Alexander Vassiliev’s Notes, Venona and Laurence Duggan

On Reading Venona Decryptions and Alexander Vassiliev’s Notes as Evidence of Espionage.

The Case of Laurence Duggan: The Importance of Context

Since the release in 1994 and 1995 of the Venona documents – the Soviet World War II intelligence communiqués that were intercepted and partially decrypted in the course of the Venona operation – decrypted Venona cables have been cited as damning evidence in support of espionage charges from the early Cold War era. This is particularly true with regard to accusations made in such landmark cases as those of Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White and Laurence Duggan. Although the decrypted cables offer an important glimpse into the world of Soviet intelligence during that period, they represent only a tiny percentage of the total Soviet intelligence correspondence from those years, which is reported to consist of more than one million cables. Hence there is a good chance that breakthrough information lurks in the un-decrypted 99 or so percent of the overall traffic. Despite this serious limitation, however, historians have rushed to seal many cases of World War II-period espionage, which had remained unresolved for decades. 1

Since the late 1990s, the chief problem with reading the Venona decryptions as evidence of espionage has too often been a lack of context. Contextualization, to cite American historian R. Bruce Craig, is “one of the primary marks distinguishing history written by a trained professional to that written by an amateur.” This lack of context regarding the Venona decryptions has been coupled with “a penchant for only a ‘plain’ reading of documents… that in the case of the Venona decrypts… are indisputably fragmentary and all too often ambiguous.” 2

Among the victims of the “plain” reading of documents have been the partial decryptions of a few Venona cables from 1943 and 1944, which have been cited as damning evidence of World War II espionage by Laurence Duggan, a prominent American diplomat and expert on South American affairs. The Venona translators identified Duggan behind the cover names “Frenk,” “Shervud” and “Knyaz’” (“Prince”), which appeared in nine partially decrypted cables from those years.

In 1999, historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr concluded, based on their reading of these same Venona cables, that the cables “provide ample evidence that Duggan continued cooperation with Soviet espionage into the 1940s….” 3 In 2009, the authors wrote a new book, making use for the second time of notes on KGB foreign intelligence records taken from 1994 to early 1995 by a former KGB officer and journalist, Alexander Vassiliev. (In 1999, these notes had served as the basis of a book, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America – the Stalin Era, which Vassiliev co-authored with Allen Weinstein.) In their 2009 book, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, Haynes and Klehr repeated their 1999 conclusion almost verbatim:

Duggan continued to provide the KGB with American diplomatic information, reporting on Anglo-American plans for the invasion of Italy, consideration of an invasion of Nazi-occupied Norway, U.S. diplomatic approaches to Argentina’s military government, and secret discussions regarding a common Anglo-American policy toward Middle-Eastern oil resources. … 4

To Haynes and Klehr, Vassiliev’s notes were congruent with the partially deciphered Soviet cables translated by the Venona project; moreover, Vassiliev’s notes sometimes provided “undeciphered portions in plain text” from the cables “translated by the Venona project.” Besides, they asserted, “cover names that American and British counter-intelligence were unable to identify are linked in Vassiliev’s files to real people, who, upon examination, fit the biographical details found in the KGB cables deciphered by the Venona project.” 5 Yet on this website, I have already documented an obvious disconnect between the appearances of Harry Dexter White – an American Keynesian economist and U.S. Department of Treasury official – in Vassiliev’s notes and in the Venona decryptions, two sources which are commonly cited as evidence of White’s spying during the World War II period.

Click here to have a look at the crosschecking of White’s story as it appeared in Alexander Vassiliev’s notes and in the Venona decryptions

Now, let us see if the few partial Venona decryptions which are commonly cited as evidence of Laurence Duggan’s World War II espionage are indeed congruent with Vassiliev’s notes on Duggan’s KGB file. 6

Laurence Duggan and the TRIDENT Conference

The key Venona evidence of Duggan’s espionage is a partially decrypted cable sent from New York to Moscow on June 30, 1943, which is often cited as “ample evidence” that Duggan continued his active cooperation with Soviet intelligence during World War II. In the decrypted part of this communiqué, “Mer”, the cover name at the time for Iskhak Akhmerov, the Soviet “illegalresident in the United States, gave an account of a recent oral report he had received from “Frank,” who was identified by Venona translators as Duggan:

[Part I] TO VIKTOR [i]. 7

FRENK [ii] reports the following:

1. In the near future the “COUNTRY” [STRANA][iii] and the “ISLAND [OSTROV]”[iv] will land strong forces in ITALY and on her islands with the aim of seizing the whole of ITALY. The forces will be landed simultaneously at various points

[52 groups unrecovered] 8

… In all [B% probability] 9 they [1 group unrecovered] for military operations [in] [a] NORWAY this winter.

[17 groups unrecovered]

[D% but] did not say [D% anything] of the kind. [4 groups unrecovered] beginning in the winter Anglo-American forces will launch a military operation [in] [a] NORWAY. 10

To anyone familiar with the World War II-period correspondence between U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, this partial decryption rings immediate bells. It brings us back to TRIDENT, which was the code name for the conference held by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill with the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. from May 15 to May 25, 1943. The conference’s most historic decision was an agreement to send 29 divisions across the English Channel to invade France, with a target date of May 1, 1944. The Allies also agreed to continue their offensive in the Mediterranean, with the aim of knocking Italy out of the war, and to mount a bombing campaign against the Rumanian oil fields from newly acquired bases in the Mediterranean. The Americans won British support for a stepped-up offensive in the Pacific; the Allies also discussed operations to help China, in order to keep it in the war at all costs. 11

Concerned with keeping Stalin on an equal footing in the alliance, President Roosevelt instructed his chief of staff, General Marshall, to draft a message to the Soviet leader outlining the decisions approved at TRIDENT. The draft was, first, read and approved by Churchill, and then, edited by Roosevelt, who approved it on May 31, 1943 – adding a personal note to Stalin:

June 2, 1943


Personal and from the President to Premier Stalin.

