Tuesday, 24 February 2004

More Discrimination Needed In Judging Spying and Spies

by Trowbridge H. Ford

In no field is there less concern about the context - the political, economic, social, humanistic, and moral environment - in which activity takes place than in studies of spying and spies. As more and more general histories are written of countries' quantitative performance in these areas, and of the individual agencies and operatives involved, spying, intelligence, and operations are increasingly treated as all of a similar kind where the least important spy tends to be equated with the most important, a real coup is little different from the most mundane, perhaps even counterproductive, communication, and a crucial covert action is discussed in the same vein as the most horrendous blunder. In the process, the reader tends to make too little distinction between the most serious betrayals and rather innocent help; crucial information and the most understandable disclosures; and invaluable actions and strategic stupidities, essentially oblivious of what was really done, by whom, why, and with what outcome.

Take, for example, the treatment of Professor Haldane, Donald Maclean, John Cairncross, Melita Norwood, George Blake, and lesser alleged spies in British histories against the backdrop of what they say about communist sympathizers, and fellow travellers. On the back cover of the latest book on VENONA - the NSA and GCHQ program to decrypt secret KGB and GRU messages: it says: "Nigel West here identifies for the first time the real names of several important Soviet British spies - including the famous scientist J.B.S. Haldane and the Hon. Ivor Montagu, and discloses that there are nearly 300 as yet unidentified former Soviet agents in America and Britain." On the front cover, there is a photograph of NKVD Major-General Vasil M. Zarubin, the handler of Soviet atomic spies in America during WWII, and under it is this headline from the Daily Express: *Controversially Exposes Two Traitors at the Heart of the British Establishment.'

Hardly has one digested West's claims about how fortunate it was that Britain's cryptanalyst center at Bletchley Park, GCHQ, had continued to decrypt fragments of Soviet secret messages about spying after the American effort at Arlington Hall had ceased - satisfied with its electrocution of the Rosenbergs as the leading Soviet atomic spies, the exposure of Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White as NKVD agents, atomic physicist Klaus Fuchs's incarceration as a Soviet spy, Maclean's escape to Moscow, and an unnamed Australia diplomat had followed suit to Prague (p. xiv) - than we are informed about Haldane: "...it would not be surprising to know that the GRU had co-opted the author of The Inequality of Man and chairman of the editorial board of the Daily Worker, for which Springhall's wife worked." (p. 76) David Springhall, long-time member of the Central Committee of Britain's Communist Party, was imprisoned in 1943 for passing along information about operations by the Special Operations Executive in Hungary to the GRU.

Haldane, apparently aka INTELLIGENSIA - an expert on warfare who Moscow was most desirous of recruiting, and a friend of atomic scientist Klaus Fuchs and intellectual Montagu - though, never supplied the Soviets with any information while the Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany was in force, is most dubiously connected to the atomic spying by Allan Nunn May without any use of decrypted intelligence (pp. 71-5), and VENONA decrypts were only used to give subversive substance to claims by his former wife Charlotte that he engaged in secret CPGB activities which she made no attempt to clarify when she could (pp. 82-3). Then, having just been told that Haldane and Montagu both worked for awhile for the Daily Worker, West acted as if the case against Haldane as a most important Soviet spy had been proved.

Actually, West's own narrative seems to argue exactly against what he is trying to prove. Haldane, while he might have been INTELLIGENSIA, was a most reluctant Soviet recruit during 1940, as the VENONA decrypts demonstrate. At his first meeting with GRU handler Simon Kremer on July 25th, he declared 'that he had not obtained a single contact' (p. 69), though he had been instructed to do so. At their next meeting on August 16th, INTELLIGENSIA had still not made contact with any military men, though he had even been given the address of one. While West attributed his failure to the fuzzy-headed ways of academics which still, somehow achieved success, Kremer wrote off INTELLIGENSIA thus: 'He does not deny the main point that for a month he had not been in touch with the British Army colonel picked out for work with us although the latter does come to LONDON. I have told the X GROUP via NOBILITY (Montagu) to give us someone else because of this.' Obviously, West doesn't understand what 'no' means.

