Browder, Golos and Peters
By the mid to late 1920s, there were three elements of Soviet power operating in the United States, despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations, the Comintern, military intelligence or GRU, and the forerunner of the KGB, the GPU. The Comintern was the dominant arm, though it was not unusual for officers and agents to switch from one service to another.
During the 1920s the focus was on industry, specifically aircraft and munitions industries, and penetrating the mainline federal government bureaucracies, such as the Department of State and War Department. A front organization created in 1928 for the infiltratation and placement of scientists into industry and government was the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Techinicians (FAECT).
Formal diplomatic recognition was granted to the U.S.S.R. on 16 November 1933, a condition of which was a pledge to refrain «from interfering in any manner in the internal affairs of the United States.» Soviet intelligence now operates under «legal» cover through embassy and consulates. That same year however, a Comintern affiliate organization, the American League Against War and Fascism, had already been established. Followed by the American Youth Congress in 1934; the League of American Writers in 1935; the National Negro Congress in 1936. In 1937 the American League Against War and Fascism changed its name to the American League for Peace and Democracy. Between 1937 and 1938 the Abraham Lincoln Brigade had been established with numerous affiliates and sent hundreds of non-governmental combatants to Spain despite the League of Nations Non-Intervention Committee ban on foreign «volunteers». In 1939 the American Congress for Democracy and Intellectual Freedom, and numerous other affiliate organizations had been created.
As in any target country, the KGB and GRU ran parallel «legal» and «illegal» operations groups. «Legal» networks are run by Soviet Case Ofiicers holding legal visas, usually working in diplomatic missions and official trade organizations. The operational station is called a «rezidency» headed by a station chief, or «rezident». The «illegal» networks are headed by an «illegal rezident», usually a soviet national citizen operating under deep cover with no apparent connection to Soviet organizations. Thus, if diplomatic relations are broken, an espionage organization remains in place, and there is no need to rebuild it from scratch, which could take decades.
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) from 1930 until 1945 said «by the mid-thirties, the Party was not putting its principal emphasis on recruiting members. Out of Moscow came a new set of instructions, comrades were to cooperate with all others Socialists and New Dealers, believers and atheists, workers and bosses, who would help resist the rising tide of fascism that appeared to threaten the security of the Soviet Union. This lead to the emergence of a new strategy, that of the United Front.»
In the 1930s CPUSA membership became largely native-born, and more educated people joined, including many scientific and technically trained professionals. American Communists considered the ‘capitalist’ corporations which employed them as morally illegitimate institutions. When Soviet intelligence officers approached and asked that the scientific secrets of these corporations be shared with the Soviet Union, few had moral objections.
Soviet intelligence agencies were able to use over 400 American citizens during the 1930s and up to 1946. The CPUSA was not just a recruiting ground for Soviet intelligence, it functioned within Soviet espionage as an auxiliary organization. Earl Browder, with the active assistance of a dozen high-level CPUSA officials, and numerous rank-and-file members, supervised CPUSA cooperation with the OGPU and GRU. Browder was given personal credit for recruitment of eighteen agents in a 1946 OGPU memo.
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 Roosevelt administration. 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.
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. Chambers told how a tank design by C.W. Christie was procured, and was put into production in the Soviet Union as the Mark BT.
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 into his own household . They were also central to the NKVD’s unsuccessful efforts to free the killer from a Mexican prison. In the late 1930s Soviet agents sought to provide Moscow with a wide range of information on high-performance aircraft, battleships, cruisers, armor, navigation equipment, tank engines, and armaments from key U.S. defense contractors, including Northrop, Douglas, and Marietta. The operations were run by Soviet Case Officers working under the cover of Amtorg Trading Corporation, the Soviet Society of the Red Cross, TASS, Sovfil’meksporta and some other establishments.
By 1940 Soviet interest was focused on atomic energy and other scientific developments, with some emphasis also being given to infiltration of Trotskyite and White Russian activities.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, and American entry into the war in December, the USSR became a major recipient of American military aid. Thousands of Soviet military officers and technicians entered the U.S. Scores of Soviet intelligence officers were among those arriving in America. These Case Officers, with the assitance of American citizens, waged a successful unrestrained espionage campaign against the United States, from 1942 to late 1945.
General Secretary Josef Stalin of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), 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.
Soviet recruitment of sources within American intelligence agencies, particularly within the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency was impressive. The highest ranking recruit was Duncan Lee, counsel to General William Donovan, OSS head. Lee, however, was extremely cautious and less productive than other OPGU sources, like Maurice Halperin, or Donald Wheeler, in the OSS Research and Analysis division. At least fifteen Soviet agents penetrated the OSS, with the actual number more likely around twenty.
The Soviets also developed about twenty sources within the U.S. State Department and other wartime foreign relations agencies. The two most senior Soviet operatives had been active in the 1930s, Alger Hiss and Laurence Duggan. A number of other Soviet infiltrators connections to American diplomacy have only been identified by code-names in the Venona project materials. Some of these identities have not been determined. Some most likely continued to operate in the post-war period. American counter-intelligence officials spent decades interviewing and examining the backgrounds of hundreds of American diplomatic personnel attempting to attach an identity to the code-name of many of these known operatives.
