The “Perlo List”
Introducing a Document Missing From The Haunted Wood
By Dr. Svetlana Chervonnaya
Anatoly Gorsky’s “23 December 1949 report to General S.R. Savchenko” – also known as “Gorsky’s List” – is not the only puzzle Alexander Vassiliev, the Russian co-author of Allen Weinstein’s The Haunted Wood, produced in the course of his London libel suit against Frank Cass & Co., Ltd. to support his claim that he had seen the name of Alger Hiss in KGB (now SVR RF) intelligence files during his research. Another puzzling document Vassiliev brought into court – one which for the sake of convenience we will call the “Perlo List” – dates back to the same month of March 1945 when Anatoly Gorsky, then the NKGB intelligence station chief (“rezident“) in Washington, D.C., wrote the March 30 “Ales” cable to Moscow, now commonly known as Venona No. 1822.
According to Dr. David Lowenthal, the “Perlo List” was not produced in a pre-trial deposition (the way Gorsky’s December 1949 report, now known as “Gorsky’s List,” had been), but “was entered late in trial preparations,” and was then included in one of the collections of documents available to jurors in the libel case – such collections are called “jury bundles” by English courts (this one was in Jury Bundle 3). The name and pagination of the “Perlo List” were penciled-in additions to the otherwise typed Jury Bundle’s Table of Contents, suggesting it was received extremely late, probably in early June 2003.
The “Perlo List” included in Jury Bundle 3 consisted of several variants of the same document. They were:
1) Alexander Vassiliev’s hand-written notes of the document (found on page 309A of Jury Bundle 3), 2) A clean typed copy of the same document (found on page 309E), and 3) A handwritten Russian title of the document together with its English translation (found on page 309D).
The English translation of the title of the document supplied by Vassiliev, as included on page 309D, reads, “A list of persons who according to Raid have been cooperating with the Russian intelligence service apart from those he is working with regularly at present. Dated 15.03.45.” However, a verbatim translation of the full Russian title would read somewhat differently: “A list of persons who according to Raid have been cooperating with intelligence except for those he is working with regularly at present. Dated 15.03.45.” (In an exact transliteration from the Cyrillic alphabet into Latin letters, the Vassiliev’s title reads: “Spisok litz, kotorye po svedenijam Rejda sotrudnichajut s razvedkoi, krome tekh, s kem on v n.[astojaschee] vr[emya] regulyarno rabotaet. Ot 15.03.45.“)
Before proceeding to the document itself, I would like to say a few words about the pseudonym “Raid,” and about the man hidden behind it.
The Russian word “Rejd” has several meanings: (1) (maritime) a safe off-shore anchorage; (2) (military) a hit-and-run raid by mobile military forces attacking an enemy from the rear; (3) (police) a swoop or spot check.
Venona translators spelled this cryptonym as “Rajder” or “Raider” (see Venona Washington to Moscow No. 3707, June 29, 1945 for “Rajder,” and Washington to Moscow No. 3708, June 29, 1945 for “Raider”). However, to be more precise than the Venona translators, the Russian noun “rejder” is a derivative of the military meaning of the Russian word “rejd,” and denotes not just a person who participates in a raid but also a battleship engaged in autonomous operations against enemy transport and commercial vessels. Most probably, in mistranslating the Russian pseudonym “Rejd,” the Venona translators assumed they were dealing with a codename that referred to a soldier on a raid, rather than to either a spot check or a battleship! In any event, “Raid” (as “Raider”) can be found in Venona decrypted cable traffic beginning on May 13, 1944; the Venona translators identified the individual in question as Victor PERLO.
Victor Perlo (1912 – 1999) was an American Marxist economist known for his analysis of the political economy of American capitalism and comparative economic systems. After receiving a master’s degree in mathematics from Columbia University in 1933, Perlo worked at a number of New Deal government agencies, among a group of economists known as “Harry Hopkins’ bright young men.” The group worked, among other things, for creation and implementation of the WPA jobs program, and helped push through unemployment compensation, the Wagner National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and Social Security. During World War II, Perlo served in several capacities, working first as chief of the Aviation Section of the War Production Board, then in the Office of Price Administration, and later for the Treasury Department.