As for West's efforts to make Haldane the important atomic spy who recruited May, and helped move him around North America to collect scientific intelligence for Moscow, it miserably fails. Apparently, West is referring to 'K' aka SCOTT, the spy whose reports on demagnetizing ships, and making the bomb so excited the Soviet scientist Igor Kurchatov, and dictator Stalin that they immediately implemented his recommendations. While I have already indicated that he was Peter Wright, West makes no further effort, either here or later in The Crown Jewels' text (pp. 231-4) and in its Postscript (pp.272-8), to determine who this spy was, settling for INTELLIGENSIA as the spy when the profile better fits the future MI5 agent than the London scientist: "...a highly intelligent individual, perhaps an academic, living in the provinces and not entirely proficient at dealing with military personnel, who nevertheless occasionally mixes in circles which give him access to information about the enemy's radio beams and the measures taken to render detonators safe." (p. 76)

By the time the reader finishes the book, and recalls the content of Wright's, Spycatcher, the case against Haldane is so dubious as to be unbelieveable. West is obviously trying to kill off any suspicion that there was really an important spy ring in Oxofrd, which Ursula Kuczynsky aka SONIA handled, and whose most important agent was the secretive Wright. The only reference to the former Security Service officer of any substance was saved to the last page of the Notes: "According to Peter Wright (Spycatcher (1987), p. 375) HASP (the VENONA material the Finns had collected) showed that Ursual Kuczynsky 'was already running a string of agents' in 1941. In fact the only relevant VENONA, dated 31 July 1941, refers only her husband." (note #5, p. 370)

There are big problems with this explanation. First, while West promised to show the relevant decrypt (p. 54), he never did, so one doesn't really know the state of SONIA's alleged ring on this date. More important, he supplied an excerpt from her book Sonia's Report, showing that she had just arrived in England then (p. 55), so she had another five months to build up the string of agents Wright was referring to.

More important still, West ignored Wright's own discussion of Haldane's and Montagu's passing on information to the CPGB - showing that the allegations were hardly new - which ultimately ended up in Moscow, apparently thinking by avoiding it, he could build up the case against them for Wright's benefit. About the colleague working with Wright on submarines, he wrote: "J.B.S. Haldane, for instance, who was working in the Admiralty's submarine experimental station at Haslar, researching into deep diving techniques, was supplying details of the programs to the CPGB, who were passing it on to the GRU in London." (p. 186) But this time, Haldane had actually joined the CPGB, putting everyone on notice about his interests and allegiances. Montagu, though Wright predictably got his first name wrong by calling him Owen, worked in a more direct capacity for the Soviets at the Labour and Communist parties. (ibid.)

Compare the legal, if not legitimate, political activity by Haldane - which West has made out to be spying through guilt by association, and other unethical means for chief spy Wright's benefit (See his conclusion, p. 84.), with what he wrote about Maclean, one of the Soviets' most important spies. He and William Weisband aka LINK, a linguist working at Arlington Hall where American cryptographers were trying to decipher the coded messages, were, according to two NSA experts, the two most significant spies mentioned in the traffic. Weisband informed Pavel Klarin, an NKVD officer who had been seconded to Amtorg, the Soviet trading organization, of the cipher agency's existence, and of VENONA's pursuit of the atomic spies. The Foreign Office's Maclean aka HOMER, according to West, told Moscow about British post-war plans during the preparation for the invasion of the French Mediterranean coast (ANVIL), the Anglo-American ones for post-war Germany, FO despatches including telegrams from Churchill to Roosevelt, Allied reactions to the deteriorating conditions in Eastern Europe, and Britain's post-war relation with the USA - what led to so much foot-dragging in London when HOMER's existence, and possible identity became increasingly clear.

Weisband could not have told Moscow anything about the program that it did not already know.

