Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America

Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America

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by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, Alexander Vassiliev

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This stunning book, based on KGB archives that have never come to light before, provides the most complete account of Soviet espionage in America ever written. In 1993, former KGB officer Alexander Vassiliev was permitted unique access to Stalin-era records of Soviet intelligence operations against the United States. Years later, living in Britain, Vassiliev


This stunning book, based on KGB archives that have never come to light before, provides the most complete account of Soviet espionage in America ever written. In 1993, former KGB officer Alexander Vassiliev was permitted unique access to Stalin-era records of Soviet intelligence operations against the United States. Years later, living in Britain, Vassiliev retrieved his extensive notebooks of transcribed documents from Moscow. With these notebooks John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have meticulously constructed a new, sometimes shocking, historical account.

Along with general insights into espionage tactics and the motives of Americans who spied for Stalin, Spies resolves specific, long-seething controversies. The book confirms, among many other things, that Alger Hiss cooperated with Soviet intelligence over a long period of years, that journalist I. F. Stone worked on behalf of the KGB in the 1930s, and that Robert Oppenheimer was never recruited by Soviet intelligence. Spies also uncovers numerous American spies who were never even under suspicion and satisfyingly identifies the last unaccounted for American nuclear spies. Vassiliev tells the story of the notebooks and his own extraordinary life in a gripping introduction to the volume.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

In this important book, Haynes (historian, Library of Congress Manuscript Division), Harvey Klehr (politics & history, Emory Univ.), and journalist Alexander Vassiliev come close to proving that Stalin's KGB did indeed have American operatives on our soil. In 1993, Vassiliev, a former KGB officer, was given unparalleled access to pre- and postwar KGB files. Years later, he was able to smuggle out the extensive notes he had made, which Hays and Klehr then used to construct this account. Vassiliev's sources prove conclusively that the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss were guilty of spying and further illuminate the extent of Soviet espionage attempts on the Manhattan Project (while vindicating J. Robert Oppenheimer). Additionally, the names of dozens of American-born and foreign nationals who undertook Soviet espionage in 1930s and 1940s America come to light. This work does more than just finger KGB operatives; it offers insight into the spies' personalities and motives. All that remains is to prove the authenticity of Vassiliev's notebooks, which can be done through continued corroboration with other sources, including those still not made available by Russia. [Go to www.wilsoncenter.org/SWIHP/VassilievNotebooksfor scans, translations, and other material demonstrating the authors' research.-Ed.]
—Harry Willems

Philadelphia Inquirer

“This is an important book for students of history and espionage.”—Philadelphia Inquirer

American Conservative
[The book] succeeds as an indictment of an entire era in which some of the nation's best and brightest sold their souls to a foreign master—and as a stinging, definitive rebuttal to those who have defended Alger Hiss all of these years.—Justin Raimondo, The American Conservative

— Justin Raimondo

US News & World Report
[Spies] shows how the Soviets went about the business of spying, its failures and successes, and, most interestingly, the names of the Americans from whom the KGB received information.—Alex Kingsbury, US News & World Report

— Alex Kingsbury


“John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev present persuasive evidence.”--Commonweal

ForeWord Magazine

Finalist for the 2009 Book of the Year Award, presented by ForeWord magazine

— Book of the Year Award

The Weekly Standard
This magisterial book transcends the old debates and paradigms, and provides the most complete and thorough account of what Soviet espionage agents actually did in the United States.—Ronald Radosh, The Weekly Standard

— Ronald Radosh

Tennent Bagley

"So outstandingly authoritative and convincing is this material that it will take an honored place alongside the basic sources on Soviet espionage in the United States. Here, the heart of the KGB is laid out as never before."—Tennent Bagley, author of Spy Wars

David Murphy

“This work should serve as the final salvo in the long battle between those who are still in denial regarding KGB espionage in America in the 1930s and 40s and those who assert that this story must be told.”—David Murphy, author of What Stalin Knew

Hayden B. Peake

“An original and important book based on scholarship of the highest standards.”—Hayden B. Peake, former Army and CIA intelligence officer