Victor Perlo was only 35 when, in 1947, his loyalty to the United States was challenged by federal investigators; for the rest of his life, he had difficulty finding work. Over a number of years, U.S. security officials pieced together a picture of Perlo based on testimony by Americans who had formerly been involved with Soviet intelligence services, and on the contents of intercepted 1944 and 1945 NKGB cables that were decrypted after the war by the Venona Project.
In late 1945, Elizabeth Bentley told the FBI that Perlo had been the leader of a group of wartime spies for the Soviets, and in 1948 Whittaker Chambers told the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that Perlo had also been part of a Communist “informational” group in the 1930s. Subsequently translated Venona cables offered various details about the so-called “Perlo Group,” a wartime association of eight or more mid-level government employees. (The true status and function of the “Perlo Group” is discussed later in this piece.)
In 1948, Perlo was called to testify before HUAC, and in 1953, he testified before the Senate Committee on Internal Security. At both hearings, Perlo denied that he had spied for the Soviet Union, and invoked the Fifth Amendment as a reason for not answering some of the questions put to him. After Perlo’s death in 1999, his wife, Ellen Perlo, told The New York Times that her husband “had not wanted to begin a line of response that might lead to his being required to testify against others.” From the 1960s until his death, Perlo served as the chief economist of the Communist Party of the United States and as a member of its National Committee.
Although relegated to the political fringe in his own country, Perlo merited a full-length article in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, which celebrated his achievements as a “progressive” economist and writer. Perlo’s first book, American Imperialism, was published in the Soviet Union in 1951. Twelve more books and many articles and pamphlets followed, all of them translated into Russian and a number of other languages. Perlo traveled to the Soviet Union and Cuba on several occasions, and in 1977 spent seven weeks touring the Soviet Union, traveling more than eight thousand miles around the USSR.
For several decades, Perlo’s works were on the required reading lists of Soviet economics and history students, and his name was well known among Russian professional historians and economists within the “USA studies” field. Meeting Victor Perlo in Moscow in 1977 in an academic setting, I would have been greatly surprised if someone had told me that, decades later, I would be discussing him in a very different context. The record of Victor Perlo’s 1977 Soviet trip, as well as his personnel file, is still off-limits and marked “classified” at the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History.
The “Perlo List”
For the convenience of further discussion, as mentioned before, I will hereafter call the notes of the “Raid” document, produced by Alexander Vassiliev in the course of his libel suit, the “Perlo List.”
Although Allen Weinstein entirely ignored “Gorsky’s List,” which is not even mentioned in The Haunted Wood (hereafter THW), the “Perlo List” was alluded to in passing on page 229 of the book, though cited there merely as an illustration of Anatoly Gorsky’s concern in March 1945 about “a general indifference to normal intelligence methods among virtually all the Washington sources”:
“… all of them know each other as compatriot-informers [Communists and sources of information] as well as being aware of what work every one of them carries out…. In a conversation with me, [Harold Glasser] (the document itself says “Ruble”; this is a substitution by Weinstein – S.Ch.) named more than a dozen names [of those] who are known to him as informers [sources of information]. [Victor Perlo] (another Weinstein substitution; the document itself says “Raid” – S.Ch.) gave us a list including fourteen men definitely connected with the groups.…” (emphasis added)
We can only guess about the composition of these “groups,” since Weinstein chose to omit discussing them in THW. However, even as printed, Weinstein’s description of the information that Gorsky had received from “Raid” (Perlo) goes beyond the “Perlo List” title brought into court by Vassiliev – “A list of persons who according to Raid have been cooperating with intelligence except for those he is working with regularly at present” (emphasis added). According to Weinstein’s THW footnote citing this passage (which attributes it to SVR File 45100, vol. 1, pp. 100-102), this quote comes from a different cable that Gorsky sent to Moscow in mid-March 1945, and not from the transmitted “Perlo List” itself (the document Vassiliev produced in his London libel suit). The pagination in the notes Alexander Vassiliev presented at his London trial clearly identifies the “Perlo List” document as coming from page 91 of NKGB intelligence file 43173, vol. 1; it was written 10 days after Gorsky’s March 5, 1945 “Ales” cable, which Vassiliev also brought into court (and which, according to his notes, appears on pages 88-89 of the same file).
Since Weinstein presumably had access to all these documents – Vassiliev’s archival research, after all, had specifically been undertaken to provide Weinstein with actual Soviet historical intelligence material he could use in a collaborate Russian-American book – we can only guess why Weinstein would choose to ignore the “Perlo List” itself, a highly unusual list with 14 American names written out “in clear.” The “Perlo List” and “Gorsky’s List” are indeed the only two known NKGB compilations of undisguised American names, and must both be taken seriously as important potential references for identifying and verifying Soviet codenames.
