Give the truth-tellers their due
One point I always try to highlight when I talk about my new book, “American Betrayal,” is the inspiration of the truth-tellers.
These are the individuals who refused to stay silent and thus enable the “betrayal” the book lays out — the betrayal engineered by a de facto communist occupation of Washington by American traitors and largely covered up by successive U.S. administrations and elites.
Our historical compass still erroneously indicates that the great communist hunters of the 1940s and 1950s were engaged in “witch hunts” for spies who were figments of feverish imaginations. But these spies were real, all right, and more than 500 have by now been identified.
We still fail to recognize that the defining features of our world, from the United Nations to the International Monetary Fund, were fostered by bona fide Soviet agents (respectively, the U.S. State Department's Alger Hiss and the U.S. Treasury Department's Harry Dexter White). And we remain ungrateful or ignorant about the contributions and personal sacrifice of the great witnesses to this perfidy.
One such witness — one such truth-teller — was Elizabeth Bentley.
I am looking at a 1948 newspaper photo of Bentley I recently bought on eBay. She is seated in an upholstered armchair, a small smile and lace collar her only adornments.
Roughly three years earlier, in 1945, Bentley walked into an FBI office to inform the U.S. government that she had spent 10 years in the Communist Party underground, half of them as a courier for a secret Soviet espionage network that operated in Washington, D.C., and New York City. By the time my Bentley photo was snapped, she had begun testifying publicly about the U.S. government officials who were in and around the ring with her.
These included Lauchlin Currie, one of FDR's top White House assistants, as well as White at Treasury. There were multiple OSS agents (the OSS was the precursor to the CIA) including Duncan Lee, top assistant to OSS chief William “Wild Bill” Donovan, and many other officials from elsewhere in the government. In all, Bentley would correctly identify 150 secret Soviet network members and collaborators — identifications subsequently documented by intelligence historians working with Soviet archives.
For all her trouble — for all her truth — Bentley would be publicly smeared as a crank and a fraud, or, as in her 1963 New York Times obituary, effectively dismissed because public officials she identified were not convicted of espionage.
In “Spies,” a landmark 2009 intelligence history by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, the authors completely vindicate Bentley. They call her defection to the FBI “the single most disastrous event in the history of Soviet intelligence in America” and point out that “FBI investigations and voluminous congressional testimony supported Bentley's story.”
Soviet archives and deciphered KGB cables, they further note, “demonstrate unequivocally that Bentley told the truth.” And she stuck to it, even after the fur began to fly.
So why doesn't this truth-telling American woman have a statue somewhere?
It's time to give the truth-tellers their due and learn what really happened in the past, especially if we hope to prevent it from happening again.
Diana West's new book is “American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character” from St. Martin's Press.