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Theory of Fielding - Set Y - The Volunteers

From: H. B. Laes
Email: hlaes@hotmail.com
Date: 07 Aug 2000

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Theory of Fielding - Set Y - The Volunteers

Phenomena Venona message, # 32, 11 Jan 1945, New York to Moscow: "SERB has advised that VOLUNTEER [VOLONTER] has died at the front in Europe. The last meeting with LESLEY [LESLI] was had by TWAIN [TVEN] about six months ago."

Vladimir Chikov wrote: "Fitin turned to a discussion of LUIS, who also, it seemed to him was in need of relief. He was working as a recruiter, a courier, a contact man and even as a group leader - that is as the head of a spy ring called "the Volunteers."

Volunteer (VOLONTER) The codename Volunteer (VOLONTER) appears in two Venona messages, one in 1944 and one in 1945 (above). It is the codename for Morris Cohen who, at the time of both messages, was in the US Army and not active as a Soviet agent. Cohen was born in America, joined the United States Communist Party in 1935, was drafted into the Army in July 1942 and had shipped out of the country by January 1943.

From the set's phenomena we can see that Morris Cohen might have had two codenames, LUIS and VOLONTER. Vladimir Chikov was first to write about LUIS. We have not been able to find a second, independent source. However, in the same passage that introduces LUIS, Chikov also mentions codenames LUKA and TVEN, both of which have been validated. Also, the veracity of both LUIS and VOLONTER seems strengthened when Christopher Andrew provides a footnote on them that points to Mitrokhin's archives. (Sword and Shield, p.147, f.62) On the other hand, Venona is rock solid - Cohen was VOLONTER. Just to stir the pot, however, Venona has a lone message with unidentified codename LUIS. The message is dated June 1943, when Private Cohen is out of the country, and refers to someone with responsibilities toward Argentina. This LUIS is no doubt the Louis of a Brother-Son Comintern document shown in The Secret World (p.213). In this set we are inclined to proceed on the basis that during the 1940's Morris Cohen did in fact have the two codenames, LUIS and VOLONTER.

Since VOLONTER is factual, the following questions arise: When was VOLONTER assigned to Cohen, what authority assigned it, what were the initial conditions of its assignment, why was the Anglo/Franco Cyrillic word used instead of the Slavic Cyrillic word, "dobrovolets?" Was VOLONTER a random choice or did it have an association with Cohen, as was often the case in KGB codenaming. On this possibility one obviously looks at Chikov's assertion that Cohen was "head of a spy ring called the Volunteers." Which in turn invokes the question, was Cohen VOLONTER before the recruitment of the Volunteers and therefore the predicate of the group name (perhaps due to to the fact that he was a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War), or was it somehow the reverse case? In mulling over these questions we should keep in mind Chikov's chronological context for the Volunteers, they were a 'fait accompli' prior to July 1942.

The Volunteers To our knowledge, specific mention of the Volunteers per se does not occur in Venona. However, in addition to numerous references to the Volunteer group in Chikov/Kern, other writings exist which give credence to the group's existence and identity. For example, from Tatyana Samolis' SVR history: "the Volunteer group…were able to guarantee the transmittal to the Center of super secret information concerning the development of the American atomic bomb" (Samolis, p.158-9). Christopher Andrew also chimes in, and intriguingly so: "The Volunteer network expanded to include, in addition to MLAD, three other agents: ADEN, SERB and SILVER" (Sword and Shield, p.148). The footnote for this is a cite to Mitrokhin's archives.

More interesting, though, is Andrew's allusion to a connection between Iskhak Akhmerov and the Volunteer group: "[Rudolph Abel] never came close to rivaling the achievements of his wartime predecessor, Ishkak Akhmerov. During eight years as illegal resident, [Abel] appears never to have identified, let alone recruited a single promising potential agent to replace the VOLUNTEER network [which Akhmerov was instrumental in establishing]." (Sword and Shield, p.148) Iskhak Akhmerov was head of the KGB illegal residency in New York from 1942 to 1945. Semyon Semyonov, at Amtorg, reported to him.

The case of SERB deserves a bit of a digression. In the above quote Andrew adds him to the Volunteer group but does not indicate when this happened. We know that on or before January 1945 SERB mistakenly informed the KGB that VOLONTER/Cohen had been killed in Europe. This action by SERB strongly implies that he knew Morris Cohen, knew him to the extent that he appreciated the Soviets' vital interest in Cohen's fate. Since for all practical purposes Cohen was out of circulation after July 1942 and then gone from the country after January 1943, SERB's acquaintance with Cohen more probably than not pre-dated July 1942. It also follows, then, that SERB was himself an early Volunteer.

