Opening Pandora’s Box: Overview

In memory of John Lowenthal, Esq., his faith and efforts; with gratitude to his brother, Dr. David Lowenthal, New York writer Jeff Kisseloff and Moscow writer Theodore Gladkov.

The latest contribution to American post-Cold War evidence on the history of Soviet espionage in America originated in 1992, with a deal giving Crown Publishing Group exclusive world rights to publish several books based on KGB foreign intelligence records. Since December 1991, these records had been in the custody of the KGB’s successor agency, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, commonly known as the SVR. 1

The project began in the early, euphoric days of Russian post-Cold War openness, and was unique: it would open KGB foreign intelligence records and tell the true story of the operations of its agent-networks from the 1930s to the early Cold War. The project was originally seen on the Russian side as a collaborative one: each side was to bring something to the table, with the Russians making the first move by releasing their records. True, the idea had important limitations: the records were to be released exclusively to writers chosen for the project. Moreover, first-hand research on these records would be limited to SVR-designated Russian individuals, themselves former officers of the service. 2

On the U.S. side of the story, the parties involved in the project were American author Allen Weinstein, who served as the Archivist of the United States from 2004 to2008, and Alexander Vassiliev, a journalist and former officer of KGB foreign intelligence. According to Vassiliev’s later account, he began researching the KGB files in early 1994, starting with the so-called “operational correspondence files which contain letters and cables between the Centre (Moscow) and stations in other countries… as well as copies of documents written in the Centre for internal correspondence.” Since early 1995, access to these files has become tougher. That same year, Crown cancelled the book deal, and by 1996, Vassiliev’s access to KGB files ceased altogether. In spring 1996, Vassiliev turned up in London, having by his own account “smuggled” the fruits of his research out of Russia on floppy disks. Vassiliev’s booty included both materials that had been declassified by the SVR for subsequent release for the book project — and materials that had never been submitted for declassification. On October 17, 1999, Vassiliev wrote to Victor Navasky, then publisher and editorial director of The Nation magazine (now its publisher emeritus), “I smuggled from Russia hundreds of top secret non-declassified KGB documents, and therefore I can’t return there now.” 3

Allen Weinstein used certain parts of this treasure trove to strengthen his story in a 1997 update of Perjury, his prize-winning 1978 account of the Hiss-Chambers case. 4 Vassiliev’s research also became the basis for The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America – The Stalin Era (1999), which Vassiliev and Weinstein co-authored under contract from Random House. According to the calculations of John Prados, Senior Fellow and project director with the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C., “The Haunted Wood contains citations to no fewer than eighty-nine archival record groups … and to almost 1,700 separate pages of documents.” 5

Although the book was based on unprecedented access to intelligence records of the former KGB, it has nevertheless raised serious concern on the part of many American archivists and historians. First of all, Weinstein alleged that the original party to the book deal made an impressive donation to the Russian association of foreign intelligence veterans in exchange for “substantial and exclusive access” to Stalin-era foreign intelligence archival records 6. That allegation raised serious ethical questions.

But ethics was not the only concern about The Haunted Wood‘s scholarship. Exclusive access to historical records (particularly such complicated and inherently confusing records as KGB intelligence files) raises the issue of the basis for historical judgment, which cannot be verified in the absence of access to the relevant primary sources. This problem was best summarized by Hayden Peake, a distinguished CIA veteran and intelligence historian. According to Peake, the fact that “there is no way to check the sources” in some cases makes it impossible “to determine the basis for the Haunted Wood judgment,” leaving a possibility that “perhaps the records were mistranslated, or misinterpreted.” Moreover, a problem could have originated at the time of a particular document’s writing, due to a combination of objective and subjective factors including an operative’s erroneous claim or judgment, an attempt to portray his “asset” in a more favorable light, etc. Hence, in the absence of public access to the whole body of relevant files (and not just to the files Alexander Vassiliev had access to), “final judgment,” in Peake’s opinion, “must be withheld.” 7

If “final judgment” is premature, the time for an objective evaluation of The Haunted Wood scholarship is just around the corner.

In the early 2000s, it became clear that the process behind the writing of The Haunted Wood was cumbersome. Alexander Vassiliev was not allowed to make photocopies of most of the archival records he saw. Therefore, while reading the files, which were delivered for his research from the SVR archive on the outskirts of Moscow to his base on the premises of the SVR Press Bureau (then a 15-minute walk from the Kremlin), he was making notes (in fact, summaries or almost verbatim transcripts) in his notebooks. These notebooks were supposed to be kept, along with the files, in the safe of a designated press bureau officer while awaiting declassification. Vassiliev was also writing draft chapters that formed a skeleton of the future collaborative book. These chapters, too, were to go through the declassification process.

