Red star over Norway – all over

We’ve been toting up the names of some of the high-profile Norwegian Labor Party politicians who were – or are likely to have been – KGB operatives. But not all of the Cold War-era useful stooges in the land of the fjords were secret spies. Nor were all of them members of the Labor Party, or even politicians. Many of them were cultural figures who belonged to more extreme parties – and who were proud to publicly identify themselves as friends and supporters of the USSR.

Bård-Larsen
Bård Larsen

In 2011, historian Bård Larsen catalogued some of these eminentos in a book entitled Idealistene (The Idealists). What might be surprising to a non-Norwegian is that these people’s open embrace of Communism didn’t keep them from becoming influential, successful, in some cases even beloved. On the contrary, Larsen notes, apropos of the small Workers’ Communist Party (AKP), founded in 1973 and disbanded in 2007, that in all of Europe, scarely any extreme political group of its size has so many members who’ve had such successful public careers.

hagerup
Inger Hagerup

One of Larsen’s subjects, poet Inger Hagerup (1905-85), was a member not of AKP but of the Norwegian Communist Party (NKP), founded in 1923. Hagerup’s oeuvre consists largely of crudely polemical verse calling for a workers’ revolution. In one famous work, “Be Impatient!”, she wrote: “Dreams and utopias, say the wise men, / Those who are cold in heart. / Don’t listen to them any more!” Despite – or because? – of her devotion to Stalin and her penchant for pro-Kremlin propaganda, she’s considered a major Norwegian poet.

We consulted two standard anthologies of Norwegian verse and one history of Norwegian literature. Neither anthology mentions Hagerup’s Communism. One of them (Den store lyrikkboken) praises her “awareness of oppression and injustice in the world around her” – never mind that she was utterly indifferent to oppression and injustice in the USSR. The other anthology (Norske dikt i 1000 år) tactfully describes her as having been “involved on the political left,” identifies her poems as being marked by a “clear antifascist tendency,” and says that “Be Impatient!” is “mostly about the dream of a world free of violence and the use of power.” Only the literary history, Per Thomas Andersen’s Norsk Litteraturhistorie, acknowledges Hagerup’s party identification: “She was a communist, but unlike [fellow lefty poet Arnulf] Øverland she clung firmly to her Soviet-friendly attitude after the war.” Andersen makes no judgment, one way or another, about her party affiliation.

allern
Sigurd Allern

Mainstream journalism in Norway is riddled with Communists. Take Sigurd Allern. Born in 1946, he’s served over the years as head of the Socialist Youth League, editor-in-chief of the Communist daily Klassekampen, and leader of the AKP and another Communist party, Rød Valgallianse (RV). All of which, apparently, in the eyes of University of Oslo officials, made him the perfect candidate for the country’s first-ever position as Professor of Journalism – a job he accepted in 2003, and still holds to this day.

haugsgjerd
Hilde Haugsgjerd with former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

Another example: Hilde Haugsgjerd. She was active in AKP, head of RV, and editor of Red Youth’s journal Red Guard – so when Aftenposten, the nation’s purportedly conservative newspaper of record, was looking for an editor-in-chief in 2008, who was hired? Haugsgjerd, natch. Though she claims to have left radicalism behind, she says her time in AKP taught her to esteem reason and question authority – a rather bemusing thing to say about one’s membership in a gang of supremely irrational utopists under strict orders not to question anything.

helge
Helge Øgrim

Then there’s Helge Øgrim. A former leader of AKP and of Red Youth, he’s been editor-in-chief of Journalisten, the professional journal for Norwegian journalists, since 2007. (Even a confession of plagiarism didn’t bring him down.)  

Needless to say, the idea that Communists – devoted by definition not to objective reporting but to ideological propaganda – should hold these kinds of positions in a democratic country is ridiculous. In Norway, however, questioning the appropriateness of such hires would be considered to be outrageously offensive.

More tomorrow.

Silencing Norway’s “political earthquake”

Yesterday we mentioned the Mitrokhin Archive in Britain, which contains 25,000 pages of information about high-profile Western figures who served as KGB spies and contacts during the Cold War. As we noted, some Western officials and journalists have examined these documents with an eye to uncovering the dark side of their own countries’ modern history; in Norway, however, the government and media – knowing that publicizing the facts would cause serious damage to that country’s powerful Labor Party – have essentially collaborated for years to keep a lid on those facts.

