Elizabeth Bentley
Overview
Elizabeth Terrill Bentley (January 1, 1908 – December 3, 1963) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 spy
Espionage
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

 for the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 from 1938 until 1945. In 1945 she defected
Defection
In politics, a defector is a person who gives up allegiance to one state or political entity in exchange for allegiance to another. More broadly, it involves abandoning a person, cause or doctrine to whom or to which one is bound by some tie, as of allegiance or duty.This term is also applied,...

 from the Communist Party
Communist Party USA
The Communist Party USA is a Marxist political party in the United States, established in 1919. It has a long, complex history that is closely related to the histories of similar communist parties worldwide and the U.S. labor movement....

 and Soviet intelligence
Chronology of Soviet secret police agencies
There was a succession of Soviet secret police agencies over time. The first secret police after the Russian Revolution, created by Vladimir Lenin's decree on December 20, 1917, was called "Cheka"...

 and became an informer for the U.S. She exposed two networks of spies, ultimately naming over 80 Americans who had engaged in espionage for the Soviets. When her testimony became public in 1948, it became a media sensation and had a major effect on the popular anti-communism
Anti-communism
Anti-communism is opposition to communism. Organized anti-communism developed in reaction to the rise of communism, especially after the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the beginning of the Cold War in 1947.-Objections to communist theory:...

 of the McCarthy era
McCarthyism
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and characterized by...

.
Elizabeth Terrill Bentley was born in New Milford, Connecticut
New Milford, Connecticut
New Milford is a town in southern Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States north of Danbury, on the Housatonic River. It is the largest town in the state in terms of land area at nearly . The population was 28,671 according to the Census Bureau's 2006 estimates...

 to Charles Prentiss Bentley, a dry-goods merchant, and May Charlotte Turrill, a schoolteacher.
Encyclopedia
Elizabeth Terrill Bentley (January 1, 1908 – December 3, 1963) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 spy
Espionage
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

 for the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 from 1938 until 1945. In 1945 she defected
Defection
In politics, a defector is a person who gives up allegiance to one state or political entity in exchange for allegiance to another. More broadly, it involves abandoning a person, cause or doctrine to whom or to which one is bound by some tie, as of allegiance or duty.This term is also applied,...

 from the Communist Party
Communist Party USA
The Communist Party USA is a Marxist political party in the United States, established in 1919. It has a long, complex history that is closely related to the histories of similar communist parties worldwide and the U.S. labor movement....

 and Soviet intelligence
Chronology of Soviet secret police agencies
There was a succession of Soviet secret police agencies over time. The first secret police after the Russian Revolution, created by Vladimir Lenin's decree on December 20, 1917, was called "Cheka"...

 and became an informer for the U.S. She exposed two networks of spies, ultimately naming over 80 Americans who had engaged in espionage for the Soviets. When her testimony became public in 1948, it became a media sensation and had a major effect on the popular anti-communism
Anti-communism
Anti-communism is opposition to communism. Organized anti-communism developed in reaction to the rise of communism, especially after the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the beginning of the Cold War in 1947.-Objections to communist theory:...

 of the McCarthy era
McCarthyism
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and characterized by...

.

Early life

Elizabeth Terrill Bentley was born in New Milford, Connecticut
New Milford, Connecticut
New Milford is a town in southern Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States north of Danbury, on the Housatonic River. It is the largest town in the state in terms of land area at nearly . The population was 28,671 according to the Census Bureau's 2006 estimates...

 to Charles Prentiss Bentley, a dry-goods merchant, and May Charlotte Turrill, a schoolteacher. In 1915 her parents had moved to Ithaca, New York
Ithaca, New York
The city of Ithaca, is a city in upstate New York and the county seat of Tompkins County, as well as the largest community in the Ithaca-Tompkins County metropolitan area...

, and by 1920 the family had moved to McKeesport, Pennsylvania
McKeesport, Pennsylvania
McKeesport is a city in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, in the United States; it is located at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers and is part of the Pittsburgh Metro Area. The population was 19,731 at the 2010 census...

 and then to Rochester, New York
Rochester, New York
Rochester is a city in Monroe County, New York, south of Lake Ontario in the United States. Known as The World's Image Centre, it was also once known as The Flour City, and more recently as The Flower City...

. Her parents were described as strait-laced old family Episcopalian New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

ers.

She attended Vassar College
Vassar College
Vassar College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, in the United States. The Vassar campus comprises over and more than 100 buildings, including four National Historic Landmarks, ranging in style from Collegiate Gothic to International,...