In 2002-2003, some of Vassiliev’s handwritten notes and draft chapters surfaced in London during pre-trial proceedings in a libel suit he had filed in July 2001 against John Lowenthal, a lawyer, writer and longtime Alger Hiss defender. (The actual defendant in the suit was Lowenthal’s British publisher.) At issue was John Lowenthal’s article, “Venona and Alger Hiss,” which had appeared in Cass & Co’s Intelligence and National Security magazine (vol. 15, 2000, pp. 98-130) and had criticized the use of KGB sources by Vassiliev and Weinstein in The Haunted Wood. 8 One of the central issues in the libel suit was Vassiliev’s public assertion that he had seen the name Alger Hiss written in the clear in the KGB intelligence files he had studied.

In April 2002, in London, Vassiliev explained that he had “inspected the KGB files on the premises of the [SVR] press bureau [and] made summaries or verbatim transcriptions from the files in his notebooks, which he kept at home.” When asked to clarify how he had managed to remove the summaries and transcriptions from the SVR press bureau premises where he had written them, without submitting them to the declassification commission,Vassiliev could not make any substantive response. 9

Amazingly, records from the London libel case reveal that “there were about 50 pages” of photocopies made from original documents “by the press bureau officers,” which Vassiliev had left behind in Moscow. According to Vassiliev’s statement, his American co-author, Weinstein, had received a second set of copies.) 10

In mid-2005, Vassiliev would reveal further details to Dr. John Earl Haynes, the U.S Library of Congress historian, including the fact that “he had only brought out his disks when he fled Moscow in 1996 but had arranged for the transfer of his original notebooks from Moscow to London by 2002.” A few weeks later, Haynes would explain to me: “What was on the disks were extracts and summaries for use by Allen Weinstein that he [Vassiliev] made on a computer at his residence based on the material in the notebooks. Weinstein can’t read Russian, so the notebooks were of no use to him, thus Vassiliev preparing the material on the disks first in Russian and also translating [it] into English for Weinstein’s use.” 11

However confusing the story of Vassiliev’s research and notebooks may be, since 2005 Vassiliev has teamed up with Haynes and the latter’s long-time co-author, historian Harvey Klehr, to produce a new rewrite of the same history. Based upon “extensive notebooks of transcribed documents from Moscow,” which Vassiliev “retrieved” while “living in Britain,” the book available in print in late April, 2009 from Yale University Press under the title SPIES: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. 12

During the London libel case, it was revealed that Vassiliev had done far more than just make notes and verbatim transcripts of documents. Based on his reading of the documents, he had gone on to prepare a rough draft of the book which would later be published as The Haunted Wood. The first six chapters Vassiliev wrote were declassified, and these chapters surfaced in the course of the libel case (in a rough translation into English). Vassiliev’s book-length discussion of the files he had seen, along with his notes on documents – despite their significant limitations – provide a valuable glimpse into the Soviet record of the Stalin-era espionage story.

We owe the initial surfacing of Vassiliev’s research and writing to the persistence of the late John Lowenthal and to his brother, Dr. David Lowenthal, a professor emeritus at the University College of London.

In May 2003, I received by email from London six lengthy files titled “Book-2,” “Book-7,” “Book-8,” “Book-10,” “Book-11” and “Book-13”. They came from John Lowenthal, who had confidentially approached me to identify and evaluate these texts. It appears that Vassiliev had entered [his copies of] these texts as trial evidence. However, I did not understand this until later, since John Lowenthal did not provide any details at that time.

It did not take me long to identify the single-spaced texts in broken English, with lengthy quotes from documentation and archival citations, as detailed rough drafts of several chapters of The Haunted Wood. These chapters themselves turned out to be irrelevant to the main issue in Vassiliev’s libel case. However, they contained extensive quotes from KGB operational correspondence and memos, as well as occasional comments and evaluations by Vassiliev. Going through them was like finally opening a Pandora’s box which Allen Weinstein, Vassiliev’s American co-author, had chosen to keep tightly shut. 13]

In fact, I have been trying to open this Pandora’s box ever since Weinstein’s book, The Haunted Wood, came out in 1999 – with all its out-of-context references and its suppressions and distortions of facts, which are obvious to a Russian reader.

Vassiliev lost his libel suit, because the British High Court jury in June 2003 ruled that the criticisms raised by John Lowenthal were justifiable, fair comment given the evidence. 14 Sadly, winning the London libel case was the last victory for John Lowenthal, who died in September 2003.

Since 2003, Weinstein’s Pandora’s box, which I discovered thanks to John Lowenthal, has continued gradually releasing new items that have surfaced mostly on the U.S. side, but on the Russian side as well.

