Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Historians Gather Evidence about Cold War Spies

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1990/1991, historians have worked to reconstruct information about the massive intelligence network which the USSR operated inside the United States. Although the earliest traces of that network date back as far as 1919, the large-scale espionage efforts began in the 1930s.

Historians have gathered data from multiple sources about the Soviet spy network. The United States Army was able, by means of its Operation Venona, to intercept and decode a number of encrypted messages between Moscow and communist operatives in America.

Other sources of information include files from various intelligence agencies: files which were declassified and made accessible to the public once the Cold War had ended.

But some of the biggest sources of evidence about Soviet intelligence-gathering inside the United States are the files and archives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Of importance also — though an underrated resource — are the confidential archives of the FBI, which was tracking and recording the activities of Communists and Soviet agents in the United States before Venona came on line and before the advent of the Cold War. In some recent studies the efforts of the FBI in this regard have been disparaged, but, on close inspection, these negative comments aren’t backed up by the record. In some cases of the New Deal years the Bureau may have missed clues it should have noted, but by the early 1940s it was far ahead of other U.S. agencies in spotting and combating the infiltration problem.

From these data, it is clear not only that the Soviet espionage network inside the United States was massive, and that it was highly effective at sending classified secrets back to the Kremlin, but also that it exerted a subtle but significant pressure on U.S. policymakers.

Not only did the Soviet have access to confidential information, but they also were influencing decisions made inside the U.S. government by means of well-placed secret agents.

Some of those agents, like Alger Hiss, worked at the highest levels of government: Hiss had face-to-face meetings with the president.

The President of the United States was taking advice from a communist spy!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bunny Berigan, Jazz Pioneer

A highly skilled trumpeter and an engaging vocalist, Bunny Berigan was a successful recording artist in the 1930s, a representative of the era’s jazz movement. He was also popular on the concert circuit.

Having played with both Benny Goodman’s band and Tommy Dorsey’s band, Berigan moved on to do some solo and freelance work in 1935/1946, and to become the leader of his own band in 1937.

One of his most famous recordings was a song titled, “I Can’t Get Started,” written by Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke. The song was written in 1936, but received little attention until Berigan’s recording of it became wildly popular.

Berigan’s emergence into national prominence was facilitated by his personal acquaintance with the leading jazz artists of his era, as historian Richard Sudhalter writes:

In early 1928 Berigan landed a job at Janssen’s Hofbrau restaurant in Philadelphia, with a band led by singer-violinist Frank Cornwell; they rehearsed in New York, affording the young brassman his first contact with a circle of musicians he’d soon come to dominate. He met cornetist Rex Stewart, who in turn introduced him to others, including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.

Jazz was already an established category of music by the time Berigan started his career, but has often been the case in the history of jazz, experimentation and development were common, and Berigan was no exception to this pattern. He was an innovator.

There were several trumpeters in the 1930s who displayed technical excellence. But Berigan was a master not only of technique, but rather also of artistic impression, as Sudhalter explains:

But it's hard to imagine any of those men, however accomplished, inspiring talk of “something special in the magic department.” Berigan, then, can't be understood as simply an amalgam of skills and attributes. There is another di­mension; even his less distinguished recorded work exudes a sense of something transcendental, unmatched by any other trumpet soloist of the 1930s.

Sadly, Berigan died at the age of 33 in 1942. Despite his premature death, his recordings remain popular almost a century after his performances.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Venona and Beyond

When historians explore the amazingly extensive network of spies which the Soviet Union planted inside the United States, one of the chief sources about this espionage is the Venona project.

The Venona files were a large set of decryptions which various U.S. intelligence agencies, mainly inside the U.S. Army, were able to intercept and decode as Soviet agents inside the the U.S. sent encrypted messages to their supervisors inside America and in Moscow.

Soviet intelligence operations started in the United States as early as 1919, but reached full force in the 1930s. A network of operatives was in constant contact with the Kremlin, sending data to Moscow, and receiving instructions about how to influence U.S. policies.

Although representing a massive amount of evidence, the Venona decrypts were far from the only data about the international communist conspiracy and its activity in America, as historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Other revelations dating from the 1990s include material from the archives of the Soviet Union and other east bloc nations when for a brief period after the Communists were toppled from power such records were made available to researchers. The most recent such disclosures are the so-called Vassiliev papers, named for a former Soviet intelligence staffer who made voluminous copies of secret records and smuggled them out of Russia when he defected to the West. Similar revelations had been made by previous such defectors, including Oleg Gordievsky, Stanislav Levchenko, and Victor Kravchenko, along with native American defectors such as Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley.

