** war and social upheaval: World War II -- spying counter intelligence Soviet Union

World War II: Spying and Counterintelligence--Soviet Spy Networks

Figure 1.--Donald Maclean was one of the Cambridge Five. Here we see the Mcleans vacatoning with their two boys, only Fergus (1944- ) is pictured. Their girl was not yet born. The phoyograph was taken about 1948-49 His wife, Melinda, was American and had no interest in politics. She was in on the spying almost as as soon they got serious. Apparently Mclean told her to impress her. Maclean would insist that he was right about the Soiviet Union to the end. Of ourse he could not very well say otherwise and expect the perks in Moscow to continue. Melinda while not interested in politics, was interested in the amnities available in the West. She and the children all had more options and returned to America and Britin even before he died (1983). Maclean especially disliked the United States and wanted Britain to mauitain the war-time alliance with the Soviet Union which makes you wonder just how his mind worked.

The Soviet Unionoperated very effective espionage networks during World War II. The Soviets operated the most effective spy networks in Germany as well as in Allied countries. Here the Soviets had a great advantage. The existence of Communist Party organizations and individuals sympathetic to the Soviet Union for ideological reasons proved a great asset in recruiting agents. Communists in the West simply refused to believe reports of attrocitoes committed by the Soviet regime before the War. And once the Soviet Union became an ally, America and Britain did not want to press to delve to deeply into reports received such as the Katyn Forrest killings in Poland. Also the open society of the Western democracies offered many opportunities. The Red Army although not highly respected by the Wehrmcht, proved very adept as desguising their major offensives during the War. Spy rings in the United States obtained information on one of the greatest secrets of the War--the Manhattan Project building the atomic bomb. The information obtained helped the Soviets build an atomic bomb after the War. The Soviets also developed a very effective spy ring in Britain. There were also Soviet afgents operating in Italy and Japan as well as the smaller Axis countries.


Once the Soviet Union became an ally, America and Britain did not want to press to delve to deeply into reports received such as the Katyn Forrest killings in Poland. Spy rings in the United States obtained information on one of the greatest secrets of the War--the Manhattan Project building the atomic bomb. The information obtained helped the Soviets build an atomic bomb after the War. Widely publicized spy cases during the 1950s added to the public concern about an internal Communist threat. A myth developed during the 1960s that the American Government eroneously pepetrated a myth that Soviet agents penetrated the U.S. Government. One can argue about the seriousness of Soviet operations, but the historical record is clear. Soviet spies did obtain valuable information, especially on nuclear weapons. And Soviet agents or individuals sympathetic to the Soviets did rise to important positions, especially in the State Department. Information was developed by the FBI at the time. Subsequent information revealed by the Verona Papers and the brief opening of KGB files after the fall of the Soviet Union tell us much more. Two of the most important involved involving Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. At the time the degree to which the Soviets had penetrated the Manhattan Project was not known. Only later were the Verona Intercepts lead to a fuller understanding of the Soviet spy network. Later Robert Oppenheimer himself came unders suspision. The Rosenbergs were probably not the most harmrful spys. There were others, including Klaus Fuchs who provided much more useful information. There is no doubt, however, Julius Rossenberg was a Soviet spy and was guilty of passing atomic secrets to the Soviets. While the Rosenbergs provided information of only limited value, they proved to be enormously effective in Soviet propaganda to condemn the United States. Rudolf Abel was the Soviet master spy in America during the Cold War. He operated under the name of William Fischer. He entered the United States in 1948 and set up an effective ring of agents. His primary assignment was nuclear weapons. He worked with both the Cohens and the Rosenbergs.