Soon after the death of John Lowenthal, his brother, Dr. David Lowenthal, found the London libel trial records among his brother’s books and papers. The records included pre-trial depositions by Vassiliev and three “jury bundles,” documents put together as evidence for the jury to consider. It was, in fact, Dr. David Lowenthal who had managed, at the trial in June 2003, to obtain some of these materials, notably the barrister’s final summing up and Judge David Eady’s instructions to the jury. 15

In these pre-trial depositions and jury bundles, David Lowenthal came across copies of handwritten notes in Cyrillic letters, with some English translations. These were Vassiliev’s handwritten notes, which, as Dr. Lowenthal would later explain, “were photocopies of extracts transcribed by Vassiliev from two KGB files.” 16

In late 2004 and early 2005, Dr. Lowenthal described his major finds and their import for the Alger Hiss case in a few postings on H-HOAC (an online forum for discussing the history of American Communism). 17

His first subject of discussion was Vassiliev’s notes on a March 5, 1945 cable from Washington to Moscow signed by one “Vadim.” This code name was identified by Venona translators as belonging to the NKGB chief resident in the United States in 1944 and 1945, Anatoly Gromov (whose real name was Anatoly Gorsky). Some time in March 2005, Dr. David Lowenthal showed a copy of Vassiliev’s notes on the March 5, 1945, cable to Tony Hiss, the son of Alger Hiss, who, in turn, showed it to me to look at from a Russian perspective.

At first glance, the document struck me as the clear Russian text of an intelligence cable that preceded a ciphered cable from Washington, D.C. to Moscow – written by the same “Vadim” on March 30, 1945. Decrypted in the course of the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) Operation Venona, the latter cable is often cited as Venona 1822. It is important to keep in mind that American code breakers managed to break only around 3,000 Soviet World War II ciphered intelligence cables – out of a total of about one million. Hence, there is a statistically high probability that cables in the undecrypted pool might shed additional – or totally new – light on the Venona decrypts. The cable Dr. David Lowenthal found notes on was precisely in this category.

The Venona March 30, 1945 cable described circumstances ascertained about an agent code-named “Ales,” who attended the Yalta Conference in February 1945 and then briefly went to Moscow, where he was “thanked” for his service to the Soviets by a high official. The NSA released the English translation of the cable in 1996, with a footnote saying that “Ales” was “probably” Alger Hiss. However, since then a consensus has been reached that “Ales” “could only have been Alger Hiss.” 18

The March 5, 1945 cable from “Vadim” obviously preceded his cable of March 30, for it discussed chances of approaching “Ales” at the forthcoming United Nations Conference in San Francisco – and included some details about “Ales”‘s background. The discovery of some clear text even in the form of handwritten notes on the original cable, preceding a decrypt produced by successfully breaking into ciphered foreign intelligence correspondence – this would be a dream for any espionage historian. True, the text discovered by Dr. David Lowenthal was not an exact copy, but rather notes taken on an original document. Still, it provided a rare chance to cross-check Venona decryption and identification against a Russian clear text sent by the same operative, on the same subject.

Amazingly, Allen Weinstein chose to ignore this unique opportunity, citing only a small portion of the March 5 cable in The Haunted Wood 19 – with no hint about whether he had ever tried to pursue the obvious leads in that cable. Dr. David Lowenthal first drew attention to Weinstein’s omission in the late 2004 postings on H-HOAC cited above – and later, in more detail, in a May 2, 2005 posting on HNN (George Mason University’s History News Network.) 20

In addition, the March 5, 1945 cable provided important clues for Kai Bird, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and me in our research on the mystery of “Ales.” The result was an article establishing Alger Hiss’s alibi in relation to the code name “Ales.” 21 My annotated translation of the cable can be accessed on the Alger Hiss website.

Watch for alerts on this website about some of the documentation behind the mystery of “Ales.”

On March 14, 2005, another of Dr. David Lowenthal’s finds was posted on H-HOAC under the heading, “Alexander Vassiliev’s Notes on Anatoly Gorsky’s December 1948 Memo on Compromised American Sources and Networks.” 22 This post states that, in January 2005, Dr. Lowenthal provided a copy of Vassiliev’s notes to Dr. Eduard Mark, a historian with the United States Air Force, who, in turn, provided it to Dr. John Earl Haynes, manuscript historian at the Library of Congress. Haynes arranged for their translation into English and added his comments.

This second document to emerge from Vassiliev’s research was even more amazing – a three-page list with 86 names and code names of Soviet agents, sources and operatives, entitled “Failures in the USA (1938-48).” This list was not cited or even mentioned in The Haunted Wood. Still more significant is the fact that it was signed by “A. Gorsky” – the writer of both the March 5, 1945 cable and the March 30, 1945 (or Venona 1822) cable from Washington, D.C. to Moscow. The document was hastily labeled “Gorsky 1948 List” and became the subject of a heated online discussion. 23

As explained by Dr. David Lowenthal, in his libel suit Vassiliev “had been requested by the defense attorney in pre-trial proceedings to supply the Gorsky List, to which he had referred, and he did supply those pages with a letter of February 1, 2002. They were reproduced as pages 303-305 (translation, pp. 306-309) in Jury Bundle 3.” These notes were referenced to “KGB file 43173, vol. 2 (v), pp. 49-55.” 24

On scrutiny, it turned out that the scanned copy provided by Dr. David Lowenthal to Dr. Edward Mark was incomplete. According to a complete scan later provided by Lowenthal at my request, the document appeared to be part of the same operative’s late December 1949 report, entitled “A. Gorsky’s report – to Savchenko S.R. 23 December, [19]49,” which began on page 46 of the same KGB file cited above.

