## Abstract

William Albertson, who was executive secretary of the New York Communist Party and a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), was framed as an informant for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1964. Only in recent years have newly released FBI records enabled scholars to understand why the FBI undertook the operation and how much damage it did to the CPUSA. In 1964 two leaks from the FBI hinted that the bureau had a high-level informant in the CPUSA who was providing information about secret Soviet subsidies. The leaks were accurate and endangered one of the FBI's most successful intelligence operations, Operation Solo, which involved the use of two brothers, Morris Childs and Jack Childs, who were confidants of CPUSA General Secretary Gus Hall, as key informants. The framing of Albertson was intended to deflect CPUSA and Soviet attention from the real FBI informants to a bogus one. The ploy succeeded. The forged documents the FBI planted convinced Hall and other senior CPUSA officials that Albertson was the FBI informant. Despite Albertson's vehement denials and energetic defense, he was expelled. The CPUSA thought it had eliminated the informant, and the Childs brothers were able to continue in their role until old age forced their retirement in 1977.

In 1964 the executive secretary of the New York Communist Party, William Albertson, who was also a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), was falsely rumored to be an informant of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI itself was behind the framing of Albertson as part of its Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) designed to disrupt groups the FBI saw as subversive. Most of the literature on COINTELPRO has focused on efforts to disrupt the civil rights movement and the New Left, with only scattershot references to operations against the CPUSA. Only one secondary account of the Albertson case has ever appeared: Frank Donner's indignant 1976 article, which accurately describes how the FBI set up Albertson but suggests this was simply part of a generalized effort to sow discord among CPUSA officials. Only in recent years have new FBI records released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allowed for a full understanding of why the FBI undertook the operation and how much damage it did to the CPUSA.1

In the spring of 1964 the FBI realized that information on one of its most successful intelligence operations was being leaked. Victor Riesel was a New York investigative labor journalist whose columns were widely syndicated across the United States. He gained considerable notoriety and credibility when in 1956 he was blinded by an acid attack arranged by the Genovese crime family in retaliation for his stories on mob-linked corruption in the International Union of Operating Engineers. Riesel, a fierce anti-Communist, also often wrote on the CPUSA.

A Riesel column of 14 April 1964 discussed the deliberations at a meeting of the CPUSA's NEC on plans for the 1964 U.S. presidential election. The appearance of this column prompted a highly placed informant inside the CPUSA, designated as “NY 694-S*” in FBI records, to let the FBI know that the CPUSA General Secretary, Gus Hall, had concluded that the details in Riesel's column were known to only fourteen or fifteen senior Communist officials. Hall was convinced there was a leak in the senior leadership, and he would “leave no stone unturned” to hunt down the leaker.2

NY 694-S* was himself extremely upset by the Riesel column because he had conveyed to his FBI liaison the same details Riesel discussed in his column. The informant hoped that Riesel had learned of the NEC deliberations from some other source, but he feared that the leak had come from within the FBI. If that were the case, NY 694-S* felt he might be in danger and his role as a long-time FBI informant might be exposed. The FBI agreed. One senior FBI official added a handwritten annotation to the report bluntly stating, “This is a highly dangerous situation.” By this, the annotator likely meant that it was dangerous not only for NY 694-S* but for the entire intelligence operation NY 694-S* was part of, Operation “Solo.”3 The FBI was also aware of an earlier leak that potentially threatened Solo. A former FBI agent, Jack Levine, had made some public statements alluding to the operation. The FBI interviewed Riesel, and he claimed that the night clerk at the hotel where the CPUSA meeting had taken place had for years been a paid informant and had given him the information.4

Operation Solo was an astoundingly successful FBI intelligence operation that began in the 1950s and did not end until 1977. The operation was exposed in 1981 by Martin Luther King biographer David Garrow in The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From “Solo” to Memphis. Garrow had amassed a large body of FOIA FBI records on King. Putting together clues in the FBI records, Garrow realized that two high-level informants in the Communist Party had reported to the FBI that in the 1950s Stanley Levison had been a major figure in the CPUSA's secret financial support operation, to which the informants, Morris Childs and Jack Childs, were also connected. Although Levison remained a sympathizer and financial supporter, he sought in the late 1950s to distance himself from a direct role in CPUSA activities and became an adviser to King and a major source of financial support for the rising civil rights leader. Garrow was able to identify the code name for the Childs brothers’ operation, “Solo,” and put together an outline of their decades-long role as FBI informants at the highest ranks of the Communist Party. (Although the FBI's interest in King originated with this possible Communist connection via Levison, the bureau quickly turned its attention to the civil rights leader's sex life.)5

At the heart of Solo were Morris Childs and his younger brother, Jack (NY 694-S*). In 1921, at age nineteen, Morris joined the United Communist Party, as the CPUSA was then known. By the mid-1920s he was a protégé of Earl Browder, a rising figure in the Communist Party. With Browder's help, Morris in 1929 received an appointment from the Communist International Comintern) to attend the International Lenin School in Moscow. He did well there, graduating with high evaluations. When Morris was at the school, he was recruited by the Soviet state security agency, then known as the OGPU (a predecessor to the NKVD and KGB), to be an informant on the ideological orthodoxy of his fellow students. His time at the Lenin School also revived his childhood Russian, which he learned after being born in Kyiv (then part of the Russian Empire) in 1902 and did not come to the United States until 1911. Morris's Russian-language skills served him well later on in Operation Solo. He returned to the United States in 1932 and served in increasingly important CPUSA positions in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois. By this point his mentor, Browder, had become the party's General Secretary. In Illinois, then the second-most important region of the Communist Party (after New York), Morris was state secretary.6

