Thursday, July 11, 2013

Spies like us

Click the link below for the MP3 interview with Haynes and Klehr (New Books in History podcast).
Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America
by MARSHALL POE on JULY 10, 2013

For decades, the American Right and Left argued about the degree to which the KGB infiltrated the U.S. political and scientific establishment. The Right said “A lot”; the Left said “Much less than you think.” Both sides did a lot of finger-pointing and, sadly, slandering. Things got very ugly. At the crux of the problem, though, was a lack of reliable information about exactly what the KGB had done and how successful (or not) they had been in recruiting Americans.

That changed in the mid-1990s. The United States de-classified the results of the “Venona Project,”–an intelligence initiative that involved the surveillance of secret Soviet cable traffic during World War Two–and Alexander Vassiliev, a Russian journalist, made his notebooks on KGB activities in the U.S. available to researchers. For the first time, scholars such as John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr could measure the success of KGB spying in the U.S. during the Cold War.

The results are eye-opening, as Haynes and Klehr explain in Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press, 2009). Though it’s probably unwise to speak of “winners and losers” in the debate over KGB spying in the U.S., Haynes and Klehr show that the Soviets, though often bungling, had done a pretty fair job of tapping sympathetic American Leftists and stealing American secrets. That said, they also discovered that some of those the Right had accused of spying (e.g., Robert Oppenheimer) were in fact innocent.

1 comment:

RKU said...

Actually, based on the reading the multiple very favorable NYT and WSJ reviews of that new Oppenheimer biography (though not the book itself), something entirely different popped out at me.

Based on his personality and organizational traits, Oppenheimer is described as being a very unusual choice to run America's atomic weapons program. Moreover, the book characterizes him as being about as close to being a Communist as is possible without actually being a Party member, and apparently a huge number of his friends and relatives were Communists.

Perhaps these two separate oddities cancel each other out. After all, if the Soviet agents who were then at the top ranks of the U.S. government decided they couldn't take the risk of putting an actual Communist in charge of American A-bomb development, they picked the next-best option, thereby ensuring that all the weapons secrets went straight to Moscow.

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