Elizabeth Bentley

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Elizabeth Bentley
Elizabeth Bentley.jpg
Elizabeth Bentley in 1948
Elizabeth Terrill Bentley

(1908-01-01)January 1, 1908
DiedDecember 3, 1963(1963-12-03) (aged 55)
Nationality American
Alma mater Vassar College (1926–1930)
Columbia University (1933)
University of Florence
OccupationTeacher, Spy
Espionage activity
Allegiance Soviet Union (defected)
United States
Service branch Communist Party of the United States (defected)

Elizabeth Terrill Bentley (January 1, 1908 December 3, 1963) was an American spy and member of the Communist Party USA who served the Soviet Union from 1938 until 1945. In 1945, she defected from the Communist Party and Soviet intelligence by contacting the FBI and reporting on her activities.

Americans citizens, or natives, of the United States of America

Americans are nationals and citizens of the United States of America. Although nationals and citizens make up the majority of Americans, some dual citizens, expatriates, and permanent residents may also claim American nationality. The United States is home to people of many different ethnic origins. As a result, American culture and law does not equate nationality with race or ethnicity, but with citizenship and permanent allegiance.

Espionage or spying is the act of obtaining secret or confidential information without the permission of the holder of the information. Spies help agencies uncover secret information. Any individual or spy ring, in the service of a government, company or independent operation, can commit espionage. The practice is clandestine, as it is by definition unwelcome. In some circumstances it may be a legal tool of law enforcement and in others it may be illegal and punishable by law. Espionage is a method of intelligence gathering which includes information gathering from non-disclosed sources.

Communist Party USA American political party

The Communist Party USA, officially the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), is a communist party in the United States established in 1919 after a split in the Socialist Party of America following the Russian Revolution.


She became widely known after testifying in some trials and before HUAC. In 1952 Bentley became an informer for the U.S., as she was paid by the FBI for her frequent appearances before different committees and investigations. She exposed two networks of spies, ultimately naming more than 80 Americans who, she said, had engaged in espionage. [1] [2]

Early life

Elizabeth Terrill [3] Bentley was born in New Milford, Connecticut, to Charles Prentiss Bentley, a dry-goods merchant, and the former May Charlotte Turrill, a schoolteacher. [4] In 1915 her parents had moved to Ithaca, New York. By 1920, the family had moved to McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and that year they returned to New York, settling in Rochester. [5] Her parents were described as a strait-laced "old family" of Episcopalians from New England. [6]

New Milford, Connecticut Town in Connecticut, United States

New Milford is a town in Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States, located in Western Connecticut. The town is located 14 miles (23 km) north of Danbury, on the banks of the Housatonic River. It is the largest town in the state in terms of land area at nearly 62 square miles (161 km2). The population was 28,142 according to the 2010 Census. The town center is also listed as a census-designated place (CDP). The northern portion of the town is situated in the region considered Northwestern CT and the far eastern portions are part of the Litchfield Hills region.

Ithaca, New York City in New York, United States

Ithaca is a city in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It is the seat of Tompkins County, as well as the largest community in the Ithaca–Tompkins County metropolitan area. This area contains the municipalities of the Town of Ithaca, the village of Cayuga Heights, and other towns and villages in Tompkins County. The city of Ithaca is located on the southern shore of Cayuga Lake, in Central New York, about 45 miles (72 km) south-west of Syracuse. It is named for the Greek island of Ithaca.

McKeesport, Pennsylvania City in Pennsylvania

McKeesport is a city in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; it is situated at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers and within the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. The population was 19,731 at the 2010 census, and is Allegheny County's second-largest city, after Pittsburgh.

