2005 Spy Conference Wrap-up
Courtesy of Metro Magazine Online Archives
From Metro Magazine, October 2005
THIRD ANNUAL RALEIGH SPY CONFERENCE:
FROM THE COLD WAR TO THE REALITY OF CONFRONTATION WITH CHINA
by Rick Smith
The Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is kaput, and Americans who chose to betray their country to the Soviet Union are dead. But the consequences of the era still reverberate today as scholars uncover the reality that, at last count from Comintern archives, revelations in the Mitrokhin Archive and Venona files, as many as 350 Americans have been identified as KGB and GRU agents working in the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt. In the process, dearly held beliefs in the innocence of the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss and others are shattered, causing a battle royal on college campuses as "revisionist" scholars refuse to face the truth.
The consequences of espionage in the Cold War period continue to affect world politics and hegemony. As the West battles the Peoples Republic of China, the principal survivor of Communist regimes, stolen technology from the Cold War continues to play a role in modern geopolitics and military confrontations.
These realities were just part of the revelations communicated by top experts at the third annual Raleigh International Spy Conference, "Old Spies, New Threats," presented by Bernie Reeves, Metro Magazine and the North Carolina Museum of History.
In a riveting presentation, Steven Usdin, author of the new book Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley (Yale University Press), demonstrated how just two individuals helped create a threat to their native country that has long outlasted their own lives.
Imagine that war has begun between the United States and Communist China. Fleets are gearing for battle as the Chinese prepare to invade the island nation of Taiwan. Among the most dangerous weapons the US and Taiwanese navies face are the stealthy Kilo-class, diesel-powered submarines purchased by China from Russia. Each Kilos sophisticated weapons system includes computers capable of tracking five targets at once in preparation to deploy torpedo and anti-ship missile weapons.
The computers, called "Uzels," were designed at a center created by two American scientists, Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant, members of the infamous Julius and Ethel Rosenberg spy ring. The two escaped to the Soviet Union. In their new homeland, Barr and Sarant won the confidence and support of Soviet leaders, including Nikita Khrushchev, and went on to help create the Soviet version of "Silicon Valley" as well as launch the Leningrad Design Center where weapons and computers were created for the Soviet submarine fleet.
"If China were to attack Taiwan today or Iran used its Kilo submarines to attack tankers in the Persian Gulf, they would be using programs running on Uzels that are still being developed in Leningrad today," Usdin said.
Sarant died in 1979, Barr in 1998. To the end, Usdin explained, the two remained committed Communists, even though Barr was able to gain a US passport and at one time lobbied to receive Social Security benefits while living behind the Iron Curtain.
"They really believed in Communism," Usdin told Metro. "They actually believed that coal miners in the Dunbass region of the Soviet Union worked all day then went to the opera at night."
WAS OPPENHEIMER A SPY?
West is the author of several books about the cloak-and-dagger world of espionage, presented a session on the Venona Project, the secret US and British program that decrypted messages to and from American Soviet operatives in the US. Only a fraction of messages were decoded, and mystery surrounds the identities of many agents to this day.
Regarding speculation that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the "father of the atomic bomb" was a spy, West said Venona leads him to think otherwise.
"I dont believe for a second he was," West said. But someone in Oppenheimers inner circle for the Manhattan project was leaking information to a "very important case officer" operating as a Soviet agent in Seattle. "Was it Ernest Lawrence, Oppenheimers mentor?" West speculated. Thats the same man who was honored by having his name on the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Despite all the information that Venona has produced, such as more damning evidence of the Rosenbergs, West stressed that making sense of information was hardly easy. "It is truly detective work, a jigsaw puzzle," he explained. For example, the mistranslation of the Russian word for artificial leg led to the misidentification of a significant Soviet agent.
Of more than 290,000 Venona messages, "just" 2,900 were decryptedand many of those were "fragments," West stressed. "It was really an astonishing breakthrough to identify anyone!"
WAS JOE MCCARTHY RIGHT?
Soviet espionage brought out the worst in some Americans, such as Senator Joe McCarthy. But given what has now been learned about the extent of Soviet spying in the US through Venona and the opening of long-secret Soviet archives, the question is now asked: Was McCarthy right?
Author Harvey Klehr, who co-wrote (with conference speaker and researcher at the National Archives John Earl Haynes) The Annals of Communism series for Yale University Press and the hard-hitting In Denial about the refusal of certain scholars to recognize the facts uncovered about communist activity in America, told the audience that McCarthy was only "partially correct."
"He was wildly wrong on many details," said Klehr, who added that there is no indication McCarthy was given access to Venona intercepts due to his unreliability.
"New information does not exonerate McCarthy," he added. "He made the fight more difficult. The real spies were able to hide as one of his victims."
Evidence now clearly documents that the American Communist Party was a tool of the Soviet regime. American liberals were wrong in their complete denial of McCarthys charges, too. "Roosevelt and Truman were slow to respond" to reports of Soviet penetration, emphasized Klehr. "It was not just liberals who couldnt believe some people were spies."
AMERICAN COMMUNISTS IN DENIAL
In his own presentation, Haynes recounted work he and Klehr published laying bare the true links between the American Communist Party and the Soviets. Their work explained that the Communist Party was not what the West would call a political party at all, but an extension of the Soviet Comintern and the KGB.
