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Obras de Harvey Klehr

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First, let’s get some pedantry out of the way. This history mostly covers the span from the early 1930s to the early 1960s. Second, the authors are well aware that there was no Soviet intelligence called the KGB until March 1954, but they use the name as a convenient term for its ten predecessors. The KGB certainly operated in America for as long as the USSR existed, but operating in America became harder in October 1945.

Cross-checking sources is even more important when writing espionage history. When using memoirs, there are not only the usual problems of bad memory, egotistical exaggeration of the writer’s importance, minimization of blame, and straight up lying, but governments and spy agencies also have an incentive to misrepresent events. While the famous Mitrokhin Archives (are smuggled out notes from the KGB archives, it would be nice to actually see the Soviet archives.

That opportunity arose when the Soviet Union fell and the SVR, the Russian Republic’s successor to the KGB, made an agreement with Crown Publishers to produce books using material from the KGB’s archives – seemingly because Russia wanted money for its intelligence officer’s pensions. Only four books resulted. Crown Publishers ran out of money. Communists nd nationalists in Russia weren’t pleased by the project. Vassiliev, an ex-KGB officer and a journalist fluent in English, worked with Allen Weinstein on another of the four books, The Haunted Wood, but feared an Communist victory in upcoming elections. Thinking he might be jailed if that happened, he gave his notebooks from his work on the archives to some friends and emigrated to England with his wife. He sent for the notebooks later.

This book cross checks Vassiliev’s notes, testimony from various US government hearings, information from the FBI, the Mitrokhin archive, various memoirs, and the Venona intercepts. The latter were messages sent by the KGB and GRU (Soviet military intelligence) from America. A lapse in using one-time cipher pads enabled the NSA to decrypt some of the messages, and those were released in the 1990s though some names were redacted, possibly because the named KGB sources cooperated with the FBI.

As you would expect from Yale University Press, this is a heavy-duty academic book, 548 pages of text, heavily footnoted, and not really intended to be read in a normal way that is to say starting at the beginning and going to the end. The intended audience is other scholars. There is an extensive index of names with, when relevant, their Soviet code names.

(A word on code names. They were not there entirely for security purposes. Indeed, names were sometimes transmitted in the clear. They were, however, convenient for cipher clerks and spared them the trouble of transliterating names in the Latin Alphabet to the Cyrillic alphabet.)

What this book sets out to do is provide more information on known agents in the Venona messages, identify people the US government could not tie to a code name, and, in some cases, reveal agents who were never known to US intelligence. It does not give information on all the agents identified in Vassiliev’s notebooks.

Don’t expect a lot of human drama like you get with biographies of spies and in spy fiction. (Though, as I’ll discuss, there is a lot of human interest and drama lurking in these dry documents.)

Here are a couple of sample paragraphs selected almost at random:

"Wahl had, in fact, been a Soviet intelligence agent from the mid-1930s until at least the late 1940s. A Moscow communication in 1948 suggested reestablishing connections with an agent code-named ‘Pink.’ Wahl’s real name never appears, but the details fit Wahl and no one else. ‘Pink’ was described as the ‘ex. Secretary of the Jewish American organization ‘Americans for Haganah.’ A Moscow Center memo went on to state:

‘"Recruited in ’36 by GRU agent handler Aronberg, who handled him until ’45. In Apr. ’45, having become displeased with Aronberg’s conspicuous behavior and crude working methods, “P” [“Pink”/Wahl] refused to work with him and reported to MGB [the KGB of that era] agent “Vendor” [Harry Kagan], whom he had known for a long time as a member of the CP USA . . . With C’s [Center’s] approval, “Vadim” [Gorsky] contacted P. on 18.04.45. In November ’45, he was deactivated. . . . He participated in party work until ’37. The Americans suspected him of belonging to the CPUSA. In ’41-’43, he twice found himself under investigation on suspicion of being affiliated with various Communists, but in ’45, by special resolution of Congress, those charges were dropped and he was rehabilitated.’

The book is divided into chapters covering major areas of espionage, each with a brief introduction, subsections on particular agents, and concluding remarks. Those areas are Alger Hiss, Enormous which was the code name for the penetration of the Manhattan Project, journalist spies, agents in the US government, agents in the wartime Office of Strategic Services, and the XY Line – the “bread and butter” of Soviet espionage which was stealing technical and industrial secrets. There is also a chapter on the celebrities that the KGB tried to recruit either unsuccessfully or, successfully and without much to show for it."

