Thursday, February 26, 2015

What We Don't Know about David Wahl

Historians and researchers have had a rich field for exploration, particularly since the end of the Cold War allowed a number of documents to be declassified and and available for public inspection, and since Don Rumsfeld sponsored the Freedom of Information Act and obtained Congressional approval for it.

Historians like M. Stanton Evans, known as “Stan” Evans, have sifted through files in the archives of the FBI, learning about various investigations and the individuals who were the objects of those inquiries. New insights into history have been gained by the accessibility of these texts.

Yet not everything is open to the public. Some documents remain classified, either unavailable to the public, or available only in redacted versions - with important words and phrases removed or rendered illegible. These redactions are, naturally, tantalizing hints about what we don’t know. Stan Evans writes:

Considering the stuff that’s available in the Bureau records, one has to wonder about the stuff that isn’t.

Intriguing indeed! Consider the case of one memo,

written in September 1946 by FBI Director Hoover to the Attorney General (at that time Tom Clark) concerning a shadowy Cold War figure named David Wahl. A former federal employee, Wahl had come to notice in one of the most intensive probes ever conducted by Hoover’s agents. In this memo, Hoover says Wahl “as early as 1941 … was reliably reported to be a ‘master spy’ for the Soviet government while employed by the United States government in Washington, D.C.” After this jolting revelation, however, the next paragraph is blacked out entirely. The obvious question arises: If the Hoover comment that Wahl was “reliably reported” to be a Soviet “master spy” is left in the records, what must be in the part that’s missing?

What did the FBI know about David Wahl? In hindsight, the United States may have faced dangers during the Cold War which were greater than we suspected, and which came from unexpected sources.

Perhaps the greatest danger facing the United States was not the Soviet Union’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, but rather its network of agents placed into sensitive positions inside the federal government. Only the release of more information will enable a more accurate assessment of the danger.

These matters are brought up, not to ask the reader’s sympathy for the researcher (well, maybe a little), but to suggest the rather parlous state of the historical record concerning some important topics. Without the documents referred to, and without the items blacked out in the records, attempts to chronicle our domestic Cold War, while not entirely futile, are subject to the most serious limits. Lacking these materials, we are left in many cases with secondhand data of doubtful value that are nonetheless recycled from place to place as supposed truths of history.

Indeed, much of what passes for knowledge about the Cold War is little more than “urban legend” and the stuff of movies and novels. When Alger Hiss, whom we can identify with certainty as a Soviet agent, sat in face-to-face meetings with FDR in the White House, which network of “moles” supported him in his operations?

While Hiss was subtly nudging Roosevelt’s policy decisions in directions which benefitted, not ordinary American citizens, but rather Joseph Stalin, what chain of individuals connected him to his NKGB and NKVD handlers? While he was passing inside information from the administration’s foreign policy deliberations, to whom was he passing them, and how did that data leave the country and arrive in Moscow?

For each bit of evidence we obtain, more questions arise. We know with certainty that the communist espionage network inside the United States was well-developed and reached to the highest levels of the government. It has now been demonstrated to be much larger than was suspected during the Cold War era.

It’s not too much to say, indeed, that the loss of so many primary records has created a kind of black hole of antiknowledge in which strange factoids and curious fables circulate without resistance — spawning a whole other group of research problems.

While searching for reliable data about Soviet espionage activities inside the United States, the researcher must not only work to gain each bit of evidence, but must also work to clear the field of the unreliable fables which have wrongly been presented as fact.

The amount of such misinformation, and the depth and breadth to which it has been spread, is a result of this international communist conspiracy itself, which has worked to cover its tracks. The Soviets made an organized and deliberate effort in this direction going back at least as far as the 1930s, and most probably earlier, and extending to the 1980s, right up until the fall of Soviet communism in 1989 - 1991.

With more than fifty years of opportunity, and with highly-placed agents, not only inside the federal government, but in key positions in the news media, misinformation and “red herrings” about Soviet intelligence-gathering activity inside the United States has been deeply planted inside the public consciousness, and appear as accepted fact in everything from textbooks to encyclopedias, from documentary films to analysis presented in the electronic media.

