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Ron Radosh

It seems that some things never change. A few moments ago, this breaking story came in from the website of the New York Times. It seems, as this early report informs us, that ten Americans have been arrested for spying on behalf of Putin’s new Russia. The story has eerie reminiscences of the arrest, trial, and eventual execution of  Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, over half a century ago on June 19th, 1953 — only a week apart from the current date of these newly arrested accused spies.

Just as with the Venona papers, the U.S. government intercepted messages from Russian intelligence headquarters in Moscow addressed to two defendants — Richard and Cynthia Murphy of Montclair, New Jersey. This time, the government has let it be known how they came to find out about their involvement. With Venona, the codes that were being broken — and which led the FBI to have full knowledge of the existence of Rosenberg’s spy ring — could not be revealed out of concern it would alert the KGB to the fact that their top secret codes had been broken. Therefore, some spies they knew were guilty — like the top atomic spy Theodore Hall — got away with espionage. Hall refused to admit his guilt to the Bureau, and left for Great Britain, where he was able to have a distinguished lifelong career in science. Before he passed away a few years ago, he not only admitted his guilt, but bragged about how he had done his part to preserve peace, by helping the Soviets break America’s atomic monopoly.

Unlike Hall, the Rosenbergs and others, today’s spies have no ideological reasons to pursue their traitorous activity; their motivation is the old one — greed. The Russians undoubtedly were paying them big bucks! But what is of great interest is what goal the Russians had in mind: “To search and develop ties in policymaking circles” in the United States, as Russian intelligence instructed the Murphys. “You were sent to USA for long-term service trip,” Moscow central told them. “Your education, bank accounts, car, house- etc.-all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e., to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and sent intels.”

That of course, is precisely what the Soviets did when they developed agents like Alger Hiss, Lauchlin Currie, Judith Coplon, Laurence Duggan, Duncan Lee, Harry Dexter White and many others. During the FDR years, these agents infiltrated various departments of government, with the intention of giving the Soviets advance knowledge of developing policy, as well as influencing policy, especially so in the case of Dexter White.

Many pundits have said, time and time again, that Barack Obama is similar to FDR, and his goals as president are to achieve the kind of change FDR attempted but could not complete. Evidently Russian intelligence feels the same. One of their control agents must have said to his colleagues, “We managed to infiltrate top government departments during the FDR years, when the US and the USSR were allies. Now that Barack Obama sees our current government as a solid ally, the opportunity has arisen to again accomplish great things for our service.”

How ironic and how embarrassing for the State Department and the Obama administration.  At least this time around, our FBI and CIA were on top of things, and have acted before the spies accomplished their goals. Let us be thankful for small blessings.

Update: 7 pm, EST.

It seems that a report filed from Europe provides some more enticing details. The Murphys decided an apartment was not good enough, and demanded that a house in Montclair be built for them:

The couple, who have allegedly operated in the United States since the mid-1990s, decided in 2008 to move from an apartment in Hoboken to a house in Montclair, N.J. – leading to an argument over whether they or the S.V.R. would own it.

The agents eventually dropped the argument, writing: “We are under the impression that C. views our ownership of the house as a deviation from the original purpose of our mission here. We’d like to assure you that we do remember what it is. From our perspective, purchase of the house was solely a natural progression of our prolonged stay here. It was a convenient way to solve the housing issue, plus to ‘do as the Romans do’ in a society that values home ownership.”

Yes indeed. Those Russian spies will think up any excuse for a free home. This too is reminiscent of Morris and Lona Cohen, top Soviet agents who disappeared from the USA the time of the Rosenbergs’ arrest, and fled to Britain. They lived incognito there under an assumed name, ostensibly operating a bookshop in the outskirts of London, where they secretly had a shortwave radio transmitter set to Moscow to send material and receive orders. The Cohens were eventually traded to the Soviets for British agents held in Moscow.

Update no. 2: 7:45 pm, EST.

The official government complaint, a Justice Department document, has just been put online by MSNBC.  I am reading through it now. What is striking is how similar it is in detail to the kind of FBI documents one finds when using old agent files and Justice Department briefs on the Rosenberg case. You have the same following of suspects, similar quotes from statements made by them, and concrete evidence that the government seeks to use in preparing an indictment.

In this case the agents reveal observations of transferring of material, dead drops carried out by them, conversations overheard, etc. It makes for most fascinating reading, and reveals how much the government had on these people before they made public their arrest. They also have code names, such as “Parrot,” and they note, among other things, an effort to recruit students in Washington, D.C., colleges to spy for them.

The following is a typical important statement:

During 2009, the SVR directed CYNTHIA MURPHY, the defendant, to “strengthen. . ties w. classmates on daily basis incl. professors who can help in job search and who will have (or already have) access to secret info,” and to ” [r]eport to C[enter] on their detailed personal data and character traits w. preliminary conclusions about their potential (vulnerability) to be ecruited by Service.” In response New Jersey Conspirators conveyed names of University affiliates to Center – which then conducted checks in a particular potential “target” was or was not “clean.” Thus, for example check revealed that a particular contact of CYNTHIA MURPHY’s had been suspected by a then Soviet bloc intelligence service of belonging to a “foreign spy net [work] deepening contact with them for sec[urity] reasons. ” c. In addition, the SVR has directed CYNTHIA MURPHY to collect information on certain University associates: “C suggests that N [MURPHY] keeps trying to ‘dig up’ personal data of those students who apply (or are hired already) for a job at  CIA.”

d. Furthermore, Moscow Center has directed the careers of RICHARD MURPHY and CYNTHIA MURPHY

I and on many occasions I the“CiS database” to determine ifI when ~,n SVR databaseI” MURPHY was told “to avoidI telling them to take on work that could benefit the SVR. Thus I for example I in a 2010 message Ithe SVR advised that CYNTHIA MURPHY should consider taking a certain job because “this position . would expose her to perspective contacts and potential sources in US government.

Finally, the indictment notes that these spies had started their operation in the 1990s, which means that this took place way before the current administration was in office, although the government finally moved in on them this past year. So the SVR, the foreign intelligence successor to the KGB, put this network together a long time ago — and its work carried through a few of the recent Democratic and Republican administrations. So I would now modify my comment about how the SVR saw an opportunity once Obama was elected — whomever is president, they sought to spy on the United States, just as in the good old days of the Cold War.

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