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Engineering Communism

Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Engineering Communism
    Book Description:

    Engineering Communismis the fascinating story of Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant, dedicated Communists and members of the Rosenberg spy ring, who stole information from the United States during World War II that proved crucial to building the first advanced weapons systems in the USSR. On the brink of arrest, they escaped with KGB's help and eluded American intelligence for decades.

    Drawing on extensive interviews with Barr and new archival evidence, Steve Usdin explains why Barr and Sarant became spies, how they obtained military secrets, and how FBI blunders led to their escape. He chronicles their pioneering role in the Soviet computer industry, including their success in convincing Nikita Khrushchev to build a secret Silicon Valley.

    The book is rich with details of Barr's and Sarant's intriguing andexciting personal lives, their families, as well as their integration into Russian society.Engineering Communismfollows the two spies through Sarant's death and Barr's unbelievable return to the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12795-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. 1 Initiation
    (pp. 1-25)

    Nikita Khrushchev, a baggy suit hanging loosely over his pear-shaped body and a neat row of medals pinned over his right breast, hugged Philip Staros and drew Joseph Berg close. The first secretary of the Communist Party took a step back and pointed at the men crowded around him—the commander-in-chief of the Soviet Navy, the top military brass in charge of the defense industry, and the leadership of the Communist Party in Leningrad. “If any of thesebureaucratsgets in your way, if you need anything at all, let me know and I’ll personally take care of it,” Khrushchev...

  5. 2 Washington, Spring 1940
    (pp. 26-35)

    A bitterly cold wind greeted Joel Barr as he stepped off the Silver Meteor, a gleaming, streamlined high-speed train that embodied the engineering ideals he admired, at Union Station on April 12, 1940. It was the start of a rare spring snowstorm that treated Washingtonians to the unusual sight of snowflakes mixed with cherry blossom petals. He wore a jacket that was too light for the unseasonable weather. In its pocket was a palm-sized address book.

    The address book contained two Washington contacts: the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) office where he was to be employed, and a local party member...

  6. 3 Fort Monmouth, 1940–1942
    (pp. 36-54)

    The summer of 1940 was a hard time to be an American Communist. Party discipline required Communists to oppose all assistance to the enemies of fascism even as German bombs were leveling British cities in preparation for an invasion that, if successful, would put all of Western Europe under Nazi domination. The Soviet Union, acting in concert with Germany, had swallowed eastern Poland, absorbed the tiny Baltic states, and bitten a bloody chunk out of Finland. In New York, Jewish Communists were taunted with “Heil Hitler” greetings, and liberal organizations throughout the country mobilized to expel “CommuNazis.”¹

    Stalin’s actions didn’t...

  7. 4 Western Electric, 1942–1945
    (pp. 55-95)

    News of Barr’s firing reverberated through the Signal Corps Labs, prompting more than a hundred people, including many who barely knew him, to sign petitions expressing concern and requesting that the officer in command “very carefully consider whether he had done the right thing.” Such an outpouring of support would have been unusual under any circumstances, but coming as it did during wartime, when the expression of grievances to military authorities could be considered unpatriotic, it was extraordinary.

    “He was one of those people that everybody in the section liked,” Ralph Iannarone, an engineer who worked in the same branch...

  8. 5 Sperry Gyroscope, 1946–1948
    (pp. 96-130)

    Barr was a faithful, dedicated Marxist who voluntarily risked his career, liberty, and perhaps his life to help arm the Soviet Union during World War II. But he was far from the doctrinaire, dry automaton that so many men who dedicated themselves to Communism resembled. He was a splash of Technicolor compared to the serious, gray affect of Julius Rosenberg. Barr respected him as a dedicated revolutionary but considered him a nudnik and a prude. People who knew them both were surprised to learn that Barr—who seemed more intelligent and successful—reported to Julius, both in the party hierarchy...

  9. 6 Prague, 1950–1955
    (pp. 131-175)

    Reports in the evening papers on June 16, 1950, of the arrest of David Greenglass resounded around the world like the crack of a starting pistol, launching former members of Industrial Branch 16B of the Communist Party of the United States and their closest comrades on a race for their lives. The swiftest beat the FBI, crossing into the Soviet bloc ahead of their pursuers, while those with luck and good nerves managed to hide on the sidelines and live relatively unmolested. The fates of those who refused to flee or were caught—death for the Rosenbergs and years in...

  10. 7 Special Laboratory 11, 1956–1962
    (pp. 176-202)

    The Soviet microelectronics industry was founded in the late 1950s in the unfinished attic of an old four-story gray-brick building on Volkovskaya Street in Leningrad, much as Silicon Valley was born in garages and storefronts adjacent to the orange groves that stretched from Palo Alto to San Jose. Like innumerable high-tech startups that sprouted under the California sun, Special Laboratory Number 11 (SL-11) was staffed by eager young engineers voluntarily working long hours, fueled by caffeine, tobacco, and excitement over being present at the birth of a new era in technology.¹

    SL-11 also resembled the Skunk Works, a secret organization...

  11. 8 Zelenograd, the Soviet Silicon Valley, 1962–1965
    (pp. 203-225)

    A long-planned May 4, 1962, visit to the Leningrad shipyards to launch a new cruiser provided an opportunity for Nikita Khrushchev to drop in on KB-2. The visit, originally intended to be a low-key affair, mushroomed into a major state visit as one official after another managed to get himself added to the entourage, hoping to absorb some of the reflected prestige.

    In the spring of 1962 Khrushchev was at the center of the Soviet firmament; the inertial force of an empire stretching from the Gulf of Finland to the Sea of Japan was the only check on his power....

  12. 9 Leningrad Design Bureau, 1965–1973
    (pp. 226-247)

    Like a cardplayer who rearranges a losing hand in the futile hope that a winning combination will emerge, Leonid Brezhnev launched a reorganization of Soviet industry in October 1965. Shokin was shuffled into a higher position, as head of one of nine ministries responsible for military industry. The newly created Ministry of Electronic Industries incorporated the old GKET and several other entities. Now he was responsible not only for designing new electronic products, including those that came out of Staros and Berg’s labs, but also for manufacturing them. The requirement to actually squeeze products out of Russia’s sclerotic factories significantly...

  13. 10 The Minifab, 1975–1990
    (pp. 248-269)

    Philip Staros’s life was marked by abrupt shifts and huge gambles: agreeing to become a Soviet agent; fleeing the United States with the FBI in pursuit, abandoning a wife and two small children; moving from Prague to Leningrad; and trying to leap from heading a small design bureau to leading an industry employing tens of thousands of scientists. He left homes, family, friendships, and careers behind several times in order to start over. In 1974, Staros laid plans to again rip his life out by the roots, to move as far away from Leningrad as possible while remaining in the...

  14. 11 The Strange Case of Iozef (Josef) Berg AKA Joel Barr, 1990–1998
    (pp. 270-286)

    Joseph Berg was nervous for the entire flight, imagining that he’d be met by police with handcuffs, or by flashing cameras, bright television lights, and reporters, or, worst of all, that at the last minute he’d be turned back. The biggest surprise, however, was that there were no surprises when he landed at JFK airport on an Aeroflot flight from Leningrad on October 25, 1990. To hide his anxiety, Berg joked in Russian with the attractive, pencil-thin, vivacious young woman who stood at his side in the queue for noncitizens.

    Berg’s companion was Valerie Valueva, the younger of his and...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 287-320)
  16. Index
    (pp. 321-330)