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ESPIONAGE IN THE TRUE NORTH: THE FRED ROSE AFFAIR

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By David Levy

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The Montréal Review, March 2012

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"Stalin's Man in Canada: Fred Rose and Soviet Espionage" by David Levy (Enigma Books, 2011)

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Available at Amazon US and Amazon Canada

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"My many years of association with David Levy assure me that this prime source book on Fred Rose will have been as critically researched as it is entertainingly presented."  

-Harry Chapman Pincher, author of "Betrayals, Blunders, and Cover-ups: Six Decades of Espionage Against America and Great Britain"

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In the summer of 1943 Fred Rose, a candidate for the Labour Progressive Party, a communist party alias, was elected to the Canadian parliament in a by election in the federal constituency of Cartier, back then a working class district in the heart of Montreal.

The dwellings of Cartier, today part Le Plateau, part Mile End, consist mostly of brick houses two and three stories in height with flat roofs, balconies, porches and exterior staircases in front and back. The rooms are distributed lengthwise. One proceeds past a double living room, through a hallway to a dining area and a kitchen in the rear. For the houses with three floors, the stairs from the balcony on the second floor to the third floor are inside. The buildings were erected between 1891 and 1921, at a time when migrants without the means to acquire single-family accommodation poured into the city to labor in its plants and factories. The exterior staircases have been much criticized as ill-suited to the city's icy winters, though it has been argued that thus constructed the buildings were without the confined noise and odors of apartment interiors and better suited to the city's stifling summers. In those summers, recalled pianist Paul Bley, the iron staircases became everyone's front yards.

The margin of Rose's election triumph was thin. Cartier had a mixed Jewish and French-Canadian demographic. Whose votes won the day for Rose in 1943 remains unclear. (1) Re-elected in 1945, in September of that year a Soviet encryption specialist named Igor Gouzenko, notified that he was to be recalled to Moscow, fled the Ottawa embassy with dozens of documents he hoped to trade for asylum. The documents revealed that the embassy was a hothouse of Soviet espionage and identified the M.P. Fred Rose as a key player in the scheme. A few months later Rose was arrested, put on trial and convicted of conspiracy to violate the Official Secrets Act of Canada. Communist Party of Canada (CPC) head Tim Buck insisted the party was completely innocent of any involvement. Following Rose's release from prison, the party, eager to scrub clean its soiled public face, drove him out of the country. Rose ended his days in Warsaw an unhappy witness to the rise of Solidarity and the collapse of the Leninist vision he'd lived by.

* * *

Fred Rose, born Fishel Rosenberg in Lublin, Poland in 1907, stood 5'4", had blue eyes and fair hair. Lublin was a town a few miles from what would become the Majdanek Nazi death camp. The third child of carpenter father Jacob he had two sisters, Ida and Sarah, and three brothers - Alfred, Abraham and Harold, all born in Poland. Rose arrived in Canada with his father and mother in 1920 aboard the S.S. Corsican. The family settled in Montreal. (2)

Rose had attended the Gymnase Humaniste de Lublin, a Jewish high school for girls and boys, where he received French language instruction. His knowledge of French was a skill of great value. It enabled him as a young man to represent francophone workers in a dispute with E.B.Myers, an American radio tube manufacturer based in Montreal.

In 1925, at the urging of older brother Abraham, a leading party member who had been active in the Bund in Poland, Rose joined the Young Communist League (YCL). Thus began an apprenticeship in Marxism-Leninism. Rose was soon convinced that the Russian revolution was the true model for the transformation of the nations and began to contemplate a world revolutionary movement championed by the USSR.

In 1928 he was fingered by the RCMP as someone worth keeping an eye on. (3) His pamphlets and speeches suggested that the ultimate goal of his work as a labour organizer was to bring about a Soviet-style political regime in Canada.

The attentions of the RCMP were at the time focused on the activities of labor activists among the factory and sweatshop workers of the land, in particular on the role of Jews in the labor movement. This despite the RCMP's own secret estimates, ever tallied in terms of ethnicity, that Jewish party membership comprised less than 10 percent of the total: 3,000 Finns, 800 Ukrainians, 400 Jews, and 200 Anglos. (4)

Apparently, until the Gouzenko defection, the RCMP looked upon the party as a source of subversion, not espionage, which is to say that the Force appeared to have taken the party at its word and bought into the Marxian line that the organization of the laboring class constituted a decisive step on the road to revolution.

