KGB Espionage Was
Even Worse Than
McCarthyites Imagined
By Paul Mitchinson
The National Post

"We now know the project was so effectively infiltrated by Soviet agents that the KGB was often able to double- or triple-check the results of atomic experiments performed at Los Alamos. In fact, Joseph Stalin knew of the bomb's existence long before even Harry Truman was informed."
Forget Melita Norwood, the English granny revealed to be a Soviet spy. Leave aside the 261 Italian politicians, bureaucrats and journalists exposed this week as Soviet informants. If you really want to get a sense of how deeply the KGB penetrated Western democracies during the Cold War, consider instead the tale of Viktor Sergeyevich Petlyuchenko:
During the early 1970s, Father Petlyuchenko, a visiting Russian Orthodox priest from the Moscow Patriarchate, helped lead the faithful in worship in parishes near Edmonton. What he failed to tell his flock was that he also happened to be a KGB agent, code-named "Patriot." In his spare time, he would comb through parish registers, culling biographical details of church members for use in the fictional life stories of KGB intelligence agents posing as Canadians. If you couldn't even escape the long reach of the KGB at Sunday morning services in Western Canada, where could you hide?
KGB Cold War espionage throughout the West has turned out to be far more extensive, damaging and morally compromising than even the most feverishly committed McCarthyite could have imagined at the time. But with the Cold War over, what does it really matter? Quite a lot, it turns out. Recent revelations from KGB archives and declassified FBI files have rekindled long-smouldering debates over the morality of the Cold War and so-called McCarthyism.
Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy might have been wrong about virtually every specific charge he ever made about Communist subversion in the West (including the existence of his infamous "list of names"). But he was right about one thing: Communist agents had penetrated the West's most sensitive scientific and political institutions.
Take the Manhattan Project, the top-secret American effort to build the atomic bomb during the Second World War. We now know the project was so effectively infiltrated by Soviet agents that the KGB was often able to double- or triple-check the results of atomic experiments performed at Los Alamos. In fact, Joseph Stalin knew of the bomb's existence long before even Harry Truman was informed.
Nor did the leaks end in the 1940s. As late as 1970, according to Christopher Andrew's book, The Mitrokhin Archive, 70% of Warsaw Pact weaponry was based on Western technology.
Not Canada's problem? Consider this: While Canada congratulated itself for one of the greatest aeronautical breakthroughs that never was -- the CF-105 Avro Arrow -- an A.V. Roe Company employee code-named "Lind" had delivered a plan of the aircraft to his KGB controller in the mid-1950s. A few years later, the KGB initiated "Operation Cedar." In case of a war with NATO, agents travelled across Canada, carefully photographing and plotting massive sabotage against the country's oil refineries and pipelines.
But what about the greatest threat of the Cold War, the fear that a Communist fifth column operated at the highest levels of government, subverting democracy from within? Documents from previously secret KGB and FBI files largely confirm our worst fears. We now have overwhelming evidence that senior American diplomat Alger Hiss provided classified secrets to his Soviet handlers throughout the 1930s and 1940s. We also know that Harry Dexter White, assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury, whispered details of U.S. negotiating strategies to his Soviet handlers. White informed the KGB in 1945, for instance, that the U.S. would agree to the Soviet seizure of the Baltic states -- public protest notwithstanding. He also assisted Soviet efforts to gain veto power at the United Nations' founding conference that same year.
But some on the Left remain unconvinced. "There's been no serious scrutiny of this new evidence," says Victor Navasky, publisher of the American weekly The Nation. Others, such as Yeshiva University professor Ellen Schrecker, play down the damage that such political subversion caused. It's possible, she reflected, that diplomatic spying might actually have "prevented serious confrontations between the Soviets and the West," since the Soviets knew better than to overreact to Western bluster.
For Emory University professor Harvey Klehr, this is preposterous. Individuals such as White "aided the Soviet negotiation strategy immensely," he said, and helped embolden Soviet military strategy. Without such leaks, he argues, the "killing and maiming of hundreds and thousands of soldiers and civilians ... in Korea might have been averted."
And while atomic weaponry and government moles helped maintain the Soviet Union's power on the world stage, KGB attacks on "ideological subversion" from foreign and domestic foes ensured stability at home. Take the church, for example. Virtually every Soviet delegate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) was also, like Father Petlyuchenko, a KGB agent. "Agents ... went to England to take part in the work of the WCC," reports a KGB document from August, 1969. "Agents managed to avert hostile activities."
The WCC consistently caved in to the protests of its Russian "delegates." While it could be relied upon consistently to voice its disapproval of the "racism" and "colonialism" of Western churches, it remained silent in the face of Soviet-led military invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, and the documented persecution of religious and political dissidents in the Soviet Union. "The World Council of Churches," Prof. Andrew scolds, "has a disgraceful record in its failure to support persecuted Christians during the Cold War."
Would it have mattered if the church's support for human rights had been extended to those living in the Soviet bloc? The KGB certainly thought so, which is why it had singled out a certain Cardinal Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow as a troublemaker in 1971 -- fully seven years before he was elected Pope. The concern proved to be prophetic. As historians now recognize, a major reason for the fall of communism in Eastern Europe was the challenge to the moral authority of communism represented by Pope John Paul II.
But the West's struggle against communist subversion within its own borders has been forever tainted by the poison of "McCarthyism." Few Canadians will forget Herbert Norman, Canada's ambassador to Egypt in the 1950s, who took his own life in 1957 after repeated (and unsubstantiated) charges were made that he was a communist spy.
But the fact remains: Western Communist parties were active collaborators in the KGB's effort to infiltrate and subvert Western democracies. They recruited KGB agents, provided safe houses for them, acted as couriers for official secrets. "Look, the Canadian Communist Party was up to its neck in Soviet espionage," protests Prof. Klehr. In fact, as late as the 1970s, Canadian Communist leader William Kashtan agreed to assist the KGB in its drive to recruit agents.
Does this retroactively excuse Joseph McCarthy and his supporters? Quite the contrary. "Joseph McCarthy was the ablest agent of influence the KGB never had," reflects Prof. Andrew. "Because McCarthy had such a self-serving and ludicrous and malevolent desire to expose imaginary communists, what he succeeded in doing was ... to render the very idea of Soviet espionage so absurd that people refused to believe it."
As Henry Kissinger once told a Time magazine reporter, "Even a paranoid can have enemies." For 75 years Soviet agents at home and abroad helped prolong the life of a barbarous regime by stealing the military secrets of its adversaries and allies, discrediting those who dared to criticize it and brutally stamping out internal dissent. But they needed accomplices to succeed. We now know just who these accomplices were and what they did. "We have met the enemy," wrote Walt Kelly in his comic-strip Pogo, "and he is us."
Paul Mitchinson is a regular contributor to the Weekend Post Books section.