Who’s Afraid of I.F. Stone?
D. D. Guttenplan is the author of I.F. Stone: American Radical (Farrar, Giroux & Strauss, June 2009). He is also the author of The Holocaust on Trial: History, Justice and the David Irving Libel Case. He is the London correspondent of The Nation.
Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “McCarthyism.” At the invitation of the Woodrow Wilson Center I flew to Washington in late May to participate in a conference on Alexander Vassiliev’s notebooks. Vassiliev is a former KGB officer who, back in the 1990s, was allowed access to secret Soviet archives as part of a deal between American publishers and the KGB pension fund. (Yeltsin was in power, Russia was broke, nobody had time to debate the morality of helping Rosa Klebb to a cushy retirement.) I’d met Vassiliev in 2003, when he sued a critic of his first book, The Haunted Wood, for libel here in London. Although British libel laws heavily favor the plaintiff, Vassiliev lost his suit and promptly dropped out of sight without ever paying the winning side’s costs, only to reappear as the co-author of a new book, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, also based on his notes.
I didn’t expect a red carpet. The most headline-grabbing claim in the book is that I.F. Stone, the legendary investigative journalist, “consciously cooperated with Soviet intelligence from 1936 through 1938—that is to say he was a Soviet spy.” As Stone’s biographer I knew the charge to be nonsense—and had explained why, at great length, in a review published before the conference. Indeed the likelihood of fireworks prompted me to email the organizers beforehand to clarify the rules of engagement. In response I was promised “everybody, including you, will sit in around one big (horseshoe like) roundtable and will be part of the discussion.” When I pointed out that the featured speakers ran the gamut from conservative to far-right, I was assured that wouldn’t matter since they had been told “to keep their initial presentations to 10-15 minutes so that we can quickly get to discussion.” Christian Ostermann, director of History and Public Policy Programs at the Wilson Center, offered to “alert the … chair” of any matter I was interested in “and make sure they call on you.”
The limits of this approach became apparent during the opening panel, when Vassiliev flatly refused to answer any questions about how he financed his research, how he’d supported himself since losing his libel case, or even how much he was being paid for access to his notebooks. One of his co-authors did say that the conservative Smith-Richardson Foundation, which financed the translation of Vassiliev’s notes, was also helping to defray the costs of the conference. And Amy Knight, an independent scholar who had obtained tapes of Vassliev’s trial testimony, pointed out that his account of note taking under oath in 2003 is very different from the process described in Spies. (See Amy Knight, “Leonard?” The TLS, June 26, 2009, pp. 8-9.) But with the audience almost as much of a stacked deck as the participants there was little interest in pursuing the matter. Instead we were all expected to take the notebooks’ authenticity on faith. For the Wilson Center, a publicly-funded, Congressionally founded institution, such partiality was surprising.
After all, even if genuine, all the notebooks really showed was that in 1936, when Stone was by his own admission an enthusiastic fellow-traveller, he was willing to talk to someone he might (or might not) have known was connected to Soviet intelligence as part of an effort to oppose Fascism. The notebooks record a total of two (2) conversations supposedly involving Stone—one disclosing a potential economic motive for publisher William Randolph Hearst’s public embrace of Adolf Hitler; the other regarding a possible contact with the anti-Fascist underground for William A. Dodd, Jr., son of the American ambassador to Berlin. Neither involve the transmission of classified information—even Vassiliev admitted he thought the use of the word “spy” was a mistake. Nor, as I planned to say in my statement during the panel devoted to Stone, was either of these “disclosures” front page news.
Only I never got that far. Instead, after listening to a tedious resume of every charge ever made against Stone for well over half an hour—and sitting through four speakers who together spoke for 90 minutes--I raised my hand. The chair, G. Edward White, a law professor and author of a speculative book about Alger Hiss, called on me. But I didn’t even get halfway into a five minute statement objecting to the way the authors of Spies collapsed the spectrum from unwitting source to witting source to unwitting agent to witting agent to spy when White told me to wrap it up. “I’m sorry,” I replied, “but I’ll need five minutes.” Pointing out that I had been invited to speak, I tried to question the way the authors handled the evidence regarding Stone—omitting exculpatory facts, assuming that just because a KGB official in Moscow says something should be done, it was done, and leaving out any historical context that ran counter to their thesis—when White cut off my microphone.
I can’t honestly remember whether it was at this point—or later in the afternoon, at the very end of the conference, when most of those with a particular interest in I.F. Stone had already left, and the organizers allowed me three minutes to race through my statement--that I resorted to the M-word. But if you’re interested, you can watch the whole sordid charade on the Wilson Center’s website. My bit comes on at 1:39.00 and ends at 1:40:58.