In an April 1931 pamphlet "Smash the Embargo" Rose appeared to spell out his political philosophy. The objective of the CPC, he wrote, was to "lead the Canadian workers to establish a system similar to that of the Soviet Union." The Communist Movement, said the pamphlet, was preparing for decisive battles between the working class and Canadian capitalists.

The reality was otherwise. The references to the struggle with capitalism were in effect window dressing. The conclusion of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in August, 1939, officially The Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union, laid bare the larger truth: the CPC was little more than a pawn of the Stalinist regime. The shock experienced within CPC ranks was a measure of the success of Rose and others in camouflaging the party's true purpose.

While the pact held local Nazi supporters and the party shared a slogan: Keep Quebec Out of the War! As Rose put it in a pamphlet: "In spite of ourselves our people of Quebec are engaged in a war which has nothing to do with us." (5)

Following Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi assault on the USSR in June 1941, Rose and the CPC abruptly reversed direction. It was now, Rose declared, the duty of all Canadians to oppose isolationism. (6)

Fred Rose may have on some level been aware that Stalin was not much interested in the revolutionary transformation of Canadian society or the conditions of the Canadian working class, that among the major virtues of Canada for Soviet schemers was its proximity to the United States, making it an invaluable jumping off point for Soviet agents.

The Depression had reduced grown men to picking scraps of food out of garbage cans. Across the ocean, Welsh miners stood single-file in the gutters of London singing for pennies to send home to their starving families. The breadlines and soup kitchens and farm foreclosures coincided with the spread of fascism and the outbreak of the Civil War in Spain. An age of chaos and murder seemed to be dawning. Fred Rose and his Soviet aufpassers appeared to read the despair of the Depression years as a once in a lifetime opportunity to expand Soviet influence in North America, to exploit the feeling, growing in strength, that change was necessary and urgent, that the USSR was the hope of the world and the key to a socialist society that would forever eliminate want and oppression. Desperation gave Soviet communism the magnetism of a religion, a faith to be absolutely embraced, whole-heartedly, unquestioningly.

In the Depression years, the church in Roman Catholic Quebec looked with great displeasure at the increased albeit limited appeal of the party and its Jewish leadership. In March 1937, the Trois-Rivieres pharaoh, Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis, responded to pressure from the Church by enacting the anti-Communist loi du cadenas, the Padlock Law - "an Act to Protect the Province Against Communist Propaganda". The legislation gave authorities the power to lock up any building the Attorney-General, Duplessis himself, judged to be employed in the dissemination of Communist propaganda, and to seize any literature deemed Communist. Duplessis let it be known that he was responding to the expressed concerns of Jean-Marie-Rodrigue Cardinal Villeneuve, the province's chief prelate.(7)

Party thinkers appeared to have concluded that high-handed politics and Depression misery were shaking the population's faith in the establishment, that entry into the electoral contests of Cartier and elsewhere might be the way to augment the party's national standing.

* * *

Fred Rose had early in his left-wing career become a member of a network of NKVD illegals - agents without the protection of diplomatic status - run out of New York City by Gaik Badalovich Ovakimyan, the Soviet Consul. A science Ph.D., Ovakimyan was sent to the United States in 1933 as deputy head of the NKVD's scientific-technical intelligence section. He worked undercover as an engineer for the Amtrog corporation founded in New York City in 1924 to handle trade between America and the Soviet Union. (8)

Ovakimyan's right hand man in America was the Russian-born Yasha Raisin, a k a Jacob Golos, an important Rose contact. (13) Golos supervised a number of agents under cover of his position as head of World Tourists, a Comintern agency that arranged travel between the USSR and the USA. A major Golos responsibility involved the acquisition of travel documents to facilitate the mobility of Soviet illegals.

The specifics of Rose's association with Golos and Ovakimyan, when it began, Rose's duties, etc. remain vague. It does appear that Rose assisted Golos in obtaining Canadian travel documents. The association linked him to the executive offices of Stalin's North American espionage operation and in time to Elizabeth Bentley, Golos's lover and girl Friday.