She attended Vassar College, graduating in 1930 with a degree in English, Italian, and French. [7] In 1933, while she was attending graduate school at Columbia University, she won a fellowship to the University of Florence. While in Italy, she briefly joined a local student fascist group, the Gruppo Universitario Fascista. [8] [9] Under the influence of her anti-Fascist faculty advisor Mario Casella, with whom she had an affair while at Columbia, [10] Bentley soon shifted her politics. While completing her master's degree, she attended meetings of the American League Against War and Fascism. Although she would later say that she found Communist literature unreadable and "dry as dust," [11] she was attracted to the sense of community and social conscience she found among her friends in the league. When she learned that most were members of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), she joined the party herself in March 1935. [12]

Vassar College private, coeducational liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York, in the United States

Vassar College is a private, coeducational, liberal arts college in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Founded in 1861 by Matthew Vassar, it was the second degree-granting institution of higher education for women in the United States, closely following Elmira College. It became coeducational in 1969, and now has a gender ratio at the national average. The school is one of the historic Seven Sisters, the first elite female colleges in the U.S., and has a historic relationship with Yale University, which suggested a merger with the college before coeducation at both institutions.

Columbia University Private Ivy League research university in New York City

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, New York City. Established in 1754, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. It has been ranked by numerous major education publications as among the top ten universities in the world.

University of Florence university in Italy

The University of Florence is an Italian public research university located in Florence, Italy. It comprises 12 schools and has about 60,000 students enrolled.

Espionage activity

Bentley initiated her entry into espionage. In 1935, she obtained a job at the Italian Library of Information in New York City; this was fascist Italy's propaganda bureau in the United States. She reported the job to CPUSA headquarters, telling them of her willingness to spy on the fascists. [13] Juliet Stuart Poyntz, who also worked at the Italian Library of Information, approached and recruited Bentley. [14] [15] [16] The Communists were interested in the information Bentley could provide, and NKVD officer Jacob Golos was assigned in 1938 to be her contact and controller. [17] Golos (born Yakov Naumovich Reizen) was an immigrant from Russia, who became a naturalized United States citizen in 1915. [18]

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Juliet Stuart Poyntz American Communist

Juliet Stuart Poyntz was an American communist and intelligence agent for the Soviet Union. As a student and university teacher, she espoused many radical causes and went on to become a co-founder of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). Poyntz travelled secretly to Moscow in 1936, just as some of her comrades were being executed in Joseph Stalin's Great Purge, and she resigned from the party. This is widely assumed to have led to her unexplained disappearance in New York City in June 1937, as the likely victim of an assassination squad, either because she had been mixing with Trotskyists, or because she was planning to write an exposé of the Soviet system.

The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, abbreviated NKVD, was the interior ministry of the Soviet Union.

At this point, Bentley thought she was spying solely for the American Communist Party. But Golos was one of the Soviet Union's most important intelligence agents in the United States. At the time when he and Bentley met, Golos was involved in planning the assassination of Leon Trotsky, which would take place in Mexico in 1940. [19] Bentley and Golos soon became lovers. It was more than a year before she learned his true name, and, according to her later testimony, two years before she knew that he was working for Soviet intelligence.

Leon Trotsky Marxist revolutionary from Russia

Lev Davidovich Bronstein; 7 November [O.S. 26 October] 1879 – 21 August 1940), better known as Leon Trotsky (;, was a Russian revolutionary, Marxist theorist, and Soviet politician whose particular strain of Marxist thought is known as Trotskyism.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the tenth most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.

In 1940, two years into their relationship, the Justice Department forced Golos to register as an agent of the Soviet government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. This increased his risk in contacting the network of American spies he controlled, and accepting documents from them. He gradually transferred this responsibility to Bentley. Golos also needed someone to take charge of the day-to-day business of the United States Service and Shipping Corporation, a Comintern front organization for espionage activities. [20] Bentley took on this role as well. Although she was never directly paid for any of her espionage work, she would eventually earn $800 a month as vice president of U.S. Service and Shipping, a considerable salary for the time, [21] equivalent to $14,307in 2018 (per month). As Bentley acquired an important role in Soviet intelligence, the Soviets gave her the code name Umnitsa, loosely translated as "Wise girl". (In some literature it is less correctly translated as "good girl".)