In 1945 he suffered a mild heart attack and was consequently out of active party work for some months. During that period an article drafted by Soviet officials and published in France under the name of a leading French Communist, Jacques Duclos, severely criticized Browder and led to his ouster as chief of the Communist Political Association, the restyled version of the CPUSA. After Morris recovered and was able to reenter party work, he faced suspicions of “Browderism” from William Z. Foster, the aging and ailing chairman of the party, and Foster's fiercely anti-Browder partisans. The Duclos article had prompted the pro-Foster Communists to dissolve the reform-minded Communist Political Association and to reconstitute the hardline CPUSA, from which Browder was expelled. Although Foster served as chair, day-to-day organizational and political work was handled by Eugene Dennis, the CPUSA General Secretary. Dennis had been Browder's chief lieutenant but had promptly abandoned him when the Duclos article indicated that Browder had lost Moscow's mandate. Dennis wanted Morris back in a senior position, and early in 1946 Morris became editor of the Daily Worker, the CPUSA's chief newspaper.7

Communications between the CPUSA and Moscow had been greatly disrupted by World War II and the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943. The CPUSA was anxious to reestablish direct communications and in 1947 saw the meeting in Moscow of foreign ministers of the victorious allied powers of WWII as an opportunity. The Soviet hosts were allowing some U.S. journalists to come to Moscow to cover the foreign ministers’ conference, and the CPUSA sent a correspondent to Moscow ostensibly to cover the conference but in reality to reestablish a direct communications link with the USSR's All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), or VKP(b). Morris Childs, editor of the Daily Worker, born in Kyiv and trained at the Lenin School, was a natural choice.

In Moscow, a representative of the VKP(b) International Department, which had inherited the responsibilities of the Comintern, contacted Morris, who asked for Soviet guidance about the U.S. presidential election of 1948. CPUSA leaders were divided about the best strategy to follow in opposing President Harry Truman's Cold War policies. One faction favored continuing the post–June 1941 policy of working within the broad New Deal coalition and the Democratic Party. This strategy entailed opposing Truman's nomination for the presidency at the Democratic national convention, with Henry Wallace (a former vice-president under Roosevelt who was sympathetic to the CPUSA and its friends) as the obvious candidate to contest Truman's nomination. But if Truman won the Democratic nomination, which was likely, then Communists and their allies would have no plausible vehicle for opposing Truman's Cold War policies in the general election. Another faction favored a higher-risk strategy. Communists and their leftwing and labor allies would pull out of the Democratic Party, found a new party, and run Henry Wallace as a presidential candidate on a platform of reviving the New Deal and friendship with the Soviet Union. The risk was that the mainstream labor movement would be angered by a division of the liberal vote and the possible outcome of electing a Republican president, as well as the possibility of losing liberal and Democratic Party allies.

When Childs had suffered his first heart attack in 1945, the party had continued to pay his salary while he recovered, but this time he lost his modest income. All this took place shortly after his wife had taken their son and left him. Without resources other than support from his brothers, he moved into a New York boarding house, where he suffered a massive heart attack that left him disabled and near death. A former party member from his Chicago days, Sonny Schlossberg, learned about Childs's plight, moved him to her Chicago residence, and provided care. (They later married.)

The Childs’ gradual reentry into Communist circles paid off in 1954, when Phillip Bart, a senior CPUSA figure then part of its underground, contacted the Childs brothers to ask whether they would help reestablish regular contact with the Soviet Communist Party (now renamed the CPSU) with an eye to reopening a route for Soviet subsidies. Morris's 1947 trip to Moscow had been the last serious party-to-party contact the CPUSA had had. That visit, as well as the brothers’ Comintern training, made them a natural choice to restore regular contact. From the FBI's perspective, Operation Solo had struck gold. For several years Jack received regular transfers of Soviet money via the Canadian Communist Party.11

Eugene Dennis and his successor as General Secretary, Gus Hall, welcomed the Childs brothers back into the leading ranks of the party. Hall assigned Morris to supervise CPUSA relations with other Communist parties and to be the chief liaison with the CPSU. In the latter role, Morris, assisted by Jack, arranged for the transmission of secret and illegal Soviet subsidies to the CPUSA. In 1958 Morris made his first trip to Moscow in his new role, arranging for the transfer of $75,000 with an additional$200,000 promised for 1959. Morris also held long political talks with Boris Ponomarev, head of the CPSU International Department, and Mikhail Suslov, one of the highest and most influential CPSU officials. Morris then went on to Beijing, where he met with Mao Zedong and other Chinese Communist leaders. As he reported to the FBI, the depth of the anger of Mao and other Chinese leaders toward what they regarded as Nikita Khrushchev's “revisionism” surprised him.12

