One of the most compelling pieces of Vassiliev's notes is a 1948 memo from Anatoly Gorsky, the chief Soviet spy handler in Washington until 1945. It lists the code names and true identities of members of a spy ring run by Elizabeth Bentley. A private citizen who was a member of the Communist Party of the United States, Bentley triggered one of the most public spy trials in history when she began naming names of all those who had helped her spy for the Soviets in the years before the war.
The Vassiliev notes show that the Bentley ring was one of the most successful that the Soviets ever orchestrated. "The single most disastrous event in the history of Soviet intelligence in America was Elizabeth Bentley's decision to turn herself in to the FBI in 1945 and tell all she knew," Vassiliev and his coauthors conclude in Spies.
Refuting allegations. Bentley ran a network of spies that included, she claimed, a former press officer for the State Department named Bernard Redmont. After Bentley's confession, but before any trial, the FBI began tailing Redmont and his wife.
Based on Bentley's confession, government agents read his mail, tapped his phone, and kept tabs on his job applications, according to declassified FBI reports. One of the jobs for which Redmont, a former marine, applied was as a correspondent with a new publication run by prominent conservative columnist David Lawrence. The G-men erroneously listed the magazine in their surveillance reports as U.S. Reports & World News.
In a trial stemming from the Bentley case, Redmont, then the Paris correspondent for U.S. News, denied being a Communist or a spy. He said that he and Bentley "discussed only material that was available and given to hundreds of other newspaper reporters and agencies and that could have been gotten by listening to the radio any day of the week." But the fact that his name was all over the front pages was enough to shatter his reputation. Lawrence fired Redmont as soon as his testimony hit the papers.
Years later, he found work again in newspapers and then with CBS News, leading to a distinguished career that took him to Boston University, where he served as the dean of the journalism school. Now retired, he lives in Massachusetts.
But the KGB documents offer evidence that Redmont may have been a spy after all, one who operated under the Soviet code name "Mon," according to Vassiliev and his coauthors. Haynes, a historian with the manuscript division of the Library of Congress, says the evidence against Redmont is strong. KGB memos from December 1945 and 1948 reported that Mon had been compromised when Bentley talked to the FBI. "He may have been a minor source, but documentary evidence is that he was a source," the authors write.
But the case against Redmont is anything but closed and, unlike many others named in the book, he is able to refute the charges. What emerges from the Moscow archives and the Venona cables is a picture of two agencies, the FBI and Soviet intelligence, that were both under intense political pressure and inclined to exaggerate their own efficacy. The FBI was largely unable to thwart Soviet spies, was prone to abuses in its hunt for enemies, and often overstated its successes, says Athan Theoharis, a professor at Marquette University and an expert on FBI counterintelligence. Soviet spy handlers, meanwhile, were also under tremendous pressure to produce results and justify, among other things, their expense accounts. They'd sometimes listen to commercial radio news reports or read newspapers, summarize them, and send the results back to Moscow as if they'd gathered top-secret information through their spy networks.
There may be a strikingly benign explanation for the fact that Redmont's name appears on a list in the Moscow archives, says Svetlana Chervonnaya, a scholar and documentary producer in Russia. She suggests that Redmont may have been considered by the KGB as a "journalistic asset," someone used to obtain information and, more important, as an avenue for promoting the Soviet line in the media. The latter was of particular interest as early as the 1930s. "Most often, the journalists were not aware they dealt with intelligence operatives who were undercover as Soviet Embassy press officers or did not deal directly with the Soviets at all," says Chervonnaya. That was the case with Walter Lippmann, the Spies authors conclude. I. F. Stone, meanwhile, actively assisted the KGB, and Ernest Hemingway, according to the files, was given a code name "Argo" but never provided any information.