We can only guess if, for some reason, Weinstein might somehow have missed seeing the “Perlo List.” For its source file – 43173 – a so-called “general correspondence file” which, according to THW footnotes, has more than 14 volumes, is the one file cited most often in the entire tome. And not only this, THW actually quotes from a document also found on pages 88-89 of file 43173’s volume 1 – quotes, that is, from the document almost immediately preceding the “Perlo List” in the file, as well as from other documents on pages 95 and 98 of the same volume (and indeed from many others in addition).
As we begin to examine the “Perlo List” document itself, the first thing that strikes the eye is a distinct and visible difference between the document’s title as provided by Vassiliev (“A list of persons who according to ‘Raid’ have been cooperating with the Russian intelligence service apart from those he is working with regularly at present. Dated 15.03.45”) and the reference to it in THW. The Russian phrase properly translated as “cooperating with intelligence” (“sotrudnichajut s razvedkoi”) covers a wide range of varying degrees of contact – from a formal agent relationship down to an unknowing and indirect sharing of information (in intelligence parlance, “a sub-source who is used blind”) – and is thus a far shot from the agent status implied by calling someone “definitely connected.” Besides, as he does throughout the book, Allen Weinstein changes the pseudonym found in Vassiliev’s notes into a name identified by the Venona translators.
The reasons behind Allen Weinstein’s omitting the “Perlo List” look even stranger when you realize that, on its surface, the document seems to provide direct evidence of Alger Hiss’s connection to Soviet intelligence. On the other hand, Andrew Monson, defense lawyer in the London libel trial, found what he considered a compelling reason for the omission – the same “Perlo List” also contains evidence that seems to exonerate Alger Hiss. Monson said, in his summary charge to the jury:
“We found that the authors [of THW] failed to tell their readers about a document [the “Perlo List”] which contradicted Whittaker Chambers’s claim that Victor Perlo had been a member of the Ware group alongside Alger Hiss. The [Chambers] claim is at page 39 [of THW, and is also found in Weinstein’s Perjury, revised edition, page 125]. Perlo denies he ever worked with Alger Hiss.” [David Lowenthal files].
Perlo’s explicit denial that he had ever worked with Alger Hiss directly contradicts Whittaker Chambers’ claims, repeated by Weinstein. Four years after David Lowenthal noted this glaring discrepancy in a History News Network posting (HNN, May 2, 2005), it remains unexplained.
It is unclear why the “Perlo List” is in English rather than Russian. The most probable explanation is that the document was received by the NKGB in English, and then recorded in the file in its original language – and that Vassiliev therefore himself initially copied it out in English. This idea is supported by the fact that Gorsky is known to have sent another English language report to Moscow at about the same time (this second document was also brought into court by Vassiliev and is also found on page 309A of Jury Bundle 3; furthermore, a note by Vassiliev referenced the other English language document to page 104 of the exact same SVR file). This also probably means that these particular reports were not cabled but instead sent with the diplomatic pouch, and for this reason were decades later discovered sitting in a Russian archival file in their English original.
The full “Perlo List” document is reproduced below, just as it looks in the clean-typed copy on Jury Bundle 3, page 309E, together with its title translated into English (either by Vassiliev himself or conceivably by a court translator) from the original Russian found in Alexander Vassiliev’s notes. (The handwritten copy, with the title in Russian, appears on page 309A of Jury Bundle 3):
p. 91 “A list of persons who according to Raid have been cooperating with the Russian intelligence service apart from those he is working with regularly at present. Dated 15.03.45.”
|[Name]||Agency||Present Connection||Did I ever work with?||Does he know I have a connection?|
|Gregory Silvermaster||Treasury Procurement||Has||No||No|
|George Silverman||Army Air Forces||Think he has||Yes||Yes|
|Alger Hiss||State||-//-||No||Don’t know|
|Donald Hiss||-//- (may have left)||Don’t know||Yes||Yes|
|Charles Flato||Property Disposal Board||None||Yes (dropped)||Yes|
|Charles Seeger||Pan American Union||None||Yes (dropped)||Yes|
|Joseph Gillman||WPB||Think none||No||Probably|
|Herbert Schimmel||Senator Kilgore||Yes, with Blumberg||No||Probably|
|David Weintraub||UNRRA||Think so||No||Yes|
|Van Tassel||Senator Murray||Yes, probably with Schimmel||No||No|
|Henry Collins||Think at Senate||Don’t know||Yes||Yes|
Comments and Analysis:
Since the “Perlo List,” as it appears in Alexander Vassiliev’s Jury Bundle notes, contains 14 names, we can reasonably assume that it may well be identical to the “list including fourteen men definitely connected with the groups” mentioned on page 229 of THW.