Yasha, as Bentley affectionately referred to Jacob Golos, passed away in November 1943, unyielding pressure on him to relinquish his CPUSA assets to Russian control apparently having done irreparable damage to his health. Bentley assumed the bulk of his duties. She soon however grew disenchanted with her new Russian bosses. In August 1945, she visited the FBI's New Haven office. In November she sat for fourteen interview sessions with Special FBI Agents Harold V. Kennedy and Joseph M. Kelly. In one of them she provided information about the Golos-Rose relationship: "...sometime in the summer of 1939. I was instructed by GOLOS that I would receive mail from Canada at my address at 18 Grove Street, New York City. GOLOS told me that if I received any letter from Canada it would be for him and I was to deliver it to him. I recall that I received mail from Canada at about this time, about one letter a week. These letters kept coming from Canada over a period of about six months. I subsequently learned that some of the letters that were sent from Canada that I delivered to GOLOS, came from either TIM BUCK or FRED ROSE. I am not certain which one." (9) Some of the mail from Fred Rose went to her apartment, most to another address.

A former RCMP counter-intelligence specialist surmised that Rose's NKVD duties consisted of the recruitment of promising information sources, the transmission of funds to the CPUSA, and assistance with bogus documentation for Soviet illegals seeking entry into the USA and beyond. (10)

With the termination of the 1939-1941 Hitler-Stalin pact Rose in 1942 switched espionage chores from NKVD to GRU, Soviet military intelligence. The Russians recorded the arrangement in an undated coded message to Moscow. (11) Rose was given charge of a Montreal group tasked with supplying information on war materials. The Rose team included Raymond Boyer, a chemistry professor at McGill University, reputedly an expert on the explosive RDX.

The Rose forte had involved identifying scientists and others who possessed classified information and steering these individuals to the Russians. Alas, Fred was himself but a journeyman electrician, the nuts and bolts of modern weaponry beyond him, something GRU operatives seemed not to understand. Rose was likely the source of the Russian confusion of the RDX explosives plant outside Shawinigan with the uranium research facility at Chalk River. (12)

* * *

Aware of the dangerous course he was embarking on, Igor Gouzenko departed the Soviet Embassy on the evening of 5 September 1945 armed with a Lebel revolver, a French Foreign Legion issue weapon. (13) The standard account of the defection has him boarding an Ottawa tram for the offices of The Ottawa Journal. In his version of the visits to the paper - there was more than one visit - the Journal's night editor could not see that a great scoop had landed his desk. People on duty at the paper that evening recalled the episode differently. The Russian, they said, spread no documents across a reporter's desk, appeared petrified with fright, spoke broken English with a thick Russian accent, and was virtually incoherent. (14)

Whatever in fact happened at the Journal that evening matters less than how it was that Igor finally managed to end up in RCMP custody when neither the Russians nor the Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King wanted him there, and so played a key role in terminating the political career of Fred Rose.

On the morning of the following day, 6 September, Gouzenko, his wife Svetlana and infant son Andrei were sitting in the outer office of Louis St. Laurent, the Minister of Justice. Norman Robertson, a Mackenzie King adviser and confidant, had been told that Gouzenko was there and was threatening suicide. Did he know Igor was carrying a piece? Robertson wasted little time informing Mackenzie King that a Soviet defector, along with his wife and small son, were in the Justice Building seeking Canadian government protection. The prime minister's first instruction was to do nothing, that Gouzenko might be a "crank trying to preserve his own life."

Robertson, whose view of the defection seemed from the beginning to differ substantially from that of the prime minister, had instructed the RCMP to keep a close eye on the Russian's movements. A former RCMP staff sergeant, Cecil Bayfield, told journalist John Sawatsky that in the late evening of 5 September 1945 information had been received about the Gouzenko defection, i.e. before Gouzenko found his way to the outer office of the Minister of Justice. (15)

The following evening, 6 September, not that many hours after his unsuccessful attempt to alert Canadian authorities to the Soviet menace, Igor Gouzenko, his wife and child were welcomed in from the cold.

In a 7 September statement to RCMP officers, Gouzenko described how very late the previous evening he'd heard the sound of an automobile pulling up in front of the apartment building. (16) The Russians had paid a visit to the apartment earlier, knocked on the apartment door, called out Gouzenko's name and departed. Svetlana Gouzenko now observed through the keyhole of a neighbor's apartment four members of the Embassy staff led by KGB man Vitalii Pavlov breaking into the Gouzenko apartment. The local police were alerted and, given the international character of the matter, notified the RCMP, who'd been on the case from the previous evening.

