Silvermaster Spy Ring
Nathan Silvermaster was amongst the main players of a Communist spy ring operating within the United States and specifically within the Federal government. Silvermaster was born in Odessa, Russia in 1898 and lived in China for a while before moving to the United States where he attended the University of Washington, Seattle and then the University of California at Berkeley. He became a naturalized citizen in 1926 and was active in a number of communist organizations.
Silvermaster worked for the Farm Security Administration and then the Board of Economic Warfare in 1942. Objections were raised to his being assigned to the second position because of concerns over him being a security risk because of his suspected communist affiliation.
In July 1942, the U.S. Civil Service Commision recommended "Cancel eligibilities... and bar him for the remainder of the National Emergency" (World War II). Silvermaster vehemently denied any communist affiliation and appealed the commission's recommendation to the Under Secretary of War, Robert Patterson. White House advisor Lauchlin Currie and Harry White, the Assitant to the Secretary of the Treasury intervened on Silvermaster's behalf. White contacted Patterson directl,y telling him that the allegations against Silvermaster were baseless and Currie personally phoned Patterson, urging a reconsideration of the matter (the Venona intercepts would later make clear that both White and Currie were active Soviet agents). Silvermaster also had the support of his supervisor, Calvin Baldwin, the head of the Farm Security Administration, who, while not a spy, was a secret Communist. Patterson, relying on these recommendations, overruled the commission and allowed Silvermaster to join the Board of Economic Warfare. In 1942, he became an economist for the War Production Board and was able to pass significant quantities of information related to war production of weaponry , machinery and arms.
The ring is called the Silvermaster Spy Ring based on the FBI's Silvermaster file. The file was compiled after former Soviet-agent Elizabeth Bentley began providing evidence to the FBI. She designated Silvermaster as the most significant Washington contact that she had. The ring was really a network of spies working within the high echelons of the United States Federal government. While not reporting to or operating under the head of the ring, they passed along information gained through the access gained through their individual positions. Most were employed by the Department of Treasury, but other worked in the Commerce Department, the Office of Strategic Services, the Army Air Force and the White House. Of the number of cables intercepting in the Verona intercept, 1% of them related to the Silvermaster ring.
The FBI had planned to turn Bentley and use her as a double-agent in order to obtain further information that could be used to arrest the spies without having to reveal the existence of the Venona cable. Unfortunately, it was inadvertently leaked that Bentley was talking to the FBI. Instead, the FBI began developing a picture of the network based on Bentley's contacts with dozens of government officials and following the trail of links between them. The links and list of contacts were compiled over three years and became known as the Silvermaster file.
Among prominent members of the ring were White (who would later serve as the head of the International Monetary Fund), Currie, Solomon Adler, Norman Bursler, Frank Coe, Bela Gold, Sonia Gold, Irving Kaplan, George Silverman, William Henry Taylor, William Ullman, and Anatole Boris Volkov.
Nathan Gregory Silvermaster
Nathan Gregory Silvermaster (November 27, 1898 – October 7, 1964), an economist with the United States War Production Board (WPB) during World War II, was the head of a large ring of Communist spies in the U.S. government. It is from him that the FBI Silvermaster File , documenting the Bureau's investigation into Communist penetration of the Federal government during the Cold War, takes its name. His wife, Helen and stepson, Anatole Volkov, were members of his ring.
He was identified as a Soviet agent in the WPB operating under the code names Pel, Pal, “Paul” in the Venona decrypts; and as “Robert” both in Venona and independently by defecting Soviet intelligence courier Elizabeth Bentley.
Silvermaster was born of a Jewish family in Odessa, Russia (present-day Odessa, Ukraine) in 1898. He moved with his family to China, where he learned to speak perfect English with a British accent. He emigrated to the United States and earned his B.A. from the University of Washington in Seattle (where he was “stated to be a known Communist”) and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where his thesis was entitled Lenin’s Economic Thought Prior to the October Revolution. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1926. He was reported to be in contact with a very large number of Communist Party USA officials, and was active in a number of Communist front groups.