Obvious problems with the translation of the document, as posted on H-HOAC, as well as with some of the comments provided by Dr. John Earl Haynes, prompted its retranslation and analysis. The new document was later posted on the Alger Hiss website. However, the problems did not end with the document’s title and dating.

Vassiliev’s notes display a total of 86 names (with cover names) of Soviet agents, sources and operatives in five espionage groups that had been compromised by defections. It is striking that this is the sole extensive list of names – and an impressive one at that – spelled out in clear (that is, not hidden behind cover names), with accompanying cover names and job titles, to emerge from Vassiliev’s research. Yet it was not even mentioned in The Haunted Wood. Weinstein must have seen the list, since he quoted from the three opening paragraphs of Gorsky’s December 23, 1949 report to Savchenko, which preceded the list on the same page of Vassiliev’s hand-written notes. 25

The first group named in Gorsky’s “failures” list is under the name of “Karl,” identified in the notes as Whittaker Chambers, who heads a list of 21 alleged members of his espionage group, including Alger Hiss, his brother Donald Hiss and two Treasury Department officials, Harry Dexter White and Harold Glasser. Why, one has to ask, did Weinstein choose to disregard such a treasure trove? After all, the list includes not only Chambers but 85 other names – complete with their cover names and job positions. Moreover, some of the cover names (particularly the ten three-digit cover names on the “Karl’s” group list) appeared for the first time, while a few others had not been identified by Venona translators, so the list provided a chance to fill in some still outstanding gaps.

One possible answer may be that Weinstein chose to ignore the information conveyed in this list (however confusing on close scrutiny) because Alger Hiss features in it under the unusual cover name of “Leonard.” In his book Witness (1952), Chambers wrote that, in late 1936, Hiss was assigned the name “Der Advokat.” 26 In The Haunted Wood, Weinstein wrote that Hiss’s code name as of early 1936 was “Lawyer27, and then became “Ales” as of 1945. By simple logic, if Hiss were “Ales,” Anatoly Gorsky — who was also the writer of the “Ales” reports of early 1945 – would have put the new director of his service, General Savchenko, on high alert. To add to the confusion, the last three names listed under “Karl’s Group” (which was described by Chambers as working for the Soviet military intelligence service, the GRU, in the 1930s), including those of White and Glasser, appear with the same code names that Gorsky used in his operational correspondence of 1944 and 1945, when he was the resident of another intelligence service, the NKGB.

According to Dr. David Lowenthal, in Vassiliev’s London libel suit “the Gorsky memo played a crucial role in defense arguments that undermined Vassiliev’s case at the trial.” Lowenthal quoted from the concluding argument at the libel trial by defense attorney Andrew Monson 28, who stated that Gorsky’s list “delivers a devastating blow to the thesis that Hiss was Ales. Gorsky must have known who Ales was. If Ales was Hiss he would have said so in this list. But he does not say so, because Ales was not Hiss.” 29

There was one more list transcribed by Vassiliev among Dr. Lowenthal’s discoveries, this time with 14 names – including those of Alger Hiss and Donald Hiss – which a Soviet agent code-named “Raid” drafted in mid-March 1945, at the request of the same NKGB resident, Anatoly Gorsky. “Raid” was identified by Venona translators as the code name for economist Victor Perlo. According to Dr. Lowenthal, this document (which came to be known as the “Perlo List“) was not entered at a pre-trial deposition (like the so-called Gorsky’s List), but “was entered late in trial preparations” and was sitting in one of the jury bundles. 30

This fascinating list was mentioned in passing in The Haunted Wood as “a list including fourteen men definitely connected with the groups. …” 31 – leaving the reader to guess what kind of groups these men were linked to.

In Vassiliev’s notes in the London jury bundle, the “Raid” list has a very specific heading: “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.” These different headings for the same list referenced different source files: The Haunted Wood heading referenced KGB file 45100, v. 1, pp. 100-102; and the jury bundle heading referenced file 43173, vol. 1, p. 91 (where this heading almost immediately follows the March 5, 1945 cable).

The puzzle would be solved two years later, soon after the Allen Weinstein Papers were unsealed at the Hoover Institution Archives in Stanford, California – to reveal one more item in Weinstein’s Pandora’s box.

