, J. Robert Oppenheimer, despite having been a member of the American Communist party, did not spy for the Soviet Union. 

The third major revelation is the solid identification of leftwing journalist I. F. Stone as a Soviet agent. For decades, Stone’s admirers have depicted him as an independent, free-spirited journalist, unafraid to go after sacred cows, beholden to no one but his own conscience. His opposition to Cold war foreign policy, and his influential writings in opposition to the Vietnam war, made him a hero in the 1960s to the emerging New Left, and to a future generation of journalists and writers. The KGB files now firmly establish that, during 1936-38, Stone signed on as a full-fledged KGB agent. There is simply no more room for doubt. As the New York KGB station agent reported in May 1936, “Relations with ‘Pancake’ [Stone’s KGB name] have entered ‘the channel of normal operational work.’” For the next few years, HKV write, “Stone worked closely with the KGB” as a talent spotter and recruiter. He also worked with the American Communist Victor Perlo who, while an economist at the War Production Group, also led a Soviet espionage apparatus and compiled material for Stone. “That Stone chose never to reveal this part of his life,” write the authors, “strongly suggests that he knew just how incompatible
it would be with his public image as a courageous and independent journalist.”

While the proofs about Hiss, the Rosenberg network, and I. F. Stone are more newsworthy, Spies is also a comprehensive look at how the Soviets saw espionage in America as a key part of building the Soviet Union’s military and industrial infrastructure. Those who have always believed it was conspiratorial slander to talk about Communist infiltration of the federal government may be surprised to learn how thorough the KGB was in planting its agents in key agencies. The list includes not just Alger Hiss and his brother Donald but people such as Harry Magdoff in the Department of Commerce, Abraham Glasser in the Justice Department, David Wahl in the Federal Energy Administration and then the OSS, Gerald Graze in the Civil Service Commission, Harry Dexter White at Treasury, William Remington in the War Production Board and Council of Economic Advisors, Lauchlin Currie and Laurence Duggan in the Department of State—and many others. But there are limits to what espionage can accomplish. The effectiveness of the Soviet networks collapsed just as the Cold War began, and when the KGB desperately needed intelligence. It was the 1945 defection of Elizabeth Bentley that led Soviet intelligence to close down almost all of its American operations, and to dissolve and deactivate its agents. Bentley had run party-based KGB networks in the government, and when she went to the FBI, her defection “was by any measure a catastrophe.” Everything that the KGB and GRU had put together during the war years had to be abandoned:

By the time the FBI began to watch them or came to interrogate them, Bentley’s American agents had their excuses and cover stories thought out and their cries about political persecution of progressives well rehearsed.

The most striking fact to emerge from Spies “is that a remarkable number of Americans”—more than 500— “assisted Soviet intelligence agencies.” We still do not know the identities of all of them. Despite HUAC, the FBI, and Senator McCarthy and his associates, many were questioned, but few were prosecuted and fewer convicted. Some have argued that, although the Soviets may have spied against America, they did little harm. The KGB files reveal, however, that stolen scientific and technical data helped the Soviets wage the Cold War, build an atomic bomb, and deploy “jet planes, radar, sonar, artillery proximity fuses,” and other armaments long before they could have done so on their own. Soviet espionage in America gave Stalin the confidence to give Kim Il Sung the go-ahead to invade South Korea in 1950.

HKV also show that, even though most American Communists were not spies, the files indicate that “the CPUSA’s
leadership in the 1930s and 1940s willingly placed the party’s organizational resources and a significant number of its key cadres at the service of the espionage agencies of a foreign power.” The American Communist party “as an organized entity was an auxiliary service to Soviet intelligence.” 

Joseph McCarthy was wrong in many of his accusations, but those American anti-Communists who saw the Communist party as a genuine threat to our national security, and who worked to keep their members out of government, were right. They were not witch-hunters, and the search for Communists in government was “a rational response to the extent to which the Communist party had become an appendage of Soviet intelligence.”

Ronald Radosh, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, is coauthor of The Rosenberg File, and, most recently with Allis Radosh, of A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel.

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