Twenty years after his death I.F. Stone still seems to provoke a curious frenzy in his opponents. J. Edgar Hoover tapped Stone’s phone, read his mail, and had agents sift through his garbage in a vain effort to tar this independent radical as a Soviet stooge. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he remains a hate figure for the right—and a target for all of those threatened by a radicalism firmly rooted—as his was—in American soil.
I.F. Stone began his journalistic career in 1922 at the age of 14 with an article in a self-published newspaper praising the Woodrow Wilson Foundation as a fitting memorial to a great man, and though he changed his mind about many things, he remained an admirer of Wilson, whom he described as “one of my heroes,” to the end of his life. That the Wilson Center would lend its imprimatur to those who, for the sake of publicity, would make sensational charges without any corroborating evidence beyond the say-so of a washed-up former spy, even to the point of destroying a man’s reputation, strikes me as beyond irony. So although, with time to reflect, I might have come up with a better word to describe the atmosphere at the Wilson Center than McCarthyism, then again, maybe not.
I appreciate the opportunity to respond to some of the assertions made by Mr. Guttenplan. In May 2009, the Wilson Center held a conference to mark the public release of Alexander Vassiliev's notebooks and to stimulate discussion of their significance for intelligence and Cold War historiography. For nearly two decades, the Center has run a special effort to make publicly accessible new sources, new documentation and new findings on the Cold War, particularly from formerly closed communist archives in Russia, East/Central Europe, and China, with the goal of enriching scholarship, allowing scholars and the public alike to scrutinize the new evidence, and facilitating initial scholarly discussion.
In addition to publishing historical materials and disseminating them at no charge to the public, the Center provides an open and non-partisan forum for the discussion of important new evidence, findings and publications. In recent years the Center has held close to one hundred panels, book discussions, workshops and conferences on a broad range of subjects relating to international history and involving a diverse spectrum of speakers. A full listing of these events can be found on the Center's website, www.wilsoncenter.org .
The Center aims to be as broadly inclusive as possible and does not take a position on any of the new evidence or publications featured at our events. The Center receives funding for its activities from foundations and other donors across a broad political spectrum. A full list can be found in the Center's Annual Report.
As is the case with other significant sets of materials, the Vassiliev Notebooks require and deserve close scrutiny and vigorous, public discussion on questions related to their authenticity and implications for our understanding of the Cold War. As a public service, the Center posted the Vassiliev Notebooks online in their original form, in transcription and in translation. (It is our understanding that the original notebooks will be deposited at the Library of Congress and accessible for research.)
The online publication of the notebooks was done several weeks prior to the conference in order to allow conference participants to peruse the materials. Anyone interested in the matter now has the opportunity to review the original materials, rather than rely on citations or excerpts in new scholarship (or old) based on the notebooks, including the recent book by John Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. We are pleased that the publication of the Vassiliev Notebooks has sparked immense interest and already generated discussion in a variety of scholarly and public fora.
The Center also invited the authors who contributed to a special issue of the respected peer reviewed Harvard Journal of Cold War Studies on "Soviet Espionage in the United States during the Stalin Era" (No 11:3, Summer 2009) to provide first assessments of the notebooks. (The papers are accessible here. The Journal's editor has invited readers to submit comments on the articles for publication.)
In addition, the Center asked leading scholars from a broad range of backgrounds to comment on the presentations. Several of the commentators at the conference, including Bruce Craig, University of Prince Edward Island; Ronald Radosh, Emeritus, City University of New York; and Katherine A.S. Sibley, St. Joseph's University, are featured in an H-Diplo (H-Net) online discussion. It is worth noting that only one of the fifteen presentations dealt specifically with I.F. Stone.
Contrary to Mr Guttenplan's assertion that the audience was a "stacked deck," this conference (like the vast majority of Wilson Center events) was open to the public and well publicized via CWIHP's website and e-Newsletter, the Wilson Center's monthly Centerpoint newsletter, press releases, and other means. Invitations thus went out to thousands of people. The outreach efforts generated interest in the event from as far away as New Zealand. The Center made every effort to ensure that anyone with an interest in the topic knew that they were free to attend and participate in the discussion. There was no effort (and it would have been impossible) to handpick the audience of about 60-70 people.
We were delighted that Mr Guttenplan could join us for the conference, but I would like to correct the impression that he flew to Washington exclusively at the invitation of the Wilson Center. Mr. Guttenplan contacted the Center in early March to propose his participation in the conference, explaining “that I was planning to come to the US the following week in advance of the launch of my book,” and that “I can probably change my ticket without too much trouble” (March 9, 2009, Guttenplan email). He acknowledged shortly thereafter that he had “just invited myself.” To assure that Mr. Guttenplan felt welcome, we sent him a personal invitation to attend the meeting.