In late May 2007, while conducting research among the Weinstein Papers, Jeff Kisseloff, a writer and the managing editor of the Alger Hiss website, came across two typed manuscripts in Cyrillic letters. One of them had a brief note in English attached. That note, from a Russian translator to Weinstein, was dated January 2, 1997 and ended with the sentence, “As I mentioned earlier, it seems that there is nothing on Alger in the first part of the document.” This statement piqued Kisseloff’s curiosity. 32 Assuming that the document might be “a translation of some book that Weinstein and Vassiliev used for research,” Kisseloff copied the note and the first nine pages of the manuscript – and emailed both documents to me for identification. 33 Titled “The Sources in Washington,” Kisseloff’s find looked like a treasure trove – the beginning of the Vassiliev chapter I had been looking for ever since I had seen his first six draft chapters in May 2003. I pleaded with Kisseloff to copy the whole manuscript for me ASAP The document contained 240 pages of 1.5-spaced text. Upon scrutiny, it turned out to be Vassiliev’s rough draft for several chapters of The Haunted Wood 34

It did not take me long to discover that the “Raid” list was mentioned on page 96 of this latest Vassiliev manuscript. Here is a verbatim translation of how Vassiliev originally quoted from Anatoly Gorsky report in the KGB file, using footnotes to convey additional information:

“Raid” has given us a list including 14 people, connected with the groups of some Blumberg (74) and Schimmel (75) (from the Congress) and “Bill” (“Albert“).

Vassiliev’s reference for this quote proved to be the same one given in The Haunted Wood: File 45100, v. 1, pp. 100-102 – confirming that the title cited above from Vassiliev’s “Sources in Washington” manuscript is the original title obscured by Weinstein in The Haunted Wood. 35

Why did Weinstein chose to blur the meaning of this document? One clue might be found in Vassiliev’s footnotes (74) and (75) to the names of Blumberg and Schimmel, which were obviously supplied to enlighten his American co-author about these men’s status with the Soviet intelligence:

(74): Blumberg used to head party group in Washington and gathered information for CPUSA leadership.

(75): Herbert Schimmel – an employee of Senator Kilgore apparatus. Everywhere (in particular, in the materials on the “Mole”) he is mentioned under his own name; there is no information about [his] cooperation with intelligence.

As to “Bill” – a cover name for the legendary Soviet illegal resident Iskhak Akhmerov, Weinstein himself wrote in The Haunted Wood that Akhmerov’s major source and group-leader, Nathan Gregory Silvermaster “did not know that his contact was a Soviet intelligence officer,” but knew him as “a Communist businessman code-named “Bill” who … cooperated voluntarily with the NKGB.” 36

The reasons behind Allen Weinstein’s omitting the “Perlo List” (after blurring its meaning) are obscure, given that Alger and Donald Hiss are among the 14 people named. Andrew Monson, the defense lawyer at the London libel trial, found this omission worth mentioning in his summary charge to the jury:

We found that the authors [of The Haunted Wood] failed to tell their readers about a document which contradicted Whittaker Chambers’s claim that Victor Perlo had been a member of the Ware group alongside Alger Hiss. The claim is on page 39 [of The Haunted Wood; see also Weinstein’s Perjury, rev. ed., p 125]. Perlo denies that he ever worked with Alger Hiss. 37

CLICK HERE to read more about the “Perlo List.”

A study of Vassiliev’s notes and book drafts – now comprising several hundred pages – reveals a pattern of key omissions and misrepresentations by his American co-author in order to blur facts and analyses that were already inconclusive. Weinstein also often elides complex and sometimes contradictory or incomplete facts in order to fit the narrative of Hiss’s activities as presented in Whittaker Chambers’s version of the story and in his own book, Perjury.

What was Weinstein hiding? The story is a complex one, and we will deal with it step-by-step on this website. What follows is a brief preview.

Regarding the identity of the elusive “Ales” mentioned in the two March 1945 cables cited above, one puzzling fact strikes you when you look at Vassiliev’s “Sources in Washington” manuscript. The code name “Ales” jumps out at you as one of the very few that Vassiliev failed to identify for his co-author in the footnotes he appended to his own draft.

In fact, the name “Ales” appeared in Vassiliev’s 240-page manuscript only twice, and was only cited in passing from a circumstantially related file. Moreover, in one of these two appearances – a report on an April 2, 1945, meeting at which an agent called “Ruble” passed a note to his Soviet contact to warn him that State Department documents had turned up in New York, and that “Ales” might be one of those involved – 38, Vassiliev specified that the case “had nothing to do with the activities of the Soviet intelligence.” However, when citing the April 2, 1945 report in The Haunted Wood, Weinstein omitted any mention of that qualification by his co-author. Since the publication of the book in 1999, this document has been cited as damning evidence of Alger Hiss’s World War II-period espionage.

But the plot gets thicker. In the years since The Haunted Wood was published, I have continued to be puzzled by Weinstein’s failure to cite a single archival KGB reference from the 1930s to Whittaker Chambers, that seminal witness in the Alger Hiss trials. In The Haunted Wood, Chambers figures prominently, making an appearance on 32 of its pages. However, all of these references cite the 1978 edition of Weinstein’s own Perjury as their source. So it appears that the key to this puzzle lies in Weinstein’s Pandora’s box.

