I. F. Stone

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I. F. Stone


I. F. Stone was a prominent U.S. journalist and a Soviet agent. He was the father of Jeremy Stone and a mentor to Eric Alterman.[1]

Early life

Born Isidor Feinstein in Philadelphia in 1907 to Jewish immigrants from Russia, Stone dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania to become a journalist. After several years as an editorial writer for the Philadelphia Record, he moved to the New York Post with instructions from its owner, J. David Stern, to transform the paper into a champion of New Deal liberalism.[1]

Communist sympathies

In June 1933 Stone, declared that a “Soviet America” was “the one way out that could make a real difference to the working classes” and insisted that FDR’s New Deal was not reforming America but leading it to fascism, a "view that then reflected the position of the Communist Party USA".[1]

New York radicalism

In New York, Stone also became a contributor to the Soviet-aligned Nation and New Republic. He was a presence in the Popular Front, an effort by the Communist Party to make common cause with other left-wing groups. Although Stone had briefly been a member of the Socialist Party USA in the early 1930s, he soon had a reputation as a fervent pro-Communist.

His biographer, Myra MacPherson, later conceded that Stone had possessed a romantic view of Communism and viewed “party members as lined up on the correct side of historical developments, unlike fascists or even members of the smaller left-wing sects.” While occasionally critical of aspects of Stalin’s purges, Stone felt that because of the battle against fascism, it was too important to risk fracturing the Popular Front by openly denouncing Stalin or the Soviet Union. He was a signer of the statement, published just days before the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, defending the USSR and its progress toward democracy and denying it shared any commonalities with Nazi Germany.[1]

Nazi-Soviet pact

After Stern finally fired him from the Post for his excessively pro-Soviet views, Stone moved to The Nation. Briefly shaken by the Nazi-Soviet Pact, he momentarily pulled back from his Communist alliances, writing an angry denunciation of the agreement and taking part in a short-lived effort by several other disillusioned members of the Popular Front and former Communists to build a new radical group critical of the Communist Party USA’s role as a tool of Soviet foreign policy.

Reversion to pro-Soviet views

In 1940 Stone moved to PM, the left-wing New York daily. There, he reverted to his earlier attitudes and became a stalwart of the paper’s pro-Communist faction. His uncritical support of Soviet and Communist policies continued until the Stalin era came to an end with the dictator’s death in 1953. A year earlier, Stone wrote The Hidden History of the Korean War, in which he promoted the falsehood that South Korea had sparked the war by invading the Communist North.[1]

I. F. Stone’s Weekly

A few years after PM folded in 1948, Stone created his own muckraking newsletter, I. F. Stone’s Weekly, which gained a wide audience on the Left. Although he was occasionally critical of aspects of Soviet policy, it was not until the mid-1950s that he lost his illusions about the Soviet regime, writing a denunciation that cost his newsletter a substantial portion of its readership.

Soviet intelligence connections

The first report of Stone’s possible ties to came Soviet intelligence in 1992, when Oleg Kalugin, a retired KGB general, told a British journalist, “We had an agent—a well-known American journalist—with a good reputation, who severed his ties with us after 1956. I myself convinced him to resume them. But in 1968, after the invasion of Czechoslovakia . . . he said he would never again take any money from us.”

Herbert Romerstein, a former staff member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, quoted an unidentified KGB source as saying that the journalist in question was Stone. The British journalist then interviewed Kalugin again, and he admitted that he had been referring to Stone but denied that Stone was a controlled agent. In a 1994 autobiography, Kalugin characterized Stone as a fellow traveler (someone with Communist Party beliefs but not membership) “who had made no secret of his admiration for the Soviet system” before the mid-1950s. When he was asked to reestablish contact with Stone, Kalugin wrote, KGB headquarters in Moscow “never said that [Stone] had been an agent of our intelligence service, but rather that he was a man with whom we had regular contact."[1]

Venona cables

When KGB cables deciphered by the Venona project in the mid-1990s, were made public, they caused an uproar. Four cables mentioned Stone. Two were innocent. A 1943 message from the GRU, or Soviet military intelligence, merely reported that someone with GRU connections had been in Washington and talked with several correspondents, including Stone. A KGB message dated December 1944 mentioned Stone along with several other journalists who had contacts with military leaders.

