Noel Field: defending his torturers

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Noel Field (right) with his wife, Herda, and Unitarian leader Charles Joy

Quitting the League of Nations in 1940, Soviet spy Noel Field and wife, Herta, began working for the Unitarian Service Committee in Marseille. Their job, as Field’s biographer Kati Marton recounts, was to aid refugees, and in particular to lend life-saving help to Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Unbeknownst to the committee, however, the Fields used its money, above all, to help their fellow Communists and to further the Communist cause. They also refused to help Ukrainian refugees, because in their eyes anyone fleeing from the Soviets was by definition “only a little less reactionary than Nazis.”

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Allen Dulles

In 1942, with the U.S. finally in the war, the Fields relocated to Switzerland, where Noel joined the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) under Allen Dulles. He served as a sort of middleman, passing on U.S. resources to Communist friends, who in turn provided the OSS with intelligence from Communist resistance fighters in France and Germany.

After the war, a jobless Field traveled around “liberated” Eastern Europe. Years earlier, back in Washington, he had been acutely aware of the poverty and sadness he witnessed, but now he was blind to the far worse privation and misery around him. All he could see was a “Promised Land” in the process of being born.

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Whittaker Chambers

In 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist, told the House Un-American Activities Committee that his old State Department colleague, Alger Hiss, was a Communist. Hiss had powerful friends who protected him, including future Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles. Field didn’t. What to do? Jobless, footloose in Western Europe, and scared to return to the U.S., Field wrote to a Czech official begging for a job in Prague. His letter, as Marton writes, betrays an “astonishing zeal to enter a country slowly morphing into a prison state.”

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Tito

Field was invited to Prague – where he was promptly kidnapped by the authorities, transported to Budapest, and accused of being a U.S. spy. Interrogated, beaten, and tortured, he ultimately confessed to a ridiculous charge that his tormenters knew to be untrue: that his rescue of Communists in wartime Marseille had been a cover for recruiting them for the CIA and the Yugoslav leader, Tito. Ordered to list all the Communists whose return to Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, or Hungary he had facilitated, Field provided 562 names. Most of the people he fingered ended up being subjected to new show trials, convicted on his “evidence,” and executed.

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Noel and Herda Field

Field later regretted the weakness that had led him to ascribe guilt to innocent people. But he never criticized his torturers. On the contrary, he defended them. And he made a list of reasons why they were right to have beaten a false confession out of him:

  1. I am an American

  1. I worked for the State Department

  2. I worked for a Christian philanthropy

  3. I was in touch with Dulles

  4. I snooped around the East Bloc after the war

  5. I was born bourgeois

“This,” writes Marton, “was the ultimate triumph of totalitarianism: the accused accepted, even embraced, his guilt. The party can never be wrong.”

More anon.

Becoming a traitor

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J. Edgar Hoover

After World War II, there would be much talk about the “paranoia” about Communism that supposedly could be found in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. But during the years between the world wars, the problem in the nation’s capital was the opposite. Almost anybody working at, say, the State or War department could easily access classified documents. Communist sympathies on the part of high-level officials were accepted with a shrug by the FBI and other agencies. J. Edgar Hoover and his men were all but oblivious to the danger of Soviet spying.

In fact there were plenty of Soviet spies in Washington, some of whom held very high-level positions in the U.S. government. Those who worked for the NKVD (the forerunner of the KGB) reported to J. Peters, a Hungarian who had been born Sándor Goldberger and who worked out of the American Communist Party’s offices in New York. In 1934, Peters sent one of his underlings, Hede Massing, to Washington to try to enlist State Department official Noel Field, as Kati Marton reports in her fascinating biography of Field. As it happened, Field was also being wooed by a friend at State, Alger Hiss, who worked for the Kremlin’s military intelligence agency.

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Hede Massing

Field hesitated, then finally signed up with the NKVD in the fall of 1935.

Spying proved easy. These were days, he later recalled, when the “most secret documents… circulated from hand to hand.”

