Monday, August 18, 2008

Keeping Secrets for Decades

In the mid-1980s, Time magazine reported that a Soviet intelligence agent, who had been carefully trained, who had been provided with a good "legend" had been set down in Wisconsin. The agent rented an apartment, got a job, and settled in to routine. His mission was to establish himself as a loyal American. He was to remain in deep cover until a situation arose that would necessitate his activation. While walking down a road, about a week after his arrival in the United States, the Soviet agent was arrested by the FBI. The arrest was a stunning upset for the Soviets who had little respect for American intelligence operations. The arrest was the result of one of the most incredible intelligence operations of the Cold War. The arrest demonstrated that American intelligence had penetrated the Soviet Union to the highest levels and provided invaluable information to the American leadership.
That penetration was evidenced as early as 1956. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had begun a policy to "create and exploit troublesome problems" for the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev, speaking at the Twentieth Party Congress "laid bare many of the corruptions and rigidities of Stalinism in an effort to discredit competitors in the Politburo." It was Khrushchev’s idea to eliminate his competition for the top job by exposing the excesses that had been hidden during the Stalin regime. Khrushchev planned to consolidate his power around a denunciation of Stalin.

The speech was an explosive document that was only meant to be heard inside the highest levels of the communist party power structure. It was not meant to be heard by those under the communist government and certainly not meant to be heard by anyone in the United States. This speech, which discussed Stalin’s personal interventions in the affairs of Soviet satellites such as Hungary and Yugoslavia, resulted in a split that drove Yugoslavia toward alignment with the United States. From that perspective, it was a speech that shouldn’t have been made because of the far reaching political consequences outside the Soviet Union. Inside the communist power structure, it was a shrewd political move.

John Prados, in The Presidents’ Secret Wars, suggested that the speech was "political dynamite." He also suggested that a copy of the "secret speech reached the CIA from a contact with a European communist." The source of the speech was a tightly held secret that, in 1986, when Prados wrote his book had not been revealed. The real source of that speech was an American with the American Communist Party by the name of Jack Childs.

Childs knew the value of the speech and what it would mean to the view of communism held throughout the world. Childs knew because he, along with his brother, Morris, had been communists in the 1920s and the 1930s. They had both drifted away from the American Communist Party after they witnessed the discrepancy between what the communists said and what they did. Neither Jack nor Morris could understand how communist leaders could preach for the peasant and then participate in the purges that killed millions. Neither of the men could understand how the party leaders could live so well while so many of their fellow party members were starving.

Although Jack had given the FBI the text of Khrushchev’s 1956 speech that had done so much damage to the communist image, it was Morris Childs who provided the majority of the intelligence about Soviet internal policies. According to John Barron, Morris was the friend and confidant of Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, as well as leaders in China, North Vietnam, Cuba and Eastern Europe.

According to John Barron, "Many of the most famous figures of international communism personally knew Morris Childs and addressed him as Morris. To them, his credentials... were impeccable."

Childs was an American to be courted, to be trusted, and to be allowed to witness the workings of the communists throughout the world. From there he had a view that was better than that held be almost anyone else either communist or capitalist.

The information provided by Morris Childs was invaluable to American policy makers. On October 14, 1962, U-2 flights over Cuba took a series of photographs that were developed and submitted for analysis the next day. Late in the evening the photo interpretation specialists called the Pentagon to relay information that "ballistic missiles had shown up" in Cuba. Given the proximity of Cuba to the United States, the President (Kennedy) believed that such missiles could not be allowed to remain in Cuba. They were a threat to the safety of the entire free world.

On October 16, the President ordered more flights over Cuba and he ordered all "armed forces put on ‘alert 4,’ one step nearer a war footing." The President, by increasing the readiness of the American armed forces, was sending a message to the Soviets. He was telling the Soviet leadership that he considered the missiles in Cuba to be an important issue. By increasing the alert status, he was making a move that had no real world ramifications, other than moving the military to a higher level or readiness. American forces could be sent into combat faster than at a lower alert level.

On October 18, President Kennedy met with the Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Khrushchev, through Gromyko, told the President that the Soviet assistance to Cuba was "by no means offensive." Of course, given the photographs of the ballistic missiles, Kennedy knew that wasn’t true. Ballistic missiles are an offensive weapon.

Two days later, on October 20, with additional evidence of missile sites in Cuba, Kennedy ordered a naval blockade. He delayed the implementation until American allies could be alerted. The blockade, according to some politicians was almost the same as declaring war. However, the Soviet Union did not challenge the blockade and no shots were fired. The situation was never pushed, by either side, to a point where they would have been no choice but to open fire. Once that threshold had been crossed, it would have been difficult to keep the situation from escalating into, at the very least, a naval war.

