Katz, Joseph (1912 – ?)

A Soviet intelligence agent/group leader in the United States from 1937 until 1946 or early 1947.

Joseph Katz was born on March 15, 1912 in Vilna, Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire, and probably immigrated to the United States with his family before World War I. According to the notes on KGB foreign intelligence files taken in 1994 and 1995 by the former KGB intelligence officer and journalist Alexander Vassiliev – during his research for what was to become a Russian-American collaborative book on the history of Soviet espionage in America – Katz was an aircraft engineer by education and an American citizen. He joined the CPUSA in 1932 and was recruited into NKVD foreign intelligence (the INO) in 1937, “for the fulfillment of important assignments abroad.” The same note on a late 1943 memo described Katz as “a secret staff member of the NKGB of the USSR.”1 Alexander Vassiliev’s notes on the list of failures suffered by the Soviet intelligence as a result of betrayals by its former agents – compiled in the late 1940s by the MGB intelligence official, Anatoly Gorsky NKGB. — describe Katz [a.k.a. “Stukach”] as the Soviets’ “old agent/ group handler, co-owner of a cover that we set up—a glove making factory.” 2

The FBI files provide a more detailed background. In 1939, Katz founded what was apparently his first cover business, Meriden Dental Laboratories and Supplies, in Meriden, Connecticut, which he financed until it was terminated “after a 4-year period of operation.” After this, Katz managed a parking lot for about a year and a half on West 130th Street in New York City, and subsequently obtained a position with Quartz Product, on East 35th Street, which he held for about a year and a half. On June 13, 1944, he founded the Tempus Import Company at 119 West 57th Street in New York, a firm which “operated as an importer of leather goods, handbags, and wallets from South America, selling to retailers and wholesalers and having plans to import watches and chemicals in the future.” 3 This business was apparently the one Gorsky described as a “glove making factory,” which served as Katz’s cover at the time Gorsky was posted in Washington, D.C. as the NKGB foreign intelligence resident.

Biographical information about Katz is scarce: his name has not appeared thus far in Russian publications, and there is no indication that Alexander Vassiliev saw his personal file; thus, tidbits about him come from circumstantially related files. In the FBI investigative files from the late 1940s and early 1950s, Katz appears to be an important Soviet agent-courier, who served as a liaison for a number of prominent Soviet intelligence officers (Gajk Ovakimyan, Vladimir Pravdin, Anatoly Gorsky), as well as a link to many well-known agents of Soviet intelligence, including Jacob Golos and Elizabeth Bentley. Katz was awarded the Order of the Red Star in November 1944 (as part of a large group of NKVD intelligence operatives and a few sources). According to Vassiliev’s notes, a year earlier, in November 1943, he was recommended for the Order of the Badge of Honor at the same time as Golos, 4 but there is no information on whether Katz actually received that award.

Katz was identified behind the cover names “Stukach” (“Whistler”), “Duglas” (“Douglas”) and “Iks” (“X”), which appear in 26 cables (from July 2, 1942 to October 27, 1944) partially decrypted in the course of the Venona operation.

The FBI had been looking for Joseph Katz since November 1945, when they heard from Elizabeth Bentley, after her defection to the FBI on November 8, about a Soviet agent named “Jack” whom she used to meet in 1944 and 1945 and who had served as a courier to other sources she had handled earlier. According to the FBI investigative files, the agents working on the case could not identify “Jack” until late 1947 at the earliest. Reviewing the Bureau files concerning Mikhail A. Chalyapin, who was a “legal” operative of the NKGB foreign intelligence in New York during World War II, the agents came across a description that matched Bentley’s portrayal of “Jack.” 5 Subsequently, the agents identified the man as Joseph Katz and discovered his last home address and some information from his CV. Bentley finally identified “Jack” in a photo of Katz which was shown to her on January 10, 1949. 6

Katz was sought in the hope that he might “back up Bentley’s testimony in court and perhaps even provide leads for further investigation.” By the time he was identified, however, he was no longer in the United States but in Europe. The agents managed to ascertain that he had not been seen at his last address in New York since the summer of 1947. 7

By placing a mail cover on Joseph Katz’s brother in early 1949, the FBI learned that Katz was residing in France. 8 But Vassiliev’s notes on the now-famous Gorsky “failures list,” which was written in late 1940s, placed Katz in Italy at the time of its writing:

Currently in Italy, forming a company on our instructions to cover the illegal courier line between Europe and the USA. 9

There is an obvious disconnect between Vassiliev’s notes on Katz’s whereabouts and documentation in the FBI investigative files – as well as in the firsthand account of the Bureau’s pursuit of Katz’s whereabouts left by its Soviet spy hunter, Robert J. Lamphere. The FBI files and Lamphere’s account place Katz continuously in Paris from 1948 to 1951, when the FBI discovered that his brother was beginning to receive mail from Haifa, Israel. According to Lamphere, he planned an elaborate “joint FBI-CIA operation to return Katz to the United States,” but it was called off by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. When Lamphere subsequently “arranged for Katz to be interviewed in Israel, the latter denied ever having been a Soviet agent.” 10

  1. Alexander Vassiliev, White Notebook # 1, p. 151, citing Archival No. 70994/“Sound.” In the translation posted on the Woodrow Wilson Center’s website, the phrase “a staff member” stands for the Russian “kadrovyj sotrudnik.” A more accurate verbatim translation would be “cadre employee” or “cadre operative.” The exact dating of Katz’s birth was ascertained from the FBI Silvermaster File, No 65-56402, Vol. 147, Serials 3691-2730, PDF p. 37.
  2. “Failures in the USA (1938-48),” Alexander Vassiliev Black Notebook, p. 78.
  3. Fletcher to Ladd, “Unknown Subject, with alias Jack, Joseph Katz,” January 12, 1949, in the FBI Silvermaster File, Op. cit., vol. 147, serials 3691-2730, PDF p. 38.
  4. Alexander Vassiliev, White Notebook # 1, p. 151, notes on Archival #70994 (“Sound”  file)
  5. Fletcher to Ladd, January 12, 1949, Vol. 147, Serials 3691-2730, PDF p. 37.
  6. Scheidt, New York to the FBI Director, urgent teletype, Jan 10, 1949, Ibid., PDF p. 41.
  7. The FBI-KGB War, A Special Agent’s Story, by Robert J. Lamphere and Tom Shachtman, New York: Random House, 1986, p. 279; Fletcher to Ladd, January 12, 1949, Op. cit., PDF p. 37.
  8. Synopsis of facts: Report made in New York, April 13, 1949, the FBI Silvermaster File, Vol. 148, Serials 3731-3805, PDF p. 20: “JOSEPH KATZ, now in Paris, France, identified as informant’s contact “JACK”.
  9. “Failures in the USA (1938-48),” Op. cit., p. 78.
  10. Robert J. Lamphere and Tom Shachtman, Op. cit., pp. 280-282.