HAMAR 196310 Tidligere statsminister Einar Gerhardsen på valgkamp for Arbeiderpartiet foran kommunevalget.Her besøker han Hamar. Gerhardsen på talerstolen, taler og gestikulerer. Foto: Ivar Aaserud / Aktuell / Scanpix
Einar Gerhardsen

So things stood, more or less, until late December 2015, when Norway’s TV2 reported that it had commissioned Åsmund Egge, a professor emeritus at the University of Oslo, to look through the archive. Among the high-ranking Norwegians whose names turned up was Einar Gerhardsen (1897-1987), a Labor Party politician who served as Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, 1955 to 1963, and 1963 to 1965. It was Gerhardsen, fondly referred to as “Landsfaderen” (Father of the Nation), who oversaw the introduction of Norway’s postwar welfare state. According to the archive, he supplied confidential documents to the KGB, which gave him the code name “Jan.”

johansen
Johan Strand Johansen

Two of Gerhardsen’s cabinet members also worked for the Soviets, both of them as out-and-out KGB agents. One was Johan Strand Johansen, a Communist Party member who spent eight years (1945-49; 1954-57) in Parliament, served as Minister of Labor under Gerhardsen in 1945, moved to Moscow in 1957, and lived there until his death in 1970. The other KGB agent in the cabinet was economist Gunnar Bøe (1917-1989), a top academic and Labor Party member who from 1959 to 1962 served as Minister of Pay and Prices. Norwegian intelligence long suspected Bøe was a Kremlin operative, but wasn’t able to come up with enough evidence to arrest him.

førde
Einar Førde

Several more Norwegian politicians, journalists, and military officers who worked with the KGB were identified in Mitrokhin’s archive only by code names and thumbnail descriptions. Egge and TV2 have managed to figure out who some of them were, and to make educated guesses at others. One figure who’s been identified as a likely spy is Einar Førde (1943-2004), a Labor Party politician who was Minister of Education and Church Affairs from 1979 to 1981 and director-general of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) from 1989 to 2001. For several years, in other words, the education of children in Norway and then the dissemination of news throughout the country were under the direction of a KGB man.

In December 2015, Hans Rustad wrote at document.no that TV2’s revelations amounted to “a political earthquake.” They were so sensational, in fact, that – once again – most of the country’s mainstream media chose not to report on them at all.

More to come.

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.

treholt
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.

Jens_Stoltenberg_red_background
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.

Thorbjorn_Jagland
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.

Bob Yari: lousy filmmaker, excellent Cuba propagandist

In recent months we’ve cast a jaundiced eye at the avalanche of stoogery that has surrounded the so-called “opening” of Cuba – what’s been called the “thawing” of U.S.-Cuba relations.

hem6
Giovanni Ribisi and Adrian Sparks in Papa Hemingway in Cuba

Part of that “thawing,” as we’ve seen this week, has been a mass pilgrimage of TV and movie producers to the prison island. On Monday we noted that some sequences of the newest installment of the Fast and Furious franchise are being filmed in Cuba; yesterday we reported on the release of Papa Hemingway in Cuba, a feature that was shot there in 2014. While receiving lukewarm to poor reviews, the picture has nonetheless occasioned some pretty idiotic (if unsurprising) commentary about Cuba. 

berman
Eliza Berman

Take Eliza Berman, who, in a puff piece for Time, fatuously echoed the Castros’ own B.S., blaming the island’s disastrous economy not on Communism but on the U.S.: “Because the embargo restricted the import of American goods to the island, much of the country has maintained the appearance of being somewhat stuck in time—not least of all thanks to its 1950s-model cars. This allowed for the majority of the film to be shot on location rather than on artificial sets.” (It’s not surprising to discover that Berman is a very young lass and that her 2007 Yale B.A. is in that ridiculous non-field, American Studies.)   

hem4
Ribisi in Havana

Helen T. Verongos, writing in the New York Times, may have been entirely correct to say that the film “bristles with authentic detail, down to the very typewriter Hemingway used,” and that the producers’ ability to arrange for shooting in Cuba “was a feat of diplomacy, financial and otherwise.” But it would’ve been appropriate, we think, to include some acknowledgment of the nature of the political system with which the producers worked their supposed diplomatic magic.