Silvermaster group

Most of Bentley's contacts were in what prosecutors and historians would later call the "Silvermaster group", a network of spies centered around Nathan Gregory Silvermaster. This network became one of the most important Soviet espionage operations in the United States. [22] Silvermaster worked with the Resettlement Administration and later with the Board of Economic Warfare. He did not have access to much sensitive information, but he knew several Communists and sympathizers within the government who were better placed and willing to pass such information to him. Using Elizabeth Bentley, he sent it to Moscow. At this time, the Soviet Union and the United States were allies in the Second World War, and much of the information Silvermaster collected for the Soviets had to do with the war against Nazi Germany. As the Soviets were absorbing all of the burden of the ground war in Europe, at a frightful cost in terms of people and materièl, they were interested in US intelligence: It included secret estimates of German military strength, data on U.S. munitions production, and information on the Allies' schedule for opening a second front in Europe. The contacts in Golos's and Bentley's extended network ranged from dedicated Stalinists to, in the words of Bentley's biographer Kathryn Olmsted, "romantic idealists" who "wanted to help the brave Russians beat the Nazi war machine". [23]

Conflicts with Soviet spymasters

Late in 1943, Jacob Golos suffered a fatal heart attack. After meeting with CPUSA General Secretary Earl Browder, Bentley decided to continue her espionage work and accepted Golos's place. Her new contact in Soviet intelligence was Iskhak Akhmerov, the leading NKGB Illegal Rezident, or undercover spy chief working without a diplomatic cover. Under orders from Moscow, Akhmerov wanted to have Bentley's contacts report directly to him. Bentley, Browder and Golos had resisted this change, believing that using an American intermediary was the best way to handle their sources, and fearing that Russian agents would endanger the American spies and possibly drive them away. With Browder's support, Bentley initially ignored a series of orders that she "hand over" her agents to Akhmerov. She expanded her spy network when Browder gave her control over another group of agents. This was the "Perlo group", with contacts in the War Production Board, the United States Senate, and the Treasury Department. [24]

Bentley had been noted since her days in Florence as suffering from bouts of depression and having a problem with alcohol. Now, despondent and lonely after the death of Golos and under increasing pressure from Soviet intelligence, she began to drink more heavily. She missed work at U.S. Service and Shipping, and neighbors described her as drinking "all the time". [25]

In early June 1944, Browder acceded to Akhmerov's demands and agreed to instruct the members of the Silvermaster group to report directly to the NKGB. Bentley later said that this was the event that turned her against Communism in the United States. "I discovered then that Earl Browder was just a puppet, that somebody pulled the strings in Moscow," she would say. [26] Her biographers suggest that Bentley's objections, rather than being ideological, were related more to a lifelong dislike of being given orders and a sense that the reassignments of her contacts left her with no meaningful role. [27] Late in 1944, Bentley was ordered to give up all of her remaining sources, including the Perlo group she had recently acquired. Her Soviet superior also told her that she would have to leave her position as vice president of U.S. Service and Shipping.

Break with Soviets

In 1945 Bentley began an affair with a man whom she came to suspect to be either an FBI or a Soviet agent sent to spy on her. Her Soviet contact suggested that she should emigrate to the Soviet Union, but Bentley feared this might end with her execution there. [28] In August 1945, Bentley went to the FBI office in New Haven, Connecticut and met with the agent-in-charge. She did not immediately defect. She seemed to be "feeling out" the FBI, and it was not until November that she began to tell her full story to the agency. In the meantime, her personal situation continued to worsen. In September she met with Anatoly Gorsky, her latest NKGB controller, and was recorded as arriving drunk to the meeting. [29] She became angry with Gorsky, berated him and his fellow Russian agents as "gangsters", and obliquely threatened to become an informer. She soon realized that her tirade could have put her life in danger. When Gorsky reported on this to Moscow, his recommendation was to "get rid of her". [30]

Moscow advised Gorsky to be patient with Bentley and calm her down. A few weeks later it was revealed that Louis Budenz, editor of the CPUSA newspaper and one of Bentley's sources, had defected to the Soviets. Budenz had not yet revealed any of his knowledge of espionage activity, but he knew Elizabeth Bentley's name and knew she was a spy. Imperiled on both sides, Bentley made her final decision to defect and went back to the FBI on November 6, 1945.[ citation needed ]

Defection and after

In a series of debriefing interviews with the FBI beginning November 7, 1945, Bentley implicated nearly 150 people in spying for the Soviet Union, [31] including 37 federal employees. The FBI already suspected many of those she named, and some had been named by earlier defectors Igor Gouzenko and Whittaker Chambers. This increased FBI confidence in her account and person. They gave her the code name "Gregory," and J. Edgar Hoover ordered the strictest secrecy measures be taken to hide her identity and defection.