This trip by Morris was the first of 58 Operation Solo missions abroad that the Childs brothers undertook—53 by Morris, 5 by Jack—from 1958 to 1977. Most such trips were to Moscow to consult with the CPSU on political questions and to arrange the transmission of Soviet subsidies, but others were to congresses or conferences of other Communist parties, including visits to China, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, Hungary, East Germany, and Poland, where Morris or Jack was present as an official representative of the CPUSA. Many trips combined a stay in Moscow with a visit to a Communist conclave in another country. Over nearly twenty years the Childs brothers arranged the transfer of more than $28 million in illegal secret subsidies from the Soviet Union to the CPUSA, all the while reporting the details of the clandestine funding, the political and ideological information they gathered, and useful gossip and intelligence about the activities of Communist parties around the world to the FBI. Operation Solo's reports on what senior Communist leaders in Moscow and elsewhere privately said when meeting with other senior Communists became a prized source of intelligence for the U.S. State Department and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Morris's last trip to Moscow was in 1977. Morris and Jack by this point were aging, and Jack was in poor health. Effectively, they retired from active Communist work, and Operation Solo shut down in 1980 with the death of Jack from a heart attack. By any standard Solo was a remarkably successful intelligence operation, providing the U.S. government with valuable information not only about the CPUSA but also about Communist adversaries abroad. In 1964 when the Riesel column appeared, Operation Solo was still in its early stages but was already a great success. Morris or Jack had already been to Moscow and other countries on fourteen trips, and Jack was about to leave on a fifteenth. But now the operation was in danger that became even more exigent when a second Riesel column appeared a month later, on 14 May 1964, stating that the FBI knew all about Soviet subsidies to the CPUSA, how they were transmitted, and what individuals were involved.13 Jack was in Moscow at the time on the fifteenth “Solo” mission, and his report on the consternation in Moscow over the new Riesel column highlighted the problem. Jack had arrived in Moscow in late April. A few days later Nikolai Mostovets, head of the North and South American section of the CPSU International Department, informed him that on 4 May he was to meet in a hotel room with a “special comrade,” likely meaning a KGB officer, who was “in charge of my apparatus,” meaning the subsidy transmission system. At the scheduled time Jack went to a hotel room and met the unnamed man, who knew all about Jack's role in the subsidy network. The two discussed the planned transfer of$300,000 in cash. Further, he told Jack the Soviet Union was changing the codes used and that he needed to be trained in the new procedure. Jack was to return on 18 May for training. When he did, “Comrade X,” as Jack called him, was there instead of the code trainer. Comrade X stated there would be no training because the Riesel column of 14 May had caused a problem. His colleagues in New York (presumably KGB) were highly upset and wanted to end the current arrangements and cut contact with Jack (and, by implication, with Morris as well). Jack reported to the FBI that he vehemently argued with Comrade X, stressing the CPUSA's dependence on the subsidy arrangements and arguing that Riesel was known as a liar and that his columns were full of “information” that Riesel simply made up.14

Comrade X was unmoved, but Jack said he would appeal to the CPSU International Department. Meanwhile Jack flew to Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro. Soviet officials were concerned about approaches being made to Castro by Mao and the Chinese Communists. The CPSU International Department wanted Jack to meet with Castro and assure him that the CPUSA was standing firmly with the USSR in the developing Sino-Soviet split and to get some measure of Castro's attitude. Jack's wife was with him in Moscow but did not go along to Havana. Jack arranged for her to return to the United States immediately and gave her a note for Morris stressing how damaging the Riesel story was and that steps needed to be taken to repudiate it; otherwise everything they had done with the FBI over the last thirteen years would come undone.15

Jack returned to Moscow from Cuba on 30 May and met with Mostovets and Ponomarev. Jack pleaded with Ponomarev to restore the subsidy network and later reported that it helped that Ponomarev was pleased with Jack's work in Cuba. Jack said he stressed that the current apparatus run by Morris, Jack, and Hall worked smoothly not only to transfer money but to transmit political guidance to the CPUSA and exclude Maoist influence. Jack reported that Ponomarev was friendly and promised that he would see what could be done. Jack returned to the United States a few days later and reported what had happened to the FBI.16

The FBI knew it had a grave problem on its hands. If CPUSA leaders and the KGB kept looking, they might well identify the Childs brothers as FBI informants or, almost as bad, become so suspicious that they would exclude the Childs, as an act of caution, from their current role in the subsidy and political liaison apparatus, thus ending their intelligence value. Further, Jack told the FBI's William Sullivan that he had been convinced during his trip to Moscow that Riesel's column was “going to cost him his life.” Sullivan felt the leak might require shutting down Operation Solo.17

As soon as the first Riesel column appeared, Fred Baumgardner, chief of the FBI internal security section, moved to set up an operation to divert attention from the Childs brothers. In a summary memorandum Baumgardner explained that the Riesel and Levine leaks “threatened the security of CG 694-S* [Jack Childs] and CG 5824-S* [Morris Childs] and our sensitive ‘Solo’ operation” because Hall had launched a hunt for the spy. Baumgardner's plan was simple: If Hall and other CPUSA leaders were going to hunt for a senior-level informant in their ranks, the FBI would give them one, just not the real one.

In consultation with the New York FBI office, Baumgardner settled on Albertson. He was sufficiently senior to have access to the information Riesel had gotten, and although he was regarded as hard-working and effective, he had antagonized some other senior Communists, who would be inclined to think the worse of him if given cause. Even if Albertson's guilt was not fully believed, the Albertson operation would sufficiently muddy the waters that the Childs brothers might escape suspicion.18

As a bonus, exposing a senior figure like Albertson as an FBI spy would also disrupt the New York Communist Party and demoralize its members. Baumgardner observed that he

felt if Albertson, who is considered one of the most efficient and capable functionaries of the New York Party organization could be depicted as an FBI informant, his resulting isolation or expulsion from the Party would be a devastating blow to the New York District organization.19

In April the New York, Detroit, and Pittsburgh FBI offices (the latter two cities were where Albertson had earlier served as a CPUSA official) checked their files for original samples of Albertson's handwriting. All three FBI stations also had lower-level informants in the party offices where Albertson worked or had worked. These informants stole samples of Albertson's handwriting (original drafts of letters, memoranda, etc.). An informant in the New York Communist office where Albertson worked also stole samples of the pads of yellow paper that Albertson habitually used for his handwritten drafts and identified the type of ballpoint pen he usually used.20

These samples of Albertson's handwriting and the paper he was using were turned over to the FBI's documents laboratory. This office largely dealt with authenticating documents and identifying authors of handwritten documents, but the skills and techniques used to authenticate documents overlapped with those needed to forge documents, and this section from time to time created bogus documents for FBI operations.

