Joseph Katz: From Soviet Master Spy to Technical Adviser for James Bond Films

February 22, 2017 | Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, David Gurvitz
About the author: Harvey Klehr is the Andrew W. Mellon professor of politics and history, emeritus, at Emory University. He has written many books on espionage in the United States and the history of the American Communist party.

Born in Lithuania in 1913, Joseph (Yeiske) Katz came to America with his family seven years later, became an ardent Communist in his youth, and started working for the KGB in the 1930s. Although his skills reportedly included safecracking, lock-picking, electronic bugging, jujitsu, and sharpshooting, his real expertise lay in getting people to trust him. and he handled several important agents and sources, including Harry Gold of the Rosenberg spy ring. When one of his agents defected, he fled for France and later settled in Israel, remaining but a few steps ahead of the FBI until his death in 2004. Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and David Gurvitz describe his remarkable life and eventual disillusionment with Communism:

Defectors from Communism have often spoken of a Kronstadt moment—the event that finally shatters illusions and precipitates a break with the cause to which they have devoted their lives. . . . As Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign gathered strength in the late 1940s and early 1950s, KGB officers with a Jewish background were shunted aside, demoted, or discharged, and foreign Jewish agents like Katz came under suspicion. . . . Katz [later] told his Israeli contact Aviva Flint that suspicion about him in 1950 had ended his nearly two decades of revolutionary commitment. . . .

In October [of that year, in a letter to his brother, the Yiddish poet Menke Katz], he lamented the choice he had made in a cautious but nonetheless clear reference to his work for Soviet intelligence. . . He had, finally, come to the realization that “my life up to now, all I believed and worked for, is a fraud and a lie.” . . . Either to evade the KGB or because he was spooked by inquiries from French counterintelligence, he took a four-month vacation in the Basque country, writing that “how I came here is a long story” but adding that there was a legend that Jews escaping the Inquisition found refuge in the Pyrenees. . . .

In the 1960s, Joseph went to work for a film-equipment company and received patents in fiber optics, film-lighting techniques, and the development and installation of double-filament lighting and automated grid systems. . . . Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli—the producers of the James Bond movies from 1962, starting with Dr. No through 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun—hired Katz as a technical adviser on lighting in 1967, and he remained in that capacity until 1975. . . . As Saltzman’s Israeli representative in 1972, Katz negotiated for his purchase of Berkey Pathé Humphries, a major film and photo-finishing laboratory in Tel Aviv. . . . Around 1968, he came to America with an entourage that included Saltzman and Sean Connery and managed to avoid attention [from the FBI].

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