Monday, July 8, 2013

How Many Names Can One Spy Have?

Starting shortly after the Russian Revolution of 1917, and accelerating during the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's, the Soviet Union maintained an extensive network of spies in the United States. They had various purposes: to collect information, to disseminate disinformation, and to work from inside the United States government to influence policy decisions. An obvious part of such covert operations is manufacturing identities, at which the KGB and other Soviet intelligence agencies worked strenuously.

One agent, whose probable name was Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher, is known most commonly as Rudolf Ivanovich Abel. But he also used the name Andrew Kayotis and the name Emil Robert Goldfus. Although this may seem like a lot of names, for a relatively short career, it is not uncommon for any spy to have a number of aliases.

Walter Pincus, writing in the Washington Post, alludes

to the case involving Col. Rudolph Abel, a Soviet KGB agent, who lived in New York City under an assumed name and purported to be a commercial photographer. Abel was tried and convicted of spying in 1957, and in 1962 he was exchanged for Francis Gary Powers, the American U-2 pilot who had been shot down over the Soviet Union and was in a Russian jail.

Before his capture, Rudolph Abel visited Bear Mountain Park with his assistant Reino Häyhänen in 1955. The two of them buried $5000 in cash, intended for the wife of Morton Sobell, another Soviet spy who had been caught and was sitting in an American jail. This was apparently Moscow's attempt to take care a spy's wife, since Morton Sobell had been in prison since 1951. Later, Reino Häyhänen went back and retrieved the money for himself, and leaving Sobell's wife luckless. Before his capture, Sobell had been working on getting military secrets about Fort Monmouth. Describing the location, M. Stanton Evans writes:

The installation called Fort Monmouth was in fact a sprawling network of labs spread out among several New Jersey towns and other Northeast locations, doing research on confidential military projects. Radar, missile defenses, antiaircraft systems, and other devices involving advanced electronics were all on the agenda. There were four main research labs.

Monmouth would clearly be a tempting target for any Soviet intelligence agency. Morton Sobell was not the only Russian spy looking to get secrets out of Fort Monmouth:

The installation had been a scene of action in the 1940s for Julius Rosenberg, then a Signal Corps inspector, and to a lesser extent for his convicted coconspirator, Morton Sobell, and two other accused members of the spy ring, Joel Barr and Al Sarant.

Joel Barr and Al Sarant would later move from being "accused" to being "confirmed," as the FBI investigated further, and as the "Venona" documents were made available. Sobell and Rosenberg, in turn, had worked with another Soviet agent, Aaron Coleman. Coleman had learned to exploit three weaknesses in Fort Monmouth's security:

One was that the Communist Party had established a special unit in the vicinity of the research setup, called the Shore Club, which included former Monmouth employees among its members and which, according to extensive testimony, had as its object ferreting information out of Monmouth. Another was that numerous security suspects were indeed ensconced among Monmouth's suppliers, most notably the Federal Telecommunications Lab, prime target of the Sheehan inquest. Yet another was the seemingly laid-back attitude toward these matters in the higher reaches of the Army.

As a sense of alarm grew, G-2, the army's intelligence unit, began to investigate.

By far the most comprehensive overview of the security scene at Monmouth would be provided - after some initial hesitation - by Captain Benjamin Sheehan, a G-2 counterintelligence specialist from First Army headquarters in New York.

Sheehan had investigated Fort Monmouth in 1951, so his firsthand knowledge of security risks was up-to-date. Sheehan's work led to the arrest of Sobell, and Sheehan confirmed that there were weaknesses in Monmouth's security.

A poster boy for all these troubles was one Aaron Coleman, who held an important job at Monmouth dealing with radar defenses. Coleman had been a schoolmate of Julius Rosenberg and Morton Sobell at the College of the City of New York, and in contact with Sobell up through the latter 1940s. He also admitted having attended a Young Communist League meeting with Rosenberg when they were students at City College. In this connection, ex-Communist Nathan Sussman, a CCNY alum, would testify that he, Coleman, Rosenberg, Sobell, Al Sarant, and Joel Barr had all been members of the YCL together. (Coleman would deny this, as he would deny Rosenberg's testimony at his espionage trial that Rosenberg and Coleman had been in contact at Fort Monmouth.)

