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Authors: John Barron

Operation Solo

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Table of Contents
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED to all who contributed to Operation SOLO and kept it secret. Specifically, it is dedicated to Morris Childs, Eva Childs, Jack Childs, Alexander Burlinson, Carl Freyman, Walter Boyle, John Langtry, James Fox, and Ivian Smith, all of whom represented the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.
By their deeds, all exhibited a shared conviction: “Freedom never comes free. Freedom at any price always is a bargain.”
IN ADDITION TO THANKING benefactors named in the Foreword, I thank others, without implying that any of them necessarily endorses the accuracy or concurs with the conclusions of what I have written.
William Gunn was a research assistant to every FBI Director from J. Edgar Hoover to William Webster. After retiring from the FBI, he worked with me as a researcher and helped conduct the initial interviews with Morris and Eva Childs in the early 1980s. He also interviewed other sources by himself.
Former Assistant Director Raymond Wannall supervised SOLO from FBI headquarters during the last years of his career and saved the operation when congressional committees were about to inadvertently destroy it. He favored me with unique perspectives of the operation as it was viewed from headquarters.
Former FBI Agents Edward Miller, Donald Moore, William Brannigan, and Edward Jones confirmed the broad history of SOLO and provided details of various aspects of it.
Herbert Romerstein, formerly a staff member of the House Intelligence Security Committee and the U.S. Information Agency, briefed me about personalities prominent in the American and Soviet Communist Parties, and constructively critiqued the manuscript.
Professor Harvey Klehr of Emory University made available his excellent history of the U.S. Communist Party,
The Heyday of American Communism
, and generously shared with me references to Morris Childs that he discovered in the Moscow archives of the Comintern.
Former FBI Agent Wesley Roberts facilitated my many interviews with Eva Childs and advised me as to how I could communicate with other primary sources.
Chicago attorney Charles Goodbar, in ably representing Eva, greatly facilitated publication by solving or dissipating a number of legal problems.
William Shulz, managing editor of the
Reader's Digest
, out of personal friendship reviewed and beneficially critiqued the manuscript.
Alfred Regnery, president of Regnery Publishing, Inc., agreed to publish this book at a time when other publishers expressed no interest in “a book about the Cold War.” Throughout its preparation, he encouraged me.
Richard Vigilante, senior editor at Regnery, expertly edited the manuscript and counseled me on deficiencies that needed my attention.
WHILE WRITING A BOOK about the Soviet KGB during the early 1970s, I interviewed many former FBI agents and, in ensuing years, some favored me with their friendship. In 1977 one of them outlined to me what he described as a great espionage operation that the FBI had long conducted against the Soviet Union. The principal American spies were Morris Childs, his wife Eva, and his brother Jack Childs. The retired agent said that all three were elderly, that both brothers were in very poor health, and that the FBI was ending the operation. An accurate account of it would benefit the public and the country; an incomplete or distorted account could be harmful. Accordingly, he and other former agents, for whom he purported to speak, recommended that I ask the FBI if someday I could write the story and begin research while the three main protagonists were still alive.
Without confirming or denying the information imparted to me, the FBI said that the subject I broached was extremely sensitive and highly classified. It requested that I pledge never to mention or allude to the subject in any writings or conversation. If I could not freely make such a commitment, the FBI needed to know that, then and there. I promised to say nothing. A few weeks later, a senior FBI executive asked to talk to me about “a vital
national security matter.” He stated that because of new developments and because American lives were at stake, the FBI had to be sure I would honor my pledge never to say anything about the subject I had raised at headquarters. I gave him my assurances. There is nothing remarkable about not publicizing classified information whose disclosure would imperil the lives of American spies, and I mention these incidents only because they are relevant to what subsequently happened.
The operation about which I learned in 1977 continued well beyond 1977, and Morris and Eva Childs were aware that I had suppressed my knowledge of it. That is one reason why they indirectly approached me in 1982 through FBI Agent Michael Steinbeck. He said that the operation in which Mr. and Mrs. Childs were involved finally had ended and they wished to discuss with me the possibility of my writing a book about their experiences. The FBI stated that it would neither oppose nor contribute to such a book; however, if I desired, it would facilitate an initial meeting between me and the Childses, who were in hiding under government protection.
