More American journalists were involved in spying for the Soviet Union than was previously believed, according to new research published in the Journal of Slavic Military Studies.
Traditionally, research has focused on the role that U.S. reporters played as messengers, recruiters, and sources of information (and disinformation), but some of those “journalist spies also collected a large amount of secret diplomatic and military information” from 1941 through 1946 as World War II gave way to the Cold War, writes Alexander G. Lovelace of Ohio University. The article, published this month, is “Spies in the News: Soviet Espionage in the American Media During World War II and the Beginning of the Cold War.”
Throughout the life of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics only a tiny fraction of all U.S. journalists joined the Soviet espionage network. Quantifying the harm done is difficult but the information they transmitted to their handlers undoubtedly inflicted damage on both the U.S. and its allies during World War II and the Cold War. Some of these American journalists had access to the highest echelons of the U.S. government and provided the Soviets information of great value to America’s enemies.
Lovelace writes that there were 22 journalists active as “[a]gents in the USA” in June 1941, according to a Soviet intelligence officer. The academic notes that “taken by profession, journalists provided the highest numbers of spies second only to engineers.” After 1941 the number of American reporters spying for the Soviets grew.
From its unholy birth, the U.S.S.R. used journalists across the world as spies. Czarist-era publisher Aleksei Frolovich visited Finland in 1918 posing as a bona fide journalist. In the 1930s the KGB recruited syndicated columnist Robert Allen and John Spivak of The Call, the newspaper of the American Socialist Party. American journalists weren’t merely “auxiliary for other communist groups,” he writes. There is “an abundance of evidence that journalists contributed a great deal of secret information to the Soviets, which grew more important as World War II chilled into the Cold War.” But much of the information procured by spies “between 1943 and 1945 was highly sensitive to the US war effort,” Lovelace writes.
It should be noted that the relationship between the U.S. government and the press was different in those days. “Groups of reporters were routinely trusted with secret information to be used as ‘background’ for stories,” according to Lovelace. Journalists of the day never reported on President Franklin Roosevelt’s paralysis that he had suffered years earlier as a result of contracting polio. The KGB was well aware of this cozy relationship and took advantage of American reporters.
The KGB used journalists because they were able to meet many people in different fields and could ask probing questions without sparking suspicion. In a 1941 report the KGB noted that many of its journalist spies were “highly developed intellectually and occupied high social positions.” They not only attended college in the 1920s and 30s when few Americans did, but they were accepted into the best universities. This allowed these eventual KGB recruits to mingle with fellow students who would go on to occupy senior posts in government with access to sought-after information.
Time magazine was a hotbed of spies and pro-Soviet activity. American journalist Whittaker Chambers, an editor there, was a Soviet spy who courageously switched sides. His complaints about the publication’s pro-Soviet bias caused tension. KGB agent John Scott, another Time editor, tried to get him fired. The magazine’s Stephen Laird spied on other journalists in Europe, Lovelace writes.
Time‘s Richard Lauterbach pleased the Soviets when he portrayed the 1940 Katyn massacre as a German atrocity. In fact the Soviet secret police murdered the more than 20,000 captured Polish officers whose remains were unearthed in 1944. Chambers was proud to have successfully blocked some of Lauterbach’s articles.
A month before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Time‘s Laird reported to his Soviet handlers that U.S. diplomats were hostile to the Soviet Union. A KGB report indicated that these American officials believed that “support for the USSR in its war with Germany lays the groundwork for the ‘spread of Bolshevism throughout the world.'”
Also before Pearl Harbor, the Soviets asked their American journalist spies to gather information on influential isolationist Charles Lindbergh, Nazi-sympathizing Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., and former President Herbert Hoover.
Around this time Harry Truman was a U.S. senator. He wanted to hurt both totalitarian powers, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. When the Third Reich invaded Russia in 1941, he offered realpolitik counsel, proposing that the United States give aid to whatever side was losing and “that way let them kill as many [of each other] as possible.”
The Soviets were extremely anxious to ascertain if Truman’s views had changed when he assumed the presidency in 1945. They proposed that Nation columnist I.F. Stone and the legendary Walter Lippmann and others “focus on covering the principal newspaper syndicates and the financial-political groups that are behind them; their relationships with Truman, the pressure exerted on him, etc.”
While the KGB might in theory have had a shot at recruiting Lippmann earlier in his life when he flirted with socialism, by the 1930s he had renounced socialism, so the Soviets went around him. Mary Price, his secretary, was a spy for the Communists.
Lippmann and other patriotic journalists innocently passed on plenty of strategic information to the U.S.S.R. by talking with fellow reporters aligned with the KGB. The Soviets learned through their espionage that in May 1944, the month before the D-Day invasion of Normandy, that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Roosevelt were fighting over “questions on the future of Germany” and the participation of the United Kingdom. Other reporters who were close to Roosevelt, such as Thomas Reynolds of the Chicago Sun, also unknowingly leaked information on the planned occupation of Germany to Soviet agents.
