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History of Soviet espionage in the United States

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Title: History of Soviet espionage in the United States  
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Subject: Cold War espionage, Red Scare, Whittaker Chambers, History of Soviet espionage, Earl Browder, Jack Soble, Jacob Golos, Carl Marzani, J. Walter Christie, Executive Order 9835
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History of Soviet espionage in the United States

Since the late 1920s, the Soviet Union, through its OGPU and NKVD intelligence services, used Russians and foreign-born nationals as well as Communist, and people of American origin to perform espionage activities in the United States.[1][2][3] These various espionage networks had contact with various U.S. government agencies, transmitting to Moscow information that would have been deemed confidential.[1][2][3]

First efforts

During the 1920s Soviet intelligence focused on military and industrial espionage in the United States, specifically in the aircraft and munitions industries, and penetrating the mainline federal government bureaucracies, such as the United States Department of State and War Department. These efforts had mixed results. A front organization was created by a NKVD agent in 1928 for the infiltration and placement of scientists into industry and government: the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians (FAECT). "The FAECT never attracted enough followers to make an impact in labor conditions, but it served the progressive cause in other ways." [4]

Browder and Golos networks

One chief aim was the infiltration, placement, and subversion of American political life at all levels of society. Earl Browder, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), served as an agent recruiter himself on behalf of Soviet intelligence.[1][5]

Browder later stated that "by the mid-thirties, the Party was not putting its principal emphasis on recruiting members." Left unstated was his intent to use party members for espionage work, where suitable. Browder advocated the use of a United Front involving other members of the left, both to strengthen advocacy of pro-Soviet policy and to enlarge the pool of potential recruits for espionage work. The illegal residency of NKVD in the US was established in 1934 by the former Berlin resident Boris Bazarov.[6] In 1935, NKVD agent Iskhak Akhmerov entered the US with false identity papers to assist Bazarov in the collection of useful intelligence, and operated without interruption until 1939, when he left the US. Akhmerov's wife, an American who worked for Soviet intelligence, was Helen Lowry (Elza Akhmerova), the niece of CPUSA General Secretary Earl Browder. Recent information from Soviet archives have revealed that Browder's younger sister Marguerite worked until 1938 as an NKVD operative in Europe. She discontinued this work only when Browder himself requested her release from duty, fearful that her work would compromise his position as General Secretary.[1]

In the 1930s, the chief Soviet espionage organization operating in the U.S. became the GRU. J. Peters, headed the secret apparatus that supplied internal government documents from the Ware group to the GRU. Browder assisted Peters in building a network of operatives in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This group included Alger Hiss, John Abt, and Lee Pressman. Courier for the group at the time was Whittaker Chambers. Browder oversaw the efforts of Jacob Golos and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bentley, whose network of agents and sources included two key figures at the Department of Treasury, Nathan Gregory Silvermaster and Harry Dexter White.

One early Soviet spy ring was headed by Jacob Golos. Jake Golos (birth name Jacob Golosenko, Tasin, Rasin or Raisen) was a Ukrainian-born Bolshevik revolutionary and Soviet secret police (NKVD) operative in the USSR. He was also a longtime senior official of the CPUSA involved in covert work and cooperation with Soviet intelligence agencies. He took over an existing network of agents and intelligence sources from Earl Browder. Golos' controller was the head of the NKVD's American desk, Gaik Ovakimian, also known as "The Puppetmaster", who would later serve a key role in the assassination of Leon Trotsky.[7] Golos was the "main pillar" of the NKVD intelligence network. He had worked with Soviet intelligence from the mid-1930s, and probably earlier. He was not merely a CPUSA official assisting the NKVD (an agent or “probationer” in Soviet intelligence parlance) but held official rank in the NKVD, and claimed to be an oldtime Chekist.

Golos established a company called World Tourists with money from Earl Browder, the General Secretary. The firm, which posed as a travel agency, was used to facilitate international travel to and from the United States by Soviet agents and CPUSA members. World Tourists was also involved in manufacturing fake passports, as Browder used such a false passport on covert trips to the Soviet Union in 1936.[2] At World Tourist, Golos frequently met Bernard Schuster, an NKVD agent (code name ECHO and DICK) and Communist Party functionary who carried out background investigations for Golos as part of the vetting process of agent candidates.[8] In March 1940, Golos pled guilty to being an unregistered foreign agent, paid a $500 fine, and served probation in lieu of a four-month prison sentence.