Alger Hiss has been, for decades, a cause celeb for American liberals with defenses of his actions ranging from claiming he was completely innocent to the argument that he was simply furthering, through unofficial channels, US-USSR diplomacy at a time when they were allies. The authors present even more evidence that Hiss was guilty as charged.

The Enormous chapter directly addresses a major debate: was J. Robert Oppenheimer a Soviet spy? Contra to Hebert Romerstein’s and Eric Breindel’s [The Venona Secrets], the authors here say no. There is no doubt Oppenheimer had many Communist affiliations and lied about them, but there is no evidence, despite several attempts to recruit him, he ever became a KGB spy. In fact, after he took over the Manhattan Project, he urged many of his colleagues to become leery of their “progressive” affiliations, and KGB records note that he seemed to cool on the Soviet cause.

The chapter on agents in journalism (including I. F. Stone who lied about the full extent of his KGB ties) and the government reveal the many agents who passed on policy positions, diplomatic information, and, in one case.

The OSS had incredibly lax security. Its head, William Donovan, even said he would put Stalin on the payroll if it would help defeat the Axis. It was riddled with KGB agents which provided much useful information on various exile groups and helped position Communist-affiliated groups plot seizing power in liberated Europe.

The XY Line agents produced a wealth of material on American developments in jet planes, radar, sonar, and artillery proximity fuse. The Rosenbergs of “atomic spy” fame were heavily involved with this as well as stealing atom bomb secrets. Since the book talks about KGB agents in America that were also Soviet citizens operating in plain sight, we hear about Stansilav Shumovsky, the first of the Soviet scientist-spies and subject of Svetlana Lokohva’s [The Spy Who Changed History]. Also discussed is the more famous Leon Theremin, inventor of the musical instrument bearing his name. He would chat up scientists and engineers he met in America. When he returned to the USSR in March 1939, he was sentenced to the GuLAG for being a fascist agent. He was moved to a special GuLAG prison/lab in December 1939 where he worked on various radio technologies and “special devices for the Soviet security system”. Rehabilitated and rewarded the Stalin Prize in 1947, he seems to have politically been a slow learner since he joined the Communist Party of Russia in 1991.

Among the celebrity agents is Ernest Hemingway but the KGB would come to agree with J. Edgar Hoover’s low opinion of the author and his spy fantasies when he proposed working in Cuba for the Office of Naval Intelligence.

The most significant result of all this intelligence was the Korean War. Stalin’s rapid development of a Soviet atomic bomb neutered America’s nuclear deterrence and led him to greenlight the North Korean invasion of its neighbor. An agent named William Weisband worked with the US Army Signal Security Agency, a predecessor to the NSA, and revealed to the Soviets, in 1948, that America had broken all its military codes. The codes were changed and, America lacked crucial knowledge of Soviet logistical support to North Koreans before the war.

The CIA, incidentally, was spared taking double agents into its ranks by a gap between the OSS being shut down and the CIA’s formation. By that time, the US government was much more interested in Soviet espionage. Many of OSS’s employees had found other jobs, and Communist ties rendered a person ineligible for CIA employment.

My main complaint about this book is that I think the chapter “American Couriers and Support Personnel” should have been at the beginning of the book. This chapter talks about all the people that were couriers of stolen information, recruiters, talent spotters, runners of safe houses, and provided fake documents and cover stories. It and the chapter “The KGB in America: Strength, Weaknesses, and Structural Problems” is where a lot of the human drama is most manifest.

In particular, it gives the details of Jacob Golos and Elizabeth Bentley. All throughout the book, we’ve gotten hints of the disaster they brought on the KGB in America, but it would have been nice to get their story up front for those unfamiliar with it or, like me, who had forgotten some of its details. Golos was a significant KGB courier, recruiter, and talent spotter who ran several valuable agents. Bentley was one of his couriers and worked at the same company, U.S. Service and Shipping Corporation.

Golos died in November 1943, and the KGB made the uncomfortable discovery Bentley wasn’t just a courier. She had been Golos’ lover for years (his wife and children had moved to the USSR) and knew everything he did about KGB operations. Bentley was a lonely woman, an American Communist since 1930, and her life centered around Golos and, by extension his work. The KGB, keenly aware that Golos’ operation hadn’t been run entirely to the principles of KGB tradecraft, wanted Bentley to hand over some of Golos’ network to a KGB officer. The more her officer met with her the more concerns he had. She was starting to drink a lot more. He noted in June 1944 that she argued she didn’t work for the KGB but the CPUSA and didn’t think the KGB cared much about America.

