Haynes/Klehr/Vassiliev

Haynes, John Earl, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev. Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

From publisher: This work is based on the notebooks of former KGB officer Alexander Vassiliev who was allowed "unique access to Stalin-era records of Soviet intelligence operations against the United States.... With these notebooks John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have meticulously constructed a new ... historical account."

Clark comment: My review of this work appears in Intelligence and National Security 25, no. 5 (Oct. 2010), as one of three reviews under the heading of "Review Roundtable: The Trouble with Atomic Spies," pp. 705-724. I conclude: "As important as this book is, it is difficult to imagine anyone except those deeply interested in its subject matter choosing to sit down and read it. Its lack of a unifying narrative structure will relegate it to the realm of being used almost solely as a reference work to which one can turn for the current state of scholarship concerning the relationship between a particular individual and Soviet intelligence. That is a shame, as Spies is loaded with interesting material."

Also in I&NS 25.5 (Oct. 2010), Gary Kern finds that Spies "is a masterful exposition of Soviet espionage in America during WWII and the early postwar period, an encyclopedia from which scholars will draw for decades. Its value consists not only [in] presenting so much fresh material, but especially in integrating it with all that went before and patiently explaining the American institutions and technologies involved."

Jerrold Schecter, I&NS 25.5 (Oct. 2010), takes issue with the authors for their acceptance of the Soviets' "spin" on the case of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The reviewer remains convinced of the validity of the story related by the late KGB General Pavel Sudoplatov -- that Oppenheimer was "a friendly source or 'asset,'" even if he was not a recruited agent under KGB control. Schecter argures that "Haynes and Klehr need to consider the motives of Russian intelligence in providing selected information related to atomic espionage and burying embarrassing details, namely the full story of its relationship with Robert Oppenheimer."

Goulden, Washington Times, 17 May 2009, calls this work "the best single volume ever written on the subject of Soviet espionage in the United States." The reviewer cautions that this "is heavy reading, even for someone versed in USSR espionage. It is a mare's nest of code names and multiple identities, facts piled atop facts and names upon names." Nevertheless, he concludes that "I've reviewed intelligence books for decades. 'Spies' is truly the best read yet."

To Fischer, IJI&C 23.2 (Summer 2010), Vassiliev's notebooks represent "a kind of Swiss cheese with large solid chunks of information and some holes." However, they "are without doubt genuine, if imperfect, sources of historical importance." This work "almost certainly will remain the major contribution to historiography on Soviet intelligence before the Cold War.... [F]or those who value historical truth and who believe that espionage is a serious business, Spies is a valuable reference work."

Pringle, IJI&C 23.3 (Fall 2010), says that this "book's eighty-eight pages of notes are important to contempor[ar]y scholarship on the KGB." Several revelations in the book "may engender revisions of American history.... Despite the many positives in their work," the authors "failed to analyze the KGB's operational failure in the context of Stalin's intense campaign against Jews." In the end, however, Spies "is a bravura performance on several levels."

The review by Guttenplan, The Nation, 25 May 2009, is basically a defense of I.F. Stone against both the Venona transcripts and the conclusion in Spies that Stone was a KGB agent. The reviewer argues that "Spies never explains why we should believe KGB officers, pushed to justify their existence (and expense accounts), when they claim information comes from an elaborately recruited 'agent' rather than merely a source or contact.... Spies is invaluable in another way: it tells us what the SVR wants the West to know."

Peake, Studies 54.3 (Sep. 2010) and Intelligencer 18.1 (Fall-Winter 2010), notes that "[t]he argument over sources can never be resolved completely.... Even if the KGB/GRU archives are opened to scholars, some will say Soviet sources can't be trusted. But in the interim, Spies is the most complete and accurate account to date."

Some reviewers argue that the spies' information was not significant in its impact on the Soviet leadership (this is the "Well, yes, they spied, but it didn't mean much" argument). See Amy Knight, "Leonard?," Times Literary Supplement, 26 Jun. 2009, who argues that "in terms of the actual secrets Moscow reaped," Soviet spying "was often unremarkable." This and other criticisms and contentions by Knight are challenged by Haynes and Klehr, "Comment on Amy Knight's review of Spies in the Times Literary Supplement," at http://www.johnearlhaynes.org/page73.html (a shorter version was carried by the Times Literary Supplement on 31 Jul. 2009), which is worth a read on its own.

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