Cold War espionage

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Klaus Fuchs, exposed in 1950, is considered to have been the most valuable of the Atomic Spies during the Manhattan Project.

Cold War espionage describes the intelligence gathering activities during the Cold War (circa 1947-1991) between the West (chief US, UK and NATO allies) and the Eastern Bloc (Soviet Union and aligned countries of Warsaw Pact).[1] Because each side was preparing to fight the other, intelligence on the opposing side's intentions, military, and technology was of paramount importance. To gather this information, the two relied on a wide variety of military and civilian agencies. While several such as the CIA and KGB became synonymous with Cold War espionage, many other organizations played key roles in the collection and protection of the section concerning detection of spying, and analysis of a wide host of intelligence disciplines.


Soviet espionage in the United States during the Cold War was an outgrowth in World War II nuclear espionage, and Cold War espionage was depicted in works such as the James Bond and Matt Helm books and movies.

During the Cold War, information was a key commodity. It was vital to know what the adversary was up to, and the possibility of using the hi-tech surveillance that is used today was not around. Instead of trusting technology, we relied on spies: people who infiltrated enemy territory and tried to discover information while staying undetected.[2]

Espionage activities continued from prior to the beginning of the cold war in the late thirties- early forties, all the way through the late 1960s and even continuing through today. These spies were decoding encrypted information, and using many skills to gain an advantage over other enemy countries.

The Cold War was all about gaining the advantage of information about the enemies’ atomic weaponry. The Cold War was a state of political and military tension after World War II led by the United States (and the Western Bloc) and the Soviet Union ( and the Eastern Bloc). Although the two powers never engaged in a full out war, both countries were constantly preparing for an all-out nuclear war. Thus the use of spies to gain insight into the knowledge of how far their enemies were advancing.[2]

Major spy rings[edit]

Cambridge Five: The Cambridge Five consisted of five members that were recruited from the University of Cambridge in the 1930s. There is debate surrounding the exact timing of their recruitment, but it is generally believed that they were not recruited as agents until after they had graduated. The group included Kim Philby (cryptonym 'Stanley'), Donald Maclean (cryptonym 'Homer'), Guy Burgess (cryptonym 'Hicks'), Anthony Blunt (cryptonyms 'Tony', 'Johnson'), and John Cairncross (cryptonym 'Liszt'). There were many others that were accused of being a part of the Cambridge Spy Ring, but these five members were collectively known as the Cambridge Five.[3]

Portland Spy Ring: The Portland Spy Ring operated in England, as a Soviet spy ring, from the 1950s until 1961 when the core of the network were arrested by British Security Services. This spy ring was unique because they did not use the cover of an embassy as the cover for their spies. Its members included Harry Houghton, Ethel Gee, Gordon Lonsdale, and most famously Morris and Lona Cohen (cryptonym Peter and Helen Kroger).[3]

Ware Group: Sleeper spy ring in US headed by J. Peters, first organized under Harold Ware, inherited by Whittaker Chambers (under orders from Peters), and also included: John Abt, Marion Bachrach (Abt's sister), Lee Pressman, Alger Hiss, Donald Hiss, Charles Kramer, Nathan Witt, Henry Collins, George Silverman, John Herrmann, Nathaniel Weyl, and Victor Perlo. When Chambers defected in 1938, the Ware Group went dormant and then broke up. Harry Dexter White (below) contributed materials to Chambers but not as part of the Ware Group.

Silvermaster spy ring- The Silvermaster Spy Ring was led by Harry Dexter White, assistant secretary of the Treasury and the second most influential member of the Treasury department. His job was to aid placement of Soviet spies within the United States Government. The United States Treasury Department was successfully infiltrated by many Soviet spies, the most successful of which belonged to the Silvermaster Spy Ring. Harold Glasser, Elizabeth Bentley, and Nathan Silvermaster were other major members of the Silvermaster Spy Ring.[3]

Atomic spies- While the Atomic Spies were not exactly a network of spies, the collective information that was obtained by this group of Soviet spies was critical to the Soviet Union's ability to build an atomic bomb. Many of the members of the Atomic spies group worked for, or around, the Manhattan Project, or the United States building of the atomic bomb.[3] This group included:

  • Klaus Fuchs- was a German-born British theoretical physicist. He worked with the British delegation on the Manhattan Project.
  • Morris Cohen- an American who gained insight to the plans straight from the secret laboratory at Los Alamos and delivered it straight to the designers of the Soviet atomic bomb.
  • Harry Gold- an American who was a courier for Klaus Fuchs and David Greenglass.
  • David Greenglass- an American machinist at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. He gave crude schematics of lab experiments to the Russians.
  • Theodore Hall- an American, and the youngest physicist at Los Alamos, gave a detailed description of the Fat Man plutonium bomb and several processes for purifying plutonium to the Soviets.
  • George Koval- an American born son of a Russian family. He obtained information from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Dayton Project about the Urchin detractor used for the Fat Man plutonium bomb.
  • Irving Lerner- an American film director who was caught photographing the cyclotron at the University of California in 1944.
  • Alan Nunn May- a British physicist who worked for the British nuclear research and then in Canada on the Manhattan Project . His uncovering in 1946 was responsible for the United States restricting sharing atomic secrets with the British.
  • Julius and Ethel Rosenberg- Americans who were involved in the coordinating and recruiting of an espionage network. Ethel's brother was David Greenglass.
  • Saville Sax- an American who acted as a courier for Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall.
  • Morton Sobell- an American engineer who admitted to spying for the Soviets and uncovered how extensive the Rosenberg's recruiting network was.[3]


Date Topic Event
1939 U.S. flag, 48 stars.svg Whittaker Chambers meets with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle; names 18 current and former government employees as spies or Communist sympathizers including Alger Hiss, Donald Hiss, Laurence Duggan, and Lauchlin Currie. Berle notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of Chambers's information in March 1940.
1941-08-10 Flag of the Soviet Union.svg The Soviet GRU reestablished contact with Klaus Fuchs, a German emigre scientist, who transferred from the British Tube Alloys nuclear research program to the US-led Manhattan Project in 1943.[4]
1942 Nuclear espionage Flag of the Soviet Union.svg US communist Jacob Golos put Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (and their associated communist cell) in direct contact with Soviet intelligence operatives in New York.[5] The Rosenberg cell provided information on newest developments in electrical and radio engineering to the XY Line of the NKGB foreign intelligence.
1944 Nuclear espionage Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Yuri Modin became the KGB controller of the "Cambridge Five" ring of atomic spies.
1945 U.S. flag, 48 stars.svg Starting in November 1945, Elizabeth Bentley, under the code name 'Greogry', started naming almost 150 Union Spies; among those, at least 35 were in fact federal government employees.
1946-12-20 U.S. flag, 48 stars.svg The Venona counter-intelligence program is first able to decode Soviet intelligence messages thereby discovering the Soviet spying activities within the Manhattan Project.[6] During the program's four decades, approximately 3,000 messages were at least partially decrypted and translated.[7]
1949 Nuclear espionage Flag of the Soviet Union.svg A Mossad agent assumed, seeing CIA agent James Jesus Angleton dining with Cambridge Five mole Kim Philby, that the former had turned the latter into a triple agent.[8]
1950 Klaus Fuchs voluntarily confesses to MI5 that he has been spying for the USSR. Fuchs identifies Harry Gold who identifies David Greenglass which in turn leads to the arrest and trial of the Rosenbergs.[9]
1955 communications interception Joint US/UK (CIA/SIS) Operation Gold puts a tunnel under the frontier in occupied Berlin to tap into Soviet army communications. Already aware of the plan through George Blake, the Soviets let the operation run rather than compromise their agent.
1959-06 Corona (satellite) U.S. flag, 48 stars.svg Under the covername Discoverer the camera-carrying Corona satellite missions start.
1959-10-15 Active measures Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Ukrainian politician Stepan Bandera was assassinated on KGB orders.
1960 1960 U-2 incident U.S. flag, 48 stars.svg Pilot Francis Gary Powers' Lockheed U-2 spy plane was shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air missile. The US is forced to publicly admit that they were operating surveillance missions over the USSR.
August 1960 Discoverer 14 is the first Corona mission to successfully take reconnaissance pictures from orbit and return them to earth.[10]
1962 Oleg Penkovsky provides information to SIS and CIA about Soviet missile capabilities and deployment to Cuba. The Soviets are aware of his activities through their own agent within the NSA.
1962-10-26 Cuban Missile Crisis Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Under the pseudonym of Aleksandr Fomin, the KGB Station Chief in Washington proposed the crisis' diplomatic solution.
1964 Operation Neptune Flag of the Soviet Union.svg A ruse was used to indicate West Germany's spies remaining from World War II had been exposed.
1974 Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent becomes double agent of MI6. In 1982, Gordievsky is given position as KGB's Resident in London in charge of intelligence gathering in UK.
1985-03-23 Military Liaison Missions U.S. flag, 48 stars.svg On a mission to photograph a Soviet tank storage building, US intelligence officer Major Arthur D. Nicholson was killed by a Soviet soldier.

