April 2012, Week 2


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Fri, 13 Apr 2012 22:41:00 -0400
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The SOLO File: 'The FBI's Most Valued Secret Agents'

 Declassified Documents Detail 'The FBI's Most Valued
 Secret Agents of the Cold War'

 Morris Childs Talked to Mao, Khrushchev, Suslov,
 Ponomarev - Carried Soviet Funds for American
 Communists (with Brother Jack) - Reported Back to
 the FBI for Two Decades

 New book, Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Tim
 Weiner, first to draw on SOLO files

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 375
Posted - April 10, 2012

For more information contact:
[log in to unmask]

Washington, D.C., April 10, 2012-- The "FBI's most
valued secret agents of the Cold War," brothers Morris
and Jack Childs, together codenamed SOLO, reported back
to J. Edgar Hoover starting in 1958 about face-to-face
meetings with top Soviet and Chinese Communist leaders
including Mao and Khrushchev, while couriering Soviet
funds for the American Communist Party, according to
newly declassified FBI files cited in the new book by
Tim Weiner, Enemies: A History of the FBI (New York:
Random House, 2012).

Highlights from the massive SOLO files (which total more
than 6,941 pages in 45 volumes declassified in August
2011 and January 2012) appear on the National Security
Archive's Web site today at www.nsarchive.org, together
with an overview by Tim Weiner and a new search
function, powered by the Archive's partnership with
DocumentCloud, that enables full-text search of the
entire SOLO file (instead of the 45 separate PDF
searches required by the FBI's Vault publication at

For more on Enemies, see last night's broadcast of The
Daily Show with Jon Stewart, featuring Tim Weiner, and
the reviews by The New York Times Book Review, The
Guardian, and The Washington Post. [See links at bottom
of this post -- moderator.]

[Material below adapted from Tim Weiner, Enemies: A
History of the FBI, pp. 207-209]

FBI Director J, Edgar Hoover's most valued secret agent
was a naturalized citizen of Russian/Ukrainian/Jewish
origins named Morris Childs. He was the first and
perhaps the only American spy to penetrate the Soviet
Union and Communist China at the highest levels during
the Cold War, including having face-to-face
conversations with Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong and
others in a red-ribbon cast of Communist leaders.

The operation, codenamed SOLO, that the FBI built on his
work (and that of his brother, Jack) posed great risks
and the promise of greater rewards. The FBI's first
debriefings of Morris Childs were declassified in August
2011 in time for inclusion in the book Enemies. Even
more SOLO debriefings and associated memos - upwards of
45 volumes and thousands of pages - emerged in January

Researchers have been requesting these documents for
years, and with good reason. They are unique records of
a crucial chapter in the history of American
intelligence. They illuminate several mysteries of the
Cold War, including the origins of Hoover's hatred for
Martin Luther King, some convincing reasons for Dwight
Eisenhower's decision to hold off on the CIA's plans to
invade Fidel Castro's Cuba, and the beginnings of
Richard Nixon's thoughts about a détente with the

Morris Childs was an important figure in the Communist
Party of the United States in the 1930s and 1940s,
serving as the editor of its newspaper, the Daily
Worker. He and his brother Jack had fallen out with the
Party in 1948. Three years later, the FBI approached him
as part of a new program called TOPLEV, in which FBI
agents tried to talk top-level Communist Party members
and officials into becoming informants.

Childs became a Communist for the FBI. He rejoined the
Party and rose higher and higher in its secret
hierarchy. In the summer of 1957, the Party's leaders
proposed that he serve as their international emissary
in an effort to reestablish direct political and
financial ties with the Kremlin. If Moscow approved,
Childs would be reporting to Hoover as the foreign
secretary of the Communist Party of the United States.

The FBI's intelligence chief, Al Belmont, could barely
contain his excitement over Childs' cooperation. If the
operation succeeded, he told Hoover, "it would enhance
tremendously the Bureau's prestige as an intelligence

[See Document 1: Memorandum from A.H. Belmont to L.V.
Boardman, "Courier System Between Communist Party, USA,
and Communist Party, Soviet Union," 30 August 1957.
Source: http://vault.fbi.gov/solo/solo-part-01-of/view,
page 17.]

On March 5, 1958, the FBI's top intelligence officials
agreed that the operation would work: the Bureau could
"guide one of our informants into the position of being
selected by the CPUSA as a courier between the Party in
this country and the Soviet Union."

[See Document 2: Memorandum from A.H. Belmont to L.V.
Boardman, "Communist Party, USA, International
Relations, Internal Security-C," 5 March 1958. Source:
http://vault.fbi.gov/solo/solo-part-01-of/view, page 1.]

On April 24, 1958, Childs boarded TWA Flight 824 to
Paris, on the first leg of his long trip to Moscow, at
the invitation of the Kremlin. He met the Party's
leaders over the course of eight weeks. He learned that
his next stop would be Beijing. On July 6, 1958, he had
an audience with Chairman Mao Zedong (see pages 13-16 of
Document 3B) Was the United States planning to go to
war in Southeast Asia? Mao asked. If so, China intended
to fight to the death, as it had during the Korean War.
"There may be many Koreas in Asia," Mao predicted.

[See Documents 3A-B: A: Childs' Account of his April
1958 Trip to Soviet Union and China. B: SAC, New York,
to Director, FBI, 23 July 1958 [account of Child's first
trip as a double-agent] Source:

Returning to Moscow that summer, conferring with leaders
of the Party and the KGB, Morris received a formal
invitation to attend the 21st Congress of the Communist
Party of the Soviet Union, and he accepted promises of
cash payments for the CPUSA that would come to $348,385
over the next few months. The money was delivered to
Morris by a Soviet delegate to the United Nations at a
restaurant in Queens, New York.

