BOOK EXCERPT: When U.S. treated Soviet spies better than defectors
Jan. 15, 2019
Editor's note: For nearly 70 years, the term “McCarthyism” has come to stand for the political practice of making harsh allegations without evidence. Few people in modern times know the full name of the person who inspired the term: Joe McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin in the early 1950s. And those with at least a hazy idea about him might think that he came to be so reviled for
But what if McCarthy was right? What if the Soviet Union, as part of an organized worldwide infiltration effort to control events and turn public opinion in its favor, actually did plant hundreds of people in key U.S. government offices, going back to the early 1930s? And what if, because of the success of that infiltration, any people who sought to expose this threat were then ferociously and skillfully attacked (with the help of a mostly compliant national media), to the point where THEY themselves had THEIR careers and lives destroyed?
According to a prodigiously researched book from 2007, top-secret Russian files surfaced when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, revealing that many government workers whose loyalty McCarthy had questioned were in fact working for the Kremlin and had been getting away with it for years. So it had been in their absolute interest not just to oppose the senator who pointed the finger at them, but to utterly ruin him. Clearly they succeeded, as 70 years of "McCarthyism" revulsion can attest.
The book, written by M. Stanton Evans, is titled “Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies.”
The excerpt below, from pages 83 to 86 (with referenced material in quotes), provides a chilling sense of how extensively Soviet spies had burrowed in, well before McCarthy came along, and how effective they were, not just at stealing American secrets but influencing U.S. global policies at the highest levels.
The State Department, for evident reasons, would be a target of Soviet attentions, especially during World War II but also for some years before then. As noted by diplomat/historian George F. Kennan, the department in the latter 1930s had a knowledgeable Russian affairs division well versed in Soviet matters, which kept
"The entire shop . . . was to be liquidated, and its functions transferred to the Division of West European Affairs. . . . The beautiful library was to be turned over to the Library of Congress, to be dispersed there by file numbers among its other vast holdings and thus cease to exist as a library. The special files were to be destroyed. . . . I am surprised, in later years, that the McCarthyites and other right wingers of the early Fifties never got hold of the incident and made capital of it; for here, if ever, was a point at which there was indeed the smell of Soviet influence, or strongly pro-Soviet influence, somewhere in the higher reaches of the government." [From "Memoirs," by George F. McKennan, 1969.]
Other occurrences at State, involving not merely files but people, would give rise to like suspicions. Of particular note were instances in which the policy of the averted gaze toward members of the Communist Party was extended even further - to spies sent here from Moscow, spotted by the FBI, but shielded by some higher power. As with other problems cited, inclinations of this type were evident in the 1930s but increased by several magnitudes during the wartime fling with Stalin.
One such case arose in 1938, involving the Soviet agent Mikhail Gorin, surveilled obtaining confidential data from a civilian staffer of the U.S. Navy. The FBI nabbed both suspects, who were charged with espionage violations and convicted. The naval employee would serve four years in prison, but the Soviet agent would walk free, thanks to State Department intervention. According to the FBI's account, the judge in the case, "on recommendation of the Department of State, and through the authorization of the Attorney General, suspended the execution of Gorin's original sentence and placed him on probation." [From summary FBI report on Soviet espionage activity in the United States, Nov. 27, 1945.]
Even more troubling to the Bureau was the 1941 case of Soviet superspy Gaik Ovakimian. Having tracked his endeavors in behalf of Moscow, the FBI arrested him for violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and thought it had him dead to rights. Again, however, the State Department stepped in to change things. The FBI memo about this says "arrangements were made by the Soviets with the United States State Department for the release of Gaik Ovakimian and his departure for the Soviet Union." The somewhat doubtful reason given for this lenient treatment was that the Soviets would reciprocate by releasing six Americans held by Red officials. [From summary FBI report on Soviet espionage activity in the United States, Nov. 27, 1945. According to an Evans footnote, the eventual reciprocation tilted in the Soviets' favor.]