His new NKVD colleagues noticed several things about Field. One was his incredible naivete. Another was the “innate need for a guiding faith to imbue his life with meaning”: this “made him a devoted Communist.” Yet another was his desperate need to obey orders: he was a follower, not a leader or original thinker. “Noel could be strong only when he was doing what his superiors told him to do,” his friend and fellow spy Paul Massing later observed. Then there was his absolute belief in the goodness and rightness of Stalin and the Party. “For Noel,” Massing said, “the leaders of the Revolution can do no wrong.”

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Noel Field (right) at the League of Nations, 1939

Leaving the State Department in 1936, Field went to Geneva to work for the League of Nations – and to continue his espionage work. The next year, this young man who’d been drawn to Communism by a desire to usher in a better world was an accessory to the assassination of Ignaz Reisz, a veteran Soviet spy chief who’d dared to complain to Stalin about the show trials and executions of loyal Communists that were then underway in the USSR. Field had no remorse about this coldblooded murder. “He was a traitor,” Field said. “He deserved to die.”

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Gen. Walter Krivitsky

Field wasn’t troubled by the show trials, at which heroes of the Russian Revolution were railroaded and condemned to death. Other Communists, however, were outraged. Among them was Field’s handler, General Walter Krivitsky, who defected to the U.S., wrote exposés of Stalinism in the Saturday Evening Post, and ended up being murdered by Soviet agents in a Washington hotel room – a victim of Western officials’ unawareness of just how brutal the Kremlin was. (Krivitsky had actually told British Intelligence about the spies who’d later be known as the Cambridge Five, but they, like the FBI, had responded with a shrug.)

In 1938, a former colleague told the House Un-American Activities Committee that Field was a Communist. But thanks to official Washington’s – and America’s – lackadaisical attitude toward Communism during the FDR years, nothing happened to him. At about the same time, Field’s State Department friend Larry Duggan was also revealed to be a Soviet agent, but he, too, got away with it. Indeed, instead of being arrested or at least fired, Duggan was – incredibly – promoted: during most of World War II he served as assistant to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, a position that provided him with access to the nation’s most secret documents.

More tomorrow.

Noel Field: From State Department to Stalinism

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Noel Field

Born in 1904 and raised in Zurich, Switzerland, by upright, pious, and wealthy American Quaker parents, Noel Field was brought up to be a fervent – but, alas, eternally naive – believer in peace and equality. After his father’s death in 1921, Noel, his two siblings, and their mother relocated to the U.S., where Noel attended Harvard and then joined the State Department, an idealistic and unworldly young man determined to use his position to remedy the world’s cruelties and inequities.

In Washington, D.C., Field and his Swiss wife, Herta – whom he had known since he was nine years old – lived in a black neighborhood and, appalled by the racism they observed, took part in anti-segregation protests.

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Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti

Then there was the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants who were convicted of murder in 1921 and executed in 1927. The case made international headlines, resulted in the formation of defense committees around the world, and led to riots and vandalism. All this activity on behalf of the two defendants was believed at the time to be spontaneous; in fact it was all orchestrated by a U.S.-based Soviet agent, Willi Münzenberg, who saw the case as a golden opportunity to destroy “the myth of America” and thus make the U.S. fertile ground for Communism. Millions fell into his trap. One of them was Field, whom Kati Marton, in her recent biography of him, describes as “an ideal target” for Münzenberg’s machinations.

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John Reed

Disillusioned by his own country, Field began to read the works of Marx, Lenin, and the American Communist John Reed. He subscribed to the Daily Worker. Soon he was a “secret radical.” Bookish, sheltered, and utopian-minded as he was, he was easily drawn to the Communist dream of a workers’ paradise. The fact that he’d never set foot in the Soviet Union helped. “His exposure to Stalin’s Russia,” notes Marton, “came entirely from Moscow’s propaganda.” The Daily Worker‘s glorious descriptions of Bolshevik life – which he took entirely at face value – contrasted dramatically with America’s economic inequality and racism, which he saw firsthand.

Marton cites another factor in his attraction to Moscow: brought up in a starchy milieu (part WASP-y, part Swiss) without much in the way of human intimacy, the “stiffly self-conscious Noel” was deeply moved by the feeling of warm solidarity he experienced at a 1929 gathering of Communist laborers in New York City. “For once,” he wrote, “I felt myself a ‘comrade’ among that enthusiastic workers’ audience.”

