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Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (Yale Nota Bene) Paperback – August 11, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

With this new volume, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr build upon their groundbreaking work in The Secret World of American Communism and solidify their reputations as the foremost historians of Soviet espionage in America. In Venona, they provide a detailed study of how the United States decrypted top-secret Communist cables moving between Washington and Moscow. This account, based on information unavailable to researchers for decades, reveals the full extent of the Communist spy network in the 1940s. At least 349 citizens, immigrants, and permanent residents of the United States had a covert relationship with Soviet intelligence agencies, among them Harry White (assistant secretary of the treasury in FDR's administration and the Communists' highest-ranking asset) and State Department official Alger Hiss, whose association with the Soviets had been hotly debated since the moment he was first publicly accused in 1948.

"The Soviet assault was of the type a nation directs at an enemy state," write Haynes and Klehr. They go on to suggest that Venona's code-breaking "indicated that the Cold War was not a state of affairs that had begun after World War II but a guerilla action that Stalin had secretly started years earlier." Moreover, "espionage saved the USSR great expense and industrial investment and thereby enabled the Soviets to build a successful atomic bomb years before they otherwise would have." Haynes and Klehr deliver what is at once a real-life spy thriller and a vital piece of scholarship. A grand achievement. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Those who were convinced that the Soviets were spying on us during the 1930s and 1940s were right. Haynes and Klehr have provided the most extensive evidence to date that the KGB had operatives at all levels of American society and government. Where Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassilievs The Haunted Wood (LJ 11/15/98) provided a peek at Soviet spying, Haynes and Klehr throw open the door, revealing a level of espionage in this country that only the most paranoid had dreamed of. Building on the research for their earlier books, The Secret World of American Communism (LJ 6/1/95) and The Soviet World of American Communism (Yale Univ., 1998), Haynes and Klehr describe the astonishing dimensions of spying reflected in the cable traffic between the United States and Moscow. Venona is the name of the sophisticated National Security Agency project that in 1946 finally broke the Soviet code. This is better than anything John le Carr could produce, because in this case, truth is really stranger than fiction. Highly recommended.Edward Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Nota Bene
  • Paperback: 504 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (August 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300084625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300084627
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 4.8 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Earl Haynes is Modern Political Historian in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. He received his Ph.D. in 1978 from the University of Minnesota and a B.A. from Florida State University in 1966.

Dr. Haynes is the author of eleven books:
11. Spies: the Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (coauthors Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, Yale University Press, 2009)
10. Early Cold War Spies: the Espionage Trials that Shaped American Politics (coauthor H. Klehr, Cambridge University Press, 2006)
9. In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage (coauthor H. Klehr, Encounter Books, 2002)
8. Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (coauthor H. Klehr, Yale University Press, 1999)
7. Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era: Essays on the History of the 1920s (editor, Library of Congress and the University Press of New England, 1998)
6. The Soviet World of American Communism (coauthors H. Klehr and Kyrill Anderson, Yale University Press, 1998)
5. Red Scare or Red Menace? American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era (Ivan Dee Pub., 1996)
4. The Secret World of American Communism (coauthors H. Klehr and Fridrikh Firsov, Yale University Press, 1995)
3. The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself (coauthor H. Klehr, Twayne Pub., 1992)
2. Communism and Anti-Communism in the United States: An Annotated Guide to Historical Writings (Garland Pub., 1987, editor and compiler)
1. Dubious Alliance: The Making of Minnesota's DFL Party (University of Minnesota Press, 1984)
He has also authored as of 2009 seventy-four published articles and essays along with a number of web-only essays.

Dr. Haynes is also a member of the editorial boards of the journals American Communist History, The International Newsletter of Communist Studies, and the Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung as well as on-line editor of the historical discussion list on American communism, H-HOAC. He was the Library of Congress's historical representative to the Incomka Project (International Committee for the Computerization of the Comintern Archive).

