“Dinner Party” at the Fields’: A Comparison between Alexander Vassiliev’s Draft Chapters,
The Sources in Washington, and Allen Weinstein’s Rewrite in The Haunted Wood.
The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America — the Stalin Era, by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev (Random House, 1999), pp. 14-19, citing Archival No. 36857, vol.1, Laurence Duggan’s file.
Alexander Vassiliev, The Sources in Washington, Russian draft manuscript discovered in 2007 in Allen Weinstein’s Papers at the Hoover Institution’s Archive, pp. 14-19, citing Archival No. 36857, vol.1; Laurence Duggan file. Translation by Svetlana Chervonnaya (2007).
The sympathies of Washington intellectuals towards the Soviet Union, CPUSA strength [in mid-1930s – S.Ch.], undoubtedly created favorable opportunities for the work of the NKVD and military intelligence. However, there was a reverse side of the coin: the sources of different residencies and “non-disclosed” [“neglasnye” – an opposite of “glasnyi,” which reminds one of Gorbachev’s “Glasnost”] Communists who were providing information for the leadership of the CPUSA [and were] active in the same operational field, often came in contact not only in their official capacity, but also in intelligence work, which resulted in mutual disclosure [“rasshifrovka,” verbatim for decryption].
In April 1936, however, an encounter occurred involving Noel Field (code-named “Ernst” at that time) that, a decade later, would affect gravely both his life and Dougan’s. The story emerged in a memorandum that month from Hedda Gumperz to her superiors concerning her efforts with Field. She informed them that a week before the latter’s departure for Europe to attend a London conference representing State, he was approached by another New Deal friend, Alger Hiss, then completing an assignment at the Justice Department and scheduled to join State that fall: “Alger let him know that he was a Communist [Gumperz memo continued], that he was connected with an organization working for the Soviet Union and that he knew [Field] also had connections but he was afraid they were not solid enough, and probably, his knowledge was being used in a wrong way. Then he directly proposed that [Field] give him an account of the London conference”.
Field described himself and Hiss, according to Gumperz’s memo, as “close friends”, hence Field’s willingness to discuss the subject of espionage. (Gumperz used Alger Hiss’s actual name in her memo because she obviously did not know his code name). Noel Field told Hiss that he was already reporting to his own Soviet NKVD contacts on the conference. Hiss was then a member of a Soviet military intelligence (or GRU) network headed by Harold (“Hal”) Ware, a group that had been energetic in recruiting new “believers” – especially friends – into its work. Hiss was not dissuaded by Noel Field’s initial refusal to cooperate. Gumperz’s memo chronicled Field’s account of the subsequent discussion, which at times seemed almost like a polite debate over joining competing college fraternities: Alger kept insisting on the report, and [Field] was forced to tell him that he needed to consult his “connections”.
In the next couple of days, after having thought it over, Alger said that he no longer insisted on the report. But he wanted [Field] to talk to Larry and Helen [Duggan] about him and let them know who he was and give him [Alger] access to them. [Field] again mentioned that he had contacted Helen and Larry. However, Alger insisted that he talk to them again, which [Field] ended up doing. [Field] talked to Larry about Alger and, of course, about having told him “about the current situation” and that “their main task at the time was to defend the Soviet Union” and that “they both needed to use their favorable positions to help in this respect”. Larry became upset and frightened and announced that he needed some time before he would make the final step; he still hoped to do his normal job, he wanted to reorganize his department, try to achieve some results in that area, etc.
Evidently, according to [Field], he did not make any promises, nor did he encourage Alger in any sort of activity, but politely stepped back. Alger asked [Field] several other questions; for example, what kind of personality he had, and if [Field] would like to contact him. He also asked [Field] to help him to get to the State Department. Apparently, [Field] satisfied this request.
When I pointed out to [Field] his terrible discipline and the danger he put to himself into by connecting these three people, he did not seem to understand it. He thought that just because “Alger was the first to open his cards, there was no reason for him to keep a secret”.
Besides, Alger announced that he was doing it for “us” and because of the fact that he lived in Washington, D.C…and finally, [since] I was going to go out of the country for a while, he thought it would be a good idea to establish contact between us.
(Referenced to Arch.# 36857, Vol. 1, p.23)
In April 1936, “Redhead” wrote the following memo: “Our friend “Ernst” [LINK to Ernst] reported to me on the day prior to his departure for Europe the following story, about which he himself would report to our friends while abroad.
Approximately a week before his departure from Washington, Alger Hiss had approached him. Alger told him that he was a Communist, that he was connected with an organization working for the Soviet Union, and that he knew that “Ernst” also had connections, although he feared that they were not solid enough, [and] that his knowledge was being used inappropriately. Then he straightforwardly suggested that “Ernst” provide a report on the London conference.
According to “Ernest,” since they were close friends he did not refuse to talk to him about this topic, but told Alger that he had already made a report on the conference.
When Alger, whom, as you may perhaps remember, I met through “Ernst,” insisted that he would still like to receive this report, “Ernst” stated that he would have to contact his “connections” and ask for their advice.