, graduating in 1930 with a degree in English, Italian, and French. In 1933, while she was attending graduate school at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, she won a fellowship to the University of Florence
University of Florence
The University of Florence is a higher study institute in Florence, central Italy. One of the largest and oldest universities in the country, it consists of 12 faculties...

. While in Italy, she briefly joined a local student Fascist group, the Gruppo Universitate Fascisti. Under the influence of her anti-Fascist faculty advisor Mario Casella, with whom she had an affair,
she soon moved to another part of the political spectrum, however. While completing her Masters degree at Columbia University, she attended meetings of the American League Against War and Fascism
American League Against War and Fascism
The American League Against War and Fascism was an organization formed in 1933 by the Communist Party USA and pacifists united by their concern as Nazism and Fascism rose in Europe...

, a Communist front
Communist front
A Communist front organization is an organization identified to be a front organization under the effective control of a Communist party, the Communist International or other Communist organizations. Lenin originated the idea in his manifesto of 1902, "What Is to Be Done?"...

 group. Although she would later state that she found Communist literature unreadable and "dry as dust,"
she was attracted by the sense of community and social conscience she found with her friends in the league. When she learned that most of them were members of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), she joined the party herself in March 1935.

Espionage activity

Bentley's entry into espionage came at her own initiative. In 1938 she obtained a job at the Italian Library of Information in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

; an organization that was fascist Italy's propaganda bureau in the United States. She then reported to CPUSA headquarters, telling them of her willingness to spy on the fascists. The Communists were interested in the information Bentley could provide, and NKVD
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 officer Jacob Golos
Jacob Golos
Jacob Golos, , was a Ukrainian-born Bolshevik revolutionary of ethnic Jewish heritage who became a secret police operative on behalf of the USSR in the United States...

 was assigned to be her contact and controller
Agent handling
In intelligence organizations, agent handling is the management of agents, principal agents, and agent networks by intelligence officers typically known as case officers.-Human intelligence:...

. Golos was a Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n émigré
Émigré
Émigré is a French term that literally refers to a person who has "migrated out", but often carries a connotation of politico-social self-exile....

 who had been a naturalized United States citizen since 1915.

At this point, Bentley thought she was spying solely for the American Communist Party. In fact, 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
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

, which would take place in Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 in 1940. Bentley and Golos soon became lovers, although it would be 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.

In 1940, two years into their relationship, the Justice Department
United States Department of Justice
The United States Department of Justice , is the United States federal executive department responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice, equivalent to the justice or interior ministries of other countries.The Department is led by the Attorney General, who is nominated...

 forced Golos to register as an agent of the Soviet government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act
Foreign Agents Registration Act
The Foreign Agents Registration Act is a United States law passed in 1938 requiring that agents representing the interests of foreign powers be properly identified to the American public. The act was passed in response to German propaganda in the lead-up to World War II...

. This made it dangerous for him to contact and take documents from the network of American spies he controlled, and 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
Comintern
The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern, also known as the Third International, was an international communist organization initiated in Moscow during March 1919...

 front organization for espionage activities. Bentley stepped into 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. An equivalent salary in 2008 dollars, adjusted for inflation, comes out to over $12,000 per month. As Bentley acquired an important role in Soviet intelligence, the Soviets gave her the code name Umnitsa, loosely translated as "clever girl" or "Miss Wise." (In some literature it is less correctly translated as "good girl".)

The 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 that would become one of the most important Soviet espionage operations in the United States. Silvermaster worked with the Resettlement Administration
Resettlement Administration
The Resettlement Administration was a U.S. federal agency that, between April 1935 and December 1936, relocated struggling urban and rural families to communities planned by the federal government....

 and later with the Board of Economic Warfare
Board of Economic Warfare
The Office of Administrator of Export Control was established in the United States by Presidential Proclamation 2413, July 2, 1940, to administer export licensing provisions of the act of July 2, 1940 . Brigadier General Russell Lamont Maxwell, United States Army, headed up this military entity...

. He didn't have access to much sensitive information himself, but he knew several Communists and sympathizers within the government who were willing to pass information to him, and by way of Elizabeth Bentley, ultimately to Moscow. At this time, the Soviet Union and the United States were allies in the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, and much of the information Silvermaster collected for the Soviets had to do with the war against Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

. 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
Operation Overlord
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II by Allied forces. The operation commenced on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings...