I am sending you through Ambassador Standley the recently approved decisions of our Combined Chiefs of Staff. These decisions have the joint approval of both Mr. Churchill and myself. In view of their extremely secret nature I am asking Ambassador Standley to deliver them to you     personally.


FDR 12

Here is what the formal message, known as “the message on recently approved decisions,” said about the Allied plans to invade Italy:

(b) In the Mediterranean the decision was taken to eliminate Italy from the war as quickly as possible. General Eisenhower has been directed to prepare to launch offensives immediately following the successful completion of HUSKY, (viz. the assault on Sicily,) for the purpose of precipitating the collapse of Italy and thus facilitating our air offensive against Eastern and Southern Germany as well as continuing the attrition of German fighter aircraft and developing a heavy threat against German control of the Balkans. General Eisenhower may use for the Mediterranean operations all those forces now available in that area except for three British and four American Divisions which are to participate in the concentration in England, next to be referred to.

As to the “consideration of invasion of Nazi-occupied Norway,” to cite from Haynes and Klehr, the June 2 message said:

(c) It was decided that the resumption of the concentration of ground forces in England could now be undertaken … while plans are being continuously kept up to date by a joint U.S.-British Staff in England to take instant advantage of a sudden weakness in France or Norway, the concentration of forces and landing equipment in the British Isles should proceed at a rate to permit a full-scale invasion of the Continent to be launched….” 13

The message was sent to Moscow on June 2 and received by Stalin only two days later, on June 4. Here is how Ambassador Standley reported on its arrival to President Roosevelt:

Message delivered Moscow time 23 hours Friday June 4. Molotov and interpreter Pavlov present. Message translated in my presence. I advised Stalin of our plans to preserve secrecy and that he could use same channel for his reply. Stalin listened attentively to the message showing no evidence of surprise. He exhibited no reactions other than stating that he understood the general purport of the message and after careful study for two or three days would make a reply. 14

Stalin was, in fact, deeply disappointed with the delay in launching the Allied invasion of France, which he saw as a contradiction to the decisions “regarding the terms of the opening of the second front in Western Europe” made by Roosevelt and Churchill at the beginning of 1943. Neither Italy nor Norway was on top of Stalin’s agenda; his major concern was the postponement of opening the second front in Europe, as he wrote to Roosevelt in disappointment on June 11:

This decision creates exceptional difficulties for the Soviet Union, which has already been fighting for two years, with utmost strain of its strength, against the main forces of Germany and her satellites, and leaves the Soviet Army, fighting not only for its country, but also for its allies, to its own strength, almost in single combat with yet very strong and dangerous enemy. 15

To ease Stalin’s frustration, Winston Churchill wrote to him on June 19 about the Allied plans in Italy:

2. The best way for us to help you is by winning battles and not by losing them. … It is my earnest and sober hope that we can knock Italy out of the war this year, … The great attack that is now not far off will absorb the capacities of every port under our control in the Mediterranean from Gibralter to Port Said inclusive. … 16

Getting back to Laurence Duggan – in view of the correspondence between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill in the period between June 2 and June 19, 1943, the information in the Venona cable from June 30, 1943, when taken out of the vacuum of its “plain” reading and placed in its real-life historical context, looks like a complete déjà vu. By no stretch of the imagination would Duggan’s passing some shred of information – which had been transmitted to Stalin through official channels almost a month earlier – qualify as evidence of espionage. According to contemporary FBI discussions (held between 1947 and 1950) of the evidence criteria [used] in prosecuting on charges of espionage or conspiracy to commit espionage, sustaining such prosecution required the presence of “the definite identification of a secret, confidential or restricted item which had been conveyed to an agent of a foreign government with knowledge or intent to harm the United States or to aid a foreign government.” 17 The information in the Venona cable from June 30, 1943 does not meet these criteria.

In fact, there is a fragmentary Venona decryption of an earlier spillover from the discussions at TRIDENT that could be traced back to Laurence Duggan – but has not commonly been attributed to him. On May 29, 1943, Soviet intelligence’s New York station sent Moscow a communiqué signed by “Mer”/ Akhmerov, reporting on conversations between “Kapitan” (a cover name for Roosevelt) and “Kaban” (a cover name for Churchill). The decrypted part of the message said the following:

“19”[ii] reports that “KAPITAN” [iii] and “KABAN” [iv], during conversations in the “COUNTRY” [STRANA][v], invited “19” to join them and ZAMESTITEL’[v] openly told “KABAN”

[10 groups unrecovered]

second front against GERMANY this year. KABAN considers that, if a second front should prove to be unsuccessful, then this [3 groups unrecovered] harm to Russian interests and [6 groups unrecovered]. He considers it more advantageous and effective to weaken GERMANY by bombing and to use this time for “[4 groups unrecovered] political crisis so that there may be no doubt that a second front next year will prove successful.”


