Dossiers on Alexander Vassiliev’s Notes

My research for the dossiers based on Alexander Vassiliev’s notes, which I am now beginning to post on this website, dates back to May 2003, when I received by email from London six lengthy book chapter drafts in broken English. The chapters contained extensive citations and what looked like verbatim transcripts of KGB intelligence documents. They were remnants from a London libel case brought by Vassiliev against John Lowenthal, a writer, lawyer and long-time Alger Hiss defender. Vassiliev, a former KGB foreign intelligence officer and journalist, was co-author of The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America – The Stalin Era (1999), with American writer Allen Weinstein. John Lowenthal sent me for evaluation the chapters, which Vassiliev had submitted in the course of the court proceedings.

The chapters struck me at first as a rough draft of part of The Haunted Wood, although with much more extensive documentation and surprisingly different emphasis and background comments by the writer. On scrutiny, some of them proved to include fascinating transcripts or detailed summaries of documents which contradicted several accounts in The Haunted Wood. Going through these chapters was like opening a Pandora’s Box, which Vassiliev’s American co-author, Allen Weinstein, had chosen to keep tightly shut.

That was how I began the process of crosschecking documentation in The Haunted Wood against 1) Vassiliev’s contemporary take on the KGB foreign intelligence records he had read, and 2) the documentation I discovered in the course of my continuing archival research in both Russian and American publicly accessible records. In early 2005, the field expanded after Dr. David Lowenthal, the brother of John Lowenthal (who had died in the fall of 2003), went public with Vassiliev’s handwritten notes on three particular KGB intelligence documents in his possession. These three key documents have since become known among interested scholars and authors in the field as “the Gorsky list,” “the March 5, 1945 cable” and “the Perlo list.”

For more detail, click here for The Story Behind Vassiliev’s KGB Documents

The field expanded further starting in the summer of 2006, when I discovered in Moscow a few Xerox copies of archival documents, made in June 1994, which where excerpted or mentioned in The Haunted Wood. Then, in May 2007, Jeff Kisseloff, a writer and the managing editor of the Alger Hiss website, discovered Vassiliev’s 240-page Russian manuscript, The Sources in Washington, among the Allen Weinstein Papers at the Hoover Institution Archives on War, Revolution and Peace. Finally, in the spring of 2009, the Yale University Press published SPIES: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, a second book drawing on Vassiliev’s notes. Almost simultaneously, the notes themselves were posted on the website of the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. The latest addition to this corpus of documentation are Alexander Vassiliev Papers deposited at the Library of Congress. They include Vassiliev’s notebooks with his handwritten notes, the draft chapters for The Haunted Wood, which he wrote in 1995-1996, and part of the record of his London libel suit against John Lowenthal’s publisher, Frank Cass & Co Ltd. (2001-2003).

Against the background of my extensive research, documentary crosschecking and correlation, there is good reason to doubt some of the reading of Vassiliev’s notes reflected in the work of his second American co-authors, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. On careful crosschecking, some of their accounts and identifications seem either improbable or inaccurate. To identify the problems for myself at first, I began compiling E-dossiers comparing the accounts in SPIES with Vassiliev’s original notes, his draft chapters in my possession, and other records. But after observing from Russia the passions aroused by American discussions of Vassiliev’s notes and by Haynes and Klehr’s new rewrite based on this material, I decided to begin posting my dossiers here. The goal is to share this research with interested scholars, writers and students in the field, as well as with any reader eager to get to the heart of some of the most controversial stories originating during the early Cold War years.

What you will see here are work-in-progress files, which will be continuously updated and amended as further research and/or new archival findings come to light.

The Files

The Mystery of “Ales”

The Strange Case of “Leonard”

The Transformations of “Karl,” or Whittaker Chambers in Vassiliev’s Notes