New Worker feature article

1st March 2002

The Poisoned Well

By Sean Kelly

WITH THE COLLAPSE of the Soviet Union, previously secret records have become available to the highest bidders, invariably western academics orauthors who fly into Moscow armed with lucrative publishing contracts and close links to the Intelligence services. Communists have had neither the time nor the money to bribe their way into these archives and we can hardly expect the resulting "histories" to provide an impartial view. However, some of the docuements revealed, together with some interesting memoirs, have given us new insights into our history. This is the first of an occasional series of articles which will start the process of re-evaluating that history.

In the World Communist movement, few parties have had more prestige than the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), operating as it did in the heartland of Imperialism. Gus Hall, its General Secretary from 1959 until 2000 was similarly respected throughout the world.


As a young man he was trained at the Lenin School in Moscow and then assigned to the Steelworkers of Ohio as an organiser, serving several prison sentences for his pains during the 1930's. He was to taste prison food again in the fifties, following the conviction of the party's leadership under the Smith acts. Hall had his sentence increased to 8 years hard labour for jumping bail. As late as 1962 he was under arrest again under the McCarran act. While many would question his political judgement, for example, in following a disastrous electoral strategy consistant with the party's reformist line, no one would doubt his personal integrity.

Hall was respected by his counterparts in Moscow, becoming known personally to General Secretaries from Khruschev to Gorbachov. In 1981 he addressed the party congress at the invitation of Leonid Brezhnev. This high regard was reflected in the fraternal assistance provided by the Soviet party to the CPUSA.


A 1987 letter from Hall to the Soviets requesting that the annual subsidy be increased from $2 million to $4 Million has been published, together with receipts signed by Hall for $2 million in 1987 and $3 million in 1988. In the period 1957 to 1980, the total came to some $28 million according to Yevgeny Lisov, Russian Solicitor General, speaking at a 1992 press conference.

Of course, Proletarian Internationalism requires that Communists have a sacred duty to fight their own Imperialism at home and to support Communists in struggle abroad, whatever the cost. Nevertheless, the assistance provided to the American Party was remarkable, even though it never began to approach the vast amounts of money spent by the US State Department in subverting foreign regimes every year. Last year this included a staggering $50 million spent in just one failed attempt to overthrow the Government of Belarus.

During the Cold War these transactions were illegal, so all the money had to be supplied covertly, first via Canada, later through New York. In this enterprise Hall relied heavily on two exceptional brothers, Morris and Jack Childs, both trusted Party members since the 1920's. Morris acted as the political go-between with Moscow while Jack was the bagman who passed over the money. By all accounts, Jack was a prosperous salesman of electrical spare parts and something of a playboy. Morris, a rich and successful businessman, had been a member of the National Committee and from 1945 to 1947 editor of the Daily Worker. In the 1950's he became deputy leader of the CPUSA and was described by Hall as his "Secretary of State".

This was no understatement, as from 1958 until 1980, Morris Childs made 52 trips to Moscow, so many that in addition to his loft apartments in Chicago and New York, he maintained a flat in the Russian capitol. On his many travels he also visited Beijing, Prague, Havana, Budapest, East Berlin and Warsaw and in the process became acquainted with all the Communist leaders of the time. In the Soviet Union, there were many discussions with Suslov, head of Ideology and Ponomarov who ran the International department. By invitation he sat in on Central Committee meetings and became close personal friends with Brezhnev, advising him in advance of his visit to America. In return, Breznev raised the toast to Childs on the occasion of his 75th birthday, describing him as "the last of the true Bolsheviks".


The brothers were considered discreet, old hands at the game. On at least two occasions the KGB questioned the wisdom of the arrangement, only to be over-ruled by the leadership of the American Party. The trust was complete, as indeed it needed to be. Morris took the requests to Moscow and Jack collected the money. The money then passed to Morris and then on to Hall. At every step, they risked discovery and the inevitable lengthy prison sentence. As a mark of gratitude, at a ceremony in 1975, Brezhnev presented Morris with the order of the Red Flag, in recognition of services to the International Communist Movement.


