Monday, December 5, 2016

Which Type of Spy?

The USSR began constructing an intelligence network inside the United States as early as the 1920s, but large-scale infiltration of both governmental and social institutions started a decade later, in the 1930s.

As the various Soviet intelligence agencies planted their operatives in the U.S., two main functions became clear. On the one hand, these spies were to steal confidential information from the government and send in to Moscow. On the other hand, they were also influence policy decisions being made in the agencies in which they were “moles.”

Naturally, there was a sort of synergy between these two functions, as historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Not, to be sure, that influence and espionage operations existed in separate, watertight compartments, nor could they in many cases have done so. The two aspects typically went together, as Communist or pro-Soviet moles in official positions might do one, the other, or both, as opportunity presented. The case of Alger Hiss provides a notable instance. Much has been made of the “pumpkin papers” (copies of diplomatic records) that his ex-Communist accuser Chambers produced in the course of their legal battles as proof that Hiss engaged in espionage when he was at the State Department. Attention has been focused pro and con on what these documents proved concerning his fealty to Moscow and (among his defenders) where else they might have come from. Less noticed is what the documents were about — namely, data from U.S. envoys abroad that would have disclosed to Moscow what American and other Western policy was going to be in the global turmoil occurring in the 1930s.

Alger Hiss, then, operated not only as a spy in the sense that he was funneling classified information into the international communist conspiracy. He was also a spy in the sense that he shaped policy: he was a trusted advisor to President Roosevelt in the early 1940s, and often met face-to-face with FDR, who allowed Hiss to largely determine U.S. policy toward the USSR.