hatchink fiendish plan to catch moose and squirrel
April 23, 2009 6:14 AM   Subscribe

Interested in Soviet era spying by the KGB in the United States? Bummed that you cant get into the KGB archives? Well it turns out that someone copied all the good stuff already, and you can take a peek.

Alexander Vassiliev was a KGB officer who turned to journalism in 1990. From 1993-96 he had access to the KGB archives for the 1930s to early 1950s to write notes for a book project on Soviet spying in the Stalin era. His original notebooks - including extensive verbatim transcriptions - were left behind in Moscow when he moved to London but smuggled out via an elaborate plan.

There are eight notebooks, on the Cold War International History site there are scans, transliterations and translations of each notebook, free for nothing. Vassilev assisted in the transcriptions and transliterations.

The whole story is in Alexander Vassiliev’s Notebooks: Provenance and Documentation of Soviet Intelligence Activities in the United States (pdf). "Since the KGB’s archives remain closed, Vassiliev’s notebooks are as close as we are likely to get to the actual documents for many years, likely decades"
posted by shothotbot (6 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Location: 49 West 76th St., New York City.
Around 1936

“When I left to go home Hiskey decided to walk me to the subway. Our conversation on
the way is what leads to the reason for this report.
It came about in this manner: Hiskey remarked: Imagine a bomb dropped in the center
of this city which would destroy2 the entire city. I scoffed at that but pricked up my
ears because I have known Hiskey never to have been given to making spectacular and
ridiculous claims. That – scoffed at him seemed to make him angry with the result that he
said more than he intended to say.
There is such a bomb he stated very emphatically – I’m working on it. I asked him if it
was a “death ray” or gas. He, still angry at my unbelieving tone, said it was a
radio-active bomb.
Talking very rapidly now, he told me plenty: The essential points are as follows:
1. That the Germans were far ahead on this bomb.
2. That his research, together with a number of the leading chemists and physicists, were
working with desperate haste.
3. The radio-active bomb has not been perfected in their laboratory but considerable
progress has been made.
4. The Germans may be advanced sufficiently to be ready to use it.
5. That if desperate, the Germans may use it even before perfection has been reached.
6. The big problem with this bomb is one of control. It is expected that this bomb will melt
down buildings within a very large radius – perhaps even hundreds of miles. But radioactivity
is still considerable of a mystery and there is no telling what properties the radioactivity
suddenly released will impart to such stable substances as concrete – and how
long this character will be imparted. In other words, Hiskey claims that the only reason
the Germans have not as yet used the bomb is because they fear that a vast area will be
made unavailable to them too.
7. The scientists in the Columbia research lab have advanced far enough to be planning on
trying it out in some vast desert area. Hundreds of miles will be blocked off.
8. Much of the work consists of finding a defense for this bomb.
9. A great fear exists among those who know of the bomb – it may truly destroy millions
of people at a crack.
10. It does not weigh more than a thousand bombs – that is, the bomb will need not
weight more than that to do untold destruction.
Hiskey was sorry he told me about this and swore me to silence. I said that I hoped the
Soviets knew about this – he said he hoped so too.”

Thank God for the Internets. I'm not going to get any work done today. This would go so well with Soma FMs "Secret Agent" Playlist!
posted by Lucubrator at 6:38 AM on April 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

I think Oleg Gordievsky and Vasili Mitrokhin are much more important figures in this respect. You also seem to overlook the libel case that Vassiliev lost in Vassiliev vs Frank Cass (& Amazon.com) who revieved the book he co-authored 'The Haunted Wood' as "Unreliable and mostly unverifiable".(Judgement)
posted by numberstation at 6:54 AM on April 23, 2009

I think Oleg Gordievsky and Vasili Mitrokhin are much more important figures in this respect. You also seem to overlook the libel case that Vassiliev lost in Vassiliev vs Frank Cass (& Amazon.com) who revieved the book he co-authored 'The Haunted Wood' as "Unreliable and mostly unverifiable".