All of the forgoing presents an interesting collage: the Volunteer group exists as an espionage entity before mid-1942; an unknown number of members are engaged in atomic spying; Morris Cohen is the head of the Volunteers at a time when he is purportedly approached by atomic physicist 'Arthur Fielding;' the volunteer group gets special status, rating its own clandestine KGB name (Julius Rosenberg managed up to 8 sources but his network doesn't appear to have been named); Soviet agent Morris Cohen has two codenames simultaneously, one of which appertains to the Volunteer group, but whose genesis is unknown. It’s an interesting but incoherent picture. We believe the following comment from Christopher Andrew sheds clarifying light: "Unlike Akhmerov, however, [Abel] did not have the active and enthusiastic assistance of a well-organized American Communist Party (CPUSA) to act as talent-spotters and assistants." (Sword and Shield, p.147)

The Secret Apparatus. In the 1930’s and 1940’s the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) had a covert intelligence arm, identified and named in Comintern archive documents as the Secret Apparatus. The existence of this organization is documented in books from Klehr, Haynes and Firsov to the extent that it cannot be questioned. In the 1940's the two ranking officials in charge of the Secret Apparatus were Rudy Baker and Steve Nelson. As Communist revolutionaries both men traveled to Moscow in the early 1930's to attend the International Lenin School, a two year 'graduate course' in Communism run by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the KGB. Much of what went on at the ILS was secret but it is known that select individuals were culled out for special, in depth training in covert intelligence operations, i.e. 'konspiriatsiya.' Both Baker and Nelson matriculated the "special work" program. Nelson also gained some practical experience: "During his two year stay [at the ILS] Nelson was sent on clandestine missions to Germany, Switzerland, France, India and China." (Venona, , p.229)

Rudy Baker assumed the national leadership of the CPUSA' s Secret Apparatus from Joseph Peters in June 1938. At the time Baker was stationed in San Francisco, but by 1939 he had shifted his 'flag' to New York. As Head of the Secret Apparatus he reported directly to Earl Browder, General Secretary of the CPUSA. "Baker had a desk at the New York City offices of the CPUSA's literary-intellectual magazine, New Masses, and publicly carried out several minor Communist party tasks while at the same time directing a large clandestine organization." (Venona, p.68) Rudy Baker's codename was Son. He was a fellow Yugoslav and long time Party mentor to Steve Nelson.

The CPUSA sent Steve Nelson to California in the Spring of 1939. Six months after arriving in Los Angeles, he was transferred to the Bay area, Baker's old stomping grounds. According to plan and under delegation from Earl Browder and Rudy Baker, Steve Nelson quickly assumed leadership of the Secret Apparatus on the West Coast.

In Set B, Spanish Civil War, we wrote that it would be virtually impossible for Steve Nelson not to have been acquainted with Morris Cohen, but that we had no direct evidence for it. In reply to our post at the Readers' Rendezvous (Bombshell website) the Albrights replied with the following comment: "As a green recruit who arrived in Spain in mid-August 1937, it is very doubtful if [Cohen] even met Steve Nelson before Nelson left Spain. But we do know that Cohen knew Nelson at least slightly back in the United States." Although queried further, the Albrights declined to elaborate. Nonetheless, we feel safe in contemplating that the West Coast head of the Secret Apparatus was acquainted with Communist Party revolutionary and Barcelona spy school graduate, Morris Cohen.

The Grand Alliance Although the existence of the Secret Apparatus cannot be challenged, what remains a matter of public discourse is the precise relationship between it and the KGB during the 1930's and 1940's. The picture is coming into sharper focus as documents and information from the Comintern archives, Venona program, FBI files, and now the Mitrokhin archives are being studied and synthesized. Chapter 7 of Sword and Shield is titled The Grand Alliance, referring to the combined efforts of the United States and Great Britain to prosecute the war against Hitler. In this set we appropriate that title for another alliance, the alliance in America between the KGB and the Secret Apparatus. Rather than offer a lengthy, substandard explication of this 'combined arms' relationship, we excerpt pertinent statements from professional writers/historians that circumscribe the case:

"As the senior NKVD officer in the United States [Vasily Zarubin] retained overall control in Washington of the New York and San Francisco residencies, responsibility for liaison with the head of the CPUSA, [Earl] Browder, and with the head of the illegal residency, Akhmerov." (Sword and Shield, p.123)