It must, therefore, have come as something of a surprise to all concerned, when news leaked out that another ceremony had taken place in 1987, this time at FBI headquarters in Washington where Director Sessions presented Morris with the National Security medal. Later, at yet another ceremony, he was to be the proud recipient of the U.S. Medal of Freedom, this time from a grateful President Ronald Reagan.

The Childs family had emigrated from the Ukraine in 1910, and Morris left behind him the name Moishe Chilovsky in the process. Both joined the party and Morris became a prot�g� of Earl Browder rising to membership of the National Committee in 1934. In 1945 he succeeded Budenz as editor of the Daily Worker, alledgedly becoming dissolusioned with Communism in 1947, when he left the party.

As the story goes, in the early 1950's, the FBI persuaded Jack to become an informer and he talked Morris into rejoining the party. The deal was clinched when the Feds paid for Morris to receive medical treatment at the prestigious Mayo clinic. In the words of Carl Freyman "He cost us a lot of money but it was worth it".

However, there is circumstantial evidence that this version is untrue, that Childs infiltrated the party's underground in the 1930's. Certainly, he was sacked from the editorship of the paper, following a disastrous decline in circulation. In any event, from then on, both brothers acquired a new lifestyle. Described by one admiring agent as a "Rich and cultured woman", Eva Lieb married Morris in 1962 and helped him to furnish his homes with "Eastern art, antiques, carpets and fine crystal". The source of this new wealth was not just the FBI salary of $30,000 a year but with full approval, Jack skimmed off 5% of the Soviet money before it reached Hall. In the 20 odd years they were active, the brothers probably stole somewhere in the region of $4 million. The operation was only ended in 1980 with the death of Jack. Morris and Eva were then free to retire to the witness protection programme.

operation solo

As to the story of how Childs became Undercover Agent CG-5824S there are only too many sources available to us. The first news of "Operation Solo" broke with the Garrow book, published in 1981. In 1983, Republican senator Jesse Helms read the story into the Congressional record. In his 1993 book "Operation Solo: The FBI's man in the Kremlin", Barron used interviews with Morris and Eva, together with selected extracts from the files which detailed Morris's briefings to the FBI after each trip abroad. Agents Richard Hansen, Ed Buckley and Carl Freyman have been extensively quoted in the press. Readers who would like to know yet more still have time to join the "Regal Empress" at Tampa, Florida for a weeks luxury cruise through the Carribean, departing on March 10th. Organised by "Spy Cruise", there will be numerous lectures by various experts in the field, including former FBI agent Ray Wannell, who will, no doubt, be happy to discuss the case over a drink at the bar or over dinner. Wannell handled Morris for a number of years. A further cruise will depart with the same itinery and lecturers, starting 14th April.

police informers

For communists the world over, police informers have always been a fact of life, they go with the territory. However, the assumption has always been that they would be low level and of little political significance. Rather like fleas on a dog, inevitable and irritating but not fatal. The Childs story suggests a different pattern and it is to be regretted that at no time has the CPUSA conducted its own inquiry into an affair which has some international significance.

In 1991, the Sunday Times revealed what everyone always suspected, that the Soviets had supplied secret funds, amounting to �100 000 a year to the Communist party of Great Britain (CPGB). The money was covertly passed over to Reuben Falber and then onto the party. At least one British commentator on the Secret State has pointed out that since this procedure began in 1956, the Security service were fully aware of the funds and how they were collected. If that is so, why at the height of the Cold War, were no steps taken to expose and end the arraingment? Perhaps part of the answer is to be found in the comments of Jesse Helms who stated in 1983 that; "the operation was of continuing value, and the dependence of the Party on Soviet funds meant that it did not seek to increase its membership and importance within the United States". However, this is plainly not the whole story.

