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Enemy Amongst Trojans: A Soviet Spy at USC

Viterbi Astronautics Professor Writes Cold War Historical Study
Eric Mankin
September 20, 2010 —

A part-time instructor in the University of Southern California vanished from a California beach in 1945. Several years later the U.S. Congress described him as an important Soviet spy whose true identity remained a mystery. The recently declassified documents and publications bring to light many details of the events and reveal what happened to this enigmatic "rezident" of the Soviet military intelligence in Los Angeles.

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The story, reconstructed by Professor Mike Gruntman, traces the career of Ignacy Samuel Witczak (real name Litvin), who received - cum laude - his Bachelor of Arts degree from USC in 1942. He was elected to Phi Kappa Phi, honoring his scholarship in arts and sciences. In May 1943, USC awarded him a Master of Arts degree in political science. He a became "rezident" of the Soviet military intelligence in Los Angeles using his cover as a USC student and part-time instructor to support espionage operations against Japan and the United States. The defection of a Soviet code officer in Ottawa, Canada, Igor Guzenko, unmasked Witczak who then fled to the Soviet Union.

The Soviet homeland did not treat him well on his return. In the end, state-directed anti-Semitism brought him to the point of leaving the country that he had served so loyally all his life.

In 1952 the U.S. Congress described the vanished Trojan as an important Soviet spy in a case that approached “the fantastic, for to this day there is

Mike Gruntman
no information as to the identity of the false Ignacy Witczak and little more information as to his means of departure from this country or present whereabouts.” The Los Angeles Times called him a “superspy” based on a report of the Canadian investigative commission. The true identity of Witczak remained a mystery.

Not until the 1990s did new public information come to light related to these Cold War events. First, FBI agent Robert J. Lamphere added a few details about Witczak. In his memoirs, Lamphere described the FBI struggle against Soviet spies in 1940s and early 1950s, including the pursuit of the Soviet spy Witczak. At the same time, the National Security Agency (NSA) declassified its Venona project. The NSA and its predecessor agencies succeeded in breaking codes and deciphering many cables exchanged in the 1940s between chiefs of Soviet intelligence organizations in the United States and their Moscow headquarters. At least three messages specifically mentioned Witczak and his wife under codenames.

Gruntman stumbled onto the story of the enigmatic Trojan while researching his earlier book on rocket history (Blazing the Trail). He became especially curious when he could not find any information on the identity of the spy. This book is the consequent result of his search of historical documents, declassified archives, and publications.

Gruntman is a professor of astronautics in the Viterbi School of Engineering,  now actively involved in R&D programs in space science and space technology. Gruntman has authored and co-authored more than 200 publications in the areas of astronautics, space physics, space technology, scientific instrumentation, space sensors, astronautical education, and rocket and space history. His book Blazing the Trail. The Early History of Spacecraft and Rocketry (published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 2004) received the 2006 Luigi Napolitano Award from the International Academy of Astronautics.