"Later [1942] in the report Baker stated that 'We are also cooperating very closely with Cooper [Zarubin] which accounts also for his helpful aid in communication with you." (Venona, p.72)

"In the same month (April 1941) the Centre for the first time established separate departments in its major residencies to specialize in scientific and technological intelligence operations (later known s Line X), a certain sign of their increasing priority." (Sword and Shield, p.107)

"The rolls of microfilm forwarded by Akhmerov's illegal residency to the Centre via the legal residency in New York increased almost four-fold in the space of a year. From fifty-nine in 1942 to 211 in 1943." (Sword and Shield, p.111)

"Vasily Zarubin's regular contacts with the CPUSA leader, Earl Browder, plainly convinced him of the reliability of those covert Party members who agreed to provide secret intelligence." (Sword and Shield, p.122)

"Zarubin's recruitment strategy was simple and straight forward. He demanded that the leaders of the Communist Party of the United States identify supporters and sympathizers in government establishments suitable to work as agents." (Sword and Shield, p.108)

"In 1941 Elizabeth Zarubina was a captain in the KGB. After her husband's posting to Washington, she traveled to California frequently to cultivate the Oppenheimer family through social contacts arranged by Kheifets. Kheifets then introduced Elizabeth to Oppenheimer's wife, Katherine, who was sympathetic to the Soviet Union and Communist ideals, and the two worked out a system for future meetings." (Special Tasks, p.190)

"The FBI placed listening devices in Nelson's residence and in October 1942 overheard Giovanni Lomanitz, a young scientist at he Radiation Laboratory, tell Nelson he was working on a highly secret weapon, a reference to the atomic bomb project. Nelson indicated prior knowledge of the project and advised Lomanitz, a Comminist, to be discrete and to consider himself a undercover member of the Party." (Venona, p.325)

"In April 1943 Steve Nelson, the West coast head of the CPUSA secret apparatus, received a visitor named Cooper. The FBI which had bugged Nelson house, recognized Cooper as Vasily [Zarubin], nominally a Soviet diplomat. He was the chief of KGB operations in the United States." (Venona, p.73)

"Nelson and [Zarubin] using guarded language, discussed espionage and how Nelson's west coast underground which they referred to as the apparat, could assist Soviet intelligence." (Venona, p.73)

"One part of Nelson's task was to gather information on the atomic bomb project. He was seen and overheard meeting with young Communist scientists working at the radiation lab at Berkeley." (Venona, p.230)

"Don't be naïve, Browder told Bentley the next day. You know that when the cards are down, I have to take my orders from [the KGB]." (Sword and Shield, p.129)

"In effect, Nelson offered a "Comintern apparatus" then functioning on both the East and West coasts, through Kheifets, to his superior [Vasily Zarubin], the man whom we believed to be the KGB resident for the United States." (FBI-KGB War, p.143)

Berkeley When Steve Nelson arrived in the Bay area in 1939 he didn't waste any time getting his spade into the University of California at Berkeley's fertile recruiting ground: "Soon after arriving on the coast, I made the acquaintance of a very amazing man, J. Robert Oppenheimer. I had gone up to Berkeley to speak about Spain and help raise funds for Spanish refugees….Not long after that Oppenheimer invited me to his home to get together with some of his friends from the academic community who wanted to meet some one who had been in Spain. After we moved to Frisco and Oakland, I also saw Robert at Berkeley now and then because I was responsible for working with people from the university, getting them to conduct classes and discussions. A number of Oppenheimer's graduate students in the field of physics were quite active." (Steve Nelson, p. 268) Individuals at Berkeley who came under Nelson's sway included Robert Oppenheimer, Robert Serber, Philip Morrison, Joseph Weinberg, David Bohm, Eldred Nelson, Stanley Frankel, Sidney Dancoff, Giovanni Lomanitz, Leonard Schiff, etc.

In 1940 Steve Nelson tried his hand at writing while underground for several months: "In January 1940 Margaret and I went "on the shelf," as we called going underground. We were part of a group of about twenty Party members in the California organization who dropped out of public activities and left town……When I told the cottage owner I was a writer, I wasn't just creating a cover….I had been wanting to tell what Spain had been like…..I stayed with them for a week and between the two of us, we knocked out a draft…..I called it "The Volunteers." (Steve Nelson, p.252)

Conclusion The Volunteer network was not just a random group of agents brilliantly sourced and developed by VOLONTER/Cohen. They were in fact, especially with regard to atomic espionage, virtually off the shelf assets provided by the servile CPUSA to the KGB.

