Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The 1950s: Decade of Progress

It is difficult and dangerous to make generalizations about a decade. Statistically, each ten-year period will have outliers and counter-trends within trends.

One can make an interesting argument, however, that the 1950s was one of the best decades in United States history for African-Americans.

In the 1950s, Blacks didn't have the massive unemployment numbers they have now. A greater percentage of them registered to vote and did vote.

A greater percentage of their children were born to an intact married couple. Public schools, various means of transportation, and most workplaces were being desegregated.

African-Americans had higher literacy rates.

Over the course of the twentieth century, Black populations became increasingly concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods. The problems which we now associated with urban life were less acute in the 1950s.

Fewer African-Americans committed crimes, fewer were arrested, fewer were convicted of crimes, and fewer were incarcerated. Their use of illegal drugs, and their abuse of legal ones, was much less.

It was after the 1950s, between 1960 and 2015, that life in the ‘ghetto’ became measurably characterized by unemployment, poverty, crime, drug abuse, and single parent families.

Life was not perfect in the 1950s. There were real problems and real tensions in race relations.

But in the 1950s, Blacks made progress. This decade was ‘the civil rights era.’

The 1950s saw the final and permanent end to the horrific practice of lynching. The last recorded lynching was in 1955. There were zero after that, and zero in 1952, 1953, and 1954.

During those same years, Rev. Martin Luther King led the Montgomery bus boycott and founded the SCLC.

A young African-American man was more likely to complete high school and get a job in the 1950s than in the year 2015.

The Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to ensure that the “Little Rock Nine” were able to obtain an education based on that Supreme Court decision.

Eisenhower also pushed the 1957 Civil Rights Act through Congress and signed it into law. He ensured that troops in the United States Army were fully integrated, moving President Truman’s symbolic Executive Order 9981 into reality.

All of these steps worked to crumble the “Jim Crow” laws, and the culture built around them.

America’s large cities were then more integrated than in the year 2015.

Life in the 1950s was not perfect. America had not solved all of its race-related problems. But there was an increasing sense of liberty, opportunity, and safety among Blacks - more than in previous decades, and sadly, more than in subsequent decades.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Eisenhower Appoints African-Americans

President Eisenhower took office in January 1953, at the beginning of a decade which would see the emergence of the African-American civil rights movement onto the stage of the national media. That movement would achieve great things during this decade, and “Ike” Eisenhower was a part of that accomplishment.

Among Eisenhower’s achievements was the appointment of Jesse Ernest Wilkins. Born in 1894, Wilkins was the first African-American to be appointed to a sub-cabinet level. On March 5, 1954, the New York Times praised Ike’s choice:

President Eisenhower’s nomination of J. Ernest Wilkins to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for International Affairs is an excellent choice. Mr. Wilkins, the first Negro ever to be named to a sub-Cabinet post, has a splendid reputation at the Chicago bar, to which he was admitted in 1921.

In August 1954, Time magazine reported that Wilkins “became the first Negro ever to attend a White House Cabinet meeting as the representative of a department.” Historian Jim Newton claims that “it was the first time an African-American ever attended a meeting of a president’s cabinet” at all.

Shortly after appointing Wilkins, Ike attended a meeting of the NAACP. On March 11, 1954, the New York Times reported that

President Eisenhower said he believed in President Lincoln’s statement that this nation was dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal and with the writers of the Declaration of Independence that all men were endowed with certain inalienable rights.
There are vociferous minorities that do not hold to the concepts set forth by the Founding Fathers, the President said, and added: “But by and large the mass of Americans want to be decent, good, and just and don’t want to make a difference based on inconsequential facts of color or race.”

Eisenhower’s speech at the NAACP gathering, given only a few days after appointing Wilkins to the highest post ever occupied by an African-American, was a strong statement about how the Eisenhower administration would promote civil rights during the 1950s.

A few months later, on November 9, 1954, the New York Times ran an article under the headline, “President Picks Negro to Help Combat Job Discrimination,” reporting Eisenhower’s choice of James Nabrit to “prevent discrimination in hiring and dismissals in plants with Government contracts.”

Well known, of course, is Eisenhower’s September 1957 order to send the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas, where the governor of that state, Democrat Orval Faubus, was obstructing the integration of schools. By that time, Ike’s record had clearly marked him a president who was promoting civil rights for African-Americans.

In that same year, Eisenhower worked to move the 1957 Civil Rights Act through Congress. Although some senators and representatives resisted it, and Senators Johnson and Kennedy diluted some of its provisions, Ike was adamant that it must pass.

Seeing that Johnson and Kennedy had weakened some aspects of the bill, Ike was not satisfied, and so later moved the more potent 1960 Civil Rights Act through Congress.

The 1950s were the decade in which the civil rights movement began and made most of its progress. Eisenhower was an integral part of that success.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Richard Nixon and the Politics of Race

By late 1968, the Democratic Party was at war with itself. The ‘hawks’ wanted to continue a full-blown war effort in Vietnam; the ‘doves’ wanted immediate and complete withdrawal of all United States military from the conflict.

The massive war effort, initiated by President Kennedy and expanded by President Johnson, was so closely tied to the identity of the Democratic Party that its chances of winning the 1968 presidential election were rapidly approaching zero.

In a last-ditch effort to change public opinion, the Democrats attempted to insinuate that Richard Nixon was less than enthusiastic in his support for African-American civil rights.

This effort backfired. Nixon’s public record included his efforts to round up votes in Congress, both for the 1957 Civil Rights Act, and for the 1960 Civil Rights Act. By contrast, both Kennedy and Johnson had opposed those two bills.

In an August 1968 televised commentary, William F. Buckley noted that

Mr. Nixon was backing civil rights bills way before John Kennedy was in point of historical circumstance.

Johnson, an unrepentant racist, would eventually be shamed into offering at least lip service to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He did so on the basis of purely political calculations. Nixon, on the other hand, had supported civil rights legislation nearly a decade earlier, when it was less popular to do so.

It is unverifiable at best, and hazardous at worst, to speculate about a leader’s psychological motivations, but it’s worth noting that Nixon was raised in a Quaker household in California. Those two aspects of his heritage may have made him more willing to take unpopular stands. Buckley said that

The time to back a civil rights bill, you may have noticed, is as of the moment when it becomes popular. Up until that moment it becomes completely forgivable if you don’t do so. Lyndon Johnson is considered a great friend of the Negro people, but he voted against a whole series of civil rights bills over a period of years.

As Eisenhower’s vice president, Nixon’s legislative efforts had been noted by Black voters, who gave him a decent showing in the 1960 national elections. Buckley argued that, in the intervening eight years, there’d been no real change in Nixon’s allegiances:

Some 30 to 35 percent of the Negro people voted for Nixon in 1960. I think somebody ought to get around to telling us what it is that Mr. Nixon has done since 1960 that alienates those votes.

In 1968, a trend emerged which would later be called ‘identity politics’ or ‘the politics of identity.’ This strategy calls for candidates to appeal to voters, not as rational human beings who share the common needs and wants of all human beings, but rather as isolated groups: by race, by religion, by gender, etc.

Rather than assuming that voters are rational human beings who share the same desires for peace, prosperity, justice, liberty, and freedom, the tactic of ‘identity politics’ divides voters into demographic segments, and dictates that they should vote a certain way because they are men or because they are women, because they are African-American or European-American, because they are Jewish or because they are Christian.

This approach would come to dominate national electoral politics a few decades laters, but in 1968, it was in its infancy. Buckley noted that those who opposed Nixon

are trying very hard to mobilize all of the Negro votes on a racist basis. On the one hand, they tell us we shouldn’t treat people as simply members of a race, members of a group. On the other hand, they’re always trying to deploy them as members of a group, members of a race.

As it turned out, Nixon won by a large margin in November 1968 and became president. In hindsight, especially after the events of the Watergate scandal, it is difficult to see Nixon with the untainted view which the voters had of him at that time.

Not only did Nixon continue to effectively promote civil rights during his presidency, but he also ended the Vietnam war and ended the draft. Nixon effectively desegregated labor unions and integrated both schools and neighborhoods.

The Democratic Party’s self-destructive meltdown in 1968 hamstrung it for several years afterward, enabling Nixon’s easy reelection in 1972.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Politics of Leaving Vietnam

America’s involvement in the southeast Asian war was long, complex, and unpleasant. All three of those adjectives were intensified, not by the military and physical realities in Vietnam, but by the political and social dynamics inside the United States.

At the beginning, Eisenhower had solidly refused to put U.S. combat troops into action. He’d further warned Kennedy against any direct U.S. engagement in the fighting in Vietnam.

At the end of Ike’s time in office, America had 900 military observers in Vietnam, in January 1961. JFK sent combat troops in large numbers. By November 1963, there were 16,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground, and casualties began.

The transition from Eisenhower to Kennedy was a transition from a United States policy of strictly avoiding the presence of any combat troops in Vietnam, and strictly avoiding any direct military engagement in the conflict there, to JFK’s policy of direct military involvement with large number of soldiers.

If the Kennedy administration represented a decision to plunge America into the war, then the Johnson administration represented a decision to escalate massively the war effort.

President Johnson increased troop levels. By 1968, there were 536,100 U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.

More forces on the ground meant more fighting, more wounded, more POWs, more MIAs, and more deaths. The majority of the 58,307 fatalities in Vietnam took place during the Johnson administration - 16,899 in 1968 alone.

President Johnson also notoriously micro-managed the military. Normally, trained and experienced military officers make strategic and tactical decisions. Johnson, however, began to schedule Air Force missions and select their targets. The result was both frustration on the part of the officers and inefficacy of the missions and of the military presence generally.

LBJ’s enlarged war effort provoked a domestic social crisis.

While some Americans were supported the continued military efforts, and while others were rabidly anti-war, many were internally torn. Rarely, if ever, in the nation’s history had a military endeavor been so criticized.

While most voters saw and recognized the socialist communist threat posed by North Vietnam, and the shredding of human rights which its victory would mean, they also saw on daily TV the brutality of combat, and questioned whether the deaths of young American soldiers was the best way to counter North Vietnam.

The reader will be aware of the significant social upheaval which resulted from concerns about the war in Vietnam, but which also resulted from, and synergized with, other societal concerns, ranging from drug use to efforts to undermine cultural frameworks.

Large public demonstrations and other protests put pressure on both political parties to offer some solution to the public.

