Steve Nelson (spy)

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Steve Nelson was a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) who had ties to Soviet intelligence.

Born Stjepan Mesaros in Čaglić, Croatia in 1903, the Communist Party would later falsely claim that he was born in Steelton, Pennsylvania.[1] He entered the United States on June 12, 1920 under an illegal and fraudulent passport under the false name "Joseph Fleischinger." According to an official organ of the CPUSA, he claimed to have joined the Communist Party in 1925.[2] He was granted United States citizenship in 1928, his name rendered Stephen Mesarosh.[3]

In 1931, the Communist Party sent him to Moscow to attend the Lenin School, where the Soviets trained top Communist International cadres in "military strategy, including civil warfare, sabotage, secret codes, and conspiratorial organization."[4] In 1933 he served as a Comintern agent in Shanghai, China. In 1937, he obtained an illegal and fraudulent U.S. passport (again under the false name "Joseph Fleischinger") to travel to Spain, where he served as a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet-dominated International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. There, he befriended Kitty Dallett (widow of Commissar Joe Dallett, killed in Spain), who would in 1940 marry J. Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist at the Berkeley Radiation Lab who would be in charge of the Manhattan Project. That year, the Soviets sent Nelson as Communist Party organizer for the Bay area in California, with an underground assignment to obtain atomic espionage. According to an FBI surveillance log:

In December 1942, Julius Robert Oppenheimer was the subject of a discussion between Steven Nelson and Bernadette Doyle, organizational secretary of the Communist Party for Alameda County, California. At this time, Steven Nelson stated that Dr. Hannah Peters[5] had been to visit him and she had stated that Dr. Oppenheimer because of his employment in a special project could not be active in the party.... Bernadette Doyle answered Nelson by saying that she believes the matter should be taken up with the State Committee regarding the 'two Oppys' inasmuch as they were regularly registered and everyone knew that they were Communist Party members.[6]

In April 1943 the FBI monitored a meeting in Nelson's home.[7] An FBI report stated:

Through a highly confidential and reliable source it has been determined that on April 10, 1943, a Russian who is an agent of the Communist International paid a sum of money to Steve Nelson, National Committeeman of the Communist Party USA, at the latter's home in Oakland, California. The money was reportedly paid to Nelson for the purpose of placing Communist Party members and Comintern agents in industries engaged in secret war production for the United States Government so that information could be obtained for transmittal to the Soviet Union.[8]

The FBI later identified the Russian as Vasili Zarubin, KGB North American Rezident. FBI Director Hoover alerted President Franklin Roosevelt's top adviser, Harry Hopkins, of the information:

Because of the relationship demonstrated in this investigation between the Communist Party, USA, the Communist International and the Soviet Government, I thought the President and you would be interested in these data. These matters are being brought to your attention at this time for your confidential information inasmuch as the investigation is continuing.[9]

The information was sensitive because it revealed that the FBI had a microphone in Communist leader Steve Nelson's home and could record all of his conversations.

According to another FBI report, at a November 1945 Communist Party meeting in Alameda County, "Jack Manley[10] stated at this meeting that.... Oppenheimer told Steven Nelson several years ago that the Army was working on the atomic bomb...[11]

Nelson had at times been in contact with Rudy Baker who in the early 1940s was a high official in the Communist International apparatus operating in the United States.

See also


  1. Cecil D. Eby, Comrades and Commissars: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War (State College, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007) ISBN 0271029102, p. 141
  2. Joseph North, "Steve Nelson an Exemplary Political Commissar in the International Brigade," The Daily Worker, November 10, 1937. Cf. Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, 81st Cong., 1st Sess., Hearings Regarding Steve Nelson (Including Foreword), June 8, 1949 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1949), p. 137 (PDF p. 23)
  3. Daniel J. Leab, I Was a Communist for the F.B.I.: The Unhappy Life and Times of Matt Cvetic (State College, Penn: Penn State Press, 2000) ISBN 0271020539, p. 83
  4. Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 86th Cong., 1st Sess., Proposed Antisubversion Legislation (Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1989), p. 642
  5. Organizer of the professional section of the Communist Party for Alameda County (Kenneth D. Nichols, Indictment of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Manhattan Project Heritage Preservation Association, Inc.)
  6. FBI report: FBI file: Oppenheimer, Vol. 1, p. 3, reproduced in M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies (New York: Crown Forum, 2007), ISBN 978-1-4000-8105-9, p. 317
  7. Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, eds., VENONA: Soviet Espionage and the American Response, 1939-1957 (National Security Agency/Central Intelligence Agency, 1996), Preface
  8. Herbert Romerstein, "A Valuable New Book on the KGB," Accuracy in Media, May 13, 2009
  9. Herbert Romerstein, "A Valuable New Book on the KGB," Accuracy in Media, May 13, 2009
  10. Manley was identified under oath as a member of the Communist Party: Testimony of Dickson P. Hill, Committee on Un-American Activities, Hearings on Communist Activities in the San Francisco Area—Part 2 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1954), pp. 3193-3196 (PDF pp. 45-48)
  11. M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies (New York: Crown Forum, 2007), ISBN 978-1-4000-8105-9, p. 318, fn.