The other two, both from 1944, were more suggestive. On September 13, the KGB New York station sent a message to Moscow that Vladimir Pravdin, a KGB officer working under cover as a correspondent for TASS, the Soviet news agency, had been trying to contact “Pancake” in Washington, but that Pancake had been refusing to meet, citing a busy schedule. Samuel Krafsur, an American KGB agent code-named “Ide” who worked for TASS in the building that housed Stone’s office, had tried to “sound him out but Pancake did not react.” An October 23 message then reported that Pravdin had succeeded in meeting with Stone:

P. [Pancake/Stone] said that he had noticed our attempts to contact him, particularly the attempts of Ide [Krafsur] and of people of the Trust [USSR Embassy], but he had reacted negatively fearing the consequences. At the same time he implied that the attempts at rapprochement had been made with insufficient caution and by people who were insufficiently responsible. To Sergey’s [Pravdin’s] reply that naturally we did not want to subject him to unpleasant complications, Pancake gave him to understand that he was not refusing his aid but one should consider that he had three children and did not want to attract the attention of the Hut [FBI]. To Sergey’s question how he considered it advisable to maintain liaison P. replied that he would be glad to meet but he rarely visited Tyre [New York].

While Stone earned a good living, the message added, “he would not be averse to having a supplementary income."[1]

1930s Soviet connections

A KGB New York station report of April 13, 1936, mentions “Pancake (Liberal’s lead)—Isidor Feinstein [as Stone was then known], a commentator for the New York Post.” “Liberal” was Frank Palmer, who was part of the same New York community of pro-Communist radical journalists. He had also been an agent of the KGB New York station for several years. This note indicated that Palmer had suggested his bosses look at Isidor Feinstein. The New York station further reported in May 1936: “Relations with Pancake have entered the channel of normal operational work. He went to Washington on assignment for his newspaper. Connections in the State Dep. and Congress.” By stating that its relationship with Stone had entered “the channel of normal operational work,” the KGB New York station was reporting that Stone had become a fully active agent. Over the next several years, documents recorded in Vassiliev’s notebooks make clear, Stone worked closely with the KGB.

Stone assisted Soviet intelligence on a number of 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.[1]

1940s cooperation

Stone's name next appeared 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.”

Another entry concerns 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.[1]

60s cooperation

The careful historians John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev concluded: “To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I. F. Stone was a Soviet spy.” KGB general Oleg Kalugin stated that Stone “was a KGB agent since 1938. His code name was ‘Blin.’” Kalugin said that when he “resumed relations” with Stone in 1966, “it was on Moscow’s instructions.”[2]

National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee

As of May 1964, I. F. Stone, writer-editor, was listed as a sponsor of the Communist Party USA front, National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee.

DSOC connection

Stone.JPG

In the 70s and 80s Stone was close to the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee.

Sanders endorsement letter

Sanders-letter-page1.jpg

In October 1988, journalist I. F. Stone, former secret Communist Party USA member and Soviet agent, wrote a letter endorsing Burlington, Vermont mayor Bernie Sanders' congressional run.

Dear Friend,
I've been politically active all my life. I was a member of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party in New Jersey, before I was old enough to vote.

Now I'd like to ask you to join me in a historic step forward in American politics. My favorite Mayor -- Bernie Sanders of Burlington, Vermont -- is running for Congress, and with our help he can win an unprecedented victory for us all.
Bernie is a unique figure in our political system. He's an unapologetic socialist who has been elected Mayor of Vermont's largest city four times. He has proved that a socialist, running as an Independent against the combined opposition of Republicans and Democrats, can be successful by speaking out for working people, the elderly and the poor.

Under Bernie's leadership, Burlington has become a vibrant, innovative city, nationally recognized for its accomplishments. The U. S. Conference of Mayors recently gave it the "Most Liveable City" award, and even the conservative U.S. News and World Report has spotlighted Bernie as one of the country's Top Twenty Mayors (December 21, 1987).

Bernie has been a leader in the struggle for peace and justice . His activism was instrumental in Vermont's strong support of the Nuclear Freeze in its town meetings in 1982. He has traveled to Nicaragua to speak out against the Reagan Administration's war, and to establish a Sister City relation between Burlington and Puerto Cabezas. More recently, he went to the Soviet Union to set up a Sister City program with Yaroslavl.
While socialism has a long and proud history in America, extending back to the utopian experiments of the early 1800s, it's been a long time since we've had a socialist voice in Congress. Not since Victor Berger of Milwaukee in the twenties , has the debate gone beyond the limits set by the conventional two-party system.
Having Bernie in Washington will widen out the limits of political discussion. He'll speak up loudly, as he has in Vermont, for real alternatives. He'll show that we need a pragmatic socialism to deal with the grave problems of our economic system.
I.F. STONE

The Progressive

Stone has contributed to the liberal magazine, The Progressive.

Institute for Policy Studies

In 1993 I. F. Stone was listed among "former fellows, project co-ordinators and staff" of the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington DC.[3]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Commentary Magazine 'I.F. Stone, Soviet Agent—Case Closed", Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Alexander Vassiliev, May 2009
  2. The Quest for David Axelrod’s Leftist Roots, He made Barack Obama president. By Paul Kengor – From the April 2014 issue
  3. Institute for Policy Studies 30th Anniversary brochure