[14 groups unrecovered]

19 thinks that “KAPITAN” is not informing ZAMESTITEL’ of important military decisions and that therefore ZAMESTITEL’ may not have exact knowledge of [1 group unrecovered] with the opening of a second front against GERMANY and its postponement from this year to next year. 19 says that ZAMESTITEL’ personally is an ardent supporter of a second front at this time and considers postponement

- 2 -

[15 groups unrecovered]

can shed blood

[13 groups unrecovered]

recently shipping between the USA and

[40 groups unrecovered]

The “COUNTRY” hardly [9 groups unrecovered] ‘insufficient reason for delaying a second front.’

No. 443 MER[vii] 18

As noted above, “Kapitan” (“Captain”) was the cover name used for President Roosevelt, and “Kaban” (“Boar”), the cover name for Prime Minister Churchill. At the time of the cable’s release in 1996, “19” (in fact, “19th” – “Devyatnastsatyi”) had not been identified. Venona translators had identified “Zamestitel’” (“Deputy”) as “possibly Henry Agard Wallace,”, who as U.S. Vice President was Roosevelt’s “Deputy.” The translators were not sure of this conclusion, since elsewhere in Venona communications Wallace appeared as “Lotsman” (“Pilot”). Their other guess was Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt’s close advisor and special assistant. 19

Discussing the Venona decryption of the May 29, 1943 cable in their 1999 Venona book, Haynes and Klehr at the time did not suspect that Duggan might be behind the cover name “19.” Moreover, unaware at that time that the OGPU-NKVD foreign intelligence frequently used numerical cover names before World War II, they assumed that the cable reported “about a GRU contact.” To Haynes and Klehr, the Venona decryption provided “too little material for a firm judgment on the identity of Source No. 19”:

It appears that this source was at the Trident conference or one of its ancillary events and was very highly placed, since he was asked to join a private conversation with Roosevelt and Churchill. Beyond that, however, it is difficult to get much of a clue about No. 19’s identity. It is not even clear that Source No. 19 was American: possibly he was part of the British delegation that accompanied Churchill, … 20

Haynes and Klehr had not checked the TRIDENT attendance records, deferring to a “close reading” by the late Edward Mark, a Department of the Air Force historian, who argued that “Zamestitel’” (“Deputy”) was Henry Wallace and Source No 19 “was most likely” Harry Hopkins.

Click here to read about the origins of Dr. Mark’s theory – and then come back to read about yet another disconnect between Duggan’s appearance in Venona cables and in Vassiliev’s notes

“Impressed by Mark’s analysis,” Haynes and Klehr still viewed the evidence in the partial decryption as “too slim” to enable them “to reach a judgment about Source No 19’s identity.” 21 Amazingly, in an index of cover names and real names compiled by Haynes and last updated in April 2009, “19” appears as “Harry Hopkins at Trident conference.” 22

To resolve the confusion over identifying “19” from the May 29, 1943 Venona decryption, it is necessary to take a close look at the TRIDENT attendance records – and also to resolve the confusion over identifying the cryptonym “Zamestitel’” (“Deputy”). In Vassiliev’s notes, “Zamestitel’” looks like a generic cover name used to identify more than one official position:

1) “Zamestitel’ Kapitana” (“Captain’s deputy”) – a cover name used for President Roosevelt’s (Kapitan/Captain’s) Vice President (in Vassiliev’s notes, this was Henry Wallace in 1944);

2) “Zamestitel’ mekhanika” (“Mechanic’s” deputy) – a designation for Sumner Welles, the Under Secretary of State from 1937 to 1943 and, literally, the “deputy” to Cordell Hull,  the Secretary of State (“Mechanic”); 23

3) “Zamestitel’” also appears as Laurence Steinhardt, the American Ambassador in Moscow from 1939 to 1941. 24 In the context of the May 29, 1943 Venona decryption, Sumner Welles looks like a probable candidate for “Zamestitel’”, in view of his close relationship with President Roosevelt and his position at that time as the central figure at the Department of State.

Provided that Sumner Welles was, in fact, present at any of the TRIDENT meetings, this would increase the probability that his protégé Duggan was the elusive “19” mentioned in the Venona decryption of the Soviet communiqué from May 29, 1943. Until I have a chance to review the TRIDENT records in person, I will have to abstain from any definitive identification.

Even if we put aside the confusion over identification of the cover names, the message in the May 29, 1943 cable would not have been news in Moscow, given the time needed for its decryption, translation and passage along the chain of command. A cable sent from New York to Moscow on May 29, 1943 would have had no chance of landing on Stalin’s desk before Roosevelt’s more detailed message of June 2, which was discussed above. Judging by the dates on intelligence messages from the 1930s, the translations of which appear in the Joseph Stalin Papers, the interval between the receipt of a communiqué by the Moscow foreign intelligence Center and its delivery to Stalin was usually between one-plus week and one month. 25 This situation had not changed by the 1940s.

Our confusion does not end here. On closer crosschecking of Venona decryptions and Vassiliev’s notes on Laurence Duggan’s file, it becomes even deeper – until we end up with an obvious disconnect between the two major bodies of evidence of Soviet World War II espionage.

The Cover-Name Disconnect

Comparing Vassiliev’s notes on Laurence Duggan’s file with Venona decryptions that mention the cover names usually associated with Duggan, one sees very little correlation between these two sources on the history of Soviet espionage in the United States.

In Vassiliev’s notes on Duggan’s file, “19th” appears continuously as Laurence Duggan’s cover name (operational pseudonym) from 1936 to early 1943, as well as in the notes on a few communications from 1944. The use of “19th” as Duggan’s operational pseudonym was confirmed to me in person in 2002, by the retired KGB General Vitaly Pavlov. 26 Yet among all Venona decryptions that have been released, “19th” appears only once – in the above-mentioned communiqué from May 29, 1943 – and was not identified by Venona translators as Duggan.