We first met in Santa Monica, California, where we were joined by former FBI Agent Walter A. Boyle. For an unprecedented eighteen years, Boyle had served as the “case agent” closest to Morris and Eva. Morris looked upon him as a son and invited him to participate in our beginning interviews. Steinbeck was present as an escort but did not take part in the interviews. I found Morris, Eva, and Boyle fascinating and saw each as a striking character in a drama. Never have I enjoyed interviews more. Morris and Eva later came to Washington, and in a Georgetown suite we talked many hours a day for the better part of a week about the history in the making that they had witnessed and at times had helped to make. We became friends and very much looked forward to working together on a book.
We were about to begin work full time when the FBI advised Morris and Eva that the Justice Department had ruled they could not tell their story to me. No one from the Justice Department ever spoke to me, and I received only a hearsay explanation of the rationale behind the ruling. Supposedly, a relatively junior Justice
Department attorney reasoned thus: Many of the details Morris and Eva would necessarily reveal in recounting their espionage careers remained classified top secret, and the government still refused to release these details to anyone. If the Justice Department allowed Morris and Eva to tell their story, it in effect would be sanctioning release of top secret data exclusively to me. That would represent unacceptable favoritism toward one journalist. More important, the release of such secrets through Morris to me would make it difficult for the Justice Department to resist demands that had been filed under the Freedom of Information Act requesting that other secrets be revealed.
Morris was disappointed and angry but there was little he could prudently do. He was eighty-one; his health was terrible; he believed, probably correctly, that the KGB and Communist Party were hunting him; he needed the protection and support of the government; and he had to consider the welfare of Eva. Still, he retained hope that Americans someday might learn of his secret life and its meaning. And we continued to see each other, particularly when the FBI brought him to northern Virginia for consultations or to lecture at its academy in Quantico.
In 1987 Ronald Reagan ordered the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed upon Morris and awarded posthumously to his brother Jack. The president offered personally to decorate Morris at the White House and to host a luncheon or dinner in his honor. The FBI persuaded the president that security considerations made a White House ceremony imprudent, and so Director William Sessions presented the medal at FBI headquarters. At the insistence of Morris and Eva, I was invited to a private, unofficial reception afterward.
Gathered in a hotel suite on Pennsylvania Avenue were Morris' best FBI friends. I was privileged to meet and speak with some of them: Walt Boyle; John Langtry, who for twelve years was the case agent of Jack Childs; Carl Freyman, who long ago persuaded Morris to ally himself with the FBI; and Assistant Director James Fox, a patron of Morris and Eva since 1971.
Morris had been so near death so many times that I think he had lost fear of a natural death; he did dread death in a Soviet execution chamber or from an assassin's exploding bullet. He once
remarked to me, “I hope I can die quietly and peacefully without any of them knowing.” On June 2, 1991, eight days before his eighty-ninth birthday, Morris died just that way in a hospital bed with Eva and a rabbi at his side.
In the judgment of Eva and me, Morris' death and the disintegration of the Soviet Union removed any justification for further withholding his story, and in 1992 I began work on the book, with Eva's indispensable help.
Upon marrying Morris in 1962, Eva became his full and equal partner in espionage and thereafter accompanied and assisted him on almost all his many missions into the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. She sat by Morris during the pre-launch briefings and the post-mission debriefings. She was a confidant of the head of the U.S. Communist Party and his wife; she was a friend of the FBI agents who ran the operation. Eva alone was an extraordinary, original source.
In addition she made available a rare trove of papers, records, files, and notes assembled and kept by Morris. Among them were copies of Soviet documents he and she smuggled out of Moscow; copies of reports from Morris and Jack to the FBI; detailed notes reconstructing secret briefings the Soviet rulers gave Morris; notes recording conversations with these rulers; and memoranda Morris submitted to the Politburo.
In 1987 FBI Agents Charles Knox and James Milburn spent eleven days with Morris and Eva recording on tape Morris' reminiscences of a lifetime. The FBI made handwritten transcripts of these conversations and gave Eva, a party to them, copies of most of the transcripts, and she gave those she had to me. Eva also supplied from Morris' memorabilia numerous photographs, some of which appear in this book. One in particular had significant consequences; it shows Morris and Leonid Brezhnev together in the Kremlin.
Before her death, Eva stated her intention to bequeath these files and records to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in the hope that they will be useful to future researchers.
Beyond documentary data, this book is based upon hundreds of hours of interviews with FBI participants in the operation,
including James Fox, Carl Freyman, Walter Boyle, and John Langtry. They appear as major characters in the book, and the narrative provides ample means for readers to assess their qualifications to testify as expert eyewitnesses to history. The special qualifications of Boyle and Langtry merit mention.

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