The Canadian prime minister soon underwent a change of heart. He decided that the Gouzenko defection was an event that placed him in the midst of a struggle between the NKVD and "the spirit world." On 11 September he confided a suspicion to his diary: "I cannot believe this information has come to me as a matter of chance. I can only pray for guidance that I may be able to be an instrument in the control of powers beyond to help save a desperate situation, to maintain peace now that it has been nominally established." "It was, he mumbled to the diary, "impossible not to see the working of forces from beyond in what has come into the possession of our government in this matter." (17)

* * *

Fred Rose was tried, convicted and sent to prison for conspiring to turn over to Soviet comrades information about the components of the RDX formula he'd gotten from explosives expert Professor Raymond Boyer, not for actually having done so. The main witness against Rose at his 1946 trial was not Igor Gouzenko but fellow conspirator Raymond Boyer. Called to testify, Boyer admitted, as he had to a royal commission a few months earlier, that he'd been willing to supply Rose with details of his work on the explosive RDX, knowing full well that this information would be handed over to the Russians.

Rose's lead defense attorney, Joseph Cohen, a formidable legal mind, attempted to argue with no success that the complexity of the RDX process was such that it was not something Boyer could have successfully explained to a person with Freddy's limited scientific training. The courts however ruled that the two elements in a criminal conspiracy had been established: the plan to break the law and the initial concrete step.

In November 1946, an American named Joe McCarthy contacted the RCMP expressing an interest in the Fred Rose trial documents. Might he have been the infamous Senator Joe? The FBI told me they were not, then or now, convinced that that McCarthy was the man from Wisconsin. Too early they thought for Senator Joe, who'd only just won his senate seat. Besides, Joe seemed at the time of his election not to have had any major interest in anything apart from the election, certainly no interest in hunting down Communists in the US government. Joe McCarthy, said the FBI, was not an uncommon American name, it could have been anybody. (18)

* * *

A competent and enthusiastic recruiter of men and women who didn't appear to need much coaxing, Fred Rose would probably not have been granted admission into a club whose members included Richard Sorge, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, Klaus Fuchs, Theodore Hall, "the boy who gave away the bomb", and others.

Nearing the end of his life in Warsaw he was brought face to face with the implosion of the Bolshevik dream. In Canada he might have been spared. The party would have remained ever marginal to the nation's politics and his futuristic political fantasy would have endured as a lofty aspiration without serious test or challenge. In his beloved USSR he might have been an early candidate for a bullet in the back of the head.

Suffering poor health, failing eyesight and in some despair our Stalinist streetman, unpracticed in the talmudics of discovering in Marxian texts new readings that pointed the way out of the ideological gloom, undertook no hermeneutical u-turns, no re-interpretations of Das Capital to explain why things had gone so wrong in the socialist states, no citations from Louis Althusser or Antonio Gramsci. He may have at one time regarded himself as among the righteous. In those final Warsaw days he became a personality wracked by disillusion in some ways not all that different from the Igor Gouzenko who'd led a troubled Canadian existence. Igor diabetic and blind, Freddy near blind, the two might have passed each other on an Ottawa street with no sign of recognition.

Rose, who betrayed the labour movement and played fast and loose with the Cartier electorate, was himself betrayed - by his Soviet comrades, by the party, by political associates. The USSR posthumously rewarded Kim Philby with a stamp Joseph Brodsky guessed was for pointing the way to the Middle East. (19) There would be no stamp for party-man Freddy who, to paraphrase V.I.Lenin, was supported by his comrades the way the rope supports the man who is hanged.

I made, Freddy said, one mistake in my life and I paid for it. The mistake was not his alone, it was the larger resolve of the left to play sidekick to totalitarian gangsterism.

Over lunch in the extraordinary dining room of the Hotel Metropol in Moscow my dear late friend the film historian Rashit Yangarov recalled how incomprehensible it was that while times were near unbearable in Moscow, Americans gathered in summer camps in the Catskills where they played at being Communists.

The end of the Cold War loomed when Fishel Rosenberg passed away in Warsaw in 1983 at age 76. It was a little over a decade since Nixon's meeting with Mao in Beijing. Now Mao was gone, China ruled by Deng Xiaoping, at one time abused by Gang of Four delinquents. Deng never did see any great role for party-line ideology in implementing Zhou Enlai's four modernizations. An unplanned collaboration of the CPC and the Government of Canada permanently stranded Fred Rose in Warsaw. His naturalized Canadian citizenship revoked, a return home, even a brief one to attend his daughter's wedding or to be present at the birth of a grandchild, was ruled out by Canadian officials. By a callous irony, Rose ended his Polish days in the days of the Polish pope, the Poland of Lech Walesa's Solidarity, Uncle Joe long dead, the Soviet Union enmeshed in a losing battle in Afghanistan.