It would take five more years before Noel Field fully shifted his allegiance. But he was already on the path to treason.

Yet again, the Rosenbergs

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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Just over a year ago we revisited the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as spies in 1953. Back then, their case attracted worldwide attention, both because of the seriousness of the charge – they had played a key role in delivering the secrets of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union, an action that entirely altered the balance of power on planet Earth – and because they were a married couple with two children. More than a few Americans were eager to see them pay the ultimate price for what was, unquestionably, treason; others opposed their execution, either because of a defensible opposition to the death penalty, or to the idea of making orphans of two small boys, or, less justifiably, because they actually viewed the Rosenbergs’ crimes as insignificant, or believed them (despite all the evidence to the contrary) to be innocent, or even, in a great many cases, because they regarded Julius and Ethel as heroes precisely because they were secret agents for Stalin.

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Tony Kushner

The notion that the Rosenbergs were heroes – or, at least, that Ethel, the junior partner in the spy operation, could somehow be regarded as a heroine – was a major animating tenet of the American far left for many decades after the couple’s execution, and endures to this day. (In Angels in America, Tony Kushner turns Ethel into a veritable saint.) The notion has even survived the opening of archives that have provided absolute proof of the Rosenbergs’ activities on behalf of the Kremlin. In 2011, faced with this mounting evidence, one of the Rosenbergs’ sons, Robert Meeropol, broke down and acknowledged his father’s guilt, while reasserting his mother’s innocence; but at the same time he expressed pride in both of them, saying that they had “acted with integrity, courage and in furtherance of righteous ideals.” Needless to say, those ideals, as Rosenberg expert Ronald Radosh pointed out at the time, included “forced collectivization of the land, the murder of hundreds of thousands, [and] the establishment of the Gulag.”

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol (pictured, pink shirt) and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, (pictured, blue shirt) received a proclamation from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. Pictured, left to right: City Council member Mark Levine, City Council member Daniel Dromm, Robert Meeropol, Michael Meeropol and Gail Brewer. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.
The Meeropol brothers holding copies of the New York City Council proclamation lauding their mother

In October of last year, in yet another example of the continuing far-left compulsion to idealize one or both of the Rosenbergs, the New York City Council issued a proclamation honoring Ethel on what would have been her hundredth birthday, praising her “bravery,” and identifying her as a victim of “anti-Communist hysteria.” As we observed at the time, such actions are the work of people who “still speak of anti-Communism almost as if there was no such thing as Communism itself. In their rhetoric, the terror of life under Stalin dissolves; the Gulag disappears; the Iron Curtain evaporates. And all that is left is Americans’ apparently baseless ‘hysteria.’”

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E. L. Doctorow

Unsurprisingly, the same people on the far left who have persisted in viewing the Rosenbergs as heroes have also depicted the Rosenbergs’ sons as victims. And, yes, they were victims – of their parents’ fanatical devotion to an evil ideology. But the aim on the far left has always been to paint them as victims of a vengeful, heartless America, of “anti-Communist hysteria,” of anti-Semitism, and of other systematic societal ills purportedly afflicting the West. The most notable instance of this effort has been E. L. Doctorow‘s 1971 novel, The Book of Daniel, whose memory-haunted title character is based on the Meeropol boys; the novel’s manifest objective is to blame the young protagonist’s woes not on the boy’s Communist parents but on their capitalist executioners.

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The Meeropol brothers

The spin continues. On October 16, 60 Minutes broadcast a segment featuring both Rosenberg sons. The title, “Finding Refuge,” suited the segment’s angle: it was less an objective report on the facts of the Rosenberg case than yet another effort to whip up public sympathy for Michael and Robert Meeropol. The boys (who are now elderly men) admitted that after decades of insisting on their parents’ innocence, they finally came to accept that their father, at least, was a full-fledged spy. But this doesn’t bother them: as one of the sons said, he finds it “more palatable” to see his parents not as victims but as politically committed people who acted on their beliefs.