Paul Johnson

"Using now available Soviet sources, this valuable book tells the sobering and frightening story of the extent to which ideology will blind clever people and lead them to betray their country, democracy and freedom."—Paul Johnson, author of A History of the American People
American Conservative - Justin Raimondo

"[The book] succeeds as an indictment of an entire era in which some of the nation's best and brightest sold their souls to a foreign master—and as a stinging, definitive rebuttal to those who have defended Alger Hiss all of these years."—Justin Raimondo, The American Conservative
US News & World Report - Alex Kingsbury

"[Spies] shows how the Soviets went about the business of spying, its failures and successes, and, most interestingly, the names of the Americans from whom the KGB received information."—Alex Kingsbury, US News & World Report

ForeWord Magazine - Book of the Year Award

Finalist for the 2009 Book of the Year Award, presented by ForeWord magazine

The Weekly Standard - Ronald Radosh

“This magisterial book transcends the old debates and paradigms, and provides the most complete and thorough account of what Soviet espionage agents actually did in the United States.”--Ronald Radosh, The Weekly Standard

Product Details

Yale University Press
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6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.90(d)

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By John Earl Haynes Harvey Klehr Alexander Vassiliev

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2009 John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-12390-6

Chapter One

Alger Hiss

Case Closed

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 unequivocally identify Hiss as a long-term espionage source of the KGB's sister agency, GRU, Soviet military intelligence. Hiss is identified by his real name as well as by cover names, "Jurist," "Ales," and "Leonard." The material fully corroborates the testimony and accounts of Whittaker Chambers, Hede Massing, Noel Field, and others, while offering new details about Hiss's relationship with Soviet intelligence.

No individual is a more potent symbol of American collaboration with Soviet intelligence than Alger Hiss. From the moment of his confrontation with Whittaker Chambers in 1948, Hiss became the central figure in a debate that has divided Americans for decades. On the one side stood those who saw him as the archetype of a generation of young, college-educated people radicalized by the Depression, drawn to Washington during the heady days of the New Deal, and ultimately converted to communism.Intoxicated by their new ideology, they cooperated with Soviet intelligence agencies and eventually betrayed liberalism's commitment to political democracy and aided Stalin's totalitarian state. On the other side are those who regarded Hiss as an innocent victim of anti-Communist paranoia, a New Deal idealist maliciously framed by right-wing provocateurs backed by the reactionary wing of the Republican Party and malign elements of the FBI who were eager to discredit liberalism and taint the New Deal and the Democratic Party with treason.

The Hiss-Chambers case riveted the nation as it moved from the halls of Congress to the federal courtroom, where Hiss was convicted of perjury for lying about providing government secrets to Chambers, a self-confessed Soviet agent handler. Not only was Hiss a seeming model of the New Deal establishment-elite prep school, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard Law School, protégé of Felix Frankfurter, law clerk to Oliver Wendell Holmes, and president of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace-but he also had occupied important posts in the government, rising from an obscure lawyer for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) to become a senior diplomat, director of the State Department's Office of Special Political Affairs, attending the 1945 three-power Yalta Conference as an adviser to President Roosevelt, and presiding at the founding conference of the United Nations. In addition to these achievements, he was an elegant, handsome, charming, and distinguished-looking man.

That so obvious an exemplar of the reigning American liberal establishment might have been a Soviet spy in the 1930s and may have continued to serve Soviet interests into the 1940s seemed incredible. Nevertheless, the evidence demonstrating that Hiss had long been living a lie was substantial. Many people could discount Whittaker Chambers's testimony about his relationship with Hiss as delusional or a provocation, but they could not so easily dismiss the documents he produced. When he broke with Soviet intelligence in 1938, Chambers kept materials given to him by Hiss. Some were summaries or quoted extracts of State Department documents written in Hiss's hand or typed on a Hiss family typewriter while others were photographs of State Department documents with Hiss's office stamp and his handwritten initials. In addition, government investigators uncovered documentary evidence supporting claims made by Chambers about the used car Hiss secretly donated to the Communist Party and financial transactions between him and Hiss. Chambers's account of their friendship much more closely matched the documented facts than Hiss's story of a short-lived, distant relationship. Supporting witnesses also testified to Chambers's activities as the courier and supervisor of a network of Soviet sources.