Steve Nelson was the right guy, at the right place, at the right time - intelligence trained, Berkeley campus, 1942-43. In a stroke of amazing good fortune (proving the maxim, better to be lucky than good) he was able to jump start the KGB's espionage effort against the Manhattan Project. In recruiting the Volunteers for espionage work he simply leveraged their support and grief over the Spanish Civil War crusade against fascism. He wouldn't hesitate to play to their latent sense of 'guilt' over being 'armchair' Loyalist fighters by reminding them that against Germany they now had a chance, nay a responsibility, to be front line combatants. If that fell a little short there was always the tried and true, 'Help Russia, the enemy of your enemy' gambit. You do not have to be a nuclear physicist either to appreciate the name he would dub his special cell of communists.

Before leaving for Spain Morris Cohen had been involved in a number of Communist Party organizing activities. He was an apostle early on. In Spain he indicated on a personal history questionnaire that he intended to continue his activism upon return to the States or go wherever there was another peoples' war against fascism. In 1940 and 41 Rudy Baker, Head of the Secret Apparatus, was taking control and organizing the communist underground in New York. After his return to New York Cohen made the acquaintance of Steve Nelson. There is every reason to conclude that Morris Cohen quickly established himself in the underground Party milieu that coalesced into the Secret Apparatus. During this same time period (1941) the Centre was establishing a separate intelligence line in its residencies to specialize in science and technology (S&T). Rudy Baker in New York and Steve Nelson in California were ready, willing and able to prime that line. A critical requirement existed for an operational link between the two covert organizations, a controller/courier for the S&T sources being identified. The individual chosen had to be a very reliable, committed American communist with no public profile; for both security and other operational considerations neither a legal nor illegal Russian would be acceptable. According to Chikov, sometime after July 1941 Cohen was activated by the Soviets: "After Ovakimyan's departure [July 1941] but before Zarubin's arrival, the New York intelligence station sent a coded telegram to the Center addressed to Fitin. It concerned someone named 'Altman'….Contact with Altman established. His code name is LUIS….[signed] LUKA." Thus Cohen, from the Secret Apparatus, was vetted and selected as the "contact man" for S&T recruits being proffered to the KGB. His 'joint,' inter-apparatus codename would be Volunteer; adhering to 'need to know' law, 'LUIS' was internal KGB use only, not to be used or known to the Secret Apparatus. The pipeline for leads and coordination on West Coast Volunteers who traveled to Chicago or the East Coast for academic or war employment ran from Nelson to Baker to Akhmerov to Semyonov to Volunteer.

The idea thus proposed is that Morris Cohen wore two hats - he had 'portfolio' both as Secret Apparatus agent VOLUNTEER as well as KGB agent LUIS. Under this scheme the anomalies surrounding codename VOLONTER are understood. Why two codenames? Cohen was a cog in two different spy organizations. Why was he codenamed Volunteer? Cohen was to be the controller/courier/terminus for special sources characterized by Steve Nelson as the Volunteers and it was consistent with his own background as a Spanish Civil War veteran. Why was the western Cyrillic word used instead of the slavic? The American codename was a priori, so the Soviets adopted the closest translation in the Russian dictionary.

And what of the Captain of the varsity Volunteer Team, J. Robert Oppenheimer? Did Oppenheimer aid and abet the KGB in their efforts to acquire Manhattan Project secrets? We see two schools of thought: common sense buttressed by "unwanted witness" from Pavel Sudoplatov, or naiveté of 'the Rosenbergs were innocent' variety. We will go with Haakon Chevalier's revelation about Oppenheimer's Stalinist drinking toast to the Volunteers, "To the confusion of our enemies!" (Story, p.22)

But was he Fielding?

References Comment Staline A Vole La Bombe Atomique Aux Ameicains: Dossier KGB No. 13676, Vladimir Chikov and Gary Kern, 1996 The Secret World of American Communism, Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov, 1995 Venona, Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, 1999 The Sword and The Shield, The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, 1999 Steve Nelson, American Radical, Steve Nelson, James R. Barrett and Rob Ruck, The FBI- KGB War, Rogert J. Lamphere and Tom Shachtman, 1995 Special Tasks, Pavel and Anatoli Sudoplatov with Jerrold L. and Leona P. Schecter, 1995 Oppenheimer, The Story of a Friendship, Haakon Chevalier, 1965 Veterany Vneshnei Razvedki Rossii, T. V. Samolis, Editor, SVR Press, 1995


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