New York Herald-Tribune reporter Peter Rhodes and Brooklyn Daily Eagle reporter Winston Burdett were vital to the Soviet espionage program. Working for CBS, Burdett covered the war in Finland, Yugoslavia, and Turkey for the KGB. The KGB correctly described Rhodes as “a pretty good find for us.” While a spy for the U.S.S.R., his day job involved supplying intelligence to President Roosevelt and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
Through his contacts, Amerasia editor Joseph Milton Bernstein, code name Marquis, got his hands on documents that he passed to the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence agency. These papers detailed U.S. troop movements to China, a Chinese embassy report on trade, estimated German troop strength on the Eastern Front, and an economic analysis regarding Vladivostok.
Bernstein also handed over details of American policy debates on British India, U.S. military planning information, and estimates of troop strength for the Chinese Nationalists and the Japanese. He let the Soviets know that there was “increasing resistance to fulfilling [lend-lease] shipments for the USSR” and the government of China.
Members of Bernstein’s spy ring included journalist T.A. Bisson, Amerasia founder Philip Jaffe, and two of his staff librarians. After the magazine published classified information, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) surreptitiously broke into its offices and found “hundreds” of secret documents from the U.S. government. (The wartime intelligence agency OSS was forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency.)
The Bernstein case “represents the greatest example of reporters working for Soviet intelligence, stealing diplomatic and military secrets during World War 2.”
It has long been known that some American journalists, such as socialist true-believer John S. Reed, functioned more as agents of Soviet disinformation or agents of influence than as actual spies. Reed’s eyewitness account of the Bolshevik takeover, Ten Days That Shook The World, helped to boost the image of the new Soviet state, at least in the eyes of leftists. Reed, whom the Soviets honored by interring his body in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, was also the inspiration for the 1981 movie Reds. His American wife, Louise Bryant, another fellow-traveling journalist, toured the U.S. to promote the Bolsheviks and to discourage the U.S. from intervening militarily in the civil war in Russia that roughly coincided with the so-called October Revolution.
Then there was the case of New York Times reporter Walter Duranty. Duranty filed dishonest news accounts about the U.S.S.R. in order to safeguard the Bolshevik revolution. When Joseph Stalin engineered a devastating famine in the 1930s to wipe out perceived political enemies, Duranty effectively became his publicist. As millions died, Stalin was dismissive, referring to the famine as “one of the minor inconveniences of our system.”
Around that time Duranty was similarly callous in a conversation with another Western reporter, saying he didn’t plan to write about the famine and its consequences. “What are a few million dead Russians in a situation like this? Quite unimportant.”
Duranty knew about the horrifying atrocities in progress but in March 1933 he reported, “There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation.” Months later he added, “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” Duranty, whom Stalin personally thanked for his so-called reporting, won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in 1932. It has never been rescinded.
American journalists have leaned left for a long time. Today they pump out news stories that make America’s enemies look good and often their coverage of U.S. conduct during wars seems calculated to hurt the U.S. war effort.
This treachery by the Fourth Estate is nothing new. Americans have seen it stretching back to the Tet offensive in the Vietnam War when Walter Cronkite inexplicably concluded that the war was lost, to the media’s vicious piling-on of General David Petraeus after MoveOn labelled him “General Betray-Us,” to the media’s barely restrained delight at the top-secret document dumps involving Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden.
What’s new is the mainstreaming of this journalistic malfeasance.
The New York Times is the worst offender. The Old Gray Lady threw national security concerns by the wayside in 1971 when it published the Pentagon papers, a secret history of the Vietnam War produced by the Department of Defense.
The Times is particularly enthusiastic about sabotaging the Global War on Terror.
In 2005 the newspaper reported on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program after the White House asked it not to report on the program. The administration argued, in the words of the newspaper’s report, that publication “could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny.”
In 2006 the New York Times, along with the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal shared the details of President Bush’s Terrorist Finance Tracking Program. The House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the revelation. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) called the reporters involved “co-conspirators with the leakers,” and added that should another terror attack take place, “the blood will be on their hands.”
In 2005 the Washington Post reported on the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret detention facilities for terrorists in Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. The so-called black sites were created to allow U.S. personnel to interrogate terrorists more aggressively than they could have done stateside. The leak was condemned loudly in the nation’s capital.
Although these U.S. journalists may not be consciously collaborating with hostile nations or terrorist organizations, their unfair, borderline seditious coverage is no doubt putting Americans in jeopardy, just as it did when a small number of influential journalists were on the payroll of the U.S.S.R.