The XX Committee

Western Journalists and Russian Intelligence

The Russian seizure of Crimea plus Moscow’s intimidation, and worse, of all Ukraine, has created an awkward situation for Edward Snowden’s fans and enablers. That Ed has taken up residence in Putin’s Russia, and continues to pontificate about privacy and the perfidy of Western intelligence while under Kremlin protection, is a bit much, so much so that even MSM stalwarts have begun to ask difficult questions about the whole Snowden-linked apparat.

Judging from their conduct, not to mention the vicious online abuse suffered by myself and others who have questioned the narrative that Snowden is a pure-hearted patriot who “just happened” to wind up in Moscow, it seems justified to ask about the motivations of Snowden’s stalwart defenders in the West. Some may be pawns of Russian intelligence but most, I suspect, are what Communists once called Useful Idiots: Westerners whose hatred of their own society is so profound that they accept baldfaced Kremlin lies uncritically. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the egregious Walter Duranty has present-day equivalents.

Yet espionage cannot be ruled out either. Indeed, Moscow’s powerful intelligence apparatus has long considered Western journalists to be an easy and tasty target, not least because so many volunteered their services freely, or at least cheaply. Post-Cold War revelations made clear that among numerous Useful Idiots in Western journalists there were paid-up Soviet agents too, who consciously transmitted Kremlin Line agitprop masquerading as “daring” journalism.

This rot was present from the start. The father of Central European “investigative journalism,” Egon Erwin Kisch, can serve as our Patient Zero. In the waning days of Austria-Hungary, the young Kisch, who gave himself the sobriquet “the raging reporter,” cemented his reputation in 1913 with his scoop about the notorious traitor Colonel Alfred Redl – a sordid tale of espionage, corruption, suicide, and sex – who was probably the Spy of the (20th) Century. Kisch virtually created the image of the hard-boiled, cynical journalist who went the extra mile to uncover what others sought to hide: “nothing is more annoying than the truth” was his mantra.

Yet behind the muckraking there was an unpleasant, if concealed, reality. After 1918, as he rose to journalistic stardom across Europe, Kisch was a committed Communist who secretly served Soviet military intelligence (GRU). His solidarity with Moscow was unshakable, as he was every bit as credulous about the Kremlin as he was incredulous about everything else,  and while he reported on all sorts of scandals that put “bourgeois society” in a bad light, he was taking GRU orders. Kisch’s allegiances were an open secret in certain circles and even some committed Leftists found his stock line, “I am Stalin’s soldier,” hard to swallow. Through the Ukrainian genocide-famine, the Purges, all the worst Stalinist excesses, Kisch was a deeply devoted Soviet agent while posing as a truth-teller to his Western readers. His devoted service to one of the most murderous regimes in history notwithstanding, there is an Egon Erwin Kisch Prize for journalists in Germany today.

American journalism, too, had “secret soldiers of Stalin” in its ranks, and there were more than a handful. In a case I was involved in decades after the fact, back in the 1940s one of the most prominent members of the U.S. journalistic scene was, we discovered much later thanks to information derived from KGB sources, also a devoted secret Communist. He was so overtly pro-Stalin that it creeped out his fellow-traveling friends, and during World War II he apparently passed U.S. classified information to the Soviets. However, by the late 1940s, he had a change of heart and over time became a committed anti-Communist, which was not uncommon back then. Moreover, there was nothing to be done with the case, as we learned of his treason decades after the event, which was mitigated by the reality that he abandoned the Moscow Line early in the Cold War, and he was dead to boot. It’s an interesting file that some researcher will make an intriguing “footnote to history” out of decades hence, once it’s been declassified and released to the archives.

The most notorious case, however, is that of I.F. Stone, Izzy to his legions of admirers on the Left, who cultivated the image of the muckraking journalist for truth pitch-perfectly for decades. It was a fraud. Inconveniently, he was an agent of Soviet intelligence in the late 1930s, at the height of Stalin’s purges, and maintained some sort of witting relationship with the KGB to 1956, when he broke with Moscow – later than many – over the invasion of Hungary. KGB efforts to reestablish their relationship with the elderly Stone, an “old master” in Chekist parlance, in 1968 were not successful. The extent to which Soviet connections influenced Stone’s “daring” reporting must remain an open question, but the vehement efforts of his defenders to deny his ties to the Soviet secret police are thoroughly debunked here.

Needless to add, there is an “Izzy Prize” to reward “special achievement in independent media” in honor of I.F. Stone. Its inaugural winner was Glenn Greenwald, who along with Jeremy Scahill was recently named to the “I.F. Stone Hall of Fame.”

For too many decades, among too many Western investigative journalists, secret loyalty to the Kremlin has been more a feature than a bug. As we enter a Second Cold War of the Kremlin’s creation, it’s time to face up to this reality and start asking about the real motivations of “truth tellers” who like to criticize the West while dodging negative comments about Moscow.

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