Pre WWII Soviets in the West Essay
In the minds of the public, espionage is often the result of financial considerations.
A government employee, possibly living beyond his or her means spies in exchange for money. The recent case of Robert Hanssen is one such example. This is certainly not the only motivation for spying, however.In the 1930s, the Soviets established a substantial intelligence network within the United States and Britain. They correctly diagnosed that there was an undercurrent of support there for the communist ideology.
They also pinpointed which areas in society where support would be the strongest.In their recruitment, the Soviets used the West’s freedom of thought against it. The Great Depression had increased radical thought in England and the United States. The Soviet spies of this era were not typically among the economically needy, however. They were highly educated and socially liberal individuals who cared about the plight of others and sought wholesale changes in the Western culture.
The more radical atmosphere of the depression years provided a playing field for their ideas.In a dictatorial state, forces such as these might be easily quashed. Ironically, it is the West’s freedom that gave them the means to conspire against it. This reality, combined with word events of the time, gave the ideological focus of Soviet spy recruitment a leg up in the 1930s.
Unlike their counterparts in the West, Soviet intelligence was able to capitalize on world events to develop idealistic and loyal agents. As a result, Western counterintelligence stayed one step behind the Soviets.BackgroundThe Russian Revolution of 1919 ushered in an era of great suspicion and mistrust. Western nations feared the spread of Communist ideals. Meanwhile, the newly established Soviet Union feared for its own survival.
The Soviet leadership wanted to keep close tabs on the actions of western nations while also attempting to spread their ideology.Almost immediately after the revolution the Soviets established the intelligence service that would later become known as the KGB. In its early years the organization was known by a number of other names, such as the NKVD (Peoples Commissariat for International Affairs).The organization was successful in creating a large number of intelligence sources in Britain and increasingly in the United States. As early as the 1920s a series of police raids in several countries exposed evidence of “home grown” spy networks. Some of these networks would prove to be quite damaging in the countries in which they operated.
One such raid exposed a spy network in Britain in the 1920s.According to British home secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks; it was “one of the most complete and one of the most nefarious spy systems that it has ever been my lot to meet” (Andrew, 1990). Similar networks were exposed in other European countries.After the raids, the Soviets would refocus their spy recruitment efforts for the 1930s. World events, including the Great Depression and the unwillingness of Western nations to effectively take on the fascist states of Europe, aided the Soviets in their efforts.
The early focus of the Soviet Intelligence services was Great Britain. In the 1930s, they would expand their network into America.The new Soviet recruitment model emphasized informational security. Attempts to “buy information” would be decreased.
Instead, intelligence organizations would use world events and perceived threats as recruitment tools. The spies of the 1930s would be trustworthy, educated and ideologically driven.The 1929 stock market crash signified the beginning of a worldwide economic depression. Calls for government action were increasingly desperate. Meanwhile, labor movements in England and America were stalled.
Membership in radical organizations increased. The Soviets would marshal these resources by appealing to ideological principles.The rise of Hitler in the 1930s provided a potent threat to the new communist union to the east. Hitler was virulently anti-communist. As his influence spread, the Soviet Union rightly saw itself as a potential target.The Western nations were largely unwilling to confront Hitler during the 1930s.
Recruiters of Soviet spies used this to energize and expand its spy network. People who might otherwise fell unpatriotic about their own spying took solace in the fact that they were preventing Hitler from ruling the world. The only hope, as they saw it, was to strengthen the Soviet Union so that it might discourage Hitler from further conquest.The ideological lure-Why did they spy?In Western nations, such as Britain and the United States, Communist parties were already in existence. Though membership and the level of dedication ebbed and flowed, there was enough support to enable the forerunners of the KGB to gain a foothold in the west. From there, agents identified potential recruits.
In some cases, high government officials were targeted. In others, young idealists were cultivated into effective agents as they rose through the ranks of their respective careers.In general terms, the local communist parties in foreign countries had two uses for Soviet intelligence. They provided an ideological home base as well as serving as a conduit for information. “The American Communist movement was not just a recruiting ground for Soviet intelligence. It also functioned as an auxiliary to Soviet espionage” (Turner, 2007).
In a best case scenario, the ideological lure might lead to political change in the capitalist countries of the West. At the least, the spies would be a continued source of information on Western governments, militaries, economies and technologies.“As in other areas, the Soviets relied heavily on ideological sympathy as a source for industrial spies” (Haynes, 2000).Communist parties in foreign nations were an obvious target for counterintelligence. In that sense, their effectiveness was limited.
Individuals sympathetic to the communist cause who were willing to take action were more difficult to target. In the 1930s, Soviet intelligence focused on finding such individuals.The Universities were a ripe source for spies sympathetic to the communist cause. Many there had read The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and saw socialism as the key to a peaceful, utopian society.
