Athan Theoharis. Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed in Counterintelligence but Promoted the Politics of Mc-Carthyism in the Cold War Years. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. 2002. Pp. vii, 307. $27.50

Athan Theoharis. Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed in Counterintelligence but Promoted the... 1584 Reviews of Books ment, the impact of public opinion and domestic "Venona" releases so jubilantly paraded to indicate politics on foreign policy, and the working relationship the complicity in espionage of the American Left were of Truman with the two men-George C. Marshall and heavily "redacted"; in fact, the act of censorship was Dean Acheson-on whom he relied for counsel. Tru­ more severe than that practiced in Moscow. Right man's policy reflected not so much his personality and across the evidential spectrum, he believes, historians intellectual shortcomings as the considered judgment are leaping to conclusions on the basis of partial of his advisers and their staffs. sightings and in the absence of critiques from col­ Still, Offner's well-written, thoroughly documented, leagues who have not been afforded the access privi­ and provocative book underlines the importance of leges enjoyed by KGB-capitalist collaborators. The presidential leadership and reopens questions about Venona code-breaking triumph, he claims, cannot be whether Truman's "near-great" stature is deserved. upheld as a triumph of American counterespionage, as GARY R. HESS it was based on good luck (the carelessly repetitive use Bowling Green State University of one-time pads by Soviet encoders). Theoharis does not agree with the view of historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr that President ATHAN THEOHARIS. Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed Harry S. Truman's White House "reacted with a in Counterintelligence but Promoted the Politics of Me­ mixture of indifference and skepticism to FBI reports Carthyism in the Cold War Years. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. indicating significant Soviet espionage activity in the 2002. Pp. vii, 307. $27.50. United States" (Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in Athan Theoharis has a formidable grasp of the history America [1999], p. 13). He argues that Truman did not of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and even know about Venona and so could not be expected especially of its numerous transgressions; he is one of to have acted on the basis of the information it the foremost scholarly guardians of American civil provided. There is some division of opinion among liberties. His new book is just as unforgiving as his Venona specialists with regard to this issue, and it is previous publications of the bureau's excesses, but it difficult to prove a negative: that the president did not offers an additional message. Even though conceived know something. and written before terrorism rose to the top of the Theoharis further asserts that Senator Joseph Me­ national agenda in September 2001, it addresses the Carthy chose the wrong victims. Instead of singling out burning issue of America's competence in counteres­ the Roosevelt/Truman administrations for oppro­ pionage in a way that is relevant to the current debate. brium, he should have lambasted the FBI for its In a familiar vein, Theoharis details the way in which counterespionage shortcomings. Here Theoharis is on the FBI has given in to neurotic obsessions, leading it shaky ground in two ways. First, while it is true that the to harrass gays, blacks, and suspected communists in USSR enjoyed espionage triumphs-notably, the tech­ the United States. But he has something new to add to nical know-how behind its first atomic bomb explosion this familiar refrain. He asserts that because the was smuggled in from the West-the notion that bureau was thus preoccupied, it proved incompetent at hitherto undetected communist spies were at large in one of its most important tasks, counterespionage. significant numbers and operated effectively remains Instead of pursuing communist agents who were, the hypothetical. Second, McCarthy was, as Theoharis author agrees, a serious menace to the United States, implies, interested in goals other than the defeat of communism. the FBI engaged in silly schemes against softer targets, such as those responsible for making the film For This a brilliant and salutary exposition of who did Whom the Bell Tolls, which was dubbed "Communist what and who may not have done it. The book would propaganda" by the bureau's Los Angeles office in have benefited from speculation about the real reasons 1943. why people-the ostensible spy hunters and their Theoharis is scornful of the relentless pursuit, by subsequent chroniclers-acted and wrote as they did. recent scholars as well as by 1940s prosecutors, of RHODRI JEFFREYS-JONES University of Edinburgh individuals like Alger Hiss. For him, the Fat Lady has not yet sung. He questions the findings of U.S. scholar Allen Weinstein and KGB defector Alexander Vassil­ ROBERT D. DEAN. Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and iev in The Haunted Wood (1999), a work that has been The Making of Cold War Foreign Policy. (Culture, embraced by neoconservatives. Theoharis states that Politics, and the Cold War.) Amherst: University of they add little to Weinstein's earlier book, Perjury Massachusetts Press. 2001. Pp. x, 329. $29.95. (1978), an inconclusive if widely believed attempt to Robert D. Dean's fascinating study of Cold War prove that Hiss was guilty. He further takes Weinstein and Vassiliev to task for claiming too much on the foreign policy elites contributes to the movement to basis of a limited viewing of Soviet documents. These reconsider U.S. foreign relations history in light of documents were released in early post-Cold War Mos­ recent scholarship in social and cultural history. More cow in return for dollars, but the release was partial specifically, Dean joins Frank Costigliola, Emily Rosenberg, Mary Renda, Melani McAlister, Michelle and controlled and proved to be temporary. Theoharis notes in comparative mode that the celebrated Mart, Alexander DeConde, Geoffrey S. Smith, K.A. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW DECEMBER 2002 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The American Historical Review Oxford University Press

