February 19, 2017


The Two Worlds of a Soviet Spy : The astonishing life story of Joseph Katz (HARVEY KLEHR, JOHN EARL HAYNES, & DAVID GURVITZ / FEB. 15, 2017, Commentary)

Joseph had joined the CPUSA in 1932 while still in college. His route into the Party probably came through his girlfriend, Bessie Bogorad, also a young Communist activist who had grown up in Passaic. The couple got married in Los Angeles in 1936 and the following year Joseph was recruited by Soviet intelligence. Information about why he was in Los Angeles or what he did between 1932 and the late 1930s remains buried in American and Soviet intelligence files. (His FBI file has never been released.) One of his nephews, David--Meishke's son, now a professor at Tel Aviv University--heard Joseph tell stories of working among blacks in the American South for some of that period. He also told David that for years he was responsible for laundering money for Soviet intelligence, using the businesses they had set up for him. He had a knack for running things; his enterprises did well.

What is clear is that his abilities and skills led to his acquiring more and more responsibilities and being entrusted with more sensitive assignments over the years. By the time of Bentley's defection, Katz had become one of the KGB's most trusted and important agent-handlers in the United States. The chief of FBI counterintelligence later judged that "Joseph Katz's importance as a Soviet agent in the U.S. cannot be overestimated."

As a security measure, the KGB suspended contact with him in late 1945, after Bentley's defection, but it soon decided that it was too risky to leave him in the United States. Unlike most of Bentley's government contacts, who were well known and could not easily disappear, Katz was known only to the FBI as Bentley's Jack. If he was ever caught, dozens of Soviet spies would be in peril. Consequently, by June 1946 the KGB had relocated Katz to Paris, where he continued his espionage work.

Between 1946 and 1949 Joseph wrote letters to Menke from Paris, Rome, Milan, Belgium, the Swiss Alps, and the Pyrenees. Nothing in them carries a hint of what he was doing. But a document in KGB files from December 1948 indicates that he was in Italy at that time, "forming a company on our instructions to cover the illegal courier line between Europe and the USA."

Defectors from Communism have often spoken of a Kronstadt2 moment--the event that finally shatters illusions and precipitates a break with the cause to which they have devoted their lives. Stalinist paranoia had several times led to sweeping internal KGB purges. As Stalin's anti-Semitic campaign gathered strength in the late 1940s and early 1950s, KGB officers with a Jewish background were shunted aside, demoted, or discharged, and foreign Jewish agents like Katz came under suspicion. As we've seen, Katz had told his Israeli contact Aviva Flint that suspicion about him in 1950 had ended his nearly two decades of revolutionary commitment. His letters that year are guarded but deeply revealing to anyone aware of his history.

One letter from 1950 hints at a recent traumatic event--probably his interrogation by the KGB and his fear that he would be liquidated. "I shall never forget the last few days," he wrote. "The kind of things that happened would seem unreal in the worst pulp magazine story. I feel as though everything is unreal and out of focus." He told Menke that "a few nights ago I was up all night preparing what I thought may be my last letter to" his daughter, Paula.

In October, he lamented the choice he had made in a cautious but nonetheless clear reference to his work for Soviet intelligence: "I know now the exact time and the exact chance happening to me that set me on a road from which there is no return. I think now that I had a feeling, a foreboding even then that I was starting on the wrong path, but once begun there was no turning back. I was never sure of what I was doing, but the element of adventure, the desire to impress and feel important overcame the doubts I had." He had, finally, come to the realization that "my life up to now, all I believed and worked for, is a fraud and a lie."

He dropped hints that he feared for his life: "When you ask me again and again where I will be, I cannot tell you. I am not sure about anything. When you ask such questions of me, it is clear that you do not understand my situation, and it isn't possible for me to make it any clearer. You must forgive my nervousness. Things are not good." He reported seeing himself on a deserted street in a strange city "and [I] am a little afraid." Either to evade the KGB or, because he was spooked by the inquiries from French counterintelligence, he took a four-month vacation in the Basque country, writing that "how I came here is a long story," but adding that there was a legend that Jews escaping the Inquisition found refuge in the Pyrenees.

Hiding from both the KGB and the FBI, Joseph disappeared again in 1951 before turning up in Israel by early November. He wrote Menke: "Who was it that said, 'There is nothing sadder than a disillusioned revolutionary?'" He was filled with regret: "I am sure that in our dreams of creating a better world we did wrong things--and hurt those we loved--but not because we were bad--we hurt ourselves even more." He bitterly noted that "we tried to spread beauty and truth, but it remained manure, and the flower does not grow."