Though the trips exhausted him, leaving him a physically
broken man, Morris Childs went abroad two or three times
a year over the course of the next two decades. He
undertook fifty- two international missions, befriending
the world's most powerful Communists. He controlled the
income of the American Communist Party's treasury and
contributed to the formulation of its foreign policy.
His work as SOLO was undetected by the KGB and kept
secret from all but the most powerful American leaders.

[See Document 4: Clyde Tolson to the Director, 12 March
1959 [report on Child's background, how he was
recruited, and information from his most recent trip to
Moscow] Source:
http://vault.fbi.gov/solo/solo-part-11-of-17/view, p.

SOLO's intelligence gave Hoover an unquestioned
authority in the White House. The United States never
had had a spy inside the high councils of the Soviet
Union or the People's Republic of China. Morris Childs
would provide the U.S. government with insights no
president had ever before possessed.

Hoover briefed President Eisenhower about the SOLO
mission repeatedly from November 1958 onwards. For the
next two years, Hoover sent summaries of his reporting
directly to Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon. Hoover
reported that the world's most powerful Communists- Mao
Zedong and Nikita Khrushchev- were at each other's
throats. The breach between Moscow and Beijing was a
revelation to Eisenhower. The FBI director also reported
that Moscow wanted the CPUSA to support the civil rights
movement in the United States. The idea that communism
and civil rights were connected through covert
operations was electrifying to Hoover.

Hoover told the White House that SOLO had met with
Anibal Escalante, a political leader of the newly
victorious revolution in Cuba, a confidant to Fidel
Castro and the Cuban Communist most highly regarded in
Moscow. Escalante said that the Cubans knew the United
States was planning a paramilitary attack to overthrow
Castro. This reporting gave Eisenhower pause as he
weighed the CIA's proposal to invade the island with a
force of anti-Castro Cubans undergoing training in
Guatemala. He never approved the plan; that was left to
President Kennedy, who went ahead with the disastrous
Bay of Pigs invasion.

[See Document 5: Memoranda and Letters to Director/Naval
Intelligence, Director/CIA, National Security Adviser,
Secretary of State, and Vice President Nixon on
Information from Anibal Escalante. Source:

Hoover reported directly to Nixon as the vice president
prepared to go to Moscow in July 1959, where he would
engage Khrushchev in a public discussion on the
political and cultural merits of communism and
capitalism. SOLO had met with the top Communist Party
officials responsible for American affairs. Hoover
distilled their thinking about the leading candidates in
the 1960 presidential election.

Moscow liked Ike: he understood the meaning of war and
he was willing to risk the chances of peace. But Senator
Kennedy was judged as "inexperienced" and potentially
dangerous. As for Nixon, the Communists thought he would
be a capable president, though he was "cunning" and

[See Document 6: SAC, New York, to Director, FBI, 13
March 1960 [report on Khrushchev's imminent visit to
France and on President Eisenhower's prospective (later
cancelled) trip to Soviet Union]. Source:
http://vault.fbi.gov/solo/solo-part-19-20-of/view, pp.

Nixon learned from the SOLO debriefings that Moscow
could conduct rational political discourse; a decade
later, the lesson served him well as president when he
sought détente with the Soviets.



The SOLO records are an extraordinary new contribution
to the history of the FBI and American intelligence. It
is worth noting that prior to the new FBI releases,
earlier scholars had made important contributions to
knowledge of this FBI operation. Civil rights historian
and assiduous FOIA requester David J.Garrow was the
first researcher to discover the role of the Childs
brothers as FBI double- agents. In his book, Martin
Luther King and the FBI: from 'Solo' to Memphis (New
York: W. W. Norton, 1981), Garrow sought to explain why
J.Edgar Hoover and the Bureau were such "viciously
negative" opponents of King. Garrow disclosed that the
Childs brothers had provided information to the FBI on
Stanley Levison, one of King's key political advisers.
Levison had been active in the U.S. Communist Party
during the early 1950s but, as Childs reported, had left
the organization because of its political irrelevance.
Nevertheless, the FBI saw Levison as a Soviet agent and
used his former political connections as leverage to
force King to break with his adviser.

Following Garrow's trail was the late John Barron, a
former Naval intelligence officer turned journalist and
later a full-time writer for Readers Digest who produced
as full an account of "Operation Solo" as was possible
in the 1990s. An expert on the KGB, Barron met numerous
former Soviet agents. One day, Morris Childs and his
wife turned up at Barron's Washington, D.C. office.
Recognizing the Childs' importance, Barron wanted to
tell Morris' story and did so through interviews with
the FBI case officers who had handled contacts with the
Childs brothers and their associates. Barron had no
access to the documents, but his book, Operation Solo:
The FBI's Man in the Kremlin (Regnery, 1996), provided
the first detailed account of the rise of Morris Childs
to an influential role in the U.S. Communist Party, why
he secretly broke with the Party, when and how he
started to work with the FBI, and how he used his party
connections and recurrent travel to Moscow and Beijing
to provide current intelligence on developments in those

-- William Burr


For more on Enemies, see last night's broadcast of The
Daily Show with Jon Stewart, featuring Tim Weiner, and
the reviews by The New York Times Book Review, The
Guardian, and The Washington Post.

Exclusive - Tim Weiner Extended Interview Pt. 1 In this
exclusive, unedited interview, author Tim Weiner
discusses the evolution of the FBI, LBJ's Southern
strategy and the Bush administration's controversial
Patriot Act.






Tim Weiner has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National
Book Award for his writing on vital issues of American
national security. As a correspondent for The New York
Times, he covered the Central Intelligence Agency and
the Pentagon in Washington, and reported on war and
terrorism from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, and
many other nations over the course of 15 years.


Purchase Enemies: A History of the FBI at Amazon and
Politics and Prose.


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