SPY CASES

United States

Weinstein and Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood (1998)

Weinstein, Allen, and Alexander Vassiliev. The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America -- the Stalin Era. New York: Random House, 1999.

Clark comment: This is an exceptional addition to intelligence literature. Although little of the book's content is truly new in the sense of not being previously known, the marriage of KGB documents to Venona materials rounds out -- or, perhaps, makes real -- stories of Soviet spies which previously were less solidly supported. My biggest complaint about the book is a repetitious presentation of essentially the same material in discussing the often overlapping cases. I reacted too frequently with a slightly annoyed, "Yes, I already know that," to material that had been developed previously in the book. But, then, the authors may well have decided that repeating core events or relationships were necessary to the narrative -- to prevent the reader from becoming lost in The Haunted Wood.

Powers, NYRB (11 May 2000) and Intelligence Wars (2004), 91, says that "anyone who wants to know what Hiss and his friends were up to can find a rich, convincing, and vivid report in The Haunted Wood." Gerber, CIRA Newsletter 23.2, believes that the authors "have made an important contribution" toward helping Americans understand the Soviet espionage efforts. What they provide is "not the whole story, but it's a major part of the story."

Both Macartney, AFIO WIN 1-99 (4 Jan. 1999), and Beichman, WTNWE, 11-17 Jan 1999, comment that few new names of Soviet spies surface in this book. Most of the names that populate the Russian documents -- Alger Hiss, Laurence Duggan, Michael Straight, Lauchlin Currie, and Duncan Lee -- have been basically known for some time. But, as Beichman, notes, this work is important because "we now have a documented glimpse of the day-to-day operations of the Stalinist spy machine in its heyday."

Peake, NWCR 53.3 and Intelligencer 11.2, notes that the authors' method of citing their documentary evidence "in endnotes by KGB file number, volume number, and page number ... [has] raised concerns among reviewers, scholars, and people named as agents, because there is no way to check such citations." Haynes, Journal of Cold War Studies 1, no. 2 (1999), declares that “The Haunted Wood is a major addition to scholarly knowledge, featuring information that cannot be found elsewhere.”

For Geracimos, Publishers Weekly, 18 Jan. 1999, Haunted Wood "lays out the scope of Soviet operations in human and compelling terms." The authors avoid ideology, producing "[n]o judgments and few conclusions ... [in] a heavily footnoted narrative." While noting that "[u]ndoubtedly there is still much to uncover about this period," Cohen, FA 78.3 (1999), suggests that, nevertheless, "this engaging book will hold the ground for some time to come."

Weiner, NYT, 31 Jan. 1999, calls this a "staggering account of sloppiness and stupidity among the Soviets and their American agents." Even though the files show that the Soviets had an agent in Congress, "Rep. Samuel Dickstein, who represented a swath of Manhattan's Lower East Side," he "was generally useless to his Soviet paymasters.... Most of the Americans working for the Soviets in the United States eventually were done in by their own clumsiness or betrayed by their colleagues. The main reason they survived as long as they did was incompetent (or nonexistent) American counterintelligence before Pearl Harbor."

To Persico, NYT, 3 Jan. 1999, the "hardest part ... to accept" of the revelations in Haunted Wood, "at least for those of us who deplored the overzealous Red-hunting of the late 40's and early 50's, is that the hunt rested on more substance than we cared to admit.... The work of Weinstein, Vassiliev and their colleagues mining the Soviet lode begins to approach the significance of an Ultra."

A letter to the editor from John L. Lee, New York Times, 14 Feb. 1999, takes issue with Persico's characterization of Duncan Lee (the letter writer's father) as "a spy for the Soviet Union," based on Persico's reading of Haunted Wood. Lee argues that "Weinstein and Vassiliev do not meet even minimal standards of scholarly or journalistic rigor" in their use of sources.

Similarly, a letter from Michael Straight, New York Times, 24 Jan. 1999, refers to an "ugly smear" by the reviewer in his characterization of Straight's relationship with Soviet Intelligence. In a reply, Persico quotes the passage from the book which led him to his conclusion.

Other letters expressing opposition to other conclusions drawn by Persico appear in the New York Times, 24 Jan. 1999, together with Persico's response.

Malevannyy, Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye (Moscow), 19-25 Feb. 1999 [from FBIS translation], says that The Haunted Wood "is the latest propaganda act of the Americans or even of a well thought-out active operation of 'historians in civilian clothes' from the CIA.... The pages of the book resurrect the spirit of spy-mania that reigned in America after the Second World War in the period of McCarthyism."

Old counterintelligence hand James E. Nolan, Jr., IJI&C 12.2, comments that "for those of us with professional knowledge of espionage activities and a continuing special interest in them, the book is an extremely valuable contribution to our knowledge of the period." However, he adds an important caveat: "for the uninitiated, the task of keeping the material in focus may prove too daunting."

Nolte, Studies 50.2 (2006), declares that this book "is an almost numbing account of the details ... that point" to the fact that "Soviet espionage happened, on a large scale, and did so through the active involvement of American citizens, a disturbing number of whom held positions of public trust within the Federal government."

Writing on the Hiss case, Ehrman, Studies, Winter-Spring 2001, faults the authors for telling "so many stories, several of which are already well known, that the book sometimes has an unfocused and sensational feel to it and the reader wonders why they seem compelled to go over old ground."

See also, Christian Caryl, "A Spy in Congress: The KGB Archives Yield Tantalizing Nuggests about American Linked to Soviet Espionage," U.S. News & World Report, 18 Jan. 1999, 36.

Return to Wei-Weir

Return to Spy Cases/Venona

Return to Spy Cases Table of Contents