Humberto-IMG_0190
Humberto Fontova

Verongas’s “feat of diplomacy” remark wasn’t a one-off. Even as they panned the movie, many reviewers praised its producer-director, Bob Yari, for pulling off a supposed coup – namely, getting Cuba’s government to let him film there. It took Cuban-American writer Humberto Fontova to point out the sheer absurdity of this take on the situation. Hemingway, after all, whether you love his fiction or not, was a fervent supporter of Castro’s revolution, which he called “very pure and beautiful.” In fact, recently uncovered documents show that, for a while there, he was actually a KGB spy (albeit a lousy one). From the very beginning, the Castros recognized Hemingway as one of their own; they turned his house into a museum, have maintained it assiduously ever since, encourage tourists to visit it, and are eager to publicly underscore, at every opportunity, their cozy connection to the Nobel Prize-winning author.

castro3
Fidel Castro

Letting Yari make his film in Cuba, then, was a no-brainer. It’s perfect pro-Cuba propaganda. And, as Fontova stresses, nothing matters more to the Cuban regime than propaganda. Fidel himself bragged early on that “propaganda is the vital heart of our struggle”; the CIA has credited Cuba’s government with “creating the most effective propaganda empire in the Western Hemisphere.” 

che
Che Guevara

To be sure, Yari’s picture leaves out Hemingway’s service to the KGB. To quote Fontova, “it also omits what could have provided the movie with some of its most dramatic scenes. I refer to Papa Hemingway as honored guest and charmed spectator during many of Che Guevara’s firing squad murder marathons, while gulping his especially-made-for-the-celebratory-occasion Daiquiris.” But of course such scenes – the absence of which from the movie was noted by absolutely none of the critics linked to at the review-aggregating sites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic – would’ve damaged the images of both Hemingway and Cuba. And we couldn’t have that, could we?

George Blake, KGB

blake
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.

blakephilby
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.”  

Programme Name: Storyville - TX: n/a - Episode: George Blake: Storyville (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: at his home outside Moscow George Blake - (C) George Carey - Photographer: George Carey
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.

georgeCarey
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.

cairo1938
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.

Cambridge-ClareCollegeAndKingsChapel
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.”)

seoul1948
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.  

Doublethink: Trumbo and the critics

Back in November, we took a good long look at the new movie Trumbo, which makes a hero and martyr out of blacklisted Stalinist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. During the last couple of days we’ve been examining reviews of the picture by critics who’ve somehow failed to grasp that, while the Hollywood blacklist may well have been a bad thing, that doesn’t mean that Stalinism was anything other than evil. 

Trumbo-2015-Trailer_screenshot
Bryan Cranston in Trumbo

We’re not done, because (as it turns out) there are plenty more clueless critiques of this film to ponder. Take this bemusing sentence by Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Set in the years after World War II, when fear of the ‘Red Menace’ – of creeping communism – spread across America, Trumbo details how fear and suspicion wormed their way into the movie biz, with actors and filmmakers branded as Stalinist sympathizers.”

trumboprotest
A protest to free the Hollywood Ten, with Trumbo third from left

But of course it wasn’t just “fear and suspicion” that “wormed their way into the movie biz”; Communism itself wormed its way into the film capital, as part of a highly calculated plan hatched within the walls of the Kremlin itself. And saying that Trumbo and his cohorts were “branded as Stalinist sympathizers” is like saying that Harry Truman was branded as a Democrat. Or a male. Or a Missourian. These guys were Stalinist sympathizers. They were Stalinist tools, Stalinist operatives – conscious and willing enemy soldiers in the war of ideas between the free world and the Soviet bloc. They were, quite simply, Stalinists  – full stop. Rea writes as if all this was invented by paranoid right-wingers, as if the “Red Menace” and “creeping communism” were nothing but feverish fantasies, as if Americans’ “fear and suspicion” of Communism were as unfounded as a fear of ghosts or vampires or werewolves.

trumbotub
Trumbo wrote in the bathtub

One of the signal attributes of the totalitarian society depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 was something he called “Doublethink” – the “power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” That’s what going on in many of these reviews: even while the critic accepts the fact that Dalton Trumbo was a Communist (how could he not?), he ridicules the “Communist witch hunt” as a paranoid, hysterical effort to unearth enemies of freedom where none at all existed.

cranstontub
Cranston as Trumbo, writing in the tub

Then there’s Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir, who knows very well what Stalinism was (and is), and who doesn’t try to disguise his fondness for it. “I cannot pretend to any objectivity when it comes to this subject,” he admits. “My mother and her first husband (who many years later was also her third husband) were both members of the Communist Party. My stepdad knew Dalton Trumbo, and worked on the defense committees for both the Hollywood 10 (a group of movie people, including Trumbo, who went to federal prison for refusing to answer questions before Congress) and for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, American Communists who were executed as Soviet spies.”