The New York FBI field office, which knew Albertson best, oversaw the composition of the text and the actual planting of the bogus document. The fake was drafted as an informal note from Albertson, not in response to a particular meeting with his FBI contact but simply clearing up a few questions from an earlier report, with enough clear names of Communists who led various New York party sections to arouse the interest of whoever read it. The note from “Bill” (William Albertson) was addressed to “Joe.” Joe was supposed to be FBI Special Agent Joseph V. Waters. The latter had been one of the more prominent FBI agents attending the Subversives Activities Control Board hearings over registration of the CPUSA as a subversive organization. Albertson had been at the same hearings as one of the lead CPUSA representatives and had interacted with Waters, as had the CPUSA's attorneys in the case, John Abt and Mary Kaufman. The latter two knew that Albertson was acquainted with Waters and could confirm that to Communist Party leaders.

From surveillance tapes, the FBI New York field office knew that Albertson had a monthly meeting in Nassau County. He usually drove to a Nassau train station and parked his car. A local party official then picked him up and drove him to the meeting. The plan was to wait until the local driver had returned Albertson to the train station, expected to be late at night, and then returned to his residence and parked his car. An FBI team would then insert the bogus note in the car to be found the next day, as if dropped by Albertson. It would, they hoped, be read and reported to some senior Communist official, who would reach the conclusion the FBI sought to project, namely, that Albertson was an FBI informant.

By early June the forged document was ready, and the New York FBI field office was preparing to carry out the operation. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover approved implementation on 15 June. On 24 June Albertson made his regular trip to meet with the Nassau County Communists. He was met at the train station at 8:00 PM. by David Bennett, a member of the New York state board of the party, who drove him to and from the meeting, dropping him at the train station at 1:00 AM on the 25th. At 3:30 AM, FBI agents planted the bogus paper in Bennett's car. A check on the car later that day (a Thursday) showed that the paper had been picked up, likely when Bennett drove his wife to work the next morning.21

On Friday evening Bennett phoned the home of Robert Thompson, district organizer for the New York Communist Party and one of the leading members of the CPUSA national leadership. The FBI report on the telephone call cites an informant, NY 4521-S*, but this was simply a disguise for a telephone intercept on Thompson's home phone. Thompson, however, was not home, and his wife answered. Bennett requested a meeting on Sunday, but Mrs. Thompson said that her husband was busy that day, so Bennett said he would call back.22

Eventually the two men got together, and on Monday Thompson went to CPUSA national headquarters and met with CPUSA National Secretary Hall. The FBI reported parts of the meeting verbatim, citing informant NY 2362-S* (an FBI listening device in the room where Hall and Thompson met). That the “informant” was an eavesdropping device is indicated by the FBI report on the meeting, which notes that “a good portion of the information was written on the blackboard and, therefore, not available to the source.”23 Senior Communists, with good reason, feared FBI bugging of their offices. To thwart listening devices during sensitive meetings, they would conduct parts of their deliberations by writing on a blackboard rather than speaking.

Thompson said he had worked with Albertson for more than a decade and had no reason to suspect him. Pressed by Hall, he added that he was “morally certain” that Albertson was not an informant. Still, he agreed that the handwritten report apparently written by Albertson had to be checked out. The discussion continued, largely on the blackboard and largely about the bogus report. The FBI memorandum states,

Again referring to the report Thompson very dejectedly said “Well, barring that 100% of a chance, this must be true.” Hall agreed, saying he had always joked about it (the possibility of a highly placed informant) but in the back of his mind there has always been such a possibility.

The two agreed that the handwriting had to be confirmed. The New York FBI office also thought that Thompson and Hall discussed suspicions of Albertson by another senior Communist, James Tormey, who had been mentioned in the bogus document. The FBI further judged that by the end of the meeting Thompson was convinced that the bogus report was authentic and Hall was leaning in the same direction.24

That evening Hall met with Jack Childs, who really was an FBI informant and one of those the Albertson project was designed to protect. Hall regarded the Childs brothers as trusted advisers. Among other virtues, neither was a rival to Hall for the party leadership, and Hall likely felt more comfortable confiding in the Childs brothers than he did with other senior Communists who might aspire to replace him. Hall swore Jack to secrecy, told him of the report and his own inclination to believe it authentic, but said he had not ruled out the possibility of an FBI forgery and intended to “investigate [the] hell out of this.” Jack took the opportunity to remind Hall that after the Riesel columns he, Jack, had suspected the party might have an informant on the National Committee and that Albertson fit the profile. Hall then gave Jack the bogus report and asked him to have photostats made and return them to Hall.25

In subsequent days and weeks the FBI's bugs, telephone taps, and live informants reported a CPUSA national leadership in turmoil—so much so that, on 1 July, Hoover sent a congratulatory memorandum to the New York FBI field office, commenting, “There is no doubt that this operation has already done irreparable harm to the national Communist Party organization.” As confusion in the party continued for months, Hoover again congratulated the New York FBI. In September he wrote that the Albertson operation was “probably the most disruptive single blow ever dealt the CPUSA,” that “the confusion resulting from this operation continues to gain momentum in the New York District and has also spread to other Party districts” and “also served to discredit the Communist Party in the eyes of the Soviets.” He added, in reference to Operation Solo, that “a secondary benefit of your counterintelligence effort in this instance is the removal of pressures that had been placed upon several of the Bureau's highly placed confidential informants.” Jack Childs himself reported that he felt the operation had succeeded in focusing the hunt for the informant behind the Riesel columns on Albertson and that he and his brother were out of danger. Soviet officials, too, regained their trust in the Childs brothers and reopened the subsidy operation using the Childs network.26