For the convenience of further discussion, I have compiled a comparative chart linking the names on the “Perlo List” to names found on other lists:
The initial 1930s “Ware Group,” as alleged by Chambers
|The so-called “Silvermaster Group”||The so-called “Perlo Group”||The so-called “Perlo List”||The so-called “Gorsky’s List”|
|Henry Collins, then at the National Recovery Administration||Henry Collins/Think at Senate||“105th,” said to be part of “Karl’s Group”|
|George Silverman, then at the Railroad Retirement Board||George Silverman||George
Army Air Forces
|“Aileron,” said to be part of “Karl’s Group” (though with his 1944-1945 Army Air Force affiliation)|
|Victor Perlo, then at the NRA||Victor Perlo||“Raid,” a.k.a. “Eck,” said to be part of “Sound and Myrna Groups”|
|Alger Hiss, at the State Department beginning in the fall of 1936||Alger Hiss/State||“Leonard,” said to be part of “Karl’s Group”|
|Donald Hiss, at the Interior Department from May 1935 to June 1936; at the Labor Department from June 1936 to June 1938; at the State Department from February 1938 until March 26, 1945||Donald Hiss/ State (may have left)||“Junior,” said to be part of “Karl’s Group”|
|Charles Flato, at the Office of Economic Warfare during World War II||Charles Flato/
Property Disposal Board
|“Bob,” said to be part of “Sound and Myrna Groups”|
|Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, at the Treasury Department until mid-1942; then at the Farm Security Admin.||Gregory Silvermaster/
|“Robert” a.k.a. “Pal,” said to be part of “Sound and Myrna Groups”|
|Frank Coe||Frank Coe/Treasury||“Peak,” said to be part of “Sound and Myrna Groups”|
|William/Bela Gold||Bela Gold/FEA (Foreign Economic Admin.)||“Acorn,” said to be part of “Sound and Myrna Groups”|
|Irving Kaplan||Irving Kaplan/FEA||“Tino,” said to be part of “Sound and Myrna Groups”|
Pan American Union
|Joseph Gillman/WPB (War Production Board)|
|Herbert Schimmel/ Senator Kilgore|
|David Weintraub/ UNRRA (United Nations Relief & Reconstruction Admin.)||“Buck” (“Bak”), said to be part of “Sound and Myrna Groups”|
|Van Tassel/ Senator Murray|
This chart makes it obvious that by no means do all of the 14 names on the “Perlo List” have any connection to any known groups.
Five of the names (Silvermaster, Silverman, Coe, Gold, Kaplan) match the names of people who, according to Venona and other documentary and oral sources, belonged to the “Silvermaster Group.”
One name (Flato) was listed by these same sources as having belonged to Victor Perlo’s own group.
Ten of the names also appear on Anatoly Gorsky’s voluminous “Failures in the USA List” – with six of the 10 said to have been members of the most numerous “Sound and Myrna Groups” (these were the cover names of Jacob Golos and Elizabeth Bentley), and four whose names were found within “Karl’s Group,” most controversial of all the groups.
Four of the 14 names on the “Perlo List” not only do not appear on any known list of groups, they also do not appear in any Venona decrypted cable traffic, or in The Haunted Wood, or in any of three books by Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, The Secret World of American Communism (1995); The Soviet World of American Communism (1998), or Venona (1999).
Who, we may now ask, were these four people?
“Charles SEEGER/Pan American Union” was Charles (Louis) Seeger (1886-1979), a well-known composer and musicologist. Seeger, a Harvard graduate, created a music department at the University of California at Berkeley between 1912 and 1916, but was dismissed for publicly opposing America’s entry into World War I. He later taught in New York at Julliard and the New School for Social Research (1931-1935), and after World War II at the University of California at Los Angeles and at Yale. In 1930, he founded the New York Musicological Society, which in 1934 evolved into the American Musicological Society.
