- "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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.