Although tangled and complex, these events - merely a sample of many more - serve to show the growing Soviet espionage network in the United States from the 1930's to the 1950's, and even into later decades.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Defense, Not Revenge

In late 2001, the United States faced an important question: how would it respond to, not only to the Islamic terrorist attacks of 9/11, but to the sudden awareness of a worldwide terror network - a network immutably determined to kill Americans? The question of how America would respond to this grave threat would determine much about national policy and even about daily life for the next several decades.

It was and is important to understand that such terrorist networks, al-Qaida being only one of many, while ever adapting and changing their tactics, are incorrigible in their ideology. They are immovably fixed on the goal of killing Americans. Because they have such an extreme psychology, the civilized world cannot interact with them using the methods of negotiation and diplomacy. There are no conceivable actions which could be taken, or words which could be uttered or written, by any government, individual, or society which would cause such groups to change their primary behavior, which is murder.

The ways in which nations or cultures choose to respond to terrorism will both reflect and impact the deeper core values of those nations or cultures. For this reason, the United States should not react with a motive of revenge. Revenge not only clouds strategic and tactical thought, but it infects the soul. Vengeance is backward-looking. Instead, the primary goal must be to protect citizens from future attacks. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld writes:

A key element of the administration's policy was that the primary purpose of America's reaction to 9/11 should be the prevention of attacks and the defense of the American people, not punishment or retaliation. The only way to protect ourselves is to do after the terrorists wherever they may be. This was a more ambitious goal than the approaches previous presidents had set. It reflected Bush's view, which I shared, that 9/11 was a seminal event, not simply another typical terrorist outrage to which the world had become accustomed. The 9/11 attack showed that our enemies wanted to cause as much harm as possible to the United States - to terrorize our population and to alter the behavior of the American people. No one in the administration, as far as I know, doubted that the men who destroyed the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon would have gladly killed ten or a hundred times the number they killed on 9/11. They were not constrained by compunction, only by the means to escalate their carnage. This meant that their potential acquisition of weapons of mass destruction - biological, chemical, or nuclear - represented a major strategic danger.

Specifically, al-Qaida had set up a workshop for the manufacture of biological and chemical weapons in the town of Khurmal. The facility, operated by an al-Qaida affiliate known as Ansar al-Islam, was documented to be producing ricin, cyanide, potassium chloride, and possibly other chemical weapons. Awareness of such operations was part of the heightened alertness in the years after 9/11. The facility in Khurmal was one more piece of data which the world was incorporating into its concept of who and what Islamic terror groups are.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Learning to Prevent Terror

Reacting to terror is a sign of an unprepared and unthinking government; responding to terror is somewhat better. Preventing terror is the proper focus for a government. The United States moved through these three phases in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Realizing that there was a coordinated and funded network of individuals and groups whose sole aim was to kill Americans was the first step.

The name Osama bin Laden would soon be common in the news media. This Saudi millionaire issued a fatwa - an Islamic verdict - stating that

the ruling to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military - is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.

The public learned that the group operated by Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida, was one of a long list of terror organizations. Ending the terrorist threat would not simply mean dismantling al-Qaida and getting rid of Osama bin Laden. An entire network of terrorist groups would have to be defunded and destabilized; the safe havens which had sheltered parts of this network would have to be made inhospitable to it.