As we have already seen, Vassiliev did find a list for his American co-author – albeit one composed in the late 1940s – with “Karl,” identified as Whittaker Chambers, heading the roster of 21 members of his alleged espionage group from the 1930s. Besides the unexpected cover name under which Alger Hiss appeared, there are many other obvious problems with this list of supposed GRU sources – which was drafted more than 10 years later by an operative of another intelligence service, then named MGB.

One cannot say whether Weinstein was scared away by the obvious issues with this part of the document. For example, in Witness, Chambers wrote that Treasury Department officials Harry Dexter White and Harold Glasser worked for his (GRU) group in the later part of the 1930s. However, cross-checking in Vassiliev’s manuscripts uncovered NKGB references showing that neither of these men had ever been agents of the NKGB’s sister service, the GRU.

In Glasser’s case, the confirmation – or rather, clarification – of this fact appears in a memo about a May 4, 1944 meeting between Anatoly Gorsky (then still in Moscow, before being posted to Washington, D.C.) and the head of the GRU’s American section, Colonel Mikhail Muromtsev. 39 Neither the May 4, 1944 memo (containing clarification of the GRU status of a few more people named by Chambers) nor the name of Mikhail Muromtsev were mentioned in The Haunted Wood.

In White’s case, I discovered a clarification in Vassiliev’s notes regarding a June 4, 1944, cable to Moscow sent by “Maxim,” a code name for Vassily Zarubin, Gorsky’s predecessor as NKGB chief resident in the USA 40

Zarubin’s June 4, 1944, cable did not make it into The Haunted Wood. This was most unfortunate, for his cable (which was not decrypted in the course of the Venona operation) is indispensable for understanding a controversial August 4-5, 1944 Venona cable that discusses a July 31, 1944 meeting between White and a Soviet participant in the Bretton Woods conference whose cover name was “Kol’tsov“. The Venona cable of August 4-5, 1944 is cited and discussed in The Haunted Wood 41 – but Zarubin’s findings about White’s relationship with the GRU is not. Upon citing Zarubin’s cable, Vassiliev made a notation that if the information obtained by Zarubin (i.e., that White had never been a knowing source of the GRU) “was not gotten in time,” “our man – one of the official representatives” would have found himself in a most embarrassing situation. 42

Apparently, Vassiliev himself had trouble pinning Chambers down in his notes on the KGB files. At one point, Vassiliev suggests that it was Whittaker Chambers “who was hidden behind the pseudonyms ‘Leo‘ and ‘10,’ ” which he came upon in one of the KGB files. 43 This is significant in view of a sketchy story in The Haunted Wood about an agent named “Leo,” who began providing the Soviets with “precious” information from inside the U.S. Department of State in the early 1930s, in return for generous monthly stipends. 44

Weinstein chose to cut off that tantalizing story-line in early 1935, jumping instead into a 12-page discussion of the Chambers-Hiss relationship, and sourcing this new telling of an old tale entirely with references to his own earlier book, Perjury. This bait-and-switch thus denied American readers the opportunity to learn more about a KGB operation so successful that Stalin himself considered its input “top cream” – and made it the only U.S.-sourced intelligence input from the 1930s that he assigned to his Private Papers.

In fact, “Leo”/”10” was not Chambers but a good friend of his during the 1930s named Ludwig Lore. A free-lance journalist and former Communist, Lore was the first keeper of Chambers’s “life-preserver,” the Baltimore Documents. Identifying “Leo”/”10” as Whittaker Chambers, naturally, would pose a big headache for Weinstein and those who share his view of this period in history. Even alluding to the kind of heretical speculation that Vassiliev indulged in would open a potential breach in the consensus historians’ Maginot Line, threatening their version of the Hiss-Chambers affair. After that, who knows what could happen?

Just imagine: The now burnished popular model of Chambers as Prometheus would be replaced by that of a crooked freelance journalist who sold American secrets to the Soviets and, when caught red-handed making his sources sound more important than they were in order to boost his income, was dumped by his handlers in July 1937 – by coincidence, around the time that Chambers initially gave as the date of his defection from the Communist cause. 45

Alexander Vassiliev’s notes and chapter drafts are a major addition to the corps of documentation on the history of Stalin-era KGB intelligence in the United States. In view of their implications, I agree with Dr. David Lowenthal that these notes on the KGB files should be considered the fifth group of major sources on the topic, after the four named by historian Bruce Craig – namely, HUAC hearings records, grand jury records, Venona documentation and documentation in The Haunted Wood. 46

In sum, Vassiliev’s notes and chapter drafts can be considered (in some cases with a slight stretch) as second-hand documentary sources. Their discovery relegates the sources cited in The Haunted Wood to the status of third-hand sources.

