Thursday, May 28, 2009

Red-Baiting I.F. Stone

" ... Stone was already working on major exposes that would show that American cartels were doing business with Nazi Germany. ... "

By Myra MacPherson, author of the award winning biography All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone

May 28, 2009

Review: Spies: the Rise and Fall of the KGB in America and "Three Tales of I.F Stone and the KGB: Kalugin, Venona and the Notebooks"


... One has to hand it to authors Harvey Klehr and John Haynes who know a bit about huckstering and sloganeering. ...

Stone [supposedly] "worked closely with the KGB" "assisted Soviet intelligence on a number of tasks, ranging from doing some talent spotting, acting as a courier by relaying information to other agents, and providing private journalistic tidbits and data."

After this build up, the evidence reveals much less -- not several years of cooperation, not working "closely with the KGB", but a total of two instances -- which implies that Stone had to be the laziest talent spotter in their stable. ...

May, 1936 a KGB New York station memo to Moscow said that Pancake had reported that "Karl Von Wiegand works in Berlin as a correspondent for the Hearst agency " and "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." The next sentence has a "who could blame him?" ring to it for anyone opposed to Hitler: "Wiegand does not agree with Hearst's policy." Certainly Stone was looking for a red hot story here and sought information for his own purposes. If Stone could prove the copper connection he would have blasted it across the pages of the New York Post. Stone was already working on major exposes that would show that American cartels were doing business with Nazi Germany.

Walter Lippmann and the KGB

A most interesting question is why Walter Lippmann, the establishment sage, continues to get a pass in all this discussion of spies, even though, as I noted in All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone, the Venona files show that Lippmann was far more revealing and talkative than Stone ever was with the same agent and press attaché.

In the new material, Klehr and Haynes deal with Lippmann once again with veneration. A Vassiliev note obtained for Spies states that in June 1945 Moscow Center told the New York KGB station that "the cultivation of Truman's inner circle becomes exceptionally important....To fulfill this task, the following agent capabilities need to be put to the most effective use." The four journalists code named as agent were "Ide" "Grin" "Pancake" and "Bumblebee." Since "Bumblebee" was Lippmann, how do Haynes and Klehr handle this collective inclusion? "Walter Lippman was not [the authors' emphasis] a KGB agent. He knew Pravdin only as a Soviet journalist with whom he traded insights and information." In other words, was Lippmann more gullible and less intelligent than Stone who, they claim, always knew that Pravdin was KGB? Haynes and Klehr are left with having to say that "with Lippmann's inclusion to the list, this message is ambiguous in regard to Stone's relationship to the KGB at that time and does not have enough detail to warrant a firm conclusion."

Max Holland in his paper "I.F. Stone: Encounters with Soviet Intelligence" is stuck with the same information. The journalists in the memo are lumped in with men in the government and military circles and all are referred to as "the above-mentioned probationers" who should be "directed" to get information on Truman's plans and thinking. . Holland writes "what is notable about this message is its reference to 'agents' and 'probationers', the latter term being KGB terminology for an active source or spy. Not taking care to distinguish Lippmann/Bumblebee [a non-agent in Holland's view] from the others listed in this message indicates either a range of meanings about how the term 'agent' was used or, more likely simple laziness on the part of the cable's author....Where this leaves Stone/Blin is unclear. Either Stone, like Lippmann was sloppily lumped in with the others, or else he had moved at least one degree beyond an overt contact." No explanation is given as to why Lippmann -- who figures more prominently than Stone in the Venona files, participating in conversations relaying far more information than Stone did about U.S. activities -- is not considered an agent. Like Klehr and Haynes, Holland states that the otherwise brilliant Lippmann was "unaware that he was actually talking with a skilled intelligence officer" as he chattered away. Whether he knew or not, everything he said about wartime maneuvers and so forth showed up in the KGB files.

Holland concludes that there is no question Stone was a "fully recruited and witting agent" from 1936 to 1938 but "was not a 'spy' in that he did not engage in espionage" and had no access to classified material. Says Holland, " ...Stone apparently acted out of ideological conviction like the vast number of U.S. citizens who agreed to help the Soviet Union covertly..." Unlike Haynes and Klehr, Holland places Stone in the context of his time. "By almost any objective standard, the world situation did appear as dire in the spring of 1936 as Stone believed it was. [Stone was later singled out by historians for his prescient and unrelenting editorials regarding Hitler's subjugation of Jews at that time.].He perceived fascism to be a clear and present danger. That was matched by his fervent believe--which some would label a self-delusion--that the New Deal state and the world's only socialist state were separated by just a few degrees, and could coexist amiably. Using this logic, it was a virtuous act to cooperate with the Soviet intelligence. Stone would actually be serving the best interests of his fellow citizens and the country."

As for the conflicting tales woven by former KGB agent Kalugin about his relationship with Stone from 1966 to 1968, Holland correctly notes that Kalugin "seemed incapable of telling the same story more than once." Still, this did not keep Holland from repeating the damaging and long refuted lie that Herbert Romerstein, former HUAC sleuth, developed after talking with Kalugin, that Moscow Gold subsidized Stone's weekly newspaper.

No where is there any evidence that Stone took money for anything except a possible lunch or two.. Nor is there any evidence, as Holland points out, that Kalugin was able to plant stories with Stone.

What Does it all Mean?

So, finally, what does the new meager material add to our knowledge of I.F. Stone and his life's work? Not much. We knew he was just short of being a Communist in the thirties and that he worked and talked freely with anyone on the left during the Popular Front. He thought of himself as a fellow traveler, even, he once said, "something of an apologist" and he took far too long to completely acknowledge Stalin's evils. However he was often critical of the USSR and the CPUSA and earned their loathing when he worked as a tireless interventionist, fighting for aid to Britain during the Stalin-Hitler pact when Americans of all stripes opposed such action. (Only 12% in one poll favored aiding Britain.) He supported Tito when Stalin broke with him. He warned America to "not go the way of Russia" during its Witch Hunts. ...

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