So what do we see in later Venona cables? In decrypts from June 30, 1943, and July 22 and August 4, 1944, Duggan was identified behind the cover name “Frenk” [“Frank”], and in a decryption from May 24, 1944 – behind “Fr.,” which looks like an abbreviation of that cover name. In Vassiliev’s notes, however, “Frenk” appears interchangeably with “19th”. Vassiliev explains this in a notation under his notes on Akhmerov’s communiqué to the Center from November 17, 1942: “In his letters, Mer calls 19 Frank.”27 At the same time, in Vassiliev’s notes on the summaries of Akhmerov’s cipher cables written by Moscow operatives, Duggan continues to appear as “19” well into 1944 – suggesting still another disconnect between Vassiliev’s notes and Venona decryptions. 28

The plot gets thicker with further comparisons between Venona decryptions and Vassiliev’s notes. According to a Venona-decrypted cable from September 2, 1944, in which Moscow advised its U.S. outpost of new cover names, Moscow proposed the cover name “Knyaz’” [“Prince”] as a replacement for the cover name “Shervud” [“Sherwood”] – which had been introduced by the New York station but was considered “disadvantageous” in Moscow. 29 But in Vassiliev’s notes, “Prince’” appears almost two months earlier than the date when, according to the Venona decryption cited above, that cover name was sent by Moscow Center to its New York outpost. On July 7, 1944, Akhmerov informed Moscow about Laurence Duggan’s resignation from the Department of State:

“Prince’s resignation came as a surprise to me. I did not expect him to quit his job in that division altogether. He spoke to me quite often about his difficulties and his situation there. His situation became especially shaky after his chief superior’s deputy was forced to leave the department. As you know, many years ago this deputy brought Prince into the department, and he was thought of as his man (protégé). Recently, Prince informed me that the chief superior hates the deputy who resigned because of his polit. activities in the press and his speeches, which criticize the director’s division as well as his political views.” 30

To add to the confusion, almost two weeks later, on July 20, the New York “legal” resident “May” used the cover name “19” in his report on Duggan’s resignation. Yet according to the Venona translations, Duggan’s cover name at the time was “Frank”:

20.7.44 May reported from NY that 19 has tendered his resignation from the SD, supposedly for personal reasons. Ovakimyan’s resolution: “It is strange that we are learning about this after the fact.” 21.7.44 31

In Vassiliev’s notes, Duggan appeared as “19” for the last time in a brief note from page 232 of Duggan’s file:

p.232 19 has become assistant diplomatic adviser to the UNRRA. 32

This is the last note Vassiliev took on the World War II part of Duggan’s file. It refers to Duggan’s appointment as deputy to the Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). But in Vassiliev’s last note regarding Akhmerov’s reports about his meetings with Duggan, dated February 4, 1943, Duggan appears as “Frank,” not as “19.” According to Vassiliev’s notes, this report appears on pages 202-205 of Duggan’s personal file. Vassiliev made his next note on an undated document referring to pages 219-222, which he entitled, “A Reference on the 19.” He made his next note on file page 228, which was a July 20, 1944 communiqué from “May,” the station chief in New York, about the resignation of “19.” Probably, this disconnect can be explained by the fact that the original cover name, “19,” continued to be in use simultaneously with the new name, “Frank”— except for the fact that this looks like a breach of tradecraft. It is likely that Akhmerov used the cover name “Frank” exclusively in his independent communications line with Moscow Center. 33 But the sketchiness of Vassiliev’s notes on Duggan’s file, along with the miniscule share that Venona decryptions represent in the vast sea of Soviet intelligence traffic from the World War II period, makes it impossible to resolve this cover-name confusion.

The Timing Disconnect

The sketchiness of Vassiliev’s notes on Laurence Duggan’s file also makes it difficult for us to place the Venona decryptions usually associated with Duggan’s espionage into a real-life context – as part of Duggan’s contacts with Soviet intelligence. There is a clear disconnect between the timeline suggested in Vassiliev’s notes and in the Venona decryptions.

Click here to have a look at a chart comparing Venona decryptions with Vassiliev’s notes on Duggan’s file – and then come back to this page for further discussion of the two sources

Judging by the partial decryptions of Venona cables sent between late May and late June, 1943, Duggan was in active communication at that time with Iskhak Akhmerov, the Soviet “illegal” resident in the United States – whom he knew only as Alexander Hansen. But Vassiliev did not make a single note on any meeting that could have provided an occasion for Duggan to deliver information, although such meetings were reported in Venona decryptions of Soviet communiqués from May 29, June 18 and June 30, 1943. 34 Yet Vassiliev’s notes on Duggan’s file do contain a single, definitive report about a contact between Akhmerov and Duggan, dated February 25, 1942:

p.185 Report on a cipher telegram dated 25.2.42 from NY

“Mer” contacted 19, who said he was willing to help us, but that there were no opportunities at present. A month ago Berle, after drinking a good deal of wine, reminded 19 about his affinity for left elements. 19 says that as long as Berle is with the firm, 19 will not be able to get ahead. At present, he is working on Mexico and oil-related questions, and he promised to tell us everything he knows. We agreed to meet once a month. 35

In Vassiliev’s notes, there is no hint of any regular meetings between Duggan and the Soviet “illegal.” Moreover, the note reporting on file page 185, cited above, is almost directly followed by this note on file page 192:

p.192 It was difficult for “Mer” to meet with 19: the latter didn’t come to meetings and was very busy, and Mer was unable to stay in Washington for long. 36