"The bulk of their actions were devoted to politics, but espionage was one of their tasks," Haynes explained. He noted that the Partys own literature calls for members to declare "his adherence" to Communist ideals, and to agree "to submit to the discipline of the Party and to engage actively in its work."
Alger Hiss, for example, was recruited by the Party and encouraged to transfer within the US government to the State Department. The Soviets, in turn, funneled millions of dollars to their US allies.
The "golden era" for American Communists was 1930-45 when the Party had as many as 40,000 members and did everything from securing US passports to recruiting agents. Many members were devoted to the cause, as Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Sarant, Barr and so many others demonstrated, according to Haynes.
"The Party was the center of their lives. They had political meetings three, four nights a week," Haynes said. "It was an all-consuming task. It was an all-consuming structure, like an all-consuming religious cult."
THE DRAGON RISES
During the Cold War, the United States faced more threats than the Soviet Block, said speaker I.C. Smith, a former Special Agent in Charge with the FBI. (Smith also served a stint in the Bureaus Office of Counterintelligence where he was involved in high profile Chinese espionage cases in the 1980s and 90s.)
Dont underestimate the power of the Chinese dragon, Smith told the conference. "This is not a threat of the future; it is a threat of today," he said. The rulers of China today, known as "the princelings" are members of the founding Communist families who are determined in their belief that China is the "cultural center of the universe."
He dismissed current free-enterprise efforts in China as misleading, saying China remains "simply a totalitarian regime" bent on economic and military domination.
Smith has seen first hand how determined the Chinese are to carry out espionage against American interests. In a tour of the US Embassy in Beijing in 2003, Smith uncovered a labyrinth of tunnels and discovered that US security cameras were "off." While Chinese Foreign Service nationals can work unescorted in the US embassy and consulates, no such access is given to Americans in Chinese posts.
"The Chinese do not worry about the rules of law," he added. "What the FBI must learnwhat we must re-learnis to look at the Chinese from a Chinese perspective, not from the US perspective."
Smith was involved in the Larry Wu-tai Chin operation in 1982 when the FBI identified the former CIA employee as a Chinese spy. Through Chin, the Chinese learned in advance what Richard Nixons desires and negotiating strategy would be before his summit with Mao Zedong in 1972. Armed with that information, Mao won concessions he might not have gained otherwise, such as the unescorted access to technology by Chinese working in US installations and the granting of huge numbers of Chinese student visas to study in the US.
Smith called for a tougher anti-China stance, as espionage continues today from penetration of secret US weapons labs to infiltrating private industry, such as the presence of the Chinese high-tech firm Lenovo in the Research Triangle after the purchase of IBMs PC division.
"We need strict reciprocity with China," Smith said. "We need to restrict the numbers of students, restrict travel as they do with Americans. But the Bush administration will continue to soft-pedal its China policy, and the State Department will not confront China.
"Businesses continue to accept the graft, theft, piracy and bribes that are associated with doing business with China, especially if profits continue to rise," he added. "Profits trump security every time."
The conference, held August 31-September 2, also featured Ann Blackman in a presentation about her new book, Wild Rose, the story of Rosie ONeale Greenhow, the Civil War female Confederate spy. See sidebar for coverage of the remarks by keynote speaker Ronald Radosh.
KEYNOTE SPEAKER RON RADOSH DISPELS HOLLYWOOD MYTHS
by Arch T. Allen
Ronald Radosh, the keynote speaker for the third annual Raleigh International Spy Conferenceheld August 31-September 2 at the NC Museum of Historyis an authority on communist espionage and influence before and during the Cold War. He is best known for ending any reasonable doubt that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were Soviet atomic spies well before the revelations following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992 and the declassification of the Venona Files by the NSA and CIA in 1995. After the publication of The Rosenberg File in 1983, Radoshs former friends on the Left admitted to him they do not care about the historical facts that prove the guilt of the Rosenbergs; they care only about the myth of their innocence. The refusal of the Left to recognize their guilt created a pro-Rosenberg cult that divided the American intellectual community from the 1950s until today.
Now, Radosh and his wife, Allis Radosh, in their new book Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colonys Long Romance with the Left (2005), dispel any remaining doubts about secret communist influence in the movie industry, destroying the myth that secret Hollywood Communists were merely innocent "liberals in a hurry." The Hollywood Left remains in denial, however. When Radosh appeared at a Los Angeles Times book festival, he was cursed by attendees who said they would never read his book because of its apostasy against the myth that Hollywood Communists were victims of a witch-hunt.
Speaking before a Raleigh Spy Conference audience not invested in Hollywood mythsbut interested in historical facts, Radosh explained that, indeed, there were secret communists of great influence in Hollywood, and that some films were purely pro-communist propaganda, while many screenplays had Soviet propaganda implanted in the dialogue. Radosh illustrated the humorous irony of wealthy screenwriters and film artistsactually secret members of the Communist Partyrecruiting new members at an exclusive Hollywood country club and a Malibu mansion. Radoshs history of the Hollywood Old Left makes for a better understanding of Hollywood activists today: Many members of the Hollywood New Left, including Sean Penn and Richard Dreyfuss, are adult children of past Hollywood Communists or Fellow Travelers.
If you missed Radoshs keynote address, read Red Star Over Hollywood. (See my review in "MetroBooks," August 2005.)