In 1995, Dick Engelen published his history of the Binnenlandse Veiligheidsdienst, the BVD or Dutch secret police. Engelen had been hand- picked as the BVD's in-house historian and was given unique access to the organisation. However this resulted in a book, which proved to be considerably more interesting than that origionaly envisaged. There were the usual tales of burglary and bugging of party premises and members homes, of survellance and the opening of mail, with which we are only too familiar here in Britain.

In addition, the book revealed that in the 1950's, the BVD created its own group within the Communist Party, causing a bitter factional struggle. The resulting split led to the creation of a fake "Socialist Workers Party" in 1958 (no relation to our own SWP) with about 200 members. Throughout the Cold War, the BVD maintained informers in over 100 of the party's councils, which probably means the total number was between 300 and 500 in all. The inspiration for this came from the CIA, which picked up the bill for at least 10 % of BVD personnel, in effect bankrolling the operation against the Communist party of the Nederlands.

Meanwhile, in Norway, during the 1980's, there was growing disquiet at the degree of political surveillance and interference into the lives of citizens conducted by the POT, the Norwegian Police Security Service. The scandal got out of control in 1993, resulting in the creation of the Lund Commission, named after its chairman Ketil Lund. During their proceedings, one of the commission's members, former Socialist Left (Communist) party member Berge Furre was bugged by the very organisation that the Storting (Parliament) had appointed him to investigate. POT even made enquiries at the archive of the GDR Stasi in a fruitless attempt to portray him as a former spy.

These revelations ended the careers of a minister for justice and the head of POT, as tales of widespread bugging and infiltration laid bare the reality of this 'liberal democracy'. Naturally, the Norwegian Communist party was the main target, in an operation begun in the late 1940's and using the services of former Communist party of Germany (DKP) member Karl Bargstadt, a connection facilitated by the late Willy Brandt. Once again, the party was extensively infiltrated.

Over in Finland, Juhani Salminen, a Social Democrat, revealed a similar operation in his book. This time the Finnish Social Democrats created an intelligence operation consisting of over 1000 informers inside the Communist party, extending up to leadership level. Monthly reports were prepared and submitted to the heads of the intelligence services and employers. This co-operation between the leadership of Finnish Social democracy and their secret police arose from personnel relationships which developed during the Finnish-Soviet war, when various individuals served together in the army of the fascist-leaning General Mannerheim.

Meanwhile in Sweden, Peter Bratt and Jan Guillou, revealed in a 1973 article, the hitherto unknown existence of a shadowy organisation of Military Intelligence the "Information Bureau" (IB). Their story, published in a small-circulation left paper, was based on interviews with a disgruntled officer and won the authors a 12 month prison sentence for revealing state secrets. During their interrogation it soon became clear that their arrest had not resulted from revealing the mere existence of IB as a foreign intelligence service, but from briefly exposing its secret and unconstitutional internal branch, set up to spy on the Communist party at home. They were told, " you are not sitting here because of what you have written, but because of what you have not yet written".

In 1988, Per Gunnar Vinge, retired head of the SAPO (Security Police), confirmed the story in his book entitled "SAPO Chief 1962-70"; " IB's domestic section was an organisation with clear political anchorage". He also dropped the Social Democrats in it when he disclosed that local party officials were gathering information for the security service's blacklist on communist sympathisers "Reliable Social Democrats were selected who often regarded the whole thing as an honorary task. The reporting on communists and their doings was justified on defence grounds".

We next move to November 1997, and the notorious 'Leander case'. Torsten Leander had been a young carpenter in 1979 when he mysteriously lost his job. It was only in 1997 that it was revealed that the real reason was because he had been registered on political grounds by SAPO, in a process which was illegal after 1969 and unconstitutional after 1977. The release of his files opened a renewed scandal, which continues to this day, with the establishment in 1999 of a "Truth Commission" to enquire into the whole affair.