Hoover advised Sir William Stephenson, head of British Security Coordination for the Western hemisphere, of Bentley's defection, and Stephenson duly notified London. But Kim Philby was the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service's (SIS or "MI6") new Section IX (counter-espionage against the Soviet Union). He was a Soviet double agent who would escape to the Soviet Union in 1963. Philby promptly alerted Moscow about Bentley, and they shut down all contact with Bentley's network, just as the FBI was beginning surveillance of them. [32] Bentley's NKGB contact Gorsky again recommended to Moscow that the American be "liquidated", and again Moscow rejected the idea. [33]

The breach of secrecy around Bentley's defection foiled a year-long attempt by the FBI to have her act as a double agent. Additionally, because of the shutdown of Soviet espionage activity, the FBI surveillance of the agents Bentley had named turned up no evidence that could be used to prosecute them. [34] Some 250 FBI agents were assigned to the Bentley case, following up the leads she had provided and, through phone tap, surveillance and mail openings, investigating people she had named. The FBI, grand juries and congressional committees would eventually interview many of these alleged spies, but each of them would either invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to testify or maintain their innocence.

For J. Edgar Hoover and a few highly placed FBI and army intelligence personnel, the definitive corroboration of Bentley's story came some time in the late 1940s to early 1950s, when the highly secret Venona project succeeded in decrypting some wartime cables sent between Soviet intelligence agents and Moscow. In these cables, Bentley was referred to by the codename which she had told the FBI, and there were discussions of several of her known contacts and documents which she was known to have passed on to the Soviets. [35] [36]

The Venona project was classified and was considered so secret that the US Government was unwilling to expose it by allowing any material from it to be used as evidence in any trial. Neither presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt nor Harry Truman were aware of the Venona project by name. When J. Edgar Hoover delivered intelligence reports to them based on Venona data, the source of the information was not named.

Public testimony

With the chances of successful prosecution looking unlikely, Hoover gave the names of some of Bentley's contacts to certain U.S. Congressmen, with the understanding that the accused spies would be questioned before congressional committees. He believed that the publicized suspicion and accusations would be sufficient to ruin their careers. [37] Additionally, Attorney General Tom C. Clark decided to present the Bentley case to a grand jury, although he thought there was little chance they would be able to return any indictments. Bentley testified before this grand jury on several occasions, lasting until April 1948. During this period, some details of her case began to leak to the press.

Bentley decided to reveal her full story herself, to exert more control. She met with Nelson Frank and Norton Mockridge, journalists from the New York World-Telegram . During four consecutive days, the newspaper published a series of front-page stories about the unnamed "beautiful young blonde" who had exposed a ring of spies. The articles [38] were:

Almost immediately following the World-Telegram articles, Bentley was subpoenaed to testify at a public hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on July 31, 1948, (see hearing transcript [39] ).

According to Olmsted's biography, reporters' accounts and analyses of Bentley's testimony varied with their politics. The strongly anti-communist New York Journal-American described Bentley as a "shapely" "blonde and blue-eyed New Yorker" who "lured" secrets from her sources, while A. J. Liebling of The New Yorker ridiculed her story and called her the "Nutmeg Mata Hari." [40] For her part, Bentley portrayed herself as naïve and innocent, corrupted by her liberal professors at Vassar and seduced into espionage by Golos.

Starting on August 3, 1948, during additional HUAC hearings, Bentley received some corroboration from Whittaker Chambers. Under subpoena by HUAC, he testified that he knew at least two of Bentley's contacts, Victor Perlo and Charles Kramer, as communists and members of his earlier Ware Group. He also supported her accusation that Harry Dexter White, a prominent economist who had worked in the Treasury Department, was a communist sympathizer. Comparing their testimony, Chambers wrote in his memoir:

I knew that I was simply back-stopping Miss Bentley, that hers was the current testimony. The things that I had to tell were ten years old and I had only to let the shadows, dust and cobwebs conspicuously drape them to leave the stand unscathed. [41]

Many reporters and commentators were skeptical about Bentley's claims. Since some of those she accused were prominent figures in two Democratic administrations, Democrats in particular were eager to have her discredited. President Truman at one point characterized her testimony as a Republican-inspired "red herring." Republicans, in turn, accused Truman of "covering up" communist espionage. Conflicts of this nature, along with fears of Soviet communist power in Europe and the increasingly publicized hearings of HUAC, were the background to the rise of McCarthyism. The witch hunt for communists initiated by Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) became a central factor in domestic American politics in the 1950s.

