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.