Some 29 organisations of the left were under surveillance, and as the following extracts from the files reveal, the Swedes were nothing if not thorough;"At one summer camp organised by the SKP, "E" participated in a leading function by ordering food at the Scan West". A file was opened on anyone who had attended a study circle or joined an athletic association thus;"In 1977 it was found out that "P" was a deputy-substitute in the athletic organisation Roda Stjarnan IF, which is an athletic organisation with connections to KPML(r). As a deputy substitute he must most certainly be regarded as a member of KPML(r). His car has at four occasions in 1979 been seen parked at places close to places where KPML(r) has had meetings.

Attending a demonstration or voting for a listed party was also considered active membership. The blacklist was used, amongst other things, to operate a Swedish version of the German system of "Berufsverbot", which prevented employment by the government or the military-industrial complex. In 1998, the "Goteburg Posten" newspaper printed a list of 30 Doctors and nurses who had worked in Gothenburg's main Hospital in the early 70's and who had been registered as security risks following information from an IB informer. The detail in the released files confirms that infitration of the left was as widespread in Sweden as in its Nordic neighbours.

In July 1998 the Conservative daily "Svenska Dagbladet" printed docuements from a 1993 Parliamentary Committee on neutrality policies. Sweden had been neutral during both world wars and claimed neutrality during the Cold War. These secret proceedings revealed that IB had been established in 1957 after a secret agreement was reached between the Swedish Employers Association, the Labour Unions, the Social Democrat government and the Army. Agreement was forced after America had threatened to forbid the transfer of defence related technology to industries abroad which were considered unsafe as a result of employing an unreliable (Communist) workforce. To this day the Swedes run a massive armaments industry, dependant on advanced American technology.


We now turn to Marcus Wolf and his intruiging autobiography, "Man without a face" published in 1997. Wolf was the head of the German Democratic Republic's (GDR) foreign intelligence service. Correctly described as the 20th century's "greatest spymaster" and reputedly the model for John Carre's "Karla", he retains a sentimental attachment to the ideals of the GDR even though he has now embraced revisionism. While generally discreet, and loyal to his former officers, he does provide us with some useful information.

The new service, formed in 1951, was forced to operate on a shoestring and consisted of only 8 officers to begin with. Wolf's first project was to investigate the underground "Apparat" of the Communist Party of Germany (DKP). The DKP, mindful of the threat of a fascist revival and German Revanchism maintained its own intelligence service modelled on the legendary Comintern underground apparat, sometimes wrongly referred to as the "Red Orchestra". These agents, some 50 in number, provided the basis of the new service's operation in the western occupied sectors. It soon became apparent to Wolf that something was badly wrong. In particular, one agent, "Merkur" (Schlomm), was recalled to the east and subjected to interrogation. His admission that he had been working for British intelligence won him a 9-year prison sentence in 1952. As a result the entire network was abandoned, as in Wolfs own words; "The British, in particular, had done sterling work turning a number of the Communists they had held as prisoners of war. They also were highly successful in turning some of the Communist wartime emigrants, as well as several new, young agents of the newly established network".

From this point on, Wolf had no further contact with either the DKP or the Communist Party of West Berlin. The only conclusion we can reach is that both these organisations were thoroughly infiltrated by this time. Indeed to compromise the apparat to such an extent, substantial numbers would have had to have been already present in the open parties, to ensure a sufficient pool of potential recruits available for selection for the elite illegals.

Certainly, the British had successfully penetrated the Comintern by the 1930's, using both British and non-British nationals. They had also managed to plant a number of informers in the International Brigades fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Of these the most notable was Alexander Foote, who went absent without leave from the RAF in 1936 only to turn up in Spain, managing to find a comfortable transport job well away from the front. He next appears as the radio operator of the "Lucy ring", a GRU spy ring which grew out of the apparat and operated throughout the war from Switzerland under the Hungarian, Sandor Rado.

During the 30's, the British were equally assiduous in cultivating liberal intellectuals from Central Europe, especially Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Some of these turned up after the war, either in or close to their respective Communist parties. As the German forces closed in, many of these were evacuated, at a time when others such as Jews suffered great difficulties in obtaining visas. In one notable case, a British Ambassador gave up his place on the last ship out, allowing a Hungarian liberal to escape. This particular individual reappeared after the war, editing a Marxist periodical in Budapest, until his arrest for espionage.