. The contacts in Golos and Bentley's extended network ranged from dedicated Stalinists
Stalinism
Stalinism refers to the ideology that Joseph Stalin conceived and implemented in the Soviet Union, and is generally considered a branch of Marxist–Leninist ideology but considered by some historians to be a significant deviation from this philosophy...

 to, in the words of Bentley's biographer Kathryn Olmsted, "romantic idealists" who "wanted to help the brave Russians beat the Nazi war machine."

Conflicts with Soviet spymasters

Late in 1943, Jacob Golos suffered a fatal heart attack. After meeting with CPUSA General Secretary
General Secretary
The office of general secretary is staffed by the chief officer of:*The General Secretariat for Macedonia and Thrace, a government agency for the Greek regions of Macedonia and Thrace...

  Earl Browder
Earl Browder
Earl Russell Browder was an American communist and General Secretary of the Communist Party USA from 1934 to 1945. He was expelled from the party in 1946.- Early years :...

, Bentley decided to continue her espionage work, taking Golos's place. Her new contact in Soviet intelligence was Iskhak Akhmerov
Iskhak Akhmerov
Iskhak Abdulovich Akhmerov was a Soviet spy of Tatar ethnicity who joined the Bolshevik Party in 1919. Akhmerov attended the Communist University of Toilers of the East and the First State University, where he graduated from the School of International Relations in 1930...

, 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 been resisting this move, believing that 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. Indeed, she expanded her spy network when Browder gave her control over another group of agents. This was the "Perlo group
Perlo group
Headed by Victor Perlo, the Perlo group is the name given to a group of Americans who provided information which was given to Soviet intelligence agencies; it was active during the World War II period, until the entire group was exposed to the FBI by the defection of Elizabeth Bentley...

," with contacts in the War Production Board
War Production Board
The War Production Board was established as a government agency on January 16, 1942 by executive order of Franklin D. Roosevelt.The purpose of the board was to regulate the production and allocation of materials and fuel during World War II in the United States...

, the United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 and the Treasury Department
United States Department of the Treasury
The Department of the Treasury is an executive department and the treasury of the United States federal government. It was established by an Act of Congress in 1789 to manage government revenue...

.

Bentley had been noted as suffering from bouts of depression and having a drinking problem since her days in Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

. 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."

In early June 1944, Browder gave in to Akhmerov's demands and agreed to instruct the Silvermaster group to report directly to the NKGB. After her defection, Bentley would describe this as the event that turned her against Communism. "I discovered then that Earl Browder was just a puppet, that somebody pulled the strings in Moscow," she would say. Her biographers suggest that Bentley's objections, rather than being ideological, were more a life-long dislike for being given orders and a sense that the reassignments left her with no meaningful role. 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 she would have to leave her position as vice president of U.S. Service and Shipping.

Breaking with the Soviets

Things did not improve for Bentley in 1945. She began an affair with a man whom she came to suspect was either an FBI or a Soviet agent sent to spy on her, and her Soviet contact suggested that she should emigrate to the Soviet Union—a move Bentley feared would end with her execution. In August 1945, Bentley went to the FBI office in New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven is the second-largest city in Connecticut and the sixth-largest in New England. According to the 2010 Census, New Haven's population increased by 5.0% between 2000 and 2010, a rate higher than that of the State of Connecticut, and higher than that of the state's five largest cities, and...

 and met with the agent in charge. She did not immediately defect, however. Instead she seemed to be "feeling out" the FBI, and it would not be until November that she began to tell her full story to the FBI. In the meantime, her situation continued to worsen. In September she met with Anatoly Gorsky
Anatoly Gorsky
Anatoly Veniaminovich Gorsky , was a Soviet spy who, under cover as First Secretary "Anatoly Borisovich Gromov" of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, was secretly rezident in the United States at the end of World War II.-Career:Gorsky joined the Soviet secret police in 1928 and worked in the...

, her latest NKGB controller, and arrived at the meeting drunk. She became angry with Gorsky, called him and his fellow Russian agents "gangsters," and obliquely threatened to become an informer. She soon realized that her tirade could have put her life in danger, and in fact when Gorsky reported to Moscow his recommendation was to "get rid of her."

Moscow advised Gorsky to be patient with Bentley and calm her down. Only a few weeks later it was revealed that Louis Budenz, editor of the CPUSA newspaper and one of Bentley's sources, had defected. 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 on November 6, 1945.

