I.F. Stone, journalist hero – and KGB spy

I. F. Stone

On this site we’ve discussed Oliver Stone and Sharon Stone, but one Stone we haven’t yet gotten around to is the journalist I.F. Stone (1907-89). Which is odd, because this particular Stone could very well have been the mascot of this website, a dubious honor we awarded at the outset to Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow correspondent who systematically whitewashed Stalin’s crimes and sang his praises in America’s newspaper of record.

It is no exaggeration to say that Stone was revered. In 1999, New York University’s journalism department named his newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, which he published from 1953 to 1971, the second most important American journalistic periodical of the twentieth century. In 2008, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University began awarding the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence.

Independence: that was the word they invariably used when describing Stone. That, and words like “rectitude” and “probity.” His New York Times obituary began as follows: “I. F. Stone, the independent, radical pamphleteer of American journalism….” It went on to call him a “maverick” and praise his “integrity.” The London Times entitled its obituary “I.F. Stone: Spirit of America’s Independent Journalism”; the headline in the Los Angeles Times obit called him “The Conscience of Investigative Journalism.” A posthumous editorial in the Boston Globe began with this statement: “For thousands of American journalists, I.F. Stone represented an ideal.”

In fact, he was a KGB spy.

A brief bio: the son of Russian immigrants (his birth name was Isidor Feinstein), Stone quit college to become a journalist. He served for a time as editor of the New York Post, then worked as a staffer and/or contributor to The Nation, New Republic, PM, and other left-wing political journals before starting his own weekly. Throughout his long career, he was known for his strong leftist leanings.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, he was an ardent supporter of the newly born State of Israel, but later became one of its fiercest critics and an outspoken champion of the Palestinian cause. He was also a vocal opponent of the Korean War and Vietnam War. Nobody who read his work could mistake him for anything but a far leftist with (usually) an obvious soft spot for the Soviet Union.

John Earl Haynes

All along, a few canny observers suspected that Stone was working for the Kremlin. In 1992, not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, credible-sounding reports began circulating to the effect that Stone had been a KGB man. John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev finally coughed up the goods in their 2009 book Spies, about KGB operatives in America. Stone, it turned out, had been on the Kremlin’s payroll as a full-fledged spy beginning in 1936 and ending perhaps in 1938, perhaps several years later. (On this question the records have yet to yield a definitive answer.) “Stone assisted Soviet intelligence on a number of tasks,” wrote Haynes and his co-authors, “ranging from doing some talent spotting acting as a courier by relaying information to other agents, and providing private journalistic tidbits and data the KGB found interesting.”

In other words, this widely venerated pillar of integrity and personification of independence was in fact a secret Kremlin operative. Spies established this fact beyond question in 2009. It is interesting to note that this information has not made much of a dent in Stone’s reputation among true believers on the left. Harvard did not change the name of its medal for journalistic independence, and none of the people who have won the award since 2009 have declined to accept it.

Then again, many of those winners – including Putin apologist Robert Parry, socialist radio host Amy Goodman, and Nation editor and publisher Victor Navasky – are precisely the sort of “journalists” who wouldn’t much mind having their name associated with that of a Soviet spy. Which is precisely why we’re here at this website, writing about these unpleasant people and their unpleasant antics day after day.  

Social justice, with guns

Lori Berenson

The last couple of days we’ve been chronicling the life of Lori Berenson, a privileged Manhattan lass who, some two decades ago, took the $50,000 her left-wing, college-professor parents had set aside for her education and used it to bankroll her involvement in the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a mass-murdering terrorist group in Peru. After her arrest in 1996, a military tribunal found her guilty of terrorism and sentenced her to life in prison; later, granted a trial in a civil court, she insisted – as she had from the beginning – that she was not a terrorist, that she hadn’t been part of MRTA, and that, in fact, she hadn’t even know that those fierce-looking, unkempt people living in her house were MRTA terrorists.

The three judges, however, didn’t buy her story. They concluded – correctly – that Berenson had rented the house to provide a base for her terrorist comrades, had purchased “various computer and communications gear” that they needed for their terrorist activities, and had “used press credentials as a cover to scrutinize the halls of Congress and facilitate an eventual attack” on that building. It was all true. But after having her life sentence reduced to twenty years in prison, Berenson condemned the verdict as “unjust” and once again asserted her total innocence.

A few of Berenson’s MRTA amigos

Berenson professed that she had been drawn to Peru out of love for the Peruvian people. But the Peruvian people themselves despised her. By an overwhelming margin, they were happy about the verdict. They did not appreciate the efforts of la gringa terrorista to wreak havoc in their country. However much she tried to paint herself as a noble freedom fighter on their behalf, they saw her as nothing more than a fanatical foreigner out to cause mayhem. One local journalist who covered her civilian trial said, “I think she was an idealist, but when you start messing around with violent groups, you play with fire. As intelligent as she is, it’s impossible to feel sympathy.”

On parole in Lima

We would modestly submit that, judging by all the available evidence, “intelligent” may not be the mot juste to describe Berenson. In any event, her already unconvincing efforts to distance herself from MRTA were rendered even more unconvincing by her 2003 jailhouse marriage to a fellow MRTA member, by whom she had a son in 2008. When she wasn’t enjoying conjugal visits, Berenson wrote political diatribes that her supporters posted online. Typical of these commentaries was a 2006 statement in which she asserted that “the so-called American way of life is…wrong” and that “[g]reed and individualism are not only negative character traits of some individuals, they are now the motor of our [American] society. The flourishing of the so-called free market is more important than the well-being of the people.” 

At the Lima airport

After her release on parole in 2010, Berenson acknowledged that she’d known all along that her housemates were MRTA terrorists. She also admitted to collaborating with them, but maintained that she had “never participated in acts of violence nor of bloodshed.” True, but only because she’d been taken into custody before she’d had a chance to participate in her comrades’ plan to storm the Congress.

Berenson was finally allowed to leave Peru for good in 2015. Peru, wrote one reporter, “has rid itself of a figure who was reviled to the end.” When she arrived at the Lima airport for her flight to New York, a “ruckus” erupted. “Get out of here, terrorist!” someone yelled.

Appearing on “Democracy Now!” after her release

Berenson – accompanied by her son, who’d been born behind bars and was now six years old – told journalists that “she would live with her parents until she had established herself.” Her plan, she said, was “to continue to work in social justice issues.” Pause for a moment over those words. Continue to work in social justice issues? During her years in the hoosegow, she’d often maintained that she’d matured, that she despised terrorism, and that she deeply regretted her youthful folly. But her reference to “continu[ing] to work in social justice issues” suggested that all that, too, had been a lie – that, in short, she’d never really learned a thing, and that she still viewed her involvement with a murderous terrorist group as “social justice” work.

Amy Goodman

Is this conclusion unfair? Consider what she told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! after her return to the U.S. Asked by Goodman what the MRTA was, she described it as “an organization that basically followed the example of the guerrilla movements of the 1960s…the national liberation struggles” and that “forms [sic] out of different leftist organizations that actually were participating in the efforts to return to democracy.” When Goodman noted that MRTA “was deemed a terrorist organization in Peru,” Berenson replied: “Well, everything was called terrorism in Peru.” Deep-sixing the MRTA plot to take Congressmen hostage, Berenson actually repeated the tattered old lie that she’d entered the Peruvian Congress building “as a journalist.” And, on Democracy Now!, she got away with it. 

She’d had twenty years in the slammer to engage in serious reflection on her actions, her values, and her falsehoods. But Lori Berenson came out spouting the same fatuous ideology and the same hogwash that she’d served up at the time of her arrest.