You could be right, its not my field. The Wilson center is having an academic conference on it next month so I guess he can be debunked by the professionals.
posted by shothotbot at 7:01 AM on April 23, 2009

Interesting. There were quite a lot of defectors who came out of the wood work and I am certain their overall contribution shall be debated over for many years to come.
posted by numberstation at 7:08 AM on April 23, 2009

For context, I thought I'd quote this Amazon review of Haynes and Klehr's book, In Denial.

In Denial, with its tendentious title, purports to be an evaluation of current standards of historical scholarship. In this it scores an own goal, for its own standards of objectivity, contextualisation, and accuracy leave much to be desired (details available from r.j.sandilands@strath.ac.uk). The authors' most egregious fault is their tendency to dismiss anyone who differs from their interpretation of fragmentary and ambiguous evidence (from Venona and elsewhere), as apologists for Stalin's heinous regime who distort the truth in defence of traitors.

In reality the evidence against some (not all) of the principal characters in this book is very much more open to conflicting interpretations than Haynes and Klehr allow. They employ unworthy language in their attack on those with contrary views. I am myself condemned by them for my defence of Washington economist Lauchlin Currie (aide to FDR, 1939-45), and I have also written on the Harry Dexter White case. Haynes and Klehr unequivocably condemn both men, but it is easy to condemn if one weighs the evidence with a presumption of guilt rather than innocence.

Currie and White were prominent New Dealers of distinctly non-communistic persuasion. Both are renowned for their tireless efforts to save rather than destroy the democratic free enterprise system. But many of their right-wing detractors see little difference between the New Deal and communism. Both were also very high-ranking economists during the wartime Grand Alliance who had frequent official dealings with Soviet diplomats, many of whom happened also to be KGB agents. It is unconscionable that this context should be downplayed, and that whenever their names are mentioned in deciphered Soviet cables this should invariably be taken as prima facie evidence of espionage.

Haynes and Klehr rubbish defenders of Currie and White in a chapter entitled "Lies about Spies". A few inconsequential errors of fact in some of my own writing are blown out of all proportion and treated as "lies" and "fanciful conjectures". Yet they can themselves be shown to have been equally guilty of factual error, as well as fanciful conjectures of their own. In the murky history of espionage none of us should be making unvarnished claims.

For the record, I have never supported communism. I am an economist who generally favours the market, but with the usual sensible qualifications. Most of my colleagues regard me as quite right-of-centre (if they could categorise me at all). This also applies to several of the other writers who are written off by Haynes and Klehr as morally corrupt "revisionists".

My impression is that the authors are pursuing a neo-con agenda and would like the suppression of all views that they regard as "left-labor", otherwise cavalierly defined as "communist". In any case, from my UK perspective, they seem grossly to exaggerate the domestic communist threat to the United States during the Cold War. In Britain the CP has never been proscribed or harassed yet has made almost no political headway (happily, in my view). I imagine that the same would have been true in god-fearing, free-enterprise America if the CPUSA and the various (often unsuspecting) people with whom the CP had any dealings had not been mugged and muzzled by the friends of Joe McCarthy.

I agree that there are some remnants of the Old Left who have an emotional investment in the "innocence" of Alger Hiss or Julius Rosenberg that is not based in reality, but Vassiliev has been selective in the past about sharing documents with scholars. Vassiliev has generally tended to work with scholars of the "Joe McCarthy was right" persuasion instead of disseminating documents to scholars regardless of political viewpoint. In addition, Vassiliev collaborated on The Haunted Wood, which caused a stir among historians and archivists, because Random House negotiated exclusive rights to KGB archival sources, rather than allowing them to be open to other scholars. Vassiliev's American co-author on the Haunted Wood, Allen Weinstein, had such a bad record in sharing his primary sources with other researchers that his nomination by President Bush as Archivist of the United States led to this official statement from the Society of American Archivists criticizing Bush's appointment. The release of these notebooks online is a step in the right direction, but we must be careful not to conflate the notebook transcripts with the KGB archives themselves. They are mere sampling of those archives, and we do not know what biases that sampling might have.
posted by jonp72 at 7:19 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

IMHO, Haynes and Klehr have over the years become Joe McCarthy's spawn.
posted by Carol Anne at 1:03 PM on April 23, 2009

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