They were guilty as sin
Sunday, February 26, 2012


Guilty! Guilty!! Guilty!!!

Once upon a time I was a liberal. Once upon a time Doonesbury was funny. Both of those times are long gone now. In that far away place and long ago time when liberalism was almost respectable it was a common belief that people like Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were innocent, the victims of government frame ups that denied them their rights. It was possible to think that the black list was an instrument of horror and the FBI and HUAC grand inquisitors. Arthur Miller was even considered a playwright of genius rather than a Communist hack who had remarkably good taste in women. In fact, recent evidence points towards the guilt of many of the icons of liberal reverence. In Early Cold War Spies John Haynes and Harvey Klehr look at some of the early spy cases and come to some conclusions about the guilt or innocence of the people involved. Since the fall of the Soviet Union the Venona decrypts and Soviet archives have revealed the extent of Soviet penetration of the U.S., and the guilt of many who were never brought to trial. Haynes and Klehr also discuss why these people were not tried. There are six overall cases that the authors discuss. Elizabeth Bentley and William Weisband belong to the same case, but are commented on separately. Hence, 7 comments for 6 cases.

  1. Amerasia—A report prepared by an OSS officer found its way into a journal called Amerasia. The FBI conducted an investigation that included wiretaps and covert entry. Evidence was obtained that led to three indictments, one of which was dropped. Two, Jaffe and Larsen, were convicted of minor charges. Subsequent to the affair Venona decrypts revealed that Joseph Bernstein and Thomas Bisson were spies. Owen Lattimore was a vigorous defender of Stalin and his show trials. Lattimore also colluded with Soviet authorities in passing off a Potemkin village that disguised a Gulag camp as a town of happy miners. 

  2. Elizabeth Bentley—The “blonde spy queen” was not as attractive in her late 40s as that description might imply. In fact she appears to have been rather frumpy and unglamorous. William Remington is confirmed to have been a Soviet agent. So also were William Ludwig Ullman and Edward Fitzgerald. “Scores of Venona messages discuss Bentley (cover name Clever Girl), the large espionage networks run by Gregory Silvermaster (cover name Pal) and Victor Perlo (cover name Raider), and all the major and most of the minor spies identified by Bentley: Ludwig Ullmann (cover name Pilot), George Silverman (cover name Aileron), Harry Dexter White (cover name Richard), Duncan Lee (cover name Koch), Maurice Halperin (cover name Hare), Frank Coe (cover name Peak), Solomon Adler (cover name Sachs), Alexander Koral (cover name Berg), Charles Kramer (cover name Mole), Edward Fitzgerald (cover name Ted), and Lauchlin Currie (cover name Page).”

  3. William Weisband, a part of Elizabeth Bentley’s networks, betrayed the secret of Venona to the Soviets. The authors offer this assessment: “But in 1948, over a period of few months, every one of the systems the United States had broken into “went dark,” in code-breaker slang, when the Soviet military hastily implemented new and more demanding cipher systems. The consequences were extremely grave. In 1950 Stalin approved Communist North Korea’s plans for an invasion of South Korea. The North Korean military depended entirely on the Soviet Union for the logistics of war, and after Stalin’s decision, the Soviet military in the spring of 1950 organized a massive transfer of weapons, aircraft, artillery, tanks, trucks, ammunition, fuel, and supplies to North Korea that allowed the invasion to proceed in June. Had NSA in 1950 been able to read Soviet military communications as it had prior to the systems going dark in 1948, the United States would have been forewarned of the coming invasion and been able to use diplomatic or military action to block it. As it was, the invasion was a total surprise, and defending South Korean and American forces initially were overwhelmed by the massive North Korean attack. The resulting Korean War cost the lives of over 35,000 American military personnel as well as the deaths of several million Koreans and Chinese.

  4. Alger Hiss—Guilty of perjury and espionage.

  5. Atomic Espionage—The guilty here include Klaus Fuchs, the Greenglasses, the Rosenbergs, although Ethel was a minor player; Theodore Hall, Saville Sax, and some others. Oppenheimer, according to recent evidence, was likely a secret Communist, although possibly not a spy.(

  6. Judith Coplon—The Washington Post had the nerve to run this headline in its obituary of Judith Coplon, “Judith Coplon, accused and cleared of being a Soviet spy, dies at 89.” Most people uderstand “cleared” to mean that innocence is proved, or that someone else is the culprit. Richard Kemble was “cleared” when the one-armed man was found. Judith Coplon was guilty, but her conviction was overturned. Judge Learned Hand, in his opinion, said that her “guilt was plain,” but that the government had acted improperly.

  7. Soble-Soblen—This primarily centered on Soviet operations against the Trotskyite opposition.

Much of the evidence against the spies came from Venona, which would probably be admissible in court, but which could not be revealed because it would alert the Soviets to the fact that their messages were being decoded. Even after Weisband betrayed the secret of Venona, it still could not be used in court because it would reveal the extent of the decoding. Further evidence was based on illegal wiretaps, or covert entry jobs. This was not admissible in court. The authors correctly point out that there is a difference between a legal investigation, which seeks to produce evidence usable in a court, and counter-intelligence operations, which seek to neutralize the enemy’s sources. The same necessarily applies to counter-intelligence operations. Next up four of William Congreve’s comedies, and Bright Young People, a book about the Brits in the 1920s.
1. •Haynes/Klehr (2007-01-05). Early Cold War Spies (p. 84). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition. 

2. •Haynes/Klehr. (p. 86).

3. •Haynes/Klehr. (p. 181).
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