April 28, 2009


I.F. Stone, Soviet Agent—Case Closed (Harvey Klehr, John E. Haynes and Alexander Vassiliev, Commentary)

One might ask why the KGB would recruit a journalist like Stone, then an editorial writer for the New York Post, with no access to government or industrial secrets. In fact, the KGB recruited a great many journalists. A 1941 internal KGB summary report broke down the occupations of Americans working for the spy agency in the prior decade. Twenty-two were journalists, a profession outnumbered only by engineers (forty-nine) and dwarfing economists (four) and professors (eight). While journalists rarely had direct access to technical secrets or classified documents in the way engineers, scientists, or government officials did, the espionage enterprise encompasses more than the classic spy who physically steals a document.

The KGB recruited journalists in part for their access to inside information and sources on politics and policy, insights into personalities, and confidential and non-public information that never made it into published stories. Certain journalistic working habits also lent themselves to intelligence tasks. By profession, journalists ask questions and probe; what might seem intrusive or suspect if done by anyone else is their normal modus operandi. Consequently, the KGB often used journalists as talent spotters for persons who did have access to sensitive information, and made use of them to gather background information that would help in evaluating candidates for recruitment.

The flexibility of their work also made journalists desirable as couriers and agent handlers (the liaisons between KGB officers and their American sources). There was also much less risk that a journalist having contact with a government official or engineer would attract the attention of security officials than would a KGB officer under Soviet diplomatic cover. And even if security officials did notice such a meeting, it would be much easier to provide a benign explanation for contact with a pesky American journalist than with a Soviet diplomat. Additionally, the KGB could use journalists for “active measures”—the planting of a story in the press or giving a slant to a story that served KGB goals.

Stone assisted Soviet intelligence on a number of such tasks: talent spotting, acting as a courier by relaying information to other agents, and providing private journalistic tidbits and data the KGB found interesting. In May 1936, for example, the KGB New York station told Moscow:

Pancake reported that Karl Von Wiegand works in Berlin as a correspondent for the Hearst agency “Universal Service.” He had been ordered to maintain friendly relations with Hitler, which was supposedly dictated by the fact that the German press was buying the agency’s information. Hearst is in a deal with German industry to supply the latter with a large consignment of copper. Wiegand does not agree with Hearst’s policy. He turned to Pancake’s boss for advice.

Commenting on Stone’s work as a KGB talent spotter and recruiter, the KGB New York station reported, “Pancake established contact with Dodd. We wanted to recruit him [Dodd] and put him to work on the State Dep. line. Pancake should tell Dodd that he has the means to connect him with an anti-Fascist organization in Berlin.” William A. Dodd, Jr., was the son of the U.S. ambassador to Germany and an aspiring Popular Front activist with political ambitions. The KGB did recruit him, and Stone briefly functioned as Dodd’s intermediary with the KGB, providing him with a contact in Berlin when he went to join his father at the embassy. Stone also passed on to the KGB some information Dodd picked up from the American military attaché in Berlin about possible German military moves against the USSR and the name of a suspected pro-Nazi embassy employee.

There is only one other reference to I.F. Stone’s cooperation with the KGB in the 1930s, a note listing him as one of the New York station’s agents in late 1938.

Stone next pops up in a 1944 KGB report on Victor Perlo (cover name “Raid”), head of a network of Soviet sources in Washington during World War II. “In 1942–43,” the report said, “R. [Raid/Perlo] secretly helped Pancake compile materials for various exposés by the latter.” (Perlo was at that time a mid-level economist at the advisory Council of National Defense.) Similarly, a 1945 report about Stanley Graze, a secret Communist and a valued KGB source, noted that in 1943 Graze’s wife had been “Pancake’s personal secretary, maintaining ties with the latter’s informants in government agencies.”

These 1944 and 1945 notes do not indicate that Stone was an active KGB agent or even in direct contact with it after 1938, and given Stone’s initial anger over the Nazi-Soviet Pact, it is likely that he broke relations with the KGB in late 1939.

Still, Stone had quickly reverted to a pro-Soviet position and, as his links to Victor Perlo and Mrs. Stanley Graze demonstrate, he remained in intimate touch with the Communist underground in Washington in World War II and continued to be viewed by the KGB in a benign light.

In this context, it is evident that Vladimir Pravdin’s October 1944 approach to Stone—which came to light in the Venona documents—was not an initial recruitment attempt but an effort to reestablish the agent relationship that the KGB had had with Stone in 1936-38.

Only one other document in Vassiliev’s notebooks bears on this question, and it has to do with Harry Truman. The Soviets knew little about Truman when he succeeded to the presidency, and in June 1945 Moscow Center told Pravdin, then chief of the New York KGB station:

Right now the cultivation of Truman’s inner circle becomes exceptionally important. This is one of the Station’s main tasks. To fulfill this task, the following agent capabilities need to be put to the most effective use: 1. In journalistic circles—Ide, Grin, Pancake . . . Bumblebee. Through these people 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.

Of the four journalists listed, “Ide”/Samuel Krafsur and “Grin”/John Spivak were unambiguously KGB agents. However, “Bumblebee” was not. He was none other than Walter Lippmann, the most prominent opinion columnist of the day. Lippmann knew Pravdin only as a Soviet journalist with whom he traded insights and information.

As for Stone, given Pravdin’s effort to rerecruit him in 1944, he could not have been under the illusion that the Soviet was a mere working journalist. Still, because of Lippmann’s inclusion in the list, this message makes it impossible to determine the nature of Stone’s relationship to the KGB in 1945.

The documentary record shows that I.F. Stone consciously cooperated with Soviet intelligence from 1936 through 1938. An effort was made by Soviet intelligence to reestablish that relationship in 1944-45; we do not know whether that effort succeeded.

To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy.

That Stone chose never to reveal this part of his life strongly suggests that he knew just how incompatible it would be with his public image as a courageous and independent journalist. His admirers, who have so strenuously denied even the possibility of such an alliance, have no choice now but to reevaluate his legacy.

...doesn't mean there are no witches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 28, 2009 6:41 AM
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