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[Editor's note, Mr. Kern is not a H-HOAC subscriber and this is posted by the editor at his request. JEH] Ronald Radosh has pointed out to me that a recent thread concerns my literary collaboration with Vladimir Chikov and the question of the Soviet atomic spy called PERSEUS. Svetlana Chervonnaya has commented on the fabricated nature of the PERSEUS story, and I would like to add my perspective. Some details are old but others are new, so I hope that list members will find the sequence interesting. I am grateful to John Haynes for a few corrections on matters of VENONA. THE PERSEUS DISINFORMATION OPERATION In Chapter 20 of BOMBSHELL, entitled "The Perseus Myth," Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstler tell how the KGB created a mythical American agent for the purposes of self-justification, self-promotion and steady state funding. As I see it, the creation of PERSEUS was not so much mythmaking as a daring and highly risky disinformation operation. There is a slight, but significant difference. Mythmaking is basically the wholesale invention of a story. Disinformation, on the other hand, makes use of real facts to compel belief; it alters them slightly, puts them in wrong contexts, combines them with falsehood, slants them in order to achieve its aims. Indeed, the authors of BOMBSHELL show how this was done in some instances. But the creation of PERSEUS was not a product of the imagination; it was based on real facts. The aims of the operation were manifold: (1) to demonstrate that the KGB was vital to Soviet (and after 1991--to Russian) state interests, because with its successes in atomic espionage it had safeguarded the nation against nuclear attack; (2) to prove that the KGB was more expert than American and British intelligence agencies, which had never caught its atomic spies; (3) to wrest some of the prestige away from Soviet atomic scientists and win the benefits of prestige for KGB veterans; (4) to make propaganda usage of foreign spies residing in Russia, especially Morris and Leontina Cohen, who were old, malleable and under KGB control; and (5) to make money selling the story. To achieve these aims, the masterminds resolved to rely on real facts, archival documents and, in the case of veterans, personal recollections, so as to guarantee national and international acceptance in a new and extremely critical environment. At the same time they could not give everything away. It is a hard and fast rule of all intelligence agencies that when you recruit foreign agents you must ensure them eternal confidentiality--and if not eternal, then at least lifelong. You should never expose them for any temporary gain, or you will lose recruits in the future. The astonishing gamble of the PERSEUS operation was that it sought to capitalize on a still living spy, perhaps on more than one. The thinking, I believe, was this: We must provide real facts that foreign intelligence agencies (and spy buffs) can check and confirm, but we can spin these facts in such a way that they'll go running in circles. We have a large number of unidentified foreign agents to play with, so why don't we mix their personal and professional data? We can speak of a major atomic spy who has never been caught and is still alive, a spy scientist so famous that his name is known to the whole world, a Morris Cohen recruit who was involved in the Spanish Civil War, a native of New York, a scientist at the Chicago University Metlab before the war, an atomic spy involved in the anti-nuclear movement after the war, and so on and so forth--all real people, just not one man. Alter dates here and there, toss in a bit of spice like a fish head sticking out of a bag, and don't forget the Kleenex-box story, mix well-- and nobody will ever unmix this salad. The chefs in this case were Anatoly Yatskov, Igor Prelin and Vladimir Chikov, all well identified in BOMBSHELL. As the book explains, the first, who had been a Soviet spymaster in New York during WWII, publicized the story in interviews and with hard-copy archival documents; the second, a filmmaker who had worked for the KGB, produced documentaries on PERSEUS for domestic and foreign consumption; the third, a former KGB colonel and researcher, told the story in newspaper and magazine articles that attracted international attention. Maitre d' was KGB General Yury Drozdov, who insisted that true dates be changed, the chief one referring to Lona Cohen's meeting the young American spy in Albuquerque, which he moved from 1945 to 1943, thereby screwing up all the historical data for this period in Chikov's writings. The Cohens, of course, were brought into the operation and filmed in well-controlled interviews. The whole operation was approved by KGB head Vladimir Kryuchkov. He was discredited in the abortive August 1991 coup, yet it continued on without him. Problems arose, but the Lubyanka held firm. When the old Stalininst veteran Pavel Sudoplatov acted like a rogue and published a book of sensational memoirs in the West without prior KGB approval, the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service, as this branch of the former KGB was now called) officially denounced him, denied his version of events and vouched for the PERSEUS story. (IZVESTIYA, 4/30/94) Before his death old Morris Cohen disputed parts of the story in a cranky interview with PRAVDA (10/4/94), but confirmed that he had recruited PERSEUS. Nobody paid much attention, as he was infirm and