Defection and after

In a series of debriefing interviews with the FBI beginning November 7, 1945, Bentley implicated close to 150 people in spying for the Soviet Union, including 37 federal employees. The FBI already suspected many of those she named, and some of them had been named by earlier defectors Igor Gouzenko
Igor Gouzenko
Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko was a cipher clerk for the Soviet Embassy to Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. He defected on September 5, 1945, with 109 documents on Soviet espionage activities in the West...

 and Whittaker Chambers
Whittaker Chambers
Whittaker Chambers was born Jay Vivian Chambers and also known as David Whittaker Chambers , was an American writer and editor. After being a Communist Party USA member and Soviet spy, he later renounced communism and became an outspoken opponent later testifying in the perjury and espionage trial...

, so the FBI was fairly confident that her story was genuine. They gave her the code name "Gregory," and J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover
John Edgar Hoover was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972...

 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. Unfortunately, the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service's (SIS or "MI6") new Section IX (counter-espionage against the Soviet Union), was the Soviet double agent Kim Philby
Kim Philby
Harold Adrian Russell "Kim" Philby was a high-ranking member of British intelligence who worked as a spy for and later defected to the Soviet Union...

, who would flee to the Soviet Union in 1963. Philby promptly alerted Moscow, which immediately shut down all contact with Bentley's people, just as the FBI was beginning surveillance of them. Bentley's NKGB contact Gorsky once again recommended to Moscow that she be "liquidated", and again Moscow rejected the idea.

The breach of secrecy around Bentley's defection foiled a year-long attempt by the FBI to have her act as a double agent
Double agent
A double agent, commonly abbreviated referral of double secret agent, is a counterintelligence term used to designate an employee of a secret service or organization, whose primary aim is to spy on the target organization, but who in fact is a member of that same target organization oneself. They...

. 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. 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 all of them would either invoke their Fifth Amendment
Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, protects against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure. Its guarantees stem from English common law which traces back to the Magna Carta in 1215...

 right not to testify or maintain their innocence.

For J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover
John Edgar Hoover was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972...

 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
Venona project
The VENONA project was a long-running secret collaboration of the United States and United Kingdom intelligence agencies involving cryptanalysis of messages sent by intelligence agencies of the Soviet Union, the majority during World War II...

 succeeded in decrypting some wartime cables sent between Soviet intelligence agents and Moscow. In these cables, Bentley was referred to by the codename she told to the FBI, and several of her contacts and documents she had collected were discussed.
However, Venona was considered so secret that the US Government was unwilling to expose it by allowing it to be used as evidence in any trial. In fact, even presidents Roosevelt and Harry Truman were unaware of Venona; when Hoover delivered intelligence reports based on Venona data, the source of the information was not named.

Public testimony

With the chances of successful prosecution looking unlikely, Hoover chose to give Bentley's information to certain U.S. Congressmen with the understanding that the accused spies would be questioned before congressional committees, and the publicized suspicion and accusations would be sufficient to ruin their careers. Additionally, Attorney General
United States Attorney General
The United States Attorney General is the head of the United States Department of Justice concerned with legal affairs and is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government. The attorney general is considered to be the chief lawyer of the U.S. government...

 Tom C. Clark
Tom C. Clark
Thomas Campbell Clark was United States Attorney General from 1945 to 1949 and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States .- Early life and career :...

 decided to present the Bentley case to a grand jury
Grand jury
A grand jury is a type of jury that determines whether a criminal indictment will issue. Currently, only the United States retains grand juries, although some other common law jurisdictions formerly employed them, and most other jurisdictions employ some other type of preliminary hearing...

, although he thought there was little chance they would be able to return any indictments. Bentley's appearances before this grand jury lasted until April 1948, and during this time, some details of her case began to leak to the press. It was Bentley herself who decided to reveal the full story, however. She met with reporters for the New York World-Telegram
New York World-Telegram
The New York World-Telegram, later known as the New York World-Telegram and Sun, was a New York City newspaper from 1931 to 1966.-History:...

, and in July 1948 the paper carried a series of front page stories about the "beautiful young blonde" who had exposed a ring of spies (the initial articles included no picture of Bentley). Almost immediately, Bentley was subpoenaed to testify at a public hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee
House Un-American Activities Committee
The House Committee on Un-American Activities or House Un-American Activities Committee was an investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives. In 1969, the House changed the committee's name to "House Committee on Internal Security"...

 (HUAC).

