Carl N. Freyman, an FBI agent who in the 1950s recruited a leading member of the U.S. Communist Party as an informant and began one of the most successful spy operations of the Cold War, has died. He was 85.
Freyman died June 3 at a hospital in Hoffman Estates, a Chicago suburb.
That informant, Morris Childs, became one of the key figures in Operaton SOLO, a covert mission that lasted nearly 20 years.
A native of Le Mars, Iowa, Freyman graduated from the University of Iowa law school. He opened a small law office in Le Mars, but the outbreak of World War II put a quick end to that business. He tried to join the Navy, but poor eyesight made him ineligible. He applied for the FBI, which was in need of applicants with legal backgrounds, and was quickly accepted.
Fluent in German and Spanish, Freyman's initial posting was to Newark, N.J., where he questioned European immigrants for information on Axis troop and ship movements.
He also proved adept at counterintelligence work and agent handling.
Transferred to Chicago at the end of the war, Freyman continued his intelligence gathering work and also showed talent as a recruiter of FBI agents.
It was during the early 1950s, at the height of the Communist Red Scare, that Freyman came in contact with Childs, who had been a leading member of the U.S. Communist Party and was, for a time, editor of the party's newspaper, The Daily Worker.
Freyman went to Childs' Chicago apartment and found him in poor health, suffering from a heart condition. Over a series of visits, Freyman appealed to Childs' intellect. Raising questions about Stalin's betrayal of Marxist ideals, Freyman noted that the Soviet and Nazi persecution of Jews differed only in method and scope.
He also appealed to Childs' growing concerns over his health and arranged for him to be treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where his health eventually improved.
"He cost us a lot of money at the time, but he was worth it," Freyman told the Chicago Daily Herald.
Worth it, indeed. According to the book "Operation SOLO: The FBI's Man Inside the Kremlin," by John Barron, Childs made 57 missions to the Soviet Union, many of the East Bloc nations, China, and Cuba.
Getting to Know World Leaders
He established relationships with some of the leading Communists of the day, including Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, who considered Childs a friend and hosted a 75th birthday dinner in the Kremlin for him. The party was attended by top Soviet officials, including then-KGB chief Yuri V. Andropov.
Childs also developed close relationships with China's top leader, Mao Tse-Tung, Cuba's Fidel Castro and Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu.
Childs was present at the secret session of the Communist Party Congress in 1956 when Nikita Khrushchev denounced the excesses of Stalinism. Childs was so trusted by the Soviets that one year he was named the recording secretary at an international congress.
But it was Freyman who set the wheels in motion for Childs' efforts.
"Carl was the one who decided it could become an operation into the Kremlin," Barron told the Daily Herald some years ago.
Initially, the bureau had wanted to recruit just informants, but Freyman thought that Childs could accomplish much more.
Freyman stayed with Operation SOLO for 13 years before retiring after 25 years in the bureau. He then worked as a security consultant in the Chicago area.
Childs and his wife would visit the Freyman home on occasions, Freyman told the Daily Herald, but there was little talk about espionage.
"They were very careful," Freyman said. "So were we. They came to see us because they didn't want to talk communism."
Operation SOLO was a productive intelligence gathering operation until the late 1970s. In 1987, four years before his death at 88, Childs was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom for Intelligence by FBI chief William Sessions.
Barron said the close relationship between Freyman and Childs was the key to the success of the intelligence operation.
"There was a rapport between the brilliant and good Communist and the brilliant and good FBI guy," Barron said. "[Carl] also gave Morris, in their conversations, hope."
Freyman is survived by his wife, Helen; sons Phillip and Thomas; a daughter, Jeanne Stoner; and eight grandchildren.