When Konstantin Volkov, a Soviet defector West somehow also overlooked, threatened to expose Kim Philby aka STANLEY from Ankara at the war's end, adding to the miseries that GRU cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko was already causing Moscow, the KGB not only saved the Cambridge spy at Volkov's expense but also supplied coded messages which would throw VENONA sleuths off not only Maclean's trail but also Philby's when they finally got round to it, as Wright duly recorded in Spycatcher:

Most of the messages to (KGB officer Boris) Krotov from Moscow Center concerned instructions on how to handle the various agents under his care. Eight crytonyms were mentioned in all, three of which referred to as the 'valuable argentura (spy ring) of Stanley, Hicks, and Johnson,' two who were routinely referred to together as David and Rosa, and three others. (p. 183)

Now, the KGB had thrown cryptographers off by speaking of JOHNSON aka Sir Anthony Blunt instead of Maclean, who Volkov had also threatened to expose; made the three unconnected spies except for their experiences at Cambridge into a spy ring; and had thrown in the Rosenbergs apparently for good measure, though West never mentioned the covername DAVID, and ROSA was an unidentified KGB agent in the London traffic, hardly a likely candidate for Ethel Rosenberg.

West compounded drastically overstating Weisband's spying by understating vastly Maclean's. His most important effort for the Soviets was to make sure that President Truman learned of the Aide Memoire that Roosevelt and Churchill had signed, calling for the use of the atomic bomb to end the war with Japan, if necessary, when the British Prime Minister was calling for tearing up of all agreements with Moscow, and using the bomb instead on Stalin. To prove the point, Maclean passed along precis of the telegrams Churchill had sent to the American President on June 5, 1945, objecting vociferously to the Polish settlement that Harry Hopkins had reached with Stalin, revelations that his handler, 'Henry' aka Anatoli Gorksy, considered so important that he included their FO code in transmission to prove their authenticity for all concerned. Even the most ignorant codebreakers could see the FO designations standing out in the unknown messages.

The Soviet leader, consequently, was most relieved to hear Truman's tripartite commitments at the Potsdam Conference. When Churchill attempted to keep British forces in the Soviet zone in order to have a forward base for Operation Unthinkable, a rollback of the Red Army which Marhal Zhukov took seriously enough to put it on the highest alert, Truman was reminded of the tripartite agreement which necessitated their withdrawal. Consequently, when the unconditional surrender of Japan went ahead as planned, the British Prime Minister was sent to the political sidelines by the electorate in the General Election rather than snatching victory from defeat by surprise.

When Secretary of State George Marshall was confronted with the possibility of Western Europe's political and economic collapse because of Britain's rollback in Greece, and on the welfare state front, Maclean did everything he could to make sure that Washington did not fill Britain's growing political vacuum in the Eastern Mediterranean, and that London did not take advantage of the Marshall Plan. Maclean helped kill the American proposal for an international commission to control the Bosphorus, leaving Truman to go it alone when there was a confrontation with the Soviets in the Dardanelles over Greece and Turkey. The British Embassy in Washington where Maclean was serving considered the proposed Marshall Plan so unimportant that it transported its possibilities by sea mail to London, making the project's adoption more difficult, and Britain more dependent upon the USA than ever. For good measure, Maclean continued to keep Moscow informed of US atomic development, especially its quantity of uranium planned for bombs, as coordinator of the Allied research contortium, despite Truman's refusals, and the McMahon Act's prohibitions to render Britain further assistance.

Once Stalin had his own atomic bombs, Maclean teamed up with Guy Burgess aka HICKS to make the USSR a real threat in East-West relations, what dedicated communists had long been calling upon Moscow to do. While Burgess supplied Stalin with Major Ferguson Innes's December 1949 intelligence report about unlikely American intervention in South Korea if the North invaded, and four months later another report indicating British ignorance of the level of Soviet military assistance to Beijing, what caused the Soviet leader to give Pyongyang the green light, Maclean's reports, emphasizing American miscalculations in intervening, encouraged the Soviets to persevere in the adventure. It was only because of Moscow's miscalaculation by boycotting the Security Council that the UN was able to mount a defense, and Truman's astute handling of the crisis that prevented it from becoming a nuclear showdown, one which the West could not have won.