However, these discoveries are not limited to second-hand sources from Vassiliev’s initial research and follow-up writing. In late summer 2006, I was lucky enough to find a few first-hand sources – Xerox copies of several KGB documents that had been among the documentation declassified in 1994, with a view not only to releasing them to Weinstein’s Russian co-author, Vassiliev, but also to making them available to other authors. This time, my discovery took place on the Russian side. Since the 1990s, a few of these declassified documents have been sitting in the records of a Moscow espionage writer named Theodore Gladkov, who showed them to me for identification.

The documents immediately reminded me of certain citations and references in The Haunted Wood. A June 1994 declassification date, on the bottom of the first page of the most fascinating document, confirmed this identification.

Readers who have had the patience to follow this intricate story of discovering the contents of Allen Weinstein’s Pandora’s box can now have a first-ever look at a copy of an original KGB document cited in passing in The Haunted Wood.

Dated April 6 1942 and called an “orientation” on “Political and diplomatic line of work,” the document was briefly excerpted in The Haunted Wood 47, but with no mention of its title or the name of its writer. Moreover, Weinstein misrepresented the document as a “dispatch from Moscow” to its U.S. station, when in fact it was an internal assessment (“orientation”) written by one Vitaly Pavlov for Moscow Centre’s consumption. This operative appears only once in The Haunted Wood, as the writer of a July 1954 report. 48 Yet from 1939 through mid-1942, Pavlov had been supervising the American operation of NKGB Foreign Intelligence. In the summer of 1942, he left Moscow for Canada to become the first NKGB resident in Ottawa.

Weinstein’s omissions and misrepresentations do not stop at leaving out a title or a writer’s name. Rather, they hide from American readers a document providing a look into the real world of Soviet political intelligence in the United States as of April, 1942. Since the Venona decrypts from the early 1940s – the key information source on this topic – are scarce and fragmentary, Weinstein must have had extraordinary reasons for skipping most of these two sheets of paper, densely typed on both sides, which describe in detail KGB targets, leads and assets in the main agencies of the U.S. government.

To determine for yourself the reasons for Weinstein’s omissions, CLICK HERE to read a translation of Pavlov’s April 1942 “orientation,” compare it with the translation of Vassiliev’s notes on this document, and to see how it was quoted in The Haunted Wood and was ignored in the 2009 re-write based on Vassiliev’s notes, entitled SPIES: The Rise and Fall of KGB in America.

Watch this website for alerts on forthcoming translations and discussions of other items in Weinstein’s Pandora’s box.

