Operation Splinter Factor was an initiative to provoke Stalin’s paranoia to destablize the satellite countries. Noel Haviland Field worked for the State Department in Washington, for the League of Nations in Geneva, and for the OSS in wartime Europe. After the war, he and his brother Hermann sauntered through the Iron Curtain countries like welcome guests. Whittaker Chambers said Noel was a friend of Alger Hiss and a Communist agent; the Communists said he worked for the U.S. „imperialists.” Noel Field disappeared from his hotel in Prague two weeks before Chambers started testifying in the Hiss trial in early 1949. His wife Herta, his brother Hermann, and finally, his adopted daughter Erika Glaser Wallach, went behind the Iron Curtain. In their five years in Communist hands, the Communists had used the American name of Field in trial after trial, until it became a symbol of death.
Washington charged him with spying for the Soviet Union. The Soviets were trying to make him confess to working for Allen Dulles. Actually, in Stalin’s hands, he was used to unleash one of the most passive purges in the communist world. He was a secret agent, but who was he working for? He was used in tho most cynical possible way in a gigantic political game. But by whom? Tho Americans or the Soviets?
Two books about the affair, one by Flora Lewis, the NEW YORK TIMES reporter, entitled „Red Pawn: The Story of Noel Field” and one by British Stewart Steven [„Operation Splinter”], came to diametrically opposite conclusions: he was an ignorant tool in Soviet hands, according to Flora Lewis, or a disturbing element used by Allen Dulles to put an end to political careers of Eastern European conmunist leaders, according to Steven.
Karel Kaplan, a Czech historian and former communist leader, defected to the West after the Soviet invasion in 1968. Kaplan had access to the secret archives of the Czech CP, had the latest word about the Field case. It was the Soviets, says Kaplan, vho made use of that idealistic and somewhat ingenuous American, and who transformed an intellectual dyed-in-thc-wool communist who had worked for the Moscow secret services during the ‘thirties, into the number one prosecution witness without his knowledge in the dreadful political trials that transpired in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Bulgaria. The Soviet police by picking all their cards up from table and starting a new game. They turned their own agent into an agent if the Americans. They sacrificed their own man, vho was of no more use to them and toward whom they had some suspicions, and they tumed him from a Soviet agent into a spy for American imperialism. And since Field’s whole family had one way and another, at least through their political activism, the whole family was caught up in the pitiless game.
In 1947 the postwar cooperation between the Soviet Union and the West collapsed, marking the beginning of the Cold War and the beginning of the end for Hungary’s democratic coalition government. Having seen communist parties seize power in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia and a communist insurgency threaten Greece, the Western powers dedicated themselves to containing Soviet influence. In May communists were expelled from the governments of Italy and France, and a month later the United States promulgated the Marshall Plan for the economic reconstruction of Europe, which was appealing to the to East European governments.
Stalin feared a weakening of the Soviet Union’s grip on Eastern Europe. Anticommunist forces in the region remained potent, and most of the communist governments were unpopular. In addition, East European parties began taking positions independent of Moscow; for example, communists in the Polish and Czechoslovak governments favored participation in the Marshall Plan, and Yugoslavia and Bulgaria broached the idea of a Balkan confederation. By September Stalin had abandoned gradualism and reversed his earlier advocacy of independent, „national roads to socialism.” He now pushed for tighter adherence to Moscow’s line and rapid establishment of Soviet-dominated communist states in Hungary and elsewhere. The policy shift was indicated in September 1947 at the founding meeting of the Cominform, an organization linking the Soviet communist party with the communist parties of Eastern Europe, France, and Italy.
In 1948 the newly formed Soviet empire in Eastern Europe was threatened by a split between Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito and Soviet leader Joseph V. Stalin. After expelling Yugoslavia from the Cominform, Stalin began exerting greater pressure on the other East European states, including Bulgaria, to adhere rigidly to Soviet foreign and domestic policy. He demanded that the communist parties of those countries become virtual extensions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) by purging all opposition figures. Beginning in 1949, the Soviet Union unleashed a four-year reign of terror against „Titoists” in Eastern.
The most visible political victim of the new policy in Bulgaria was Traicho Kostov, who with Georgi Dimitrov and Vasil Kolarov had led the Bulgarian Communist Party [BCP] to power in 1944. Accused by Dimitrov of treason, Kostov was shot in December 1949. Dimitrov died before Kostov’s execution, Kolarov soon afterward. To fill the power vacuum left by those events, Stalin chose Vulko Chervenkov, a trusted protégé. Chervenkov would complete the conversion of the BCP into the type of one-man dictatorship that Stalin had created in the Soviet Union. Chervenkov assumed all top government and party positions and quickly developed a cult of personality like that of his Soviet mentor. At Stalin’s command, Chervenkov continued purging party members from 1950 until 1953, to forestall in Bulgaria the sort of Titoist separatism that Stalin greatly feared. Rigid party hierarchy replaced the traditional informal structures of Bulgarian governance, and the purges eliminated the faction of the BCP that advocated putting Bulgarian national concerns ahead of blind subservience to the CPSU. In 1948 the Fatherland Front was reorganized into an official worker-peasant alliance in accordance with Cominform policy. In December 1947, Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (BANU) leader Georgi Traikov had repudiated traditional agrarian programs; after a thorough purge that year, his party retained only nominal independence to preserve the illusion of a two-party system. All other opposition parties disbanded.