Cairncross's spying record, compared to this, was certainly less important, though Cambridge professor Christopher Andrew undertook a crusade to prove that he was the worst of the so-called Magnificent Five. According to Andrew in The Sword and the Shield, secret documents, especially the Maud Report, from the British War Cabinet in September 1941 - stating that it was quite possible for a bomb to be built within two years, and that Britain had set about building one, a task which could take up to five years - what Cairncross, Lord Hankey's private secretary, passed along to his handler Gorsky, were the crucial, though delayed, catalyst for the Soviets building their own bomb. (p. 114)

Andrew based this contention upon what David Holloway had written in Stalin and the Bomb, though he overlooked Holloway's downplaying the reports' significance because of the time frame, and the scientific uncertainty involved (pp. 83-4), what another agent, 'K', completely dissolved with his detailed report on atomic research in America and Britain, dated December 1942. Then Andrew marginalized 'K' as much as he could, ultimately making him and his handler, Vladimir Barkovsky, just one person! ( Index, p. 689), while adding the wildest claims by G. A. Robinson in private letters to the author about what Cairncross told the Soviets of British weapons research in the post-war era from the Treasury. (Notes, p. 600, n. 18) Andrew even made the substance of Cairncross's spying for the Soviets sound like an utter disappointment while working with the ULTRA program at Bletchley Park. (p. 126)

Andrew's assessment of Cairncross's efforts is so biased in approach, and so perverse in its outcome that it does not constitute research, but a vendetta by one who feels that the spy has sullied his university's reputation. While Andrew contended that this estimate was based upon the Vasili Mitrokhin Archive, "the most complete and extensive intelligence ever achieved by any source", it had nothing to say about Cairncross, a most strange condition if it is what it is professed to be. Instead Andrew relied upon the claims he had already made in KGB, adding only those that Robinson had made in letters, dated Oct. 19, 1997, and Sept. 14, 1998, about Cairncross's efforts at the Treasury, contrary to what his handler Yuri Modin had written in My Five Cambridge Friends, now that the spy was safely dead.

In the process, Andrew completely misrepresented what Modin had written about Cairncross's spying. While Modin had dressed up his atomic spying on the Scientific Advisory Committee to hide 'K' efforts, what Andrew has no interest in determining, he ignored Modin's account of how Cairncross's information had been ignored because of the more pressing matter of stemming the German onslaught (pp. 132-3), what was achieved at Stalingrad.

Instead Andrew acted as if Cairncross's spying on ULTRA, especially his informing the Soviets of the massive German build-up in front of the Kursk salient in July-August 1943, and how the Red Army could knock out the new Tiger tank, was only partially, and belatedly acted upon because of Moscow's distrust (pp. 120-1), what made Cairncross so bitter about his belated recognition that he refused to keep the Order of Red Banner decoration Moscow Center awarded him, and gave up spying at Bletchley Park. (p. 126)

Now this clearly was Cairncross's most important spying, what he was elated about, but it was his handler, Krotov, who refused to let him keep the award. (Modin, pp. 138-9) Moreover, since the award was given in 1944, it was hardly overdue. Andrew's reason for leaving out the information about how the Red Army stopped the Tiger tanks, especially at Kurskaia Douga where an unprecendented 17 panzer divisions had been amassed - what Moscow considered his greatest achievement - is obvious. Since it prevented the Germans from winning the war, something everyone should have sought, it mitigated greatly the severity of Cairncross's spying. With the Soviet victory, he moved on to SIS because there was no more need to be at Bletchley Park.

An even greater perversity has plagued Andrew's, and West's evaluation of Melita Norwood's spying. About HOLA aka RITA and TINA, Andrew wrote that she was "...both the most important British female agent in KGB history and the longest-serving of all Soviet spies in Britain." (The Sword..., p. 115) In making this assessment, Andrew has relied completely upon a Mitrokhin note, vol. 7, ch. 14, item 17, ignoring the VENONA decrpyt in West of the message that Moscow sent to the London rezidentura on Sept. 19, 1945 when the Soviets were trying to contain the Gouzenko defection. (p. 175)

The text indicated that the KGB was reactivating CPGB activist Mrs. Norwood to help shelter Ursula Kuczynsky aka SONIA, the handler of Fuchs, many unidentified GRU spies in Britain, and the mysterious 'K', apparently MI5's Peter Wright. Mrs. Norwood was clearly a decoy to cover for the spying of others, and to put her activities above those of SONIA's and Edith Tudor Hart's is the height of folly. The success of the deception, which the KGB knew Western services would take seriously, is seen in their pursuit of Eugenia Peierls, and her husband, atomic scientist Rudolf Peierls, when Norwood was instructed to keep her spying secret from her husband.

