Book Monitor

The Venona Secrets

by Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel

Chances are, when the average person hears about Communist infiltration in the 1950s, he immediately thinks of Senator Joseph McCarthy bullying loyal Americans in a misguided quest to root out imaginary foreign agents. But "Tailgunner Joe" didnít know the half of it.

The Venona Secrets by Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel details the frightening story of how deeply in the American government the tentacles of Soviet espionage reached.

"Venona" was the top-secret name given by the U. S. government to an extensive program launched in 1943 to break Soviet codes and read intercepted communications between Moscow and its intelligence stations in the West. Most of the messages were decoded and read between 1947 and 1952, though the effort continued until 1980. The National Security Agency began releasing the documents to the public in 1995.

This meticulously researched book presents an avalanche of details about Soviet methods, objectives, and successes in penetrating various offices of the U. S. government. It lays to rest many controversies about major public figures that have brewed for years, and throws new light on other figures.

Alger Hiss, the first Secretary General of the United Nations, was a spy under the control of Soviet military intelligence. The same was true of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who sold atomic secrets to the Soviets, and also of Harry Dexter White, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harry Hopkins, a close friend and top foreign affairs advisor to FDR, also provided the Russians with valuable secret information. J. Robert Oppenheimer performed work on behalf of the Soviet Union. Liberal writer and icon of the left I.F. Stone was handsomely paid for his journalistic labors on behalf of Stalin and his successors.

The liberals have defended these people for decades, using the "McCarthyism" label to squelch any discussion of the crimes.

While Joseph McCarthy focused public attention on Communism starting with his famous speech in 1950, the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security had already produced an immense body of evidence about Communist infiltration of our government.

Harry Truman and a bipartisan majority in Congress made the political decisions necessary to root out the Communists. Truman recognized the need to clean the Communists out of government, but didnít want the Republicansí help. This led him to downplay the Hiss investigation and the "meddling" of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, while simultaneously campaigning against the "do-nothing Congress."

One astonishing revelation in the Venona Secrets is that Stalin knew about the atomic bomb well before Truman, thanks in part to Klaus Fuchs and the teenaged Ted Hall, who worked at Los Alamos. We also find out that the Sovietsí virulent anti-semitism didnít end with the Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler in 1939; it remained a permanent, ugly feature of the Communist espionage machine.

Confronted with the carefully laid out mass of material in this book, no reader can help but be struck by the scope and daring of the Communist spy network that flourished for so many years at the very highest levels of government. It is crystal clear that most of the prominent members of the U.S. Communist Party were not just loyal, dissenting Americans, but were agents or stooges of a totalitarian regime that wanted to destroy and enslave of America.

(Regnery Publishing Inc., 2000, 460 pps., $29.95)