Now that a major country like the Soviet Union was attempting to establish a strong communist bastion, these sympathizers were heartened.The rise of Hitler overshadowed the abuses of the Soviet state in its early years. Millions were killed, tortured or imprisoned as the paranoid leadership attempted to solidify its power in the 1920s and ‘30s. A world away from the U.S.S.
R., the British and English spy recruits clung to the myth of a utopian state. The realities of what was going on were either ignored or somehow justified for the greater good. Recruiters were effective in minimizing or justifying the atrocities.
Meanwhile, the potential threats to the young state were a constant emphasis of their presentations. According to Anthony Blunt, a member of the “Cambridge Four”:…it seems to me and many of my contemporaries that the CommunistParty and Russia constituted the only firm bulwark against fascism.(Andrew, 1990)The ConsequencesThe spy recruitment effort of the 1930s clearly had paid off. By early 1941 there were 221 active NKVD (Peoples Commissariat for International Affairs) agents in the United States alone (Andrew, 1999).
The spies were anything but inactive.In 1939 alone, NKVD operations in the United States obtained18,000 pages of technical documents, 485 sets of designs and 54samples of new technology.(Andrew, 1999)A particularly effective ideological operation took place at Cambridge University in England. “There have been no more successful, more dramatically impressive spies than a group of Englishmen who all met at Trinity College, Cambridge University in the 1930s” (Turner, 2007). They were known as the “Cambridge Four” – Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Donald MacLean and Harold “Kim” Philby. In cooperation with others, they provided intelligence to the Soviets for decades.
All four went to great lengths to appear anti-communist. They achieved positions of importance within British intelligence and created a pipeline of information for the Soviets.“But why did they do it?’ many Britons asked. Those who assumed that the motives were financial were wrong.
“It appears that they were not mercenaries. “With the exception of a single payment to Philby…the Cambridge Four were never paid for their services” (Turner, 2007). The Cambridge Four were dedicated idealists. Still, they might have not have taken these actions had it not been for the coordinated and effective ideological recruitment by the Soviet intelligence agencies.The ideological commitment of the Cambridge Four was tested in 1939. That year, Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler.
This action left many world leaders in shock but it did not faze Kim Philby and the other Cambridge spies. They recognized correctly that the Pact was no more than a means to an end. It did not imply that the U.S.S.
R. and Nazi Germany were true allies. The continued loyalty of the Cambridge Four is a testament to the effectiveness of the ideology-driven spy recruitment method.In the 1930s, the communists were just as successful in infiltrating the United States as they had been in America.
Being even farther away from the U.S.S.R., young American recruits could not see that the recruiters were selling a mythical image of life there.
Recruiters were able to establish a spy ring within the federal government that included Alger Hiss, Julian Wadleigh and other officials. These were not individuals who needed the money from spying. Many were ivy-league educated, wealthy idealists who were convinced by recruiters that the survival of the U.S.S.
R. was dependent on their actions. Even for less than committed communists, it appeared that the U.S.S.
R. was the only force capable of stopping Hitler. Recruiters effectively capitalized upon the fear and hatred of fascism in America.The sentiments of the Washington spies echoed those of their counterparts at Cambridge. As many as 20 idealistic State Department officials had been compromised.
One of them, Julian Wadleigh, said in 1936 that “the Communist International represented the only world force effectively resisting Nazi Germany” (Andrew, 1999).The information passed along by the Cambridge Four, the Washington ring and the Communist parties in Western nations helped Stalin to consolidate his power. It provided the U.S.S.
R. leverage in post-war negotiations and in the fifty year Cold War. Kim Philby himself served nearly fifty years for the KGB.As the vastness of the Soviet spy network became more and more clear, the Western nations adapted and expanded their networks. The resulting Cold War was primarily a war of intelligence-gathering. The ideologically-driven Soviet spies of the 1930s had a head start on the conflict to come.
Analysis and ConclusionThe Soviet spy rings that were exposed in the 1930s damaged the Western nations both in terms of national security and culture. Relationships among allies were weakened in the short term. In the longer term, the events of the 1930s created the atmosphere of distrust that led to the infamous McCarthy witch hunt of the 1950s.The Soviet spies of this era were particularly dedicated, compared to their counterparts on the opposing side. The difference comes from a difference in recruiting philosophy. At the time Western agents were cultivated by financial incentives.
Often recruiters would target those who were both in a position to help and who also were vulnerable to financial incentives.In contrast, Soviet intelligence capitalized on world events in their recruitment. They found true sympathizers of communism among the elite classes of Western society. They sold these young idealists on a utopian ideal while disguising or rationalizing what was really going on in the Soviet Union.
Hitler himself once opined that “the bigger the lie, the more likely people are to believe it.” Reports of Soviet atrocities and a pact with Hitler did not sway the loyalty of the spies cultivated by the KGB. This is a testament to the power of an ideologically driven recruitment campaign such as that utilized by the Soviets in the 1930s.