I.F. Stone--Communist Stooge? Nyet, says biographer





In his review of “ ‘All Governments Lie’: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I. F. Stone” (Oct. 1), Paul Berman suggests that Myra MacPherson “accidentally hanged” her man by repeating Oleg Kalugin’s remark that Stone was “willing to perform tasks” for the Soviets. As the first reporter to investigate Kalugin’s charges in the course of researching my own biography of Stone, to be finished later this year, perhaps I can supply some context:

Kalugin originally made reference to an unnamed American “agent” in the spring of 1992, when he was trying — without much luck — to peddle his memoirs. The former K.G.B. general’s remarks were soon circulated by Accuracy in Media and other pressure groups, this time with Stone’s name attached. In June 1992, Kalugin told me, “I did not recruit him [Stone] and I did not pay him money,” and later added that he “just met [Stone] in line with my official duties” as a Soviet press officer. He made the same points to Andrew Brown, who wrote an account of the affair in The New York Review of Books, and to Martin Garbus, an attorney who attended a conference with Kalugin in Moscow in September 1992. Yet Kalugin, who is well aware of the way Soviet intelligence used the word “tasks” for a variety of unsavory activities, now deploys it in conversation with MacPherson.

This controversy is really part of an argument over Venona, the National Security Agency’s program of intercepting and deciphering K.G.B. cable traffic. First declassified in 1996, the Venona decrypts tell us that a K.G.B. agent, working in Washington in 1944, tried to recruit a journalist, codenamed Blin, who might have been Stone. It is far from certain that Blin was Stone. But even if you accept that he was, all we know from Venona, as Ronald Radosh (a historian hardly likely to collude in a left-wing whitewash) told me, is “that one agent in the States says he approached Izzy and that Izzy was interested but was worried about taking the money. Even that could be attributed to [the] agent’s desire to impress his boss.”

Lunching with reporters was Kalugin’s job. Who paid generally depended on who initiated the encounter. Stone knew perfectly well his own lunches would be noticed — indeed, he told Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover’s biographer, that he made a point of meeting the Russian at Harvey’s, the F.B.I. director’s “favorite restaurant.”

I. F. Stone was a mensch, not a Menshevik, and might well have been amused by the spectacle of Paul Berman, who rightly denounces all of Stalin’s works, rushing to endorse the manipulations of one of his secret policemen. Oleg Gordievsky, another ex-K.G.B. hustler, made similar charges about the British politician Michael Foot. But Gordievsky was foolish enough to make them while Foot was still alive, and his publisher had to pay substantial libel damages.




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