Sunday, January 25, 2015

Soviet Agents - Missing Evidence

During the summer of 1946, Samuel Klaus, a State Department employee, wrote a document about security risks facing his department. Historians refer to this text variously as the ‘Klaus Memo’ or the ‘Klaus Report’ and it discussed the existence of known Soviet agents and Communist Party members employed by the State Department.

During the Cold War years, during the dictatorship of Stalin, being a member of the Communist Party (CPUSA) in the United States was not merely a matter of holding a set of political views. Rather, the CPUSA had stated in writing that its goal was a “violent” revolution and overthrow of the United States government.

In addition to Soviet spies and CPUSA member, there were individuals who were “dupes” - sympathetic to noble rhetoric of the CPUSA, naive about its true intentions, these individuals could sometimes be persuaded to help the allegedly idealistic causes, not of the CPUSA directly, but rather of various “front” organizations - cultural and social groups which had hidden connections to the Soviet espionage network. Donating time and effort to, or speaking on behalf of, these fronts, otherwise innocent individuals could, unwittingly, encourage and maintain efforts to compromise U.S. military secrets, efforts to steer U.S. policy away from the interests of ordinary citizens, and efforts to prepare saboteurs to injure key points of infrastructure.

Such a document was important to defending the peace and freedom in which millions of United States citizens lived at the time. The threats were real. One such spy, documented to be on the payroll of Soviet intelligence agencies like the KGB and the NKVD, was Alger Hiss, who had direct access in face-to-face meetings with the president. The Klaus Memo got attention. As one historian, M. Stanton Evans, writes:

A Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Millard Tydings (D-Md.) requested a copy from the department and in due course received one. Thus, one of the most revealing documents ever put together about Red infiltration of the U.S. government was supplied to Congress. But thereafter, so far as the public record shows, the Klaus memo would mysteriously vanish.

Information released decades later - both the Venona files of Soviet messages intercepted by American intelligence agencies, and the files released by the Russians after the fall of the Soviet Union - would confirm the extent of the Soviet spy network inside the United States, and confirm the degree of its infiltration into the federal government. This network was, in fact, capable of making documents like the Klaus Report disappear.

In the National Archives of the United States there are at least two places where this report should be on offer. One is the legislative archive of the Tydings panel.

As noted above, the Tydings committee obtained a copy of this document. Like every other congressional committee, the Tydings committee kept records, and those records are, or should be, preserved in the archives.

When this historian, M. Stanton Evans, inquired at the archives about the memo, the archivists there found it to be missing. The State Department had sent the memo to the Tydings committee, which received it. Yet, in the committee’s papers, the memo is nowhere to be found.

This is reflected in the department’s letter of transmittal, which survives and is included in the subcommittee records. So the memo should also be in the files, but isn’t.

At least one other copy of the memo existed: in the files of Samuel Klaus himself. Yet among those papers, too, the memo was not to be found:

The other place where this memo ought to be is in the papers of Sam Klaus, held in another section of the Archives. In the index to the Klaus papers, the document is listed, under its proper official heading. However, when the file was examined by this writer it turned out the report again was missing. In this case, at least, we know what happened to it. The file contained a notice where the memo had been, saying it was withdrawn from the Archives in March 1993 — not quite half a century after it was written. So this important document is twice over absent from the nation’s official records.

The network of Soviet spies, their willing accomplices, and naive but willing dupes was large enough and pervasive enough to reach into the supposedly secure storage of sensitive government documents. Further, the curious question must be posed: why would anyone devote effort to destroying evidence about Cold War espionage at a time when the Cold War was clearly over and done? The Cold War ended, for practical purposes, in either 1989 or 1990. Who went to great effort to steal and destroy these documents in 1993, and why would they do so?

The Klaus Report is not the only piece of evidence to disappear in this way. Clearly, an organized effort had been made to remove evidence - evidence of the international communist conspiracy - from federal records. Whoever made this effort clearly had access inside the federal government.

Unfortunately for researchers of such matters, this elusive memo is but one of many Cold War papers that have gone AWOL. Some two dozen other documents from the State Department relating to security issues were likewise supplied to Tydings and should be in the Archives also. In these cases handsomely embossed cover sheets, signed by Dean Acheson, Secretary of State in 1950, are still there in the folders. In every case as well, however, the material once enclosed has been stripped from the cover sheet, leaving small wads of paper beneath the staples that held the documents together.

The questions facing historians are these: Can, or will, any of the stolen evidence about the Soviet spy network ever be recovered? Who was stealing such documents in 1993? Why were they stolen? Can some or all of the contents of those documents be reconstructed from other bits of evidence?

We can speculate about the evidence we don’t have. The evidence in hand, however, points to an amazing degree of infiltration by Soviet agents inside the United States federal government.