In addition to his teaching posts, Seeger, from 1935 to 1953, acted as a technical adviser to the New Deal’s Resettlement Administration (1935-1938), as the Deputy Director of the Federal Music Project of the WPA (1938-1941), and as chief of the music division of the Pan American Union (1941-1953). A member of the Composers Collective of New York, he also voiced his “progressive” opinion about society in the Daily Worker, using the pseudonym “Carl Sands.”
Charles Seeger’s son, folksinger (Peter) Pete Seeger, who was well known for his own Communist beliefs, used to say that it was his father who got him “into the Communist movement,” but that, having done so, his father “backed out around 1938.”
According to the “Perlo List,” Charles Seeger had once “worked” with Victor Perlo, but had then “dropped” out, and, at the time of this list’s compilation, had “no connection.” It is difficult to figure out what might “work with” mean in the case of Seeger, or for that matter with any of the three individuals who follow. To me, this looks like some pre-World War II American Communist Party connection – and thus quite possibly a misunderstanding between Victor Perlo and his 1945 Soviet contact, Anatoly Gorsky. (See a more extensive discussion of this possibility later in this analysis.)
“Joseph GILLMAN/WPB” is most probably Joseph M. Gillman (1898-?), New Yorker, Marxian economist and writer, author of The Falling Rate of Profit: Marx’s law and its significance to twentieth-century capitalism (Cameron, 1958) and Prosperity in Crisis (Marzani & Munsell, 1965). In the late 1950s, he also wrote in The Promethean Review (N.Y. Liberty Book Club).
According to the “Perlo List,” Gillman had no “connection” with Soviet intelligence at the time the list was put together, and had never “worked” with “Raid,” but was aware of the latter’s “connection.” The “Perlo List” does not offer any plausible explanation of why Gillman’s name even appears on the list.
“Herbert SCHIMMEL/Senator Kilgore” was Herbert Schimmel, who had a doctorate in physics (University of Pennsylvania, 1936 ) and, who in the 1940s, was a consultant with the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on War Mobilization, a subcommittee of the Military Affairs Committee, then commonly known as the Kilgore Committee; the subcommittee was dissolved in September 1946. In 1938, Schimmel was the co-author of a monograph (with George Perazich and Benjamin Rosenberg), “Industrial instruments and changing technologies,” for the National Research Project on Reemployment Opportunities and Recent Changes in Industrial Technologies (Philadelphia, WPA, National Research Project).
According to FBI investigative files from 1945 to 1948, Schimmel maintained a friendly relationship with George Perazich, who was said to have belonged to the so-called Perlo Group, as well as with other Perlo Group members, particularly Harry Magdoff. The FBI files also indicate social contacts between Schimmel and Henry Collins (in 1942, Collins listed Schimmel among his references in an application for a job with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation), as well as professional contacts between Schimmel and Charles Kramer, Victor Perlo, and Irving Kaplan. [See, for instance, The FBI Silvermaster File, No 65-56402, vol. 80, serials 1751-1815, PDF pp. 102-103; vol. 81, serials 1816-1862, PDF p. 126; vol. 084, serials 1908-1908x, PDF 16; vol. 088, serials 1938, PDF p. 91.] However, there is no indication that Schimmel had ever been a source for, or a contact of, any branch of Soviet intelligence.
According to the “Perlo List,” Schimmel was still “connected” at the time of its writing, had not worked with Perlo, but “probably” was aware of the latter’s connection. Perlo asserts in the list that Schimmel’s connection was “with Blumberg”; most probably, this would have been Albert (Al) E. BLUMBERG, who was a Johns Hopkins professor until 1937, when he became a full-time CP USA functionary. In 1939, Blumberg became chairman of the party’s Maryland branch. According to Al Blumberg’s personnel file in the Comintern collection, Blumberg, by May 19, 1943, was the Washington, D.C. legislative representative of the National Committee of the CP USA. In the early 1950s, he headed a “Sector on Legislature” of the party’s Central Committee.
According to a November 2, 1955 reference in Blumberg’s file, he was, in late 1954 and early 1955, part of the party’s leadership, with responsibility for “legislative issues, defense of communists in courts, press.” A February 26, 1957 reference describes Blumberg among “the representatives of a right-wing grouping within the party.” Blumberg nevertheless became head of the party’s Legislative Department on July 27, 1957. Not a single reference in Blumberg’s Comintern file, which spans a 22-year period, from April 1941 to April 1963, and none of the mentions of Blumberg in CP USA files, convey the idea that Blumberg ever had any party “underground” functions or connections of any kind.