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Anderson Cooper

Now, pause for a moment and reflect on that statement. If the son of a couple of long-dead Nazis had spoken in this admiring way about their “commitment,” you can bet that Anderson Cooper would have responded on-camera by sharply challenging the idea that there could be anything “palatable” whatsoever about Nazism. But Cooper let that one pass by without a challenge, reminding us that while (of course) admiring Hitler is universally recognized as utterly appalling, in the corridors of Western media power it’s still considered acceptable to admire people for their unwavering dedication to Stalin.

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Ronald Radosh

During his interview with the Meeropol brothers, Cooper reminded them of what the judge in their parents’ case had said: “The Rosenbergs loved their cause more than their children.” Cooper characterized this as “a very cruel thing to say.” No; it was a plain and simple fact. As Radosh, who was also interviewed on the program, underscored, the U.S. government did not want to have to electrocute the Rosenbergs: it was trying to use the threat of execution to pressure them to provide information about their spy network. But they wouldn’t talk. Their loyalty to their comrades – to their fellow acolytes of Stalinist totalitarianism, and, of course, to Stalin himself – was greater than their loyalty to their children. That, not the judge’s statement, was the cruel element in this story. Plainly – and, perhaps, understandably – the Meeropol brothers are still unable to accept the terrible reality that their parents loved Stalin more than them. They still insist on seeing themselves as the victims of their parents’ executioners; in fact they are the victims of nothing other than the breathtaking power of useful stoogery.

Who was Arthur Ransome?

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Arthur Ransome

Largely forgotten nowadays, Arthur Ransome (1884-1967) was a British author, famous in his time for a series of children’s books that, in the words of his biographer Roland Chambers, “epitomised the plain talking and simple moral values that once made the empire great” and, “with their pastoral, old-fashioned view of Britain, shaped the imagination of a generation.” Ransome also wrote biographies of Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde, the latter of which led to a celebrated trial at which Ransom defended himself (successfully) against a libel charge leveled by Lord Alfred Douglas.

Headshot of Russian Revolutionary political leader and author Leon Trotsky (1879 - 1940), 1930s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Leon Trotsky

But there was another chapter to Ransome’s career. It started in 1913, when he traveled to Russia thinking that it just might provide a good setting for a fairy tale or two. He ended up reporting (in turn) on World War I, on the Kerensky and Lenin revolutions, and on the Bolshevik government, whose leading figures he befriended. He even roomed with Leon Trotsky’s second-in-command – and married Trostky’s secretary.

And eventually, he became a vocal champion of pretty much everything Lenin’s government did. As Chambers puts it, Ransome “defended censorship of the press, the suppression of democracy, and even downplayed execution without trial.” When Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka (the predecessor of the KGB), admitted that his agency was synonymous with terror, “a terror that is absolutely essential in the revolutionary period we are passing through,” Ransome stood up for that, too.

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Roland Chambers

What a piece of work! When he wasn’t comparing Lenin to Oliver Cromwell and denying the Red Terror, Ransome was praising Trotsky for “his ‘merciless’ suppression of the White Guards and other ‘bloodsucking’ counter-revolutionaries.” In his reportage, meanwhile, he was a liar on the scale of Walter Duranty, consistently reassuring British readers that the Bolsheviks were doing their best to keep bloodshed at a minimum. To quote one reviewer’s tongue-in-cheek summing-up: “Soldiers were shooting their officers, yes, but they did so with admirable restraint.”

Unsurprisingly, many British officials considered Ransome a Communist, pure and simple. But no other Brit could come close to matching his Kremlin access, and so – as shown by MI5 archives made public in 2005 – MI6 recruited him in 1918 as a spy.

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Felix Dzerzhinsky

Recently released Soviet archives have also shed light on Ransome’s story. One question that still remains, however, is whether he was actually a double agent –a man whose ultimate loyalty was not to London but to Moscow. Admittedly, there’s no absolute proof either way. But we do know that he and his wife Evgenia smuggled diamonds from the USSR to help fund the Communist movement in Western Europe. We also know he owned a lavish yacht that must have cost a bundle – more cash, certainly, than most British reporters would have been able to scrape together, and more, apparently, than could be accounted for by his MI6 paycheck. “Had this money,” asks one observer, “been earned from the INO, an intelligence-gathering branch of Felix Dzerzhinsky’s sinister Cheka?” Good question. 

