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.
No one has ever been able to point to any information (secret or otherwise) that Redmont passed to Soviet handlers, nor is there evidence he ever took KGB money. Years of FBI surveillance turned up nothing, and bureau agents repeatedly asked that the investigation into him and his wife be closed. No one ever alleged that he had in any way compromised national security.
Redmont said in an interview last year when the Vassiliev documents surfaced that he "never understood why anyone would name me as a spy. I am not now a spy, and I have never been a spy." And he now says he's dismayed to have the issue dredged up after so many years. "It was a very sad and poisoned period in American history where an allegation was equivalent to a conviction. I'd like to think we've moved beyond that, but maybe we haven't," he says.
Soviet paranoia. The parade of declassified materials raises a larger and perhaps more important question for historians of Cold War spying. Namely, was it worth it? In another new Yale University Press book, Alger Hiss and the Battle for History, journalist Susan Jacoby agrees that Hiss was most likely guilty. Yet that fact is insufficient to justify the McCarthyism and self-destructive Red-baiting that ensued, she writes. The same could be said of the Redmont kerfuffle.
If anything, scholars at a recent Smithsonian conference on Vassiliev's notebooks suggested, KGB reports to Stalin probably reassured the paranoid Soviet leader of the true intent of U.S. foreign policy. Much as mutually assured destruction with nuclear arsenals perversely calmed Cold War nuclear tensions, mutual spying may have reassured policymakers that they truly understood the other side.
Nonetheless, the Soviet Union exhausted considerable efforts to identify and detain suspected agents provocateurs and built a police state on a foundation of denouncers and gulags. The United States, meanwhile, had its own show trials and televised denunciations before the House Un-American Activities Committee and shattered often innocent lives with allegations and innuendo. Even if new evidence suggests that all the smoke was not without fire, McCarthyism remains in the lexicon as the embodiment of politically motivated character assassination. While spy hunts did catch some of the guilty, it is unclear if it was worth the cost to the innocent when nations turned on themselves for crimes both real and imagined.