Spies Working for the United States during the Cold War[3][edit]

  • Aleksandr Dmitrievich Ogorodnik- A Soviet Diplomat who photographed confidential diplomatic cables and sent them to the US.
  • Arkady Shevchenko- A Soviet Diplomat and the highest ranking Soviet to defect to the west. As Under Secretary General at the UN he passed on Soviet secrets to US officials.
  • Boris Morros- Originally a Soviet agent, Morros became an FBI informant who reported on the Sobel Spy ring.
  • Boris Yuzhin- A double agent who while working at the KGB revealed Soviet recruitment programs.
  • Gerry Droller- A German CIA official who recruited Cuban Exiles for the Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • Heinz Barwich- A German Nuclear Physicist who worked on the Soviet atomic bomb project. He defected to the West in 1964 and testified before the US Senate.
  • John Birch- An American Baptist Missionary who was killed gathering intelligence during the Chinese Civil War.
  • Miles Copeland, Jr.- A CIA agent who hand a hand in the overthrow of the Syrian government in 1949 and the Iranian government of 1953.
  • Milton Bearden- US CIA Station Chief in Afghanistan during the Afghanistan Civil War.
  • Nicholas Shadrin- A Soviet Naval Officer who defected to the West.
  • Otto von Bolschwing- A former Nazi spy who was recruited by the US before the end of the war. Played a part in the Greek Civil War.
  • Philip Agee- An American CIA agent who became repulsed by CIA actions abroad. He was accused of attempting to sell state secrets to Soviet and Cuba officials, a charge that he denied up until his death.
  • Robert Baer- A former CIA agent, now a writer, and inspiration for George Clooney's character in the film "Syriana."
  • Ruth Fischer- Co-Founder of the Austrian Communist Party. Became disillusioned with Stalinism. See also "The Pond."
  • Yosef Amit- A former Israeli intelligence official. Recruited by the CIA and revealed Israeli troop positions and Israeli foreign policy goals.
  • Yuri Nosenko- A KGB defector who experienced harsh interrogation techniques at the hands of the CIA.


  1. ^ "Cold War espionage". Alpha History. Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Sulick, Michael (2015). "Intelligence in the Cold War" (PDF). The Intelligencer. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Trahair, Richard (2012). Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations. New York: Enigma books. pp. 489–652. ISBN 9781936274260. 
  4. ^ Rhodes 1995, pp. 51, 57, 63.
  5. ^ Radosh 1997, pp. 22.
  6. ^ Benson 1996, pp. 5.
  7. ^ Benson 1996, pp. 7.
  8. ^ Littell, Robert. "A Cold War Mystery: Was the Soviet Mole Kim Philby a Double Agent...or a Triple Agent?". Indiebound. Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  9. ^ Radosh 1997, pp. 16-19.
  10. ^ Williams, David R. "Discoverer 14". NASA. Retrieved 8 April 2014. 


  • Benson, Robert Louis (1996). Venona: Soviet Espionage and the American Response 1939–1957. Aegean Park Press. ISBN 0-89412-265-7. 
  • Radosh, Ronald; Milton, Joyce (1997). The Rosenberg file (2 ed.). New Haven [u.a.]: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300072051. 
  • Rhodes, Richard (1995). Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-80400-X. OCLC 32509950. 
  • Sulick, Michael (2015). Intelligence in the Cold War: Guide to Study of Intelligence. Virginia: AFIO.
  • Trahair, Richard (2012). Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations. New York: Enigma Books. ISBN 9781936274253

Further reading[edit]

  • Haynes, John Earl; Klehr, Harvey (2006). Early cold war spies: the espionage trials that shaped American politics. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 9780521674072. 
  • Sibley, Katherine A. (2007). Red spies in america : stolen secrets and the dawn of the cold war. Lawrence: University Press Of Kansas. ISBN 0700615555. 
  • Trahair, Richard C.S.; Miller, Robert L. (2009). Encyclopedia of Cold War espionage, spies, and secret operations (1st pbk. ed.). New York: Enigma Books. ISBN 1936274264. 
  • Wise, David; Ross, Thomas (1968). The Espionage Establishment. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0224613987. 

External links[edit]