In a day, having thought it over, Alger said that he would not insist upon the receipt of this report, but that he would have to ask “Ernst” to talk to Larry and Helen about him, to tell them who he was and to give him (Alger) access to them. “Ernst” again said that he had already established contact with Larry and Helen, but Alger insisted that, this notwithstanding, “Ernest” should talk to them again, which “Ernst” did. He talked to Larry about Alger and, of course, about himself, having told him “in what situation they found themselves” and “that the major task at present was the defense of the Soviet Union,” etc., [and] that each of them should use his favorable situation for the purpose of providing assistance in this respect.” Larry seemed distraught, frightened, and said that he had not gone that far, that it would take some time before he would be able to take this final step, that he still hoped to do certain work in the normal way, to reorganize his department, to try to achieve some results in this respect, etc. It is obvious, according to “Ernst”’s own account, that he has not made any promises, had not encouraged Alger [to take] any action, but, more likely, has politely stepped back. Alger also asked “Ernst” a whole series of other questions, for instance, who would be his successor, [and] whether “Ernst” would like to establish contact with him. He also asked him to help him get into the Department of State, which “Ernst” obviously has done.
When I pointed out to “Ernst” what a terrible breach of discipline he had committed, how he had jeopardized the advisability of his [own] use and all [our] work by connecting these three people, he seemed not to understand anything. He assumed that “since Alger was the first to show his cards, he had no reason to keep it all secret;” besides, since Alger said that “he was doing this for ‘us,’ and since he lived in Washington and for this reason could not meet Larry more often than I myself [could], and, finally, since I was going to leave the country for some time, he thought that it would be best to establish contact between them.” (Ibid., p. 23).
Since Hedda Gumperz was then trying to cultivate both Laurence and Helen Duggan as well as Noel Field for her NKVD cohort, she was deeply troubled by this apparently causal interlocking of agents from two completely distinct networks (supposedly unfamiliar with each other). Alger Hiss, assigned the code name “Lawyer”, had assumed the self-appointed and unwelcome role of recruiter of fellow officials such as Field and Duggan. Gumperz had at once informed her soviet superior, an “illegal” station chief named Boris Bazarov, who had the unpleasant task of notifying Moscow (in an April 26, 1936, dispatch) that the whole Gumperz-Duggan-Field-Hiss situation had become something of an unseemly tag team match among agents, actual and potential:
The result has been that, in fact, [Field] and Hiss have been openly identified to [Laurence Duggan]. Apparently [Duggan] also understands clearly [Gumperz’s] nature. And [Gumperz] and Hiss several months ago identified themselves to each other. Helen Boyd, [Duggan’s] wife, who I think that after this story we should not speed up the cultivation of [Duggan] and his wife. Apparently, besides us, the persistent Hiss will continue his initiative in this direction. In a day or two, [Duggan’s] wife will come to New York, where [Gumperz] wil have a friendly meeting with her. At [Field’s] departure from Washington, Helen expressed a great wish to meet [Gumperz] again. Perhaps Helen will tell [Gumperz] about her husband’s feelings.
[Reference to Arch.#36857, Vol.1, pp. 22-25]
Informing Moscow about this unpleasant story on April 26 1936, Bazarov wrote: “The result was that ‘17’ and Hiss have, in fact, been openly disclosed [‘rasshifrovany’, verbatim ‘deciphered’] before ‘19’. ‘19’ probably clearly understands ‘Redhead’’s nature. And ‘Redhead’ and Hiss have disclosed themselves [revealed their true nature – S.Ch.] to each other more than two months ago. “Helen Boyd – the wife of ‘19’, who was present at almost all these meetings and conversations, is undoubtedly also aware of all this business and now knows as much as ‘19th’ himself… “I think that after this incident we should not force the cultivation of ‘19’ and his wife. It is possible that besides us, the persistent Hiss will continue his initiative in that direction. The wife of ‘“19th’ is coming to New York one of these days. ‘Redhead’ will meet her here in a purely friendly way. On the departure of ‘17th’ from Washington, Helen expressed a great desire to see ‘Redhead’ again. It is possible that Helen will tell ‘Redhead’ about her husband’s mood.” (Ibid., p. 22)
NKVD Moscow pressed for continuing efforts to bring the Duggans on board, however, and a May 3, 1936, cable responding to Bazarov complained about Gumperz’s handling of the situation (unfairly since Gumperz, too, had protested Hiss’s having crossed over to other networks in search of recruits): “We do not understand [Gumperz’s] motives in having met with [Hiss]. As we understand, this occurred after our instruction that [Hiss] was ‘the neighbors’ man’ [working with military intelligence], and that one should leave him alone. Such experiments [as Gumperz’s meeting] may lead to undesirable results.”
