This website uses cookies to provide a rich user experience. Please consult our Cookie Policy to learn about what cookies this website uses, or to control the cookies you receive. You need do nothing if you are happy to receive cookies.
Look and Learn History Picture Library License images from £2.99

During the Cold War a Soviet spy network was established in America

Posted in America, Communism, Espionage, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Thursday, 31 May 2012

Click on any image for details about licensing for commercial or personal use.

This edited article about espionage originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 716 published on 4 October 1975.

Surveillance, picture, image, illustration

During the Cold War not only spies but sophisticated electronic surveillance were used by the Soviets and the West, by Wilf Hardy

The very first country in the world to use spies immediately created a new job in the ranks of its enemy. That job was the one of spy-catcher. For as soon as you have espionage, you must have counter-espionage – and some of the best spy stories involve counter-espionage men to just as exciting a degree as they involve espionage men.

During the Second World War, the greatest of all the counter-espionage men was Lieutenant Colonel Oreste Pinto, a Dutchman.

As a spy-catcher, Pinto has probably never been equalled. He mastered every trick in the game; he could speak 13 languages fluently, and he was a brilliant interrogator, actor and psychologist. One remarkable story from his exploits with Allied Counter-Intelligence demonstrates the relentless way in which he worked and was successful.

One day in 1944, during the Allied invasion of Belgium, a suspect was brought into Pinto’s office. The man, Emile Boulanger, described himself as a Belgian farmer, and he looked the part. He was big and weather-beaten, and his hands were rough with toil and grained with earth. He knew all the answers to the most searching questions about farming and replied to them in a rough Belgian country accent which was difficult to imitate.

To the statement that he was suspected of being a German spy, Boulanger merely shrugged. He didn’t even speak German, he said.

But Oreste Pinto was not satisfied. He put Boulanger into a cell and then he had an idea.

While the Belgian was asleep, Pinto had smoke blown under the door of his cell. Soldiers then ran up and down the corridor shouting “Feuer! Feuer!” (German for “Fire!”)

Boulanger, whom it was hoped would come running out of his cell, merely stirred and rolled over.

But when the soldiers began to shout out the same alarm in French, “Au feu! Au feu!”, he jumped out of bed and ran for the door.

Here, it seemed was positive proof that Emile Boulanger understood no German. But still Pinto was not satisfied.

He interrogated Boulanger again. Then, turning to a fellow officer, he said in German that he was convinced Boulanger was a spy. “He must be shot,” Pinto said, still in German. “Arrange to have him put before a firing squad one hour from now.”

While he spoke, he watched Boulanger’s face intently. Surely now fear would betray him, if he understood. But Boulanger didn’t move a muscle, indicating for sure that he hadn’t understood a word.

Pinto was now almost satisfied that Boulanger was genuine, but not quite. He decided upon one final test. One day he called Boulanger from his cell and seating him down before his desk, said, “I am satisfied that you have been telling the truth. You are free to go.”

Boulanger gave a long sigh of relief and got up to go. Then, too late, he realised his mistake. Pinto had spoken the words in German!

Next moment, handcuffs were snapped on the “Belgian farmer’s” wrists and Boulanger, the latest victim of the fast-thinking Dutch Colonel, was led away.

Boulanger had been trapped by his one mistake, proving that a spy cannot even afford the luxury of a single error if he wants to stay in business. Another spy who made just one mistake and paid for it dearly was Russian Colonel Rudolph Abel, the master-mind behind Russia’s spy network in the United States during the “cold war” years of the nineteen-fifties.

Like Pinto, Abel had a gift for languages. His father was a friend of Lenin, a fact which helped Abel become a fervent young Communist. He spied for Russia in Europe and the Middle East before, some time in 1948, he was sent to the United States. In those confusing early post-war years, entry into America was not so difficult. Abel posed as a Palestine Jewish refugee named Emil R. Goldfuss, and set up his “cover” as a photographer with a studio at 252, Fulton Street, in Brooklyn, New York.

The Russian colonel, or “Palestine refugee”, quickly made friends with his Bohemian Brooklyn neighbours, who realised that a remarkable man had come among them. Besides his gift of tongues, Abel was an expert in optics and higher mathematics. He could paint passingly well and was knowledgeable about Russian, German and English literature. He was a skilled radio repairer and could entertain for an evening as a guitar player.

