Spies like us


This article was originally published by Salon on October 20, 1997.

Two weeks ago, three leftist radicals from the University of Wisconsin were arrested and charged with spying. The media played the story big. But I still have one question: Why only three?

James Clark, Kurt Stand and Theresa Squillacote were all New Left enthusiasts, Maoists who had gotten that revolutionary religion in the late ’60s. Beginning in 1972, they decided to strike a blow at “Amerika” by delivering state secrets to the communist East German dictatorship. Squillacote (code-name “Tina”) had become a Pentagon analyst; her husband, Kurt (“Ken”), a labor union representative; Clark was a private detective who had once worked at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Boulder, Colo. In addition to funneling State Department papers to their East German spymasters, Squillacote, in 1995, offered their services to a South African communist and government official, in a letter bemoaning the “horrors” of “bourgeois parliamentary democracy” — such as the one, presumably, presided over by Nelson Mandela.

In fact, lots of New Leftists collaborated with America’s enemies during the ’60s and ’70s. Why should they have been any different from the Old Leftists who spied for Stalinist Russia in the 1930s and 1940s — like Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg?

As I described in my book “Radical Son,” I had my own encounters with a KGB agent in London in the mid-’60s, when I shared the New Left faith. I was wined and dined at London’s fanciest restaurants, my gracious host plying me with questions about my employer, the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Russell was a leader of Britain’s “peace movement” but something of a thorn in the Soviets’ side, having demanded, in one of his more noteworthy news conferences, that Moscow send MiG fighters to North Vietnam to shoot down American planes. An odd position for a self-described pacifist, but in those days Russell was being guided by an American radical named Ralph Schoenman, who was not about to let such small inconsistencies stand in the way of his revolutionary agenda.

In addition to working for Russell, I was an instructor for the University of Maryland, which held courses on U.S. military bases scattered about England. After a number of Coquilles Saint-Jacques, my dinner companion got around to asking me directly if I would supply information to him about what I saw on the bases. I told him to get lost. But he continued to hang around the New Left in London and treat other people I knew to similarly handsome lunches and dinners. How many of them received his gentle entreaties to spy for mother Russia? How many of them said yes?

Quite a few, I suspect. In fact, the number of New Leftists who actively worked with communist regimes and their intelligence agencies probably runs into the thousands. The Venceremos Brigades, composed of New Leftists who went to Cuba ostensibly to harvest sugar cane, were operated by the DGI, the acronym for Cuban intelligence. How many of them came home with more than a piece of cane as a souvenir? The CISPES committees (Committee in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador), which were very active during the Reagan years, were affiliated with the communist guerrilla movement in El Salvador. New Left radicals, like Tom Hayden, met in Eastern Europe and Cuba with communist officials from Hanoi and South Vietnam’s National Liberation Front to plot the fall of the “Amerikan” empire.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. If one believes, as all “progressives” did (and many still do) that America is the evil empire, then why not cooperate with its socialist enemies and governments of America’s Third World “victims”? The Wisconsin three did it; why not others?

Everybody in leadership positions in the New Left were aware of contacts like the ones I’ve mentioned, but only a handful have ever written about them. Does this mean that the contacts they made with hostile powers led to more than a pleasurable free meal? Not necessarily. On the other hand, if those contacts were on the up-and-up, why the continued reticence? At the very least, the stories would be colorful, and would also contribute to a greater understanding of those tumultuous times.

Come to think of it, what was Bill Clinton doing in Russia during that winter of 1969 but doesn’t want to talk about?