On 30 June, Albertson and his wife Lillian were confronted about the matter. Both of them adamantly denied any covert contact with the FBI, asserted their Communist loyalties, and insisted that the handwritten report was a forgery. Later Albertson repeatedly offered to take a lie detector test (the party never took him up on the offer). Senior Communists from around the United States were called to the national headquarters and briefed on the document. Via a bug, the FBI was able to listen in but was denied full coverage because part of the briefing and discussion was done on a blackboard. In subsequent conversations with Jack Childs, Hall continued to highlight the situation, and thus the FBI obtained frequent updates on Hall's views. Jack told Hall that, when he had been in Cuba, Beatrice Johnson, the CPUSA liaison with the Cuban Communist Party, told him that a female American Communist working in Cuba as the representative of the CPUSA's newspaper, The Worker, had told Johnson that Albertson was her “hero,” that Johnson had heard rumors of an affair between Albertson and the woman, and that the woman had said that Albertson would be a better General Secretary than Hall (the woman's name is redacted in the declassified document). Jack also reported that Hall was worried that, if Albertson was guilty and was publicly exposed and expelled, it would demoralize many of the secret party members (mostly professionals of some sort) in Nassau and Queens Counties who would fear that Albertson had identified them to the FBI.27

Hall appointed a committee to investigate the Albertson case, initially with himself as chair. The committee gave the bogus document to a leading document examiner, along with samples of Albertson's handwriting. A pleased New York FBI office reported:

This expert said he is 90 per cent sure the letter is in the same handwriting as Albertson and, therefore, he is almost sure, because this is not only a signature, it is a long handwritten document in ink. Therefore, it would be extraordinary to be able to copy or forge such a long written document.

Hall was inclined to accept the expert's report but told colleagues that the committee would have other document examiners also review the bogus document. The New York FBI office noted: “Hall went on to state that if this is a forged document, and they are giving it every benefit, he will not do as the Russians do, shoot first and rehabilitate later.”29 Despite sensing that the document was authentic, Hall did not dismiss the possibility of forgery and mused to Jack Childs that, if it was a forgery, it probably meant the FBI had an informant in the party with access to Albertson's office, which was exactly the case. But then a second document examiner hired by the party concluded, like the first, that the report forged by the FBI was in Albertson's handwriting. Later a third and a fourth document examiner reached the same conclusion.30

One of the ironies of Hall's process of authenticating the Albertson document was that he gave Morris Childs much of the responsibility. Hall sent Arnold Johnson, a member of the CPUSA national leadership, to Chicago to meet with Childs. Johnson handed over the original Albertson document and samples of Albertson's handwriting along with instructions from Hall. Hall ordered Childs to contact two respected lawyers, one on “the left,” and the other a “stranger” who was “non-Party.” The lawyers were then responsible for hiring two document examiners to evaluate the Albertson document.31

Additionally, Hall had copies of the Albertson document and handwriting samples taken to Moscow. In early October, Daniel Rubin, a senior CPUSA member, returned from Moscow with the news that he had been told the document was a forgery. Hall was upset that the Soviet Union's forgery evaluation contradicted the conclusions of the four document examiners the CPUSA had used, and he briefly speculated that, because the number of handwriting experts in the United States was limited, perhaps the FBI had contacted them all and instructed them to authenticate the Albertson documents if they were approached. Still unsure, Hall then had Morris Childs take the original Albertson document (not just a copy) to Moscow to “analyse the letter and verify their opinions with respect to the authenticity of the document.”32

The result was considerable confusion. Childs, set to return to the United States on 29 October, pressed the Soviet authorities for an answer to take back to Hall. On 28 October, Mostovets informed Childs orally that the CPSU's experts had concluded as before that the document was a forgery and that a detailed report would be prepared for Childs to take back to Hall at a later time. But two days later, Jack Childs, then in New York, received a coded message from the Soviet Union (Jack handled secret communications with the USSR for the Childs brothers’ money smuggling operation). This message stated that Soviet experts had concluded that the Albertson document was authentic. Morris Childs, now back in the United States, was thoroughly confused by the swift reversal of what he had been told by Mostovets, although both he and his FBI handlers were pleased that the forgery had not been discredited.33

Not until December did Soviet officials explain the source of the confusion. In a conversation with a senior CPUSA member who was then in Moscow, an official of the CPSU security branch said that Mostovets's initial report had been given before the document examination was completed. Two document examiners had concluded that the Albertson document was likely a forgery, and that was the result Mostovets had given Morris Childs on 28 October. However, the two examiners had different reasons for their conclusion, and those differing reasons had not been reconciled. A third expert was called in, and a joint examination by all three experts concluded that the document was likely authentic.34

On a later trip to Moscow, Morris Childs brought back a detailed report by the “Security Branch of the Central Committee, Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” Their experts judged the document authentic to an 80–90 percent certainty. The FBI summary of the Soviet report said,

the original (bogus) document was written easily and naturally. There is no difference in the original and in the known samples of Albertson's handwriting. The spacing between letters and words is the same. The paragraphs are the same and are habitually short. In both cases (Albertson) never finishes a line at the edge of the page. On each line the handwriting begins with an upward curve and ends on a downward curve. The handwriting goes up and down in nearly all lines. The periods at the ends of sentences are uniformly a certain distance from the last words. Graphically, the letters and connections are the same. The way and habit of connecting letters is similar.