Soviet intelligence did not like Golos' refusal to allow Soviet contact with his sources (a measure implemented by Golos to protect himself and to ensure his continued retention by the NKVD). The NKVD suspected Golos of Trotskyism and tried to lure him to Moscow, where he could be arrested, but the US government got to him first. But even then, he did not reveal his agent network. After Browder went to prison in 1940, Golos took over running Browder's agents. In 1941, Golos set up a commercial forwarding enterprise, called the US Shipping and Service Corporation, with Elizabeth Bentley, his lover, as one of its officers.[1][2]

Sometime in November 1943, Golos met in New York City with key figures of the Perlo group, a group working in several government departments and agencies in Washington, D.C. The group was already in the service of Browder. Later that same month, after a series of heart attacks over the previous two years, Golos died in bed in Bentley's arms. Bentley then took over his operations (thus the reference in the decrypts to him as a “former” colleague).

Secret apparatus

By the end of 1936 at least four mid-level State Department officials were delivering information to Soviet intelligence: Alger Hiss, assistant to Assistant Secretary of State Francis Sayre; Julian Wadleigh, economist in the Trade Agreements Section; Laurence Duggan, Latin American division; and Noel Field, West European division. Whittaker Chambers later testified that the plans for a tank design with a revolutionary new suspension invented by J. Walter Christie (then being tested in the U.S.A.) were procured and put into production in the Soviet Union as the Mark BT, later developed into the famous Soviet T-34 tank.[9][10][11]

In 1993, experts from the Library of Congress traveled to Moscow to copy previously secret archives of Communist Party USA (CPUSA) records, sent to the Soviet Union for safekeeping by party organizers. The records provide an irrefutable record of Soviet intelligence and cooperation provided by those in the radical left in the United States from the 1920s through the 1940s. Some documents revealed that the CPUSA was actively involved in secretly recruiting party members from African-American groups and rural farm workers. The records contained further evidence that Soviet sympathizers had indeed infiltrated the State Department, beginning in the 1930s. Included were letters from two U.S. ambassadors in Europe to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a senior State Department official. Thanks to an official in the State department sympathetic to the Party, the confidential correspondence, concerning political and economic matters in Europe, ended up in the hands of Soviet intelligence.[12]

In the late 1930s and 1940 the OGPU, known as the Political Directorate, used the U.S. as one of several staging areas for multiple OGPU plots to murder exiled Soviet leader Leon Trotsky, then living in Mexico City. It was American Communists who infiltrated Trotsky’s killer, Ramón Mercader, into his own household. They were also central to the NKVD's unsuccessful efforts to free the killer from a Mexican prison.

Soble spy ring

Jacob Albam and the Sobles (Jack and Myra) were indicted on espionage charges by the FBI in 1957, all three were later convicted and served prison terms. The Zlatovskis remained in Paris, France, where the laws did not allow their extradition to the United States for espionage. Robert Soblen was sentenced to life in prison for his espionage work at Sandia National Laboratories, but jumped bail and escaped to Israel. After being expelled from that country, he later committed suicide in Great Britain while awaiting extradition back to the United States.[1][13]

Wartime espionage

During the war, Soviet espionage agents obtained classified reports on electronic advances in radio-beacon artillery fuses by Emerson Radio, including a complete proximity fuse (reportedly the same fuse design that was later installed on Soviet anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down Francis Gary Powers's U-2 in 1960). Thousands of documents from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) were photocopied or stolen, including a complete set of design and production drawings for Lockheed Aircraft's new P-80 Shooting Star fighter jet.[14]

Atomic bomb secrets

Joseph Stalin directed Soviet intelligence officers to collect information in four main areas. Pavel Fitin, the 34-year-old chief of the KGB First Directorate, was directed to seek American intelligence concerning Hitler's plans for the war in Russia; secret war aims of London and Washington, particularly with regard to planning for Operation Overlord, the second front in Europe; any indications the Western Allies might be willing to make a separate peace with Hitler; and American scientific and technological progress, particularly in the development of an atomic weapon.

The Silvermaster spy ring

The United States Treasury Department was successfully penetrated by nearly a dozen Soviet agents or information sources, including Harold Glasser and his superior, Harry Dexter White, assistant secretary of the treasury and the second most influential official in the department.[1][2] In Late May 1941 Vitaly Pavlov, a 25 year-old NKVD officer, approached White and attempted to secure his assistance to influence U.S. policy towards Japan. White agreed to assist Soviet intelligence in any way he could. The principal function of White was to aid in the infiltration and placement of Soviet operatives within the government, and protecting sources. When security concerns arose around Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, White protected him in his sensitive position at the Board of Economic Warfare. White likewise was a purveyor of information and resources to assist Soviet aims, and agreed to press for release of German occupation currency plates to the Soviet Union. The Soviets later used the plates to print unrestricted sums of money to exchange for U.S. and Allied hard goods.[15]

In August 1945 Elizabeth Bentley, fearful of assassination by the Soviet MGB, turned herself in to the government. She implicated many agents and sources in the Golos and Silvermaster spy networks, and was the first to accuse Harry Dexter White of acting on behalf of Soviet interests in releasing occupation plates to Moscow, later confirmed by Soviet archives and former KGB officers.[5][15]

