The United States was also reorganizing. Millions of soldiers were returning to civilian life, to pursue education at college or to find a job. Major corporations and their factories were shifting from military products and resuming the manufacturing of consumer goods. The government was also shifting. For more than half a decade, the major concern had been the defeat of Hitler and Tojo. Other functions had been subordinated to that primary objective. Hitler and Tojo were gone and the war was over. The government turned its attention to other topics, one of them being its changing relationship to the Soviet Union.
Prior to America's entry into the war, and prior to the Soviet Union's becoming an ally against Germany - both events in 1941 - most Americans held a dim view of the Communist government in Russia. President Coolidge had, after all, not even granted diplomatic recognition to the Leninist government after it solidified its power. By 1933, FDR had officially recognized the USSR. While the average citizen in the USA still did not embrace Stalin's dictatorship, many individuals in key positions in the State Department held a sort of fondness for the Soviet experiment. The New York Times had carried, after all, glowing reports about Stalin's bold new adventures in restructuring society - articles written in the 1930's by Walter Duranty, an ace reporter for the Times, who was later found to be deliberately lying in order to make Stalin look good.
Once the USA and the USSR found themselves as allies against Hitler, suspicions about Stalin's government were put on hold. After 1945, those suspicions came to light again, setting the ordinary citizen's misgivings about Stalin into sharp contrast against the State Department's embrace of him. But not everyone working at the State Department held affection for the Soviet government. Historian Medford Stanton Evans writes:
In the peacetime summer of 1946, the first such summer in half a decade, a State Department official named Samuel Klaus drafted a long confidential memo about the grave security problems that were plaguing the department.
As it turned out, a number of employees at the State Department were also on the payroll of the KGB, or of other Soviet intelligence agencies. They were used to gather secret information, to influence decision-making within the United States government, and to slow down or stymie certain undertakings. Names include Felix Bloch, Flora Wovschin, and Laurence Duggan. Some were members of the Communist Party, others were not official members but merely sympathized with the communist cause. Some spied because they truly believed that the Soviet Union should topple the U.S. government; others did it for the money.
This 106-page report, dated August 3, contained some startling revelations. It discussed, among other things, the number of Soviet agents said to be on the payroll at State, alleged Communist Party members there, and others in the department described as "suspects" or "sympathizers." In the cases of agents and CP members - some thirty-three people altogether - the names (one being Alger Hiss) had been compiled by State's security screeners. As for the suspects and sympathizers, numbering more than ninety staffers, the names weren't available yet as lists were still being assembled.
Until the end of WWII, between the necessity of working with the Soviets against Hitler and the enthusiasm of some State Department diplomats for Stalin's socialism, there was little concern about the fact that some federal employees might be communists, sympathizers, or in contact with the Soviet government. President Roosevelt, whose health prevented him from being fully alert to Stalin's deceptions, had believed the Soviet dictator's statements that he would set up free and independent democracies in eastern Europe, and had dismissed the contradictory statements in which Stalin expressed the intention of setting up communist governments around the world.
Information of this type, needless to say, was both ultrasecret and of sensational nature. During the crisis of World War II, when the Soviet Union was our ally against the Nazis, comparatively little attention had been paid to the matter of Communists in the federal workforce. But in the early postwar era, the alliance with Moscow had rapidly unraveled and was being replaced with a series of hostile confrontations that would be dubbed the Cold War. The presence of CP members or fellow travelers in official jobs, formerly viewed with indulgence or ignored, would look shockingly different in 1946 when Sam Klaus composed his memo.
During the Cold War, it was not always easy to catch the Soviet spies planted in the United States. Proving that they were part of systematic espionage was difficult. Even the most blatant offenders, like Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg, who were part of the spy ring which sent the plans for the atomic bomb to the Soviets, claimed that they were innocent, and claimed that they were either mistakenly accused or being framed. While it was certain that they were guilty, their pleas were moving enough to make some in the public consider that they might be innocent.
As the Cold War ended, however, new information about spy activity was released. The information dated back to the 1930's - and in some cases even earlier - and went up to the 1980's. This new data, released from eastern European countries once the Soviet Union had collapsed, gave massive amounts of new evidence which showed not only that the spies like the Rosenbergs were guilty, but that there were even more spies than the U.S. government had suspected.
Luckily, in recent years, the state of our knowledge about such topics has changed in dramatic fashion, and greatly for the better. Things known only to a handful of people circa 1950 are now accessible to journalists and scholars, as many formerly secret records have been made public and certain long-lost documents have surfaced. Most notably, with the fall of the Soviet empire, records from some of the Communist archives have become available to outside researchers. Likewise, information from our own formerly confidential files has become in some measure open to inspection. These new sources supply a wealth of information about what was actually going on fifty or sixty years ago in the dark back alleys of the Cold War.
Some information about Soviet spy networks in the United States came from U.S. intelligence agencies decrypting intercepted messages. Some of these messages had been held at the highest level of secrecy for decades. The American intelligence community did not want to signal inadvertently to the Soviets that their codes had been broken. Only after the end of the Cold War were these decryptions revealed.
The most widely noted of these new disclosures are the so-called Venona papers, in possession of the U.S. government since World War II but made available to the public only since 1995. These are coded messages, exchanged between the intelligence bosses in the Kremlin and their agents over here, dating to the early 1940s. Having intercepted thousands of these missives, U.S. Army cryptologists succeeded in breaking the code in which they were embedded, and by a painstaking process were able to figure out the meaning of many cables and the matters they pertained to.
In the postwar era, the Soviet Union aggressively planted spy rings around the world in various countries. It no longer needed to direct its resources to the war effort. Stalin, and later Khrushchev, would use the years after World War II to organize attempted communist dictatorships in a wide variety of nations: Angola, Congo, Mozambique, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Indonesia, Bolivia, Chile, and Guatemala.
These efforts met with varying degrees of success: in Angola, Soviet-backed guerillas and terrorists created decades of disruption, during most of which time they controlled the country, starting in 1975; in Indonesia, an attempted communist takeover was thwarted in 1965. Efforts in South America and Africa started in the late 1940s and continued into the 1980s.
In any case, the fact that the Soviet agents were simultaneously planted in multiple countries helped their cause. When a move was made in one country to establish a Soviet-backed dictatorship, neighboring countries found their governments slower to respond because they, too, were infiltrated by Soviet agents.