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.