Meet the Press

On August 6, 1948, Bentley appeared on NBC Radio's Meet the Press , broadcast at 10 P.M. via WOR. [42]

On Sunday, September 12, 1948, she appeared on the first-ever television broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, via WNBT, and was the first person interviewed. Journalists included: Nelson Frank, Inez Robb, Cecil Brown, and Lawrence Spivak. Brown asked her three times whether she would accuse William Remington of being a communist, outside of congressional protection, and she finally did so. When he was called before a Truman Loyalty Review Board, Joseph L. Rauh Jr. defended him. His attorney Richard Green asked on Remington's behalf for Bentley to withdraw the allegations by September 30.

When she did not, Green filed a libel suit on October 6, 1948 against Bentley, NBC, and its television sponsor General Foods Corporation, seeking $100,000 in damages. Bentley failed to appear in court in October. On December 29, 1948, Green said he had personally served a summons on her. (The same day, judges and lawyers agreed to suspend Alger Hiss's libel suit against Whittaker Chambers because of Department of Justice indictments of Hiss on two counts of perjury two weeks before). [43] [44] [45] [46] [47] [48] [49] [50]

Trials and credibility

Most of the people accused by Bentley invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer her charges. A few, however, specifically denied them. Most notable of these was Harry Dexter White. He was already suffering from known heart disease; he died of a heart attack a few days after his testimony before HUAC. Others who denied Bentley's charges were Lauchlin Currie, formerly President Roosevelt's economic affairs advisor; William Remington and William Henry Taylor, both midlevel government economists; Duncan Lee, formerly with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS); and Abe Brothman, a private-sector chemist who worked on defense projects. As noted above, in October 1948, William Remington sued Bentley and NBC for libel. In hopes of discrediting her, Remington's attorneys hired private detectives to look into her past. They produced evidence of her alcoholism, periods of severe depression, and a suicide attempt while a student in Florence; they alleged that her master's thesis had been written by someone else, and that, by the standards of the day, she had been sexually promiscuous since her college days. Bentley declined to testify at a Remington loyalty board hearing, and NBC settled the libel case out of court for $10,000.[ citation needed ]

Bentley testified in the trials of four accused spies: The perjury trial of William Remington, a case against Abe Brothman for obstruction of justice, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg trials on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage. Bentley was peripherally involved in the Rosenberg case. She was used by the prosecution to develop two points: first, the actions of American Communists in becoming spies for the Soviet Union; and second, to establish, if only vaguely in the jury's mind, a connection between Julius Rosenberg and Golos. She testified that she would receive calls from a man who identified himself as Julius, after which Golos would go out to meet him.

After defecting to US authorities, Bentley's personal life became increasingly tumultuous. She continued to drink heavily, was involved in car accidents, and had a relationship with a man who beat her severely. She avoided subpoenas on a number of occasions. These incidents, along with generally erratic behavior, resulted in her FBI handlers worrying that she was "bordering on some mental pitfall". [51]

But she was invariably calm and professional on the witness stand, earning praise from the prosecutors whose cases she was supporting. As Bentley repeatedly testified before grand juries, congressional committees and jury trials, however, she refined and embellished some details of her story. Information passed to her about a process for manufacturing synthetic rubber that was originally "vague" and "probably of no value" became "super-secret" and "an extremely complicated thing." [52] She would also assert that her espionage gave her advance notice of the Doolittle raid on Japan and the D-Day invasions of France, both claims that appeared to have been exaggerated. [53]

William Remington

Remington's first trial began in late December 1950. Roy Cohn, later to become famous as chief counsel for Senator Joseph McCarthy on HUAC and already a noted anti-communist, joined the prosecution's legal team. Bentley later supplied a wealth of detail about Remington's involvement with her and the espionage conspiracy. Remington's defense was that he had never handled any classified material, hence could not have given any to Bentley.