Vassiliev’s next note, reporting on the same page of the file, contains no information about subsequent meetings between Akhmerov and Duggan:

p.192 Mer – to C 9.10.42

He is an honest and genuinely progressive-minded person…He is a true American with all the patriotic qualities, and has spent a number of years doing significant, high-level work towards the realization of the USA’s imperialist ambitions. [Mer wanted to introduce 19 to “Nelly” in case Mer was drafted into the army.] 37

More than a month later, Akhmerov was still explaining to Moscow Center Duggan’s reluctance to cooperate:

p.193 Mer – to C 17.11.42

He is a genuinely progressive American. He sympathizes with us and understands our role in this war, but at the same time, he is an American patriot through and through. His intellect is shaped by his continued, concrete work putting into practice America’s influence on its neighbors. He is not a fellowcountryman or a paid probationer, and he is absolutely determined not to risk his position. Having once been burned, he is prone to significantly exaggerating any danger. He used to bring me bundles of the most interesting materials from his office; now he does everything he can to avoid even citing his sources when he reports something to me. 38

Almost three months later, according to Vassiliev’s notes, Akhmerov was still trying to persuade the Moscow operatives that it would be futile to solicit Duggan’s cooperation by putting pressure on him:

p.201 Mer – to Center 2.2.43 cipher telegram

“I do not think it would be worthwhile to … put pressure on him, [Frank] as you suggest in your letter of November 26. …. I think that speaking with F. in the manner you suggest in your letter … he will try to break with us under various pretexts.”

p.202 Letter from Mer dated 4.2.1943 [February 4, 1943]

“As you know, he is not a fellowcountryman or a paid probationer. He is a very decent and progressive American. He has always helped us, and acknowledges that we are the vanguard of progressive mankind. He has never taken a single cent from us. Our personal friendship has also played a major part in our liaison. Having been seriously frightened because of his connection with us, he is now inclined to exaggerate this danger even more. I believe he was burned to some degree in the past, and that he kept his job due to the absence of concrete material evidence….

p.203 Shared ideology and personal friendship are the mainsprings of our connection with Frank. Because of his personal qualities — he is an exceptionally honorable man— he could never imagine that we might put pressure on him, exploiting the work he did for us in the past. If this thought had ever seriously occurred to him, he would have long since rid himself of us. Any hint on our part (regardless of how delicately or diplomatically we put it) about the fact that he is firmly connected with us

p.204 and that, having agreed to work for us, he took upon himself a certain obligation, would make it clear to him which way the wind was blowing. … Suppose we did give him to understand more clearly his firm bond with us, his responsibility, and so forth. Would we be able to frighten him and compel him to work? Of course not. He knows we would never deliberately expose him. …

p.205 Pressure of this sort or any other can be applied if it guarantees some measure of success. In Frank’s case, this method will lead to nothing. So far, I have only one method of working with him: serious politico-educational influence; instilling in him the thought that, in helping us, he is helping the very best of humanity; expressing our sincere gratitude; persistently appealing to his conscience to help us more actively; and developing our personal friendship. I hope we can win him over with this method. …” 39

Vassiliev’s sketchy notes do not tell us whether Akhmerov’s methods produced results, since they do not record any follow-up interaction between Akhmerov and Duggan. In Vassiliev’s notes, Akhmerov’s long letter from February 4, 1943, quoted above, is followed by an undated “Report on 19,” apparently compiled by the Moscow operatives. There are, supposedly, 14 file pages between that report and Akhmerov’s February 4 note, pages on which Vassiliev took no notes. Were these pages irrelevant, repetitive, just plain dull – or might they contain some breakthrough information? Vassiliev’s notes give no clues. We are even at sea regarding the dating of this report. The only certain thing is that Moscow was suspicious of Duggan at that time – and was also dissatisfied with the infrequency of his meetings with Akhmerov, its “illegal”:

p.219 Report on 19

Negative factors:

1) “Because he occupies a high government post, has a family, and is constantly in a non-left and reactionary environment, the source is losing his party feeling, on the basis of which we had begun working with him.”

p.220 He succumbs to the influence of Trotskyites and anti-Soviets.

2) Vacillation on issues of USSR’s domestic and foreign policies, Trotskyite tendencies.

3) He is known for his liberalism and for his connection to the embassy. [e.g. Soviet embassy. – S. Ch.]

Known to:

1. “Raymond”; 2. Krivitsky/possibly; 3. “Nikolay”– enemy of the people; 4. it is possible that the traitor “Nord” betrayed 19 to foreign intelligence.

4) He tried to break off his connection 6 times.

p.222 It is essential that “Mer” get 19 to meet with him more frequently and that he devote more energy to 19’s ideological education. 40

This report is directly followed in Vassiliev’s notes by a July 20, 1944 report on Duggan’s resignation from the Department of State:

p.228 20.7.44 [July 20, 1944] May reported from NY that 19 has tendered his resignation from the SD, supposedly for personal reasons. Ovakimian’s resolution: “It is strange that we are learning about this after the fact.” 21.7.44 41

There is an obvious disconnect between the ex post facto report by “May” (the cover name for the current “legal” operative in New York, Stepan Apresyan) – and the partially decrypted report on Duggan’s forthcoming resignation in a Venona cable dated two days later, July 22, 1944:

FRANK [FRENK][ix] will resign from the BANK [x] allegedly “for personal reasons”. Details and prospects for the future are being looked into.


