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In the Enemy's House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies


In the Enemy's House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies

With today’s newscasts focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, IN THE ENEMY’S HOUSE is a timely release. Author Howard Blum, who was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, tells the true story of two counterintelligence agents working to arrest members of a Russian spy ring after World War II. The Cold War years following 1946 were dangerous times for espionage agents in both the United States and Russia. Although by today’s standards their methods were crude, Bob Lamphere and Meredith Gardner managed to crack seriously encrypted Russian codes dating back to wartime. Gardner was a highly specialized linguist and code breaker, and Lamphere was an FBI supervisor.

Hard-driving FBI director Herbert Hoover expected his agents to produce results, no matter the difficulty. Lamphere had worked in Alabama, transferred to the New York office, and was relatively happy bringing draft dodgers to justice. A tall, handsome young agent, he displayed his grit when he won an armed standoff in Chinatown. Instead of feeling rewarded for his bravery, Lamphere looked upon his new assignment to the Soviet Espionage squad as banishment to Siberia. After all, Russia had been our ally in the war.

Recently declassified counterintelligence documents provided Blum with material for his detailed research. The reader identifies with the two agents, applauding their dual successes and empathizing with them when they are frustrated. Reading like a novel, IN THE ENEMY’S HOUSE captures the personalities of both men, giving one a first-hand and side-by-side experience. Blum drops in enough detail within decoded transmissions that we can follow code-name changes for the Russian agents when they feel threatened. Code words from wartime documents became items to break when suspicions revealed realities that Russian agents had been operating on American soil for many years.

"IN THE ENEMY’S HOUSE is a page-turning treatment of a tremendous Cold War exploit, its resolution and aftermath."

Gardner worked endless hours at his cubicle in the former college for women, now known as Arlington Hall. Lamphere felt his career in the FBI was waning, but tried to convince himself that there was a greater purpose to his busywork. A challenge to both men occurred when an American socialite, Elizabeth Bentley, became an avid communist. A confidential notification reached the FBI offices that an American was infiltrating specialized classified information and passing it on to the Russian KGB. Bentley had decided that communism had failed her and was now on a “hit” list. Her interview with the New Jersey FBI filtered to Lamphere’s desk, giving him a sudden new lease on his job. Some of the coded material had been created in Cyrillic, which was unknown to most agents. He was directed to the Arlington campus where he and Gardner became fast allies in a new war with Russia. Both realized that the enemy was far ahead of U.S. intelligence, and they must counterattack with a vengeance.

Gardner’s stockpile of manuscripts dated back to the middle days of the war --- a time-consuming task. Together, the two unlikely partners became dogged sleuths searching for answers to unfolding questions. They complemented one another in style and determination to the job at hand. Decoded messages revealed that the Russians had been actively stealing American secrets regarding the Manhattan Project, the quest to build an atomic bomb. When it became apparent that America had indeed manufactured and tested such a bomb, the Russians made immediate plans to activate Arzamas-16, a secret facility 400 miles east of Moscow, in order to build their own bomb.

Meanwhile, Lamphere and Gardner had decided to fan out FBI agents to interview the scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project. One British scientist felt the heat and turned himself in to British authorities. The spy, Klaus Fuchs, spilled that he had given his Russian “handler” information about the newest powerful bomb, which contained plutonium. While at Los Alamos, Fuchs had passed documents to a man known only as “Raymond.” Lamphere and Gardner felt confident that they could identify the Russian handler, opening the door to reeling in a great number of spies.

In what became known as the first and most acclaimed federal case against a spy ring, Julius Rosenberg, his wife, Ethel, numerous relatives and former classmates at a local college were proven enemies of the United States. In retrospect, Lamphere and Gardner knew that their partnership had uncovered secrets many did not believe existed. On the day that the Rosenberg couple was executed, both men experienced relief but sadness as well; neither could justify Ethel’s death.

IN THE ENEMY’S HOUSE is a page-turning treatment of a tremendous Cold War exploit, its resolution and aftermath.

Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on March 2, 2018

In the Enemy's House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies
by Howard Blum

  • Publication Date: February 19, 2019
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0062458264
  • ISBN-13: 9780062458261