It’s unclear, then, whether Ransome was a traitor. But he was, unquestionably, a useful stooge – or, to use the famous phrase that his comrade Lenin might actually have coined with him in mind, a useful idiot.

Sons of the KGB

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Alex and Tim shortly after their parents’ arrest

Quick recap: yesterday we started telling the story of Tim and Alex Foley, two brothers who thought they and their parents were Canadians but discovered, as the result of a 2010 FBI raid on their Cambridge, Massachusetts, home, that their folks were not only Russians but Russian spies, living in deep cover since Soviet days. The family’s tale was a key inspiration for the current FX series, The Americans. 

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“Donald Heathfield” and “Tracey Foley”

When “Donald Heathfield” and “Tracey Foley” were taken into custody and deported to Russia, the story made headlines. Since then, both brothers – who, then aged twenty and sixteen, were obliged to follow their parents to Russia, but left as soon as they could – have kept a low profile, but they agreed to speak to the Guardian as part of an effort to regain their Canadian citizenship, which was rescinded after their parents’ arrests. Both young men insist that they have no sense of belonging to their parents’ homeland. In a recent affidavit to a Canadian court, Tim wrote: “I do not have any attachment to Russia, I do not speak the language, I do not know many friends there, I have not lived there for any extended periods of time and I do not want to live there.” Alex, for his part, told the Guardian: “I feel like I have been stripped of my own identity for something I had nothing to do with.” Although both boys’ relationship with their parents has been “difficult” and “sad” (they visit them in Russia every few months), Alex, after having thought long and hard about “whether he hated them or felt betrayed,” claims he eventually decided “that they were the same people who had raised him lovingly, whatever secrets they hid.”

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Tim and Alex in Bangkok, 2011

Speaking on behalf of both himself as his brother, Alex also says this about his parents: “I’m glad they had a cause they believed in…but I wish the world wouldn’t punish me for their choices.” Ponder that sentence. Admittedly, one can’t expect kids who’ve been put in such circumstances to come out clear-headed. But if we were counseling Alex, we’d suggest he’d put some more thought into his assertion that he’s “glad” his parents found a “cause” to serve – and into his apparent conviction that it’s “the world” that’s responsible for the punishment he and Tim have undergone. Granted, perhaps he has a profound psychological need to cling to the belief that his parents, in spite of everything, were “loving” – but as someone at the threshold of adulthood he must address the question squarely: just how loving was it for “Don” and “Tracey” to put their children in such a situation? For people who made the choice they did – and who clung to it even after living for years in the free world, all the while knowing that their Western-raised sons might ultimately have to pay dearly for their deception – “loving” is, shall we say, hardly the mot juste.

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Tim and Alex in Kazakhstan, 2013

To be sure, although they spent decades operating in the same ideological territory as many of the unsavory characters we’ve studied on this site, “Don” and “Tracey,” as born-and-bred Russians who chose to become KGB spies, don’t qualify as “useful stooges.” On the contrary, they were full-fledged pillars of Soviet totalitarianism (and, later, of whatever you want to call Putin’s own distinctive brand of thuggish tyranny). They and they alone created the nightmare in which their sons are now living. By all means, give Tim and Alex back their Canadian passports; but first make certain that they understand completely just who is responsible for their “punishment” – and just who is being “loving.” In other words, make sure that these two young men, who have been so intent on completing their educations, learn perhaps the most important thing they can ever learn: that their parents weren’t serving just any “cause,” but were, in fact, fighting to eradicate the very freedom that Tim and Alex now seek to live under again.  

 

Spy story

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Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as deep-cover KGB spies in The Americans

In early May, the Guardian recounted a fascinating true story that, as it happens, helped inspire the current FX series The Americans. It’s about a Canadian couple, Donald Heathfield (a consultant) and Tracey Foley (a realtor), and their two sons, Tim and Alex Foley, who, on June 27, 2010, when they were living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were in the middle of celebrating Tim’s twentieth birthday when “a team of armed, black-clad men holding a battering ram…streamed into the house, screaming, ‘FBI!’ Another team entered from the back; men dashed up the stairs, shouting at everyone to put their hands in the air.”