David Wahl is but one example. Historians attempting to construct an accurate account of the Cold War era face a double challenge. First, the data we don’t have: what has either totally disappeared from archives, or is still in the archives but still labeled ‘classified’; second, the misinformation deliberately spread by Soviet agencies, which has ironically lived on long after the end of the Soviet Union.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Vital Documents Vanish from National Archives

Through careful research, historians have come to the inescapable conclusion that foreign spies have been at work in the repositories which house the most sensitive and confidential documents relating to the national security of the United States. Classified memos and reports, texts which would help to identify threats to the country, have inexplicably disappeared from archives.

One such document is a memo written by Samuel Klaus in the State Department in 1946. It contains data about security risks. Yet this document is not to be found in the archives, despite that fact that at least two different copies of it were housed in two different parts of the archives.

This systematic purging of information vital to national security can only point to the activity of an espionage network.

One historian, M. Stanton Evans, also known as “Stan” Evans, who explored the archives seeking some of these documents, writes:

In discussion of these cases, there is no suggestion that officials of the National Archives have been remiss in the performance of their duties. In my experience, the archivists are meticulous in safeguarding papers entrusted to their keeping and go to elaborate lengths to prevent any tampering with or removal of such records. In the cases cited, it appears the missing papers were removed from the folders before the archivists ever saw them. (Though, as more recent events suggest, there are people who do try to take things from the Archives, and doubtless some such project could have succeeded in the past if sufficient skill and cunning were devoted to the effort.)

Although Sandy Berger is not a member of a foreign-based espionage network, his activity is instructive. In October 2003, he successfully removed classified and confidential information from the national archives. It may never be known whether or not all the documents he stole were recovered. His example shows that it was possible for others to have done similar things over the decades.

Many documents in the archives are unique: only one copy of them has existed - no photocopies, carbon copies, or other versions of them serve as backups. If these documents are removed from the archives, then the information in them may be permanently lost.

This is true especially of documents from an era prior to the electronic age. A single handwritten or typewritten memo is a priceless historic record. No computer backup files exist.

Concerning some of the mysteriously disappearing texts, Stan Evans writes:

(It should be added that some of the items mentioned did survive in other, less predictable places and were recovered.) However, a couple of connected points need making about primary source material on such issues, and its availability — or lack thereof — to would-be researchers.

The attempt to clearly capture the realities of history depends on primary source materials. Evans notes that “these problems concern” especially records about the activities of Soviet agents planted inside the United States government, and “the entire clandestine history of the Cold War.”

The fact that these documents have been the object of a sophisticated espionage network indicates that they contain information which would be deeply damaging to the international communist conspiracy. The effort to eliminate this evidence underscores the importance of this evidence.

Friday, February 13, 2015

What Is Classified?

When historians seek data about Cold War activity, they often find that some of such evidence is “classified” - not available to the public for reasons of national security. Likewise, documents detailing questions of military intelligence and espionage from even older eras of history are still often not yet released to the public.

The reader will understand that some information does need to be kept secret, inasmuch as releasing it could compromise the safety of the nation and jeopardize the lives of citizens. But it seems odd that documents which are forty, fifty, sixty or even more years old are still kept under lock and key.

What could those documents contain? Information about mechanical or electrical technology would be of no value, the communication and military equipment of those eras being long outdated. Any person named in such documents is most likely long dead. What reason compels the current intelligence agencies to continue to label those papers as classified?

Perhaps by looking at what is declassified, one might find hints about the contents of those texts which are still classified. One historian, M. Stanton Evans, writes:

Among the more voluminous collections of such data are the once-secret records of the FBI. These files are a treasure house of information on Communist penetration of American life and institutions, suspects tracked down by the Bureau, countermeasures taken, and related topics. To its credit, the FBI was watching these matters pretty closely while others allegedly standing guard were dozing, or in the throes of deep denial. The material in the Bureau files is both revealing and extensive.