Descriptions and analyses of Bentley's testimony varied wildly with the politics of the reporter. The strongly anti-communist New York Journal-American described her as a "shapely" "blonde and blue-eyed New Yorker" who "lured" secrets from her sources, while A. J. Liebling
A. J. Liebling
Abbott Joseph Liebling was an American journalist who was closely associated with The New Yorker from 1935 until his death.-Biography:...

 of The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

 ridiculed her story and called her the "Nutmeg Mata Hari
Mata Hari
Mata Hari was the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida "M'greet" Zelle , a Dutch exotic dancer, courtesan, and accused spy who was executed by firing squad in France under charges of espionage for Germany during World War I.-Early life:Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born in Leeuwarden, Friesland,...

." For her part, Bentley portrayed herself as naïve and innocent; corrupted by her liberal professors at Vassar and seduced into espionage by Golos.

At the HUAC hearings, Bentley received some corroboration from Whittaker Chambers
Whittaker Chambers
Whittaker Chambers was born Jay Vivian Chambers and also known as David Whittaker Chambers , was an American writer and editor. After being a Communist Party USA member and Soviet spy, he later renounced communism and became an outspoken opponent later testifying in the perjury and espionage trial...

. Although at this time he was denying any knowledge of espionage activity, he claimed to know that two Bentley contacts, Victor Perlo and Charles Kramer, were Communists. He also supported her charge that Harry Dexter White
Harry Dexter White
Harry Dexter White was an American economist, and senior U.S. Treasury department official, participating in the Bretton Woods conference...

, a prominent economist who had worked in the Treasury Department
United States Department of the Treasury
The Department of the Treasury is an executive department and the treasury of the United States federal government. It was established by an Act of Congress in 1789 to manage government revenue...

, was a Communist sympathizer. Still there was considerable skepticism in some quarters 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 the increasingly publicized hearings of HUAC, were setting the stage for McCarthyism
McCarthyism
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and characterized by...

, which would become a central factor in domestic American politics in the 1950s.

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
Harry Dexter White
Harry Dexter White was an American economist, and senior U.S. Treasury department official, participating in the Bretton Woods conference...

. White was suffering from heart disease, and he died of a heart attack a few days after his testimony before HUAC. Others who denied Bentley's charges were Lauchlin Currie
Lauchlin Currie
Lauchlin Bernard Currie was a Canadian-born U.S.economist from New Dublin, Nova Scotia, Canada, and allegedly an agent of espionage for the Soviet Union....

, formerly President Roosevelt's economic affairs advisor, William Remington
William Remington
William Walter Remington was an economist employed in various federal government positions until his career was interrupted by accusations of espionage made by the Soviet spy and defector Elizabeth Bentley. He was convicted of perjury in connection with these charges in 1953, and murdered in...

 and William Henry Taylor
William Henry Taylor
William Henry Taylor was a Canadian-born US Treasury economist accused by Elizabeth Bentley of having been a Soviet spy.-Life:...

, both midlevel government economists, Duncan Lee
Duncan Lee
Lt. Col. Duncan Chaplin Lee was confidential assistant to Maj. Gen. William Donovan, founder and director of the Office of Strategic Services , World War II-era predecessor of the CIA, during 1942-46...

, formerly with the Office of Strategic Services
Office of Strategic Services
The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency...

 (OSS) and Abe Brothman, a private sector chemist who worked on defense projects. In September 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 were able to produce evidence of her alcoholism, her periods of severe depression and a suicide attempt while a student in Florence, that her master's thesis had been written by someone else, and that, by the standards of her 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.

Bentley would give testimony in the trials of three accused spies: The perjury
Perjury
Perjury, also known as forswearing, is the willful act of swearing a false oath or affirmation to tell the truth, whether spoken or in writing, concerning matters material to a judicial proceeding. That is, the witness falsely promises to tell the truth about matters which affect the outcome of the...

 trial of William Remington, a case against Abe Brothman for obstruction of justice
Obstruction of justice
The crime of obstruction of justice, in United States jurisdictions, refers to the crime of interfering with the work of police, investigators, regulatory agencies, prosecutors, or other officials...

, and the famous case of the "atomic spies" Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg were American communists who were convicted and executed in 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage during a time of war. The charges related to their passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union...

. Bentley's involvement with the Rosenberg case was peripheral. She was used to develop two points for the prosecution: first, the proclivity of American Communists to be 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.

