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Spying in America

Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War

Michael J. Sulick

Publication Year: 2012

Can you keep a secret?

Maybe you can, but the United States government cannot. Since the birth of the country, nations large and small, from Russia and China to Ghana and Ecuador, have stolen the most precious secrets of the United States.

Written by Michael Sulick, former director of CIA’s clandestine service, Spying in America presents a history of more than thirty espionage cases inside the United States. These cases include Americans who spied against their country, spies from both the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War, and foreign agents who ran operations on American soil. Some of the stories are familiar, such as those of Benedict Arnold and Julius Rosenberg, while others, though less well known, are equally fascinating.

From the American Revolution, through the Civil War and two World Wars, to the atomic age of the Manhattan Project, Sulick details the lives of those who have betrayed America’s secrets. In each case he focuses on the motivations that drove these individuals to spy, their access and the secrets they betrayed, their tradecraft or techniques for concealing their espionage, their exposure and punishment, and the damage they ultimately inflicted on America’s national security.

Spying in America serves as the perfect introduction to the early history of espionage in America. Sulick’s unique experience as a senior intelligence officer is evident as he skillfully guides the reader through these cases of intrigue, deftly illustrating the evolution of American awareness about espionage and the fitful development of American counterespionage leading up to the Cold War.

Published by: Georgetown University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book was written from the perspective of a career intelligence officer. During my twenty-eight-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), I served as its chief of counterintelligence and later as director of the National Clandestine Service, which is responsible for the collection of intelligence through espionage ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction: The Peril of Disbelief

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pp. 1-12

Can you keep a secret? Maybe you can, but the US government cannot. Nations both large and small, from Russia and China to Ghana and Ecuador, have stolen the most precious secrets of the United States since the country’s birth. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and its allies acquired American military secrets ...

Part 1: The Revolutionary War

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1. Espionage and the Revolutionary War

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pp. 15-20

Espionage played a crucial role in the turbulent conflicts of eighteenth-century Europe, where ruthlessly ambitious monarchs clashed over trade, territory, and religious differences. Among European nations, Great Britain had few rivals in espionage, and it had developed an effective intelligence service two centuries earlier ...

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2. The First Spy: Benjamin Church

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pp. 21-28

More than 230 years have passed since the American Revolution, and Benedict Arnold still towers over all other spies against America as the most infamous traitor in US history. Arnold, however, was not the first major spy against America. That dubious honor belongs to Dr. Benjamin Church. ...

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3. The Undetected Spy: Edward Bancroft

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pp. 29-38

The Revolutionary War was fought against the backdrop of eighteenth-century European rivalries, particularly the bitter conflict between France and Great Britain. France had lost Canada to Great Britain in the Seven Years’ War and was eager to exploit British conflicts with the colonies to counter the defeat. ...

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4. The Treasonous Spy: Benedict Arnold

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pp. 39-60

After more than two centuries, Benedict Arnold remains the most vilified spy and traitor in American history. He remains the highest-ranking American official, military or civilian, to betray his country. And his treachery went far beyond espionage. ...

Part 2: The Civil War

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5. Espionage and the Civil War

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pp. 63-70

In the decades after the Revolution, the United States still faced threats from European nations jockeying for territory in the uncharted expanse of the New World. Americans, however, retreated into a self-imposed isolation, a precedent that would characterize their postwar experience for the next two centuries. ...

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6. Allan Pinkerton and Union Counterintelligence

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pp. 71-76

Allan Pinkerton was born in Scotland into the family of a Glasgow corrections officer. After he and his wife emigrated to America, he entered the Chicago Police Department and became its first detective at thirty years of age. He then established his own private detective agency, which was hired by railroad companies ...

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7. The Chameleon Spy: Timothy Webster

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pp. 77-80

Timothy Webster possessed uncanny abilities to adopt a persona, ingratiate himself in any company, and adapt instinctively to any circumstances—especially in a crisis. All these abilities made him an ideal candidate for the murky and hazardous world of Civil War espionage, and he was, before his untimely death, undoubtedly among the best spies of the war. ...

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8. The Spy in the Union Capital: Rose Greenhow

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pp. 81-86

No one epitomized the Confederate advantage of “stay-behinds” in pro-Southern Washington more than Rose O’Neal Greenhow. Although she had no direct access to secrets, “Rebel Rose,” her moniker among Southern sympathizers, ran a network of spies for the Confederacy that included sources from every level of Union society. ...