Some of these cases have become icons, taking on symbolic value. The Oppenheimer case is one. Could it be that iconic figures like Oppenheimer are being protected, or manipulated, by selectively declassifying only those documents which serve some agenda?

Thus, to pick some prominent cases, the Bureau knew as early as December 1942 that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the nuclear physicist then becoming a central figure in the atomic energy project, was identified by Communist leaders as a secret party member who had to be inactive because of the wartime work that he was doing. Likewise, in 1945, the FBI obtained credible information that high-ranking government figures Alger Hiss, Lauchlin Currie, and Harry Dexter White were Soviet agents. Also in 1945, the Bureau knew the espionage case of diplomat John Stewart Service and the pro-Red magazine Amerasia had been fixed, lied about, and covered up by a cabal of top officials.

Other documents are available only in part. FBI files and memo are edited by hand, and historians receive either documents with missing pages, or documents in which black ink has been used to obliterate words, phrases, sentences, and sometimes entire paragraphs.

Again the question arises, what information could be so sensational in, e.g., a 1946 memo from the FBI written to Attorney General Tom Clark? The memo contained information about known Soviet agent David Wahl. Historians who request copies of the memo are still given versions in which one-third of the text is missing. What information is so sensitive that, seventy years later, the government insists on keeping it classified?

After detailed research, M. Stanton Evans, also known as “Stan” Evans, reports:

Such are but a few of the revelations in the colossal trove of records housed in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, and while they concern some of the more notorious cases that would later come to view are by no means the most astounding. That said, there is still other information in the Bureau files that isn’t open to researchers. In case after significant case, entries have been held back or heavily “redacted” (blacked out), sometimes for dozens of pages at a stretch. In nearly every instance, such redactions concern materials fifty years of age and counting. It’s hard to imagine any national security interest of the present day that would be threatened by these ancient data.

Some of the withheld evidence might be partially reconstructed, at least speculatively, by bits of text coming from sources outside the United States. Some documents from defunct Soviet-era intelligence agencies - agencies which evaporated with the fall of Soviet communism - have been released, e.g., documents from the KGB and its predecessors, the NKVD and the MGB, as well as from the East German “Stasi.”

It may be possible to extrapolate, interpolate, or triangulate, given evidence from these Soviet agencies, and get a clue as to which data are still being withheld.

Regarding the question of motive, it is very unlikely that there are still any Soviet agents - “moles” as they are sometimes called - employed within the U.S. government at this late date in history. The Soviet Union collapsed twenty-five years ago, and with it, much of the international communist conspiracy.

Mainland China, while continuing some form of the communist vision, did not have the Soviet Union’s central role in Cold War espionage, and so would have little interest in documents from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

The remaining communist states, like North Korea and Cuba, are neither significant enough, capable enough, nor interested enough to sift through half-century old FBI files.

Who’s trying to keep this information hidden, and why? If the Soviet Union, its intelligence agencies and their operatives inside the United States government, and vast majority of the international communist conspiracy all disappeared twenty-five years ago, who still cares about this data, and who has the positions of influence inside the federal government to make this evidence disappear?

Although the Soviet espionage network is long gone, are there remainders of it, the U.S. citizens who, while not Soviet agents, were sympathizers to the international communist cause? Are there leftover “fellow travelers,” even though the ones with whom they were “travelling” don’t exist anymore? Are there still good-natured and idealistic “dupes” who are still unwittingly and naively performing the tasks assigned to them by their KGB handlers, long after those handlers have left the stage of world history?

Did the international communist conspiracy build such an effective network of collaborators - some knowing collaborators, others not even aware that they were being used - that this network continues on its own momentum, long after the conspiracy itself collapsed?

These are the questions which historians must investigate. But such investigation may be contingent upon the declassification of more documents.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Disappearing Newspaper

Historians have documented that Soviet agents were able to permeate classified archives and remove or eliminate specific documents which would have revealed the details of their espionage network in the United States: the Klaus Memo, a 1946 State Department analysis of internal security weaknesses, and a September 1946 FBI memo to Attorney General Tom Clark are but two examples. Both are missing after thorough searches.

