Operation SOLO: The FBI’s Man in the Kremlin
by John Barron
Regnery, 368 pp., $24.95
John Barron’s book is an account of one of the most remarkable spy cases of the second half of the twentieth century. We have been accustomed to pro-Soviet spies, from Kim-Philby to Aldrich Ames. Here are anti-Soviet spies whose story is in some ways even more astonishing and of longer duration.
Morris and Jack Childs, the anti-Soviet spies, were not ordinary FBI informants. Morris Childs was a ranking member of the American Communist Party. He was born in 1902 as Moishe Chilovsky to Jewish parents near Kiev in the Ukraine; he and his younger brother emigrated to the United States as children. He joined the party when he was nineteen, and by the time he started working for the FBI he had been a Party member for about thirty years, most of them in leading positions. His brother, Jack Childs, was also a member of the Party but considerably less prominent. He was born in 1907 and seems to have joined the Party in 1931 during the Great Depression.
Morris Childs rose rapidly in the party. By 1929, he was sent to the Lenin School in Moscow, the finishing school of future Communist leaders. On his return, he was made district organizer in Wisconsin, and in 1935 he was moved to the important post in Chicago as district organizer or state secretary of Illinois, where he stayed for the next seven years. In 1934, Childs had been named to the Central Committee and, in 1945, brought to New York to take charge of the Party’s political action work. He was clearly a favorite of Earl Browder who ruled in those years. In 1946, after Browder’s expulsion, he was made editor of the Daily Worker, but it turned out to be the beginning of his downfall. His worst year was 1947. He was removed from the editorship as the result of a factional struggle within the Party; his wife left him; and he suffered a massive heart attack.
This crisis in his life opened the way for the FBI. But the first one to crack, according to Barron, was Jack Childs, who was selling paint and light fixtures and was something of a playboy. Jack had not been active in the Party since 1947 and struck the FBI as a likely defector. In September 1951, two FBI agents simply accosted him on the street near his home and, without urging, he agreed to help the FBI. Jack led an FBI man, Carl Freyman, to Morris. Freyman agreed to pay for Morris’s medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Morris recovered and went to work for the FBI—and for the Communist Party.
As Barron, a former Reader’s Digest editor, tells the story, Morris was by now thoroughly disillusioned. He had been a loyal and high-ranking Party member from 1920 or 1921 to some time between 1951 and 1954. His disillusionment came, according to Barron, mainly from two things. One was a trip to …