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The family’s house in Cambridge

Some of the G-men drove Don and Tracey away in handcuffs, while others remained behind to search the house. From those investigators, the boys learned that their parents were Russian spies who’d been living under deep cover since Soviet times, using names stolen from long-dead Canadians. Don was really Andrei Bezrukov; Tracey was Elena Vavilova. The deep-cover system was a well-known KGB specialty (no other country has ever trained spies to pose as foreigners) but it was widely believed to have been shuttered after the fall of the Iron Curtain. On the contrary, as it turned out, old KGB hand Vladimir Putin saw to it that it remained alive and well.

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“Tracey” with Tim in 1991

Visiting his parents in prison after their arrest, Alex, then sixteen, didn’t ask them about the charges: “I refused to let myself be convinced they were actually guilty of anything….They were facing life in prison, and if I was to testify, I would have to completely believe they were innocent.” On their mother’s advice, Tim and Alex decided (rather bemusingly) to “escape the media circus” by flying to Moscow, where they’d never set foot. There, colleagues of their parents in the SVR (the KGB’s successor agency) met them at the airport, showed them around town, and introduced them to relatives they hadn’t known existed. After a few days their parents joined them, having been exchanged, along with eight other SVR operatives, for Russians who’d been spying for the West. They “were welcomed back…as heroes.”

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“Donald” with Alex and Tim in 1999

It turned out the FBI had been on to “Don” and “Tracey” for years. Their home had been bugged. G-men had scoured Foley’s safe-deposit box as far back as 2001. Tim denies a 2012 report that his parents had told him the truth “long before the arrest” and that he’d agreed to train as a “second-generation spy” for Russia. On the contrary, both sons insist they have no affection for their parents’ homeland. Tim, now 25, says they both underwent a “real identity crisis” when, having been stripped of their Canadian citizenship, they were given Russian passports and a new surname (Vavilov). Both maintain they were eager to leave Russia ASAP. Tim, after completing college there, was able to go to London to earn an MBA; Alex, however, couldn’t get visas to Canada, the UK, or France; now 21, he is studying in an unnamed (but presumably less desirable) country in Europe. What’s the deal with them now? Tune in tomorrow. 

The KGB’s high-level inroads in Norway

kgbWhen KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin (1922-2004) moved to the U.K. in 1992, he took with him 25,000 pages crammed with information about Soviet espionage activities going back to the 1930s. This trove, known as the Mitrokhin Archive, has provided the material for several books, beginning with The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (1999) by Mitrokhin and historian Christopher Andrew.

In several countries, the information contained in the archive made sensational headlines and led to official investigations and trials. The Danish government, for example, funded a Centre for Cold War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark, which spent years exploring the Mitrokhin Archive and other records. The result: a 1500-page report that detailed the extent of Soviet infiltration into Danish institutions (but redacted all names). In Denmark, these revelations received extensive media coverage.

In at least one country, however, the authorities showed no interested whatsoever in exploring or publicizing the contents of the Mitrokhin Archives. We’re talking about a country that was a founding member of NATO and that is one of the most prosperous on the planet – but whose cultural elite consists disproportionately of longtime (or supposedly former) Communists.

In a word: Norway.

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Arne Treholt

As new-media journalist Hans Rustad pointed out in a recent article on his widely read alternative website, document.no, the Norwegian press has been more preoccupied with trying to whitewash Arne Treholt – a Labor Party politician and diplomat convicted in the 1980s for high treason and espionage – than with uncovering the names of other Norwegians who worked for the KGB.