Julius_and_Ethel_Rosenberg_NYWTS
The Rosenbergs

These are, it must be said, rather curious formulations: of course, the Hollywood Ten weren’t just “a group of movie people” but a group of dedicated members of the Communist Party, all of whom were dedicated to the overthrow of democracy in the United States; and the Rosenbergs weren’t just “executed as Soviet spies,” they were Soviet spies, who passed the atom-bomb secrets on to the Kremlin. (Ethel Rosenberg even lied to her two sons, assuring them in a goodbye letter that she and their father were innocent – a claim proven false many years later by declassified KGB documents.)

Yes, there have been a couple of intelligent, well-informed reviews of Trumbo. We’ll get to them tomorrow.  

 

 

Heroes, martyrs, saints: reinventing the Rosenbergs

ros5
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

Although it’s been over sixty years since the Stalinist atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for treason at Sing Sing, a federal prison in New York, they continue to be a cause célèbre for many persons who weren’t even born until long after their deaths. The history of the widespread and perverse loyalty to the Rosenbergs’ memory is very much worth pondering, because it reveals a great deal about the psychopathology of the very many useful stooges for whom the betrayal of a free society in the name of mass-murdering totalitarianism is not only defensible but heroic.

radosh2
Ron Radosh

Over the years, some of their champions have argued that the Rosenbergs were totally innocent; others, that he was guilty as charged but she was innocent; still others, that they were both guilty, but it wasn’t a big deal, either because the state secrets they passed to the Kremlin weren’t all that important or because their actions were understandable, and thus forgivable, or even downright praiseworthy – the U.S., in the view of these apologists, being an oppressive nation unworthy of the Rosenbergs’ loyalty and the USSR under Stalin a shining symbol of socialist hope. As Ron Radosh, author of The Rosenberg File (1983), put it in 2011, the case was for a long time “a linchpin of the American Left’s argument that the United States government was not only evil during the Cold War years, but was ready to kill regular American citizens because they were against the Truman administration’s anti-Soviet policies.”

kushner
Tony Kushner

Indeed, for many on the left, the Rosenbergs are nothing less than heroes. The makers of a video entitled “Martyrs for Peace” said the following about them: “Both tried to make the world a better place for everyone. Both were courageous.” The socialist playwright Tony Kushner made the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg a character in Angels in America, his much-lauded, award-winning piece of dramatic agitprop. Kushner didn’t just treat Ethel sympathetically; he turned her into a saint, serving up what one sympathetic writer has described as “a powerful portrayal of [her] strength and humanity.”

ethelsings
Ethel Sings: a promotional photo

It goes on. As recently as last year, New York theatergoers could buy tickets to a play called Ethel Sings: The Unsung Song of Ethel Rosenberg, in which author Joan Beber represented Ethel as a tragic heroine forced to choose between loyalty to her children (i.e., testify and live) and loyalty to her husband (stay silent and die). In the theater program, the play’s director described the Rosenbergs as “liberals, Jews, labor activists, and communist sympathizers in an era of virulent anti-Communism and anti-Semitism.” (For such people, it’s always anti-Communism, not Communism itself, that’s “virulent.”)

robert-m
Robert Meeropol

Among the most dedicated apologists for the Rosenbergs have been their sons, Michael and Robert. For a long time they fiercely insisted on the innocence of their parents – who, in a letter written to the boys (then aged six and ten) just before the executions, begged them: “Always remember that we were innocent.” After the Rosenbergs’ death, Michael and Robert were adopted by a couple named Meeropol and took their surname; when the boys grew up and became political commentators and professors (Michael is a retired economics prof at Western New England College; Robert has taught anthropology at the same institution), they both made a busy side career out of defending their parents, relentlessly smearing the Rosenbergs’ critics, accusing those critics of proffering false information, and charging the FBI with fabricating evidence.