‍In short, the FBI's forgers had done a superb job.35

On 6 July the New York party's district board met, with Thompson leading the discussion. Although a few expressed some uneasiness, the board voted to expel Albertson. On 7 July 1964 the CPUSA's newspaper The Worker carried the front-page headline “New York Communists Denounce Albertson as Informer.” The story described him as a “stool pigeon,” as a “police agent within the ranks of the party” who had been living “a life of duplicity and treachery” and announced that Albertson had been expelled.36

Albertson's expulsion, however, did not put an end to turmoil in the party. In New York, district organizer Thompson appointed a committee to review the credentials of everyone Albertson had appointed to party office or supported for advancement. Another veteran Communist, Elizabeth Goldman, told fellow Communists that, although she was convinced Albertson was a traitor, it was possible that the FBI had framed him or that he had been framed by other party leaders jealous of his rise to high office. The New York Times interviewed Albertson and on 9 July ran a story in which he emotionally and emphatically denied any cooperation with the FBI and alleged, “I was framed by the F.B.I.” He added: “I still consider myself a loyal Communist.” The story also summarized Albertson's long career as a Communist organizer and leader. An FBI source, likely a phone tap, reported that one veteran party leader, Louis Weinstock, told Thompson that the Times story had raised doubts and created sympathy for Albertson among rank-and-file party members. Other FBI informants reported that ordinary Communists in Brooklyn were “evenly divided as to Albertson's guilt,” with some suspecting Tormey or Thompson of having framed Albertson. Informants reported that Communists in the Bronx were much more inclined to accept that Albertson had betrayed them but that his having done so was causing members to become suspicious of one another.37

Doubts and second-guessing also began to grow among senior Communists. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, no longer an active leader but nonetheless a venerated party figure, charged that the brother of Bennett, the Nassau County Communist who had chauffeured Albertson and found the damning document in his car the next day, was a “CIA agent.” The brother, Josiah Bennett, was in fact a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. State Department. But whether he was employed by the CIA or State Department, Flynn's charge set off speculation that Bennett had planted the document. Party leaders then undertook an extensive investigation of Bennett's activities in the party. This investigation turned up no negative activities by Bennett but did reveal that he had another brother who was a police officer. Party leaders then banned Bennett from holding any leadership positions in the CPUSA. Later when the CPUSA National Board voted to endorse the New York party's expulsion order, one member, James Jackson, initially abstained, citing the Bennett matter as raising doubts. (Jackson was later convinced to change his abstention to supporting the expulsion.)38

Albertson also did not behave the way Communists thought an exposed FBI informant would act. In addition to his emotional denial of guilt and assertion of Communist loyalties, he made no anti-Communist statements and turned over to party officials all his party records, including wills of some aged Communists put in his possession for safekeeping. In addition, Albertson was one of the named defendants in the Subversive Activities Control Board legal action to force the CPUSA and its officials to register under terms of the McCarran Act. Hall and others wondered why, if Albertson was a traitor, the government did not just have him register, complicating the party's legal defense strategy.39

Although Albertson was expelled, lingering doubts induced the party to continue its investigation of the case over the next two years. Numerous senior figures had to devote their time and energy to the matter. In another of the ironies of the case, Morris Childs, the chief figure in the FBI's Operation Solo, was one of the veteran Communists assigned by Hall to one of the committees established to investigate the Albertson case. Morris not only kept the FBI apprised of the party's investigation of Albertson, but also subtly worked to reinforce the case for Albertson's guilt.40

FBI counterintelligence and the New York field office also suggested several ways of sowing further confusion among Communist leaders about the Albertson case, such as setting up a fake Albertson defense committee. Hoover, sensibly, vetoed the idea of additional FBI active measures on the Albertson case, stating that there was “a danger we could overplay our hand.”41

Meanwhile, through the rest of 1964, 1965, and 1966, Albertson continued his campaign for vindication even as his appeals to the CPUSA national convention and National Board were ignored or turned down. He sent Hall and other senior Communists copies of a technical journal article a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had written about a computer that could forge handwriting. The New York Times also ran a story about Albertson's theory of computer forgery. Hall and other Communists took this theory seriously. Albertson also hired Jack Spivak, an investigative journalist who had undertaken secret investigations on behalf of the CPUSA and had worked with its underground organization, to investigate his case.42

By early 1967 Albertson's quest for vindication had succeeded to a certain extent. Hall and most other senior Communists had come to believe that Albertson had been framed, likely by the FBI. This did not mean, however, that the party would readmit him or apologize.43 They now justified the expulsion as a prudent decision in view of the possibility that Albertson was cooperating with the FBI. Given his role in the registration litigation with the Subversive Activities Control Board, they argued, expulsion was a reasonable step to stop him from registering the CPUSA if he actually was assisting the FBI. Moreover, Hall and all other senior leaders who had been part of the decision to expel Albertson realized that bringing him back into the party would be a huge embarrassment. It would mean bringing back into the party a man who had reason to be aggrieved at their conduct. At a CPUSA National Committee meeting in June 1967, Gilbert Green announced that the New York state board was recommending that charges against Albertson be dropped but that he not be reinstated. Later the National Committee decided that Albertson would never be allowed to return to the CPUSA.44

Albertson finally accepted that the party leaders’ intransigence meant that his campaign for reinstatement would not succeed. In September 1967 he paid for an advertisement in a leftwing journal, the National Guardian. Titled “An Open Letter from William Albertson to Gus Hall, General Secretary, Communist Party, USA,” it stated in part: “I was gratified to learn from your representative that the June 1967 National Committee meeting had adopted a resolution completely dropping the charges used as a basis for my expulsion from the Party three years ago, although I was not to be reinstated.” Albertson then expressed his resentment that this action was not publicized in the party press and went on to say,

What you are now doing is continuing the undemocratic, high-handed and anti-Party Constitution procedures used as proof by the enemies of the Party to convince decent people that the Party is privately “totalitarian” while it maintains a public stance favoring due process and democracy… . It does not make me happy that today, the 40th anniversary of my joining the Young Communist League (YCL), I write you this letter. But my dignity and self-respect as a human being and a Communist dictates that I do so.

