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East/West: Soviet Espionage In America Provides A Chilling Story

  • Charles Fenyvesi

Washington, 17 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A just-published book on Stalin's espionage in the United States, entitled "The Haunted Wood," details the extensive network of influential and effective agents Moscow once had in the American capital.

Some defenders of those identified in this book as Soviet agents have charged that Russian intelligence operatives fabricated the files, eager to inflate the number of Americans they had under their control. But the evidence from American intercepts of Soviet messages assembled in this book suggests that Moscow had good reasons to boast.

The authors are Allen Weinstein, an American historian who heads The Center for Democracy, an independent Washington organization promoting democratic change throughout the world, and Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB agent and now a Russian journalist living in Western Europe.

The linkup of two writers across the old division lines is no longer news; indeed, in this area at least, it is becoming the norm. But their joint efforts did lead to a book which made the news pages of daily papers in the U.S. Reviewers have called the book as readable as a spy thriller, complete with plotted and actual assassinations, as well as with a good number of extramarital love affairs linking spy handlers and couriers and agents.

At the same time, one scholar who summed up the book in The New York Times Book Review suggested that World War II histories written without the material uncovered and digested by Weinstein and Vassiliev may now be compared to "books with missing pages."

It is chilling to think that throughout World War II the Soviet government was kept well-informed about U.S. intelligence activities by agents inside the Office of Strategic Services or OSS, the forerunner of the postwar Central Intelligence Agency. The lead agent�s name was Duncan Lee, an American patrician who joined the Communist Party while a student at Yale and then served as personal assistant to William Donovan, head of OSS. Lee fell in love with his courier, another American radical activist, to whom he supplied huge amounts of information.

Two more American spies appear worthy of a Hollywood spy movie. One was Martha Dodd, the beautiful daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Germany in the 1930s. She slept with Nazis to obtain information for the Russians, and she was a devoted follower of Stalin�s while hobnobbing socially with President and Mrs. Roosevelt.

The other American was the tall, energetic Elizabeth Bentley, also from a prominent family, who became the lover of her handler, Jacob Golos, a brilliant Russian Jew who coordinated an underground communist network involving dozens of agents.

After Golos died under suspicious circumstances, Bentley lost faith in communism and eventually defected to the FBI in November 1945. Bentley�s turnaround put an end to much of the network built during World War II. Moscow ordered her assassination but it was never carried out. She subsequently became a popular author and lecturer.

Published by Random House, "The Haunted Wood," seeks to prove that the list of Americans which in the past were described as "suspected Soviet agents" did indeed work for what a generation of Americans politely called "the other side." Additional evidence of their complicity may still emerge from the treasure trove of cold-war documents now being declassified in Washington by the CIA and the National Security Agency.