1990 PHOTO OF MICHAEL MEEROPOL, SON OF JULIUS AND ETHEL ROSENBERG AT THE ROSENBERG FUND FOR CHILDREN IN SPRINGFIELD.
Michael Meeropol

Together, the Meeropols wrote a 1975 book about their parents called We Are Your Sons; in the novel The Book of Daniel (1971), E. L. Doctorow presented a sympathetic account of a fictional couple based on the Rosenbergs, whose life is viewed retrospectively through the eyes of their son. (It’s surely no coincidence that in 2011, Michael, who now teaches at the City University of New York, recommended Kushner for an honorary CUNY degree.) Once, in an article, Radosh addressed one of the sons directly: “For your own sake, I hope you are mentally prepared for the inevitable day when the KGB’s own archives reveal that your parents were guilty. Get ready, because it’s going to be soon.”

Well, that day finally came. The relevant KGB records were declassified, and secret Soviet messages that had been intercepted and decrypted by U.S. intelligence were also made public. And they proved what Radosh knew they would. Many major news media, some of which had repeatedly and ardently reasserted the Rosenbergs’ innocence over the decades, did their best to ignore these revelations. The New York Times didn’t cover the story. The Nation, which over the decades had vilified and demonized witnesses who were now shown to have been telling the truth all along, deep-sixed the disclosures – and of course didn’t apologize to any of the people it had smeared.

But not everybody ignored the newly released documents. We’ll get around to that next time.

“Journalist spies,” then and now

Declassified Soviet documents have long since proven otherwise, but the myth persists that concerns, during the decade or so after World War II, about Kremlin operatives in Hollywood, Washington, and the New York media were the product of “McCarthyite hysteria.” It’s always useful, then, to be reminded just how real that phenomenon was – and just how important it is for free people always to be on guard against the infiltration of their societies by the servants of tyranny.

duranty
Walter Duranty

Today, it’s well known, at least in some circles, that Walter Duranty (1884-1957), the New York Times correspondent who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Russia, was in fact a tool of Stalin who routinely printed outrageous lies – and who actively sought to discredit colleagues who strove to get out the truth. But Duranty wasn’t alone. On July 1 of this year, Matthew Vadum reported on new research in the Journal of Slavic Military Studies establishing that the number of American reporters of that era who can fairly be described as “journalist spies” turns out to be considerably higher than was previously thought.

In the article referenced by Vadum – entitled “Spies in the News: Soviet Espionage in the American Media During World War II and the Beginning of the Cold War” – University of Ohio scholar Alexander G. Lovelace reports that as of June 1941, no fewer than 22 American journalists were active, full-fledged members of the USSR’s spy network in the U.S., and that after 1941 that number grew. As Vadim reminds us, “the relationship between the U.S. government and the press was different in those days.” What he means is that there was an atmosphere of trust; government officials took it for granted that American journalists were, first and foremost, loyal Americans; consequently, as Lovelace notes (his article, unfortunately, is behind a paywall), they “were routinely trusted with secret information to be used as ‘background’ for stories.”

reds
Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant and Warren Beatty as John Reed in Reds

Who were these “journalist spies”? Some of their stories have already been told. The 1981 Warren Beatty movie Reds made heroes out of two of the earliest such turncoats – John Reed and Louise Bryant, both of whom, in the wake of the October Revolution, filed disinformation-packed “news reports” that glamorized the fledgling USSR and its Communist system.

chambers
Whittaker Chambers

Nor is it any secret that Whittaker Chambers, an editor at Time magazine from 1939 to 1948, was a Soviet spy. Chambers, of course, eventually recognized the error of his ways, turned in State Department official Alger Hiss and other Communists, and told the story of his own journey into and out of the Party in the classic memoir Witness.

But Chambers wasn’t the only staffer at that supremely influential newsmagazine who was secretly working for the Kremlin. Others included John Scott, Stephen Laird, and Richard Lauterbach. The last-named did Stalin a great service when he reported that the Katyn massacre, in which the Soviets killed more than 20,000 Polish military officers in cold blood, had been committed by the Germans.

