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Professor Burnham, Mafioso Costello, and Me

A Cold War Reminiscence

Not long after the conviction of Alger Hiss, Professor James Burnham, Karl Hess, and I met in my apartment on Riverside Drive to discuss a matter that had concerned us for some time. Jim Burnham was then working on his book The Web of Subversion. Karl, like me, was a Newsweek editor, and he had when it was pertinent used the Press Section to illuminate some of the darker corners of the communist assault on our institutions. I had written two best-sellers— Seeds of Treason and Spies, Dupes, and Diplomats, the one dealing with the Hess Case and the other on the great Richard Sorge spy ring, whose ramifications extended from Germany and Japan to the American State Department.

We all had the background to ask the question: Why was it that the FBI and other intelligence agencies always discovered the identities of the leaders of the Soviet espionage apparat only after they had returned to Moscow? And what could be done about it? The revelations and disclosures of important witnesses like Whittaker Chambers dealt with past history, and what they reported, though of tremendous importance in reconstructing a sorry era, had only tangential current pertinence. Legal restraints tied the hands of the FBI. Could private citizens, acting like an anti-Soviet posse at their own risk, do something about it?

Mulling these questions over, we came up with a plan that perhaps had a chance at...

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