COLD WAR SPYING: 1949
Start of 1949: The CIA lacks the legal authority to carry our covert action against any nation. It has no constitutional charter from Congress and no legally authorized funds for covert missions. When engaging in covert action, the agency is operating outside the laws of the United States.
January 1949: Chinese Communist forces enter Beijing.
January 1949: Allen Dulles presents the results of a top secret investigation into the structural weaknesses of the CIA to President Truman. The report asserts:
- the CIA is churning out reams of paper containing few (if any) facts on the communist threat
- the agency has no spies among the Soviets and their satellites
- the CIA is not yet “an adequate intelligence service” and it will take “years of patient work to do the job” of transforming it.
The report remained classified for 50 years. The implicit argument that the agency needs a bold new leader is disregarded. The National Security Council orders Director Hillenkoetter to implement the report but he never does.
Dulles begins telling his friends in Washington that unless something drastic is done at the CIA, the president faces disaster abroad.
February 1949: Hillenkoetter, the Director of Central Intelligence, meets privately with Carl Vinson, a Georgia Democrat and the chair of the House Armed Services Committee. He warns that Congress must pass formal legislation blessing the CIA and granting it a budget as soon as possible. He argues that the agency needs legal cover. Hillenkoetter submits the Central Intelligence Act of 1949 to Congress for their consideration.
March 28, 1949: James Forrestal resigns as Secretary of Defense.
April 1949: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is formed.
May 12, 1949: The Berlin Blockade is lifted. Great Britain and the US have flown 272,000 missions, airlifting 2,325 million tons of supplies to West Berliners.
May 27, 1949: The CIA Act is rammed through Congress. Congress gives the agency the widest conceivable powers. The act gives the agency the ability to do almost anything it wants as long as Congress provides the money in the annual package. Approval of the secret budget by a small armed services subcommittee was understood to constitute a legal authorization for all secret operations.
A key clause of the 1949 Act allows the CIA to let 100 foreigners a year into the US in the name of national security, granting them “permanent residence without regard to their inadmissibility under the immigration or any other laws.”
By 1949, the US was willing to work with almost anyone against Stalin.
June 13, 1949: The Hollywood Ten, cited for contempt of congress, learn their convictions have been upheld by the US Circuit Court of Appeals. Eight of them serve one year in prison. Herbert Biberman and Edward Dmytryk serve 6 months. Each of the Ten is assessed a fine of $1,000. All are blacklisted upon their release.
July 1949: Under pressure from the army, the CIA takes over the Gehlen Group, an intelligence agency established in June 1946 by US occupation authorities in the United States Zone of Germany
July 1, 1949: Judith Coplon is sentenced to prison on charges of espionage. Judith is an alleged KGB spy whose trials, convictions and successful appeals have a profound influence on espionage prosecutions during the McCarthy era.
July 18, 1949: Baseball star Jackie Robinson testifies before HUAC, addressing the question of whether people of color in the US will be willing to fight against Russia if war is declared. He thinks they will.
August 6, 1949: Secretary of State Dean Acheson announces that the US is withdrawing support of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese government.
August 27, 1949: Famed singer, actor, and Soviet supporter, Paul Robeson, participates in a concert in Peekskill, NY. The music is disrupted when a riot breaks out. Robeson and Pete Seeger, among other stars, return a week later to give a second concert. That one also ends when an ugly riot ensues.
August 29, 1949: Russia detonates its first atomic bomb. Americans don’t learn of this until President Truman announces the fact at a September 23 press conference.
September 1949: An air force crew flying out of Alaska detects traces of radioactivity in the atmosphere.
September 5, 1949: A team of Ukrainian dissidents sponsored by the CIA lands near the city of LVOV in the Ukraine, penetrating the Soviet Union, but “the Soviets quickly eliminated the agents.” Still, the operation sets off a huge wave of enthusiasm at CIA headquarters.
The CIA dispatches dozens of Ukrainian agents by air and land. Almost every one is captured. Soviet intelligence officers use the prisoners to feed back disinformation. Then they kill them.
After 5 years of “abortive missions, CIA discontinued this approach.” In the long run, “the Agency’s effort to penetrate the Iron Curtain using Ukrainian agents was ill-fated and tragic.”
Still, Frank Wisner starts new paramilitary adventures all over Europe.
September 20, 1949: The CIA confidently declares that the Soviet Union won’t produce an atomic weapon for at least another 4 years.
September 21, 1949: The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) is founded.
September 23, 1949: Truman announces to the world that Stalin has the bomb.
September 29, 1949: The CIA’s chief of scientific intelligence reports that his office lacks the talent to track Moscow’s efforts to build weapons of mass destruction. He reports that the agency’s work on Soviet atomic weapons has been an “almost total failure” at every level.
The Pentagon frantically commands the CIA to place its agents in Moscow in order to steal the Red Army’s military plans. Richard Helms reflects: “ the possibility of recruiting and running any such sources was as improbable as placing resident spies on the planet Mars.”
October 1949: Four weeks after the first flight into the Ukraine, Wisner teams up with the British to run rebels into communist Albania, the poorest and most isolated nation in Europe. He sees Albania as fertile ground for a resistance army formed from exiled royalists and impoverished loyalists in Rome and Athens. There are many failed missions. The agents who survive were taken prisoner, and their messages back to the Athens station are controlled by their captors.
The flights go on for 4 years. Roughly 200 of the CIA’s foreign agents die. Almost no one in the American government knows.
October 7, 1949: The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) is formed.
October 14, 1949: Eleven leaders of the American Communist Party are convicted of advocating the violent overthrow of the US government, a violation of the 1940 Smith Act. Their 9 month trial generates 21,157 pages of testimony and costs the government a million dollars to prosecute. The trial is held in NY City under Judge Harold R. Medina. After sentencing the Red Eleven to 5 year prison terms, Medina is celebrated on the cover of Time Magazine (October 24, 1949). Among those who testify: FBI counterspy Herbert A. Philbrick, a Boston-based agent who had spent the last 9 months infiltrating Communist organizations, and Matt Cvetic, whose undercover activities took place in Pittsburg. Their escapades would soon be dramatized in autobiographical books, radio shows, a television series, and a movie.
December 7, 1949: China officially becomes a Communist country after Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist army flee to Formosa (Taiwan), leaving Beijing to the forces of Mao Zedong.
December 18, 1949: Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin meet for the first time — in Moscow. They will meet only once more, on January 22, 1950.
December 18, 1949: Nikita Khruschev relocates from the Ukraine to Moscow, where he is appointed a secretary of the All-Union Central Committee.