COLD WAR SPYING: 1950
Early 1950: Frank Wisner dreams up a new assault on the Iron Curtain under the leadership of Bill Coffin with the support of the Solidarists, a Russian ultra right wing group. The CIA and the Solidarists first smuggle leaflets into Soviet barracks in East Germany. Then they launch balloons bearing thousands of pamphlets. Then they send 4 man parachute missions in unmarked planes flying as far east as the outskirts of Moscow. One by one the Solidarist agents float down to Russia and are captured and killed. The CIA is delivering its agents to the Russian secret police.
During the 1950s, hundreds of the CIA’s foreign agents are sent to their deaths in Russia, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and the Baltic States. No accounts are kept and no penalty is assessed for failure. The missions are seen as a matter of national survival for the United States.
Years later, the CIA learns that the Soviets had known every aspect of the operations from the start. The training camps in Germany had been infiltrated.
Note: After leaving the CIA Coffin becomes known as William Sloane Coffin. He is the chaplain of Yale and one of the most passionate antiwar voices in American during the 1960s. Regarding his years in the CIA, he says: “We were quite naive about the use of American power.”
January 21, 1950: The 2nd trial of Alger Hiss ends when he is convicted of perjury. He is sentenced to 5 years in federal prison.
February 9, 1950: Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin), a former Marine tail-gunner, gives a speech before the Women’s Republican Club of Wheeling, West Virginia. He charges that the State Department “is thoroughly infested with Communists.” He waves a piece of paper that he claims (in some reports) bears the names of 205 employees in the State Department who are either “card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party.” The following day he delivers a similar speech in Salt Lake City, but now the number has been lowered to 57. He later says that this is the number he meant all along.
March 1, 1950: Klaus Fuchs, German-born atomic research physicist who worked at Los Alamos before relocating to England, pleads guilty to violating the Official Secrets Act by giving the Russians atomic secrets. This activity dates back to 1942. He is sentenced to 14 years in prison.
April 10, 1950: The US Supreme Court upholds the power of congressional committees to compel witnesses to state whether or not they are now, or ever have been, Communists.
June 1950: Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television is published by a team of ex-FBI agents who published the newsletter Counterattack. A pamphlet 213 pages long, it lists 151 names, 130 organizations, and 17 publications with suspicious ties to Communist Doctrine.
June 1950: The one true source of intelligence on the Far East from the final days of WWII until the end of 1949 is American signals intelligence. On the eve of the Korean War, William Wolf Weisband, a Soviet spy, penetrates the code breaking nerve center. A linguist who translates broken messages from Russian into English, Weisband was recruited as a spy by Moscow in the 1930s. He single-handedly shatters the ability of the US to read Soviet secret dispatches. The result is the creation of the National Security Agency (NSA), the signals-intelligence service that grows to dwarf the CIA in size and power.
June 25, 1950: The US faces a surprise attack that looks like the start of World War III when the People’s Democratic Republic of North Koreas invades the Republic of South Korea.
The Korean War is the first great test for the CIA. It gives the agency its first real leader: General Walter Bedell Smith. Bedell Smith became the 4th Director of Central Intelligence in 4 years. His task is to learn the secrets of the Kremlin.
In his first days in office, Bedell Smith discovers that Frank Wisner reports to the State Department and the Pentagon, not to the Director of Central Intelligence. In a fit of fury, he informs Wisner (the Chief of Covert Operations) that his freewheeling days are over.
August 1950: Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada sees his Internal Security Act passed into law. It requires any “Communist action” or Communist front” organization to register with the attorney general. The officers of such ‘subversive’ organizations must also register. President Truman is alarmed by the broad powers of the law and calls the bill “unnecessary, ineffective, and dangerous.” His veto is overridden by both Houses of Congress. In effect, this makes the act of registration an admission of guilt in belonging to an illegal organization, while the failure to register is also a crime.
October 11, 1950: President Truman leaves for Wake Island to meet with General Douglas MacArthur. The general hates the CIA and does his best to ban its officers from the Far East. He insists that the communist Chinese would never enter the Korean War. The CIA more or less concurs, assuring Truman that it sees “no convincing indications of an actual Chinese Communist intention to resort to full-scale intervention in Korea . . . barring a Soviet decision for total war.”
Early November 1950: 100,000 Chinese troops attack and almost push the Americans into the sea.
The CIA has misread every global crisis over the past year: the Soviet atom bomb, the Korean War, the Chinese invasion.
December 1950: President Truman declares a national emergency and recalls General Dwight David Eisenhower to active duty.
December 1950: The Senate creates their own version of the McCarran Act, the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.