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The United States Treasury hosted nearly a dozen Soviet sources, including one of the most important, Harry Dexter White, assistant secretary of the treasury and the second most influential official in the department. In Late May 1941 Vitaly Pavlov, a 25 years old NKVD officer, approached White and attempted to secure his assistance to influence U.S. policy with towards Japan. White agreed to assist Soviet intelligence in any way he could. The principle 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.
Silvermaster denied any links with agents of a foreign power and appealed to Under Secretary of War Robert Patterson to overrule the security officials. Harry Dexter White contacted Patterson and told him suspicions about Silvermaster were baseless. Lauchlin Currie, a presidential aide who also cooperated with Soviet intelligence, personally phoned Patterson and urged a reconsideration of Silvermaster’s case. Patterson accepted these highly placed sources and overruled military counterintelligence. This decision facilitated the work of one of the most productive Soviet espionage rings, and provided substance for the postwar partisan charge that high officials in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations aided Soviet espionage against the United States.
Stalin publicly disbanded the Comintern in 1943. A Moscow OGPU message to all stations on 12 September 1943 detailed instructions for handling intelligence sources within the CPUSA after the disestablishment of the Comintern.
In late 1944 two senior OGPU officers, Stephan Apresyan of the New York rezidentura, and Vladimir Pravdin, a OGPU officer working out of Washington D.C., sent cables to Moscow criticizing each other’s performance, but also disagreeing over OGPU tactics. Apresyan denounced Pravdin for believing that “without the help of the … secret appartus we are completely powerless.” Apresyan argued that “it is … untrue that without … Browder we are ‘powerless.’” While “we shall have to have recourse to the … secret appartus … they ought not to be the one and only base especially if you take into account the fact that in the event of … Thomas Dewey’s being elected President, this source may dry up.” Apresyan lost that particular argument. Thomas Dewey was not elected in 1944, and the OGPU was able to continue to use the CPUSA as an auxiliary, but the reprieve ended in 1945.
Many of the OGPU’s sources in this period regarded themselves to be under CPUSA as well as Soviet direction. In early 1945, Ishkak Akhmerov, the KGB illegal officer, sent a long cable to Moscow discussing the Silvermaster group. Akhmerov noted that “it is doubtful whether … the OGPU could get the same results as … Silvermaster.” He told Moscow that “it costs … Silvermaster great pains to keep … [the American sources] in line. … Silvermaster being their leader in the CPUSA line helps him give them orders”, and added, “that our … OGPU officers would not manage to work with the same success under the CPUSA flag.” The productivity of the secret apparatus networks supervised by Akhmerov is illustrated by OGPU records of the numbers of reels of microfilm of United States Government documents delivered to Moscow via Akhmerov: 59 roles in 1942, 211 in 1943, 600 in 1944, and 1,896 in 1945.
In the 1930s and early 1940s there was only limited “compartmentalization” between the CPUSA and Soviet espionage. The organizational blending of these different aspects of the Communist movement allowed the Soviet Union to maximize its return on the assets it possessed.  But after World War II when American authorities belatedly paid attention, and the FBI began an aggressive investigation, the vulnerability of this arrangement also became clear. An organization as large as the CPUSA had too many areas of weakness. Many party-linked espionage operations were exposed and neutralized by American counterintelligence in the late 1940s and 1950s. And the CPUSA itself became tainted with disloyalty.
In August 1945 Elizabeth Bentley turned herself in to the government. Afterward, the Soviets quickly closed down the networks with which she had contact and recalled to Moscow those OGPU officers whom Bentley could identify. Shortly after Bentley’s defection came Igor Gouzenko, a GRU cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Canada who disclosed information about Soviet espionage both in Canada and the U.S and Soviet codes.
The first Soviet atomic bomb in 1949 was a virtual carbon copy of “Fat Man,” the implosion-type plutonium weapon the United States dropped on Nagasaki four years earlier.
The latter 1940s and early ’50s were a time of tense, explosive conflict, in the world at large and in American politics. Soviet expansionism in Europe, the Chinese Civil War, and the 1950 outbreak of the Korean War shattered the dreams of post-war cooperation with the Soviet Union. American policy dealing with this rapidly changing scene was often confused, naive, slow to respond, and contradictory.
Infiltrating the United Nations organization became a priority in the wake of the disbanding of the Comintern, the death of Golos which led to the ultimate breakdown in security, and the end of the War. Hiss was influential in the employment of 494 persons by the United Nations on its initial staff.
Gradually it became apparent that the objectives of World War II for which the United States and others made tremendous sacrifices were not fully realized, and there remained in the world a force presenting even greater dangers to world peace than the Nazi militarists and Japanese warlords. Consequently, the United States made the decision in the Spring of 1947 to assist Greece and Turkey with a view to protecting their sovereignties, which were threatened by direct or instigated activities of the Soviet Union.
President 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.
Truman’s denunciations of the charges against Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and others, all of whom appear under covernames in decrypted messages translated before Truman left office, suggest that Truman was never briefed on the Venona program, or if he was briefed, did not grasp its significance. Truman insisted Republicans trumped up the loyalty issue, and that wartime espionage had been insignificant and well contained by counterintelligence agencies.
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Chairman of the Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy wrote in 1997, «President Truman was almost willfully obtuse as regards American Communism.»
Browder, Golos and Peters