obviously mixed things up, but the interview had intriguing tidbits, such as Lona Cohen going to Las Vegas, New Mexico, to collect atomic secrets, a dusty, out-of-the-way town known chiefly to those who have some dealing with it, as most Americans know only one Las Vegas--the gambling hotspot in Nevada. In addition to writing articles on PERSEUS, Vladimir Chikov authored a large manuscript on the Cohens entitled NELEGALY ("The Illegals"). Approved by the KGB/SVR in 1992, it was sold to the French publisher Robert Laffont the following year. As a translator and writer on Soviet subjects, I was hired to collaborate with Chikov and turn the manuscript into a book suitable for publication in the West. The result was COMMENT STALINE A VOLE LA BOMBE ATOMIQUE AUX AMERICAINS: DOSSIER KGB NO. 13676 ("How Stalin Stole the Bomb from the Americans: KGB File 13676"), which came out in 1996. There was also a German edition entitled PERSEUS: SPIONAGE IN LOS ALAMOS. We didn't get an English edition because events ran ahead of us. Chikov was quite open about the need to mix names and dates, stating that if he did not do so living spies could be identified. His reasoning was that if the documents he presented were word-for-word and date-for-date, they would help American code breakers decipher intercepted Soviet messages beyond those presented. The publisher accepted this condition, assuming that the changes would be minor. So this was the trade-off: a great story, but with altered details. Work on the manuscript was a nightmare. Despite my best efforts to correct errors and banish disinformation, the book appeared with mistakes, including the horrendous one mentioned above--1943 instead of 1945. After the French edition, Chikov published NELEGALY in Russian, virtually in its original form. He added some new information that I had found or otherwise had come to light, chiefly by footnotes, but without much rewriting, so that the new info actually clashes with his basic account. Thus a reader of Russian can consult this two-volume book, published Moscow by "Olimp" (1997), and see the fullbodied but contradictory figure of PERSEUS. Now along with "alterations," Chikov gave me a remarkable number of code names, dates and details of operations that later proved to be true. So many that some people in Moscow got upset and thought that I must be working for US intelligence. (If only I had the salary!) In addition, I developed other sources of inside information who must remain confidential. Thus I was in a lucky position when the unexpected happened in the middle of 1995: the US National Security Agency (NSA) released to the public its holdings of intercepted Soviet telegrams relating to atomic espionage. This was the first part of the six-part VENONA files. Here was something that the cooks of PERSEUS had not anticipated. The VENONA files, though fragmentary, provided a means to check the veracity of the information they had put out about ENORMOZ, the Soviet atomic espionage effort. As I said, much of what Chikov wrote or told me turned out to be true. Much did not match. We had to go to press before the whole thing could be resolved, but one figure popped up to the surface right at the start: the spy who was code-named MLAD, the subject of Albright and Kunstler's book, BOMBSHELL. My sources had identified MLAD as the true code name of PERSEUS after the publication of Sudoplatov, but before the release of VENONA. (Sudoplatov wrongly identified MLAD as Bruno Pontecorvo.) PERSEUS was now known to be an invention of circa 1991 vintage. The VENONA release, while capturing the attention of the media by proving the guilt of the Rosenbergs, also laid down the clues for determining the identity of MLAD. BOMBSHELL describes the deciphering process in chapters 22 & 23. In the crucial document of 11/12/44 (reproduced in the book) the NSA redactors neglected to black out the name, though they did so in the glossary entries. Thus Joseph Albright, Herbert Romerstein and a few other analysts were able to determine that MLAD was Theodore Hall. Independently I contacted Michael Dobbs of the WASHINGTON POST and gave him all the clues and references, but was compelled by Chikov to stick to the 1943 date, which ruled out Hall. Dobbs, not so constrained, identified Hall in the paper, after which the NSA openly confirmed him as MLAD in March 1996. It is my view that the NSA always wanted Hall identified and left his name exposed in the VENONA release so that scholars would first break the ground. The PERSEUS operation did nothing really to expose MLAD, whose identity as Hall was known to the FBI and NSA for decades, but once he was identified to the public and his biography became available to spy buffs, other agents were perhaps put at risk. For now a biographical ball of data could be subtracted from the PERSEUS composite. As I see it, that composite, minus various details, consists of three parts: 1) A young scientist at Los Alamos who turned over details of the atomic bomb to Lona Cohen in Albuquerque; 2) a Spanish Civil War buddy recruited by Morris Cohen in the spring of 1942; 3) a scientist of worldwide fame. Chikov emphasized the latter point when I met him in October 1993. "When PERSEUS dies," he told me, "his obituary will appear in newspapers all over the world." This claim may have been bogus, a mere selling point for Robert Laffont, but I believe that Chikov for one believed it. Today there can be little doubt that the composite of PERSEUS contained data taken from at least one