In recent years, there has been a spate of valuable books on Soviet espionage, subversion, and penetration of the West—books inspired or prompted by the opening of Soviet secret files, the publication of the Venona intercepts (communications between Soviet agents and Moscow), and the writings of former KGB officials. Among these are Stephen Koch’s Double Lives, John Costello’s Deadly Illusions and Mask of Treachery, and the Harvey Klehr-John Haynes documentary, The Secret World of American Communism, and its sequels. To these should be added the documentation of Whittaker Chambers’ epochal Witness and lesser memoirs by other participants in the greatest plot in history, buttressed by the reportorial works of dedicated historians and journalists.
Into this crowded but fascinating field comes Allen Weinstein’s The Haunted Wood, the title of which—paraphrasing Dante’s selva oscura—seems to bring depth and insight to the account of Soviet perfidy. Professor Weinstein, though a Johnny-Come-Lately in the field, was praised extravagantly for Perjury, an excellent wrap-up of the Hiss case, which he began as a liberal defender of Alger Hiss and completed in the conviction of the man’s incontrovertible guilt. The Haunted Wood purports to be an overview of the crowded world of Soviet espionage, focusing on the assault upon the West which began when Feliks Dzerzhinsky organized the Cheka (subsequently the GPO, the NKVD, and the KGB) and which was continued by the Red Army’s GRU and Willie Muenzenberg’s vast Communist International (Comintern) apparat.
When Perjury was written, the parameters of the Hiss case and its protagonists had been established, and Weinstein’s professorial approach guaranteed that it would be taken seriously even by those who seemed to have sworn eternal fealty to Alger Hiss. An account like The Haunted Wood, however, requires background not from research among the archives, library shelves, and newspaper clippings, but from an empathetical contact with those who experienced the trauma and dissociation of existence in the GRU, the KGB, and/or the Comintern: The complex psychological and ideological drives leading to participation in the communist netherworld are as important as the factual documentation. Otherwise, what appears on the printed page is superficial and incomplete. Though Alexander Vassiliev, Professor Weinstein’s collaborator, has brought to The Haunted Wood some of the archival facts behind well-known cases, he has somehow failed to preserve the juices. A broad overview of the twists and turns of Soviet policies and operations is also required, and a divorcement from liberal shibboleths.
When Professor Weinstein characterizes as “passivity” the Red Army’s wait on the banks of the Vistula until the Nazis had completed their slaughter of the Polish freedom fighters in Warsaw, he betrays either callousness or gross ignorance. For this delay was not “passivity” but the result of Stalin’s deliberate determination to destroy all elements which would have resisted the sovietization of Poland. Yet “passivity” is indeed demonstrated by Professor Weinstein when he blandly states that Laurence Duggan, a member of the Soviet apparat in the State Department, “jumped or fell” from a 16th-story window in New York—clearly a defenestration (much like Jan Masaryk’s in Prague) to prevent him from corroborating the testimony of Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bently.
The Haunted Wood is subtitled Soviet Espionage in America—The Stalin Era. However, it merely scratches the surface of what was already known, while failing to add anything substantive to our knowledge of the subject. Nowhere is there any mention of, say, Arthur Alexandrovitch Adams, a ranking Soviet espionage agent, who entered the United States on the very day in the early 1930’s that Maxim Litvinov, in acknowledging U.S. diplomatic recognition of the U.S.S.R., promised President Roosevelt that Soviet espionage and subversion would cease. Adams set up major Soviet espionage rings in the United States, among them the apparat from which grew the atomic spy ring of which J. Robert Oppenheimer was a part.
There is little in the Weinstein opus about these germinal activities. And of the first blockbusting case—the defection of GRU Lt. Igor Gouzenko with documents which shook the complacency of Canada, Britain, and the United States, leading to meetings between Prime Minister Mackenzie King and President Truman—there is nothing at all, other than the simple statement that Lt. Gouzenko defected. Gouzenko’s assertion to me (as the first newsman to interview him) that there were nine Soviet spy rings operating in the United States seems to have escaped Professor Weinstein and his collaborator, who are also not interested in Gouzenko’s later disclosure that Lester Pearson—Canadian foreign secretary and later prime minister— was one of the Soviet Union’s own.
The Haunted Wood ignores entirely the notorious Amerasia case, involving the theft of some 1,700 secret documents from every sensitive government agency with the exception of the FBI, which led to an even more notorious whitewash by President Truman’s attorney general, Tom Clark. (“Journalistic zeal,” the Justice Department told the court.) Of Owen Lattimore, there is not a word, nor of the brigade of Soviet agents who hung out at the Institute of Pacific Relations. Though he has Flora Lewis’s Red Pawn in his bibliography. Professor Weinstein finds it unnecessary to describe Noel Field’s role in the Office of Strategic Services (or his role as Judas Goat in Stalin’s postwar “liquidations” in Hungary), though he is fully aware of Field’s activities as an espionage agent in Washington. In the case of the OSS, of course, we are given little clue to the Soviets’ thorough penetration of it, though Weinstein does scatter a few names about. Yet the most sensitive of sections, the Central European desk of the OSS, was staffed almost totally by Herbert Marcuse and the Comintern’s International Institute of Social Research (the “Frankfurt School”) which worked through Noel Field—and, after the war, through U.S. occupation authorities—in an effort to deliver postwar Germany to the Soviet Union. And there is nothing of how field operations were conducted by Major Milton Wolff and his fellow veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, their hands still bloody from Stalin’s purges during the Spanish Civil War. These are but a few of Professor Weinstein’s sins of omission. He must be credited, however, for devoting over 29 pages to the comedic case of Boris Morros, a minor Hollywood producer, who played no significant role in the major espionage and infiltration operations while thoroughly conning the Soviet secret services into setting him up in business and separating them from some minor amounts of cash.
As the author of Perjury, Allen Weinstein should have had the last authoritative word on Alger Hiss, in particular on his activities in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Yet we are not told of his delivery to a leftish columnist of the secret British order of battle in the Greek postwar hostilities, thereby forcing British forces to withdraw and compelling President Truman to substitute American troops. Or of how the Hiss report to the United Nations—describing Panama as a “colony”—almost blew us out of the water in Latin America and contributed to our subsequent loss of the Panama Canal.
The Haunted Wood does enhance accounts of well-known cases with material drawn from Soviet secret archives. And for those who had their heads buried in the sand during the Cold War, or relied on the liberal press, there is some new information. For others, better grounded in the great game of foxes (as Ladislas Farrago called it), Weinstein’s book can provide little more than added affirmation that the Soviets, aided and abetted by Americans in and out of government, spied with impunity while the nation slept. While the full story is slowly emerging, through the Venona intercepts as well as the partial opening of Soviet KGB archives, much of it remains to be told—which is why even so thin an account as The Haunted Wood is of value.
[The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—The Stalin Era, by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev (New York: Random House) 420 pp., $30.00]