Digging in the National Archives to uncover secrets of The Pond, US spy group predating the CIA
Few people had heard of the spy network known as The Pond until we wrote about it for The Associated Press in July 2010, using a newly opened collection at the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Md. Our story highlighted the value of reporting from historical archives and revealed new details about American intelligence operations during World War II and the early years of the Cold War.
The Pond was created by the U.S. military intelligence during World War II, under the leadership of Col. Jean “Frenchy” Grombach, as a super-secret rival to Wild Bill Donovan’s O.S.S. At one point, Grombach’s organization operated a network of 40 chief agents and more than 600 sources in 32 countries. It endured for 13 years.
Among the nuggets we uncovered in our reporting: a top secret narrative of the daring night-time rescue by Pond agent James McCargar of top anti-communist Zoltan Pfeiffer from Hungary in 1947; details on the penetration of communist groups around the world by one of its foremost agents, Ruth Fischer (code-named Alice Miller), a former leader of Germany’s prewar Communist Party who worked under her cover as a correspondent; and descriptions of the use of corporations, including American Express and Philips companies, for funding, contacts and radio technology.
A U.S. State Department official said this to us in an email after the story was published: “I can’t believe that any news operation in this age of the Internet and instant information still pays journalists to do this kind of good digging, especially for history-focused features.”
Documents describing the activities of the Pond — Grombach’s personal and organizational records — were found in a barn in Virginia in 2001 and turned over to the CIA for review. Randy, reporting another story in 2007, learned that the collection was about to be transferred to the archives in College Park.
But it was not until the spring of 2010 that the Grombach collection was opened to the public and we had an opportunity to travel down to Maryland to review it.
The recipe for any successful investigation into the past is enthusiastic collaboration, so we enlisted the help of intelligence historians and staff at the archives to help guide us through the tens of thousands of pages in the collection. The resulting story uncloaked the role of the obscure spy organization in the formation of today’s U.S. intelligence services.
By Randy Herschaft and Cristian Salazar, The Associated Press