The Democrats were divided amongst themselves. Some, the ‘hawks,’ wanted to maintain the patterns of Kennedy and Johnson, and to keep large-scale military commitments in Vietnam.

Others, the ‘doves,’ wanted an immediate end to the U.S. presence and to the draft.

With two extreme factions, the Democratic Party was at war with itself, and the few moderate voices were drowned out. Each of the two sides seemed oblivious to the disadvantages of their hardline stances: either stubbornly continuing the massive war effort, or abruptly creating a power vacuum by eliminating the American presence.

As his party disintegrated, Johnson announced in March 1968 that he would not seek reelection.

The Republicans took a more nuanced approach. In their 1968 platform document, they sought “a coherent program for peace,” and to develop that program in “the cause of long-range world peace.”

Critics alleged that the Republicans were too ambiguous in their wording, but the voters were tired of the extremism in other party. In August 1968, William F. Buckley said, during a TV commentary,

Yes, it is an ambiguous plank. And there is no question but that the war in Vietnam having been so badly fought, not as the result of any failure in our military but as a result of a failure in our policy, has led to a great confusion. The war in Vietnam is not justifiable in the opinion of Mr. Nixon unless it in fact represents a salient, which is armed by the communist world, however loosely spoken of, which is directed against our best interests. It was because Mr. Kennedy and subsequently Mr. Johnson believed that it was, in which point of view every single one of the people who are professionally charged with evaluating America’s interests concurred that it was that we went to war there. But we failed to win it.

In early August 1968, neither party had chosen its nominee for the presidential elections. The war was a central question in both the primary elections before the conventions, and later at the conventions themselves.

The Democratic Party hoped to harness the energy of the radicals who organized public protests against the Vietnam War. But Kennedy and Johnson were both identified with the core of the party.

Because Johnson’s decisions seemed to come at the cost of massive casualties while failing to achieve victory in the war, Buckley noted that “the failure to win it has caused a number of developments not the least of which is the domestic turmoil from which” some segments of the Democratic “party seek to profiteer.”

In late 1968, the political process moved quickly. Nixon received the GOP’s nomination, and was decisively elected in November.

Working to create a friendlier relationship with China, Nixon thereby reduced China’s enthusiasm for North Vietnam, and reduced the likelihood that Vietnam would become merely an extension of China.

Nixon ended both the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the draft. The North quickly conquered the South, and the two halves were united under the North’s socialist government. China, however, was not on friendly terms with the North, and so the undesirable situation of Vietnam becoming an extension of Chinese communism was avoided.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Continuously Changing Situation in Afghanistan

From the time that military operations began in Afghanistan in October 2001, the situation there has metamorphosed constantly, demanding ongoing adjustments in strategy and tactics by the United States forces.

Between October 2001 and January 2009, troop levels averaged under 20,000 in Afghanistan, with a peak of 32,800. After January 2009, Obama ordered a “surge” and the number of U.S. soldiers rose to over 100,000. The total number of NATO forces peaked at 140,000 in 2011. (The NATO numbers include troops from Georgia, Germany, Turkey, Romania, Italy, the UK and Australia.) By June 2015, the Obama administration was projecting a drawdown, resulting in troops level at approximately 1,000 during 2017.

Changing situations on the ground, however, now have Obama projecting 5,500 soldiers in Afghanistan through 2017. Journalist Mike Sigov reports:

About 9,800 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan now. At the end of next year or in early 2017, the number is to drop to about 5,500 and stay at that level through the end of President Obama’s term in 2017.

Military situations are often fluid and unpredictable. While domestic politics prefers predictable wars, the very phrase ‘predictable war’ is perhaps an oxymoron.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Korea: Stretched Thin

After 1945, the constellations of the postwar world began to emerge as various nations situated themselves and their stances became clear. While it was clear that the chill of the Cold War was descending upon the globe, it was not yet obvious that this cold would be very cold indeed.

The Communist surprise attack on South Korea was an indicator that the Cold War would be more serious than some had supposed.

President Harry Truman saw the Communist aggression not only as the occasion for a U.S. response in Korea, but also as the occasion to review U.S. preparedness worldwide, and make adjustments to defense policy as needed. Historians Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski write:

Much to the surprise of the Truman administration, the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) crossed the 38th Parallel on June 25, 1950, and opened a three-year war for control of the Korean peninsula. The Korean War brought a major shift in United States military policy, for it provided an atmosphere of crisis that allowed the nation to mobilize for one war in Asia and rearm to deter another war in Europe. By the time the conflict ended in an uneasy armistice in July 1953, the United States had tripled the size of its armed forces and quadrupled its defense budget. It had also redefined the Communist threat to a challenge of global proportions.

As the reality emerged that the Communist threat was more than regional, President Truman assigned four objectives, not so much to the military broadly, but rather more specifically to the Army: to maintain and support a field army in Korea; to maintain and support one in Europe for the anticipated WWIII; to collaborate with the Air Force on a continental air defense system; and to maintain a strategic reserve should it be needed elsewhere on the planet.

These four tasks proved to be massive. The simultaneous effort to address all four of these goals stretched the Army thin. Historian William Donnelly writes:

The President and the Congress, however, did not provide the Army with sufficient resources to accomplish all four missions, and the service steadily deteriorated during these two years. The hurried expansion of the active force during the war’s first year, together with three decisions, created a serious manpower dilemma for the Army. These three decisions were: (1) to institute individual rotation in Korea; (2) not to hold draftees and mobilized reserve component personnel on active duty for the duration of the war; (3) to cut the Army’s budget but not its missions. The result was a constant shortfall of personnel, both in quantity and in quality, affecting combat effectiveness, operational readiness, training, and retention.

When the fighting in Korea began, the U.S. Army was adequately but not well prepared.

Because the war came as a surprise - unlike some other conflicts in the nation’s history - it is understandable that troop levels at the outbreak of hostilities were suboptimal. Historian Russell Weigley writes:

The troops in Japan were not well trained, partly because Japan offered so little ground for that purpose. Like nearly all American Army formations in early 1950, their units were understrength. Infantry regiments had only two battalions instead of the standard three, and artillery battalions had only two batteries instead of three. But the American troops were at least close by, and the Korean peninsula was accessible to air power vastly superior to anything the North Koreans could muster even without the atomic bomb, and to naval power which, though its ships were getting old and often had to be removed from mothballs to get into the fight, remained far and away the premier force of its kind on the globe.

American forces performed admirably in Korea, but the Army never reached a fully proficient presence there.

While one cannot write properly of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ as the outcome of that conflict, it is objectively true that South Korea with its United Nations allies came very close to winning, and handily so. The lack of a South Korean victory was a negotiated and self-inflicted loss.

The U.S. Army performed admirably in Korea, but had to overcome handicaps to do so. Had the President Truman and the Congress allocated resources differently, a more proficient military would have given South Korea an even more dominating advantage.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bill Evans: Maker of Monumental Music

Bill Evans was born in 1929 in New Jersey, and began piano lessons at an early age. As a child, his music lessons were primarily Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. He also played several other musical instruments, and studied music at Southeastern Louisiana University.

After his time at the university, he spent several years in the army. Leaving the military in January 1954, he spent a year of intensive practice and composition. In July 1955, he began graduate studies at the Mannes College of Music, and began playing at various venues in New York.

His talent was quickly recognized, but he was hesitant to make commercial recordings. Significant persuasion eventually nudged him into the studio. He made disks which are significant in the history of American music.

His first album, New Jazz Conceptions was recorded in September 1956. Feature Teddy Kotick on bass and Paul Motian on drums, the record contained a piece which would become one of his most famous and most popular: “Waltz for Debbie.” According to Mark Sabbatini, the album sold only 800 copies in its first year.

In December 1958, Bill Evans recorded his second studio album, Everybody Digs Bill Evans. With Sam Jones on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums, the cover image of this record included signed endorsements by Miles Davis, George Shearing, Cannonball Adderley, and Ahmad Jamal.

Unlike the long periods of cajoling by friends and colleagues which were at first necessary to persuade Evans to record, and which explain the long gap between his first two major studio albums, the interval between the next few disks was brief. In January 1959, he was recording On Green Dolphin Street with bassists Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, and Scott LaFaro. The record also included drummers Philly Joe Jones and Paul Motian. One track contains a saxophonist and guitarist. The album was not released until 1975.

Bill was recording again in December 1959. The album was titled Portrait in Jazz, and it included drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro.

Although Evans would release many more recordings during his career, these four albums represent his foundational and defining work. He died in 1980.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Subversive Network in the USA During the Cold War

As the end of WWII neared, leaders around the world began considering what the peace would look like when the war was over. Different groups developed competing plans for postwar world.

Although much of WWII was cast as a struggle for liberty, Stalin was preparing to use the outcome of the war as a way for the Communism to eliminate much of that hard-fought freedom. The USSR would become, or continue to be, the cornerstone in an international communist conspiracy.

Stalin hoped to achieve many of his goals through subversion. Subversion is a subtle strategy, often including infiltration. Subversion usually avoids direct confrontation, but seeks rather to gradually erode or undermine a point of view or a set of values.

In the case of communism, subversive efforts included the formation of ‘front’ groups: seemingly apolitical and innocent organizations which in reality masked espionage and propaganda efforts occurring behind the scenes. Such groups might be appear to be cultural or educational clubs, or associations coordinating humanitarian efforts.

One goal for Stalin’s subversion was China. Caught in the middle of a civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, China could be a helpful ally for the USSR if the Communists won the civil war.

In order for Mao’s Communists to be victorious, Stalin would have to engineer a change of mind inside the United States. The U.S. had been supporting the Nationalists.

Many of Stalin’s subversives were strategically located inside the U.S. government to influence policymakers, and strategically located in the news media to influence opinionmakers.

A second goal for Stalin to was to obtain the plans to build an atomic bomb. This was not so much subversion as simply espionage: spies stealing government secrets. A large organization of agents, some native born, some immigrants, built a network to obtain such confidential information and send it to Moscow: Klaus Fuchs, Morris Cohen, Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Theodore Hall, Ethel Rosenberg, Julius Rosenberg, and many others.