The exiles in London were targeted, the 'Hungarian club' and the London branch of the DKP in particular. Exiles in America were simultaniously cultivated by the OSS and under survellance by the FBI.

Recent publication of the interrogation records of German POW's held in Britain have disclosed that the buildings in the camps were routinely bugged. While this would have assisted questioning, it would have also proved invaluable in spotting likely anti- fascists who could be recruited or compromised into acting in British interests.

In the case of the OSS, the wartime precurser of the CIA, this led to their 'Iron cross mission' in the closing stages of the war. In late 1945, the U.S. 7th Army became concerned that the S.S. and prominent Nazis were escaping over the Austrian border and regrouping in the Alps to fight a gueurilla war. A force was established under OSS auspices to engage in 'Subversion, sabotage, gueurilla action', fighting under cover of German uniforms. 'Karl', a one-armed German veteran of the Spanish Civil war was recruited along with 'Max' and 'Herman', also International Brigaders. In turn, they recruited 125 POW's together with a further 50 German civilians from a holding camp, all of whom had fought with the French Resistance. After training in St Germain, they were due to go into action when news came through of Hitler's suicide and the operation was wound down. From these and others, through either bribes or threats there would be a ready source of recruits for further activities in the Cold war.

These then are the facts. From the late forties to the late fifties, countries as diverse as NATO Holland and neutral Sweden infiltrated their Communist parties with large numbers of informants, quite freely or under American threats or inducements. This was certainly the case in Britain and its Commonwealth following the publication in 1946 of the report of the Canadian Royal Commision into the defection of Gouzenko. This influential report recommended a system of positive vetting for all branches of the Civil Service. A process which would have inevitably required informers in every district and industry where the party was present, to ensure that up to date details of sympathisers and subscribers were available, as well as members. With the formation of the CIA in 1947, American money and drive was there to ensure that every European country played its part. Given that Angleton, the CIA counter Intelligence expert, played a major role in establishing Israeli intelligence, there is little doubt that the Israeli Party was similarly infiltrated. As South African intelligence enjoyed cordial relations with its counterparts in America, Britain and Israel throughout the Apartheid years, its Party was unlikely to have escaped the same attention.

It is the numbers involved that are suprising. Such a level of attack forces us to reassess the purpose of it all. Certainly, the first result would have been to support a system of positive vetting and a Berufsverbot throughout Europe. The British and American system of internment without trial at time of war or civil disorder would also require such an intelligence operation. Plainly should any of the participants suffer a successful revolution or a Soviet invasion, then the informers would have been the basis of a 'stay-behind' network, operating from within the party itself.

Again, this is not the whole story, not least because of the longevity of the operation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that as the informants grew old and retired during the late 60's and early 70's, there was further recruitment, a generation whose activity continued well into the late 90's in some cases. Plainly such deep level entry meant that it was inevitable that individuals would rise to positions of authority within the party. Indeed, with such numbers available, they could even operate as a secret caucus, to gather votes from around the country, to ensure election or appointment as full time officers. Positions in the labour and Trades union movement could also be won, using the prestige of being a party candidate, and making use of the caucus. In Britain at least, where interception of mail or phone calls requires a warrant, this brought an added bonus. Such warrants are only available when individuals or organisations can be classified as 'subversive', a definition which would not include pressure groups or the peace movement. The election of a 'Communist' to a senior post in such an organisation would allow the grant of a warrant, not only to cover that individual, but all his or her contacts in the organisation, thereby allowing the legal bugging of people who would otherwise not have been covered. Of course, the 'Communist' concerned, was in any event an informer himself.