The Cuban missile crisis created a situation in which the power of the Soviet Union had been challenged. According to some politicians, if Khrushchev was pushed far enough, he would fight. The situation, as it developed in Cuba showed that such was not the case. Khrushchev was given an ultimatum which demanded the removal the missiles. He had but two choices. Remove them or face the very real threat of war.

The situation would seem to be extremely dangerous. President Kennedy was giving Khrushchev no real choice. The world, it seemed, was on the brink of war and then Khrushchev backed down. The Soviet dictator, who, in the United Nations had told the world he would bury the United States, ordered the withdrawal of the ballistic missiles. Kennedy drew a line in the sand and threatened a war. The situation in October 1962 was extremely grim and dangerous.

The question that can now be asked is if Kennedy was taking that big of a risk. Did he push Khrushchev because he knew what the Soviet response would be to the ultimatum? The answer, based on information supplied by Operation Solo and Morris Childs, is, "Yes. Kennedy knew what the Soviet response would be."

Childs had learned that the Soviet leadership were frightened by the prospect of nuclear war. They realized the devastation that would result and they knew that hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people would be killed. The Soviet leadership, while not overly concerned with the deaths of so many, did not want to be bombed back into an agrarian society. They had expended great national wealth in an attempt to enter the industrial age and compete with the free world. Nuclear war would turn that all around and the Soviet position of leadership would be lost. Kennedy knew this because of the work that had been accomplished by Childs. He knew, as he pushed Khrushchev, that Khrushchev would have no choice but to back down. While the rest of the world waited for the Soviet reaction to the American ultimatum, Kennedy knew what the eventual response would be.

Giving Kennedy the edge during the missile crisis was not the only important outcome of Operation Solo. Childs, in meetings with Soviet leaders, as well as with those in China, learned how wide the split between the Soviet Union and China was. American intelligence analysts believed that the rift between the two communist giants was not as wide as had been suggested publically.

In 1962, as the reports of a rift began to circulate, the analysts, cautioned against optimism. Roger Hilsman wrote in U.S. News and World Report, "So long as both partners [the Soviet Union and China] see the United States as the greatest obstacle to the attainment [of world revolution], they will try to patch over their differences and unite against the common enemy." Hilsman, like so many others believed that the communists would stick together simply because they were all communists. Their goal was to rule the world. Hilsman didn’t see the difference between Chinese communist and Soviet communist.

Morris Childs, however, listening to what the Soviets said in Moscow and what the Chinese said in Beijing, found that they were at odds with one another. When Khrushchev had renounced the policies of Stalin, the Chinese believed that it showed a Soviet move toward the west. Teng Hsiao-Ping, who lead the Chinese delegation during a negotiation in Moscow in July 1963, claimed that the Soviets were more interested in "better relations with the United States and India than with China." It was evidence for the rift, but it could also be interpreted as a negotiation tactic. The Chinese were attempting to position themselves in the most favorable place possible.

Childs believed, based on his discussions, that the Sino-Soviet split could not "be reconciled." Childs believed that there were fundamental differences in the Chinese and Soviet world view. These ideological differences were too great to overcome simply because both governments held a communist philosophy. Childs predicted that the rift would grow as the Chinese evolved their own theories of communism. The Soviet Union simply could not agree with the Chinese.

Childs intelligence value didn’t end there. He supplied consistent and important information until he finally retired in the 1980s. In 1987 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to the security of the United States over several decades.

Now, having waded through all this, you might be wondering what relevance it has to UFOs. Well, this is a secret that was held by very few people for decades. Presidents were unaware of the operation. Other FBI agents, including those working in the same office building didn’t know about the operation. It was a closely held secret because if the Soviets ever learned about it, the conduit of information would be closed and more importantly, Morris would be killed.

The only exception to this secrecy, until the end of the mission, was President Ford. He had just taken over from Richard Nixon and was about to meet with the Soviets. He was nervous, even though he had been briefed on what to expect. To calm him, he was told about the source of the incredible information about the Soviets and their motives.

What this proves is that there are secrets that can be held for decades. They can be concealed from the president. They can be concealed from nearly everyone, if the stakes are high enough. So, when we say that governments can’t keep secrets, we have proof that they can. When we say that everything leaks, we can say that it doesn’t. There are people entrusted with secrets who can keep them, and keep them for years and years.

(Oh, for those interested in such things, Morris happened to be in the Soviet Union when President Kennedy was assassinated and the Russians received word. Although speaking to one another in Russian, because they believed that Childs couldn’t understand them, they disccused the ramifications of the murder. It was clear from their discussions that they had nothing to do with it.)

The story of Childs was reported by John Barron in his 1996 book, Operation Solo: The FBI’s Man in the Kremlin. It is a fascinating book and relevant because it turns some of our notions upside down.

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