Many of these agents were eventually discovered and arrested, but not before they managed to give the classified atomic data to the Soviets. As historian Willmoore Kendall writes:

After the Russian victory at Stalingrad in June 1943, nobody could doubt that the Allied coalition would win the war. Stalin therefore turned his attention to the task of advancing the postwar position of Communism, preferably at the expense of, or if necessary in direct opposition to, the interests of his Western comrades-in-arms; and, as we should expect from the above, he reached first for the weapon of subversion, turning it upon the United States. The two most pressing goals of the resulting campaign were (a) to shift United States policy from support of the Nationalist Government of China over to acquiescence in a Communist takeover in that country, and (b) to obtain, by whatever means but in any case quickly, America’s atomic secrets. The first of these, the shift of American policy from active support to betrayal of the Nationalist Government of China, called for a sustained effort over a long period: coordinated actions, propaganda, above all the planting of elaborate misinformation in numerous diplomatic and political forums throughout the world.

Among the various ‘front’ organizations operated by the Soviet intelligence agencies was the Institute for Pacific Relations (IPR), ostensibly a ‘think-tank’ for the discussion of American foreign policy in east Asia, but in fact a node in the international communist conspiracy.

As the House Un-American Activities Committee would discover, the IPR was busy, both smuggling classified information out of the U.S. government into Moscow, and feeding misinformation to high-level policymakers in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. Willmoore Kendall continues:

Within the United States itself, these tasks were entrusted to three groups: First, the Communist Party, which during the period of our wartime alliance with the Soviet Union had been highly influential in the circles that distribute news and form public opinion, and whose influence was to outlive the shooting war by several years. The Party, with membership at an unprecedented peak and with a wide variety of influential fronts at its disposal, could, at the end of the war, deeply affect American thinking when and as it needed to. Second, a number of Communist dupes who held high posts in certain strategic areas within the government of the United States: Alger Hiss, for instance, who became the first General Secretary of the United Nations; Harry Dexter White, who was Undersecretary of the Treasury; and Lawrence Duggan of the State Department. Third, the Institute of Pacific Relations, which was to prove a remarkably effective instrument for the purpose in hand. The IPR’s role in the molding of United States Far Eastern policy is, no doubt, today generally forgotten. That is a pity - and it would repay anyone’s time to review the detailed hearings of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee from July 1951 to June 1952 (the task might well have fallen to HUAC) covering the IPR’s activities. What the IPR did by way of promoting the interests of the Soviet Union in the United States, and bringing American Far Eastern policy in line with Communist objectives, is a model of the USSR’s modus operandi in these matters. Only by understanding how it worked can we hope to learn how to prevent a repetition of the entire episode, or to ferret out less ambitious and less concentrated attempts to accomplish similar objectives - as, for example, in Latin America or the Far East.

This back-and-forth between Soviet and American intelligence agencies was, sadly, a deadly game: in additions to the thousands who died in the Korean and Vietnam wars, there were the ongoing deaths of Soviet intellectuals and dissidents in the ‘Gulag’ prison camps, the deaths of thousands in the Hungarians uprising of 1956, and numerous other instances of bloodshed at the hands of the communists.

But the most severe example was in China: Mao’s victory over the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek meant that millions of Chinese would be killed, in ‘reeducation’ camps, in famines, in executions, and in mysterious ‘disappearances’ organized by the communist secret police.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Korea: an Expensive Surprise

In the years immediately following WWII, the first task of the United States military to was to recalibrate itself to the new reality of atomic weapons. Introduced at the very end of that war, nuclear bombs changed international diplomacy and military strategy.

To adjust to this new technology, and to this new era of warfare, the United States Air Force (USAF), which was created between 1947 and 1949 out of personnel and aircraft which had been used by the Army, Navy, and Marines, focused on developing its Strategic Air Command (SAC).

By 1950, SAC was functional and ready to meet any strategic situations which might arise. But the all branches of the military were forced to neglect other elements of readiness in order to prepare a nuclear strategy.

The United States was prepared to face, and win, a major nuclear war with the Soviet Union. But it was not ready for battlefield combat in a conventional war.

Roughly speaking, the logic was that if we have a dominant nuclear arsenal, no other nation would dare to engage in small military actions against us. The weakness in that logic was that a small rogue state, like North Korea, might understand that if it did launch a small land attack, the United States would be forced into a position in which it could not use its nuclear weapons, because to do so would constitute a massively disproportionate overreaction.

Thus it was, that by early 1950, the U.S. military was still working on building its conventional forces up to an effective level of readiness. Historian Russell Weigley writes:

When the troops of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea invaded the Republic of Korea on June 24, 1950, they therefore imposed upon the United States a strategic surprise in the deepest sense. Perceiving the invasion as Soviet-sponsored and believing a failure to resist would amount to a new Munich, President Truman attempted instantly to shift his military gears and to halt and punish the Communist Koreans not with all-out atomic retaliation but with military strength proportioned to the threat. To respond with atomic weaponry would have seemed indeed disproportionate both in morality and in expediency; it would have risked both a holocaust of Soviet retaliation and the possibility of using up the relatively small store of atomic bombs against a minor power, to cite only two of the considerations of expediency. To proportion the American response to the scale of the Communist challenge proved hazardous, however, not only because of the inappropriate condition of the American armed forces. Any strategy other than the now familiar strategy of annihilation proved so frustratingly at variance with the American conception of war that it upset the balance of judgment of American officers in the field and threatened the psychological balance of the nation itself.

Throughout the Korean War, the U.S. military would be playing catch-up. Having sunk massive amounts of time, money, and manpower into developing a strategic nuclear force in the late 1940s, the early 1950s would find America fighting the Korean War in an ad hoc manner.

There was, however, another obstacle to properly equipping and strengthening the U.S. forces in Korea: at the same time, from 1950 to 1953, the military had not only to maintain its strategic nuclear arsenal, and not only resist the Soviet-backed and Chinese-backed North Koreans, but also to establish and maintain a credible defensive force in Europe, and to develop and implement a domestic defense system for the North American continent.

In light of the emphasis which had been put on the development of SAC and of a strategic nuclear force, the major risk in the minds of many military planners was not a local conventional war in a place like Korea, but rather the advent of World War III, which seemed to some officers to be not only possible but even probable.

In this situation, the war in Korea was conducted on the fly and on a shoestring budget. Some American soldiers in Korea complained that they were given a pitiably small share of the army’s resources at a time when they were the only segment of the army which was actually engaged in combat. Historian William Donnelly writes:

Writing from Korea in December 1952 about the “Fighting, Waiting Eighth Army,” Time correspondent John Osborne concluded that Eighth Army was “not the best army the U.S. can put in the field. It is the best army that can be put in the field in the circumstances.” This description applies equally well to the entire U.S. Army between July 1951 and July 1953, the final years of the Korean War. President Harry S. Truman assigned the service several demanding missions in the early months of the Korean War: to support one field army fighting in Korea, create a second field army in Germany preparing for World War III, build a continental air defense system in cooperation with the Air Force, and maintain a strategic reserve in the continental United States capable of deploying overseas in a crisis. The last three missions reflected the concern of senior U.S. leaders that the North Korean invasion was a sign of growing Soviet aggressiveness which could be deterred only by a massive U.S. military buildup.

The initial response of the United States, in the wake of the June 1950 attack which was largely a surprise, was a reactive attempt to simply slow and hopefully stop the communist North Korean advance. As the war continued, the Americans had time to consider its goals in the conflict.

General Douglas MacArthur saw rightly that, if the Americans were to push for victory as traditionally understood, then they would eventually find themselves fighting directly against the Chinese and the Soviets, and fighting on Chinese soil and on Soviet soil.

President Truman, concerned about the possibility of Korea being the occasion for the much-anticipated WWIII, developed a strategy of limited war. Historians Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski write:

The Truman administration had an appropriate substitute for victory in the Korean War, and that substitute was the rearmament of the United States, the development of a collective security alliance based upon NATO, and the strengthened deterrence of the Soviet Union with both nuclear and conventional forces. When Truman submitted his four supplemental budget requests for fiscal year 1951, he made his dual goals clear: “The purpose of these proposed estimates is two-fold; first, to meet the immediate situation in Korea, and, second, to provide for an early, but orderly, buildup of our military forces to a state of readiness designed to deter further acts of aggression.” The President presented his priorities in reverse order, since the administration eventually spent 60 percent of the FY 1951 – 1953 defense budgets on general military programs and 40 on waging the war.

The Korean War was a psychological burden on the voters in the United States, who could still clearly remember WWII. In the 1952 presidential election, Eisenhower persuaded many voters by arguing that he could bring an end to the war. Eisenhower won by a landslide.

Eisenhower was inaugurated in January 1953, and by July of that year an armistice was signed. The armistice is a ceasefire agreement; more than sixty years later, no “final peaceful settlement” has been achieved. The July 1953 document signed to end the fighting envisioned, in its words, such a “final peaceful settlement,” which has since demonstrated itself to be elusive.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Global Landscape after Obama

Surveying diplomatic relations around the world after the impact of Obama’s foreign policy, President Jimmy Carter offered this in a 2015 interview:

On the world stage, just to be as objective about it as I can, I can’t think of many nations in the world where we have a better relationship now than we did when he took over.

Obama has performed a series of blunders vis-a-vis those nations which had been on friendly terms with the United States until early 2009. Measurable damage, e.g., has been done to our relationships with England and Germany, and those two nations are noticeably less enthusiastic about partnering with the United States in any international effort.

Regarding Russia’s ever-prickly Putin, the Obama administration has lacked the nuance required to provide a stern yet pleasant counterweight to the Russian aura over eastern Europe and southwestern Asia.

In the face of those powers which are incorrigible enemies of the United States - those nations who have an unalterable desire to kill Americans and harm America - Obama has demonstrated an unwillingness to understand the immutable nature of these states or movements: the regimes of North Korea and Iran, the Islamic and Islamicist movements in southwest Asia and northern Africa.

The United States has experienced a loss in the strength of its diplomatic relationships with allies, and a loss in the strength of its firm resolve in the face of acidic aggression from its enemies. Jimmy Carter said:

If you look at Russia, if you look at England, if you look at China, if you look at Egypt and so forth - I’m not saying it’s his fault - but we have not improved our relationship with individual countries and I would say that the United States influence and prestige and respect in the world is probably lower now than it was six or seven years ago.

Noting the same weaknesses, but phrasing them more circumspectly and diplomatically, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, describes the damage inflicted upon United States and its international standing by Obama:

global disorder has trended upward while some of our comparative advantages have begun to erode.

