Ironically, in the post-Communist Russia of the 1990s, a number of retired Soviet stalwarts, including high-ranking intelligence officers, felt free for the first time to publish extensive memoirs about their lifetimes of service to the Communist regime. Although the Hiss case was never the primary focus of any of these books, some of them included second-hand accusations against Hiss, while others sprang to his defense. One such book was Special Tasks, the 1994 autobiography of Pavel Sudoplatov, a disgraced and later rehabilitated KGB Lieutenant General who in his younger years had been involved in the assassination of Leon Trotsky. Compiled with two American co-authors, the book passed along without comment several unsubstantiated rumors Sudoplatov had heard connecting Hiss to Soviet intelligence:
In June 1993, I talked to one of my former colleagues who was at some point a military intelligence rezident in London and New York. According to him, Hiss became a source for our group in Washington at the beginning and in the mid-1930s. This group was headed by the economist Nathan Silverman, who was born in Russia, and it consisted of our agents and sources of confidential information, who were not formally recruited and did not sign agreements of cooperation….
As I recall, although I could be wrong, Hiss’s pseudonym as a source was ‘Mars,’ but he had no idea about this….
My old acquaintance, a veteran of our military intelligence, told me that before the Yalta [Conference], Hopkins and Hall, U.S. Secretary of State, on Roosevelt’s order pushed Hiss to contact the Soviet representative, knowing about his [Hiss’s] sympathies to the Soviet Union. It was important to have Hiss as a go-between who could bring important non-official information to Soviet ruling circles from time to time.
(Moscow: Olma-Press, 1998, pages 374-375 [in Russian])
Even on the surface, there are several obvious elements of confusion in this narrative: “Nathan Silverman” is a conflation of George Silverman and Nathan Silvermaster, two American government officials who have been linked to the KGB; in 1944, Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. had replaced Cordell Hull as Secretary of State. Vitaly G. Pavlov’s Operation “Snow,” on the other hand, stands in marked contrast to Special Tasks, partly because it was specifically written to tell “as much of the truth as possible” about Soviet foreign intelligence (the KGB) and partly because, as a result of the purges of the 1930s, Pavlov, while still only 25, had already become deputy head of the Foreign Intelligence American Division. After the war, Pavlov rose steadily in the KGB ranks: from 1947 to 1952 he was assistant head, then deputy head, and finally head of the American Department of Foreign Intelligence, with direct oversight over Soviet rezidents in the U.S., and even became deputy head of Foreign Intelligence from 1961 to 1966. From 1971 to 1973 he served as head of their Foreign Intelligence College (now called the Foreign Intelligence Academy and referred to in Pavlov’s book as the Special Services School). So, in Russian eyes, was Alger Hiss an espionage agent? Pavlov, for one, unconditionally says he was not. Here is an excerpt from his 1996 memoir.
Half a Century in KGB Foreign Intelligence
By VITALY G. PAVLOV
[Translated from the original Russian]
“Geya” Publishers, Moscow, 1996
In early October of 1988 my lately quiet telephone suddenly rang. The familiar voice of Vladimir Borisovich Barkovsky: “Do you recall that fifty years ago I was among the first graduates of the intelligence school?”
“Of course! How could anyone forget such a thing?” I answered.
“We’re making preparations to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the foreign intelligence institute,” Vladimir Borisovich continues. “After all, it laid the foundation for the Special Services School (SHON). You’re invited to a reunion with the veterans. Not only as a student in the first graduating class, but also as the head of the institute in the early 1970s.”
Need I even say that I gladly took this opportunity to see many of my SHON classmates, as well as colleagues from my three-year term as the institute’s director?
The institute lies beyond the city line, not far from the Moscow circular highway. I remembered very well how to get there, although it had been fifteen years since I surrendered the helm of this remarkable institution of learning. Now I saw not only new buildings but also a different generation of teachers, as well as new division and department heads.