Such a man was readily liked, and with so much talent he was expected to be restless. No one, therefore, asked questions when Emil Goldfuss always seemed to leave the neighbourhood parties earlier than anyone else, and to shuffle back to his Fulton Street photographic studio.

But it was not the want of sleep that took Abel home early. He went because for two hours every evening he had to radio to Moscow the discoveries of the spies he commanded. What they were piecing together were the American hydrogen bomb secrets, the American intercontinental defence network, which included atomic submarines, and the rocketry weapons of the Western world.

The amazing thing about Abel’s organisation was that most of his spies had never met him and had no idea who he was. He was referred to simply as “Mark”, a pseudonym for the “Big Man”. Micro-photo messages were left in a hole in a wooden lavatory seat in a Brooklyn bar, in a hollow screw in a lamp-post in New York’s Riverside Park, or in hollowed out five-cent pieces, and payment for them was left in a waterproof case dropped into a hole on Bear Mountain.

For three taut years, Colonel Abel ran this huge spy system alone and at the end of that time the strain was beginning to wear him down. One night he included in his radio messages to Moscow a plea for a high-ranking deputy who could relieve him occasionally. And Moscow, who were delighted with everything Abel did, willingly agreed.

The man they chose was an unlikely spy. Lieutenant-Colonel Reino Hayhanen, a Finnish-Russian, was almost the exact opposite of the shadowy Colonel Abel. His English was poor, he did not want the American job, and he was piqued when he learned that he was not to be told the true identity of “Mark” or the place where “Mark” lived in Brooklyn.

If Hayhanen went to New York an embittered man, he soon created another one in the person of his senior. It took Colonel Abel only a few weeks to become thoroughly disenchanted with Hayhanen. The new man was frequently drunk, was irresponsible with money, and was married to the sort of woman that no spy should have as a wife.

With increasing regularity Abel began to radio his disapproval to Moscow. But four years went by before, in the summer of 1956, Moscow agreed to recall Hayhanen for a spot of leave.

Hayhanen knew exactly what that meant in Russian terms. He guessed he would be a finished man as soon as he arrived in Moscow and did his best to put off the day of reckoning by delaying his departure. By the beginning of April, 1957, he had run out of excuses, and on the twenty-fourth of that month he set out for Moscow.

In Paris, Hayhanen had to change planes and, in fact, it was here that he decided to change his mind. Instead of catching the Moscow plane, he went to the American Embassy in the Place de la Concorde and asked for political asylum.

Flown back to New York, Hayhanen told the story of his life and work. But to whom did he report, the interrogators of the American Central Intelligence Agency asked him eagerly.

“I don’t know his name,” Hayhanen answered truthfully. “I know him only as Mark.”

Colonel Abel, meanwhile, had been warned by Moscow of Hayhanen’s defection. He paid up the rent of his studio at 252, Fulton Street, Brooklyn and quietly “disappeared” to Florida.

But during his seven years stint as Russia’s spy-master in New York, Abel had made one mistake that he had long since forgotten. This was to cost him his job in America. One night he had met Hayhanen and taken him to Fulton Street to collect photographic material. The photographic studio, Hayhanen now told American agents, was on the third or fourth floor of a building near Fulton Street. That was all he could remember.

That was enough. Within minutes the American F.B.I. had located the home of Emil R. Goldfuss, photographer, and a search revealed all the paraphernalia of a master-spy.

The Americans, of course, kept quiet about the discovery of Abel’s lair. And, inevitably, Abel returned to it a month after Hayhanen’s defection.

For the next two weeks Abel was shadowed wherever he went but, of course, it was not his method to meet any of his fellow agents, and the F.B.I.’s hope of uncovering more Russian spies receded daily. But they still had Abel, who was arrested early one June morning in his hotel bedroom.

For five days and nights the master-spy was ceaselessly interrogated, but he would say nothing. The same silent attitude persisted at his trial, where he was sentenced to be executed in the electric chair. The sentence, however, was later changed to 30 years imprisonment.

As it happened, Colonel Abel served less than five years of his prison term. In 1960, the Russians shot down an American U2 reconnaissance aircraft and charged its pilot, Gary Powers, who had baled out, with spying. Powers was sent to a Russian prison but in February, 1962, he was “swapped” for Colonel Abel. The colonel, it is believed, is still alive today, living in retirement near Moscow.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.