But she remembered all the facts about the rubber-from-garbage invention:

"We had searched through the archives and discovered the files on the process. We also found the aircraft schedules, which were set up exactly as she said, and inter office memos and tables of personnel which proved Remington had access to both these items. We also discovered Remington's application for a naval commission in which he specifically pointed out that he was, in his present position with the Commerce Department, entrusted with secret military information involving airplanes, armaments, radar, and the Manhattan Project (the atomic bomb)." [54]

During the trial eleven witnesses claimed they knew Remington to be a communist. This included Bentley; ex-wife Ann Remington; Professor Howard Bridgeman of Tufts University; Kenneth McConnell, a Communist organizer in Knoxville; Rudolph Bertram and Christine Benson, who worked with him at the Tennessee Valley Authority; and Paul Crouch, who provided him with copies of the southern edition of the communist newspaper, The Daily Worker. [55]

Occupation currency plates

Bentley also testified that Harry Dexter White was responsible for passing Treasury plates for printing Allied currency in Occupied Germany to the Soviet Union, which used them to print millions of marks. [56] Russian soldiers exchanged these marks for goods and hard currency. They were catalysts for a black market and serious inflation throughout the occupied country, [57] and costing the U.S. a quarter of a billion dollars. [58]

Bentley wrote in her autobiography Out of Bondage (1951) that she had been "able through Harry Dexter White to arrange that the United States Treasury Department turn the actual printing plates over to the Russians." [59] In her 1953 testimony before McCarthy's Senate subcommittee, she elaborated, testifying that she was following instructions from NKVD New York rezident Iskhak Abdulovich Akhmerov to pass word through Ludwig Ullmann and Nathan Gregory Silvermaster for White to "put the pressure on for the delivery of the plates to Russia." [60]

Bentley had not previously mentioned the printing plates in any earlier debriefings or testimony. There was no evidence at the time that she had any role in the transfer of the plates. Bentley biographer Kathryn Olmsted concluded that Bentley was "lying about her role in the scandal". [61] She cited historian Bruce Craig's conclusion "that the whole 'scheme' was a complete fabrication"; [62] i.e., that neither Bentley nor Harry Dexter White had a role in the plate transfer. [63]

After Olmsted's 2002 biography was published, a memorandum found in the newly accessible Soviet archives and also published in 2002, corroborated Bentley's testimony in this matter. In it, Gaik Ovakimian, head of the American desk of the NKVD, cites an April 14, 1944 report reporting that, "following our instructions" via Silvermaster, White had "attained the positive decision of the Treasury Department to provide the Soviet side with the plates for engraving German occupation marks." [64]

Since Bentley was the Soviets' contact to Silvermaster at this time, her involvement in this incident is substantiated.

After her defection, Bentley was frequently asked to provide testimony before various bodies investigating communist espionage and influence in the US. She continued occasional consultations with the FBI for the rest of her life. In 1952, she began accepting payments for times when she testified, making her a "paid informer" for the FBI. [65]

Though she had been a successful executive with a profitable shipping company while she was with the Communists, she changed fields after her defection. First she supported herself through secretarial work and then through a variety of teaching jobs. [66] In 1948 she was converted to Roman Catholicism by Fr. Fulton Sheen, later Archbishop of New York. She was frequently invited to lecture on the Communist threat by Catholic groups happy to pay her $300 fee. [67]


Bentley died on December 3, 1963, aged 55, from abdominal cancer at Grace-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. Obituaries were published in The New York Times and The Washington Post . [68] [69] Olmsted notes in Bentley's biography the marked contrast between the notice paid to Bentley's death and that of Whittaker Chambers two years earlier.