As it turned out, I hardly knew anyone at the meeting of the veterans and students and of course no one at all among the young instructors. Everyone listened with undisguised interest to our reminiscences about the now long gone 1930s, when the institute was just getting started. Looking into the curious eyes of the young auditorium, I caught myself thinking, “Why not write my reminiscences and share with someone else such hard-won experience? Why not enliven the dry histories they’re studying about the foreign intelligence service of the past 50 years and add the lively colors of operations work?”
After this meeting of October 15, 1988, a meeting in honor of the anniversary was held in the F. E. Dzerzhinskiy Central Club of the KGB. The meeting included the main staff of the institute and also active intelligence service members. New encounters, conversations and questions, questions, questions. Again the same thought kept coming back. To tell the truth, I had been thinking about this for a long time. My faithful life partner, Klavdiya Ivanovna, who selflessly shared all the hardships of an intelligence career, had for a long time tactfully, but with increasing persistence, kept nudging me to commit to paper my experiences. I understood that writing about intelligence is difficult in general because of the special secrecy, and this was holding me back. Further, in order to convey to the reader truthfully and clearly the essence of the matters which may now be discussed openly, one must possess the necessary literary abilities.
For us intelligence personnel, in my opinion, reminiscences are the most difficult genre. First, after half a century of being accustomed to writing under the stamp of “top secret,” you are dominated by the professional style that your colleagues understand. But will this official language be understandable to readers whose only knowledge of intelligence comes from novels and popularizing brochures?
Second, it is extremely complicated to stay always inside the bounds of what is permitted so as not to disclose official secrets unintentionally, i.e., secrets that must still be kept strictly and untouchably secret because of the contemporary situation or professional ethics.
Finally, third, how can one bring to the contemporary reader the true atmosphere in which our generation of intelligence agents had to operate, both in times long past and in recent times?
In giving himself over to his memories, the intelligence agent involuntarily relives the events of bygone days. He is enveloped by the feelings of anguish and doubt that tormented him in those days. Decades have passed, new assessments of facts and events have appeared, and changes have occurred both in and around us.
To recreate as truthfully as possible what existed at that time means not only recalling the most important details of the circumstances of the events being depicted, but also what you and your colleagues were feeling in those days. Amendments must be made because of the experience the years have brought and the restraint developed by many years of professional training. Many other factors need to be considered from the changes in living conditions and the international situation to the new discoveries and achievements of science and technology.
Fragments of reminiscences of fifty years of intelligence activity kept coming up in my memory. Except for things that are generally known, as detailed in books and shown in film and theater, much of this area of human activity remains “behind seven locks.” With increasing frequency, publications are appearing in our press about the affairs of now widely known Soviet intelligence agents, but the authors of these publications keep their silence about much. Specifically, I’m thinking of the “famous group of five,” headed by Kim Philby, the legendary Rudolf Abel and Gordon Lonsdale, the Krogers, and others with whom I had occasion to work. These unusual personalities appear in these publications not as living people but more like abstract “intelligence agents.” However, every one of them was a person of exceptional credentials. My obligation is to attempt to show this.
As I thought about the work ahead of me, I finally became convinced that I would be able to add at least a bit to what is already known. I could do this particularly as intelligence work relates to deep psychological processes sometimes completely unknown to people in other professions. While I don’t claim that I will be able to recreate successfully the entire setting of the events described, I did attempt to accompany the stories of specific operations and the people who participated in them with psychological assessments that came up at that time. Of course, in individual instances, I approached these assessments with the experience I have gained and the conclusions I have reached in half a century of intelligence work.
As I sat down to write this book, I understood inwardly that in part I had to write about my years devoted to intelligence work. But mainly I knew I had to write because fate gave me the gift of encounters with such people who deserved that our nation learn more of the truth about them.
I respectfully bow my head to their memory and feel duty bound to sketch their living images and to depict the deeply human content of their selfless service to the nation.