In addition to his historical activities, Dr. Haynes has served as the Assistant Commissioner for Tax Policy in the Revenue Department of the State of Minnesota, director of local aid in the Finance Department of the State of Minnesota, staff aide to two Minnesota governors, one U.S. Senator, and one U.S. Representative from Minnesota and researcher for a caucus of the Minnesota State Senate. He also served in staff positions on the Anderson For Governor Committee (Minnesota) and the Minnesota Humphrey for President Committee

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

127 of 140 people found the following review helpful By Dean Esmay on May 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book, jammed with information that's only come to light in recent years, tells a number of fascinating stories.
For starters, there's the story of an intellectual adventure. Venona was a small group of government employees who, with fearsome gobs of skull-sweat and toil, decrypted thousands of secret communications sent between Soviet embassies and Moscow during and immediately after World War II. The messages used an encryption scheme so complex that it would be a challenge to crack even with today's technologies. But teams of Americans and Brits--mostly female, as it happens, although there were plenty of brilliant men--were able to decode them with little more than pencil, paper, and brainpower.
Venona is also a story of terrible treachery. Independently corroborated by data from the Soviet and Comintern archives, the Venona decryptions confirm things that were once controversial. For example: the American Communist Party was a puppet of Moscow that eagerly engaged in criminal activities. Julius Rosenberg and Algier Hiss were guilty. Literally hundreds of Communist agents deeply infiltrated American government at the highest levels. And the Soviets also had a substantial subversive presence within the American labor movement and in many elite segments of American society.
Venona is also a story of Western bumbling. For years, naive American officials ignored or dismissed suggestions that there was any Communist threat. Several times this resulted in tragic losses now painfully visible in retrospect.
Perhaps most damning of all, Venona is a story of how obsession with secrecy can be costly. The Soviets became aware of Venona shortly after the war ended.
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Lars Lundeberg on September 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Venona was the cover name of a top secret US government project that from the 1940's to the 1980's intercepted and decoded Soviet government messages all over the world. Venona gave numerous facts about Soviet espionage from some 3000 messages. Venona was officially revealed in 1995 The Soviets got hints about Venona, but thought their codes were safe.
Learning details about spies, the US government often did not prosecute, since it would alert the Soviets that their codes were being broken. Instead the FBI often maneuvered to keep spies away from sensitive positions by stopping promotions or having people fired. Often when a spy was brought to trial, the government still held back evidence. Therefore, many spies were never convicted, or got off easy. This gave ammunition to leftist public opinion who claimed "McCarthyism". The book details hundreds of spies/cases such as Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, the Manhattan Project, ... just to name a few.
The authors tells how the book came about. The basics of Venona. What the codes looked like. In detail how they were constituted and broken. Then its off to numerous "cases". Typically a person or "ring" is reported on a couple of pages. Some cases cover whole chapters.
Filled with facts of the Soviet operations. Such as birth names, KGB/GRU internal cover names and cover names used in the US. The book gives dates, cities, US Business', government offices and political organizations. We see the orders the KGB gave, who recommended who to sensitive posts, how much money changed hands... The authors stays with the facts and gives almost no opinions, but some background. The book is not about telling stories, so often we get facts without "punch-lines".
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The authors have done a very convincing job of tying the Venona communiques to actual Soviet spies working in the US before, during and after WWII. Its revelations that high administration officials in the executive branch was a real shocker, and that these so-called "brain trusters" thought and anti-democratic communism could co-exist with American democracy is proof how how we should always be wary of the "intellectural elite". Regardless of how you feel about communism, there is no doubt that these American spies cared more about the ideals of communism, didn't see the reality of Stalin's totalitarian state, and obviously felt the American system was so bankrupt, it would never recover from the depression. I was also saddened that the Roosevelt administration was so concerned about the Nazi threat, that it would accept Stalin and his similar tactics. We see that many who were admired by the intellectuals were really spies who were more than willing to sell out their country for a money. And there is no question that Julius Rosenberg was very aware of what he was doing. Makes you wonder, in light, of the current Chinese spy scandal. This opened up, for me, a whole area of history, which until now, has been approached hysterically and ideologically, rather than based on original documents, as the authors have done here.
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62 of 70 people found the following review helpful By it on September 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a scholarly history without the flash, trash, hype, and jive of journalism. The authors had access to the decrypt of Soviet messages from the 1941-1945 period as well as the Soviet espionage archives and the FBI archives. They explain in detail how they obtained their information and then described the activities of Soviet agents. At the end is a list of about 450 people who were Soviet agents. For those of you who are not interested in the historic details, the bottom line is that everyone who was publicly accused of being a Soviet agent was one. Senator McCarthy was right and the professors and journalists were wrong.

I also recommend The Venona Secrets : Exposing America's Cold War Traitors by Herb Romerstein if you want more detailed information from an experienced espionage agent of the time. This other book, available here on Amazon, will tell you many more interesting things.
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