[ix] FRENK: possibly Laurence DUGGAN. … 42

The dating disconnect is even more surprising in view of Vassiliev’s notes on reports by Akhmerov (then known as “Albert”) about the same event, dated July 10, 1944. Let us look again at that July 10 report, which although written 12 days before “May”’s July 20 report is itself ex post facto:

Report by “Albert” dated 10.7.44

“Prince’s resignation came as a surprise to me. I did not expect him to quit his job in that division altogether. He spoke to me quite often about his difficulties and his situation there. His situation became especially shaky after his chief superior’s deputy was forced to leave the department. As you know, many years ago this deputy brought Prince into the department, and he was thought of as his man (protégé). Recently, Prince informed me that the chief superior hates the deputy who resigned because of his polit. activities in the press and his speeches, which criticize the director’s division as well as his political views.” 43

Although adding to the dating confusion, this is, in fact, the only report that suggests continuation of Akhmerov’s meetings with Duggan after those he wrote about in early 1942. The “chief deputy” mentioned in the report is, apparently, Duggan’s patron Sumner Welles, who was forced to resign from the Department of State in August, 1943. The “chief superior” was Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State.

Within weeks, Duggan moved to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). As we have seen before, Vassiliev made only a brief notation on his transfer:

p.232 19 has become assistant diplomatic adviser to the UNRRA. 44

Among Venona’s partial decryptions, we find a more detailed, although, again, fragmentary, account in a communiqué sent from New York to Moscow on August 4, 1944:


FRENK[ii] has been appointed [2 groups unrecovered] Assistant Diplomatic Adviser of the SHELTER[PRIYuT][iii]. The former ambassador [iv] of the COUNTRY[STRANA][v] to RIO[vi] now occupies his previous post.

MER [vii] [4 groups unrecovered] [B% residency did not know] about this change. According to MER, FRENK, even before this, was announcing that his position in the BANK [viii] was precarious, but, since MER confronted him with the question of keeping [2 groups unrecovered] about leaving the BANK, F. [ii] in our hearing never [9 groups unrecovered] F.’s potential.

No 619 MAJ [xi]


[ii] FRENK, F.: i.e. Laurence Duggan, Director of Office of American Republic Affairs, U.S. State Department, to 19 July 1944, Assistant Diplomatic Adviser to UNRRA July 1944-1946. 45

Both Vassiliev’s notes and Venona decryptions create the impression that, after Duggan’s transfer to UNRRA, Soviet contact with him was broken. This impression is supported by a mid-November report to Moscow on Akhmerov’s failed attempt to meet with Duggan in mid-October, which was not followed up either in Venona cables or in Vassiliev’s notes. 46

A Report that Escaped the Venona Code-Breakers

At the end of the day, both the Venona decryptions and Vassiliev’s notes look like unreliable evidence of Laurence Duggan’s espionage during World War II. The information is too fragmentary and confusing to arrive at any definitive conclusion. It seems likely that, from 1942 to mid-1944, Duggan continued to hold occasional meetings with Akhmerov, during which he occasionally shared some oral information and his own estimate of the political situation. But this is all one can surmise after analyzing these two sources.

A few years ago, researching in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s World War II-period files, I came across a document which can be sourced to Duggan with some degree of certainty. It was a once Top Secret foreign intelligence report on the resignation of Sumner Welles as Under Secretary of State. Addressed to Vladimir Dekanozov, the Deputy Peoples Commissar of Foreign Affairs, and signed by Pavel Fitin, the head of the 1st [foreign intelligence] Directorate of the NKGB of the USSR, the report transmitted information the Directorate received on August 28, 1943 from its “very well informed source”:

In the opinion of our very well informed source, the resignation of WELLES is an unfavorable development [‘factor’] for Soviet-American relations. Although WELLES has never been a friend of the USSR, he, however, had realistically estimated its role and tried to improve relations between the USA and the USSR and was an advocate of concluding an agreement on political issues without waiting for the end of the war.

HULL represents the old reactionary trend. This is a cunning politician who enjoys decisive influence among Southern Democrats. An opponent of concluding an agreement prior to final formulation [‘oformlenije’] of American public opinion. Has always been hostile to the Soviet Union. A supporter of restoring pre-war status quo in the Baltics and in the Balkans.

In view of the coming presidential elections, ROOSEVELT could not ignore HULL’s role and preferred to keep [preserve] him despite his [Roosevelt’s] friendship with WELLES.

The source supposes that in case WELLES is sent to Moscow as Roosevelt’s representative for negotiations, the State Department would surely sabotage his activity. 47

This communiqué obviously belongs to the 99% of Soviet World War II-period intelligence communications traffic that was not decrypted by Venona code-breakers. It was received in Moscow on the day after Sumner Welles announced his resignation from the post of Under Secretary of State to foreign ambassadors in Washington, D.C. (Twelve days earlier, on August 16, he had submitted his resignation in a letter to President Roosevelt.) 48 In hindsight, the estimate provided by the “very well informed source” was extremely accurate; the details indicate that the source was a confidant of Welles himself.

In this respect, the last passage in Fitin’s report is most revealing:

The source supposes that in case WELLES is sent to Moscow as Roosevelt’s representative for negotiations, the State Department would surely sabotage his activity.

