Authors: Tim Weiner
Kim Philby introduced himself to the leading lights at the CIA and the Pentagon. They read him into their most secret operations. Philby learned of the CIA’s plans to parachute Russian and Eastern European émigrés and refugees behind the Iron Curtain to serve as spies, saboteurs, and shock troops against the Soviet Union and its satellites. His foreknowledge doomed those operations and ensured the death or capture of the CIA’s recruited foreign agents. He learned all about the counterintelligence work of the FBI and the British in Venona. His reporting kept the KGB informed on the American assault on the Soviet cipher system, the fate of Klaus Fuchs, and the threat to the American members of the atom spy ring.
Philby moved freely through the corridors of the Pentagon, an institution still in a state of upheaval six months after the suicide of Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, who had suffered a psychotic breakdown and jumped from his high window at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Forrestal had been Hoover’s strongest ally in the government of the United States. His death contributed to Hoover’s deepening despair over American intelligence and its ability to meet the growing Soviet threat.
While Philby started ransacking American secrets, Hoover was fighting a rearguard action against the future director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles. Still a lawyer in private practice, Dulles had been commissioned by the Pentagon to conduct a top-secret study of the shoddy state of American spying. He intended to use his report to the president as a fulcrum to elevate himself to the command of the CIA. Dulles had not consulted Hoover or the FBI during his yearlong investigation, a deliberate snub. When Hoover wrangled a draft copy of the report from the Pentagon, he saw that Dulles did not recognize Hoover’s presidentially mandated authority in matters of national security.
It is outrageous that FBI should be excluded,” Hoover wrote.
Dulles did not respond. After a long effort, an FBI special agent backhanded
the CIA’s new budget out of a staff member of the House Appropriations Committee: it was buried in seven or eight different Pentagon bills. No more than four members of Congress knew about it. “
This is the most shocking picture of irregular accounting I have ever seen,” Hoover wrote on the memo. More shocking still: the CIA was spending five and a half times more than the FBI.
Hoover saw he had to renew his battle for the power to command the war on communism.
“IT LOOKS LIKE WORLD WAR III IS HERE”
N THE SUMMER OF
1950, Americans realized that the Cold War was a real war and the survival of the world was at stake. Hoover’s FBI fought hard on the home front: his force was felt in every branch of the government, every court, and every college in America.
On July 24, 1950, just a month after the Korean War began, Hoover won a formal statement from President Truman expanding the FBI’s authority to investigate “
espionage, sabotage, subversive activities and related matters” affecting American national security, a mandate even broader than FDR’s wartime directives to the FBI. Hoover sought to justify his enhanced powers with a truly frightening top secret report to the president on August 24. He warned that an invisible army—tens of thousands of hard-core members of the American Communist underground—stood ready to do battle against the United States.
He laid out a detailed vision of the death of American cities at the hands of suicide bombers. Hoover attributed his warnings of a terrorist holocaust to “
ten substantial and highly reliable informants of the FBI.” Some of his secret witnesses were former members of the Communist Party who had testified before federal grand juries or in court; others had been Soviet intelligence agents for twenty years or more. So Hoover said in his report to the White House.
“Soviet leaders will utilize any method which will further their goal of complete world domination,” Hoover’s report said. “In the event of conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, every Communist will do everything possible to injure this country.” They would infiltrate the military, incite mutiny, start race riots, toss monkey wrenches into the weapons industry, wreck the economy with strikes and sabotage, seize radio and television stations to pump propaganda into people’s eyes and ears. The
American Communists had surveyed “the major industrial centers in the United States,” one informant averred, “including the strategic points to be captured or destroyed in the event of war.”
Hoover saved the worst for last: “the Soviet Union would not hesitate to deliver atom bombs on any target even though such an attack involved suicide missions.” Hoover foresaw “suicide planes with atom bombs” and “a large-scale attack of suicide paratroopers carrying small bombs or other destructive devices.” The paratroopers would be aided by American Communists when they landed—and the scale of the attack Hoover envisioned was suggested by his assertion that millions of Russian children were training as parachutists.
Atom bombs and hydrogen bomb components could be smuggled into the United States, readied for an attack, and “detonated by remote control or by individuals ready to sacrifice themselves”—the American Communist underground. The report said that “20,000 devoted members of the Communist Party, comprising the core of the Party”—the very same people whom Hoover had placed on his Security Index, the suspects whom he wanted locked up in the name of national survival—were “willing to follow implicitly the instructions of the Soviet Government” in a time of war or crisis.
Hoover’s visions of nuclear kamikazes and teenaged suicide bombers falling from the skies were intended to bludgeon the mind of the American government. His apocalyptic scenarios sounded like science fiction, but they truly represented his worst fears.
They also depicted a threat that the FBI could meet: the political mobilization of American Communists in wartime.
Hoover timed his report to the White House with precision. One week before, a federal grand jury in New York indicted the atomic spies who had helped to deliver the secrets of the Manhattan Project to Moscow. The August 17, 1950, indictment against Julius Rosenberg was ironclad. The trial jury would see the evidence as incontrovertible. So would the judge. So would the American people.
On September 23, Congress passed the Internal Security Act of 1950. It contained provisions Hoover had been demanding for a decade. The laws defining espionage and sabotage were expanded and strengthened. Subversive citizens now were subject to political imprisonment. Communist and Communist-front organizations were required to register with a new Subversive
Activities Control Board. The new attorney general, J. Howard McGrath, decided that the Internal Security Act gave legal sanction to Hoover’s Security Index, with its provisions for preventive detention, its proposals for the suspension of constitutional protections, and its ever-growing roster of more than twenty thousand Americans. Hoover’s index was now legal—an accepted part of the American national security establishment. It remained in effect for the next twenty-one years.
