In his new book, Herbert Romerstein reveals how the Soviet Union infiltrated the highest levels of the U.S. government with the help of American apparatchiks.
With the demise of the Soviet Union, communism fell into the dustbin of history and many Americans believed the chapter on U.S.-Soviet relations was closed. In fact, the end of the Cold War required the rewriting of the history books as long-secret files were opened to expose the intensity of Cold War disinformation. In 1995 new light was shed on the influence and extent of Soviet espionage with the revelation of the Venona documents.
In February 1943, the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Service began a program, code-named "Venona," to break the Soviets' code and monitor intercepted communications. In his new book coauthored by Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets, Herbert Romerstein details the previously unknown influence and pervasive network of Soviet espionage during the 20th century. No writer now living is better equipped for the job.
Here is conclusive evidence confirming that J. Robert Oppenheimer gave Moscow U.S. atomic secrets, as long contended by the Manhattan Project's Medford Evans, and validating the controversial revelations in the 1940s of former Soviet agents Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley. And much more.
Insight: Whenever the issue of Communist Party activity in the United States is raised, most Americans are conditioned to think of [former senator] Joe McCarthy and his Senate hearings. Do we now know what the scope of Soviet influence was in the United States during this period?
Herbert Romerstein: Well, to start, you should know that the McCarthy period lasted just one year. But the U.S. government had believed for many years that the members of the Communist Party were totally dedicated to the Soviet Union, so anyone chosen for government work was supposed to be checked out. And, as it develops, for good reason: We learned going through the Venona traffic, and when my wife and I went to the Moscow, Berlin and Prague archives, that almost every member of the Communist Party was a spy for the Soviet Union.
Many of them, of course, were active within the U.S. government. We know about Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, but there were many others, and sometimes at high levels. For instance, Harry Hopkins, friend and White House assistant to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was a Soviet spy.
Insight: The history of communist activity in the United State,; focuses primarily on the 1950s and the immediate postwar era. Is this the whole story?
HR: No, indeed. You have to go back to the 1920s for the first investigations into their movements.
As war approached, there was a group called the American Peace Mobilization which actively was opposing any kind of U.S. support for the British during the Ribbentrop alliance between Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin signed in August 1939 and right up to the Nazi invasion of Russia in June 1941. Before that, as the Nazis and the communists had fought it out in the German streets and then through surrogates in Spain, the comrades had been antifascist and took in a lot of educated Americans and intellectuals. These were regarded by the communists as people who could be sent into government and used for espionage.
During the alliance period, many who had joined the [Communist] Party for anti-Nazi reasons had become so brainwashed that they dedicated themselves to whatever the Soviet Union wanted -- even Stalin's pact with Hitler. For two years during that period they maintained that British imperialism was the problem and that Roosevelt was just an imperialist who wanted to get the U.S. into war. But when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the antifascism reemerged.
Soviet records confirm that the communists were very, very active in the atom-bomb program, about which they learned early. In fact, the records show that Stalin knew of the bomb project before Truman. …