He gave her some money for a vacation at the end of 1944 and told her she had received the Order of the Red Star and bought another vacation for her in August 1945. In late September 1945, he met with Bentley again. Drunk, she said she was going to say things she wouldn’t if sober. She wasn’t going to work with Russians anymore because they were all gangsters and she had hated the KGB for ten years. She had started to have a sexual affair with a neighbor who offered her the chance to work for the FBI, but she turned the offer down. She complained a KGB officer had tried to rape her. She was also upset the KGB wasn’t going to pony up money to finance a travel agency. The agent’s meeting notes said the KGB could no longer be sure Bentley wouldn’t betray them and concluded

"Considering that M. won’t go anywhere voluntarily, and could cause serious harm to us here, there is only one way left, the most radical one, to get rid of her."

Bentley met with the KGB one last time on November 21, 1945. The agent who met her came to the meeting free from FBI tails, but he detected them on the way back. Bentley, he concluded, had went over to the FBI.

Confirmation came on November 20, 1945 from double agent Kim Philby. He’d gotten a memo the FBI sent MI5. Bentley was talking and had a lot to say. She has been accused of being a fantasist and grifter, but Bentley’s claims have been confirmed.

The KGB did not, unlike what’s portrayed in spy fiction, easily consider assassinations in foreign countries. (And assassinations were done by a special unit of the KGB, an agent of whom Bentley may have briefly encountered in the 1930s). But they did consider assassinating Bentley. Poisons were considered and rejected. A “cold steel weapon” was proposed, but KGB officer agent dealing with the matter was not in the best of health and noted Bentley (code name “Clever Girl”) was “very strong, tall and healthy”. In the end, the KGB figured the damage had been done.

KGB operations in America started in 1931. They had an easy time of it, especially after the US recognized the USSR in 1933. American counterespionage, such as it was at the time, was concerned with German and Japanese espionage in the late 1930s. After the German-USSR Non-Aggression Pact, Russia came under more suspicion as a Nazi ally. But that ended when Germany invaded the USSR and the latter became an ally country. But, in the waning days of WWII, Soviet espionage, especially after Bentley’s revelations and Whitaker Chambers defection from Communism in 1938 (though he was a GRU agent some agents, like Hiss, had contacts with both organizations in violation of tradecraft).

"The KGB was not a ten-foot-tall superman. In the world of intelligence, it was surely a strapping six-footer, but one that tripped over its own shoelaces from time to time and occasionally shot itself in the foot. And in the late 1930s, it turned into a paranoid schizophrenic who heard voices telling it to cut off its limbs, and it proceeded to do that."

In the 1930s, the KGB in America was vastly helped by the CPUSA which spotted potential recruit, provided fake ids, found jobs for agents, and provided many American agents. Some American agents had explicit CPUSA ties; others were listed on the party’s secret rosters. But the KGB still had to provide supervising officers who could speak English and blend into American society.

The KGB in America was devastated by Stalin’s purges that started in 1938. Many agents were recalled home. Contact was lost for years with some agents. Others simply disappeared. It was not always easy to find, in wartime and given the technology of the day, the location of old agents. Sometimes, when found, they forgot their recognition signs and passphrases.

The price the KGB paid for this was CPUSA interference in its operations on occasion. Sometimes, it was unclear if a potential recruit was already working for the GRU. Principles of tradecraft were violated. The theoretical preference was for limited contact between sources, couriers, and KGB officers. Ideally, a source would be contacted by courier who would meet with just one officer. But that never happened. (At this time, the KGB didn’t use dead drops much.) But American agents were often known to each other. People like Golos and Bentley dealt with so many agents because of the shortage of KGB officers. But that was a compromise forced by the critical need for intelligence from America. There were also “failed agents”, so dubbed not because they didn’t pass over valued intelligence but because their sympathies were so obvious that strangers would approach them offering to pass information on to the Soviets.

The life of a professional KGB officer was not easy. The illegal agents, those not protected by diplomatic immunity, had to have a cover job which provided the flexibility of frequent absences and travel. And, of course, they had to perform their cover duties diligently enough to stay employed. Legal agents had to do their assigned duties in an embassy and also their espionage work which resulted in long hours. One complained to Moscow Center that his fellow embassy employees criticized him for missing the usual party meetings for ideological education at the embassy and not socializing. Eventually, he was recalled to the USSR, tried in a purge, and shot. One of the charges was that he missed his Party meetings. The non-KGB embassy employees complained the KGB people (whose identity they weren’t even supposed to know) thought they were special and got to drive better cars.

