Although the United States and the Soviet Union became allies against the Nazis after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941, the Soviets conducted extensive industrial, scientific, and military spying against the United States throughout the 1940’s and the 1950’s. The full extent of Soviet spying in America and the active collaboration of more than three hundred Americans with Soviet intelligence agents was not revealed to the public until the 1995 release by the United States government of the Venona cables.
In 1939, officials in American and British intelligence began intercepting coded messages sent to the Soviet Union from Soviet embassies in the United States and Great Britain, but until 1942 American and British intelligence agents were more concerned with deciphering coded messages sent from Nazi Germany and Japan to their military commanders. By 1942, British and American cryptanalysts, or code-breakers, had successfully broken the German Enigma code and the Japanese military code, and thus the Allies were able to read all secret military messages sent by the Nazis and Japanese from 1942 onward. Neither Germany nor Japan ever knew that the Allies had broken their codes, and they continued to send messages in the same codes. The deciphering of the German and Japanese codes enabled the Allies to learn of enemy military strategy in advance of battles, and the work of these cryptanalysts contributed significantly to the Allied victories over Germany and Japan in World War II.
In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began to suspect that Joseph Stalin, his ally against the Nazis, was conducting espionage in the United States. He ordered American intelligence organizations, such as the Office of Strategic Services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Army Military Intelligence, to begin investigating the extent of Soviet spying in America. In February, 1943, Colonel Carter Clarke, who was then the chief of the Special Branch of the Army Military Intelligence Division, instructed his colleagues to begin examining the coded messages sent from Soviet embassies in the United States. This extremely secret undertaking was called the Venona Project. Work on deciphering these messages proceeded very slowly, but by 1946, Americans had successfully broken the Soviet code and were able to read messages sent by Soviet spies in America to their superiors in Moscow. American cryptanalysts also deciphered messages sent before 1946.
Thanks to the efforts of these diligent cryptanalysts, it became abundantly clear to United States government officials that there were many Soviet spies operating in America as well as Americans within and outside the United States government who had betrayed important military, atomic, and industrial secrets to agents of both the KGB (the chief security service of the Soviet Union) and the GRU (the Soviet military intelligence agency), which had entered the United States either illegally or as diplomats. American intelligence agents soon discovered which Soviet diplomats in the United States were KGB or GRU agents. It also soon became clear to American intelligence officials that the extent of Soviet spying in America and the number of American traitors were much larger than had been previously suspected.
In response to this very real threat to American security, President Harry S Truman created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1947 and issued in the same year an executive order establishing an extensive screening program for government employees and banning members of the CPUSA from employment with the federal government or in defense industries. Until the release of the Venona cables in 1995, many people questioned President Truman’s actions, which they viewed incorrectly as an excessive invasion of individual rights. Such critics, however, did not understand that the CPUSA had cooperated fully with the KGB and GRU in order to recruit and train overt and covert American communists for espionage in America. Almost all American spies identified in the Venona cables were members of the CPUSA. The loyalty of American...
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