Spies, Subversives and Government Surveillance During the Cold War

Programs for Teachers
History Channel Seminar Series
Friday, June 24, 2011

Espionage, subversion, and surveillance took many forms during the Cold War. In 1953, when the federal government executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for spying for the Soviet Union during World War II, very few Americans knew how much espionage the Soviet Union had carried out inside the United States. Indeed, the scope of this spying remained a well-protected state secret until the mid-1990s. Although almost all of the espionage occurred during World War II, fears of communist spying and subversion were widespread in the late 1940s and 1950s as a result of Congressional investigations, the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations, and a federal loyalty program. Why did the U.S. government keep its knowledge and evidence of wartime Soviet espionage secret for decades? What methods of surveillance did the government use to discover and prevent espionage? Why did this surveillance frequently break federal laws and violate the constitutional rights of Americans who were not, in any way, involved in espionage against the United States? We will focus on these questions in this seminar, using declassified government documents to analyze significant episodes of spying, subversion, and surveillance. We will also investigate the surveillance activity of prominent Chicago journalist Jack Mabley, who, in 1968, hired a young reporter named Dwayne Oklepek to infiltrate the Chicago chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society in order to acquire inside information about the SDS’s plans to disrupt the Democratic National Convention.

Seminar led by David Krugler, University of Wisconsin at Platteville

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