“Van TASSEL/ Senator Murray” was Alfred J. Van Tassel, who would later work at the United Nations Technical Assistance Administration as chief of the economics section, special projects division, where he organized and coordinated United Nations training seminars and demonstration centers around the world. When called to testify before a 1952 Senate Internal Security Subcommittee hearing investigating “Communist infiltration in the U.N.,” he took the Fifth Amendment, when asked whether he was a Communist Party member. Another witness that day, Stanley Graze, one more American working in the U.N.’s TAA economic and trade section and who also cited his Fifth Amendment rights when questioned about Communist Party membership, appears as “Dan” on the Gorsky “Failures List,” where he is said to have been a member of the “Sound and Myrna Groups.”
According to Victor Perlo, Van Tassel was still “connected” (“probably with Schimmel”) at the time of the list’s writing, but had never “worked” with Perlo and was not aware of the latter’s “connection.” If Van Tassel “was connected” “probably with Schimmel,” who was himself “connected” “with Blumberg,” who, since 1937, had been a full-time open Communist Party functionary – the only logical conclusion one can make is that Perlo was describing some Communist Party (or fellow traveler) relationship, and that there indeed was some kind of misunderstanding between him and Gorsky.
When it comes to Alger Hiss, the “Perlo List” becomes even murkier.
On its surface, the very presence of Alger Hiss’s name on a “list of persons who according to ‘Raid’ have been cooperating with intelligence,” might be pounced upon by some scholars as new and further corroboration of Alger Hiss’s “guilt.” The situation, however, is immediately complicated by “Raid”s presumed “ditto marks” (“-//-“) in answer to the question about “present connection,” meaning, any present connection “with [Soviet] intelligence” – to cite the language used in Vassiliev’s title. The name just above Alger Hiss’s on the “Perlo List” is George Silverman, about whom Perlo says “Think he has” a present connection; if the marks just below that are in fact ditto marks, then it would certainly seem that Perlo is also making the same assertion about Alger Hiss; the meaning of the marks, however, is not altogether definite.
On the other hand, Perlo’s definite “No” in answer to the question, “Did I ever work with?” – where “work,” as used by Soviet intelligence, is a known euphemism for “engaging in intelligence activity” (or in this case, more probably, Communist Party “informational work”) – is a clear refutation of Whittaker Chambers’ allegation that Alger Hiss had once been a member of the so-called “Ware Group” within the New Deal’s Agricultural Adjustment Administration. At the HUAC hearings on August 25, 1948, Chambers testified:
The members of that [Hal Ware] group, when I first came to know them, were Henry Collins, Alger Hiss, Donald Hiss, Charles Kramer or Krevitsky, Victor Perlo, John Abt, Nathan Witt – it seems to me I have forgotten one – Lee Pressman, of course.
Lee Pressman – according to Nathaniel Weyl – was not the only name Chambers had forgotten. The sole corroboration ever offered for Chambers’ “Ware Group” allegation about Alger Hiss came from Nathaniel Weyl, who testified, on February 23, 1953 in an Executive Session of the U.S. Senate Security Hearings (U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, Washington, D.C.), that he had been “in the same Communist cell with Alger Hiss.” Weyl further said that he, Lee Pressman, and Alger Hiss “were among the eight or nine people who met with the first meeting of that organization.”
Since Victor Perlo is undisputedly an original member of the so-called “Ware Group,” his evidence that Hiss was not a group member is a strong refutation of the Chambers and Weyl allegations. Simultaneously, Perlo’s assertion offers belated corroboration of Alger Hiss’s statement at the HUAC hearings of August 16, 1948, that he had not known Victor Perlo under the circumstances Chambers had described.
The “Perlo List” assertions about Donald Hiss are even murkier than those about Alger Hiss. Although Victor Perlo was even less certain of Donald Hiss’s “present connection” than he was of Alger’s – he said “Don’t know” of Donald as opposed to “Think he has” of Alger – Perlo also said that he used to “work with” Donald – and that Donald was aware of Perlo’s own “connection” to Soviet intelligence. Aside from an allegation by Chambers, Perlo’s assertions find no support in other publicly available testimonies and oral stories.