deceased spy, but the famous spy, according to everyone speaking to the French publisher at the end of 1993, was still alive and well. He was said to be a native American, so the famous Hans Bethe was ruled out. Thus we arrive at a fascinating puzzle that has kept me and other spy buffs running around in circles. The first part of the PERSEUS composite can be removed: it is Theodore Hall, not recruited by either Cohen, without a Spanish Civil War connection and not famous outside of a very specialized field before the WASHINGTON POST story of February 25, 1996. He was the one who met courier Lona Cohen in Albuquerque in August 1945 and handed her papers with a diagram of the plutonium bomb, which she, supposedly stuffing in a Kleenex box, carried back to Yatskov in New York. (I think Lona herself told the story of passing the Kleenex box past guards at the train station, drawing it from some romantic movie she had seen.) However she carried it, the Soviet physicists exploded a copy of the bomb in Kazakhstan four years later. Without a copy they probably could not have produced an atomic bomb in Stalin's time and he would not have encouraged Kim Il Sung to start the Korean War. The second component, according to one confidential source, was the spy with the code name of SERB ("the Serbian"), formerly RELE ("RELAY"). That spy, according to one VENONA document, has the most spectacular identifying feature of all those mentioned in the collection: a wooden leg. (VENONA #943, 4/4/44) He cannot be Morton Sobell, as a later VENONA document suggests. (#976, 4/11/44) The four relevant VENONA documents leave the matter moot. There is a nuclear physicist who knows SERB's identity for a certainty (the man did have a wooden leg), but he does not wish to reveal him for personal reasons. I wish he would reconsider. However, H.B. Laes has suggested in a post he calls Set B that the person Cohen recruited in 1942 (or thereabouts) was not SERB, but Katherine ("Kitty") Oppenheimer, who would have contacted Cohen in New York for information about her former husband, Joe Dallet, who had died in the Spanish Civil War in the same battle at Fuentes de Ebro in which Cohen was wounded. I find this line of investigation compelling. Rather than transmit information to Soviet contacts, Kitty, who studied at the University of Pittsburgh and UC Berkeley, and married Robert Oppenheimer in 1940, could have influenced or reinforced her husband's policies, which made Los Alamos a leaky sieve instead of a tight drum. If so, details of her biography might have fed into the PERSEUS legend, though she was not famous in her own right and not alive in 1993, having died of an embolism in 1972. The nuclear physicist who was still alive and was quite famous in 1993 was Philip Morrison, alumnus of the Metlab, protege of Oppenheimer and one of the youngest members of the team that constructed the plutonium bomb at Los Alamos. After the war he gave up atomic research and turned to other fields, co-authoring a paper in 1959 that established the fundamental premises for a program of listening for radio signals from outer space. SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), centered in Mountain View, CA, regards him as a godfather. He authored a dozen popular books, appeared on his own television series and together with his wife Phylis wrote hundreds of book reviews and short articles for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. All the same, a good many features of his early career corresponded to the PERSEUS story, so many that one of his colleagues, Jeremy Stone, President of the Federation of American Scientists, of which Morrison was a co-founder, took the rash step of making that identification in Chapter 29 of his book, EVERY MAN SHOULD TRY (1999). A flurry of protest followed, fellow scientists rallied to Morrison's defense and Stone, persuaded that he had done a friend wrong, retracted his accusation and offered Morrison a heartfelt apology. (See PHYSICS TODAY, July 1999.) In point of fact, his one-to-one equation of Morrison and PERSEUS was quite unsupportable. Stone was not a specialist in intelligence, did not read Russian and took Chikov's and Sudoplatov's accounts pretty much whole cloth. Others did not venture to repeat his mistake, as Morrison was reputed to be litigious. He died on April 22, 2005, at age 89. Obituaries appearing in the major newspapers four days later downplayed his radical politics of the 1940s as "a prewar flirtation with Communism" (LA TIMES), yet the record reveals more than a passing interest. Perhaps in time the question of his possible involvement in atomic espionage can be examined in the proper depth. Other commentators on PERSEUS, including the authors of BOMBSHELL, have suggested that one component of the fabrication may be the spy with the authentic codename PERS. In Russian, the two names are PERS ("the Persian") and PERSEI ("PERSEUS"). This spy has not yet been identified, though some clues have appeared in Allen Weinstein's THE HAUNTED WOOD (1999). One source kindly gave me a Soviet document indicating that PERS was very close to Julius Rosenberg and was recruited by him, but beyond this one document I am unable to gather more data. Rosenberg's control officer, Aleksandr Feklisov, according to another source, knew the identity of PERS, but insisted that he would never divulge it. And he did not. Time passes, memories fade and people die, and one by one the spies of the past get away with their sneaky deeds. Gary Kern