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Jens Stoltenberg

To be sure, there have been isolated efforts in Norway to make public some of the discoveries made in the Mitrokhin Archive. In 2000, TV journalist Alf R. Jacobsen revealed that back in 1989, the Norwegian police had learned that the KGB had cultivated Jens Stoltenberg, who was then “a young and very ambitious Labor Party politician” and who in 2000 was Prime Minister of Norway. (He is now Secretary-General of NATO.) Jacobsen’s report was condemned not only by Stoltenberg but, as Jacobsen recalled in 2011, by “pretty much all of the press’s leading commentators.” Among those who gave Jacobsen the cold shoulder was his boss, Einar Førde, “who himself had a suspect relationship to the KGB.” Meanwhile the Labor-friendly folks at the nation’s main evening news program did their best to deep-six the story.

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Thorbjørn Jagland

In 2001, Norway’s largest newspaper, VG, reported on a forthcoming book that would divulge previously unreported information about Labor Party politicians’ Cold War-era KGB ties; ten years later, in 2011, another major daily, Dagbladet, reported that the book’s publication had been stopped by Labor Party leaders – and that some former KGB spies were still employed in both the Foreign Ministry and Labor Party. The media establishment responded to this revelation, too, by trying to discredit it. The book was reportedly suppressed by Thorbjørn Jagland, a Labor Party pol and former Prime Minister who in 2001 was Minister of Foreign Affairs – and who was, as it happens, one of those named in the book as KGB informants. (Jagland, famous in the U.S. mainly as the man behind Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, is currently Secretary-General of the Council of Europe.)

More to come.

George Blake, KGB

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George Blake

George Blake is 93, a former MI6 agent and convicted KGB mole now living in Russia. Last year his story was told in a BBC documentary, George Blake: Masterspy of Moscow, by George Carey. Yesterday we examined Blake’s colorful early years and his conversion to Communism, an ideology that he regarded as “an attempt to create the kingdom of God in this world.” Taken custody by the North Koreans after the outbreak of the Korean War, Blake was “freed” after three years in their custody and returned along with other captured Brits to the U.K., where he was hailed by the Fleet Street press – and by his colleagues in MI6 – as a hero.

A list of six ìdangerous agentsî of British intelligence in a file kept by the Stasi, the feared East German secret police. Credit: George Carey *** MUST CREDIT *** ONE TIME USE ONLY ***
A list Carey found in the files of the Stasi, the East German secret police, listing six MI6 agent exposed by Blake

But Blake was no hero – not for the West, anyway. He was now a counterspy. Based in London, and later in Berlin and Lebanon, Blake proved to be a highly reliable Soviet asset, photographing classified British and American documents that crossed his desk and handing them over to KGB contacts on a regular basis. This went on for several years, and ended only after a Polish intelligence officer – who was himself a double agent, working for the Brits – turned over information to MI6 showing what Blake was up to.

Summoned to London, Blake was interrogated for two days, during which he repeatedly denied being a KGB mole. On the morning of the third day, however, when his questioners suggested that he’d switched sides as a result of torture or blackmail while in Korea, he insisted defiantly that he’d never had any such motive: he’d offered his services to the KGB, he said, “of my own free will.”

Hans Mohring: Hans Mˆhring, an official on the GDR state planning commission and an agent for MI6, spent 17 years in a Stasi prison after he was betrayed by George Blake. Credit: George Carey *** MUST CREDIT *** ONE TIME USE ONLY ***
Hans Möhring spent 17 years in a Stasi prison for spying for Britain after being betrayed by Blake

His case made headlines. Sentenced to 42 years in prison, he was incarcerated at Wormwood Scrubs in London. In 1966, with the help of friends on both the inside and outside, he escaped, and managed to make his way to Russia, where the KGB were “good to him.” “Showered with medals,” he was given a nice apartment in central Moscow and a prestigious job in a think tank. He’d left behind a wife and children in Britain, but he found a new wife in the USSR and had more children.

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Blake with fellow traitor Kim Philby

“George has never had any regrets,” a cousin of his said on the BBC documentary. This, even though the information he supplied to the KGB resulted in the arrest of about 100 Soviet officials who were secretly working for the West. Six MI6 agents he fingered for the KGB “were imprisoned for up to 17 years inside East Germany, serving time in jails notorious for torture and psychological intimidation of inmates,” reported the Telegraph. One is now believed to have been taken to Moscow and executed.”  

