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The FBI’s Silvermaster file[1] is a 162-volume compendium of some 26,000 pages of documents relating to the Bureau’s investigation of Communist penetration of the Federal government during the Cold War.

Beginning in 1945 with the allegations of defecting Soviet courier Elizabeth Bentley (Venona cover names “Myrna”[2]; Umnitsa, “Clever Girl”[3]), the file is also known as the Bentley file or Gregory file (“Gregory” being the FBI’s code name for Bentley).

The file takes the name “Silvermaster” from Nathan Gregory Silvermaster (Venona cover names Pel[4], Pal, “Paul”[5]; “Robert”[6]) of the War Production Board, whom Bentley named as head of an underground Communist network known as the Silvermaster Group.[7] Among the people named in the file in connection with this group are President Franklin Roosevelt’s Administrative Assistant Lauchlin Currie[8] (Currie's Venona cover name was "Page")[9] and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Harry Dexter White[10] (Venona cover names “Lawyer”[11]; “Jurist”[9]; “Richard”[12]).

Also named in the file are Victor Perlo[13] (Venona cover name “Raider”[14]), chief of the Aviation Section of the War Production Board, and contacts of his Perlo group, including Alger Hiss[15] (Venona cover name “Ales”[16][17][18]), secretary general of the United Nations Charter Conference. (Like several others identified by Bentley, Hiss had been identified independently by another defecting Soviet courier, Whittaker Chambers, to Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle in 1939.[19]) Among dozens of others named by Bentley in this file in connection with this network is Duncan Lee[20] (Venona cover name “Koch”[21]), confidential assistant to William Donovan, founder and director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), wartime predecessor of the CIA.



Original plans for Bentley to serve as a double agent and gather sufficient evidence to prosecute the Soviet agents identified in the Silvermaster files were ruined when her identity was inadvertently leaked and the USSR quickly shut down its operations in order to avoid embarrassing and damaging prosecutions. The Silvermaster file in combination with other secret proofs such as the Venona intercepts gave US intelligence the identity of many Soviet agents without the practical means to secure convictions. Also, the statute of limitations for an espionage prosecution was quite short. This was a significant part of the backstory of McCarthyism. Bentley's double agent career would have enabled the US to expose the spies without compromising Venona and losing that as an ongoing intelligence source.

See also


  1. ^ FBI Silvermaster file 65-56402
  2. ^ 1353 KGB New York to Moscow, 23 Sept. 1944, p. 2
  3. ^ 687 KGB New York to Moscow, 13 May 1944, p.1
  4. ^ 1017 KGB New York to Moscow, 29-30 June 1943, p. 2
  5. ^ 888 KGB New York to Moscow, 9th June 1943, p. 2
  6. ^ 1787 KGB New York to Moscow, 19 December 1944, p.1
  7. ^ FBI Report, Underground Soviet Espionage Organization (NKVD) in Agencies of the United States Government, October 21, 1946 (FBI Silvermaster file, Volume 82), p. 12
  8. ^ FBI Report, Underground Soviet Espionage Organization (NKVD) in Agencies of the United States Government, October 21, 1946 (FBI Silvermaster file, Volume 82), 52
  9. ^ a b Robert J. Hanyok, Eavesdropping on Hell: Historical Guide to Western Communications Intelligence and the Holocaust, 1939-1945 (Washington, DC: Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, 2005, 2nd Ed.), p. 119
  10. ^ FBI Report, op. cit., p. 78 (PDF page 86)
  11. ^ 1251 KGB New York to Moscow, 2 September 1944, p. 2
  12. ^ 83 KGB New York to Moscow, 18 January 1945, p.1
  13. ^ FBI Report, p. 98
  14. ^ 687 KGB New York to Moscow, 13 May 1944, p. 1
  15. ^ FBI Report, p. 108 (PDF 119)
  16. ^ 1822 KGB New York to Moscow, 30 March 1945, p. 1
  17. ^ "This could only be Alger Hiss." (Appendix A, Part 6, "The Experience of the Bomb," Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy (Moynihan Commission), Senate Document 105-2, Pursuant to Public Law 236, 103rd Congress, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1997)
  18. ^ "Analysts at the National Security Agency have gone on record asserting that Ales could only have been Alger Hiss." (PBS Nova Online: "Secrets, Lies, and Atomic Spies")
  19. ^ Berle’s notes on his meeting with Whittaker Chambers, September 2, 1939
  20. ^ FBI Report, p. 163
  21. ^ 800 KGB New York to Moscow, June 8, 1943, p. 1


Further reading

  • “Testimony of Elizabeth T. Bentley,” Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage in the United States Government, Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Eightieth Congress, Second Session, Public Law 601 (Section 121, Subsection Q [2]), Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1948.

External links



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