Following Hiss's conviction in 1950 his supporters began a campaign that continues to this day to assert his innocence. Over the years they have generated many theories to account for the evidence that convicted him, ranging from an FBI conspiracy to a plot engineered by a sexually spurned homosexual (Chambers). Despite massive evidence to the contrary, some have maintained that not only is there no convincing evidence that Hiss was a spy, but also that Chambers was a fantasist who invented his own work for the Soviets. In the 1990s, one Hiss defender, his lawyer, John Lowenthal, briefly persuaded former Soviet Army general and military historian Dmitri Volkogonov to claim that a search of Russian archives had found no evidence to support the charge that Hiss had been a Soviet agent or that Chambers himself had been one. Faced with skepticism and questions about how he could make such sweeping statements in light of the contrary evidence, Volkogonov quickly retracted his statements, noting that he had been allowed to see only KGB material selected for him by agency officials and had not asked for information from Soviet military intelligence files, despite the fact that Chambers and, presumably, Hiss had worked for the GRU. Volkogonov told the New York Times, "The Ministry of Defense also has an intelligence service, which is totally different.... I only looked through what the KGB had ... [but] the attorney, Lowenthal, pushed me hard to say things of which I was not fully convinced."

Although Soviet intelligence archives themselves remained largely closed to research after the 1991 collapse of the USSR, other Soviet-era archives were opened. Files from the archives of the Comintern supported key elements of Chambers's story about the existence of a covert American Communist Party apparatus headed by Josef Peters. Decrypted World War II KGB cables from the National Security Agency's Venona project corroborated Chambers's identification of mid-level government officials as secret Communists and Soviet spies. Few of the cables the Venona project decoded were from GRU, but one 1945 KGB cable reported contact with a GRU source, cover-named "Ales," whom American security officers judged was "probably Alger Hiss." Finally, Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev's The Haunted Wood (1999) cited specific KGB archival documents that explicitly named Hiss as a Soviet agent.

After a brief period of silence and confusion, Hiss's defenders regrouped and went on a counteroffensive. A new Web site dedicated to the proposition that he had been framed emerged, hosted at New York University. Critics attacked The Haunted Wood on the grounds that only the authors had access to its underlying documentation, parsed the Venona project's "Ales" message, and offered elaborate and convoluted interpretations of why "Ales" might not be Hiss that were published in prestigious academic journals and promoted by left-wing journals of opinion such as The Nation.

Vassiliev's Notebooks and the Hiss Case

The earliest references to Hiss in the documents in Vassiliev's notebooks recount a mid-1930s imbroglio involving Hiss, two KGB State Department sources (Laurence Duggan and Noel Field, discussed in chapter 4 below), and KGB operative Hede Massing. The situation developed as follows. Duggan joined the U.S. State Department in 1930, rose rapidly, and became head of the Latin American Division in 1935. Alerted to his Communist sympathies by party contacts, Peter Gutzeit, head of the KGB's legal station, reported in October 1934 that he had met with Duggan and was impressed with his willingness to assist the Soviet cause. While the Latin American Division was not of major interest to the Soviets, Gutzeit noted that through Duggan the KGB could "'gain access to Field-an analyst in the Euro. division of the State Department with whom D. [Duggan] is on friendly terms,'" and Europe was Moscow's chief intelligence target.

Noel Field, born in 1904, had spent much of his childhood in Europe but returned to the United States to attend Harvard. He joined the Department of State as a foreign service officer in 1926, became radicalized in the late 1920s, and began to read CPUSA literature and associate with party members. His increasingly left-wing inclinations were known in the State Department and blocked his hopes for a foreign diplomatic post. In frustration, he shifted from its diplomatic service to its professional and scientific service, whose staff focused on technical foreign relations issues. Field became a specialist in American interaction with the League of Nations.