Norwood's actual spying, despite her intentions, seems to have hurt the Soviets more than it helped, a possibility the spy chasers never consider. While information about strategic changes, technological breakthroughs, especially in armaments, and covert action surprises are usually helpful to an adversary, continuous, low-level spying, particularly on the economic front unless its recipient has the infrastructure to take advantage of the new information, can be downright disastrous. Japan clearly benefited by its technological spying on the West, but the USSR was only hurt by being told constantly of the economic and technological breakthroughs the West was effecting.

The economic reforms from 1965 through the 1970s and into the 'eighties in the USSR, though clearly designed to take advantage of increasingly stolen techology within growing industrial associations, and at the expense of the central planning mechanism, only accelerated industrial chaos by causing increasing dissatisfaction with performance. Management, despite increasing instructions from above, was never able to increase efficiency by taking more risks, facilitating competition, building machines to fit better users' needs, encouraging innovation in product line, and gaining capital easier. Little wonder that Gordon Lonsdale, Mrs. Norwood's handler for a time who would at least agree with him this time, bitterly complained to Blake, as Andrew has noted (p. 411), about the lack of results from all the spying upon the performance of Soviet industrial enterprises, and international trade.

As for Blake's spying, it seems most limited in character, and superfluous in nature. The MI6 officer in Berlin was the fallguy for the final discovery that all the alleged British and German agents in the East Germany between 1953-5 had been compromised, a process started by Philby, and continued by the West German BND's Heinz Felfe. Actually, the agents were largely a fictitious creation, like The Trust which ensnared SIS's Sydney Reilly, by Felfe to gain control of the Federal Republic's Soviet counter-intelligence, and when the ruse was finally discovered, Blake was conveniently available to be blamed for the betrayals, Andrew claiming, with characteristic overstatement, that upwards of 400 agents were executed. (p. 399)

The same exaggeration plagued Andrew's account of Operation Gold, the Berlin Tunnel caper. Of course, the operation, according to him, was a great success which Blake single-handedly sabotaged. (pp. 399-400) In so claiming, though, Andrew overlooked completely the role of the GRU's Lt. Col. Pyotr Popov in the process, the KGB having long reclaimed the wayward digger of tunnels and the like. Then there was Wright, as I have already indicated, who kept Moscow informed of daily tapping, and what the West was looking for. To take Blake's spying as a great triumph is to devour the deception that KGB chief Yuri Andropov later declared. The reason why Blake was treated so harshly when he was tried in 1961 was because Britain was finally able to punish one of its wayward intelligence agents. But even here, Blake frustrated his captors, escaping from Wormwood Scrubs after only five years of incarceration.

In sum, instead of Maclean, Weiland, Haldane, Cairncross, Mrs. Norwood, and Blake being similar spies, they were all quite different in terms of what they did, why, and with what outcome. Only Maclean was a spy in the traditional sense, a traitor whose efforts affected most adversely the West, especially his native Britain.

2 comments:

Nigel West said...

This review, purporting to be an assessment of VENONA: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War, makes some bizarre claims which are factually incorrect.

1. The book does identify INTELLIGENSIA as Professor J.B.S. Haldane and NOBILITY as The Hon. Ivor Montagu. No other book has done so, and the accuracy of the identifications has been confirmed in a public forum by GCHQ's senior Russian linguist who worked on the VENONA project. At no time does the author cliam Haldane was "the important atomic spy who recruited Dr Allan Nunn May." I have seen no evidence that Haldane ever met or knew of May, and I have never made that assertion.

2. You state that that "the case against Haldane is dubious" without clarifying what "the case" really is. I have simply stated that Haldane was the spy in the GRU's London traffic codenamed INTELLIGENSE and as far as I am aware, nobody has contradicted that assertion. It is not "dubious."