Some officers couldn’t take the stress. Some were screw ups. One went crazy and sent a letter to the FBI which, among various wild accusations, actually named some Soviet agents in America.

There are memos back and forth between the professional KGB men in America and Moscow. Do better! We need more specific information on this topic! Which was followed once by an angry response stating, in effect, that if the people back in Moscow thought they could do better why didn’t they come to America and do it?

A bit of farce occurred when the Soviet consulate changed buildings. There was much discussion about a secret cache hidden there that contained a silenced pistol, ammo, explosives, and a sword cane with a poisoned blade. Well, no one was quite sure about whether there had ever been a sword cane. And maybe an earlier officer emptied out the cache, wherever it was. In any case, any remaining weapons cache was never found by the building’s new occupants.

The KGB also wasted a lot of resources spying on Trotskyites, a political party small and with little influence, in America and infiltrating their movement. This continued even after the KGB managed to get an ice axe buried in Trotsky’s skull.

As to those who betrayed their countries, America and England, most were ideological true believers. Golos and Bentley maintained they should be recruited on the basis of working for the CPUSA, but most were smart enough to know, however, who they worked for. However, one agent in the OSS, finding out information he supplied was mentioned by a Soviet diplomat to Donovan when he visited Moscow, was angered to find out where his information went.

Communist sympathies greatly aided recruitment, and the KGB got some valuable walk-in agents. The most valuable was Ted Hall, an atom bomb spy. When his spying was revealed in the 1990s, he was unapologetic and said he would do it again since America was a menace to the world then and now. Many, hauled before Congressional hearings, lied about their affiliation or took the Fifth Amendment. (However, asserting that constitutional right was only relevant to government testimony. Many were fired from their private and academic jobs for pleading the Fifth.) Some were defended by unknown Soviet agents. Several either quietly cooled on communism but downplayed their spying activity. A few ended up with distinguished careers in journalism, science, and business, untarnished by their work for a dictatorship. One agent, Stanley Graze, had the distinction of both being a communist spy and a criminal capitalist. Involved with the massive financial fraud of Robert Vesco in the 1970s, he ended up fleeing to Costa Rica in 1976 to avoid extradition. A KGB agent happened to run into him there 14 years later where a drunken, despondent Graze said that his days as a spy had been “the most interesting, fruitful, and beneficial” days of his life.

There were only two significant agents who operated out of mercenary motives. One was U.S. Representative Samuel Dickstein, pointedly code-named “Crook”.

KGB agents, both professional and amateurs, found themselves caught up in the dramas of their recruits’ lives. In one case, an agent was suspected of inventing agents to pocket a double subsidy. Another American spy, believing the Soviet propaganda of Trotskyite-Fascist conspiracy put forth in Stalin’s show trials, was extremely paranoid the KGB officer he met with was really a traitor and passing information to Germany. Frustrated KGB officers had to deal with one spy ring run by a menage-a-trois and its internal disputes.

An American agent, found himself flustered dealing with Martha Dodd, daughter of the American ambassador to Germany, and her sexual attraction for Russians (it would take her years to discover her Russian lover had died in a purge). In one meeting she wanted to discuss her sex life. The KGB man noted “Seemingly, she spent most [of] her time in bed”, he noted. Questioned as to what the Communist view of sexual morality was, the agent said,

"Externally presenting a cool and confident appearance, I lectured on middle class morals, proletarian morals, when sex is permissible in our kind of work, when not, discussion of hormones and sheep ovarian extract influence on humans, etc."

For a while, the agent considered escaping to the restroom to wash his head in cold water “and in general overhaul himself”, but he didn’t. Many of the American spies had spouses who knew of their work and approved and sometimes directly worked for the KGB.

American recruits were often asked to write autobiographies and given money – with signed receipts. That was to provide potential blackmail material, but there is only one incident where that was attempted against an American, and it didn’t work. Some refused the money or only took token gifts. Some had to be subsidized for their spying activities. Their American recruits sometimes exasperated them with sloppy work (bad photographs were a common complaint), not noting specific sources on the materials they provided, or following bad tradecraft or being loose lipped. One, Boris Moros, bragged about the many important people he knew and could get information out of. He had big plans to set up a spy ring in Hollywood (he was involved in arranging music for studios). He talked the KGB out of several thousands of dollars to set up a cover business that failed. He ended up suspected of espionage by the FBI in 1947, revealed all he knew, and, as you would expect from a self-promoter, by writing the memoir My Ten Years as a Counterspy.

