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.