Accuracy in Media

The world of espionage has been full of danger and intrigue, but today it draws criticism from those who question both the capabilities and usefulness of intelligence gathering. It seems the American Left it still in denial as to the extent of the danger posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, authors of the new book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, had the opportunity to study the notebooks of Alexander Vassiliev, a former Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) officer who was given special access to records of Soviet intelligence operations. The notebooks contain new information regarding Soviet espionage during the Cold War, particularly concerning intelligence operations against the United States.

The book affirms that Alger Hiss was indeed a spy for the KGB. Vassiliev’s contacts with Hiss, as detailed extensively in the notebooks, identify Hiss as a Soviet spy, even though the KGB did not have any contact with Hiss until March 1945. The book points to KGB documents that refer to Hiss by name, such as an April 1936 report to the KGB reported at length in Vassiliev’s notebooks. A quote from Spies reads as follows:

“Alexander Vassiliev’s notebooks quote KGB reports and cables from the mid-1930s to 1950 that document KGB knowledge of and contacts with Alger Hiss and equivocally identify Hiss as a long-term espionage source of the KGB’s sister agency, GRU, Soviet Military Intelligence.'”

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are (once again-surprise!) also confirmed as spies for the Soviet Union. David Greenglass, recruited into espionage by the Rosenbergs, was instrumental in passing along nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Greenglass was arrested in 1950, and his testimony was crucial in implicating the Rosenbergs.

Though Greenglass would later retract his testimony regarding Ethel Rosenberg, the book describes how the KGB wanted to use her as an independent agent, providing even more evidence of her involvement in espionage.

The book discloses that the KGB sent threatening letters to David Greenglass’ parents, and the parents of David’s wife, Ruth, in order to persuade Greenglass to withdraw his testimony against the Rosenbergs. The book describes the KGB’s actions this way:

“In addition to the press campaign, the letter considered ways to refute David and Ruth Greenglass’s testimony, since that had provided key evidence used to convict the Rosenbergs. Because the KGB was sure that neither David not Ruth had been ‘psychologically prepared for such a harsh sentence,’ it recommended letters to their mothers, pleading that they persuade David ‘to publicly retract his testimony’ since he had already received his sentence. The KGB counseled that the letters could not appear to have been written by Communists or Russians but should seem to come from the Rosenbergs’ friends and should be hand-delivered to prevent American authorities from interfering (one suggestion was to use a ‘street urchin’ to deliver them).”

The book also details how Soviet spies were able to obtain cover jobs in the United States and work undetected. Andrey Shevchenko, code name “Arseny,” worked as an aviation engineer, other Soviet agents worked for TASS, the Soviet news agency, to give them an excuse to work in the United States. Still others obtained jobs as government workers at various levels. One must surely wonder whether the only job not undertaken by Soviet spies at the time was “community organizer.”

Spies also implicates investigative journalist I.F. Stone as working for the KGB. The book notes that Stone was critical of the House Committee on Un-American Activities after they subpoenaed Harold Glasser, a member of the Perlo Group of Soviet spies during World War II. According to the book,

“After [Glasser’s] testimony, I.F. Stone denounced the prosecution of a man of ‘liberal or progressive outlook who, to the best of my knowledge, has never been charged with being a Communist by any reasonable person.'”

How much did the Soviet Union benefit from such intelligence secrets? It clear that the atomic secrets disclosed to the KGB sped the development of a Soviet nuclear bomb faster than it would have been otherwise. Perhaps the book explains best when it states that the many spies who got away with it “lived lives built on lies and deception.”

 




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