Unlike Carter, Dempsey did not directly attribute the weakening of the United States to Obama. Dempsey did, however, specify the telling metric: “comparative advantage.”

Obama’s deliberate effort has reduced the comparative advantage of the United States - diplomatically, militarily, economically. It has been Obama’s goal and intent to reduce the standing of the United States relative to the other nations of the world.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Ups and Downs of the Cold War

The general attitudes of the American public seemed to vary between denial and determination during the years of the Cold War. At some points in time, perhaps overwhelmed by the size of the communist threat, it seemed as if the ordinary citizens simply wanted to pretend that the massive Soviet effort to destroy America didn’t exist. At other times, people appeared to see the threat clearly, and to be determined to meet and defeat it.

The Cold War can be said to have ended with the fall of communism in the USSR and in eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991. When the Cold War began is less clear: as early as 1919, the Soviets established espionage networks inside the United States with the stated goal of an eventual “violent” revolution.

The Communist Party in the United States (CPUSA) was no mere political organization promoting ideologies and candidates: it used the phrase “violent revolution” in its written materials to express one of its goals. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), allegedly a labor union, was actually a ‘front’ organization, being in reality a network of Soviet spies.

In 1919, the IWW took the city of Seattle hostage in a ‘general strike.’ Ordinary citizens were often confined to their homes while the IWW agents - called ‘wobblies’ - patrolled the streets enforcing the curfew. What happened in 1919 in the city of Seattle was an example of terrorism.

But some historians prefer to mark the start of the Cold War around 1946, when the defeat of Japan and of the Nazis eliminated Stalin’s need to pretend that he was a friendly partner to the western allies. Stalin had been a partner with Hitler and the two of them jointly invaded Poland in 1939. Although openly hostile to the western allies from the time he gained control in the USSR, 1924, until the time he joined them, 1941, Stalin suddenly portrayed himself as desiring a great national friendship with the United States.

From the other side, FDR likewise sought to build a friendship with Stalin. The USSR’s desire for a working relationship was strictly opportunistic, however: Stalin’s desire for this homey cooperation arose the minute Hitler doubled-crossed him in 1941 and ended as soon as Hitler was defeated.

During the five or so years in which FDR and Stalin at least pretended to be cooperating with each other, the American public was given to understand that the Soviets were our friends, and that we should look indulgently on those who dabbled in communist ideology. This accounts, perhaps, for some of the collective slumber which prevented the ordinary citizen from fully understanding the threat posed by the USSR.

Between 1924 and 1954, Stalin was responsible for millions of deaths. Scholars debate the total number of victims during Stalin’s murderous reign: The “Gulag” was a Soviet government agency overseeing prison camps; the forced resettlement of ‘kulaks’ (small farmers), the deportation of the Crimean Tartars, a manufactured famine in the Ukraine, the spurning of American help during the Russian famine of 1919 through 1923, and the Gulag each killed millions.

Yet, because President Roosevelt wanted to maintain the illusion that the USSR was a friend of the United States, Americans were taught not to ask uncomfortable questions about the international communist conspiracy and how its efforts had already planted numerous operatives inside the United States government. Agents inside the Stated Department, the Treasury Department, and other government offices were sending classified secret information to Moscow while influencing policymakers to form American decisions in the best interests of Stalin, not of American citizens.

Several events alerted ordinary Americans to the dangers of the international communist conspiracy and its espionage network inside the United States. First, FDR’s former vice president, Henry Wallace, ran for president as a candidate of the Progressive Party; while Wallace may have naively believed this to be a principled thirty party, it was in fact a puppet of the CPUSA and of Stalin.

Journalist Dwight Macdonald exposed high-profile Soviet agents who wormed their way into influential posts inside the United States government: Alger Hiss, who was sent to prison, and Judith Coplon, whose case contained legal irregularities which caused the court, after her numerous appeals, to conclude that she had in fact committed treason and espionage, but because evidence was gathered in inadmissible ways, no verdict of guilt would be issued, and she would not be sentenced.

These events functioned as an alarm, warning the American public to the hazards posed by international communism. As historian William F. Buckley writes:

Then, in 1948, poor Mr. Henry Wallace permitted himself to be run for the Presidency of the United States by a group of pros who hugged the Communist Party line even as you and I, edging our way across the peak of the Matterhorn, would hug a defile. Simultaneously, Stalin was gobbling up satellites, stealing our secrets and showing at every opportunity, with which he was amply provided, his contempt for the bourgeois notion that the alliance could survive the war. The climate changed; the existence of an undercover international Communist apparatus was garishly revealed by a succession of informants who submitted to the rack - testimony to the FBI, appearances before Congressional committees, books, articles, personal appearances; and it became generally accepted that, in the words of Dwight Macdonald, in fact there were loose in our society little witches like Judith Coplon, and little wizards like Alger Hiss; and for a few years the community settled down to accepting the realities the enemy imposed.

So it was that, in the postwar years, the United States awoke to the Soviet menace, and understood the danger presented by international communist conspiracy. With great effort, the United States was able to prevent the widespread death and destruction which Stalin’s agents hoped to inflict on America. The United States won the Cold War, but only because it awoke to the clear and present danger posed by the USSR.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Evidence: Exploring Cold War History

With the end of the Cold War more than a quarter of a century behind us, historians seek to form the most accurate narratives of that era. To do so, they need data.

Evidence of Soviet espionage networks in the United States comes from different sources, which may be grouped into two categories: the data available during the Cold War, and the data which became available after it was over.

Some of this evidence was used to discover and convict Soviet agents during the Cold War. The Pumpkin Papers - actually, several rolls of film - were given by Whittaker Chambers to the United States government.

The Pumpkin Papers were documents which Chambers had couriered from their sources to Soviet operatives who would send them on to Moscow. Chambers had been a member of the Communist Party (CPUSA) during the early 1930s.

The CPUSA was not merely a group advocating policies and candidates. It was an arm of the Soviet government and functioned as part of a spy network. When Chambers left the party, he kept the Pumpkin Papers. Eventually, he aided the U.S. government and gave them the papers.

The papers received their odd name because Chambers had hidden them in a pumpkin.

Chambers produced the papers in 1948 and gave them to Congress. They were used in ongoing investigations and trials which ultimately revealed that Alger Hiss, a high-ranking State Department officer who personally advised the president on foreign policy, was a Soviet operative.

An editor of the University of Michigan’s Michigan Law Review writes:

Even before Soviet cables proved the existence of a vast Soviet-run espionage network in Amer­ica, there was lots of evidence. There were, for example, the detailed accounts given in sworn testimony by various ex-Communists like Whittaker Chambers, Elizabeth Bentley, and Louis Budenz. There were Chambers's Pumpkin Papers. There were Soviet defectors who brought reams of KGB documents with them, identifying Soviet agents in America. There were confessions of arrested spies, such as David Greenglass, who informed on his sister Ethel Rosenberg and her hus­band, Julius. There was the arrest of Judith Coplon, who was actually apprehended in the act of handing a U.S. counterintelligence file to a KGB officer.

Among the data which became available after the end of the Cold War, the Venona Project files are probably the most famous. These were a series of messages between Soviet operatives which had been intercepted and decrypted by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Other evidence became available when the government of the Soviet Union, and the governments of other Warsaw Pact nations, fell after 1989. While the Venona Project had intercepted and decrypted telegraphed messages as early as 1942, the evidence was not released, even to other branches of the U.S. government, for fear that the Soviets would learn of the breach in their system.

Had the Soviet learned of the intercepts, the data would have become worthless, and the communists would have changed their encryption system. The intercepted messages made it clear that there were numerous Soviet operatives in various government agencies, so the data from Venona was not shared, even within the government.

It turned out that, all along, there was also evidence in the form of decrypted Soviet cables to their agents in America. Though not revealed for half a century, the U.S. government had broken the Soviet cable code beginning in the forties in a top-secret undertaking known as the Venona Project. In the most patriotic act of his career, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan would push through the declassification of the Venona Project, which was finally unveiled on July 11, 1995.

Keeping Venona secret for so long was a calculated risk: it meant that some Soviet agents would not be prosecuted. Those agents who were tried in court were convicted based on other evidence; even the prosecuting attorneys did not know about the Venona evidence.

After 1995, it became clear how large the Soviet espionage network in the United States was, and how thoroughly it had infiltrated the U.S. government.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Stalin Deceives FDR

In 1939, when Hitler and Stalin were allies, they jointly invaded Poland: the Nazis from the west, and the USSR from the east. This unprovoked aggression happened quickly, and by the end of that year, Poland was a subjugated nation.

Although the combat operations were over, the bloodshed was not. In 1940, at or near a place called Katyn, the Soviets executed 22,000 Poles, all of them unarmed, many of them civilians, and by that point in time, none of them part of the war effort.

This cold-blooded killing of civilians was conducted by the NKVD, one of the communist secret police agencies.

By 1941, the geopolitical landscape had changed. Hitler had betrayed Stalin, and Stalin had joined the western allies - England, the United States, and others.

The Allies were delighted to have the USSR on their side. They were hesitant to offend the Soviets in any way, lest they return to Hitler’s side.

President Roosevelt, hoping to spark a friendship with Stalin, did not confront him about the massacre at Katyn. Nor did FDR object to Stalin’s demand that, in a postwar scenario, almost half of Poland become Soviet territory: the USSR would annex 77,000 square kilometers of Polish territory.

Mentioning the killings at Katyn and the seizing of Polish territory, historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Nor was that the total story. When the Red Army rolled back into Poland, the Soviets would control not merely half the nation but all of it. They would then set up a puppet regime in the city of Lublin for the part of the country still called “Poland,” plus a sector of Germany awarded the Poles in compensation for what was given Russia. To this further demarche the Americans and British consented with misgivings, but consent they did, covering their retreat with pro forma protests and never-to-be-honored Soviet pledges to provide for Polish free elections.

FDR, Winston Churchill, and Stalin met - occasionally with other global leaders - to make these deals and shape the postwar world in a series of conferences: in Teheran in 1944 and in Yalta in early 1945.

A conference was held in Potsdam later in 1945, but by that time, Roosevelt had died, and Harry S. Truman was president.

During his last two years in office, FDR was hampered in his ability to think and speak clearly. He was a dying man, diagnosed variously with cancer, hypertension, and heart failure. He often fell asleep at meetings.

