Wednesday, July 30, 2008


7. US Military & CIA

Interventions

Eastern Europe 1948-1956
By William Blum. Killing Hope. Chapter Seven

Operation Splinter Factor
Jozef Swiatlo surfaced at a press conference in Washington on 28 September 1954. Swiatlo was a Pole; he had been a very important one, high up in the Ministry of Public Security, the secret police. The story went that he had defected in West Berlin the previous December while on a shopping trip, and now the State Department was presenting him to the world to clear up the mystery of the Fields, the American citizens who had disappeared in 1949. Swiatlo revealed that Noel Field and his wife Herta had been arrested in Hungary, and that brother Hermann Field had suffered the same fate in Poland at the hands of Swiatlo himself, all in connection with the trial of a leading Hungarian Communist. The State Department had already dispatched strong letters to the governments of Hungary and Poland. There is a more expanded and more sinister version of the Jozef Swiatlo story. This story has Swiatlo seeking to defect to the British in Warsaw back in 1948 at a time when he was already in his high security position. The British, for various reasons, turned his case over to the United States and, at the request of Allen Dulles, Swiatlo was told to remain at his post until further notice.

At this time Dulles was not yet Director of the CIA, but was a close consultant to the Agency, had his own men in key positions, and was waiting only until November for Thomas Dewey to win the presidential election and appoint him to the top position. (Harry Truman's surprising re-election postponed this for four years, but Dulles did become Deputy Director in 1951.)

Noel Field, formerly a State Department Foreign Service Officer, was a long-time Communist fellow-traveler, if not a party member in the United States or Europe. During the Second World War, his path converged with Dulles's in intrigue-filled Switzerland. Dulles was an OSS man, Field the representative of the Unitarian Church in Boston helping refugees from Nazi occupation. Field made it a point particularly to help Communist refugees, of which there were many inasmuch as Communists were second only to Jews on the German persecution list. The OSS aided the operation financially; the Communists in turn were an excellent source of information about happenings in Europe of interest to Washington and its allies.

Toward the end of the war, Field induced Dulles to provide American support for a project which placed agents in various European countries to prepare the way for the advancing Allied troops. The men chosen by Field, unsurprisingly, were all Communists and their placement in certain Eastern European countries helped them to get their hands on the reins of power long before non-Communist forces were able to regroup and organize themselves.

It could be concluded from this that Allen Dulles had been duped. Moreover, the OSS, under Dulles's direction and again with Field involved, had financed the publication of a clandestine newspaper inside Germany; anti-fascist and left-wing, the paper was called Neues Deutschland, and immediately upon liberation became the official newspaper of the East German Communist Party. After the war these incidents served as jokes which intelligence services of both East and West could and did appreciate. Before long, the joke fell heavily upon Noel Field.

In 1949 when Field visited Poland he was regarded with grave suspicion by Polish authorities. He was seen to have worked during the war in a position which could easily have been a front for Western espionage, a position which brought him into regular contact with senior Communist Party members; and he had, after all, worked closely with Allen Dulles, famous already as a spymaster, and the brother of John Foster Dulles, prominent in Washington official circles and already making his calls for the "liberation" of the Soviet bloc nations.

At the time of Field's arrival in Poland, Jozef Swiatlo was looking to implicate Jakub Berman, a high party and state official whom Swiatlo was suspicious of and detested. It was his failure to convince the Polish president to act against Berman that reportedly drove Swiatlo to try to defect the year before. When Noel Field wrote to Berman asking his help in obtaining a job in Eastern Europe, Swiatlo learned of the letter and saw his chance to nail Berman.

But first Noel Field had to be established as an American spy. Given the circumstantial evidence pointing in that direction, that would not be too difficult for a man of Swiatlo's high position and low character. Of course, if Field really was working with US intelligence, Swiatlo couldn't very well be exposing him since the Polish security officer was now himself an American agent. Accordingly, he sent his first message to the CIA, describing his plan about Berman and Field and the harm it could do to the Communist Party in Poland. He concluded with: "Any objections?"

Allen Dulles had none. His reaction to Swiatlo's message was one of pleasure and amusement. The time had come to settle accounts with Noel Field. More importantly, Dulles saw that Swiatlo, using Noel Field, "the American spy", as a bludgeon could knock off countless leading Communist officials in the Soviet bloc. It could put the whole of the bloc into a state of acute paranoia and set off a wave of repression and Stalinist tyranny that could eventually lead to uprisings. Dulles called his plan: Operation Splinter Factor.

Thus it was that Jozef Swiatlo was directed to find spies everywhere in Eastern Europe. He would uncover American plots and British plots, "Trotskyist" conspiracies and "Titoist" conspiracies. He would report to Soviet secret-police chief Lavrenti Beria himself that at the center of the vast network was a man named Noel Haviland Field. Field was arrested and wound up in a prison in Hungary, as did his wife Herta when she came looking for him. And when his brother Hermann Field sought to track down the two of them, he met the same fate in Poland.

Swiatlo was in a unique position to carry out Operation Splinter Factor. Not only did he have the authority and command, he had the files on countless Communist Party members in the bloc countries. Any connection they had had with Noel Field, anything that Field had done, could be interpreted to show the hand of American intelligence or an act of real or potential subversion of the socialist states. The Soviets, and Stalin himself, were extremely interested in the "Fieldists". Noel Field had known almost everyone who was anyone in the Soviet bloc.