  1. The deal was announced at a news conference in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 1992. – The New York Times, June 24, 1992. It was also reported in the Russian press in early July, 1992. – Kommersant, July 6, 1992.
  2. The books to come out of the project were: Deadly Illusions: The First Book from the KGB Archives, by John Costello and Oleg Tsarev. Century, 1993; Battleground Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War, by David E. Murphy, Sergei A. Kondrashov, and George Bailey. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997; The Crown Jewels: British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB’s Archives, by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev. Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., 1998; and The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America – The Stalin Era, by Allen Weinstein & Alexander Vassiliev. New York: Random House, 1999.
  3. Alexander Vassiliev witness statement, 14 July, 2002, in Alexander Vassiliev vs. Frank Cass & Co Ltd, High Court of Justice’s Bench Division Claim No. HQ1X03222, Amended Particulars of Claim; Alexander Vassiliev to Victor Navasky, October 17, 1999. – Jury Bundle, p. 290. Courtesy of David Lowenthal.
  4. Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, by Allen Weinstein. New York: Random House, 1997.
  5. John Prados at the NYU Center for the US and Cold War Inaugural Conference, April 5, 2007.
  6. The Haunted Wood, p. xv.
  7. “The VENONA Progeny,” by Hayden B. Peake. – Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, Winter 2000, p. 78.
  8. Alexander Vassiliev vs. Frank Cass & Co Ltd, High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division Claim No. HQ1X03222, Amended Particulars of Claim.
  9. Request under part 18 by the Defendant for further information from the Claimant relating to his amended reply made on 27th March 2002; Alexander Vassiliev [written] statement, 16 April 2002, in Alexander Vassiliev vs. Frank Cass & Co Ltd, High Court of Justice’s Bench Division Claim No. HQ1X03222, Amended Particulars of Claim. Courtesy of Dr. David Lowenthal.
  10. Ibidem.
  11. Comments on Vassiliev’s notes in Gorsky’s “Failures in the U.S.A. (1938-48)” –, citing Alexander Vassiliev to John Earl Haynes, 13 August 2005; John Earl Haynes to Svetlana Chervonnaya, November 1 2005.
  13. It later became public knowledge that Vassiliev accused Weinstein of being “sloppy almost every time he quoted documents relating to Alger Hiss.” – “Weinstein, Hiss and The Haunted Wood,” by David Lowenthal, – posted at HNN, May 2, 2005: Lowenthal’s source was Vassiliev’s email letter to Victor Navasky, dated October 17, 1999, a copy of which he discovered among the papers of his late brother – in the London jury bundle.
  14. See David Lowenthal’s discussion of this verdict’s import for scholarly discourse in “Academic Freedom: The Hiss Case Yields a Noteworthy Victory,” American Historical Association Perspectives, May 2004, pp.23-26.
  15. David Lowenthal to Svetlana Chervonnaya, November 3, 2008.
  16. Dr. David Lowenthal’s posting on H-HOAC, January 3, 2005.
  17. David Lowenthal’s postings on the subject “KGB Sources and the Hiss/‘Ales’ Dispute,” H-HOAC, December 12, 2004 and January 3, 4, 2005.
  18. This consensus dates back to The Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, 1997, Senate Document 105-2, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York, Chairman. When Venona 1822 was released in 1996, “Ales” was tentatively identified by Venona translators as “probably Alger Hiss.” However, quite recently (probably in 2007 or later) the initial “probably” has been removed from “Ales”‘s identification on the Venona documents page of the official NSA website.
  19. Op. cit., p. 268.
  20. “Did Allen Weinstein Get the Alger Hiss Story Wrong?” by Dr. David Lowenthal. – HNN,
  21. “The Mystery of Ales,” by Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya. – American Scholar, Summer 2007. Available online at
  22. Alexander Vassiliev’s Notes on Anatoly Gorsky’s December 1948 Memo on Compromised American Sources and Networks. Translated by Ronald Bachman and Harold Leich, assisted by John Earl Haynes. – H-HOAC, Posted March 14, 2005.
  23. See “Gorsky Symposium”, H-HOAC, archived at
  24. Vassiliev to Hartwig, 1 Feb. 2002, High Court documents Claim HQ(0)1X03222 (CtD) – Cit. David Lowenthal to Svetlana Chervonnaya, April 28, 2007; David Lowenthal, “KGB sources and the Hiss/’Ales’ dispute”, posted on H-HOAC, January 3, 2005.
  25. The Haunted Wood, pp. 296-297.
  26. Witness, by Whittaker Chambers. Henry Regnery Company: Chicago, 1952, p. 414.
  27. The Haunted Wood, p. 6.
  28. Andrew Monson represented Dr. John Lowenthal’s British publisher.
  29. Cit. Dr. David Lowenthal: “KGB Sources and the Hiss/’Ales’ Dispute,” posted on H-HOAC, January 3, 2005.
  30. Dr. David Lowenthal to Svetlana Chervonnaya, April 28, 2007.
  31. The Haunted Wood, p. 229
  32. Allen Weinstein Papers, 1948-2000, Collection No, 2204C61 – The Hoover Institution Archives on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University. Discovered in May 2007 by Jeff Kisseloff and submitted to me for identification and evaluation.
  33. Jeff Kisseloff to Svetlana Chervonnaya, May 29 & 30, 2007.
  34. Svetlana Chervonnaya to Jeff Kisseloff, May 30, 2007.
  35. Alexander Vassiliev. The Sources in Washington, a manuscript, p. 96. – Allen Weinstein Papers, 1948-2000, Op. Cit.
  36. The Haunted Wood, p. 167.
  37. David Lowenthal files.
  38. April 2, 1945 report of Anatoly Gorsky on his meeting with “Ruble,” cited in The Haunted Wood, Op. Cit., at pp. 266-267.
  39. Alexander Vassiliev, “The Sources in Washington.” Op. Cit., p. 87.
  40. A fascinating memo Zarubin wrote in the fall of 1944 was discovered in a draft chapter by Vassiliev entitled “GolosBentleyBrowder,” which I received from Dr. John Lowenthal in May, 2003.
  41. The Haunted Wood, p. 168.
  42. A. Vassiliev’s draft chapter, entitled “Golos-Bentley-Browder,” Op. Cit.
  43. Alexander Vassiliev, “The Sources in Washington,” Op. Cit., p. 47.
  44. The Haunted Wood, Op. Cit., pp. 34-37.
  45. For example, according to FBI records, in May 1945 Chambers dated his post-defection visit to Hiss as “some time after the spring of 1937.” – D.M. Ladd to the FBI Director J.E. Hoover, May 28, 1946, Subject: Alger Hiss. – FBI FOIA Silvermaster File, No 65-56402, Vol. 048, p. 82.
  46. David Lowenthal to Svetlana Chervonnaya, April 28, 2007, referring to: Bruce Craig (University of Prince Edward Island) “Alger Hiss: Recent Explorations in Documenting the Public and Private Man.” – Alger Hiss and History, Inaugural Conference, New York University Center for the United States and the Cold War, April 5, 2007.
  47. The Haunted Wood, pp. 160-161
  48. The Haunted Wood, p. 137