Moscow instructed Bazarov to be certain that none of his agents undertook similar meetings across jurisdictional boundaries “without your knowledge”, especially not Hedda Gumperz, “knowing that her drawbacks include impetuousness”. As for “how to untangle” the interwoven agents, Moscow was similarly practical:
[Field] left [for Europe], which isolates him to a certain degree, and [Hiss] will gradually forget about him. As for how to save [Duggan] and his wife [completing their agent recruitment], [Duggan] may be of interest to us, taking into account his status in “Surrogate” [the State Department]; his wife, also, taking into <p. 8> account her connections. Therefore, we believe it necessary to smooth over skillfully the present situation and to draw both of them away from [Hiss]. As an extreme measure, [Duggan] could tell [Hiss] that “he is helping the local compatriots [the American Communist Party] and that the latter suggested that he not get in contact with anyone else.” It is our fault, however, that [Field], who is already our agent, has been left in [Gumperz’s] charge, a person who is unable to educate either an agent or even herself.
[Reference to Arch.# 36857, Vol.1, p.24]
Naturally, the Center did not like the whole story, however, it thought that the cultivation of “19th” should be continued. On May 3, 1936, the Center wrote:
“We do not understand the motives behind ‘Redhead’’s meeting with ‘Jurist’. As we understand, this took place after our instructions that ‘Jurist’ was the neighbors’ [LINK to “neighbors”] man, and that he should be kept at a distance. Such experiments may produce unfavorable results.
We strongly suggest that you establish a procedure whereby none of your people will take any steps without your knowledge. This is especially true in the case of ‘Redhead,’ in view of her drawbacks, which are evident in her impulsiveness [outbursts]. The question now is how to get out of this tangled web. ‘17’ has left, and this isolates him to some extent, and ‘Jurist’ will gradually forget about him.
“Now, on how to save ‘19’ and his wife. ‘19’ may be of interest, considering his position at the ‘Surrogate,’(15); his wife as well, considering her connections. To refuse to cultivate them is taking the path of least resistance. Hence, we think it is necessary to cleverly smooth the resulting situation and steer them both away from ‘Jurist.’ “As a last resort, ‘19’ might say that he ‘was assisting the local compatriots, and that the latter have suggested that he not contact anyone else.’ “It is our fault that ‘17,’ who had already been our agent, was left in the custody of ‘Redhead,’ who is unable to educate not only an agent, but [even] herself.” (Ibid., p. 24.)
[Vassiliev’s footnote (15) is illegible. “Surrogate” was an earlier name for the Department of State. In the 1940s, it was called “Bank.”]
Another Soviet operative then active in washington, Itzhak Akhmerov, responded to Moscow’s May 3 instructions with his own account of the background of the Gumperz-Hiss meeting that troubled NKVD officials at home. His version was milder than Bazarov’s. Akhmerov shed light on Soviet intelligence’s sudden embarrassment of American agent riches, a recent bonanza of antifascist romantics that at times caused different networks to stumble across one another:
[Gumperz] met with [Hiss] only once during her stay in this country [Gumperz herself had left for Europe by then], and it was last winter. She went to this meeting with Comrade [Bazarov’s] consent. After you informed us that he had a liaison with the neighbors, we did not meet with [Hiss].… [However, Hiss], after meeting [Gumperz] at the flat of [Noel Field] and his conversation with her, undoubtedly informed his command about this meeting. By an accidental coincidence, a brother organization’s worker connected with [Hiss] knew [Gumperz] well.…
This brother worker, whom we know as “Peter”, …
at one of his rare meetings with [Gumperz] told the latter: “You in Washington came across my guy [Hiss]… You better not lay your hands on him, etc…”
[Reference to Arch.# 36857, Vol.1, p. 25.]
The circumstances of the meeting between “Redhead” and “Jurist” were ascertained by Iskhak Akhmerov in his letter from 18 May, 1936:
‘Redhead’ had met ‘Jurist’ only once during the entire time of her stay in this country, and this took place in winter. She went to that meeting with c.[omrade] Nord’s knowledge. After you had informed us that [‘Jurist’] has a contact [“svyaz’] with the neighbors, we did not see him, that is ‘Jurist’…. After his meeting with ‘Redhead’ in the apartment of our ‘17th’ and a conversation with her, ‘Jurist’ no doubt informed his superiors about this meeting. By coincidence, a worker from a fraternal organization, who is connected with ‘Jurist,’ had known ‘Redhead’ well since the time when the latter was connected with the fraternal line. We sometimes, in case of urgent need, turn to this fraternal worker [bratskij rabotnik], who is known to us as ‘Peter,’ for assistance, approaching him through ‘Redhead.’ This ‘Peter’ is that very fraternal worker about whom I reported to you orally back at home. In case of need we resort to the assistance of this ‘Peter,’ solely in cases concerning certificates of naturalization.
“This is the same ‘Peter’ who, during one of his rare meetings with ‘Redhead,’ told her: ‘If in Washington you have come across my guy (meaning ‘Jurist’), you had better not lay your hand on him, etc….’ Probably ‘Peter,’ when urging ‘Jurist,’ in his turn, not to develop contact with ‘Redhead,’, did it in a clumsy way, so that ‘Jurist’ more or less understood the nature of ‘Redhead.’” (Ibid., p. 25).