Just in case the level of paranoia in the infant, insecure governments of Eastern Europe was not high enough, a CIA double agent would "corroborate" a vital piece of information, or introduce the right rumor at the right time; or the Agency's Radio Free Europe would broadcast certain tantalizing, seemingly-coded messages; or the CIA would direct the writing of letters from "East European expatriates" in the United States to leading Communists in their homelands, containing just the bit of information, or the phrase, carefully designed to lift the eyebrows of a security officer.

Many of the victims of Swiatlo's purges were people who had spent the war years in the West rather than in the Soviet Union and thus had crossed Field's path. These were people who tended to be more nationalist Communists, who wanted to put greater distance between their countries and the Soviet Union, as Tito had done in Yugoslavia, and who favored a more liberal regime at home. Dulles brushed aside the argument that these were people to be supported, not eliminated. He felt that they were potentially the more dangerous to the West because if their form of Communism were allowed to gain a foothold in Eastern Europe then Communism might become respectable and accepted; particularly with Italy and France threatening to vote
Communists into power, Communism had to be shown at its worst.

There were hundreds of trials all over Eastern Europe—"show trials" and lesser spectacles—in which the name of Noel Field played an important part. What Operation Splinter Factor began soon took on a life of its own: following the arrest of a highly-placed person, others fell under suspicion because they knew him or had been appointed by him; or any other connection to an arrested person might serve to implicate some unlucky soul.

Jozef Swiatlo had his counterpart in Czechoslovakia, a man firmly entrenched in the upper rungs of the Czech security apparatus. The man, whose name is not known, had been recruited by General Reinhard Gehlen, the former Nazi intelligence chief who went to work for the CIA after the war.

When, in October 1956, the uprising in Hungary occurred, these men, according to the CIA, were not used because they were not yet ready.14 But the Agency did send its agents in Budapest into action to join the rebels and help organize them.15 In the meantime, RFE was exhorting the Hungarian people to continue their resistance, offering tactical advice, and implying that American military assistance was on the way. It never came.

There is no evidence that Operation Splinter Factor contributed to the Hungarian uprising or to the earlier ones in Poland and East Germany. Nonetheless, the CIA could point to all the cold-war, anti-Communist propaganda points it had won because of the witch hunts in the East, the human cost notwithstanding.

Czechoslovakia was the worst case. By 1951 an unbelievable 169,000 card- carrying members of the Czech Communist Party had been arrested—ten percent of the entire membership. There were tens of thousands more in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, and Bulgaria. Hundreds were put to death, others died in prison or went insane.

After Swiatlo defected in December 1953, East European intelligence services came to realize that he had been working for the other side all along. Four weeks after Swiatlo held his Washington press conference, the Polish government announced that it was releasing Hermann Field because investigation had revealed that the charges which had been brought against him by "an American agent and provocateur", Jozef Swiatlo, were "baseless". Field was later paid $50,000 for his imprisonment as well as having his convalescence at a sanitorium paid for.

Three weeks after Hermann Field's release, Noel and Herta Field were freed in Hungary. The government in Budapest stated that it could not justify the charges against them. They were also compensated and chose to remain in Hungary.

Once Noel Field had been officially declared innocent, the cases of countless others in East Europe had to be reviewed. First in trickles, then in rushes, the prisoners were released. By 1956 the vast majority stood outside prison walls.

Throughout the decade following the war, the CIA was fanning the flames of discontent in Eastern Europe in many ways other than Operation Splinter Factor. Radio Free Europe (RFE, cf. Soviet Union chapter), broadcasting from West Germany, never missed a (dirty) trick. In January 1952, for example, after RFE learned that Czechoslovakia was planning to devalue its currency, it warned the population, thus stimulating a nation-wide buying panic. RFE's commentaries about various European Communists were described by Blanche Wiesen Cook in her study of the period, The Declassified Eisenhower. She wrote that the broadcasts:

involved a wide range of personal criticism, tawdry and slanderous attacks ranging from rumors of brutality and torture, to corruption, and to madness, perversion, and vice. Everything was used that could be imagined in order to make communists, whether in England or in Poland, look silly, undignified, and insignificant.

One of the voices heard frequently over RFE on the subject of Communist obnoxious-ness was none other than Jozef Swiatlo, who had earned the nickname of "Butcher" for his proclivity to torture. Needless to say, the born-again humanitarian made no mention of Splinter Factor or his double role, although some of his broadcasts reportedly shook up the Polish security system for the better.

Any way the US could stir up trouble and nuisance ... supporting opposition groups in Rumania ... setting up an underground radio station in Bulgaria ... dropping propaganda from balloons over Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland (on one day in August 1951 alone, 11,000 balloons carrying 13 million leaflets) ... dropping people as well: four American airmen, presumably intelligence.

In 1955, Eastern Europeans could be found at Fort Bragg, North Carolina training with the Green Berets, learning guerrilla warfare tactics, hopefully to be used in their native lands.

By the following year, hundreds of Hungarians, Rumanians, Poles and others were being trained by CIA paramilitary specialists at a secret installation in West Germany.


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