David Katz later learned from his uncle that Israeli authorities had been suspicious of his bona fides when he arrived; during his first year he was questioned extensively about his Communist allegiance. He never discussed exactly what he told those in intelligence about his espionage activities, but managed to convince them that he had irreparably broken with his past. Exactly how forthcoming he was remains a secret in the archives of Israeli intelligence.

He may have abandoned Communism, but Joseph remained a committed socialist. He established close ties with Menachem Bader, an important figure in Mapam, the pro-Soviet Zionist political party that tried to blend Marxism and Jewish nationalism. In 1953, Mapam faced an existential crisis when one of its leaders, Mordechai Oren, was arrested on a trip to Czechoslovakia and forced to testify against 14 leaders of the Czech Communist Party. Under torture, he falsely confessed to being a British and Zionist spy and implicated the defendants, most of whom were Jewish, as his agents. Eleven of them were hanged, including Party leader Rudolf Slansky. Joseph wrote his brother that he was convinced the trial was a frame-up: "In the end our dreams turned to nightmares." He became increasingly anti-Communist and more fervently Zionist. "Better a Jewish state without socialism than socialism without a Jewish state," he wrote to Menke. He also remarked that Israeli forces should have conquered Cairo in the 1956 war to force the Egyptians to make peace, and he denounced the "Russian fascists" who had destroyed the Hungarian Revolution.

He worked with Kibbutz Artzi, a federation of left-wing Mapam settlements, helping individual collective farms with engineering projects. He began to do part-time work for the Ministry of Development and travelled to Europe to inspect equipment being considered for purchase. He spent a year or two in Africa with Solel Boneh, a government-owned construction firm, helping to build the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. (In 1976, the Israeli raid to free Jewish hostages was facilitated by the company's possession of the original blueprints, which helped the military plan the operation precisely.)

Joseph also remarried. He and his first wife, Bessie, had had a daughter, Paula, born in 1941. By 1945 they were estranged and Katz was living with a woman named Eva Getzoff. In March, Moscow reluctantly agreed to allow Getzoff to be used as a courier for Katz but worried that since he lived with her, "there could be potential complications with his wife." Not long after this message, Katz signed up with the Merchant Marine; perhaps he was escaping a difficult love triangle.

When Joseph left for Europe in 1946, Eva Getzoff remained in the United States. Joseph must have had a reconciliation with Bessie, because in 1949 he informed Menke that Bessie and Paula had just departed from the home they shared with him in Paris for America. He and Bessie either divorced or he became a widower in the 1950s after she died of cancer, and Eva became his second wife. The shadow of their past never completely disappeared. In 1961, when the FBI arrested the spy Robert Soblen, it named Eva Getzoff as an unindicted co-conspirator. Neither Joseph nor Eva ever talked publicly about their pasts or cooperated with American intelligence.

In the 1960s, Joseph went to work for a film-equipment company and received patents in fiber optics, film lighting techniques, and the development and installation of double filament lighting and automated grid systems. His expertise in lighting and film techniques led to his employment by Berkey Photos, a British company, as its managing director. He moved to London in 1966. Berkey wanted to send him to the United States on company business, and Joseph, who had renounced his American citizenship shortly after arriving in Israel, feared he would be arrested. So he switched jobs--and, improbably, helped make films that glamorized and fantasized the world of espionage that he had abandoned.

H arry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli were the producers of the James Bond movies from 1962, starting with Dr. No, through 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun under the aegis of Eon Productions. Together they made a total of nine Bond films. Saltzman hired Katz as a technical adviser on lighting in 1967, and he remained in that capacity until 1975. Both Dovid and David, his nephews, recalled the thrill of visiting the set at Pinewood Studios in Norfolk while filming took place. Dovid got to travel to Dover to watch spectacular takes of cars hurtling off cliffs and exploding in midair. David met Roger Moore. As Saltzman's Israeli representative in 1972, Katz negotiated for his purchase of Berkey Pathe Humphries, a major film and photo-finishing laboratory in Tel Aviv. In 1985, Katz listed himself in a Who's Who as an associate and former consultant to Harry Saltzman Enterprises. In 1998, on the dust jacket of Letters to My Brother, he promoted himself to Chief Executive Officer of Saltzman Enterprises.

Posted by at February 19, 2017 7:18 AM