Rediscovering America's Truth-Tellers: Elizabeth Bentley

Diana West

6/28/2013 12:01:00 AM - Diana West

NOTE: This is the second in an occasional series on the truth-tellers of "American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character" (St. Martin's Press).

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 loyal to Stalin and, even more heartbreaking, largely covered up by successive U.S. administrations and elites.

The reason I take pains to bring these truth-tellers to light is that they remain lost to our collective memory even as much confirmation of their truth-telling has become public record.

This means we are overdue for a major historical correction.

Our historical compass still erroneously indicates that the great Red hunters of the 1940s and 1950s were engaged in "witch hunts" for communist spies who were figments of feverish imaginations. But these spies were real, all right, and over 500 have by now been identified.

We still snicker reflexively over quaint references to "the Red plot against America."

With archival confirmation, however, we now know there were indeed abundant Red plots, and many of them were brilliantly carried out to completion.

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, 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. She looks down at a white cat she is stroking in her lap. The cat looks straight at the camera, as though there were nothing else to disturb this peaceful scene but a flashbulb.

In fact, Bentley, then 40, had already entered the firestorm of public controversy that would affect the rest of her life.

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. (Therein lies another tale of American betrayal.)

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? Her alma mater, Vassar, would do for starters. Just as Yale pays monumental homage to its own renowned spy, Nathan Hale, Vassar should pay homage to Bentley. Why doesn't it?

The answer, of course, is obvious: The American college campus remains an outpost of Marxism, the very ideology that animated so many of the Kremlin agents Bentley exposed. Indeed, this long-tenured Marxist influence over academia largely accounts for the anti-anti-Communist stranglehold on the historical narrative that skips or smears the truth-tellers, and thus the truth. Meanwhile, not only is Elizabeth Bentley reviled in academia, but some campuses even memorialize Soviet agents and collaborators, including Alger Hiss!

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.