The release of Ovakimian occurred in July of 1941, a month after Hitler invaded Russia, and may thus have been an early case of foreign policy real-politik thwarting Bureau law enforcement. Thereafter, when the United States was a cobelligerent with the USSR, kid-glove handling of Soviet agents seems to have been the standard practice. Two instances of no-fault spying for the Kremlin, dating from the middle 1940s, were the cases of Soviet Purchasing Commission official Andrei Schevchenko and a legendary Moscow spy with the un-Russian name of Arthur Adams.
Testimony on these cases was given before the Senate in 1949 by former FBI agent Larry Kerley. Kerley read into the record a condensed and paraphrased version of a secret FBI wrap-up on Soviet activity in the U.S. In the course of this, he referred to Adams and Schevchenko and matter-of-factly told the Senate both had been set free, despite substantial proof of spying, because of State Department orders. "It was simply a matter of policy," he said, "that none of Russia's espionage agents were to be arrested." [From "Communist Activities Among Aliens and National Groups," hearings before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization of the Committee on the Judiciary, Sept. 15, 1949.]
A similar version of wartime practice was given by Bureau agent Robert Lamphere - later famous as the main FBI contact with the Army Security Agency in the Venona project. Concerning the Schevchenko case, Lamphere would comment: "Justice consulted with the State Department and the decision was made not to arrest Schevchenko but to allow him to leave the country. International repercussions were feared if we arrested and tried a Soviet national during wartime when Russia was our ally..." [From "The FBI-KGB War," by Robert Lamphere and Tom Shachtman, 1986.]
In contrast to the benign neglect or positive favor extended to these Kremlin agents was the stance of some in the U.S. government toward defectors from the Soviet Union. One spectacular case was that of "Jan Valtin" (Richard Krebs), a former Soviet double agent in Nazi Germany who in the 1930s defected to the West. Thereafter he wrote an exposé of both the Soviets and the Nazis titled "Out of the Night," and in 1941 appeared before the Dies committee. The following year, the Immigration and Naturalization Service arrested Valtin-Krebs, locked him up on Ellis Island, and started deportation proceedings against him. This action was supposedly based on offenses committed in the 1920s when he was a Soviet henchman (for which he had already been imprisoned). Thus, while current Soviet agents were allowed to go scot-free, this defecting former agent was to be severely punished. [From a Department of Justice statement, Nov. 24, 1942. According to an Evans footnote, the Soviet press tried to frame Krebs as a Nazi agent, but protests from "former men of the left who had turned against the Kremlin... succeeded in staving off his deportation."]
Of like nature was the case of Victor Kravchenko, yet another defector from Moscow, who bolted from the Soviet Purchasing Commission's U.S. office in 1944 and made his way to the FBI. Bureau intelligence reports feature a lot of information from Kravchenko, showing he was a valued source in early efforts to crack the Kremlin networks. He also would write a best-selling book, “I Chose Freedom,” exposing Soviet espionage and influence operations. Given all of which, an FBI memo from December of 1944 is of chilling import:
"On Friday, December 22, Mr. Ugo Carusi, Executive Assistant to the Attorney General, advised. . . that Mr. [Edward] Stettinius and the State Department were putting the pressure on the Department of Justice to bring about the surrender of Victor Kravchenko to the Russians for return to Russia. Mr. Carusi stated that undoubtedly the pressure was also being put on the State Department by the Soviets. . . . Later that afternoon, Mr. Carusi advised that the Attorney General believed the Bureau should discreetly tip off Kravchenko to the fact that 'the heat was on' and that he should flee and carefully hide himself so that he would not be found by government repre- sentatives." [From J. Edgar Hoover Official & Confidential file #102.]
On the orders of Director Hoover, the FBI did get this warning to Kravchenko, who thus lived to convey his anti-Soviet message to the public. From which macabre goings-on it's evident that the State Department of the era had some serious internal problems in dealings with our "noble ally." Yet, strange as it may seem, State by and large was among the more conservative, anti-Communist, and security-conscious agencies of the war years. Elsewhere in the federal government, the situation was a good deal worse, with even more sinister implications for the Cold War future.
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