Nathan Gregory Silvermaster

Nathan Gregory Silvermaster
Nathan Gregory Silvermaster
Born November 27, 1898(1898-11-27)
Odessa, Czarist Russia
Died October 7, 1964(1964-10-07) (aged 65)
Known for Silvermaster spy ring
Spouse Elena Witte aka Helen P. Silvermaster

Nathan Gregory Silvermaster (November 27, 1898 – October 7, 1964), an economist with the United States War Production Board (WPB) during World War II, was the head of a large ring of Communist spies in the U.S. government.[1] It is from him that the FBI Silvermaster File [2], documenting the Bureau's investigation into Communist penetration of the Federal government during the Cold War, takes its name. His wife, Helen and stepson, Anatole Volkov, were members of his ring.

He was identified as a Soviet agent in the WPB operating under the code names Pel[3], Pal, “Paul”[4] in the Venona decrypts; and as “Robert” both in Venona[5] and independently by defecting Soviet intelligence courier Elizabeth Bentley.[6]


Early years

Silvermaster was born of a Jewish family in Odessa, Russia (present-day Odessa, Ukraine) in 1898. He moved with his family to China, where he learned to speak perfect English with a British accent. He emigrated to the United States and earned his B.A. from the University of Washington in Seattle (where he was “stated to be a known Communist”) and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where his thesis was entitled Lenin’s Economic Thought Prior to the October Revolution. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1926. He was reported to be in contact with a very large number of Communist Party USA officials, and was active in a number of Communist front groups.[7]


While nominally remaining on the employment rolls of the Farm Security Administration, Silvermaster arranged in 1942 to be detailed to the Board of Economic Warfare. The transfer, however, triggered objections from military counter-intelligence who suspected he was a hidden Communist and regarded him as a security risk. On July 16, 1942 the U.S. Civil Service Commission recommended "Cancel eligibilities ... and bar him for the duration of the National Emergency."[citation needed]


Silvermaster denied any Communist links and appealed to Under Secretary of War Robert Patterson to overrule the security officials. Both White House advisor Lauchlin Currie (identified in Venona as the Soviet agent operating under the cover name “Page”[8]) and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Harry Dexter White (identified in Venona as the Soviet agent operating under the cover names “Lawyer”[9]; “Jurist”[8]; “Richard”[10]) intervened on his behalf. Silvermaster subsequently received two promotions and pay raises.

War Production Board

At the War Production Board, Silvermaster was able to provide the Soviet Union with a large amount of data on arms, aircraft, and shipping production. In June 1943, Silvermaster sent a War Production Board report on arms production in the United States, including bombers, pursuit planes, tanks, propelled guns, howitzers, radar and submarines, sub chasers, and the like, to Soviet intelligence.[11] Then, in December 1944, the New York MGB[12] office cabled another Silvermaster report stating: "(Silvermaster) has sent us a 50-page Top Secret War Production Board report ... on arms production in the U.S."[13]

Silvermaster was associated with Harry Dexter White at the Bretton Woods conference, and his testimony before the US Senate Internal Security Subcommittee covers "175 pages of interrogation and exhibits" regarding his espionage activities in the U.S.[citation needed]


He died on October 7, 1964, aged 65, possibly in Harvey Cedars, New Jersey.[14][15]


  • August 1935 to November 1938 Farm Security Administration
  • November 1938 to July 1940 Maritime Labor Board
  • July 1940 to December 1944 U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • 1942 to 1945 U.S. Department of Treasury
  • mid 1945 Reconstruction Finance Corporation (became the War Assets Corporation)
  • March 1946 resigned from government

Silvermaster group

The Silvermaster spy ring operated primarily in the Department of the Treasury but also had contacts in the Army Air Force and in the White House. Sixty-one of the Venona cables concern the activities of the Silvermaster spy ring. This represents 1% of the total (approx 6,000 cables) and 3% of the (2,000) translated/partially translated VENONA cables.


  1. ^ Herken 2002, pg. 88
  2. ^ FBI SilvermasterFile 65-56402
  3. ^ 1017 KGB New York to Moscow, June 29/30, 1943, pg. 2
  4. ^ 888 KGB New York to Moscow, June 9, 1943, pg. 2
  5. ^ 1787 KGB New York to Moscow, 19 December 1944, pg. 1
  6. ^ FBI Report, Underground Soviet Espionage Organization (NKVD) in Agencies of the United States Government, October 21, 1946 (FBI Silvermaster file, Volume 82), pg. 12 (PDF, pg. 17)
  7. ^ FBI Report, op. cit., pgs. 21-23 (PDF pgs. 26-28)
  8. ^ a b Robert J. Hanyok, Eavesdropping on Hell: Historical Guide to Western Communications Intelligence and the Holocaust, 1939-45 (Washington, DC: Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, 2005, 2nd edition), pg. 119 (PDF pg. 124)
  9. ^ 1251 KGB New York to Moscow, 2 September 1944, pg. 2
  10. ^ 83 KGB New York to Moscow, January 18, 1945, pg. 1
  11. ^ 1017 KGB New York to Moscow, June 29/30, 1943
  12. ^ FBI Memorandum L.V. Boardman to A.H. Belmont, FBI Operations of the MGB Residency at New York, 1944-45, November 26, 1957
  13. ^ 1821 KGB New York to Moscow, December 26, 1944
  14. ^ "Nathan Silvermaster, Economist Once Accused as Spy, Dies at 65". New York Times. October 15, 1964. Retrieved 2008-06-01. "Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, a Government economist who was accused of having been part of a wartime Communist spy ring but never charged, died Oct. 7 at ..." 
  15. ^ "A Cast of Characters". Time (magazine). November 23, 1953.,9171,860102,00.html. Retrieved 2008-05-31. "With William Ullmann as his business partner and housemate, Silvermaster now lives at Harvey Cedars, New Jersey, where he is a building contractor." 


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