Prime targets would have been pro-soviet international bodies, such as the World Federation of Trades Unions or the World Peace Council. Informers from national parties would, of course, have participated in world conferences and reported back. They would also have acted as a secret caucus with their counterparts from other national parties, coordinated by the Americans, ensuring that some of their number were elected to the governing bodies, even becoming full time officials. The opportunities for entering the Socialist camp would have been most useful, as were the possiblities for meeting the disaffected and the dissident under a cover of membership of a fraternal party. International bodies linking professionals such as teachers, lawyers, students and women would have been targeted, for similar reasons. Like a dead hand, they would have gravitated to where the money was, to steal or waste resources.

Societies for friendship with socialist countries, solidarity organisations for the anti-colonial struggle and liberation movements would have been on the list. Individuals would have used their connections to 'volunteer' to work for socialist embassies or to obtain work with them. Enterprises for trade with socialist counties would hope to receive preferential treatment, if they were run by 'Communists'. All these, provided a means of access to the Socialist world, which would have been denied to non-communists. In the case of Cuba, where Americans attract understandable attention, it would be advantageous for contact to be made by European 'Communists', playing a game all of their own.

Within parties, their presence would not have been limited to any one faction. Certainly they were prominent in the Eurocommunist factions, alienating parties from their working class base and seeking to export such reformist ideas into the Socialist countries. However their greatest prescence would have been in the pro-soviet factions, creating such groups where they did not already exist or establishing such groups as 'false flags', to divert genuine comrades. The purpose was never to win control, to see any one faction or idea triumph. Rather, to achieve a poisonous equilibrium of eternal faction fighting and argument. To marginalize parties from the class. To bring about a state of slow decline. For, in the words of Baroness Park, former Mi6 operative in Moscow, "they destroy each other, you don't destroy them"

It is tempting to imagine that communists could have defeated them at their own game, to play the role of an amateur James Bond. No individual or even party can withstand the power of a state, let alone more than one acting together. To defeat such activities in the future, we only need to learn the lessons of our past and there can be no better place to start than with the history of Lenin and the Bolsheviks.


In her 'Memories of Lenin', Krupskaya who was both Lenin's partner and the corresponding secretary of the party recounts the case of Brendinsky, who lived in Vilna and was responsible for the despatch of illegal literature to Moscow on behalf of the party. Once she became suspicious, she saved the 1912 congress in Prague, by the simple expedient of informing him that it was to take place in Brittaney instead. In her words "Later, Brendinsky's artistry was completely exposed. He never returned to Russia. The Tsarist government bought him a villa in the suburbs of Paris for 40000 francs".

Unfortunately for Krupskaya and the party, the Tsarist Okhrana was both brutal and highly creative. They operated a vast stable of informers and agents provocateurs, both in Russia and abroad. In fact, there were two further such informers at that congress, Romanov and Roman Malinovsky. About Malinovsky, there had long been suspicions, mainly from the Mensheviks.A favourite of Lenin, Malinovsky had worked on Pravda and eventually rose to become an M.P. and leader of the Bolshevik faction in the Duma or parliament.

Following his unexpected resignation from parliament in 1914, a special party commission, with Lenin as one of its members, was established to investigate the claims. Malinovsky was exonerated, not least by Lenin, one of his strongest supporters. It was only after the Bolsheviks took power, gaining access to the records, that the depths of his treachery were discovered and the death sentence passed.

Even then, Lenin was still unable to believe that his friend and prot�g� had been working against him all the time. Nevertheless, all the informers in the world could not save the Czar. The reality is that parties do not make revolutions, only the working class can. When the class moves, there is no power on earth that can stop it.

For Communists, the solution is a simple one. There is no doubt that the process of infitration was made easier with the development of revisionism in the old parties. Maintaining the ideology of revolutionary Marxism-Leninism must be the highest priority. There is no doubt that Lenin's leadership gave the informants little room to manoever, and as Lenin stated; "Without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary party".

The gradual change in social composition of parties, away from the working class and towards professionals, such as lecturers, lawyers, teachers and others assisted them. Likewise the development of factions. For as Stalin vowed at the funeral oration to Lenin; "We guard the unity of our party as though it were the apple of our eye"

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