Aftermath

President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order 9835 of 22 March 1947 tightened protections against subversive infiltration of the US Government, defining disloyalty as membership on a list of subversive organizations maintained by the Attorney General. However Truman was opposed to the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950, calling it a "Mockery of the Bill of Rights" and a "long step towards totalitarianism".[16]

Post-Soviet period

According to former GRU Colonel Stanislav Lunev, "SVR and GRU (Russia's external and military intelligence agencies, respectively) are operating against the U.S. in a much more active manner than they were during even the hottest days of the Cold War"[17] From the end of 1980s, KGB and later SVR began to create "a second echelon" of "auxiliary agents in addition to our main weapons, Illegals and special agents", according to former SVR officer Kouzminov.[18] These agents are legal immigrants, including scientists and other professionals. Another SVR officer who defected to Britain in 1996 described details about several thousand Russian agents and intelligence officers, some of them "illegals" who live under deep cover abroad [19] Recently caught Russian high-profile agents in US are Aldrich Hazen Ames, Harold James Nicholson, Earl Edwin Pitts, Robert Philip Hanssen and George Trofimoff. In June 2010, an alleged SVR spy network called the Illegals Program by the US Department of Justice was revealed when 10 suspects who had been living long-term in the US were arrested.[20]

According to Yuri Shvets, a former KGB agent “In the days of the Soviet Union, the number of spies was limited because they had to be based at the foreign ministry, the trade mission or the news agencies like Tass. Right now, virtually every successful private company in Russia is being used as a cover for Russian intelligence operations.”[21] For example, close connections of SVR with Russian gas company Gazprom and oil company LUKoil have been reported.[22]

Although every Russian company abroad may be a front organization of SVR or GRU (and in fact some of them have been organized by SVR'[18]) the most famous of them is Russian aviation company Aeroflot. In the past, this company conducted forcible "evacuations" of Soviet citizens from foreign countries back to the USSR. People whose loyalty was questioned were drugged and delivered unconsciousness by Aeroflot planes, assisted by the company KGB personnel, according to former GRU officer Victor Suvorov.[23] In 1980s and 1990s, specimens of deadly bacteria and viruses stolen from Western laboratories were delivered by Aeroflot to support Russian program of biological weapons. This delivery channel encoded VOLNA ("wave") meant "delivering the material via an international flight of the Aeroflot airline in the pilots' cabin, where one of the pilots was a KGB officer".[18] At least two SVR agents died, presumably from the transported pathogens.[18]

When businessman Nikolai Glushkov was appointed as a top manager of Aeroflot in 1996, he found that the airline company worked as a "cash cow to support international spying operations": 3,000 people out of the total workforce of 14,000 in Aeroflot were FSB, SVR, or GRU officers. All proceeds from ticket sales were distributed to 352 foreign bank accounts that could not be controlled by the Aeroflot administration. Glushkov closed all these accounts and channeled the money to an accounting center called Andava in Switzerland.[24] He also sent a bill and wrote a letter to SVR director Yevgeni Primakov and FSB director Mikhail Barsukov asking them to pay salaries of their intelligence officers in Aeroflot in 1996.[24] Glushkov has been imprisoned since 2000 on charges of illegally channeling money through Andava. Since 2004 the company is controlled by Viktor Ivanov, a high-ranking FSB official, a close associate of Vladimir Putin.

See also

References

Further reading

External links

  • Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives
  • For new evidence on Soviet espionage in the United States, see former KGB officer Alexander Vassiliev's Notebooks From the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP)
  • , (July 1920) First published 1921, The Second Congress of the Communist International, Verbatum Report, Communist International, Petrograd
  • Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive. CI Reader: American Revolution into the New MillenniumA Counterintelligence Reader Volume 3, Chapter 1: . PDF file. office of the Director of Central Intelligence. Retrieved June 21, 2005.
  • Proyect, Louis. . Published online May 25, 2002. Retrieved June 21, 2005.
  • Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, eds., , (Washington, D.C.: National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, 1996)
  • The Hanford Site, Historic docs, Section 8 - Site Security
  • Discouraged, Disillusioned and Duped, Eyewitness account of the era
  • Razvedka, Intelligence Information and the Process of Decision Making: Turning Points of the Early Period of the Cold War (1944–1953) Wayback Machine (In Russian).
  • Interview with Ralph De Toladano
  • Foreign Intelligence Service (Russia)
  • Film: The KGB Connections: An Investigation Into Soviet Operations in North America, 1982, Public domain: Online.
  • Whittaker Chambers | Witness in the Alger Hiss Case, Anti-Communist, ex-Communist, Spy, Editor, Journalist, Intellectual, Writer, Translator, Poet


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