He concluded:

I have no further desire to be associated with the present leadership of the Party through membership or otherwise. There are many Marxists in this country who never were, or were but are not now, members of the Party. Today I join their ranks.45

As for Operation Solo and the Childs brothers, the Albertson case so muddied the waters that both the CPUSA and the Soviet Union lost interest in pursuing the hints in Riesel's columns and the statement of former FBI agent Levine that the FBI had a high-level informant in the CPUSA. Morris and Jack Childs went on to complete 58 Solo missions to Moscow and other Communist capitals as political representatives of the CPUSA, as well as arranging to transfer or bring in person $28 million in illegal subsidies from the USSR to the CPUSA. The Childs also occasionally performed courier missions for the CPSU International Department when the latter thought a U.S. citizen might be a better vehicle for delivering a political message to a foreign Communist party. For all this work, the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, with KGB Chairman Yurii Andropov and nearly half the Soviet Politburo standing by, awarded Morris the Soviet Order of the Red Banner in 1975. All this time the Childs brothers were reporting to the FBI the details of the illegal subsidies delivered to the CPUSA, as well as invaluable intelligence on the political and ideological guidance and instructions from the Soviet Union to Communist parties around the world. Because of age and ill health, Morris and Jack ceased international courier work in 1977 and retired. Their role as high-level informants in the CPUSA was not exposed publicly until 1981, when Garrow identified them during research for his book The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. Initially Hall and other CPUSA leaders did not believe the revelation. But finally they came to accept that, from the early 1950s on, their private deliberations had been known to the FBI and that the latter had more than sufficient evidence to arrest Communist leaders such as Hall for complicity in the transfer of illegal Soviet subsidies. (The FBI arrested and convicted a handful of the couriers the CPUSA used for transfers of funds simply because to have caught none would have looked suspicious. But these were few, and the FBI was careful that the Childs brothers never came up in the cases. The FBI preferred simply to monitor the Soviet subsidies and keep Solo going for its political intelligence value.) In 1987 President Ronald Reagan awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Childs brothers, with Jack's award coming posthumously. He had died in 1980, whereas Morris survived until 1991. Albertson died in February 1972 from an accidental fall, just three years before files from the FBI's COINTELPRO operations began to be made public, including files establishing that Albertson had been right all along: he had been framed by the FBI. Albertson's widow, Lillian, sued the FBI, and in 1989 the government settled the case for$170,000. Doubtless the FBI regarded the sum as a cheap price to pay for the remarkable success of Operation Solo.

## Notes

1.

On the effort against the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, see Nelson Blackstock, COINTELPRO: The FBI's Secret War on Political Freedom (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1988). On activities directed against the Maoists, see Aaron Leonard and Conor Gallagher, Heavy Radicals: The FBI's Secret War on America's Maoists (Washington, DC: Zero Books, 2014); and Frank J. Donner, “Let Him Wear a Wolf's Head: What the FBI Did to William Albertson,” Civil Liberties Review, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1976), pp. 12–22. COINTELPRO became public via a bizarre route. In 1971 leftist activists calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI burglarized a small FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole over 1,000 classified documents that they subsequently sent to various journalists. Some of the documents dealt with COINTELPRO. This prompted many journalists to file Freedom of Information Act requests for more documents. In response, in 1975 the FBI released a large batch of documents on various aspects of COINTELPRO, including the Albertson matter. See “The Complete Collection of Political Documents Ripped-Off from the F.B.I. Office Media, PA. March 8, 1971,” Win [magazine of the War Resisters League], March 1972; Betty Medsger, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI (New York: Knopf, 2014); and Mark Mazzetti, “Burglars Who Took on F.B.I. Abandon Shadows,” The New York Times, 7 January 2014, p. A1, A7.

2.

New York FBI Field Office to Director FBI, 16 April 1964, FBI 100-428091 (hereinafter referred to as the “Solo File”), pt. 61, p. 13. The “Solo File” is available at the FBI FOIA vault: https://vault.fbi.gov/solo; and at the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/FBI-Operation-Solo. Hall served as CPUSA general secretary from 1959 until his death in 2000.

3.

Ibid.; emphasis in original.

4.

Mr. DeLoach to Mr. Mohr, 19 June 1964, in “Solo File,” pt. 66, pp. 30–31. Riesel claimed that the source for his 14 May column was, in part, FBI testimony before Congress about Soviet financing of the CPUSA, as well as his own informed speculation. He implied that he had a source within the CPUSA but refused to name the person.

5.

David J. Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From “Solo” to Memphis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1981). Garrow updated his account in David J. Garrow, “The FBI and Martin Luther King,” Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2002, pp. 80–88. Although journalistic rather than scholarly, John Barron's Operation SOLO: The FBI's Man in the Kremlin (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1995) provides a detailed account prepared with considerable FBI cooperation, as well as the cooperation of Morris Childs and his family. John Barron's papers and research files, as well as Morris Childs's papers, are located in the Hoover Institution Archives. The summary of Operation Solo presented herein is largely drawn from Barron with corrections from Garrow and the “Solo File.”

6.

A brief biography by David Garrow, “Morris Childs,” is in Bernard Johnpoll and Harvey Klehr, eds., Biographical Dictionary of the American Left (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986), pp. 68–69.

7.

Ibid.

8.

Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Kyrill M. Anderson, The Soviet World of American Communism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 258.

9.

Garrow, “The FBI and Martin Luther King,” p. 81. Garrow includes more details on Jack's background and recruitment in an unpublished “Epilogue” for a never-published new edition of The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr., based on interviews of FBI agents with the Childs brothers, deposited by Barron in papers he donated to the Hoover Institution. On the CPUSA's “secret apparatus,” see Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov, The Secret World of American Communism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 71–155.

