In Spies: The Rise and Fall of The KGB in America, historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr teamed up with former KGB member and journalist Alexander Vassiliev to illustrate the phenomenon of Soviet Espionage in the United States from 1930s till the end of the Second World War, using documents Vassiliev accessed in the KGB archive. Haynes and Klehr recently corresponded with Jonathan Mok for GlobalComment, discussing the book and the history behind it.
Can we talk about why this book was written? What were some of the challenges of writing it?
The USSR conducted extensive espionage operations in the United States in the decades leading up to the Cold War, and hostile American public reaction to revelations in the late 1940s about the extent of that espionage played a significant role in shaping public and government attitudes in the opening years of the Cold War. Consequently, an accurate account of Soviet espionage assists in more fully understanding the history of that period.
The chief challenge of a reliable historical account of Soviet espionage in this period has long been the paucity of archival documentation. The investigative files of security agencies such as the FBI, trial transcripts, and testimony before congressional investigative committees are useful but only tell part of the story. The continued closure to research of the leading Soviet intelligence agencies has been a major barrier to a more accurate account. But the combination of the release by the American National Security Agency of some 3,000 deciphered KGB cables (mostly 1943-1946) and, more importantly, the 1,115 pages of Alexander Vassiliev’s transcriptions and summaries of KGB archival documents allow a much more comprehensive account.