3. The charge that I have attempted "to kill off any suspicion of an important spy-ring in Oxford" is ludicrous. Quite simply, there is not a single VENONA text that refers to such an organisation. That, of course, does not suggest Oxford University was free of NKVD recruitment, and the Australian diplomat and defector Ian Milner is a good example of a likely undergraduate drawn into Soviet espionage at the university.

4. The proposition that HASP was "collected by Finns" is incorrect. HASP originated with the Swedish FRA.

5. There was no attempt to prove Haldane's "guilt by association." His friendships are not directly relevat to his clandestine role as INTELLIGENSIA and there is no suggestion in my book that any particular association played a role in his identification.

6. It is untrue that there was "foot-dragging in London" once HOMER had been identified as Donald Maclean. MI5 held a conference to discuss what steps should be taken to further the investigation and the Foreign Secretary's permission was sought for an interrogation. There was no delay as alleged.

7. The claim that "Weisband could not have told Moscow anything about the program that it did not know already" is insupportable. The first tip regarding VENONA came from Lauchlin Currie and was relayed to the NKVD by Elizabeth Bentley, as she later testified. Thereafter, until Kim Philby was indoctrinated into the program in September 1949, Weisband was the NKVD's sole source of inside knowledge abour VENONA.

8. You assert that "West overlooked Volkov" who threatened "from Ankara" to expose Anthony Blunt. Almost every aspect of this is demonstrably wrong. Volkov wrote his (now published) letter from Istanbul and made absolutely no mention of anyone approximating Blunt. Volkov is not mentioned in a single VENONA text.

9. It is sheer nonsense to claim that I suggested DAVID of the "DAVID and ROSA" pair was "an unidentified KGB agent in the London traffic". Firstly, no such person as DAVID appears in the texts (presumably you mean JACK, a mistake also made by Peter Wright) and secondly, the KGB did not come into existence until nine years after the relevant VENONA!

10. Your conclusion that I "vastly underestimated Maclean's espionage" while "drastically overstating Weisband's spying' is absurd. My analysis of the VENONA texts judged each spy on the internal evidence contained within the messages. HOMER's material plainly demonstrates his access to top-level political telegrams exchanged between Roosevelt and Churchill in 1944, and the identification by the NSA of Weisband as LINK proves a fatal breach in the security that surrounded the whole operation.

Whilst I have not the slightest objection to critical reviews of my work, to ascribe views to an author that plainly he does not hold is pitiful. Please take the trouble to read VENONA: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War again and make the appropriate revisions to this travesty of a review.

Nigel West
www.nigelwest.com

Trowbridge H. Ford said...

I have declined all these years in meeting Nigel West's requests to change my article in the ways he indicated because I stand by all my claims, and hoped that other posters would indicate their support of them too.

The biggest complaint I have about them is his purporting that my article was simply a review of his book VENONA when it was a critical assessment of what he, Christopher Andrew and others have claimed about several different spies.

I particularly disgreed with West's hatchet job of Professor J. B.S. Haldane, making out that he was one of the countries worst traitors when it was a most dubious case of a principled, dedicated communist helping the Soviets when they were a member of the Grand Alliance.

Haldane was never a spy, only an important scientist who Moscow tried to recruit as one, as the Venona decrypts indicated, but failed when working with them then would constitute spying.

The cover of VENONA quoted from the Daily Express that the book "controversially exposes two traitors at the heart of the British establishment."

The worst example of this hype against Haldane, suggesting that he was even a recruiter of Soviet atomic spies, was shown when West discussed the entrapment of spy Allan Nunn May after he returned to London in the hope of proving the case even more strongly against him.

The only problem was that Nunn May did not show up at the scheduled meeting outside the British Museum, and the security service suspected he had been tipped off.

Immediately, in a new paragraph, West added: "Even if INTELLIGENSIA
(Haldane)was less than ideal as a conspirator... (p. 75)

And West did use the absence of Venona material to play down in his books the most effective spy ring at Oxford, apparently led by Peter Wright both as a recruiter for spies in Whitehall and atomic ones at the heart of the Anglo-American defense establishment.

And it was the Finns who collected the HASP material, and shipped it to Sweden's FRA when it threatened to fall into Soviet hands.

For more of West's misuse of material to get persons he wants, read his books and those of Andrew for yourself.