The Soviets also developed a very effective spy ring in Britain. The best known was a group of five whose members were at Cambridge University during the 1930s. As in America, many idealistic individuals as a result of the Depression began to doubt democracy and free market capitalism. At the same time, the Soviets effectively prevented information about their economic failures and oppressive regime from reaching the West, especially before Wirld sar II. To some extent, individuals with leftist sympathies did not want to believe what information was available. These were vert intelligent and well unfiermed individuals. To wht extent they knew and just did not care, we will never know. The Soviet Union also attraccted some sympathy because until the NAZI-Soviet Nom-Aggression Pact (August 1939), it took a stronger stand against Hitler than the Western democracies nd agter Brbrossa, ut was the Red Army tht was the primasry military firce battling the NAZIs. The five, at the five we know if, included Guy Burgess, Harold (Kim) Philby, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross. They managed to penetrated the British intelligence system and passed vital information to the Soviets during World War II and the early stages of the Cold War. The leader of the ring which operated indeoendentkly was Blunt who sas teaching at Cambridge. He became a communist (early-1930s) and was recruited by the NKVD (which became the KGB after Stalin's death). the Soviet security agency. While teaching at Cambridge University, Blunt was influential in recruiting the other three, who were all students at Cambridge. Burgess became a journalist after univdersity, with the outbreak of the War, war was hired by MI6. Maclean joined the Foreign Office. Philby also became a journalist after university, but joined (MI6/SIS) after the outbreak of the war (1940). There is not a lot known as to just what information they passed to the Soviets during the War. The real damage was done by Philby. At War's enb, he was appointed head of SIS's anti-Soviet section. This meant the very man resoonxible for running operations against the Soviet Union, was a KGB agent. This led to the deaths of some very honorasnle and brave men. Philby later became chief British intelligence liason officer in the United States. It was there that he kearned that as a result of the Venona Papers, that the Americans had learned tht there was a Soviet agent and with thast informtion British authories were zeroing in on the like culprit or culprits. Philby managed to tip off Burgess and Maclean wjo defected to the Soviet Union nbd spent the rest of their lives there. After thery fled, Philby himself came under suspicion and had to resign. He steadfastly denied the kegtions, but defected to the Soviet Union himself (1963). He sakso lived the rest of his life there. Blunt worked for MI5 during the War. nd ghen sfter the War had a distinguished career as a prestigiousd art historian. He was appointed director of the Courtauld Institute and Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures. He was knighted (1956). The British government finlly scovered he was a spy but did not prosecute him. He was offered him immunity in return for information. His spy careet surfaced (1979)and he was stripped of his knighthood. Cairncross was the fifth man. His name was not revealed for many years. Cairncross said that he was motivated to pass information to the Soviet Union during World War II because of the huge effort the Soviet Union was making on the Eastern Front and he thought it would contribute to Hitler's defeat. Cairncross held a range of positions in the British Government and apparently operated complretely independely of the other four. He came under suspicion when notes he had written were found in Burgess's apartment after Burgess fled to Moscow (1951). British intelligence interrogated him, but did not charge him. They told him to leave Britain and never return. He apparently was bette infoirmed anout the SDiviet Union. He did not go to the Soviet Union, but lived quietlky in exile in France. He returned to Britain just before his death (1995).


A Soviet defector exposed a spy ring in Canada. Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko (1919-82) was a cipher clerk assignd to the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa during World War II. He wa by all acounts a true believer in Soviet Communism when he arrived, although as he was Ukranian, we wondr if he had anti-Soviet thoughts earlir. Gouzenko had fought with the Red Army on the Eastern Font before being assigned to the Ottawa embassy. Whn his wife joined him some time later, he would lecture her on the weakness of democracy as no one was telling the public how to think. nf he cautioned her against assocuating with neighbors. Over time he and his wife as a result of their experiences in Canada and repressive actions at the Embassyh began to question the Soviet system. The arrival of a son only intensified their their questioning. Then after learning they wer being returned to Moscow, they defected (September 5, 1945). They at first had trouble getting Canadian officials to listen and the Embasy staff almost brought them back to the Embassy. This was only preventd with the arrival of the Royal Mounted Police. Gouzenko brought with him 109 documents detailing Soviet espionage activities in the West. The espionage ring Gouzenko exposedwas not one established during the Cold War, but whileCanda and the Soviet Union were allies figting NAZI Germany. Several Cannadians were implicated in espionage activities, including a member of parliament and imporant scientists. Prime Minister Mackenzie King was forced to constitute a Royal Commission to investigate espionage in Canada. Gouzenko exposed the NKVD's efforts to steal nuclear secrets shorly after the bomns were dropped on Japan and the end of the War. This was several years before Soviet spy rings were uncovered in America and Britain. Soviet intelligence ativities such as planting sleeper agents were exposed. The 'Gouzenko Affair is often descibed as an opning salvo in the Cold War coming as it did only days after the end of World War II. Two historians writes, "Gouzenko was the beginning of the Cold War for public opinion." [Granatstein and Stafford] The whole affairs was widely reported in the United States. We would not say that the Gouzenko affair was the bginning of the Cold War. Stalin had already launhed it with his attacks on the Polish-Government in Exile. It was, however, the beginning of the cahmnge in public thinking towrd the Soviet Union from a valiant ally to a totalitarian agressor nation. A much larger Soviet espionage network would be overturned in America as a result of the Verona papers.


We do not yet have any informaion about Soviet espionage in France during World War II. We have fojund some informatin about Cold War espionage. The NKVD and subsequently the KGB was also active in France during the Cold War. We do not yet have the complete story. We do know a little about Directorate T, the KGB's industrial spying arm. Despite a huge number of tecnicians and scientists, the Sovit Union relied hravily on obtainng access to scintific advances in the West. And we know about these activities because of a French taupe (mole) -- Colonel Vladimir Vetrov. Col. Vetrov approached the French out of the blue because he had once been stationed in Paris and loved the French language. He first first contacted a French businessman in Moscow and then a French military attaché and his wife. Col. Vetrov passed on secrets by exchanging shopping baskets with the wife in a Moscow market. He ultimately provided French intelligence with more than 3,000 pages of documents and identified more than 400 Soviet agents posted in the West (1981-82). This information was shared by the French with its NATO allies. Colonel Vetrov, codenamed Farewell (to make sure he was not liked to France), exposed the highly successful Soviet strategies for acquiring, legally and illegally, high technology from the West. He also alerted the Western countris to the failure of Soviet scientists to match rapid Western advances in electronic micro-technology. Farewell reportedly influenced President Reagan's decision to launch the controvrsial Star Wars program (1983). It proved to be a hi-tech bluff that swould strain the Soviet system to drag General Secretary Gorbechov and the Soviet Union into an effort it could not sustain to keep up with the United States.