The National Review devoted a special memorial issue to Chambers' death. It allotted only a paragraph to Bentley. Time magazine had devoted two pages to its Chambers obituary, but gave Bentley's death a two-sentence mention in its "Milestones" section. [70] [71]


Although Bentley did not name Whittaker Chambers in her late July 1948 testimony, Robert E. Stripling said her testimony had made him "think of Chambers." He had him subpoenaed and Chambers appeared only a few days after Bentley, thus launching the Hiss Case. [72]

In sum, Bentley exposed two networks of spies, ultimately naming more than 80 Americans who had engaged in espionage for the Soviets. [73] Her public testimony, which began in July 1948, became a media sensation and had a major effect on prosecution of cases of Soviet espionage in the 1950s. It also added to American fears of a widespread communist conspiracy within the government, fanned by Senator McCarthy. [74]

Bentley provided no documentary evidence to support her claims. Reporters and historians were divided for decades as to the validity of her allegations. In the 1990s, declassification of both Soviet documents and the U.S. codebreaking Venona project lent some credence to Bentley's allegations. After she defected, the Soviet Union temporarily suspended espionage activities in the United States. But some of Bentley's claims remain controversial due to questions about the accuracy of translations and the vague nature of identities, given that agents were identified by code names in encrypted records captured in Venona.