For instance, according to an FBI Washington Field Office (WFO) report dated February 19, 1942, Donald Hiss “is carried as a subject in the case of Jay David Whittaker Chambers [who] has stated that Donald Hiss was a member of the Harold Ware group in the communist underground in Washington in mid-30s.” Ten years into the investigation, however, the Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Office reported to J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, on January 1, 1952, “Re Subject: Donald Hiss,” that: “The unsubstantiated allegations of Whittaker Chambers that the subject was a member of the Communist Party underground unit are the pre-eminent charges.”
The same report went on to summarize earlier findings and to remind Hoover that Chambers himself had essentially cleared Donald Hiss: “Chambers also reiterated on several occasions that he was unsuccessful in obtaining the services of the subject and that Donald Hiss furnished no confidential information or documents to Chambers or as far as Chambers knows to anybody else…. There has been no allegations of espionage at any time.”
Publicly available Russian files offer not even a single shred of archival evidence either that Alger or Donald Hiss were members of the so-called “Ware Group” or that they had any kind of affiliation with the Communist Party. My several years of concentrated research in the Moscow-based files of the American Communist Party and Comintern, as well as in the files of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Russian diplomatic files, and the files of VOKS (the Soviet Society for Cultural Contacts) have indeed produced Comintern and Russian party personnel files, CP USA and/or Comintern records, Soviet records of meetings, confidential profiles and/or references to most of the alleged members of the “Ware Group” – with the notable exceptions of Alger and Donald Hiss.
The files I have examined contain references to Harold Ware, John Hermann, John Abt, Lee Pressman, Victor Perlo, Henry Collins, and Nathaniel Weyl. Some of these men appear as Communist Party members (Ware, Hermann, Abt, Pressman, and Perlo), and some appear additionally as Soviet confidential contacts and sources of information (Abt, Pressman, Perlo). The one reference to Collins is an American Communist Party description of him to the Soviets in 1948 as a “progressive and reliable person.”
There is no mention of Alger and Donald Hiss in CP USA files either as open or as “undisclosed” (“neglasny”) Communist Party members, or as members of any of the many Communist front organizations. I have not discovered a single instance of their names appearing on numerous support lists of various Communist Party causes and front campaigns. Neither do their names occur as participants in any Communist-related activities or associations. Similarly, their names do not appear among Soviet confidential contacts or as subjects of queries, etc., in any publicly accessible Soviet party, diplomatic, or “cultural” files.
Considering the huge volume of CP USA files, the chance that some pages related to Alger Hiss or Donald Hiss had, at some point, been sought, identified, and then purposefully removed from this archive, seems close to nil.
Looking back after six decades – and with all the major participants having left the scene – it is difficult to try to ascertain what was really behind the puzzle list that “Raid” – Victor Perlo – wrote for Anatoly Gorsky in March 1945. As has already been said, however, the Pandora’s Box associated with the data gathered for The Haunted Wood has more to offer than just the Vassiliev notes that turned up in a London courtroom Jury Bundle.
Other items in this box include English translations of a few chapter drafts that Alexander Vassiliev, at one point, roughed out for his American co-author, Allen Weinstein – drafts that incorporate extracts from various other KGB documents he had been shown for Weinstein’s later use. In the spring of 2002, the late John Lowenthal shared these drafts with me, asking for evaluation and comments.
One of the chapters, as it happens, sheds some light upon the nature of the relationship that both Victor Perlo and the so-called “Perlo Group” had with Soviet intelligence. The chapter quotes, at some length, 1944 reports by Vassily Zarubin, the NKGB intelligence resident in North America from 1942 to 1944, to his Moscow boss, Vsevolod Merkulov, the head of the NKGB. Zarubin in these reports offers detailed information about “the group of ‘Eck'” – “Eck” being the cover name the NKGB used for Victor Perlo before September 2, 1944.
Zarubin informs Merkulov that “the group of ‘Eck'” had at one time been “one illegal communist cell” (this and the following quotes are from the translation of Zarubin’s report), which had operated under the supervision of CP USA functionary Joseph Peters (“Storm”). Since Zarubin knew “Storm” “as a man, connected with the neighbors” – meaning, in this case, with Soviet military intelligence, he had originally “supposed that all the group belonged to the neighbors.” However, upon further checking, Zarubin learned from “Helmsman” – that is, from none other than the head of the CP USA, Earl Browder – that Browder had been “getting materials of this group and a part of them he passed us sometimes through ‘Sound.'” (“Sound” was the NKGB’s “illegal” sub-resident, Jacob Golos.)