Indeed, after Welles submitted his resignation to President Roosevelt, the latter offered to appoint him to head the U.S. delegation at an allied military and political conference, which at that time was in the initial planning stage. Six days after the NKGB intelligence directorate received the information on Welles’s resignation, Roosevelt wrote in his personal message to Stalin:

4 September 1943.

Personal from the President to Marshall Stalin;

1. The Prime Minister and I are both happy at the idea of the military, political meeting on the State Department level.

2. I think it should be held as soon as possible. What would you think of a date about September twenty-fifth?

3. In regard to location, the Prime Minister has suggested London or somewhere in England…

5. If Mr. Molotov comes and Mr. Eden I would wish to send Mr. Hull, but I do not believe that the latter should make such a long journey and I would, therefore, send the Under Secretary of State, Mr. Welles. Mr. Harriman would go with Mr. Welles… 49

When Roosevelt wrote this message to Stalin, Welles’s resignation had not yet been officially announced; a formal announcement by the White House was not made until September 30. Stalin received Roosevelt’s message on September 6 and wrote his reply on September 8. Conspicuously, he wrote nothing in response to Roosevelt’s mention of sending Welles to the proposed meeting, limiting himself to a single succinct paragraph:

September 8, 1943

Stalin to Roosevelt

Your message in which you touched upon several important questions I received on September 6.

First. …

Second. I consider that the beginning of October as the Prime Minister suggested would be a convenient time for the meeting of the three our representatives, and I propose as the place of the meeting – Moscow. By that time the three Governments could have reached an agreement regarding the questions which have to be discussed as well as the proposals on those questions, without which (agreement) the meeting will not give the necessary results in which our Governments are interested. 50

Was Stalin informed by NKGB foreign intelligence about Welles’s forthcoming resignation and his prospects? Probably so (although to date I have not discovered any documentary confirmation of this in Stalin’s publicly accessible records), hence the absence of any response to Roosevelt’s discussion of Welles. Was there some particular reason for NKGB foreign intelligence to have received this information? In that case, the information from a “well informed source” – probably Laurence Duggan, given his close relationship with Welles – helped to smooth the edges and save Roosevelt from embarrassment. Stalin simply dropped the uncomfortable subject – giving Roosevelt a free hand to move ahead on the diplomatic front.

General Fitin’s report provides a glimpse into the vast sea of the Soviet World War II intelligence cable traffic that was not broken in the course of the Venona operation. Such a glimpse is rare, but not unique, since the Soviet Commissariat of Foreign Affairs was routinely receiving reports on information pertaining to the conduct of foreign policy from both branches of Soviet intelligence. The name of Molotov, the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs, was the second after Stalin’s on the distribution lists of intelligence reports. Molotov’s name was sometimes followed by the names of his deputies. Information from intelligence sources was reported to the members of the Politburo, with some part of it subsequently communicated to the departments of the VCP (b).

Elsewhere on this website, we will discuss the appearance of other communiqués from the non-decrypted pool of Venona cable traffic that have been discovered in publicly accessible Russian records. Suffice it to say here, in conclusion, that the rare appearance of a cable from that huge pool of undecrypted Soviet cable traffic – a cable which also is not mentioned anywhere in Vassiliev’s notes on contemporary foreign intelligence files – suggests that even reading these two available sources on the history of Soviet espionage in America in tandem may sometimes prove unreliable.