While nominally remaining on the employment rolls of the Farm Security Administration, Silvermaster arranged in 1942 to be detailed to the Board of Economic Warfare. The transfer, however, triggered objections from military counter-intelligence who suspected he was a hidden Communist and regarded him as a security risk. On July 16, 1942 the U.S. Civil Service Commission recommended "Cancel eligibilities ... and bar him for the duration of the National Emergency."
Silvermaster denied any Communist links and appealed to Under Secretary of War Robert Patterson to overrule the security officials. Both White House advisor Lauchlin Currie (identified in Venona as the Soviet agent operating under the cover name “Page”) and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Harry Dexter White (identified in Venona as the Soviet agent operating under the cover names “Lawyer”; “Jurist”; “Richard”) intervened on his behalf. Silvermaster subsequently received two promotions and pay raises.
War Production Board
At the War Production Board, Silvermaster was able to provide the Soviet Union with a large amount of data on arms, aircraft, and shipping production. In June 1943, Silvermaster sent a War Production Board report on arms production in the United States, including bombers, pursuit planes, tanks, propelled guns, howitzers, radar and submarines, sub chasers, and the like, to Soviet intelligence. Then, in December 1944, the New York MGB office cabled another Silvermaster report stating: "(Silvermaster) has sent us a 50-page Top Secret War Production Board report ... on arms production in the U.S."
Silvermaster was associated with Harry Dexter White at the Bretton Woods conference, and his testimony before the US Senate Internal Security Subcommittee covers "175 pages of interrogation and exhibits" regarding his espionage activities in the U.S.
He died on October 7, 1964, aged 65, possibly in Harvey Cedars, New Jersey.
August 1935 to November 1938 Farm Security Administration
November 1938 to July 1940 Maritime Labor Board
July 1940 to December 1944 U.S. Department of Agriculture
1942 to 1945 U.S. Department of Treasury
mid 1945 Reconstruction Finance Corporation (became the War Assets Corporation)
March 1946 resigned from government
The Silvermaster spy ring operated primarily in the Department of the Treasury but also had contacts in the Army Air Force and in the White House. Sixty-one of the Venona cables concern the activities of the Silvermaster spy ring. This represents 1% of the total (approx 6,000 cables) and 3% of the (2,000) translated/partially translated VENONA cables.
Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, Chief Planning Technician, Procurement Division, United States Department of the Treasury; Chief Economist, War Assets Administration; Director of the Labor Division, Farm Security Administration; Board of Economic Warfare; Reconstruction Finance Corporation Department of Commerce
Helen Silvermaster, wife
Anatole Boris Volkov, stepson
Solomon Adler aka Schlomer Adler, U.S. Department of the Treasury
Norman Chandler Bursler, United States Department of Justice Anti-Trust Division
Frank Coe, Assistant Director, Division of Monetary Research, Treasury Department; Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador in London; Assistant to the Executive Director, Board of Economic Warfare; Assistant Administrator, Foreign Economic Administration
Lauchlin Currie, Administrative Assistant to President Roosevelt; Deputy Administrator of Foreign Economic Administration; Special Representative to China
Bela Gold, Assistant Head of Program Surveys, Bureau of Agricultural Economics, United States Department of Agriculture; Senate Subcommittee on War Mobilization; Office of Economic Programs in Foreign Economic Administration
Sonia Steinman Gold, Division of Monetary Research U.S. Treasury Department; U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Interstate Migration; U.S. Bureau of Employment Security
Irving Kaplan, Foreign Funds Control and Division of Monetary Research, United States Department of the Treasury Foreign Economic Administration; chief advisor to the Military Government of Germany
George Silverman, civilian Chief Production Specialist, Material Division, Army Air Force Air Staff, War Department, Pentagon
William Henry Taylor, Assistant Director of the Middle East Division of Monetary Research, United States Department of Treasury
William "Lud" Ullman, delegate to United Nations Charter meeting and Bretton Woods conference; Division of Monetary Research, Department of Treasury; Material and Services Division, Air Corps Headquarters, Pentagon
Harry Dexter White, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury; Head of the International Monetary Fund