Both Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley had worked for the Communist Party (CPUSA) in the United States, which was not a political party at all, but rather a terrorist organization, plotting to send secret military information to Moscow, plotting to influence American policymakers to act not in the best interests of U.S. citizens but rather to the advantage of the USSR, and plotting to eventually use even ‘violent’ methods to overthrow the U.S. government.

The CPUSA had explicitly used the word ‘violent’ in its description of the revolution which it hoped to instigate inside the United States.

After the end of the Cold War, and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990/1991, the various sources of data revealed that the extent of the communist espionage network inside the United States was far larger than anyone had previously imagined.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Uncovering Evidence of Soviet Spies

Starting shortly after the two revolutions of 1917, and after the conclusion of a civil war several years later, the USSR began to assemble and expand an international communist conspiracy, the goal of which was to topple governments in noncommunist countries and establish socialist dictatorships.

Starting as early as 1919, such efforts in the United States reached high levels in the 1930s, and were significantly active for several decades thereafter.

The Soviet espionage network inside the United States was shockingly expansive, and astonishingly effective. A single example suffices: Alger Hiss was a communist operative, and was also a direct advisor to President Roosevelt.

Hiss influenced Roosevelt’s policy-making activities. Some of FDR’s decisions toward the end of his presidency were not in the best interests of the United States, nor in the best interests of its allies, but were advantageous to the USSR.

Hiss’s infiltration becomes all the more surprising when one understands that he was not acting alone, but was part of a large network, and part of a chain of command that led ultimately to Moscow and to Stalin.

How do we know about these Soviet agents? Much of the evidence was not available until the collapse of the Soviet Union around 1990/1991, as historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Among the information sources now available on such matters, those most often cited are the Venona decrypts compiled by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in the 1940s. Venona was the codename given to encrypted messages exchanged between the Red intelligence bosses in Moscow and their agents in this country. The Army codebreakers intercepted thousands of these missives and by a painstaking process were able to decipher a substantial number. This information, reflecting the extent of the Soviets’ activities in the United States and the identities of many of their contacts, was shared by the Army with the FBI to counter and eventually help break various of the pro-Red networks. These decrypts weren’t made public until 1995, half a century after they were first recorded.

To be sure, some data was available even before the end of the Cold War. Much of that was uncovered and publicized by Congress.

In addition to the Venona intercepts, there were files from the KGB, from the East German Stasi, and from the private records of former Soviet agents who defected to the western nations.

In the United States, some records from the FBI and other agencies were declassified and made public after the end of the Cold War.

Although not all the data is now available, and some of it may be lost forever, there is no doubt that a wide-ranging and dangerous Soviet espionage network existed inside the United States prior to 1990.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Soviets Plant Moles Inside America

After the revolutions of 1917, the communists spent several years solidifying their hold on Russia during a civil war. Once their dictatorship was firmly in place, however, they turned their attention to other parts of the world.

As early as 1919, the Soviet Socialists used one of their ‘front’ organizations, the IWW, to terrorize the city of Seattle in a general strike. The ordinary citizens of that city were confined to their houses as IWW officials enforced a curfew. Simple daily necessities like food and laundry were sometimes unavailable.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) seemed to be a labor union, but was in fact a ‘cover’ for Soviet intelligence agencies.

The USSR planted spies in many different organizations, governmental and nongovernmental, and created other organizations of their own. As historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write,

A main object of Moscow’s subliminal onslaught was to plant secret agents in the United States and other Western nations, with emphasis on official agencies that dealt with military, intelligence, or foreign policy issues. From these positions, pro-Soviet operatives were able to engage in policy sabotage, spying, and other species of subversion that advanced the interests of the Kremlin. As shall be seen, activity of this type was involved in countless aspects of the Cold War story.

The international communist conspiracy was more successful than many people at the time knew. Only later did it become clear how effectively the Soviets had infiltrated various parts of American society.

Men like Alger Hiss engaged in ‘policy sabotage,’ which meant that they were able to influence policymakers. Under the sway of Hiss’s advice, and his assessments of various foreign situations, various government officials made decisions which were not in the best interests of the United States, but which were advantageous to the Soviet Union.

Hiss even had face-to-face and one-on-one meetings with President Roosevelt in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Under Hiss’s influence, FDR made decisions which meant that millions of people in Poland and Czechoslovakia would be victims of murderous socialist dictatorships. Millions of them them died.

Agents like Hiss are called ‘moles,’ meaning that they spend a long time, quietly working their ways into important roles inside crucial institutions. Inside the United States, the Soviet espionage network continued to operate from the 1950s to the 1980s.