The Soviets operated very effective spy rings in NAZI Germany. They benefited from anti-NAZI Germans who were discrete about their political orientation. The three principal operations were the Rote Kapelle, the Lucy Ring, and the Rote Drei. Perhaps the best known was the Lucy spy ring headquartered in Switzerland. Rudolf Roessler, a German refugee ran the operation. He was the owner of a small publishing firm, Vita Nova, which provided a cover for the intelligence operation. Many questions remain about the Lucy Ring. We do not now much about Roessler, including his motives. Even less is known about his sources in Germany. The Lucy Ring was not a Soviet espionage operation, but rather more accurately described as a German Resistance operation. It was the Soviets, however, who benefited most from the intelligence delivered, in part because the war was largely fought on the Eastern Front t the time the Lucy Ring was most active. The intelligence generated by the Lucy Ring largely dried up after the Gestapo began extensive arrests following the failed Bomb Plot (July 1944). The Red Army although not highly respected by the Wehrmacht, proved very adept as disguising their major offensives during the War.


We do not yet have any informaion about Soviet espionage in Italy during World War II. e have fojund some informatin about Cold War espionage. An Italian parliamentary committee made public a dossier identifying 261 politicians, bureaucrats and journalists as having cooperated, in some cases unwittingly, with Soviet intelligence during the Cold War. Armando Cossuta, an Italian Communist politician was the most prominent figure to appear in the documents. The information was obtained from Soviet files by a KGB archivist . It was smuggled to British intelligence (1992). The Italian Government received a copy of the dossier from the Britgish, but did not at first act on it. Following the disclosures questions arose about the level of complicity. [Stanley] As far as we can tell, however, the names did actually come from DSoviet-era files.


The primary Soviet spy in Japan was Richard Sorge (1895-1944). He was a German citizen with a German father and Russian mother. He worked as a Germam journalist in Japan, but was a GRU agent. Sorge was the son of a German mining engineer. He was born in Baku, then part of the Tsarist Empire (1895). He began his operation after the NAZis seized power in Germny (!933) nd continued until the Japanese arrested him (October 1941). He managed to transmit invluable information to thev GRU. Sorge's espionage group provided reports on Japanese and German intentions. As Germany was an Axis ally, Sorge was able to develop better contacts in Japan than Western journalists. He is one of the most sucessful Soviet intelligence officers of World War II. [Knightley] Sorge was very succesful in obtaining information, but it is not clear to what extent Stalin actually used any of it. Sorge was able to access detailed reporting from Ambassador Baron Hiroshi Ōshima in Germany. Ōshima was a popular figure in NAZI Germany and given extrodinary access to German military operationa and planning. Tragically for the Soviet people, Stalin ignored much of his reporting, especially the detailed reporting on German Barbarossa planning. This was Sorge’s biggest coup, informing Stalin of the German attack invasion plans weeks before it occurred -- with details of troop deployments, movement of armaments and the actual date of the attack. Stalin not only ignored the port, but became viserally angtry at intelligence officers who brough this and other warnings to his attention. Sorge reported to Moscow that the Japanese would not join the German assault on the Soviet Union. It is unclear to what extent his assessment was accepted in Moscow or if there were other Soviet sources in Japan. These reports were important because they allowed the Soviets to move Siberian forces west to strengthen the Winter Counter Offensive that defeated Barbarossa (Decenber 1941). His GRU codename was "Ramsay" (Рамза́й). The Japanese arrested him for spying (October 1941). They initially thought that he was an Abwer spy. The Japanese made three overtures to Soviet authorities, offering to trade Sorge for one of their own agents. At the time as the War wa going from bad to worse, were taking relations with the Soviet Union more seriously. They began to see the Soviets as a potential mediator with the United States to end the war. Rumors suggest that Stalin did not intervene to save him because Sorge knew too much. [Whymant] The Japanese hanged him (November 1944).


Granatstein, Jack L. and David Stafford. Spy Wars (Key Porter Books Ltd.: 1990).

Knightley, Phillio. The Second Oldest Profession (1986).

Stanley, Alessandra. "Italians bare Soviet 'spies' but the disclosures backfire," New York Times (October 12, 1999).

Whymant , Robert. Stalin's Spy: Richard Sorge and the Tokyo Espionage.


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Created: 5:11 AM 4/18/2011
Last updated: 3:19 AM 8/8/2021