Having learned these details, Zarubin was able to report to Merkulov, upon his return to Moscow in the fall of 1944, that “even if this group had been used by ‘Storm’ for the neighbors in the past, it went only by the compatriot line and none of the group’s participants knew about it, was not connected directly with the neighbors and the latter don’t know the people of the group.”
To restate this in more idiomatic English – Zarubin was reporting that, even if J. Peters had previously been in the habit of turning over information he had received from the “Perlo Group” to the GRU, the group itself, which was composed only of local American Communist Party members and party fellow travelers, never knew what Peters was doing; that it had not been chartered by the GRU; and that in fact it had never had any knowing or direct link to the GRU. Moreover, GRU officers who received “Perlo Group” information through Peters were never told, and did not know, any of the names of the members of the group. The “Perlo Group,” that is to say, had been “used blind,” a Soviet intelligence phrase for Americans who had become unknowing sources of information.
Vassily Zarubin left the United States in the early fall of 1944, and Anatoly Gorsky immediately stepped into his shoes. It is not clear whether there was even any overlap between Zarubin’s tenure and Gorsky’s. Zarubin’s explanations, after returning home, cast serious doubt on the idea that “Raid,” that is, Perlo, was even speaking the same language Gorsky was, and on whether, in view of the information developed by Zarubin, Perlo was indeed even in a position to be fully aware of the nature of the questions Gorsky presumably put to him. If, for instance, Gorsky asked him, “Did I ever work with” so-and-so, Perlo would definitely hear this as a question that related to his work on the “compatriot line,” that is, on the American Communist Party line.
I will conclude this analysis by citing one further highlight provided in the same Vassiliev draft chapter that substantiates this conclusion of Perlo’s “unknowingness.” Recall that in reporting on Herbert Schimmel, Perlo’s answer to the question about Schimmel’s “present connection” was, “Yes, with Blumberg.” Remember also that the “Perlo List” was prepared on March 15, 1945. Now contrast that with an intelligence document cited by the Vassiliev chapter that reports on a late July 1945 discussion of plans “to approach Albert Blumberg, communist representative in Washington and Baltimore,” with the idea of “his recruitment” into Soviet intelligence.
In other words, Blumberg was being discussed as a target for recruitment four months after Perlo had identified a Schimmel “connection” with Blumberg, so, when putting together his list four months earlier, Perlo presumably may only have been discussing a “compatriot line” “connection.” (There is, by the way, no evidence that Blumberg ever was actually recruited by Soviet intelligence.)
After all this sifting and comparison, we may still only guess why Allen Weinstein chose not to quote the “Perlo List” in The Haunted Wood. We have already pointed out that the document is troublesome to those convinced of Alger Hiss’s guilt, since it seems both to implicate and to exonerate him. When, however, the “Perlo List”‘s absence from The Haunted Wood is paired with Zarubin’s report on the status and function of the “Perlo Group,” another document which also did not manage to make it into The Haunted Wood, one possible answer for Weinstein’s omission seems to spring into focus.
For what Zarubin had discovered about the “Perlo Group” goes to the core of the whole hotly disputed issue of the true nature of the relationships between American Communist-leaning New Dealers and Soviet intelligence services in the 1930s. Once he became privy to this story, Allen Weinstein chose to keep the Pandora’s Box entrusted to him tightly closed.
1. Quoted in “Victor Perlo, 87, Economist for Communist Party in U.S.,” by Joseph B. Treaster, an obituary in The New York Times, December 10, 1999.
2. Pete Seeger himself backed out after Khrushchev’s 1956 speech.
3. Albert Blumberg personnel file, RGASPI, fund 495, description 261, file 5504 (part of a folder with files 5530 – 5500); CP USA files, 1937-42, RGASPI, fund 515, description 1.
4. FBI FOIA, Subject Donald Hiss, File No: 101-4300, Part 1, p. 16.
5. Ibid., Part 2, p. 40.
6. Vassiliev referenced Zarubin’s reports to SVR File 35112, vol. 9, pp. 412-413.
7. Vassiliev referenced this document to SVR File 35112, vol. 9, p. 71.