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9. The Counterspy as Tyrant: Lafayette Baker

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pp. 87-92

Lafayette Baker was responsible for the first in a series of dark periods in American counterespionage history when the pursuit of spies led to political persecution. Governments throughout history have used the threat of espionage and subversion as a thinly veiled pretext to persecute their citizens because of opposing political views, ...

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10. The Confederacy's Reverend Spy: Thomas Conrad

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pp. 93-98

During the Civil War, women like Rose Greenhow spied unabashedly by exploiting Americans’ sense of chivalry. Although their male counterparts did not enjoy these advantages, some worked in professions that aroused little suspicion and allowed them to steal secrets as handily as women did. ...

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11. Union Espionage

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pp. 99-106

The glowing assessment of Elizabeth Van Lew’s espionage activities by Edwin Fishel, a leading expert on Civil War espionage, is all the more striking because he largely dismissed most accounts of spying in the war as inaccurate, exaggerated, and melodramatic. ...

Part 3: Espionage during the World Wars, 1914–45

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12. Espionage Before World War I

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pp. 109-112

A half century passed before the United States was again embroiled in a conflict on the scale of the Civil War. During this time the nation turned inward to heal the wounds of the Civil War and accelerate the growth of its economy. Americans constructed railways linking the country from coast to coast, ...

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13. Prelude to War: Germany's First Spy Network

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pp. 113-118

Immediately after the outbreak of war in 1914, the German ambassador in Washington, Count Johann von Bernstorff, was summoned to Berlin and ordered to establish an espionage and sabotage network inside the United States. Bernstorff was troubled by his new task, because he realized that spying and sabotage on American soil ...

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14. US Counterespionage and World War I

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pp. 119-122

German sabotage had not only pushed America into war but had also awakened the government to the dangers of foreign spies. After a century and a half without a professional counterespionage agency, the United States was at last ready to establish one on the eve of World War I, ...

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15. Spy Hysteria Between the World Wars

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pp. 123-126

During World War I, the US government combated subversion at home by launching an ambitious propaganda campaign to alert its citizens about the dangers of foreign spies. The warning of British poet Rudyard Kipling—“The Hun is at the gate!”—became the watchword of the day. ...

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16. German Espionage in World War II

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pp. 127-132

The decade of the 1920s began with Mitchell Palmer’s massive manhunt against radicals, but fears of Bolshevism and the Red Menace were quickly forgotten during the Roaring Twenties, an era marked by prosperity, decadent materialism, jazz, and the bootlegging of illegally smuggled liquor. ...

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17. The Spy in US Industry: The Norden Bombsight

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pp. 133-136

The Nazis were well aware that air power would be crucial to their plans to dominate Europe. Although Germany possessed some of the most brilliant scientific minds on the planet, the Nazis were too impatient to wait for the fruits of their research to improve the capabilities of their air force. ...

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18. The Double Agent: William Sebold

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pp. 137-142

Hermann Lang was the premier spy in a network of more than thirty sources reporting to Ritter from the United States. Ritter was pressured by his Abwehr superiors to establish better communications with the ring for more expeditious delivery of information. ...

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19. German Intelligence Failures in World War II

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pp. 143-148

Adolph Hitler was furious over the disintegration of the Abwehr’s spy ring and immediately ordered an all-out sabotage effort inside America. Although Der Führer was surrounded by lickspittles who usually nodded in agreement with his most bizarre schemes, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris argued against the suggestion, ...

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20. The Spy in the State Department: Tyler Kent

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pp. 149-154

Tyler Kent was a State Department officer assigned to one of America’s most important embassies in one of its most sensitive jobs at a critical point before World War II. More than seventy years have passed since Kent was arrested for espionage. Although his case faded into obscurity after World War II, ...

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21. Japanese Espionage in World War II

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pp. 155-162

Long before the shooting started in World War II, the Japanese government prepared for war by allocating the equivalent of $4 million for intelligence in 1934, when the United States had not dedicated a penny.1 This government funding enabled Japanese intelligence operatives to fulfill their “honorable and patriotic duty” ...

Part 4: The Golden Age of Soviet Espionage—the 1930s and 1940s

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22. The Origins of Cold War Espionage

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pp. 165-172

Although Ambassador Bullitt’s comments quoted above may seem misguided in hindsight, they accurately reflect American naïveté about the Soviet Union in the 1930s. At the time Bullitt sent his message, the Soviet intelligence services were riddling the US government and defense industry with the most pervasive espionage network in American history. ...

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23. America's Counterespionage Weapon: Venona

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pp. 173-180

The story of American counterespionage in the years immediately after World War II is the story of the Venona Project.1 Ironically, Joseph Stalin himself was responsible for a project that led to the discovery of the most extensive spy network in American history. ...