Athan Theoharis. Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed in Counterintelligence but Promoted the Politics of Mc-Carthyism in the Cold War Years. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. 2002. Pp. vii, 307. $27.50

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1584 Reviews of Books ment, the impact of public opinion and domestic "Venona" releases so jubilantly paraded to indicate politics on foreign policy, and the working relationship the complicity in espionage of the American Left were of Truman with the two men-George C. Marshall and heavily "redacted"; in fact, the act of censorship was Dean Acheson-on whom he relied for counsel. Tru­ more severe than that practiced in Moscow. Right man's policy reflected not so much his personality and across the evidential spectrum, he believes, historians intellectual shortcomings as the considered judgment are leaping to conclusions on the basis of partial of his advisers and their staffs. sightings and in the absence of critiques from col­ Still, Offner's well-written, thoroughly documented, leagues who have not been afforded the access privi­ and provocative book underlines the importance of leges enjoyed by KGB-capitalist collaborators. The presidential leadership and reopens questions about Venona code-breaking triumph, he claims, cannot be whether Truman's "near-great" stature is deserved. upheld as a triumph of American counterespionage, as GARY R. HESS it was based on good luck (the carelessly repetitive use Bowling Green State University of one-time pads by Soviet encoders). Theoharis does not agree with the view of historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr that President ATHAN THEOHARIS. Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed Harry S. Truman's White House "reacted with a in Counterintelligence but Promoted the Politics of Me­ mixture of indifference and skepticism to FBI reports Carthyism in the Cold War Years. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. indicating significant Soviet espionage activity in the 2002. Pp. vii, 307. $27.50. United States" (Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in Athan Theoharis has a formidable grasp of the history America [1999], p. 13). He argues that Truman did not of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and even know about Venona and so could not be expected especially of its numerous transgressions; he is one of to have acted on the basis of the information it the foremost scholarly guardians of American civil provided. There is some division of opinion among liberties. His new book is just as unforgiving as his Venona specialists with regard to this issue, and it is previous publications of the bureau's excesses, but it difficult to prove a negative: that the president did not offers an additional message. Even though conceived know something. and written before terrorism rose to the top of the Theoharis further asserts that Senator Joseph Me­ national agenda in September 2001, it addresses the Carthy chose the wrong victims. Instead of singling out burning issue of America's competence in counteres­ the Roosevelt/Truman administrations for oppro­ pionage in a way that is relevant to the current debate. brium, he should have lambasted the FBI for its In a familiar vein, Theoharis details the way in which counterespionage shortcomings. Here Theoharis is on the FBI has given in to neurotic obsessions, leading it shaky ground in two ways. First, while it is true that the to harrass gays, blacks, and suspected communists in USSR enjoyed espionage triumphs-notably, the tech­ the United States. But he has something new to add to nical know-how behind its first atomic bomb explosion this familiar refrain. He asserts that because the was smuggled in from the West-the notion that bureau was thus preoccupied, it proved incompetent at hitherto undetected communist spies were at large in one of its most important tasks, counterespionage. significant numbers and operated effectively remains Instead of pursuing communist agents who were, the hypothetical. Second, McCarthy was, as Theoharis author agrees, a serious menace to the United States, implies, interested in goals other than the defeat of communism. the FBI engaged in silly schemes against softer targets, such as those responsible for making the film For This a brilliant and salutary exposition of who did Whom the Bell Tolls, which was dubbed "Communist what and who may not have done it. The book would propaganda" by the bureau's Los Angeles office in have benefited from speculation about the real reasons 1943. why people-the ostensible spy hunters and their Theoharis is scornful of the relentless pursuit, by subsequent chroniclers-acted and wrote as they did. recent scholars as well as by 1940s prosecutors, of RHODRI JEFFREYS-JONES University of Edinburgh individuals like Alger Hiss. For him, the Fat Lady has not yet sung. He questions the findings of U.S. scholar Allen Weinstein and KGB defector Alexander Vassil­ ROBERT D. DEAN. Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and iev in The Haunted Wood (1999), a work that has been The Making of Cold War Foreign Policy. (Culture, embraced by neoconservatives. Theoharis states that Politics, and the Cold War.) Amherst: University of they add little to Weinstein's earlier book, Perjury Massachusetts Press. 2001. Pp. x, 329. $29.95. (1978), an inconclusive if widely believed attempt to Robert D. Dean's fascinating study of Cold War prove that Hiss was guilty. He further takes Weinstein and Vassiliev to task for claiming too much on the foreign policy elites contributes to the movement to basis of a limited viewing of Soviet documents. These reconsider U.S. foreign relations history in light of documents were released in early post-Cold War Mos­ recent scholarship in social and cultural history. More cow in return for dollars, but the release was partial specifically, Dean joins Frank Costigliola, Emily Rosenberg, Mary Renda, Melani McAlister, Michelle and controlled and proved to be temporary. Theoharis notes in comparative mode that the celebrated Mart, Alexander DeConde, Geoffrey S. Smith, K.A. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW DECEMBER 2002

Journal

The American Historical ReviewOxford University Press

Published: Dec 1, 2002

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