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Blake today, at his home near Moscow

“I’m still a Communist,” Blake said in the late 1980s. Not long afterwards, the USSR collapsed. One wonders whether he was surprised to find out just how few of his fellow Soviet residents actually believed in the ideology that was their government’s excuse for controlling their lives.

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George Carey, documentary maker

The irony is rich: the Iron Curtain came down, and Russia and its satellites joined the family of nations, their people finally able to speak their minds, run their own lives, travel the world. But Blake, a convicted spy, had no choice but to stay in Russia, a living relic of another era. To avoid re-imprisonment in Britain, he lived in Russia, in a prison of his own making. Anecdotal evidence suggests that he’s less than delighted by this fate; according to an old friend, Blake, somehow unable to grasp that his past couldn’t be “forgiven and forgotten” as easily as he would like, has actually looked into the possibility of returning to the Netherlands.

And so he remains in Russia, a nonagenarian who’d “believed that his fate was to do God’s work on earth” – but whose destiny, it turned out, was to spend his old age as a living reminder of his own dead, twisted dream, a dream, as Carey’s documentary pointed out, “for which he’d done so much damage to Britain.”

“The spy who got away”

George Blake on returning from his internment in North Korea

He’s been called “the most damaging British traitor of the Cold War,” “the spy who got away.” His name is George Blake, and he’s 93 years old. Today he’s a doddering, harmless-looking old coot living in Russia. Half a century ago, however, he was a very slick character indeed who, to quote an interviewee in a recent BBC documentary, was “responsible for getting people killed.”

The documentary, entitled George Blake: Masterspy of Moscow, aired on the BBC last year. Made by filmmaker George Carey (not to be confused with the former Archbishop of Canterbury of the same name), it recounted Blake’s exceedingly curious and colorful early years: born in Rotterdam in 1922 with the last name of Behar, he grew up in the odd position of being unable to communicate with his own father, an Egyptian Jew, hard-working businessman, and British subject who, though he lived in the same house as his son, spoke English and French but not Dutch, which at the time was the only language the son spoke.

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Cairo, 1938

After the father died, in 1936, leaving the family in financial difficulties, it somehow came to the attention of his widow and children that he had a rich sister in Cairo who lived in a palace, no less. George, then in his early teens, came into contact with his aunt and presently relocated to Cairo, where he moved into the palace, enrolled at the English School, and learned both French and English. (One presumes he must have picked up at least some Arabic, although there is no mention of this in the documentary.)

The German ultimatum ordering the Dutch commander of Rotterdam to cease fire was delivered to him at 10:30 a.m. on May 14, 1940. At 1:22 p.m., German bombers set the whole inner city of Rotterdam ablaze, killing 30,000 of its inhabitants. (OWI) NARA FILE #: 208-PR-10L-3 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1334
Rotterdam after the Nazi bombing in May 1940

He was visiting his family in The Hague when World War II broke out, and a year later was in Rotterdam for the Nazi air raids of May 14, 1940. Returning to The Hague to discover that his mother and sisters had fled for Britain, George joined the Dutch Resistance, found his way (a rather spectacular feat) to the U.K. via Spain in 1942, and, after arriving in London, managed to parlay his remarkable personal story into a job with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), better known as MI6, which sent him to Cambridge to learn Russian.

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Cambridge University

It was there, in a class taught by a professor who inspired in him “a romantic admiration for everything Russian,” that Blake, according to the documentary,  first began to sympathize with Communism. (Blake himself has testified otherwise: when he’d first moved to Cairo, he’d met one of his cousins, Henri Courel, a Communist whose views, he said years later, “had a great influence on me.”)

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Seoul, 1948

Sent to Seoul by MI6 in 1948, Blake was apprehended by the Communists after the Korean War broke out. They could’ve executed him, but instead he allowed himself to be turned – to accept the role of a double agent, spying on the British for the North Koreans’ Soviet masters. By this point, he was not a tough sell: “I felt I was on the wrong side…that it would be better for humanity if the Communist system prevailed, that it would put an end to war.” Indeed, Blake, who had once aspired to be a pastor, would later say that he “viewed Communism as an attempt to create the kingdom of God in this world.”

What happened next? Tune in tomorrow.