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Born in Montreal, David Levy has worked in television and radio, in government, done journalism, travelled in the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. The journalism includes an essay on media co-written with Art Spiegelman for RAW magazine. Now he is working on his new book From Chaguanas to Jerusalem: Tribal Friction in the Global Mosaic.

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Notes:

1. Robert A. Moreau, "Fred Rose: Une Voix Communiste au Parlement, 1943 - 1945," M.A. dissertation, University of Ottawa, 1989 ; also Myer Siemiatycki, "Communism in One Constituency: The Communist Party and the Jewish Community of Montreal with Particular Reference to the Election of Fred Rose to Parliament in 1943 and 1945." M.A. dissertation, York University, 1977.

2. Rose Fiszman-Sznajdman, My Lublin, published in Yiddish in Tel Aviv, 1982 by Farlag Y.L.Peretz, in Polish in Lublin, Poland by Lubelskie,1989, also in Swedish. For a reading of the pages in Polish and Yiddish referring to the Gymnase Humaniste de Lublin I am grateful to Prof. Michael Rosenbush. Said the author: "The events and facts contained in this book were dictated to me only by my memory, but they are authentic, not less and not exaggerated. Written with fidelity, with devotion to the city and the Jews who lived in it, with nostalgia and compressed with heart pain." This and related information was supplied by Robinn Magid, Lublin Archives Project Coordinator, Jewish Records Indexing - Poland, 1811- 1945, source of Fred Rose family information. See too, "Lublin," Fodor's, 2007. Also, Carolyn Cox, "First Communist in Commons Was In the 'Battle of Queen's Park', " Toronto Saturday Night, 22 April, 1944.

3 . RCMP report, 27 December, 1928.

4. Gerald Tulchinsky, Canada's Jews: A People's Journey, University of Toronto Press, 2008.

5. Fed Rose, "1940: A Review".

6. Fred Rose, "Make 1942 a Happy and Victorious New Year, a translation of "Anne Heureuse et Victorieuse" January, 1942, a pamphlet designed to explain the party's policy flip-flop to French Canada. See too, Fred Rose, "Hitler's Fifth Column in Quebec," Progress Publishing Company, 1942.

7. Conrad Black, Duplessis, McClelland and Stewart, 1977.

8. "Robert J. Lamphere, The FBI-KGB War: A Special Agent's Story , Random House, 1986 edition revised 1995; see too John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, Yale University Press, 2009. A researcher with the Armenian Research Center in Dearborn, Michigan told me in a 28 February, 2006 email about a book supposedly published in Armenia in 2005 with much information on the USSR's Armenian agents including Ovakimyan. To date the book's author and its location remain an unknown to all interested parties.

9. Harold Kennedy, "Statement of Elizabeth Terrill Bentley", FBI, March 1946.

10. Private communication.

11. In a message forwarded to Moscow from the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, among the documents supplied to the RCMP by Igor Gouzenko, National Archives of Canada, RG 33, Royal Commission 62/62. We note the claim that Fred Rose's involvement with Soviet intelligence dated from 1924.

12. Among the documents turned over by Gouzenko, drafted but never sent, that appeared to confuse the work of the RDX plant outside Shawinigan with the nuclear research being conducted at Chalk River, Ontario.

13. "Miscellaneous historical items: Igor Gouzdenko's gun, " CSIS, 26 September, 2005.

14. John Sawatsky, Gouzenko: The Untold Story, Macmillan, 1984.

15. Sawatsky.

16. "Gouzenko Statement; Account of Steps Taken by Corby in Ottawa on September 5th , 6 th , and 7th , 1945." W. L. M. King Papers, Memoranda and Notes, 1940 - 1950, Volume 390, pages C274151 - C274154.

17. Mackenzie King Diary.

18. Correspondence, RCMP Superintendant C.E. Rivett-Carnac, Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario and D/Sgt H.J. Spanton, "O" Division, Toronto, Ontario, 18, 19, November, 1946. "Your remarks regarding placing (the Fred Rose trial depositions) in the possession of "Joe" have been noted."; email communication with Phil Runkel, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Raynor Memorial Libraries, Marquette University, 17 June, 11 August, 3, 5, and 13 October, 2005; and email communication with FBI historian John Fox.

19. Joseph Brodsky, "Collector's Item" in On Grief and Reason, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1995.

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