In 1935 Hede Massing, who had been cultivating Laurence Duggan and his wife Helen Boyd, approached and quickly recruited Noel Field, given the cover names "17" and "Ernst" in KGB communications. ("Cultivating" was the KGB's term for getting to know and developing a recruit.) Massing was Austrian-born but had spent several childhood years in America before returning home. Radicalized after World War I, she married Gerhart Eisler, a leading figure in the German Communist Party and later the Comintern. Her second husband was Julian Gumpertz, a publisher of Communist literature, with whom she traveled to New York in 1926 and mingled with radical American literati. At the end of the 1920s she married Paul Massing, a fellow Communist and a leading figure in the Institute for Social Research, a center of Marxist social thought at the University of Frankfurt in Germany. In 1929 Ignace Poretsky, a senior GRU officer, recruited her for intelligence work. After a hiatus in Moscow, she began to receive assignments in 1931. The Nazis arrested Paul Massing after Hitler seized power, and Hede was sent to the United States in late 1933. Posing as a newspaperwoman, she developed extensive contacts in left and liberal circles in Washington and New York. Released from Nazi prison in 1934, Paul became a minor celebrity in the anti-fascist world. He left Germany, rejoined Hede, and also entered Soviet service. In the meantime, Poretsky had shifted from GRU to KGB, increasingly the dominant Soviet intelligence agency, and the Massings moved with him.

By Field's own account, he provided the Soviets with significant quantities of State Department material in 1935 and early 1936. But he continued to feel frustrated in his State Department assignment, and in April 1936 he took a post with the League of Nations and moved to Switzerland. Before he left, however, his naiveté regarding espionage tradecraft brought about the first entanglement of Alger Hiss with the KGB.

Field had become a friend of Alger Hiss shortly after Hiss moved to Washington in 1933 and became part of the group of radicalized young professionals drawn to the nation's capital by the New Deal's promise to reconstruct American economic life. Hiss left a Wall Street law firm to take a position with AAA, where he was part of a secret Communist caucus called the "Ware group" since it was organized by the CPUSA's agricultural specialist, Harold Ware. Hiss later left AAA to take a post with the U.S. Senate's Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry, chaired by Senator Gerald Nye. From there he moved briefly to the Justice Department but then in September 1936 took a salary cut to take a position at the Department of State, where he remained until the end of 1945. In Whittaker Chambers's account, in 1935 Josef Peters sought to connect selected members of the party's Washington underground to Soviet intelligence. Chambers, a former writer at the Daily Worker and editor of the party's literary magazine, New Masses, had been assigned to covert work in the early 1930s and worked with Peters and on various assignments for both GRU and the KGB. He related that by early 1936 Hiss was functioning as part of a Washington network of sources recruited via the CPUSA with Chambers as the network's link to the professional officers of Soviet military intelligence.

Hiss, not yet holding a sensitive position himself and not yet attuned to the need for caution, approached his friend Noel Field in early 1936 and attempted to recruit him for his GRU-linked apparatus. While Hiss was indiscreet, Field's reaction compounded the problem. Hede Massing described what happened in an April 1936 report to the KGB quoted at length in Vassiliev's notebooks:

"Our friend Ernst [Field], the day before he left for Europe, related to me the following incident, of which he himself will give a detailed account to our friends overseas. Roughly a week before his departure from Washington, he was approached by Alger Hiss. A. [Alger Hiss] informed him that he is a Communist, that he has ties to an organization working for the Sov. Union; and that he is aware that Ernst has ties as well; however, he fears that they are not robust enough and that his knowledge is probably being misused. Then he bluntly proposed that Ernst give an account of the London conference. Because they are, as E. ["Ernst"/Field] puts it, close friends, he did not refuse to discuss this topic with him, but he told Alger that he had already delivered a report on that conference. When A., whom, as you probably recall, I met through E., insisted that he would like to receive that report himself regardless, E. said that he would have to contact his 'connections' and ask their advice. Within a day, having 'thought it over,' A. said that he would not insist on receiving the report himself, but that he will have to ask E. to speak with Larry and Helen [Duggan] about him and to tell them who he is and give him (A.) access to them. Once more, E. said that he had already established a connection with Larry and Helen, but A. insisted that E. would have to speak with them regardless, which E. did. He spoke with Larry about A., and of course about himself as well, telling him 'in what situation they found themselves,' 'that their main task at present is the defense of the Sov. Union,' etc., etc., and 'that each of them has to use his advantageous position in order to provide assistance in this matter.' Larry seemed upset and frightened and said that he had not gone so far yet, that some time would pass before he would be able to take such an irrevocable step, and that he is still hoping to do some work of a conventional sort, reorganizing his department and trying to achieve some kind of results in this regard, etc. Obviously, judging by what E. said, he gave no promises and did not prod A. to take action of any kind; instead, he politely backed down. A. also asked E. a whole series of oth. quest-s, e.g., who would be his successor, what kind of a person he is, and whether E. would want to establish his connection with him. He also asked him to help him in getting into the State Department, which E. apparently did.

When I pointed out to E. what a terrible lack of discipline he had shown and what a danger he had created for the value of his use and for the whole enterprise by linking three people with each other, he acted as if he did not understand. He believed that 'because A. had been the first to show his cards, he did not have a reason to keep everything secret, moreover, because A. had said that he 'is doing this for us' and because he is living in Washington and therefore cannot meet with Larry more often than I myself can, and finally, because I intend to leave the country for a while, he thought the best thing would be to establish contact between them."

In the above KGB document Hiss is identified by his real name. There is no parsing or convoluted argument that can be advanced to avoid the unambiguous identification of Alger Hiss in a 1936 KGB document by his real name as "a Communist, that ... has ties to an organization working for the Sov. Union."

A letter to Moscow Center from Boris Bazarov, head of the KGB's illegal station, summarized the damage done by Field's actions:

"The outcome is that '17' [Field] and Hiss have, in effect, been completely deprived of their cover before '19' [Duggan]. Evidently, '19' also clearly understands the identity of 'Redhead' [Massing]. And more than a couple of months ago, Redhead and Hiss also got exposed to each other. Helen Boyd-'19's' wife, having been present at almost all of these meetings and discussions, is undoubtedly clued in as well, and now knows as much as '19' himself....

I think that in light of this incident, we should not accelerate the cultivation of '19' and his wife. It seems that apart from us, the persistent Hiss will continue his initiative in that direction. 19's wife will be arriving in NY any day now. Redhead will meet her here for a purely friendly meeting. Upon 17's departure from Washington, Helen expressed a great desire to see Redhead again. It is possible that Helen will tell Redhead about her husband's frame of mind."


Excerpted from Spies by John Earl Haynes Harvey Klehr Alexander Vassiliev Copyright © 2009 by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

John Earl Haynes is a modern political historian in the Manuscript Division, the Library of Congress. He lives in Kensington, MD. Harvey Klehr is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History, Emory University. He lives in Atlanta, GA. Haynes and Klehr are coauthors of Venona. Alexander Vassiliev, journalist, novelist, and coauthor with Allen Weinstein of The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America, now lives in the UK.

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Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
AnonymousMN More than 1 year ago
The extensive story of Soviet espionage in the U.S., primarily in the 1930s and 1940s is based on documents from the KGB archives. It is NOT a collection of documents; therefore, the many references to other sources of information help interpret the documents and move the story ahead. What separates this volume from other treatments of the KGB is the admittance that both sides succeeded at times and failed at other times. Those who were recruited by the Soviets were not necessarily the infallible spies that those of us growing up in the 1950s were led to believe. They had their fallacies and foibles. What makes this volume so important is the use of primary sources from the KGB archives. A splendid read.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is little new in this book which really should be listed as a compilation of other books and sources. I can see why it ended up on the Bannes & Noble clearance pile..