Frontpage Interview’s guests today are Harvey Klehr and John Haynes.
Harvey Klehr is Andrew Mellon Professor of Politics and History at Emory University.
John Haynes is 20th Century manuscript historian at the Library of Congress.
Their new book, written with Alexander Vassiliev, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, has received wide attention this summer. Along with positive reviews in magazines and newspaper ranging from The Wall Street Journal to The New Republic and the New Yorker, it has drawn angry denunciations from admirers of I.F. Stone, defenders of Alger Hiss, and left-wing bloggers unwilling to confront the legacy of American communist support for Soviet espionage.
FP: Harvey Klehr and John Haynes, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us a bit about how the Left is still denying the undeniable evidence you have revealed.
Klehr: There has been an outpouring of rage at the possibility that I.F. Stone could ever have worked for Soviet intelligence, despite abundant evidence in Vassiliev's Notebooks that he did so - evidence that gives context to earlier allegations made by General Oleg Kalugin.
Stone's defenders have taken several tacks. One is to assert, with absolutely no evidence, that the documents implicating Stone must be disinformation, cunningly inserted by Alexander Vassiliev more than a decade ago, so he and we could traduce Stone in 2009.
FP: What has been the most pathetic denial?
Klehr: Possibly the silliest one, made by a left-wing blogger and picked up by Myra McPherson, one of Stone's biographers, has been the claim that a document reporting that relations with Stone had "entered the channels of normal operational work" did not mean he was cooperating with the KGB because when you Google that phrase the only hits are from our article. Apparently, spy agencies are only supposed to use language approved by the Left!
FP: And I’m sure another tactic of denial has simply been just to ignore your findings.
Klehr: Of course. Other critics have simply just refused to deal with the evidence, asserting that because he was so independent, Stone could not have cooperated with the KGB - even though they admit that during this period - 1936-1939- he was a devoted fellow-traveler and apologized for all of Stalin's crimes.
A handful of writers like Amy Knight, who has never found a source on Soviet intelligence she trusts, have tried to minimize or deny the vast extent of Soviet espionage revealed in the Notebooks. Predictably, the Nation magazine, Huffington Post, Eric Alterman, Glenn Greenwald and other reflexively deny that the Soviet Union recruited hundreds of Americans to spy. A major part of the reason, I believe, is that acknowledging these facts would require them to rethink the entire mythology of the McCarthy era. And that is something they are not prepared to do.
FP: John Haynes?
Haynes: The hard Left’s reaction reinforces in my mind the fundamental contempt for historical accuracy that permeates its intellectual world. The past is treated simply as another arena of partisan polemic. The hard Left sees history as infinitely malleable and remakes it to conform to whatever are its current concerns. It can never learn from history because the past it ardently believes in is always one that ratifies its worldview.
Consequently, when historical evidence on some issue does become so heavy that even intellectual equivalent of shouting, screaming, and throwing sand in the air is no longer sufficient to obscure the facts, the hard Left just drops the issue and pretends that it doesn’t exist. Call it the ostrich strategy.
Notable in the reaction to our Spies has been the near absence of any response to the extremely lengthy treatment of Julius Rosenberg and his network of engineer spies in the book. Vassiliev’s Notebooks allow us to fill-out the story of the Rosenberg ring, identify more members of it and give a better picture of the impressive quantify and quality of its military technology espionage.
Most interestingly, we identify Russell McNutt as a young engineer and secret Communist that Rosenberg recruited into espionage and urged to get a job at Kellex, a contractor for key facilities at the secret atomic project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. McNutt got the job and provided the KGB with information on the design of the massive uranium separation plant at Oak Ridge.
Rosenberg, thus, recruited two atomic spies, not just his long-known brother-in-law David Greenglass. This fact demolishes one of the hard Left’s recent fall-back positions on Rosenberg: that while he may have provided the Soviets (usually referred to in this excuse making motif as ‘our wartime allies’) with some innocuous information on conventional weaponry, he emphatically was not an atomic spy. Yet Julius Rosenberg’s espionage, the subject of thousands of impassioned public protests, books, articles, public exhibits, letters-to-the-editor, and so on from the 1960s until last year, has simply dropped off the hard Left’s agenda. While hard Left commentators rail away at our about six pages on I.F. Stone, the sixty-plus pages on Rosenberg and his apparatus go without significant mention. Dr. Amy Knight, for example, dismisses McNutt as not important and doesn’t even note the Rosenberg connection.
FP: Why the silence on your evidence on Rosenberg?
Haynes: The hard Left’s silence on the Rosenberg matter serves to avoid calling attention to an intellectual battle it has lost and avoids the necessity of explaining why it got the issue so wrong for so long.
FP: Do you feel you have accomplished what you set out to do in Spies?
Klehr: I'm delighted with the book and the attention it has gotten. We were able to highlight many of the fascinating and historically significant material in Vassiliev's Notebooks. Outside of the fever swamps of the left, I think most people recognize the new light this throws on the issue of Soviet espionage. The fact that tens of thousands of people have viewed and/or downloaded the Notebooks from the Cold War International History website is testimony to the widespread interest in the topic. And, we have been told that a significant number of the visits to the site have come from the Russian Federation - a sign that there is considerable interest in this story in Russia.
There are always disappointments and one of mine is that the New York Times decided not to review the book. That the so-called "newspaper of record" concluded that this book, which attracted enormous controversy because of its new evidence about I.F. Stone, Robert Oppenheimer, the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss, generated hundreds of articles and links because of its revelations about Ernest Hemingway, and drew a large crowd to the Woodrow Wilson Center for a symposium on its findings, was not worthy of its attention says something sad about its willingness to confront this issue from America's past.
Haynes: Klehr and I have written a number of good books, but SPIES is our best work. It is our best not because we have gotten better, although we do understand Soviet espionage in America in the 30s and 40s much better than when we first ventured into espionage history fifteen years ago. It is our best because of the richness of the underlying source material. Vassiliev’s Notebooks easily provide more documentation and more detailed records than anything that has hitherto been available and that has allowed us to provide a much more comprehensive description of Soviet espionage operations than was possible earlier.
FP: Final thoughts?
Klehr: I hope that more scholars and journalists will dig into some of the material that we were able to discuss only briefly or not at all due to space limitations. Spies raises important questions about why so many American citizens cooperated with Soviet espionage and helps us understand more about the politics and passions of the McCarthy era. It would benefit everyone if discussion of these issues was based on factual evidence and not ideological preconceptions.
Haynes: We are confident that by making the Vassiliev Notebooks easily available on the web that many other researchers will make use of them to further fill out the story of Soviet espionage by bringing out matters we did not deal with and integrating them with other source material in order to illuminate still murky issues. Despite screams by the dwindling camp of Hiss defenders (dwindling but loud) that they can keep doubt alive and the drama queen histrionics of I.F. Stone worshipers, SPIES and the Vassiliev Notebooks have turned a corner in espionage history in the Stalin era.
The story isn't finished. There is still much we do not know. We still understand very little about the WWII operations of GRU (Soviet military intelligence) in the United States. But debate is over on the basic issues of the two cases that dominated historical discussion for fifty years, the Hiss and Rosenberg cases. The broad outlines of KGB operations in the 1930s and 1940s are understood. Not all, but most of the KGB's sources are identified. The discussion and research in the field should proceed in a more normal fashion with much less of the ideological partisanship that retarded historical understanding in the past.
FP: Harvey Klehr and John Haynes, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.