In Czechoslovakia the Stalinists accused their opponents of „conspiracy against the people’s democratic order” and „high treason” in order to oust them from positions of power. Large-scale arrests of Communists with an „international” background, i.e., those with a wartime connection with the West, veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Jews, and Slovak „bourgeois nationalists,” were followed by show trials. The most spectacular of these was the trial of KSC first secretary Rudolf Slansky and thirteen other prominent Communist personalities in 1952. In Czechoslovakia, November 1952, Rudolf Slansky, Communist Party secretary-general, and 13 high-placed codefendants confessed to high treason, conspiracy, murder, espionage, Titoism, Zionism, in behalf of „foreign imperialist agents.” Who was their spymaster? „The well-known agent Field.” Verdict: death on the gallows for Slansky and ten others; imprisonment for three. The KSC rank-and-file membership, approximately 2.5 million in March 1948, began to be subjected to careful scrutiny. By 1960 KSC membership had been reduced to 1.4 million.
The day after the formal German surrender, the Soviet commander established the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (Sowjetische Militäradministration in Deutschland–SMAD) to govern the Soviet occupation zone. In its pursuit of reliability, the SMAD gave its first purge order in spring of 1949. This order directed the dismissal, from all branches of the police, of personnel who had been German police before 1945, had been prisoners of war in the West for extended periods, or had come to the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany as refugees from former German territories that had been placed under Polish or Soviet control. Those with close relatives in West Germany were also dismissed. In effect, anyone suspected of possible political unreliability was fired.
The years 1949 to 1955 were a period of Stalinization, during which East Germany was politically consolidated as an authoritarian Soviet-style state under the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands–SED) leadership. In East Germany, in August 1950, six Communist functionaries, including the director of East zone railroads and the boss of Radio Berlin, were accused of „special connections with Noel Field, the American spy.” All wound up in jail or dead.
Ulbricht and the SED controlled the National Front coalition, a federation of all political parties and mass organizations that technically preserved political pluralism. The State Security Service (Staatssicherheitsdienst- -SSD) and the Ministry of State Security monitored public life with a broad network of agents and contributed to eliminating opposition and regimenting political and social affairs. It was during this same period, from 1950 to 1952, that the Ministry of State Security was established. Although set up on a much-reduced scale, the ministry was parallel to the Soviet security police in its general organization and functions.
Gradually, the emphasis of the National Front shifted from antifascist to pro-Soviet. As a mark of this shift, 1950 saw what might be called „the second purge,” a Soviet-style purge of the membership of the SED, in which all members turned in their party cards. After careful examination, cards were reissued to those deemed fit. The most common reason for refusing to reissue a card was the charge that the cardholder was a West German agent. In practice, the weight of the purge fell most heavily on Jews and those communists who had spent the war in the West. In the case of the Jews, the purge reflected events taking place in the Soviet Union. In the case of communists from the West, the purge strengthened Ulbricht’s hand against other party factions.
The Hungarian Communist Party [HCP] proceeded swiftly to assume full control of the government. First Secretary Rakosi became the country’s most powerful official and dictated major political and economic changes. In October 1947, noncommunist political figures were told to cooperate with a new coalition government or leave the country. In June 1948, the Social Democratic Party merged with the HCP, forming the Hungarian Workers’ Party (HWP). In 1949 the regime held a single-list election, and on August 20 of that year the government ratified a Soviet-style constitution. The official name of the country became the Hungarian People’s Republic, and the HWP’s control of the government was assured. Rakosi purged members of the party’s wartime underground, potential rivals, and hundreds of others.
In Hungary, September 1949, Laszlo Rajk, lifelong Communist, top party theoretician, onetime all-powerful Hungarian Interior Minister and later Foreign Minister, pleaded guilty to plotting to assassinate Communist Boss Matyas Rakosi. And who got Rajk into the gory plot?
„Noel Field,” cried the prosecutor, „one of the leaders of American espionage,” who „specialized in recruiting spies from among left-wing elements.” Verdict: hanging (and burial in unmarked graves) for Laszlo Rajk and four others; life imprisonment for two. Rajk, who continued to support a Hungarian road to socialism, „confessed” to being a Titoist and a fascist spy and was hanged in 1950. Another victim was future party chief Janos Kadar, who was jailed and tortured for three years.
The course of the war left the eastern front armies in control of all Polish territory. In the immediate postwar era, the army took second place to Poland’s new internal security forces in purging political opponents and consolidating communist power. This purging process lasted until the formation of the Polish United Workers’ Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza–PZPR) in 1948. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, PZPR rule grew steadily more totalitarian and developed the full range of Stalinist features then obligatory within the Soviet European empire: ideological regimentation, the police state, strict subordination to the Soviet Union, a rigid command economy, persecution of the Roman Catholic Church, and blatant distortion of history, especially as it concerned the more sensitive aspects of Poland’s relations with the Soviet Union. Stringent censorship stifled artistic and intellectual creativity or drove its exponents into exile.