In addition to his health, Roosevelt was also thinking about domestic politics inside the United States, as Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein note:

Noteworthy in these events was the performance of FDR. One suggestive episode occurred at Teheran, when the President told Stalin the United States was willing to go along with the Soviets on Poland, but that he had political realities to deal with. “[T]here were six to seven million Americans of Polish extraction,” Roosevelt said, according to the official Teheran record, “and, as a practical man, he did not wish to lose their vote [in the 1944 election]. He hoped … that the Marshal would understand that, for the political reasons outlined above, he could not participate in any decision here in Teheran … and could not take any part in any such arrangement at the present time.” The magnanimous Stalin replied, now that FDR had explained it, that he understood the President’s problem.

Further inhibiting Roosevelt’s ability to negotiate was the fact that his advisor for foreign policy, Alger Hiss, was actually a Soviet agent, paid both to present a pro-Stalin view to FDR, and to leak American military secrets to Moscow.

Roosevelt hoped to form a working friendship with Stalin. Stalin had no intention of building any such relationship, but deliberately continued to foster those hopes in FDR, who was all the more inclined to allow the Soviets to continue their atrocities in Poland. Thus it was that millions of Poles lost their lives, their properties, and their liberty.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Venona: Evidence for the Prosecution

During the Cold War, the ability to intercept and decrypt communications between various operatives in the Soviet intelligence agencies was crucial to keeping U.S. citizens safe. A paradox, however, arises when the aggressor’s internal messages have been deciphered: if Americans acted upon that information, the USSR would know that its codes had been broken, and the information would quickly become worthless.

This same paradox allegedly kept Churchill from warning the city of Coventry that it was about to be attacked during WWII: if he had done so, it would have been a clear signal to the Nazis that their famous ‘Enigma’ encryptor had been understood. However, there is insufficient evidence that Churchill, or anyone else in England, knew of the Coventry raid before it happened.

While the urban legend’s narrative about Churchill facing the painful decision about Coventry might be fiction, it is a document datum that U.S. officials made similar difficult decisions.

The ‘Venona’ project allowed U.S. intelligence agencies to decrypt Soviet messages in the 1940s. These intercepted cables documented that there were hundreds of communist spies operating inside the federal government.

An editor at the University of Michigan’s Michigan Law Review writes that “the Soviet cables indisputably proved the guilt of” a group of suspects investigated by the FBI: “Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.” That was merely the beginning. The Soviet communications yielded many other names. But in court, the FBI did not release the Venona decryptions, even though that would have given them “slam dunk” convictions. Instead, more lengthy and difficult cases, sometimes using bits of circumstantial evidence, kept the Venona project a secret:

Because of Venona, the FBI and certain top Justice Department officials were absolutely sure “they were prosecuting the right people.” But throughout the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, J. Edgar Hoover risked acquittal rather than reveal that the U.S. had cracked the Soviet code.

Some news reporter derided the FBI’s apparently weak cases, not knowing that the defendants were guilty, and that the FBI had a surplus of evidence, not a dearth of it. In addition to the Venona information, the FBI had statements from former Soviet spies who'd defected and agreed to help the Americans. These defectors, Chambers and Bentley, independently confirmed the Venona data. “Without realizing that the U.S. government had confirmed the accounts of such informers as Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley with Soviet cables,” the anti-FBI media

smeared ex-Communist informers as lunatics and per­verts. Now the world knew what J. Edgar Hoover knew at the time: The informers were telling the truth.

Hiss was convicted and sentenced in January 1950. The two Rosenbergs were convicted and sentenced in 1951. Harry Dexter White died before he could be tried. The Venona transcripts were not released until 1995.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Afghanistan: Obama’s Surge

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, an international coalition of nations participated in military action against the Taliban government, beginning with aerial bombardment on October 7, 2001. Until December 31, 2014, United States troops have been in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Since January 1, 2015, the military designation for U.S. presence in Afghanistan has been Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

By January 2009, U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan had grown to 32,800. For most of the time between October 2001 and January 2009, levels were under 20,000.

Upon taking office in January 2009, Barack Obama began a surge of troops, raising levels to over 100,000 within two years. The Obama Surge lasted until September 2012, at which time levels were reduced to 68,000, a number still more than double the troop level when Obama took office.

Currently, the Obama administration is projecting a gradual drawdown until a force of 1,000 is left in Afghanistan during 2017. In March 2015, a New York Times headline read “U.S. to Delay Pullout of Troops From Afghanistan to Aid Strikes,” and a Reuters article was titled “Obama slows withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.”

As of June 2015, the U.S. had around 9,800 troops in Afghanistan.

The American soldiers were the majority of the force in the area, joining approximately 7,000 soldiers from a coalition which included Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the UK, and around twenty other nations.

A statistical overview reveals that, compared the U.S. action in Afghanistan during the Bush administration, the Obama administration engaged in a massive escalation and surge.

Monday, May 11, 2015

T.A. Bisson - an Accomplice to Totalitarianism

Of the many Soviet spies to infiltrate the United States government, Thomas Arthur Bisson was one of the most sophisticated. Born in New York in 1900, he had a successful academic career and published books and articles, mainly about eastern Asia.

But Bisson’s espionage activities make him partly responsible for deaths in China and Europe.

As part of his academic cover, Bisson was employed by the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR), ostensibly a think-tank studying the diplomatic relations between various east Asian nations, but in reality a communist front organization. In the IPR, Bisson was in contact with Owen Lattimore, another known Soviet agent.

Bisson also worked for two publications, Amerasia and China Today. An FBI investigation discovered that the offices of Amerasia held hundreds of stolen classified documents from various government agencies.

Writing for these, and other, periodicals, Bisson could implement Mao’s disinformation campaign in the U.S., attempting to create a public perception of the Chinese communists as “democratic,” e.g., in the IPR’s periodical Far Eastern Review.

During the 1930s and 1940s, China was in the midst of an internal conflict between Mao’s communists and Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalists. The Soviet Union was fully backing Mao, while the United States was giving only a half-hearted effort to the nationalists.

The role of Bisson and other Soviet operatives was to keep U.S. support for Chiang Kai-Shek to a minimum, and to undermine whatever support was given.

Evidence about Bisson’s activities comes, in part, from the Venona project, an undertaking by U.S. intelligence agencies to intercept and decrypt messages between various members of Soviet espionage network. Exploring the mountains of data gathered by the Venona project, historian Stan Evans writes:

So who was T.A. Bisson? Here is what Venona tells us, in a message from Soviet agents in New York back to Moscow Center:

Bisson handed over reams of information, including reports from not only the American military, but also from the British military. The numbers and locations of troops, internal discussions about negotiating with Maoists about locating U.S. airfields in China, and data about trade between Japan and China were among classified topics about which Bisson informed Moscow.

The Soviets were eager to get classified information from the Board of Economic Warfare, a government panel on which Bisson worked during the war. Evans quotes at length from the Soviet document.

Marquis [Soviet espionage agent Joseph Bernstein] has established friendly relations with T.A. Bisson (hereafter Arthur) … who has recently left BEW [Board of Economic Warfare]; he is now working in the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) and in the editorial office of Marquis’ periodical [Amerasia]. Arthur passed to Marquis … copies of four documents: (a) his own report for BEW with his views on working out a plan for shipment of American troops to China; (b) a report by the Chinese embassy in Washington to its government in China … (c) a brief report of April 1943 on a general evaluation of the forces on the sides of the Soviet-German front … (d) a report by the American consul in Vladivostok …

During the 1940s, during the war, Bisson reported to the GRU, a lesser-known Soviet intelligence agency. The more famous KGB was not founded until 1954. Joseph Bernstein worked for the GRU, and Bisson delivered information to Bernstein, which Bernstein then forwarded to Moscow.

According to the FBI, the Joseph Bernstein receiving this material was a self-identified Soviet spy who would play an equally sinister role in later cases of subversion.

After the war, Bisson left New York and his GRU contacts for a while, working in Japan for the U.S. military, “first with the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, then as adviser to the Chief, Government Section, GHQ, SCAP” according to the Fogler Library at the University of Maine. Working with Douglas MacArthur, who had the title Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), Bisson once again had access to classified documents and forwarded them to the Soviets.

The narratives about Bisson, Bernstein, and Lattimore find their context in the larger setting of the Cold War era. The end of WWII, the Soviet acquisition of America’s secret atomic technology, and the Korean War shaped this time period. Stan Evans describes it:

The latter 1940s and early ’50s were a time of tense, explosive conflict, in the world at large and in the politics of our nation. Soviet expansionism in Europe, the battle for control of China, and the 1950 invasion of South Korea would shatter once-euphoric dreams of post-war cooperation with the Kremlin. American policy dealing with this rapidly changing scene was, to put it mildly, often confused, naive, slow to respond, and contradictory (reflecting a lot of intramural combat). Correlative to all this were such domestic scandals as the Amerasia case, the first exposés of atomic spying, the testimony of ex-Communists Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley, and other such disclosures.

So Bisson was working both for Mao and for Stalin. Nudging U.S. policy in ways favorable for the Chinese communists and disclosing confidential national security documents to the Soviets, Bisson was double threat. Because not all the evidence was available at the time, U.S. intelligence officials didn’t have access to the Venona transcripts cited above. They knew that Bisson was a security risk, but they didn’t

didn’t know for sure how bad, as reflected in these transcripts. That secret would be locked up for fifty years, known only to the Kremlin and the keepers of Venona.

Bisson would continue to promote totalitarianism for years to come. He was still active during the Vietnam War.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Cedric Belfrage: Soviet Spy

Born in England, Cedric Belfrage was in the United States as early as 1927, working as a reporter covering Hollywood and the entertainment industry. He travelled back and forth between Britain and America for several years, but had settled in the U.S. by the 1930s.

In 1937, he joined the Communist Party in the United States (CPUSA). At that time, this was not merely an act expressing a political view, but rather it was supporting an organization which called for, in its printed materials, a “violent” revolution in America.

He shifted his career from journalism to espionage, as historian Stan Evans writes:

He lived and worked in the United States off and on for something like two decades. In the early days of World War II, he was employed by the British Security Coordinator in New York, the famous Canadian spy chief Sir William Stephenson (the man called “Intrepid” by Winston Churchill), who worked in tandem with the ultrasecret American Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In this job, Belfrage had access to U.S. as well as British intelligence data.

