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Venona [PDF]

by John Earl Haynes
Overall a good book and well worth reading.It's not so much about Venona, the NSA (or its predecessor), or codes as it is about the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA).Indeed, the book draws more from the FBI and as much from sworn testimony as it does from Venona decrypts.It also draws heavily on released Communist Party archives in the immediate post-Soviet era.The authors clearly spent their lives researching the CPUSA through multiple sources, and the public release of the Venona decrypts served as a sort of capstone in their lives' work.It's too bad The Sword and the Shield and The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB & the Battle for the Third World were not published yet, I'm sure the authors would have made good use of them.The authors underscore the importance of their work and the release of Venona:"Communists were depicted as innocent victims of an irrational and oppressive American government...Hundreds of books and thousands of essays on McCarthyism, the federal loyalty security program, Soviet espionage, American communism, and the early Cold War have perpetuated many myths that have given Americans a warped view of the nation's history in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s."(pp 17-18)Which is not to say the authors gave McCarthy a break, "because the deciphered Venona messages were classified and unknown to the public, demagogues such as McCarthy had the opportunity to mix together accurate information...with falsehoods...that served partisan political goals."(p 17)

The authors show that CPUSA members were routinely used to serve the national interests of the Soviet Union in the name of international communism (often through the aegis of the Comintern before it was disbanded), to include spotting spies for recruitment, serving as spies, supporting the espionage or assassination activities of others, etc.The book does briefly explain the encryption used by the Soviets and how it was broken, but it doesn't focus on the technical.Some of the story behind how the code got broken, and more importantly, how more codes did not, is interesting.When a Soviet cipher book was provided to the OSS by a Finn, "the State Department learned of the matter and, in a remarkably naïve act, successfully urged President Roosevelt to order the OSS to hand the material over to the KGB as a gesture of goodwill."(p 34)

The authors capture how the U.S. government was nearly oblivious to the Communist threat to its security until after the U.S. entry into World War II, and this with a public declaration from the founding of the CPUSA to the effect that "Communism does not propose to 'capture' the bourgeoisie parliamentary state, but to conquer and destroy it...It is necessary that the proletariat organize its own state for the coercion and suppression of the bourgeoisie."(p 57)The authors conclude their work with the note that "Taken as a whole, the new evidence...shows that from 1942 to 1945 the Soviet Union launched an unrestricted espionage offensive against the United States...The Soviet assault was of the type a nation directs at an enemy state that is temporarily an ally and with which it anticipates future hostility, rather than the much more restrained intelligence-gathering it would direct toward an ally that is expected to remain a friendly power."For the Soviets, the Cold War began with the Revolution.It seems to me to mirror our experience with the militant form of Islam today, declaring open war on the West while Westerns whistle blithely past the graveyard.In fact, militant Islam's totalitarianism and goal of global domination closely reflect those of Communists, making a read like this more relevant today than some might think.

The authors have a deep grasp of their topic and the period of the 1930s-1950s in the United States.However, they are not fixated on security per se, in fact, they highlight the FBI's opposition to Roosevelt's decision to place Japanese-Americans in internment camps on the basis that the FBI had already neutralized any major threats within that community.(p 89)It is also interesting to see what one's opponents hope for from one's domestic politics and policies.In the case of the Soviet Union in the early Cold War, they communicated among themselves that the election of Thomas Dewey (whom they dubbed "Kulak") would dry up the CPUSA as a source of intelligence. (pp 225-226)One doubts one's enemies wish for what is good for an enemy nation...

The authors also show that the espionage CPUSA members engaged in was not merely an academic or harmless affair.Apart from the nuclear espionage, massive in its own right and well-documented herein, they examine other impacts:"they [Alfred Sarant and Joel Barr] created the first Soviet radar-guided anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles, weapons that proved highly effective against American aircraft in the Vietnam War."(p 300)The authors note there were more than 50,000 CPUSA members during World War II, and although "most American Communists were not spies, when the KGB and GRU looked for sources and agents in the United States, they found the most eager and qualified candidates in the ranks of the American Communist party" who mostly did so "out of ideological affinity with the Soviets."Further, "though some American Communists who were asked to spy for the Soviet Union declined out of fear of being caught, there are no examples of Communists who indignantly rejected such overtures as unethical and reported the approaches to the U.S. authorities."(p 333)The closest one fellow traveler comes to reporting on his fellows was J. Robert Oppenheimer, on whom the authors find no evidence of espionage, but who may have turned a knowing blind eye to others until 1943.(p 328)

Both the actual success of Soviet espionage, and what remained hidden from public view, impacted the politics of the United States throughout much of the Cold War."Republicans sought to discredit Democrats by painting the response of Democratic executive-branch officials as inadequate or even as constituting complicity in espionage.Democrats responded sometimes by covering up the problem, as in the Amerasia case, but more often, as with President Truman's personnel security order, by preempting the issue by taking a hard line against Communist subversion and spying."(p 336)Indeed, one interesting facet of the book is the unearthing of the CPUSA's own initiative to ally with progressive Democrats during World War II without sanction from Moscow, which naturally resulted in an eventual change in policy, though not before some Democrats showed themselves open to alliance with Communists.

If you're looking for an in-depth look at Venona itself, you're likely to be disappointed.Instead, this book places Venona in a wide range of context, to include FBI files, Russian archives, defectors, testimony, and trials, to give an excellent understanding of the relationship between the Soviet Union and the CPUSA.I recommend it to history buffs, those interested in national security issues, or those considering how a free society ought to deal with a potentially subversive element within its own population.
[PDF] Venona download

Book info

eBook formatHardcover, (torrent)En
PublisherYale University Press
File size2.4 Mb
Release date 01.04.1999
Pages count487
Book rating3.93 (72 votes)
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1 comment

1. Persia Emily | 08.05.2017 17:33

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Thank you! Great book!

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