Bentley's personal life became increasingly tumultuous after her defection. She continued to drink heavily, was involved in car accidents and had a relationship with a man who beat her severely. She also avoided subpoenas on a number of occasions. These incidents, along with generally erratic behavior, led her FBI handlers to worry that she was "bordering on some mental pitfall".
Nevertheless, she was invariably calm and professional on the witness stand, earning praise from the prosecutors whose cases she was supporting. As she repeatedly testified before grand juries, congressional committees and jury trials, however, some details of her story became embellished over time. 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." She would also assert that her espionage gave her advance notice of the Doolittle raid
Doolittle Raid
The Doolittle Raid, on 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese Home Islands during World War II. By demonstrating that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, it provided a vital morale boost and opportunity for U.S. retaliation after the...

 on Japan and the D-Day invasions, both claims that appeared to be exaggerated.

Occupation Currency Plates

Bentley also testified that Harry Dexter White
Harry Dexter White
Harry Dexter White was an American economist, and senior U.S. Treasury department official, participating in the Bretton Woods conference...

 was responsible for passing treasury plates for printing Allied currency in occupied Germany to the Soviet Union, which then used them to print millions of Marks
German mark
The Deutsche Mark |mark]], abbreviated "DM") was the official currency of West Germany and Germany until the adoption of the euro in 2002. It is commonly called the "Deutschmark" in English but not in German. Germans often say "Mark" or "D-Mark"...

.
Russian soldiers exchanged these Marks for goods and hard currency, sparking a black market and serious inflation throughout the occupied country,
and costing the U.S. a quarter of a billion dollars.

Bentley wrote in her 1951 autobiography 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."
In her 1953 testimony before Joseph McCarthy
Joseph McCarthy
Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy was an American politician who served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957...

'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.”

Bentley had not previously mentioned this in any of her earlier debriefings or testimonies, and there was no evidence at the time that Bentley had any role in this transfer. Bentley biographer Kathryn Olmsted concluded that Bentley was "lying about her role in the scandal", citing historian Bruce Craig's conclusion "that the whole 'scheme' was a complete fabrication"; i.e., that neither Bentley nor Harry Dexter White had a role in the plate transfer.

After the publication of Olmsted's biography, Bentley's testimony in this matter would be corroborated by a memorandum found in Soviet archives and published in 2002. In it, Gaik Ovakimian
Gaik Ovakimian
Haik Badalovich Ovakimian , Major General, USSR , better known as "the puppetmaster" in intelligence circles, was a leading Soviet NKVD spy in the United States....

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

Later life and death

After her defection, calls to give evidence before various bodies would be a fixture in Bentley's life for many years. Occasional consultations with the FBI would continue for the rest of her life. Though she had been a successful executive with a profitable shipping company while she was with the Communists, after her defection she earned a living first through secretarial work and then at a variety of teaching jobs. Having been converted to Roman Catholicism by Fulton Sheen in 1948, she was frequently invited to lecture on the Communist threat by Catholic groups happy to pay her $300 fee.

Bentley died on December 3, 1963, aged 55, from abdominal cancer
Cancer
Cancer , known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the...

 at Grace-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven is the second-largest city in Connecticut and the sixth-largest in New England. According to the 2010 Census, New Haven's population increased by 5.0% between 2000 and 2010, a rate higher than that of the State of Connecticut, and higher than that of the state's five largest cities, and...

. Obituaries appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
However, in her biography of Bentley, Kathryn Olmsted notes a sharp contrast between the notice paid to Bentley's death and that of Whittaker Chambers
Whittaker Chambers
Whittaker Chambers was born Jay Vivian Chambers and also known as David Whittaker Chambers , was an American writer and editor. After being a Communist Party USA member and Soviet spy, he later renounced communism and became an outspoken opponent later testifying in the perjury and espionage trial...

, who had died two years earlier. The National Review
National Review
National Review is a biweekly magazine founded by the late author William F. Buckley, Jr., in 1955 and based in New York City. It describes itself as "America's most widely read and influential magazine and web site for conservative news, commentary, and opinion."Although the print version of the...

, which had put out a special memorial issue on the death of Chambers, allotted only a paragraph to Elizabeth Bentley. Time magazine had devoted two pages to its Chambers obituary, but gave Bentley's death a two-sentence mention in its "Milestones" section.

In the 1990s the Venona transcripts and some Soviet intelligence archives were made available. With these revelations there was finally a definitive and public verification of the basics of Bentley's story, and also a new appreciation of the impact her defection had on Soviet espionage in the United States.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
x
OK