Although he lived continuously in the United States for a number of years, he did not become a U.S. citizen. Not only did he have classified data about national security, but he would also have influence on the implementation of national policy in postwar Europe.

At war’s end, Belfrage obtained a post with the military government of occupied Germany as a press control officer, supposedly to help advance the cause of “de-Nazification” in the defeated country. In this role he was involved with the licensing of publications, including some of notorious Communist bent (official Allied policy at the time).

The victorious Allies were anxious to promote freedom of the press, but expressing an ideology is not the same as working for a “violent” revolution. “It was this background that brought him to the notice of” people who were concerned about security risks in the U.S. government.

In Washington, congressional committee members were “looking into U.S. information programs in Europe and possible subversive influence in their operations.” Cedric Belfrage, and others, were using Allied and American organizations to plan for the violent overthrow of western democracies.

When Cedric Belfrage was questioned by

counsel Roy Cohn as to whether he had been a Communist while carrying out his postwar duties, or if he were a CP member at that very moment, Belfrage declined to answer, seeking shelter in the Fifth Amendment. He refused to answer similar questions concerning fellow journalist James Aronson, his sidekick in this and other ventures. Whereupon the committee called on the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deport Belfrage.

Because Belfrage had not obtained U.S. citizenship, his case trended naturally toward deportation. A trial, and any subsequently sentenced prison time, would have been fraught with diplomatic difficulties. Stan Evans writes that

After a lot of legal bickering, this in fact occurred, and Belfrage at last left the United States to go back to England.

As in many other cases of Soviet espionage, the famous Venona project shed light on the case of Cedric Belfrage. In this project, American intelligence agencies were able to intercept and decrypt messages sent between various secret Soviet operatives.

Four decades later, however, came the revelations of Venona. Here we find numerous mentions of Cedric Belfrage, identified by the cryptologists as the KGB contact “UCN/9,” reporting back to Moscow out of William Stephenson’s office. Venona shows UCN/9 providing data from the OSS about the then-looming struggle for the Balkans — a major focus of Soviet, British, and U.S. intelligence efforts. The decrypts also show UCN/9 trying to sound out British policy toward a second front in Europe to ease Nazi pressure on the Russians, sharing documents with Soviet spy chief Jacob Golos, and otherwise acting as a fount of knowledge for the Kremlin.

Cedric Belfrage, then, had a hand in, among other events, the postwar developments in Yugoslavia. He carries responsibility for the human misery and deaths caused by a 45-year communist domination of that region.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Solomon Adler: Multinational Threat

The life of Solomon Adler demonstrates the complex world of international espionage. Born in England, holding a post in the American government, working for the Soviets, he eventually defected to China and spent the rest of his life there, after U.S. officials discovered that he was smuggling classified information out of the U.S. government and on to Moscow.

Alder’s work was multidimensional. He stole secrets from both the United States and from China for the Soviets; later, he would work for a Chinese intelligence agency, analyzing the Soviets and the Americans.

From the 1930s until at least the 1960s, and possibly later, Adler was active in various forms of espionage. Given that these years encompass WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, it is not unreasonable to wonder how many deaths were caused, directly or indirectly, by of Adler’s work.

In 1935, Adler came to the United States, and was hired by the federal government in 1936. Historian Stan Evans documents that

Solomon Adler was an official of the U.S. Treasury Department who served for several years in China during World War II and the early postwar era.

A committee led by Senator Millard Tydings was formed in early 1950 to investigate security risks, specifically those in the State Department. Although the committee’s report failed to identify individuals as Soviet agents, the work of the committee provided data for others who eventually did find unambiguous evidence confirming that the persons examined by the committee were working for Soviet intelligence agencies.

As part of a larger spy network, Adler appeared briefly in the national media and on the country's

radar screen on at least two public occasions we know of, suggesting he had been an object of study and discussion in more private sessions. The first such episode was in the Tydings hearings of 1950.

It became clear that Adler was working with other identified Soviet agents, specifically, with Frank Coe, with John Stewart Service, with Harry Dexter White, and with a large ring of communist spies known as the ‘Silvermaster Group.’ The Tydings Committee investigated John Stewart Service as a result of “original charges of subversion. Assistant committee counsel Robert Morris” interviewed witnesses for the committee.

Robert Morris, as Stan Evans writes, who frequently worked "in these hearings, was questioning diplomat John Stewart Service," one of the State Department's China specialists who'd worked to subvert U.S. policy to favor the communists,

about his contacts in Chungking, China, in the 1940s. It was in this context that Solomon Adler was mentioned, as Morris quizzed Service on his linkage to the Treasury staffer.

Morris had done his homework. “This line of interrogation, and other questions posed to Service, indicated that” careful investigation of the data meant that Morris

at this point had good insight into the bigger picture of events in China, in which Service and Sol Adler both played crucial roles.

Rather than relying merely on secondhand or thirdhand accounts, Morris had direct evidence: “There were also indications that the” members of the Tydings Committee had access to direct intercepts of conversations among the spies. The committee’s

forces were privy to wiretap information from the FBI concerning Service, including ties to Adler.

Although the committee failed to explicitly identify him as a security threat, it was clear already in 1950 that Solomon Adler was working to undermine the United States government. “Adler’s name would surface again in 1953, when,” as Stan Evans notes, the

chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations questioned former Treasury employee William Taylor about his relationship to Adler — specifically, if Taylor and Adler had by any chance lived together at a house in Chungking.

A broad network was uncovered: in addition to William Taylor and Solomon Adler, names like Harold Glasser, Irving Kaplan, Victor Perlo, William Ludwig Ullman, Edward Fitzgerald, and Bella Gold formed a constellation of Soviet agents inside the U.S. federal government. These network was in part uncovered due to the work of Elizabeth Bentley, a former Soviet operative who gave information to American investigators. John Snyder was either an unwitting dupe or a willing accomplice, enabling the careers of the members of this network.

Questions posed by subcommittee

in this session also brought up the name of the Chinese national Chi Chao-ting, yet another Adler contact.

The situation in China was one of internal struggle. The defeat of Japan at the end of WWII ended a temporary truce in a civil war between the communists and the nationalists. The Soviets were backing the communists, but the United States was only half-heartedly supporting the nationalists.

Soviet agents inside the United States worked to ensure that American support for the nationalists would be muted, and that whatever support was given, could be subverted or otherwise rendered less effectual.

Solomon Adler was enmeshed in a multinational espionage network. Evidence increased and reached the point at which no reasonable doubt about Adler’s guilt was possible. Data came from many sources, including intercepted Soviet communications.

Messages among Soviet spies were recorded by U.S. intelligence agencies in a program called ‘Venona.’ Stan Evans writes:

This focus on Sol Adler would be of additional interest when the Venona decrypts were published. There we find him duly making his appearance, under the cover name “Sachs,” passing information to the comrades about the state of things in China. This fits with other official data that show him to have been part of a Treasury Red combine that included Harry Dexter White, Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, Harold Glasser, V. Frank Coe, and a sizable crew of others.

The codename assigned to Adler by the NKGB and MGB was also rendered as ‘Sax’ or ‘Saks’ in various documents. As more data was uncovered, “both Coe and Glasser would become” subjects of investigation, and eventually considered as “committee cases also” by the Tydings group.

When the matter was finished, it became clear that the Tydings committee “did not err in targeting Adler, his ties to Service, or his living arrangements while in China,” although the committee failed to act quickly enough or decisively enough to prevent Adler from continuing his activity for several more years.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Spiro Agnew Stands for Civil Rights

Significant aspects of the Nixon era remain hidden from the public consciousness, because the Watergate Scandal so powerfully overshadows others event in this time period. Scholars, however, examine a number of noteworthy achievements during this time, including Nixon’s selection of Spiro Agnew for the vice presidency.

Like Nixon, Agnew’s public persona would be dominated by allegations of wrongdoing. Yet Agnew’s career is also worth studying.

Agnew emerged as a surprise, a relatively unknown figure, suddenly named by Nixon as a running-mate in 1968. Donald Rumsfeld recalls the astonishment when Nixon unveiled his pick:

When Nixon announced Governor Agnew’s selection the following day, he said he had based his decision on three criteria. First, Nixon claimed, Agnew was qualified to become president. Second, he said Agnew would be a good campaigner; and third, if they got elected Agnew would be able to manage domestic policy. To my knowledge, Agnew was not particularly noted for those qualities. More than anything Nixon seemed pleased that he had selected someone so unexpected, catching everyone off guard. And indeed the choice of Agnew was so startling that it stunned even Agnew.

As is often the case, in recent decades, a great deal of speculation preceded Nixon’s announcement. Nixon and his staff had listed potential running mates. Prominent individuals and Nixon’s personal friends had been consulted.

Some, like Rumsfeld, reckoned that Nixon had deliberately veiled his thinking, in order to create a shocking sensation when Agnew was disclosed as the vice presidential candidate. Gerald Ford, who at the time was House Minority Leader, was surprised and perhaps a bit skeptical. Later, after having ascended to the presidency himself, Ford would write:

Nixon had selected Spiro T. Agnew, the governor of Maryland, as his running mate. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a man who had risen from total obscurity a few years earlier to become a governor of a border state. I remembered meeting him two years before at a Republican dinner in Annapolis. He’d come up to me, a well-groomed but somehow diffident man who seemed to talk out of the corners of his mouth. “Hi, I’m Ted Agnew, Baltimore County executive, and I’m running for governor,” he’d said, sticking out his hand.

Why did Nixon choose Agnew? In addition to the three reasons outlined by Rumsfeld above, and in addition to his love for surprises, there was another factor in Nixon’s choice.

In 1968, Nixon was running against “the party of Maddox, Mahoney, and Wallace” - the quote comes from a 1966 newspaper column authored by Nixon (with help behind the scenes from his speechwriter and staffer Patrick Buchanan). These three men were the public face and shaping force of the Democratic Party at that time.

Lester Maddox was a restaurant owner and segregationist governor of Georgia, known for driving African-Americans out of his restaurant by brandishing an ax handle. George Mahoney was a segregationist nominated by the Democratic Party for governor of Maryland. George Wallace was the segregationist governor of Alabama, who uncompromisingly declared, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Against “the party of Maddox, Mahoney, and Wallace,” Nixon offered the heritage of the Eisenhower administration. Eisenhower and Nixon had moved the 1957 Civil Rights Act through Congress, against resistance from the Democratic Party. When Lyndon Johnson used a procedural maneuver to weaken the act, a technicality about jury selection, Ike and Nixon responded with the 1960 Civil Rights Act, which they again ushered through Congress over objections from the Democratic Party.

