The Great Debate

The communist on J. Edgar Hoover’s payroll

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.

US intelligence spending – value for money?

America’s spy agencies are spending more money on obtaining intelligence than the rest of the world put together. Considerably more. To what extent they are providing value for money is an open question.

“Sometimes we are getting our money’s worth,” says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington think tank. “Sometimes I think it would be better to truck the money we spend to a large parking lot and set fire to it.”

The biggest post-Cold War miss of the sprawling intelligence community was its failure to connect the dots of separate warnings about the impending attack on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. It also laid bare a persistent flaw in a system swamped by a tsunami of data collected through high-tech electronic means: not enough linguists to analyse information.

America’s spies and a language crisis

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

“There is a great deal about Iran that we do not know…The United States lacks critical information needed for analysts to make many of their judgments with confidence about Iran.”

That was the verdict of a Congressional committee on U.S. intelligence policy two years ago. How valid it still is was highlighted by Iran’s June elections and their turbulent aftermath.