10.

Edward Scheidt to Director FBI and Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Chicago, 19 April 1952, in FBI 66-4216, “Morris Childs-Chicago-1,” pp. 2–3 (hereinafter referred to as “Childs-Chicago-1 File”); and Carl Freyman to SAC H. T. O'Connor, 19 April 1952, Childs-Chicago-1 File, pp. 7–10. The Childs-Chicago-1 File is available at https://archive.org/details/MorrisChilds/page/n19.

11.

SAC New York to Director FBI, 21 July 1958, in “Solo File,” pt. 1, pp. 168–175.

12.

SAC Chicago to Director FBI, 30 July 1958, in “Solo File,” pt. 2, pp. 220–235; and SAC Chicago to Director FBI, 8 August 1958, in “Solo File,” pt. 4, p. 502.

13.

Victor Riesel, “FBI Bares Red Plotting,” New York Journal-American, 14 May 1964.

14.

SAC New York to Director FBI, 9 July 1964, in “Solo File,” pt. 63, pp. 45–51.

15.

Ibid.

16.

Ibid.

17.

William Sullivan to Alan Belmont, 12 June 1964, “Solo File,” pt. 66, pp. 22–28.

18.

Fred J. Baumgardner to William C. Sullivan, 30 June 1964, in FBI HQ 65-38100, “William Albertson,” p. 2,099 (hereinafter referred to as “Albertson File”). The William Albertson FOIA FBI file, HQ 65-38100, is available at the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/ALBERTSONWilliamHQ6538100/page/n23 and https://archive.org/details/WilliamAlbertson/page/n13.

19.

Ibid.

20.

A report dated 11 December 1962 on an internal inspection of the FBI.s Domestic Intelligence Division (FBI HQ 67-205182) indicates there were 401 FBI informants in the CPUSA. Considering the party's size, this was an extraordinary number of informants. Most were low-level, but others, such as the Childs brothers, were highly placed. Some had access to the sort of material the documents laboratory needed for a successful forgery. See J. H. Gale, regarding Inspector J. K. Ponder report to Clyde Tolson, 11 December 1962. This summary of the inspection report, part of Ernie Lazar.es FBI CPUSA FOIA collection, appears in the personnel file of Domestic Intelligence Division Assistant Director William C. Sullivan, FBI HQ 67-205182. A redacted version is available at https://archive.org/details/foia_Sullivan_William_C._-5/page/n165 and a non-redacted version with the “401” figure is at https://sites.google.com/site/xrt013/cpusa1.

21.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 25 June 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,088; and SAC NY to Director FBI, 26 June 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,090.

22.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 29 June 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,091.

23.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 30 June 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,094.

24.

Ibid.

25.

Ibid.

26.

Director FBI to SAC NY and SAC Chicago, 6 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,115; SAC New York to Director FBI, 1 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,101; SAC NY to Director FBI, 6 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,117; and Director FBI to SAC NY, 8 September 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,249.

27.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 1 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,101; SAC NY to Director FBI, 7 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,127.

28.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 1 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,101; SAC NY to Director FBI, 6 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,117; SAC NY to Director FBI, 1 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,135; and SAC NY to Director FBI, 13 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,183.

29.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 1 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,101.

30.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 2 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,119, report on unidentified source 4321-S* on p. 2,120; SAC NY to Director FBI, 6 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,217; SAC NY to Director FBI, 10 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,252; Director FBI to SAC NY and SAC Chicago, 10 September 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,284; and NY to Director FBI, 13 October 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,290.

31.

SAC Chicago to Director FBI, 13 July 1964, “Solo File,” pt. 66, pp. 160–163.

32.

SAC New York to Director FBI, 13 October 1964, “Solo File,” pt. 70, pp. 108–109.

33.

SAC Chicago to Director FBI, 2 November 1964, “Solo File,” pt. 72, pp. 67–68.

34.

SAC Chicago to Director FBI, 7 January 1965, “Solo File,” pt. 75, pp. 16–20.

35.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 18 February 1965, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,369; and Fred Baumgardner to William Sullivan, 10 February 1965, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,372.

36.

Fred Baumgardner to William Sullivan, 7 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,124.

37.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 9 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,143; SAC Washington DC Field Office to Director FBI, 10 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,148; “Expelled Red Charges He Was Framed by F.B.I.,” The New York Times, 9 July 1964, pp. 1, 8; and SAC NY to Director FBI, 10 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,151.

38.

Director FBI to SAC NY, 16 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,182; SAC NY to Director FBI, 13 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,183; SAC Chicago to Director FBI, 29 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,206; and SAC Chicago to Director FBI, 21 August 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,214.

39.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 10 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,153; and SAC NY to Director FBI, 21 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,196.

40.

SAC Chicago to Director FBI, 29 July 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,206.

41.

SAC NY to Director FBI, 20 August 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,255; and Director FBI to SAC NY, 8 September 1964, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,249.

42.

New York field office Albertson report, 8 November 1965, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,436; SAC Philadelphia to Director FBI, 29 October 1965, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,444; SAC NY to Director FBI, 26 October 1965, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,451; Director FBI to SAC NY, 6 January 1966, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,469; and Peter Khiss, “Former State Red Lays His Ouster to Party Panic,” The New York Times, 17 July 1966, p. 3.

43.

New York field office Albertson report, 31 May 1967, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,495.

44.

New York field office Albertson report, 27 May 1968, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,524.

45.

C. D. Brennan to William Sullivan, 15 September 1967, in “Albertson File,” p. 2,531.