The year 1950 brought many bleak days for President Truman. None was darker than November 1.
In the morning, the new director of Central Intelligence, General Walter Bedell Smith, delivered a bulletin: Communist Chinese soldiers had entered the Korean War. The CIA’s reporting gravely underestimated the size of the attack. Three hundred thousand Chinese soldiers struck in a human avalanche that killed thousands upon thousands of American soldiers. They came close to driving the Americans from the mountains into the sea. Behind them stood the new dictator of China, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. American generals assumed Stalin backed Mao, brandishing his new atomic bomb.
In the afternoon, a freakish heat wave engulfed Washington; the mercury hit eighty-five degrees. Truman lay down for a nap at Blair House, across the street from the White House; the executive mansion was in a state of collapse and undergoing renovation. On the sidewalk, at the Blair House door, stood two Puerto Rican nationalists, one armed with a German Luger, the other with a German Walther, carrying sixty-nine rounds of ammunition between them. They tried to shoot their way into Blair House and kill the president in the name of Puerto Rican independence. One of them died, as did a Secret Service agent. The second assassin was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death. Truman commuted the sentence to life. The FBI’s investigation into the leaders and followers of the independence cause lasted more than fifty years.
On November 28, 1950, after the scale of the Chinese attack in Korea was clear, Truman convened a rare full-dress meeting of the National Security Council. The threat of a third world war with weapons of mass destruction was now upon the world. Truman declared a national emergency, tripled the Pentagon’s budget, appointed General Eisenhower the supreme commander of NATO, and rejected top secret calls by General Douglas MacArthur and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to drop the entire American arsenal of
atomic bombs on China and Manchuria. But Truman said he was prepared to use the bomb if he had to.
“It looks like World War III is here,” Truman wrote in his diary on December 9. “I hope not—but we must meet whatever comes—and we will.”
WENTY YEARS OF TREASON
The FBI, tracing old leads from Venona, suspected the continuing presence of a KGB agent in the British Embassy in Washington. The Bureau knew only that he was a diplomat who held high rank and the code name of Homer.
The British and the Americans had been entwined in intelligence for a decade now, but Hoover had never been comfortable with the partnership. He scorned American Anglophiles. He looked askance at British intelligence boffins. He was appalled by their reticence on the Homer investigation.
Top British and American intelligence officers gathered on a warm Saturday night in April 1951 at the Washington home of Kim Philby. Among the guests were James Angleton and Bill Harvey of the CIA; Bob Lamphere and Mickey Ladd from the FBI; Robert Mackenzie and Jeff Patterson of British intelligence; and Philby’s disheveled houseguest, a British diplomat named Guy Burgess. Dinner was unpalatable, drinks plentiful. The veterans of World War II had floated into the 1950s on a sea of alcohol. Angleton, a reigning intellectual at the CIA, liked to drink lunch with Philby, sharing details of American and British plans for commando raids behind the Iron Curtain. He predicted Philby would be the next chief of British foreign intelligence.
The party ended badly. Burgess was drunk and disorderly, inciting snarling catfights with the Americans and their wives. Mickey Ladd of the FBI wondered aloud why Philby, the leading British intelligence officer in Washington, had a character like Burgess living under his roof.
A few weeks later, on May 25, 1951, newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic reported that Burgess and Donald Maclean, chief of the American desk at the British Foreign Office in London, had disappeared together behind the Iron Curtain. Maclean had been the first secretary at the British Embassy in Washington in 1944 and 1945.
He was Homer.
His flight to Moscow brought the chief of British foreign intelligence, Sir Percy Sillitoe, to Washington. Sir Percy carried an attaché case bulging with dossiers on Philby, Maclean, and Burgess, and he shared the contents with Hoover and the FBI. The three Britons were friends of twenty years’ standing, going back to their days at Trinity College, Cambridge. In the 1930s, all three had been Communists or socialists. The dossiers held more open secrets: Burgess was famous for his promiscuous homosexuality, Maclean was a closet case, and Philby had married an Austrian Communist and Soviet agent. All three were alcoholics. All this was known by their superiors, yet they were protected and promoted. Maclean and Burgess were in Moscow now; Philby had been recalled to London. Hoover argued that Philby clearly was a Soviet agent, and that he had enabled Moscow to penetrate the CIA and the Pentagon at the highest levels. Sir Percy politely disagreed, unwilling to accept that a man of Philby’s rank and breeding could be a traitor.
Reflecting on the past lives of the British spies at Cambridge in the 1930s, Hoover conflated their communism with their homosexuality.
The connection seemed self-evident to him. Homosexuality and communism were causes for instant dismissal from American government service—and most other categories of employment. Communists and homosexuals both had clandestine and compartmented lives. They inhabited secret underground communities. They used coded language. Hoover believed, as did his peers, that both were uniquely susceptible to
sexual entrapment and blackmail by foreign intelligence services.
The FBI’s agents became newly vigilant to this threat. “
The Soviets knew, in those days, a government worker, if he was a homosexual, he’d lose his job,” said John T. Conway, who worked on the Soviet espionage squad in the FBI’s Washington field office. Conway investigated a State Department official suspected of meeting a young, blond, handsome KGB officer in a gay bar. “It was a hell of an assignment,” he said. “One night we had him under surveillance and he picked up a young kid, took him up to his apartment, kept him all night. Next day we were able to get the kid and get a statement from him and this guy in the State Department lost his job.”