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.