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24. The Golden Age Exposed: Igor Gouzenko

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pp. 181-184

Roosevelt’s prescient comment, uttered only weeks before his death in April 1945, proved to be an understatement when the first revelations of Soviet espionage against the West surfaced. A month after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, Igor Gouzenko, a GRU code clerk at the USSR Embassy in Ottawa, dropped his own bombshell. ...

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25. The "Red Spy Queen": Elizabeth Bentley

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pp. 185-192

In November 1945 Elizabeth Bentley, a woman scorned not by a lover but by her Soviet spymasters, walked into the New York office of the FBI and told a startling story that was to shake the foundation of Soviet espionage in the United States.1 Bentley presented the FBI with a wealth of detail about the espionage of CPUSA members, ...

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26. Spy Versus Spy: Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss

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pp. 193-200

Elizabeth Bentley’s information revived the FBI’s interest in earlier warnings of Soviet espionage from Whittaker Chambers, a former communist who left the party after he became disillusioned by the Stalinist purges. Chambers’s warnings about spies in the government had been ignored over the years, ...

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27. The Spy in the Treasury: Harry Dexter White

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pp. 201-206

The strains of recovering from the Depression and fighting a world war had already begun to affect Roosevelt’s health in his third term. His vice president during that term, the progressive Democrat Henry Wallace, was already contemplating his own cabinet choices if Roosevelt died in office. ...

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28. The Spy in the White House: Lauchlin Currie

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pp. 207-210

Imagine if the CIA had a spy inside the palace of the Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who could tell whether Iran had developed a nuclear weapon. Imagine a spy on the staff of the North Korean leader who could tip off the United States about his country’s nuclear weapons capability. ...

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29. The Spy in US Counterespionage: Judith Coplon

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pp. 211-218

A spy inside the enemy’s counterespionage service is the insurance policy that protects networks of sources. Kim Philby, as one example, not only had access to British but also to American, Canadian, and Australian counterspy efforts from his perch inside British intelligence. ...

Part 5: The Atomic Bomb Spies: Prelude to the Cold War

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30. The Atomic Bomb Spies

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pp. 221-226

As the second half of the twentieth century dawned, the United States had emerged victorious from a global war as the world’s foremost economic and military superpower. The nation’s economic prosperity was reflected in feverish spending on new homes, cars, and time-saving gadgets that afforded Americans more leisure hours ...

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31. The Executed Spies: The Rosenbergs

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pp. 227-242

David Greenglass was arrested on June 15, 1950. The FBI was a step away from uncovering what its director, J. Edgar Hoover, would call “the crime of the century.”1 Greenglass admitted to the FBI that, during a visit to Albuquerque, his wife Ruth (code-named WASP) conveyed a proposal to spy for the NKGB from his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg. ...

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32. The Atomic Bomb Spy Who Got Away: Theodore Hall

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pp. 243-252

Theodore Alvin Hall’s “brief encounter” with the Soviet intelligence services took place and evolved into an espionage relationship that lasted on and off for almost nine years. During this period Hall was “the only American scientist known to have given the Soviet Union details on the design of an atomic bomb.”1 ...

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33. The Spy from the Cornfields: George Koval

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pp. 253-264

Six decades after the end of the Manhattan Project, a rare event occurred in espionage history. On November 2, 2007, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin posthumously honored Soviet citizen George Koval with the Hero of the Russia Federation Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, ...

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Conclusion: Espionage in the Cold War and Beyond

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pp. 265-274

The exposure of Soviet spy networks after World War II finally wakened a slumbering America to the espionage threat. At the dawn of the Cold War, the FBI significantly increased its counterespionage efforts against the Soviets and their allies. ...


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pp. 275-292


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pp. 293-302

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About the Author

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pp. 303-304

Michael Sulick is a retired intelligence operations officer who from 2007 to 2010 was director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s National Clandestine Service, where he was responsible for supervising the CIA’s covert collection operations and coordinating the espionage activities of the US intelligence community. ...


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pp. 305-320

E-ISBN-13: 9781589019270
E-ISBN-10: 158901927X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589019263
Print-ISBN-10: 1589019261

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos, 4 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Espionage -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Espionage -- United States -- History.
  • Spies -- United States -- Biography.
  • Spies -- United States -- History.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Secret service.
  • Espionage, German -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Spies -- Communist countries -- History -- 20th century.
  • Military intelligence -- United States -- History.
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