  1. Most prominently, in Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1999; and in The Venona Secrets, Exposing Soviet Espionage and America’s Traitors, by Herbert Rommerstein and Eric Breindel, Regnery Publishing, 2001. The only “Venona” book published in Russian, Lev Lainer, “Venona”: samaja sekretnaja operatsija amerikanskikh spetssluzhb, Moskva: Olma Press, 2003 (Lev Lyner, “Venona”: The Most Secret Operation of the American Secret Services, Moscow: Olma Press, 2003) is a compilation drawn from American publications.
  2. Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case, by R. Bruce Craig, University Press of Kansas, 2004, p. 264.
  3. Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Op. cit., p. 203.
  4. Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, Yale University Press, 2009, p. 242.
  5. “Alexander Vassiliev’s Notebooks: Provenance and Documentation of Soviet Intelligence Activities in the United States,” by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, topics/docs/VassilievNotebooks_Web%20intro_Final.pdf
  6. Alexander Vassiliev’s notes on “Knyaz’” (Laurence Duggan) file, Archival No. 36857, Yellow Notebook #2, pp. 1-37. Vassiliev’s notes cited in the translation by Philip Redko, reviewed and edited by Alexander Vassiliev and John Earl Haynes (2007).
  7. Here and after, the Roman numerals and occasional letters in brackets indicate the translators’ footnotes in Venona documents.
  8. Here and after, this means the number of cryptonyms which have not been decrypted.
  9. In Venona decryptions, A%, B%, C%, D% indicate the level of presumed certainty in the decryption. In this case, a B (second from top) level of certainty refers to the word probability.”
  10. Venona, KGB New York to Moscow #1025, June 30, 1943.
  12. My Dear Mr. Stalin. The Complete Correspondence of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph V. Stalin. Edited, with Commentary, by Susan Butler, Yale University Press, 2005, pp. 135-136.
  13. Ibid., p. 137. The Russian translation published in: Perepiska Predsedatelya Soveta Ministrov SSSR s prezidentami SShA i premier-ministrami Velikobritanii vo vremya Velikoi otechestvennoi voiny 1941-1945 gg. Tom vtoroi, Perepiska s F. Ruzvel’tom i G. Trumenom (avgust 1941 g. – dekabr’ 1945 g.), Moskva: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury, 1958, s. 67. (The Correspondence of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR with the Presidents of the USA and Prime-Ministers of Great Britain during the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945. Volume 2, The Correspondence with F. Roosevelt and H. Truman (August 1941 – December 1945), Moscow: Politizdat, 1958, p. 67.
  14. Ibid., p. 136.
  15. Stalin to Roosevelt, June 11, 1943, My Dear Mr. Stalin, Op. cit., pp. 138-139. The Russian original in Op. cit., p. 69-70.
  16. Ibid., p. 142; Churchill’s message is missing from the Russian 1958 edition, which contains, instead, Stalin’s response to that message, dated June 24, 1943, Op. cit., pp. 73-75.
  17. E.P. Morgan to H.H. Clegg, January 14, 1947, The FBI FOIA Rosenberg File, Subject Silvermaster, File No 65-56402, Vol. 093, Serials 2000-2081, PDF pp. 166-170; E.A. Tamm to the FBI Director J.E. Hoover, January 23, 1947, Ibid., PDF pp. 20-21; E.A. Tamm to the Director, February 21, 1947, Ibid., Vol. 098, Serials 2183 to 2210, PDF p. 38; A.S. Brent to C.E. Hennrich, Oct. 30, 1950, Ibid., Vol. 150, Serials 3835-3896, PDF p. 51.
  18. Venona, New York to Moscow No 812, May 29, 1943.
  19. Ibidem.
  20. Venona, Op. cit., pp. 205-206.
  21. Ibid., pp. 422-423 (ft. 42), Cit., Edward Mark, “Venona’s Source 19 and the Trident Conference of May 1943: Diplomacy or Espionage?” Intelligence and National Security, No. 2 (April 1998), pp. 1-31.
  22. “Cover Name, Cryptonym, Pseudonym, and Real Name Index. A Research Historian’s Working Reference,” Compiled by John Earl Haynes, updated April 2009, retrieved on December 1, 2009, The identification of “19” as Harry Hopkins is sourced to Dr. Edward Mark, with an additional reference that “Mark also discussed Lord Beaverbrook as a weak candidate for 19.”
  23. Jung” to Moscow Center, October 5, 1939, Yellow Notebook No 2, pp. 25-26. Mechanic’s deputy was described as the patron of “19th”: “Mechanic’s deputy, who is currently presiding over a conference in the South, … had previously taken Nineteenth under his wing and thought of him as his man.”
  24. Yellow Notebook No 2, p. 25.
  25. Lichnyi arkhiv I.V. Stalina, Fond 558, opis’ 11, dela 185-188 (J.V. Stalin Private Papers, Fond 558, op. 11, files 185-188), RGASPI
  26. In one of his interviews with me in 2002, General Pavlov volunteered his identification of Laurence Duggan as agent “19th”: “I’d like to add that at that time Akhmerov was in contact with our agent ‘19’ – Lawrence Duggan — who used to work at the Department of State. My memory about Duggan is very clear…. that … his cover name was ‘19th’. In my memoir, I called him ‘29th” as a cover up.” Svetlana Chervonnaya’s interview with Lt.-General Vitaly Pavlov, May 16, 2002, Moscow. Pavlov referred to his book, Operatsija “Sneg”: Polveka vo vneshnei razvedke KGB, “Geja” – Moskva, 1996 (Operation “Snow”: Half a Century with KGB Foreign Intelligence, by Vitaly Pavlov, Moscow: “Geya,” 1996).
  27. Alexander Vassiliev, Yellow Notebook #2, p. 29.
  28. For instance, in the “Report on [a] cipher telegram from New York,” dated February 25, 1942, Ibid., p. 28.
  29. Venona, New York to Moscow #1251, September 2, 1944.
  30. Report by “Albert” dated July 7, 1944, Alexander Vassiliev, Yellow Notebook #2, p. 34. By “Prince”’s “chief superior,” Akhmerov meant Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, and by his “deputy” – Sumner Welles, the Under Secretary of State.
  31. “May” to Moscow Center, July 21, 1944, Ibidem.
  32. Ibid., p. 34.
  33. According to existing accounts, Akhmerov had an independent communication line with Moscow Center via the New York “legal” station based at the Soviet Consulate General in New York. For security, he wrote his dispatches in English and they were then delivered by couriers to the New York “legal” station, where they were translated, encoded, enciphered and then cabled to Moscow – or sent by the pouch (the longer reports).
  34. Venona New York to Moscow, Nos. 812, 916, 1025, Op. cit.
  35. Alexander Vassiliev, Yellow Notebook No 2, p. 28.
  36. Ibidem.
  37. Ibid., p. 29.
  38. Ibidem.
  39. Ibid., p. 31-32.
  40. Ibid., p. 33.
  41. Ibidem.
  42. Venona, New York to Moscow #1015, July 22, 1944.
  43. Report by “Albert” from July 7, 1944, Op. cit.
  44. Ibid., p. 34.
  45. Venona, New York to Moscow #1114, August 4, 1944.
  46. Venona, New York to Moscow #1613, November 18, 1944. In Vassiliev’s notes, a note on Duggan’s transfer to UNRRA is directly followed by a note on an early 1948 report on the appearance of an article by Duggan in the December issue of America magazine. Yellow Notebook #2, p. 34.
  47. Fitin to Dekanozov, September 24, 1943, Fond 0129 (Assessments (Referentura) on the USA), op. 27, P. 149, folder 9, p. 37, AVP RF.
  48. Sumner Welles’s resignation letter to the President, August 16, 1943, retrieved from
  49. Roosevelt to Stalin, September 4, 1943, My Dear Mr. Stalin, Op. Cit., p. 160. The italics indicate President Roosevelt’s editing. Russian edition (1958), Op. cit., p. 87.
  50. Stalin to Roosevelt, September 8, 1943, Ibid., pp. 161-162; Russian edition (1958), Op. cit., p. 89.