This is an excerpt from Enemies: A History of the FBI, published this month by Random House.
J. Edgar Hoover’s most valued secret agent was a Russian Jew named Morris Childs. The operation the FBI built on his work was code-named SOLO. It posed great risks and the promise of greater rewards.
The FBI’s first debriefings of Childs were declassified in August 2011. They illuminate several mysteries of the Cold War, including the origins of Hoover’s hatred for Martin Luther King, the reasons for Dwight Eisenhower’s failure to approve the CIA’s plans to invade Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and the beginnings of Richard Nixon’s thoughts about a détente with the Soviets.
Morris Childs was an important figure in the Communist Party of the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, serving as the editor of its newspaper, the Daily Worker. He had fallen out with the Party in 1948. Three years later, the FBI approached him as part of a new program called TOPLEV, in which FBI agents tried to talk top-level Communist Party members and officials into becoming informants.
Childs became a Communist for the FBI. He rejoined the Party and rose higher and higher in its secret hierarchy. In the summer of 1957, the Party’s leaders proposed that he serve as their international emissary in an effort to reestablish direct political and financial ties with the Kremlin. If Moscow approved, Childs would be reporting to Hoover as the foreign secretary of the Communist Party of the United States.