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Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed American History Hardcover – May, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Former Time editor Jerrold Schechter and historian Leona Schechter mine the Soviet archives and U.S. documents declassified in the 1990s, most notably the famed Venona intercepts meant to decrypt Soviet messages, in an effort to shed light on some Cold War mysteries and assess the impact of Soviet espionage on U.S. foreign policy. The usual suspects the Rosenbergs, Harry Dexter White, Alger Hiss, and Whittaker Chambers all put in appearances. The book is a touch oversold, however. While it adds some details to the historical literature, little new ground is actually broken. The Schechters do a good job, for instance, in clearing up the riddle of who started the Korean War. (Kim Il Sung did; Stalin agreed, fearing that a resurgent Japan would resume its bid for dominance on the Korean peninsula and thus menace the Communist bloc.) Such insights make the book worthwhile. Yet overall, it is less a path-breaking work than an incremental addition to the Cold War literature pioneered by Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes's Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. Recommended for all academic collections. James R. Holmes, Ph.D. candidate, Fletcher Sch. of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts Univ., Medford, MA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"A fascinating book." --Robert D. Novak, THE WEEKLY STANDARD

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Potomac Books Inc.; 1st edition (May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1574883275
  • ISBN-13: 978-1574883275
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #227,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Nigel East on June 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Historians are still writing about megalomaniacs who attempted to conquer the world by force and subversion in order to impose their ideology on society. HITLER and STALIN come quickly to mind. And while both employed intelligence operations to further their objectives, only the Soviet Union systematically integrated espionage, deception, and terror to advance its worldwide foreign policy and maintain domestic security. Many books have been written describing the operations, the personnel, and the organizations-KGB and GRU-involved. Jerrold and Leona SCHECTER have written one, Special Tasks, the story of KGB officer Pavel SUDOPLATOV. And Jerrold SCHECTER co-authored another with former KGB officer Peter DERIABIN, The Spy Who Saved The World, the story of GRU Colonel Oleg PENKOVSKY. But not until Sacred Secrets has the emphasis shifted to the impact of intelligence operations on the history of two societies-the United States and the Soviet Union.
We learn that a KGB agent of influence in the American government shaped American the policy that led to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. And, despite pledges to the contrary, the Soviet Union spied on its American ally throughout WWII using agents recruited from the American Communist Party. Robert OPENHEIMER was one such source as the letter to NKGB Chairman BERIA reproduced in the book, makes clear. Furthermore, as was their way, after the war the Soviets were largely successful in blaming America for not giving them the war time secrets desired outright, so spies wouldn't be necessary-it was America's fault. At first, many Americans either supported this view or denied that any serious espionage had even occurred. The FBI knew them to be wrong-disillusioned defectors had made that clear.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on January 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed American History by historians Jerrold and Leona Schecter is an informed and informative examination of the hidden agendas and secrets of the Cold War, and an impressive study of the pervasive influence that Soviet intelligence operations exacted upon American politics, economics, and more, ranging from Pearl Harbor through Star Wars. An intriguing, compelling, articulate analysis, Sacred Secrets is highly recommended reading for students of Soviet and U.S. Cold War political history, international studies, cryptography, and intelligence operations.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By W. Sid Vogel on December 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you think the "good old days" were when the greatest generation was in charge, and that there really is a Santa Claus, you probably should not read this book. But, if you want the blunt history about how Stalin infiltrated our government and society in the 30's and 40's to manipulate American government decisions concerning the Great WWII then you need to know about the Venona Secrets, and this author has done a great job piecing the history and recently declassified intelligence together to show just how crafty Stalin was and how susceptible America was to infiltration by Soviet agents at the highest levels.
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20 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Merle L. Pribbenow on September 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In the interests of honesty and fairness, I will state at the outset that my evaluation of this book is based solely on the several pages of the book devoted to the Vietnam War, since that is my one and only area of expertise. The information the Schecters' provide in other sections of the book on Soviet operations and agents in the West may be outstanding and exactly on target for all I know, but in light of what is contained in the pages devoted to Vietnam, I fear that is not the case. The entire section on Vietnam consisted of what are clearly anecdotal stories and rumors from Soviet sources. The only sourcing provided in the endnotes for any of the information in these pages is "confidential source," which is meaningless. The first anecdote in the section, about a Soviet missile officer who shot down three U.S. jets with one missile on 24 July 1965, captured and interrogated the pilots, and personally murdered one of them, is ludicrous. Both Soviet and Vietnamese records (publicly available) state clearly that Soviet missile personnel manned the launch sites that fired that day, which was the first day that surface-to-air missiles were used during the Vietnam War. However, if the Schecters had done even the most rudimentary research, they would have found that only ONE U.S. aircraft was shot down by surface-to-air missiles on 24 July 1965 day (the other two U.S. aircraft lost that day were hit over Laos, hundreds of miles from the surface-to-air missile sites), and that only two (not three) aircrewmen were lost that day. The fact that the Schecters did not even check the U.S. loss records, which are public and available on the internet and in books as well as in government archives, does not say much for their diligence, and it certainly calls into question just how reliable the rest of the information presented in this book really is.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on November 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
Most of the author's findings and re-interpretations of the Venona data (by now well wrung-out), while provocative in the extreme, offers no controversy, as those data are backed up not only by what is presented here but are also solidly confirmed by other independent researchers and sources. Findings such as the Rosenberg's and Harry Dexter White's treachery, even Oppenheimer being at the very least a Soviet agent of influence, are now more or less established facts: convincing conclusions that flow cleanly from what has been uncovered and thus conclusions that any reasonable reader of this book and of the historical record might come to believe in.

However, on the other hand, some of the author's findings such as their most provocative claim here, that Soviet Intelligence, working both sides of the fence behind the scenes, drove the U.S. and Japan to war, in my view are utterly unconvincing. And furthermore, seem a bit of a contrivance brought about by a clear "over-determination" of, and an "over-interpretation" of, if not indeed and over-reading" of the preponderance of their data and supporting information. It appears (at least to this reader) that these two masters of the spy game themselves, may have fallen victim to having their own tails caught in an explanatory trap of their own making.

In this instance, I leaned over backwards to hear them out, to give their interpretation the full benefit of the doubt, yet I could find no daylight between their own rather tortuous version of the spy games (which they themselves participated in), and a simpler one that suggests that due to the mere exigencies of the events of the time, both sides would have made the same decisions without the "supposed" influence of Soviet intelligence.
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