Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Before the Cold War

Although the Cold War is usually defined as lasting from 1947 to 1990, the dates are not precise. In any case, the years after the October 1917 revolution, and after the end of the Russian Civil War in 1920, were, like the Cold War, an era of rivalry between the USSR and the USA. This rivalry manifested itself in propaganda and espionage.

Both during the Cold War and during the decades preceding it, it was exceedingly difficult to identify, with any certainty, Soviet agents at work in the United States. Only with great effort was it possible to establish that people like Alger Hiss, Julius Rosenberg, Ethel Rosenberg, and others were in the employ of the KGB, NKVD, or some other Soviet intelligence agency.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, around 1990, the situation for historians changed drastically. A wealth of data became available. The intelligence agencies in the United States declassified large portions of the evidence gathered by the Venona project; Venona was a program to decrypt intercepted Soviet messages. In Russia, portions of the KGB’s files became available. Information came from other countries as well; for example, in Germany, the files of Stasi became public. The “Stasi” was the agency for Staatssicherheit or national security.

Suddenly, there was evidence revealing a thorough spy network which had functioned in the United States, not only during the Cold War, but also in the decades leading up to the mid-1940s. Soviet espionage was not only something relevant to studying the history of the 1950s and later, but it was quite significant in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.

A number of historians have begun examining this new trove of data. It will take years, if they are allowed, to uncover the expanse of the Soviet spy network which functioned for several decades in the United States.

One historian, M. Stanton Evans, has published some preliminary results from this new evidence. Known as “Stan” Evans, he writes:

Since the collapse of the Soviet empire in the early 1990s, we’ve learned a lot about Communist tactics used against the West in the long death struggle called the Cold War - much of it contrary to accepted wisdom in media/academic circles.

This new flood of data confirmed, for example, the conclusion drawn in the 1950s that Philip Keeney and Mary Jane Keeney were indeed Soviet agents. Working together, Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Some of this information is brand-new, some of it confirming things already known, some completely unexpected - but all of it important. The revelations are the more so as the story of what actually happened in the clash of global superpowers that dominated the second half of the twentieth century has yet to be told in adequate fashion. For numerous reasons - some legitimate, others not - significant facts about this conflict were the deepest-dyed of secrets, denied outright or held back from the public, and even today aren’t common knowledge.

If historians are allowed to have continued access to this new source of evidence, and if they are allowed to publish their conclusions, the coming decades could see an expanding concept of the Soviet espionage network and of the international communist conspiracy as it was at work inside the United States from the earliest years after the 1917 revolution up until shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990.