I will not conceal that what tipped the scales in favor of deciding to write my memoirs was the confused wave of fabrications on the Soviet foreign intelligence service as we witnessed it in those years. This confused wave was stirred up by former members of western intelligence services such as D. Martin, P. Right, C. Pincher, journalists like D. Barron and traitors such as Guzenko, Golitsyn, Levchenko and Gordiyevsky. Using a “cheat sheet” prepared by western intelligence services, along with genuine facts, these authors augment their opuses with “testimony” that distorts the goals and methods of our intelligence service. The reminiscences and notes of certain American, English, German and French intelligence agents, along with those of traitors from the Soviet and Russian special services, have begun to flood the reader market. One cannot help but be concerned about the appearance of the conjectures and imaginings of certain home-grown authors who, as the people say, “for the sake of a nice-sounding word will not spare their own father.”
As with any war, a secret war also has allies and enemies. As with any work, intelligence activity is not free of serious deficiencies and miscalculations. Sometimes in a sharp skirmish with the enemy, the decisions made are not always the best, and mistaken steps are taken. Without mentioning the distant past, the history of the past decade provides examples of the enemy’s use of keen-edged methods of influence against members of our foreign intelligence, from the use of narcotics and other psychotropic means to physical violence.
That is why as much of the truth as possible must now be told about the foreign intelligence service, to write about the people who were selflessly loyal to their country, and to refute those who try to tarnish their good names.
From Chapter One: I Discover America
I would like to emphasize another circumstance concerning Operation Snow.
No matter what the “experts,” i.e. the traitors who fled to the West, such as O. Gordiyevsky, say about our foreign intelligence service and about I. A. Akhmerov [who headed KGB intelligence operations in the United States. For more on Ahkmerov, see Eric Alterman’s “I Spy With One Little Eye.”], they cannot be believed. They can only try to feed off rumors, because Iskhak Abdulovich was an extremely secretive man who never talked about his work, much less about the agents he had connections with in the USA. I can say the following: No, in his lecture Akhmerov could not, as Godiyevsky writes, have said anything about Harry Hopkins or Alger Hiss, who were not agents of ours (and Akhmerov never encountered them). All of this is the pure fabrication of a traitor who did not know Akhmerov personally.
As with all of our foreign intelligence service, Akhmerov absolutely did not attempt to lure “top government officials” into working with him, although, of his ten agents, two would fit in that category.
Our foreign intelligence service believed (and I think still believes today) that an intelligent and capable deputy or assistant of a major top official is able to obtain no less information (if not more) than his boss.
If we speak about the second period of I. A. Akhmerov’s intelligence activity in the USA (1941-1945), then all the information that the residency worked to obtain was first and foremost “anti-German” and “anti-Japanese” and was absolutely not used against the USA. Our sources were Americans who agreed to work with our foreign intelligence on an anti-Nazi basis and caused no harm to their country. They are more likely to have helped the American military successfully fight the German fascists and Japanese militarists.
Naturally, readers of this book might be interested in the fate of those of Akhmerov’s agents who served in Washington’s war-time intelligence organization, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the CIA. More than once in recent years, the American press has carried reports [a reference to the Venona papers] based on what was supposed to be decoded correspondence between our New York foreign intelligence residency and Moscow in the war period. These reports claimed that the Kremlin’s covert service had seven agents in the OSS. I believe that only one thing is correct in these reports: yes, we had agents in Washington’s intelligence service. But first of all, there were not seven agents but significantly more (readers must understand that even now I cannot disclose the exact number simply based on my own wish to do so). Second, as far as the “decoding of correspondence” between our intelligence structures goes, I am extremely doubtful that the Americans managed to learn the identity of even one of our agents in the OSS. Moreover, I can say the following: when the CIA was created in 1947, some of our sources in Washington’s war-time intelligence service managed to transfer to that organization.
Naturally I cannot yet talk about all this in greater detail: the time has not yet come.