On June 28, 1948, the Yugoslav-Soviet rift broke into the open when the Cominform expelled Yugoslavia. In Romania, Gheorghiu-Dej enthusiastically joined in the attack on Yugoslavia’s defiant leader, Josip Broz Tito, and the Cominform transferred its headquarters from Belgrade to Bucharest. Romania sheltered fleeing anti-Tito Yugoslavs, beamed propaganda broadcasts into Yugoslavia denouncing Tito, and called on Yugoslav communists to revolt. Tito’s successful defiance of Stalin triggered a purge of East European communists who had approved Titoist or „national” approaches to communism.
Romania’s purge of Titoists provided cover for a major internal power struggle. The authorities imprisoned Patrascanu as a „national deviationist” and friend to war criminals. In 1949 the party purged its rolls of 192,000 members. The Muscovite party leaders fell next.
In 1951 Pauker and Luca celebrated Gheorghiu-Dej as the party’s sole leader, but in May 1952 Pauker, Luca, and Georgescu lost their party and government positions. A month later, Gheorghiu-Dej shunted Groza into a ceremonial position and assumed both the state and party leadership. The government soon promulgated a new constitution that incorporated complete paragraphs of the Soviet constitution and designated for the PMR a role analogous to that of the CPSU in the Soviet Union–the „leading political force” in the state and society. In 1954 the military tried and shot several „deviationists” and „spies,” including Patrascanu.
The Field case was the contribution of the Soviet secret police, working with their opposite numbers in the people’s democracies, to demonstrating tho inherent rightness of tho formulas and tho political line of the Cominform. Support was needed for Stalin’s line on the heightening of the class struggle and on the penetration by enemies into the communist world, and evidence was required to back the charge that American imperialists were trying to isolate and separate the People’s Democracies from the Soviet Union; lastly, the Soviets could use some emphasis on their charge that the Yugoslav leaders were anti-Soviet imperialist agents. All these ideological and formulas with which Marxism-Leninism was then being interpreted were the fruit of the Cold War and, at the sane time, constituted the facade designed to mask the real intentions of Soviet policy, which was then one of preparation for war on the United States.
Stalin died in March 1953, and a „thaw” or relaxation of terror eventually followed Stalin’s death. The Soviet leaders succeeding Stalin were mindful of the West and tried to initiate moderate policies. The „New Course” called for liberalization and reaching out to the West. The Soviet Union remained a repugnant dictatorship, but it was a very different place after Stalin was gone.
Lieutenant Colonel Jozef Swiatlo, deputy director of the 10th Department of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), carried out an interrogation of Noel Field on 27 August 1949 in Budapest and was involved in the arrest and subsequent interrogation of Noel’s brother, Herman, a US citizen, who went to Warsaw in 1949 to look for Noel, but was secretly detained at the airport and kept in a 10th Department prison for five years, until Swiatlo broke the story.
Swiatlo was the first important defector from the Soviet controlled Polish security apparatus to the CIA, in December 1953. Józef Swiatlo was born in Poland in 1915. He joined the Communist movement in 1933, and became a Polish Security Service officer in 1945. He rose to the rank of Deputy Chief of Department X, which was responsible for protecting the Communist Party from non-Party subversive forces and for protecting „the purity of the Party from within the Party”. After his escape into the United States, Jozef Swiatlo made his first public statements in Milwaukee, in carefully controlled testimony given before a Congressional Committee on 21 and 22 October 1954, and again a few weeks later in Washington. Swiatlo’s testimony was recorded and broadcast over RFE on 28 September 1954.
„Operation Spotlight” was run by the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE), which was dedicated to the liberation of Eastern Europe and ran RFE. The NCFE was guided by C.D. Jackson, Special Assistant for Cold War Affairs to President Eisenhower, and a great fan of psychological warfare. The aim of „Operation Spotlight” was to expose the mechanics behind the purges against the nationalists in 1948 and other sensitive matters. The broadcasts were directed not only at the Polish public but also security functionaries and party activists. The operation may have exceeded its target. Until 31 December 1954 Swiatlo was a constant figure on RFE’s Polish Service broadcasts: one hundred taped programs and almost 150 news items. These programs were called, „a brilliant tactical decision that brought unforseeable strategic gains,” and „one of the most successful pieces of radio propaganda ever’.
In November 1954 Noel and his wife Herta Field popped back into sight as the Hungarian government announced their release from political prison. Hermann had been released with apologies three weeks earlier by Poland with the admission that it had all been a terrible mistake. In releasing the Fields, Communist Hungary admitted: „It has not been possible to justify the charge made in the past.” Thus the Communists conceded that every trial in which Noel had been used as the chief agent was trumped up. For the first time, the West realized just how much a Hungarian spokesman was admitting, when he confessed last month: „We may frankly admit that the leaders of the former Security Office arrested many comrades, using criminally improper methods, and that they were convicted by the court on the grounds of invented and forced charges and testimony. This was a great mistake.”