Most of all, the nations of the world would have to understand that these terrorists were incorrigible: their one and only objective was to kill Americans. With them, there could be no negotiating, no deterrence, no compromise, no diplomacy, no appeasement, and no tradeoffs. As long as the network of terrorist groups existed, and as long as its members lived, they would be working diligently to kill. Innocent civilians would be safe only when the network and its members were eliminated. This realization would be possible only after the immediate shock of the attacks wore off. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld writes:

America awoke the next day a nation at war. Above pictures of the burning World Trade Center, the Washington Times had a one-word front-page headline that read, in large, bold, capital letters: "INFAMY." Across the United States, Americans expressed anger and sadness. They also voiced fear of further attacks. Many wondered if they were safe, how their lives might have to change, whether their family members or friends were in danger. Major landmarks considered likely targets were watched with anxiety. Each rumor of another attack set people on edge. Some feared for family members in the military. The financial world was in shock. The stock market suffered one of its biggest drops in history when it reopened six days after 9/11. Hundreds of billions of dollars - property damage, travel revenue, insurance claims, stock market capital - all lost in a single day because nineteen men with a fanatical willingness to die boarded four commercial airliners wielding box cutters.

Understanding the nature of these fanatics was and is a central historical task. Vocabulary is helpful: there is a difference between 'Islam' and 'Islamist' and a difference between 'Islamic' and 'Islamism' and these differences are crucial.

Islam is a religion, which people, like every other religion - Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, etc. - have a constitutional right to practice. Islamism is, by contrast, not merely the religion of Islam, but rather the most orthodox interpretation of that religion, adhering carefully to Qur'an (Koran) and other sacred texts of that religion. Islamism is essentially, intrinsically, and inherently violent. Civilized people in general, and the United States government in the wake of 9/11 in particular, have no quarrel with Islam. Islamism, on the other hand, constitutes a continual danger to free and peaceful civilians everywhere.

The word 'Islamic' refers to the religion, to the culture, and to the practitioners of that religion. On the other hand, the word 'Islamist' refers to the propaganda, to the attacks, and to those who carry them out in the name of orthodox understandings of the prophet Muhammad. As leaders of all western governments have repeatedly stated, the civilized nations of the word seek peaceful relations with Islamic cultures; but from Islamists, conversely, come only violence and terror. Don Rumsfeld writes:

However, I became increasingly uncomfortable with labeling the campaign against Islamist extremists a "war on terrorism" or a "war on terror." To me, the word "war" focusses people's attention on military action, overemphasizing, in my view, the role of the armed forces. Intelligence, law enforcement, public diplomacy, the private sector, finance, and other instruments of national power were all critically important - not just the military. Fighting the extremists ideologically, I believed, would be a crucial element of our country's campaign against them. The word "war" left the impression that there would be combat waged with bullets and artillery and then a clean end to the conflict with a surrender - a winner and a loser, and closure - such as the signing ceremony on the battleship USS Missouri to end World War II. It also led many to believe that the conflict could be won by bullets alone. I knew that would not be the case.

Voices in government and in the media repeated our friendship with, and respect for, peaceful and moderate Muslims - typically those who lived in American suburbia: middle class, middle-aged, mid-western, educated professionals. Such people were not to be seen as a threat. Rather, it was the radicalized version of Islam which was both seed and fertile ground for terror. The distinction between dangerous Islamists and peaceful and moderate Muslims - nominal Muslims, not bound slavishly to the literal texts of the past - was and is a central distinction to understanding the terrorism which threatened and threatens not only the United States, but much of the free world. Rumsfeld continues:

From the beginning, members of the administration worked gingerly around the obvious truth that our main enemies were Islamic extremists. I didn't think we could fight the crucial ideological aspect of the war if we were too wedded to political correctness to acknowledge the facts honestly. While we certainly were not at war against Islam, we did intend to fight and defeat those distorting their religious beliefs - their Islamic religious beliefs - to murder innocent people. I thought that the best term was Islamist extremists, which made clear we were not including all Muslims. Islamism is not a religion but a totalitarian political ideology that seeks the destruction of all liberal democratic governments, of our individual rights, and of Western civilization. The ideology not only excuses but commands violence against the United States, our allies, and other free people. It exalts death and martyrdom. And it is rooted in a radical, minority interpretation of Islam.

For more than a decade, the United States has wrestled with the subtle and nuanced situations in which these distinctions must be applied. Learning to identify those who are truly people of good will, and learning to identify those who wish only to kill, is not always easy. But learning to make such distinctions is necessary for the survival of civilization, and necessary for the defense of the peculiarly western notion that human life is innately valuable and precious.