As Republicans, Ike and Nixon had defended the 'Little Rock Nine' and broken through the barriers of segregation. The Democratic Party, in the person of Orval Faubus, worked to keep the African-American students out of Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. The Democrats were so committed to segregation that Eisenhower and Nixon had to use federal troops to ensure that the Black students were admitted to the school.

In this environment, Nixon chose Agnew. In Maryland, when Agnew ran for governor against George Mahoney, Agnew earned 70% of the African-American vote. Ann Coulter writes:

One of the main reasons Nixon chose a rookie like Spiro Agnew as his vice presidential nominee was Agnew’s sterling civil rights record. Agnew had passed some of the first bans on racial discrimination in public housing in the nation - before the federal laws - and then beaten segregationist George Mahoney for governor of Maryland in 1966.

It is one of history’s better-kept secrets that Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew won a large share of the Black vote in 1968 because the opposing party was thoroughly populated with leaders who opposed desegregation and integration.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hillary Learns from Daley

Although Hillary Clinton’s career has been consistent since she emerged into the national consciousness in the early 1990s, it had some dramatic reversals prior to that. She was, in succession, a moderate Republican and a conservative Republican, before finally ending as a left progressivist.

What series of events took Mrs. Clinton through these, and other, political categories? Historians Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta write that “Hillary was a spirited and deeply conservative Republican.”

It is worth noting that words like ‘liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, moderate, left, right, progresive’ are ambiguous, and their meanings change significantly from context to context. What was Hillary Clinton’s context?

In 1960, her favorite teacher, much of her local community, and “her father supported Vice President Richard M. Nixon for the presidency.” As a young person, Hillary was formed by her environment, by the people around her, “And, of course, Hillary also wanted Nixon to win.”

What did she find attractive about Nixon? After eight years in office, he functioned largely as an extension of Eisenhower’s policies: he was working for what would become the twenty-sixth amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. Nixon also embraced Ike’s view that the United States should not enter, or commit militarily to, the war in Vietnam.

Not only Hillary, but much of her generation liked what Nixon meant for young voters.

Nixon’s loss in the 1960 election was heartbreaking for the young Hillary Clinton. “The day after the election, Hillary’s social studies teacher showed his students the bruises” which

he had received when he challenged the Democratic Party’s poll watchers at his voting precinct on Election Day. Hillary and her friend Betsy Johnson were infuriated. To Hillary, her teacher’s ordeal dramatically supported her father’s contention that Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley’s “creative vote counting had won the election for President-Elect Kennedy.” Hillary and Betsy were so upset about what had happened to Mr. Kenvin that they took a moment during their lunch period to use a pay phone outside the school cafeteria to call Mayor Daley’s office to complain.

It was a disillusioning moment for the young Hillary. Her youthful understanding of freely-elected representation was shattered by the realization that the system was corrupted.

Her father, although disappointed, was more realistic, and accepting of the fact that system was as good as it could be, given the imperfect nature both of the world and of people. Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta continue:

On the Saturday morning after the election, the determined young women decided to help a Republican group check voter lists against addresses in an attempt to find voter fraud. Both girls participated without getting permission from their parents. Hillary was driven to a poor neighborhood on the South Side, where she went knocking on doors, an act that was “fearless and stupid,” she recalled. “I woke up a lot of people who stumbled to the door or yelled at me to go away. And I walked into a bar where men were drinking to ask if certain people on my list actually lived there.” Hillary found clear evidence of voter fraud - a vacant lot that was listed as the address for a dozen alleged voters. She was thrilled with her detective work and could not wait to tell her father that she had discovered that Daley had indeed stolen the election for Kennedy. “Of course, when I returned home and told my father where I had been, he went nuts. It was bad enough to go downtown without an adult, but to go to the South Side alone sent him into a yelling fit,” she recalled. “And besides, he said, Kennedy was going to be President whether we liked it or not.”

Idealism did not die quickly for Hillary Clinton, however. In 1964, dismayed by LBJ’s foreseeable escalation and debacle in Vietnam, she supported Barry Goldwater. She liked Goldwater for many of the same reason she, and others of her generation, liked Nixon in 1960.

Gradually, however, her attachment to a system of representative democracy eased. Seeing Chicago’s mayor Daley orchestrate a flood of falsified ballots, election after election, she began to drift toward the notion that an elite corps of experts, installed at the helm of government, was a better mechanism than any type of voting.

Of course this view, a type of progressivism, was also not realistic, and would require compromises with reality. She understood that elections would continue to occur. But her participation in them, as a voter or as a candidate, would no longer be idealistic, but rather opportunistic.

After Goldwater’s 1964 loss, Hillary’s engagement with the system became more pragmatic - or more cynical, depending upon one’s interpretation. Her experiences at Wellesley College nudged her in this direction. At Wellesley, she was a supporter of Nelson Rockefeller’s bid to gain the Republican nomination for the presidency. This marked her move to the left wing of the Republican Party.

Toward the end of her time at Wellesley, she served as an intern for a group of congressmen, including Gerald Ford. She would recall, many years later, that she was impressed with Ford, and believed that he had truly earned his reputation as an extremely honest individual.

Yet she left the Republican Party soon thereafter, when Rockefeller did not gain the nomination. By 1968, she was no longer supporting Nixon. That year’s Republican National Convention was the last one she would ever attend.

By 1974, she had long since stopped identifying herself as Republican, and was working to get Nixon impeached. Her attachment to the Democrat Party grew not out of her beliefs, but rather out of her perception that she had opportunities for advancement there. She had found LBJ more distasteful than Nixon, but was willing to use Johnson’s party for her own purposes.

While it is impossible to be certain about a historical figure’s inner thought processes, and wise historians do not engage in speculation, it seems that the seeds for Hillary Clinton’s eventual career were sown by Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley.

Although she was disappointed with the outcomes of the elections he manipulated, and outraged at the injustice of his electoral corruption, she eventually came to embrace his methods and his party. Her youthful idealism, once shattered, gave way to a hardened opportunism.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bull Connor and the Consequences of Racism

In May 1963, brutal and horrific images shocked not only the United States, but the world: images of peaceful protesters being attacked by dogs and pummeled by high-pressure fire hoses.

These images - newsreels or still photographs - have been seared into the consciousness and into the conscience of humanity. They stand as a symbol for the cruelty, viciousness, and hatred which racism is, and which racism engenders.

More than half a century later, these images retain their shocking power, and energize new generations to seek equal opportunities for people of all races.

But who was the man behind these images? Who ordered the savage dogs to be released onto innocent men, women, and children? Who commanded that high pressure water be directed at people?

And which consequences did he pay?

These images come from Birmingham, Alabama. The protesters were part of an event organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Their peaceful protest walk through the city was designed to elicit a statement from Birmingham’s mayor.

Instead, they got the attention of “Bull” Connor, who was the Commissioner for Public Safety for the City of Birmingham. His legal name was Theophilus Eugene Connor. He personally made the decision to unleash the dogs and fire hoses at the young protesters.

Within days, the images of brutality directed against African-Americans, and against the white people who joined them in their protest, had turned large parts of the nation against Birmingham. The city’s government quickly negotiated a settlement with the protesters, which included the desegregation of some public accommodations.

But what happened to “Bull” Connor? Following the events of early 1963, the Democratic Party nominated him, later that year, to be its candidate for the Presidency of the Alabama Public Service Commission. This would be a promotion for him; he had previously been commissioner over a single city - now he would have authority over the entire state.

Not only was he nominated for the statewide ballot, but he was also chosen by the Democratic Party to be the state’s national committeeman. In September 1964, the New York Times reported that

Mr. Connor, the former Birmingham City Police Commissioner, is this state’s Democratic National Committeeman.

Leading up the November elections that year, the newspaper goes on to explain who’s supporting Connor’s bid for statewide office:

Mr. Connor is the Democratic nominee for the chairmanship of the state Public Service Commission.

With the support of his party, Connor won handily and took office in January 1965. This is how his party rewarded him for his work in Birmingham in May 1963.

In 1968, the Democratic Party nominated Connor for reelection, and helped him to victory again.

Historian James L. Baggett writes that “Connor was unrepentant and never repudiated his defense of racial segregation.”

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Claiming the Moral High Ground: 71 Years after it was Time to Act, Congress Passes HR 5739

On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, the House of Representatives approved a bill, HR 5739, unanimously. On Thursday, the Senate approved the same bill, unanimously. On Tuesday, December 23, the president signed the bill into law.

In an era often described as “bitterly partisan” and filled with “gridlock,” which urgent question created such bipartisan unity and occasioned such smooth functioning of the legislative process?

HR 5739 is known as the “No Social Security for Nazis Act.” It is designed to ensure that anyone who participated in Hitler’s genocide does not received retirement benefits from the United States government.

Naturally, it was passed quickly and unanimously. Who would oppose such a bill?

But there’s a problem: the new law may not affect anybody. The people to whom it might apply are probably already dead.

To have been a knowing and culpable accomplice to Hitler’s brutalities, an individual would have to be approximately 92 years of age, or older, in the year 2015. Such an individual would have reached the age of majority, 21, in 1944, and would have been born in 1923.

If we stretch it a bit, it might be possible to assign liability to someone aged 18 at the time, which would make such a person 88 years of age now.

While there are many people who are 88 or 92 years old, the percentage of them who actively engaged in atrocities and crimes against humanity is microscopic. By the government’s own estimates, there may not be any at all. The largest possible number of people to whom the law might apply is, by those same estimates, four.

Had such a law been passed ten or twenty years earlier, it might have carried numerical significance.

The Congress and the President seem to want to claim the moral high ground for this courageous piece of legislation. By the same logic, they might also choose to deny Medicaid benefits to citizens who actively supported Benedict Arnold’s defection.

CNN reports the logic of the legislative branch:

Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, who has been a key proponent in changing the law, told CNN that she has asked both the Justice Department and Social Security Administration to find out how much money was paid out and how many were still receiving any social security funds. She estimated there were roughly four individuals who were still eligible for the payments.
“They are dying out, but anybody who gets it is too much. They came to this country under false pretenses,” Maloney told CNN.