KGB officers would often note the “political development” of their American sources. Julius Rosenberg, much respected for his diligence and work was said to have “high political development”. They tried to convince him to leave America and were, unself-reflectively, surprised that American would actually execute spies. (There are also plenty of memos commenting on America’s “spy mania” by the very men causing it.) Other recruits were deemed to need more political education. It was noted that some were completely untroubled by changes in Soviet policy and Stalin’s purges.

The American communist hunters, the authors conclude, may have been mistaken about some they named, but they were right about most of the Communist agents they accused. And “they only knew the half of it”. The taint of being so closely associated with the USSR greatly weakened the CPUSA’s influence in America.

Recommended for those interested in the KGB and Communism in America in the 1930s and 1940s and willing to read to read a dense, academic study of those matters.
… (mais)
 
Marcado
RandyStafford | outras 2 resenhas | Dec 30, 2023 |
"The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America" by Haynes, Klehr and Vassiliev appears now to be a primary reference for KGB and GRU espionage operations in the U.S. from the 1920's into the 1960's. Vassiliev had access to a trove of classified KGB files. Their accuracy is confirmed and supplemented by Soviet transmissions decrypted by our codebreakers (the Venona Project) and by the several KGB defectors including Whitaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley. The most damaging spies were U.S. citizens.

It's disturbing to find that Joseph McCarthy's infamous list of Communists In The U.S. Government had a good number of these spies on it. He knew that they were spies (and he didn't know the half of it). Few of them could be named or pursued because that would reveal sensitive sources, notably that we had learned how to partially decrypt some of their transmissions; others were protected by superspies in high positions such as Harry Dexter White and Alger Hiss. Too bad McCarthy imploded; he gave anti-communism a bad name (McCarthyism) and enabled leftist elements to insist for decades that spies like Hiss and Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg were merely victims of a witch hunt. Rather their extensive, lengthy and seriously damaging espionage is detailed in Soviet records and by decoded transmissions and defectors.

A spy here alerted the KGB in 1948 that U.S. codebreakers were becoming able to decrypt coded Soviet transmissions. The Soviets then upgraded their encryption systems. Thus we were in the dark as to Soviet intentions in 1950, and Stalin knew it and now had the A-bomb.

The USSR detonated their first nuclear weapon in 1949, which took us by surprise. The plans and technology for the A-bomb and later the H-bomb were stolen from us by Soviet spies, saving them both untold billions of dollars, which they could ill afford after the war, and also many years of research and testing. Their A-bomb put Stalin in little fear of any U.S. nuclear weapon advantage. The now-secure encryption system enabled him and Mao secretly to implement the military buildup and prosecute the surprise invasion of South Korea in 1950, initiating the Korean War, death toll over 1.2 million, 40,000 Americans dead or missing, otherwise a draw.

In 1929 U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson shut down our only counterespionage agency, sniffing "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail." It took decades to catch up. He died a few months after the Korean invasion. Wonder whether he noticed any connection.

This book should be read by everyone. Persons not especially interested in espionage and its far-reaching political, economic, military and technological consequences can read just the sections which look more interesting, so as not to tire of the considerable amout of detail about dozens of spies. All were real human beings with their own occupations, histories and sets of problems. I enjoyed every detail. The business is still booming; technologically advanced countries are losing many tens of billions of dollars and many tens of thousands of jobs each year just to industrial espionage.
… (mais)
 
Marcado
KENNERLYDAN | outras 2 resenhas | Jul 11, 2021 |
Scholarly treatment of the subject that closes the case on many Cold War controversies, such as: the Rosenbergs (guilty), Alger Hiss (guilty) and IF Stone (a paid agent of the USSR for a time).
 
Marcado
shmulkey | outras 2 resenhas | Apr 4, 2010 |
For those interested in the Spanish Civil War, Klehr's work holds only limited interest. Klehr presents several primary documents from the Russian Archives. The focus is primarily on the disapearance and almost certain execution American volunteer Albert Wallach. Klehr also presents a list of volunteers from the XVth BDE who were considered to be bad elements. The list is undated but probably dates from September 1938. The characterizations are interesting but would have been far more valuable with more information on the individual volunteers.… (mais)
½
 
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CTBrooks | Jul 19, 2009 |

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