29 Jun 1955, Washington, DC, USA --- Original caption: Washington, D.C.: CBS News correspondent Winston Burdett testifies before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee here today. Burdett admitted being a Communist from 1937 to 1942 and under questioning by Eastland, he said that he had engaged in espionage abroad for the Communists. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Winston Burdett testifying in 1955 before a Senate subcommittee, to which he confessed to having been a Soviet spy

Other KGB men included Peter Rhodes of the New York Herald-Tribune and Winston Burdett of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and CBS News. (Burdett, who for a time had regular personal contact with both FDR and J. Edgar Hoover, eventually admitted his history of espionage in testimony before a Senate subcommittee.) Then there was Walter Lippmann, in his time the dean of American political commentators. Lippmann himself was not a Soviet spy, but – as it turns out – his secretary was. Therefore Lippmann, in whom many leading politicians confided, unknowingly helped transmit vital top-secret information to the KGB.

apm1
Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein and Robert Redford as Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men

In the immediate post-Watergate era, many young Americans’ image of journalists was shaped largely by the 1976 movie All the President’s Men, which depicted Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as stirring heroes of American freedom. Some of those Americans took a long time to recognize that many journalists are, in fact, less devoted to objective truth than to partisan agendas, in the service of which they are more than willing to distort or suppress the facts. Some Americans, alas, have yet to wake up to this reality. Alexander G. Lovelace deserves our thanks for a timely reminder that even the most trusted, respected, and highly placed members of the fourth estate may secretly owe their allegiance to the most morally abominable of masters. There is no reason to believe this is any less true now than it was in the early days of the Cold War.

Hearts of stone: Putin’s Hollywood pals

seagalputin
Steven Seagal, Vladimir Putin

Back in April, Buzzfeed ran a useful and perceptive study of the use Vladimir Putin makes of his useful American-showbiz stooges. The focus was on washed-up lowbrow-movie headliner Steven Seagal, whose friendship (Buzzfeed called it a “bromance”) with Putin we’ve already rehearsed here, but the insights were widely applicable.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
Sharon Stone with Putin and unidentified girl

“Putin’s unlikely bromance with Seagal,” wrote Max Seddon and Rosie Gray, “speaks to a core tenet of his rule: that political power is star power, and the president is the biggest celebrity of all. Under Putin, politics has become a carefully stage-managed TV show where spectacle takes the place of substance.” Seddon and Gray quoted Brookings Institution scholar Fiona Hill as saying that Putin “plays an action hero as president.”

Hence the systematic “ferrying” of “foreign celebrities to Moscow to meet Putin, staging displays of his virility and star pull.” Case in point: a December 2010 event in St. Petersburg that was billed as a benefit concert for children with cancer. That night Putin not only mingled with the likes of Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, and Mickey Rourke, but also (sort of) sang “Blueberry Hill” and (sort of) played a Russian song on a piano.

Did the stars all show up out of the goodness of their hearts? Not according to Shaun Walker of the Independent, who, noting that “Russia is fertile ground for celebrities of all hues to make pots of extra cash,” underscored that the star who’s “been popping up more than any other of late” is Stone:

At anything Russia-related these days, her grinning face seems to put in an appearance, like some kind of recurring nightmare, supporting whatever it is that the particular junket is about. A trusted source told me about the prices to bring different “entertainers” to Russia for events – Stone is one of the more expensive, reportedly coming in at as much as $250,000 a time. But pay that, and, calendar permitting, she’ll likely be there.

putinstars
Putin onstage with Sharon Stone, Paul Anka, Goldie Hawn, and others

It has to be said that Stone gives plenty of bang for the buck: at the purported child-cancer benefit, she actually sang a duet with Putin and cheered his own “performance” lustily. But then again, so did Hawn, Russell, and the rest.

This disgraceful conduct didn’t go entirely unnoticed. In a livid commentary, Russian-born adult-film actor and producer Michael Lucas condemned the Hollywood luminaries who attended the so-called benefit for showing such

Stone giving Putin the “V” for victory (or peace sign?) at the 2010 gala

adoration for a man who really is a swell guy — when he’s not ordering people to be thrown out of windows or shot in their doorways. When the camera cuts to the audience during his nails-on-chalkboard performance, the stars have enraptured, ecstatic looks — like they were at Frank Sinatra’s final performance…. Don’t they — or their handlers, know how to use Wikipedia? Did Sharon Stone not realize she was flashing a victory sign to an ex-KGB agent, an eternal Communist, and a historical revisionist? (Now he is forcing Russia’s teachers to portray Josef Stalin — who murdered at least 8 million of his own people in Siberian gulags — as a good leader and the savior of Russia.)

But there’s more. Tune in tomorrow.