The rationale which Representative Maloney offers is interesting. She believes that legislative action should be taken against those who “came to this country under false pretenses.”

One might expect Rep. Maloney to oppose paying benefits to people who’d participated in grievous violations of human rights and people who’d committed mass murder. Instead she presents a justification based on immigration procedure.

If Rep. Maloney knows and understands what she says, and says what she means, then her statement would have interesting implications for immigration in other contexts. It is, however, not probable that she does.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Whittaker Chambers, Alger Hiss, and the HUAC

The Cold War was a time of espionage, counterespionage, and labyrinthian cases of undercover work. One of the more famous cases involved Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers.

Hiss and Chambers met when they were both working for the Soviet Union. Hiss also worked inside the United States federal government, in the State Department.

With a successful and rising career, Hiss gained access to classified information inside the State Department, and was able to send it to Moscow. He was also able, as an advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt, to give distorted information and misleading guidance, so that the administration made certain decisions which played into the hands of the Soviets.

Chambers, meanwhile, grew disillusioned with the international communist conspiracy. He saw Stalin’s spree of ruthless murders, and eventually left the Soviet intelligence agencies for which he had been working.

Quitting one’s job as a Soviet spy is dangerous. Chambers had hidden his own set of documents so that Stalin’s agents wouldn’t harm Chambers or his family. The agents knew that if they killed him, the papers would be made public, destroying the cover of large parts of the espionage network inside the United States.

In late 1937 or early 1938, Chambers left the spy network, went into hiding for a few months to cool off, and then began a successful career as a journalist, writing for Time magazine from 1939 until 1948.

Around 1939, Chambers met with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle. He offered information about the Soviet spy network, which had operatives inside the United States government. Surprisingly, Berle expressed little interest in the offer.

Berle’s notes from the conversation with Chambers would, however, become important evidence a few years later, when a group of congressmen realized the importance of the information which Chambers could give. An account of the events published by Three Rivers Press explains:

In 1948, almost a full decade later, when he was working at Time magazine, Chambers was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, more famously known as HUAC. Cham­bers again named Hiss as a Soviet agent.

The notion that a Soviet agent could not only get a job inside the State Department, but could also rise in his career to the point that he was giving face-to-face advice to the President of the United States, was shocking. “HUAC showed somewhat more heightened interest in this fact than had the” Roosevelt administration.

Perhaps FDR didn’t believe the Soviet threat was real. Perhaps his seriously worsening health robbed him of the energy to pursue an investigation of the matter. Perhaps his staffers didn’t want to risk the scandal that might ensue if the public learned that the executive branch was filled with communist spies.

Since the late 1930s, Whittaker Chambers had been offering evidence about the Soviet espionage network. Understanding that this information alerted the nation to a serious threat, the House of Representatives was interested, in contrast to the

administration of Franklin Roosevelt. Here at last, Chambers said, was “a force that was fiercely, albeit clumsily, fighting Communism.” Rumors had long dogged Hiss, but as Chambers said, “for the first time, a man had stood up and said, ‘I was there, I knew them. The rumors are facts.’”

At long last, after more than a decade of work as a Soviet agent, Alger Hiss was exposed and proven guilty. In addition to evidence from Whittaker Chambers, other witnesses came forth. Hiss served three year and eight months in prison.

In the years after Hiss’s trial, more evidence has surfaced. Had that evidence been available at the time of the trial, his sentence might have been longer.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Barack Obama, FOIA, and Donald Rumsfeld

In the 1960s, Congress developed a piece of legislation known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The purpose of this law is to make sure that the government gives as much information as possible to the voters, and keep only that information secret which really needs to be secret.

There is a legitimate need to retain as confidential any information which would compromise national security if released, or which would unnecessarily violate a citizen’s privacy. But the executive branch is tempted to keep other information secret, unnecessarily secret, for political reasons.

A president, or his administration, might choose to deny access to information because of how it would affect policy debates or elections. To prevent the improper withholding of information, FOIA creates a process by which voters can formally request information.

In the nearly fifty years since FOIA was introduced, the Obama administration, along with the Johnson administration, set a record for obstructing citizen access to information. Ted Bridis, writing for the Associated Press (AP), analyzes information requests during the year 2014:

The Obama administration set a new record again for more often than ever censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

Historians draw a number of parallels between the Obama and Johnson administrations. Both have a technocratic aspect which nudges both of them toward secrecy, and therefore draws both of them into conflict with the FOIA legislation.

President Lyndon Johnson was concerned that if he released information about the Vietnam War, it might block legislation he wanted from Congress, or influence elections against him. In order to learn the facts of the situation, and to allow the voters to make informed decisions, Congressman Donald Rumsfeld sponsored the FOIA legislation in the 1960s. Rumsfeld writes:

on a number of occasions I joined other members of Congress in expressing concern about what appeared to be the White House’s attempts to manage the news on the war. This was an understandable inclination on the administration’s part, since no doubt they felt the media coverage of the war was unfair. But the administration made matters worse with their seeming reluctance to provide much, if any, documentation that would have given members of Congress a better sense of what was taking place.

The administrations seek ways to evade the requirements of FOIA. Legal teams working for the White House find loopholes and technicalities in the text of the act, and use these as excuses for withholding information.

Ted Bridis lists some of the tactics which the Obama administration uses to deny access to information. The AP report states:

The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents, and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.

The situations in the 1960s and in 2014 are similar. Donald Rumsfeld promoted FOIA as a response to LBJ’s secrecy about Vietnam.

Information feeds decisions: whether decisions made by individual citizens, or made by Congress, people can make rational choices only on the basis of data. Rumsfeld describes the political process of shepherding the bill through Congress so that FOIA could become law:

By this time, I had become a cosponsor and advocate for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), authored by Congressman John Moss, a Democrat from California. The legislation, which passed unanimously in 1966, was crafted in reaction to the Johnson administration’s behavior. As a Democrat, Moss was in the awkward position of promoting a bill that went against the express wishes of the President, so I helped him develop the legislation and move it through the House. For me, support of the bill came down to one long-held belief: Good judgments require accurate information.

Like LBJ, Obama has kept details of his policy development secret. In the half-century between Johnson and Obama, legal scholars have found the loopholes and technicalities which Obama can exploit to ensure that voters do not have access to information.

In addition to legal maneuvering, the Obama administration has admitted that it has also resorted to illegal tactics. Questioned by Ted Bridis for the AP report,

It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law – but only when it was challenged.

Another tactic is simply to act very slowly in responding to FOIA requests. If the administration flatly denies a request, the requestor can file an appeal.

But if the administration simply fails to respond, the requestor has no decision to bring to appeal. The administration might even finally grant the data requested, but several years after the request, by which time the information is often useless. Ted Bridis continues:

Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000.

While the number of FOIA requests has increased from year to year, the Obama administration has decreased the number and percentage of them to which it responds. This leads to a growing frustration on the part of voters who want to know what the government is doing.

The Obama White House has spent time and money researching new legal maneuvers it can use to justify withholding information from citizens.

The government’s new figures, published Tuesday, covered all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under the Freedom of Information law, which is heralded globally as a model for transparent government. They showed that despite disappointments and failed promises by the White House to make meaningful improvements in the way it releases records, the law was more popular than ever. Citizens, journalists, businesses and others made a record 714,231 requests for information. The U.S. spent a record $434 million trying to keep up. It also spent about $28 million on lawyers’ fees to keep records secret.

Another tactic is to grant a FOIA request, but to release only a redacted version of a text, meaning that key words, phrases, and even entire paragraphs of the desired text have been blacked out. This can be done with black ink on photocopies, or electronically if there is no physical ‘hard copy’ of the text to be released.

Naturally, this is done with the pretense that the information denied is either vital to national security, or would violate a citizen’s privacy:

The government responded to 647,142 requests, a 4 percent decrease over the previous year. It more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 250,581 cases or 39 percent of all requests. Sometimes, the government censored only a few words or an employee’s phone number, but other times it completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages.

With a wide variety of tactics, the Obama administration denied a record number of requests. The amount of information denied, and the number of citizens requesting such information, are significant.

This reflects a declining inclination among the electorate to trust the Obama administration. Such secretive behavior creates suspicion in the minds of the voters.

On 215,584 other occasions, the government said it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.

There is considerable distance between the spirit of FOIA and its implementation. The law intended to release more information has become a set of technicalities by which less information is released.

There is a conflict of interest in the dynamic in which the administration decides which data are exempt from the FOIA and therefore not to be released.

Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas. It cited such exceptions a record 554,969 times last year.

In one amusing case of FOIA maneuvering, the staff of First Lady Michelle Obama attempted to use the law to conceal the fact that staffers were concerned about the administration’s reaction to the cost of the First Lady’s dresses:

the U.S. should not withhold or censor government files merely because they might be embarrassing, but federal employees last year regularly misapplied the law. In emails that AP obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration about who pays for Michelle Obama’s expensive dresses, the agency blacked-out a sentence under part of the law intended to shield personal, private information, such as Social Security numbers, phone numbers or home addresses. But it failed to censor the same passage on a subsequent page.

The sentence: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the WH (White House).”

While the narrative about the First Lady’s fashion expenses is entertaining, other FOIA topics are more serious. In a republic with freely elected representatives, the ordinary citizens who cast ballots need realistic knowledge about who has been hired to do what for the government, and the size of the paychecks involved.

Ted Bridis goes on to quote his fellow AP writer, Gary Pruitt, who sees the FOIA situation as reflecting on the basis of democracy itself: voters need accurate data about the regime in Washington.

“What we discovered reaffirmed what we have seen all too frequently in recent years,” Pruitt wrote in a column published this week. “The systems created to give citizens information about their government are badly broken and getting worse all the time.”

While FOIA was first introduced in the context of the Vietnam War, it is now useful in many areas of policy. The details of the 2012 terrorist attack on American diplomats in Benghazi are still not clear; FOIA could shed light on these.

The details of Barack Obama’s education and how his handlers found him and created a persona and a political career for him are still unclear. It would be in the best interests of the voters to know who is shaping the president’s speeches and policies.

Hillary Clinton’s senior thesis at Wellesley was kept from the public during Bill Clinton’s presidency (1993 to 2001), despite the fact that she took an active and official role in shaping policy.

Information alone does not suffice for a functional electorate, because some amount of reflection and analysis is needed on top of that information. But information is certainly necessary.