See also


  1. Olmsted 2002 , p. 100
  2. Haynes, John Earl; Klehr, Harvey (2005-10-25). In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage. Encounter Books. pp. 76, 77. ISBN   1-59403-088-X.
  3. Lauren Kessler's 2003 biography spells Bentley's middle name as 'Turrill'. Kessler 2003 , p. 14
  4. "Red Spy Tells Of Childhood In Connecticut Town". Associated Press in Hartford Courant. August 4, 1948. Retrieved 2008-05-29.
  5. Kessler 2003 , p. 15
  6. Olmsted 2002 , p. 1
  7. "The Network". Time . August 9, 1948. Retrieved 2008-05-29. She was born in Connecticut, graduated from Vassar (1930) and had taken an M.A. degree at Columbia.
  8. "The Network". Time. August 9, 1948. Retrieved 2008-05-29.
  9. Galagher, Dorothy (November 3, 2002). "The Witness; review of Red Spy Queen". The New York Times .
  10. Olmsted 2002 , p. 6 "Red Spy Queen". Archived from the original on 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2007-10-20.
  11. Olmsted 2002 , p. 122
  12. Kessler 2003 , p. 40
  13. Olmsted 2002 , p. 18
  14. Olmsted 2002 , p. 15
  15. "Elizabeth Bentley". PBS NOVA: Secrets, Lies, and Atomic Spies. 5 February 2002. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  16. "Juliet Poyntz". Sparacus Educational. 5 February 2002. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  17. Benson, Robert Louis; Warner, Michael (March 19, 2007). "Venona: Soviet Espionage and the American Response 1939–1957". Central Intelligence Agency.
  18. Kessler 2003 , p. 63
  19. Olmsted 2002 , p. 22
  20. Kessler 2003 , p. 77
  21. Kessler 2003 , p. 150
  22. Olmsted 2002 , p. 45
  23. Olmsted 2002 , pp. 50, 51
  24. Olmsted 2002 , pp. 63–65
  25. Olmsted 2002 , p. 67
  26. Grand jury testimony in United States of America vs. Alger Hiss, quoted in Olmsted 2002 , p. 69
  27. Olmsted 2002 , p. 69, Kessler 2003 , p. 100
  28. Olmsted 2002 , p. 78
  29. Olmsted 2002 , p. 93
  30. Weinstein, Allen; Vassiliev, Alexander (2000). The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America--The Stalin Era. Modern Library. p. 102. ISBN   0-375-75536-5.
  31. Amy W. Knight, How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies (Carroll & Graf, 2006) ISBN   0-7867-1816-1, p. 93
  32. Olmsted 2002 , p. 105
  33. Weinstein, Allen; Vassiliev, Alexander (2000). The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America--The Stalin Era. Modern Library. pp. 106–108. ISBN   0-375-75536-5.
  34. Olmsted 2002 , pp. 106–107
  35. Kessler 2003 , pp. 144–147
  36. Schrecker, Ellen (1998). Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Little, Brown. pp. 173, 174. ISBN   0-316-77470-7.
  37. Olmsted 2002 , p. 117
  38. Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third Series: 1948. 430. 1948. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  39. "Hearings before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, 80th Congress, 2nd Session, Public Law 601 (Section 121, Subsection Q (2))". Government Printing Office (via Archive.org). Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  40. Olmsted 2002 , p. 134
  41. Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. p. 533. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05.
  42. "Programs on the Air: Radio". The New York Times. 6 August 1948. p. 34.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  43. "Radio and Television: 'Meet the Press' Goes on NBC Video Network Starting Sunday". The New York Times. 10 September 1948. p. 46.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  44. "Radio and Television Programs: Today's Leading Events: Television". The New York Times. 12 September 1948. p. X8.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  45. "Remington Makes Libel Suit Threats". Washington Post. 24 September 1948. p. 10.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  46. "Board Doubts If Remington Was Loyal". Washington Post. 29 September 1948. p. 3.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  47. "Fact or Libel". Washington Post. 30 September 1948. p. 14.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  48. "Remington Files $100,000 Libel Suit: Names Miss Bentley, Who Said He Was a Communist, NBC and Television Sponsor". The New York Times. 7 October 1948. p. 9.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  49. "Leonard Lyons". The New York Times. 14 October 1948. p. B14.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  50. "Elizabeth Bentley Served in Libel Suit". Washington Post. 30 December 1948. p. 10.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  51. Olmsted 2002 , p. 161
  52. Olmsted 2002 , pp. 102, 163
  53. Olmsted 2002 , p. 195
  54. Roy Cohn, McCarthy (1968) page 38
  55. William Remington
  56. Van Hook, James C. (2005). "Review of Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case". Studies in Intelligence. 49 (1).
  57. Radosh, Ronald (February 24, 2003). "The Truth-Spiller; review of Red Spy Queen". National Review.[ dead link ]
  58. Craig, R. Bruce (2004). Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case. University Press of Kansas. p. ch. 5. ISBN   0-7006-1311-0.
  59. Bentley 1951 , p. 241
  60. "Testimony of Elizabeth Bentley," S. Prt. 107-84 Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations (McCarthy Hearings 1953-54), Vol. 4, p. 3427
  61. Olmsted 2002 , p. 187
  62. Olmsted 2002 , p. 186
  63. Craig, R. Bruce (2004). Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case. University Press of Kansas. p. 245. ISBN   0-7006-1311-0.
  64. Schecter, Jerrold L. (2002). Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed American History. Potomac Books. p. 122. ISBN   1-57488-522-7.
  65. Olmsted 2002 , pp. 179–180
  66. Olmsted 2002 , pp. 112, 197–198, 200
  67. Olmsted 2002 , pp. 147–148, 150
  68. "Elizabeth Bentley Is Dead at 55. Soviet Spy Later Aided U.S. Wartime Agent Went to F.B.I. in 1945. Testified at Trial of Rosenbergs". The New York Times. December 4, 1963. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
  69. "Elizabeth Bentley, Ex-Red Agent Who Bared Spy Network". Associated Press, in The Washington Post. December 4, 1963. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
  70. Olmsted 2002 , p. 203
  71. "Died". Time. December 13, 1963. Retrieved 2008-05-07. Elizabeth Turrill Bentley, 55, onetime Communist whose disclosures of wartime Soviet espionage led to the conviction of more than a dozen top Reds between 1948 and 1951; following surgery for an abdominal tumor; in New Haven, Conn.
  72. Stripling, Robert E. (1949). The Red Plot Against America. Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania: Bell Publishing Company. pp. 95–96. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  73. Olmsted 2002 , p. 100
  74. Haynes, John Earl; Klehr, Harvey (2005-10-25). In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage. Encounter Books. pp. 76, 77. ISBN   1-59403-088-X.

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Currently, two biographies of Elizabeth Bentley have been published:

  • Olmsted, Kathryn S. (2002). Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN   0-8078-2739-8.
  • Kessler, Lauren (2003). Clever Girl: Elizabeth Bentley, the Spy Who Ushered in the McCarthy Era. Harper Perennial. ISBN   0-06-095973-8.

Other references

The Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) has the full text of former KGB agent Alexander Vassiliev's Notebooks, containing evidence on Bentley's cooperation with the Soviets.



Further reading