But the communist conspiracy did not stop with government archives. Similar documents have disappeared from private files. One historian, M. Stanton Evans, known as “Stan” Evans, writes:

Nor are such troubles confined to official sources. They extend to private-sector data that should in theory be open to researchers.

“A significant case in point concerns the famous speech” which drew some attention to security risks in the State Department. The speech was “delivered in February 1950 at Wheeling, West Virginia, kicking off the whole” series of investigations. While it was finally proven that Soviet agents were indeed planted inside the State Department, Stan Evans notes that some of the assertions “in this speech became a hotly controverted issue. Much of the dispute revolved around a story in the local morning paper, the Wheeling Intelligencer.

Allegedly, this newspaper story mentioned “a ‘list’ of 205 Communists working at the State Department. This quote appears in every book we have about” the attempts made to stop Soviet espionage during the Cold War. The FBI, Secret Service, and several Congressional committees worked to uncover as much as they could about this underground spy network. This list, if it existed, and if it was indeed mentioned in the newspaper article in question, would be a valuable bit of data. Although it is mentioned in various narratives “and many histories of the Cold War,” there is no evidence that any such list was mentioned in Wheeling in February 1950.

It should be a simple enough task to discover whether or not an article appeared in the Wheeling Intelligencer in February 1950 mentioning a list of security weaknesses in the State Department. Back copies of newspapers are kept by their publishers, by public libraries, university libraries, and various archives.

Yet historians seeking a copy of this article meet lacunae at every turn. Every library and archive has systematically been robbed of this one item. Stan Evans writes:

The task of researching the Wheeling speech, and sifting collateral data on it, prompted the thought that, while all discussions of the subject fixate on this one story, there may have been other items in the local paper about such a major event in the life of Wheeling.

While a newspaper article may count only as a secondary source, and not a primary text, in a historical investigation of Cold War espionage activity, it apparently still contained enough incendiary data that someone went to considerable effort to eliminate every known copy of it.

This hunch, as it turned out, was correct. However, a trip to Wheeling would reveal that these documents, too, were missing.

Mysteriously, the Wheeling Intelligencer, an otherwise peripheral document, had been the object of one of the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies. Historians may never know what was published in that article.

Although the article has been mentioned numerous times, it is cited in vague and ambiguous ways, leaving its exact content unclear. The dangers exposed in that speech were apparently dangers which did not want to be exposed, and which were capable of working to restore some of their anonymity.

In the city of Wheeling itself, apparently, no copy of the paper can be found. Stan Evans recounts search efforts made there:

For one thing, the Intelligencer no longer had a morgue of stories from the 1950s. Instead, back issues of the paper were now on microfilm at the Wheeling public library. This seemed fair enough, and as the library was only a couple of blocks away, not an overwhelming problem. However, a visit there produced another disappointment. All issues of the paper, dating to the nineteenth century, were microfilmed and apparently in their appointed places — except the issues that were in question. Conspicuously absent were editions for January and February 1950 — the sequence jumping, without explanation, from December 1949 to March 1950. Written inquiry to the librarian produced no reply as to what had happened to these records.

The same mysterious disappearances took place in the nation’s capital.

The further thought then occurred that the Library of Congress, which maintains back issues of numerous journals from across the country, might have Intelligencers in its holdings. And indeed, the Library does have such a collection — except, again, not these particular issues. According to the notice provided by the clerk who checked the records, the Library had no copies of the Intelligencer prior to August 1952. That made three trips to the well, and three times the bucket had come up empty.

This one incident by itself, certainly, does not reshape world history. But this incident, together with many others like it, show power and reach of an international conspiracy, a conspiracy working to prevent itself from being uncovered, a conspiracy able to reach into any town, any library, and business - and a conspiracy able in those places to erase, eliminate, or rewrite records and documents as it finds advantageous.