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The Venona Secrets, Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors Paperback – October, 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Some historians and journalists are starting to regard the cold-war-era American Communist Party as nothing more than a quaint club of polite if misguided ideologues. In The Venona Secrets, Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel intend to create a new impression of treacherous Americans "who willfully gave their primary allegiance to a foreign power, the USSR.... For Communists, true patriotism meant helping to make the world a better place by advancing the interests of the Soviet Union in any way possible." By using the now-celebrated Venona documents--top-secret Soviet cables sent between Moscow and Washington, D.C., in the 1940s--Romerstein and Breindel tell a frightening story of how deeply spies penetrated the U.S. government. There was the famous case of Alger Hiss, whose guilt as a Soviet spy is now beyond doubt thanks to Venona. Less well known, but still important, were the roles of Harry Hopkins in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's White House and Harry Dexter White in the Treasury Department.

Romerstein, a veteran cold warrior, and Breindel, the former editorial-page editor of The New York Post (he died before the book's publication, at the age of 42), are not the first to discuss the Venona papers in depth--readers of The Haunted Wood, by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, and Whittaker Chambers, by Sam Tanenhaus, will know much of the story. Yet this may its most aggressive telling. Romerstein and Breindel include necessary chapters on the Hiss-Chambers dispute, the Elizabeth Bentley spy ring, and the charges against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They are particularly forceful in arguing that journalist I.F. Stone and atomic scientist Robert Oppenheimer were Soviet spies. Another target--and a provocative one--is Albert Einstein, whom they describe as "tainted" by his indirect ties to Soviet intelligence. The Venona Secrets will make heads turn, and it will show that the debates over the cold war and its meaning can be as hot now as they were then. --John J. Miller --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"The Venona Secrets . . . is the most authoritative account yet of the hidden mysteries unveiled by the decoding of thousands of secret diplomatic messages between the Soviet Union and its operatives here. . . . It offers the unmatched expertise of Herb Romerstein, a walking encyclopedia of the history of Communism and counterintelligence."
—Eric Fettmann, New York Post

"The Venona Secrets contains much. . . that will shock those too young to remember these ancient battles. And for those of us who do remember, it is comforting evidence that the truth, however belatedly, has a way of coming out."
—William Rusher, syndicated columnist

"The Venona Secrets is a breathtaking exposé."
—Robert Novak, The Weekly Standard

"Masterful research and interpretation of once-secret federal documents by authors Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel..."
—Bill Hoffmann, New York Post
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Regnery History (October 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0895262258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0895262257
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #874,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The VENONA Secrets offers further analysis of the worldwide WWII KGB/GRU espionage operations described in the encrypted telegrams (called VENONA) decoded after the war by US Army and British codebreakers and made public only in 1995 by NSA. These once top secret messages led to the arrest and conviction of the Rosenbergs and Klaus Fuchs, while providing the basis for shutting down many of the Soviet wartime espionage netowrks. They also documented the charges of Soviet espionage in America made by former Communist agents Whitticker Chambers, Elizabeth Bentley and a number of others.
This book, as opposed the the several others written on the topic, supplies new material in at least three areas. First, author Roemrstein's long experience in the field has allowed him to add documented perspective on the US Communist Party relationship to the Soviet secret services. In at least one case, that of Ruth Olsen, mentioned but unidentified in the VENONA material released, he provides the missing links. He also adds new details obtained from the so-called MAST decrypts that discussed mainly administrative matters between Soviets overseas and Moscow. Second, the authors apply their experience to three cases about which other authors have been more cautious: Harry Dexter White, Robert Oppenheimer, and Harry Hopkins, while discussing new materail on Albert Einstein and his tryst with a Soviet agent.
Many liberal academics and others who continue to make the argument 'that the Rosenbergs and Hiss were innocent victims of lies told by Chambers, Bentley and the FBI', will scramble to find alternative explanations for the analysis that convinces Romerstein and Breindel that White was a cooperating communist agent before WWII started for America, and that Oppenheimer was the same during the war.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you went to school before the Soviet archives & Venona papers were opened up/released (1991-1995), you must read this book. If you don't know what the Venona Project's papers say, then your knowledge on immediate pre and post WWII Soviet espionage is incomplete and, most importantly, probably not accurate. The truth is uncomfortable to some- Alger Hiss was definitely a spy, as were the Rosenbergs, and penetration into New Deal personnel was very deep. Plenty of material for the anti-FDR types, and the "McCarthy was right" folks. I personally feel very uncomfortable with the fact that about 2 our of every 3 names that pop up here as spies were Jewish. Most humiliating. The authors, no anti-semites they, make the irony of Jews spying for the virulent Jew-hater Uncle Joe very clear. Like many peoples, though perhaps more so, Jews have an unfortunate tendency towards self-delusion. The book is a bit of a bumpy read, sometimes flowing smoothly, sometimes reading like its out of Reader's Digest (a bit...lowbrow??), which accounts for the 4 stars, rather than 5. It has photos of many of the spies, but overall the photographs could be much stronger.
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By A Customer on November 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Over the years there has been a vast array of books about Soviet espionage and its American helpers: Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Harry Dexter White, Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, and so many more.
No matter the evidence, some members of the US press and intelligentsia refused to come to grips with the truth and admit that some of their great liberal heroes were actually agents of Stalin.
Herbert Romerstein's book proves once and for all that they were all guilty as charged. During the Second World War the United States intercepted and decoded secret soviet radio transmissions from Moscow to their agents in America. Using these documents, and materials from Soviet archives, Romerstein narrates the incredible story of just how deeply KGB agents penetrated the American government to its highest levels.
Romerstein's encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, based on years of research and study, puts the entire tragic story into historical pespective and makes fascination reading. If you are going to buy just one book of history this year, this is it!
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Format: Paperback
Traitors, of course, imply treason and that is exactly the charge Romerstein and Breindel substantiate in this book. Specifically, that the American Communist Party was a knowing tool for Soviet espionage; that the alleged anti-fascism of American Communists was a facade unsupported by their behavior during the German-Russian Non-Aggression Pact; that American Communists probably supplied Nazi Germany with military secrets during that period; that the U.S. government of the 1940s was riddled with Soviet agents including Alger Hiss and Harry Hopkins, personal friend and advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and that J. Robert Oppenheimer was among the Soviet spies on the Manhatten Project.

The decoding of Soviet messages from 1940-1948, coupled with documents from the Communist governments of the former Warsaw Pact, provides the evidence for these charges.

Romerstein and Breindel write in a clear prose, and this book can be read fairly easily cover to cover in a few sittings. However, its organization seems more that of a reference book for scholars of Soviet espionage and U.S. political history rather than a straightforward narrative. The individual chapters cover the most famous spy rings operating in the U. S. during the years of the Venona message, espionage directed toward stealing nuclear secrets, anti-Trotskyite activities, and co-opting journalists for propaganda purposes. The index is comprehensive and includes listing for the many code names used by the NKVD and GRU.

There is some interesting material on the struggle to root Communists out of American unions. The question of Jewish involvement in Soviet espionage is briefly and unsatisfyingly touched on.
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