Mr. Guttenplan was also concerned about the “rules of engagement,” specifically a format consisting of “a panel with a very limited opportunity for ‘audience participation,’ with the audience seated below a stage, and a very clear hierarchy of opinions and expertise, etc.” (April 30, 2009 Guttenplan email.) We reassured him that in order to encourage discussion at the meeting, the audience would not be seated auditorium-style, but along with the panelists around a set of conference tables. We also urged speakers to limit their remarks so that additional perspectives could be included through questions and comments by the audience. While I encouraged Mr. Guttenplan to participate in the discussion, I also cautioned him that “We are really intent on making this as broad a discussion as possible, which means that everybody will have to be considerate and avoid monopolizing the microphone.” (April 30, 2009 response to Guttenplan.) In the spirit of including as many perspectives as possible, the organizers even assisted Mr. Guttenplan in making available his review of Spies to other conference participants.
The Center, as I emphasized in my remarks at the outset of the conference, does not take a position on any interpretation of the notebooks, or on the notebooks themselves. Through its various activities, the Center has provided a forum for their scholarly discussion. As an example, in addition to the conference, the Center's Wilson Quarterly published a rather critical review of Spies in its most recent issue.
In my opening remarks I went on to caution that the notebooks are a complex and difficult source, pointing out that as long as the KGB archives remain closed, caution is warranted as we look at these new sources, and we needed to keep their limitations very much in mind.
Mr. Guttenplan himself is on record for commending the scholarly nature of discussion at the conference. As a member of the audience, Mr. Guttenplan was recognized on at least three occasions by three different chairs to pose a question or comment—during session one between 1:42:45 and 1:50:06, during session two between 1:38:59 and 1:42:50, and finally, for six minutes, during session three from 2:18:29 to 2:24:43. At one point he was interrupted after reading for several minutes from a prepared statement, but he was given time at a later stage to complete his presentation.
Over the course of the conference, Mr. Guttenplan spoke for a total of more than 12 minutes -- more than many others in the packed conference room.
The Wilson Center is committed to maintaining a neutral forum for free, open, and informed dialogue and it commemorates the ideals and concerns of Woodrow Wilson by providing a link between the world of ideas and the world of policy.
Let’s cut to the chase here. The Wilson Center’s past record as a scholarly institution is not in dispute. Nor are the “backgrounds” of the scholars invited to comment, though if Mr. Ostermann thinks that one white woman and fourteen white men represent “a broad range of backgrounds” perhaps he ought to get out more.
There is also no dispute about how I came to be invited to participate. On March 9, 2009 I emailed Mr. Ostermann as follows:
Dear Christian Ostermann,
I'm writing to suggest you invite me to the conference on Vassiliev's notebooks that the Wilson Center is organizing in May. For one thing, my biography of I.F. Stone, American Radical, will be published by Farrar Straus in June and contains an extensive discussion of the various allegations concerning Stone and the KGB. Indeed I think you will find that any historical discussion of this affair will rely, at least in part, on the reporting I did on this topic for the Nation beginning in 1992. (D.D. Guttenplan, “Izzy an Agent?,” The Nation, August 3/10, 1992, pp. 124-125 and “Stone Unturned,” The Nation, September 28, 1992, pp. 312-313.)
It hasn't escaped my notice that your existing lineup of commentators is extremely skewed. Perhaps the Wilson Center prefers it that way. But if not I look forward to hearing from you. Apart from my interest in Stone, I also attended the whole of Vassiliev's 2003 libel trial here in London (I've written extensively on the British libel laws for Index on Censorship, the Nation, The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly) and could perhaps give your conferees an independent perspective on those proceedings.
with best wishes,
Here is his reply:
I would be delighted of you could join us for what is envisioned as a series of roundtable discussions involving all participants, and I would much appreciate having your perspective at the conference. We will not have major speeches but brief introductions that should allow plenty of time for discussion and interjections by everyone. Also, by all means feel free to bring flyers of your book along, and if you'd like us to reproduce your Nation articles for the participants, feel free to send me copies. We want as broad a discussion as possible.
I then received what looked like a boilerplate invitation, and wrote back:
Thanks so much for your kind invitation. I'd very much like to come. Do you need a definite commitment from me? If so, by what date? And (pardon me for being so bold, having just invited myself) is there any provision for travel expenses for participants? I was planning to come to the US the following week in advance of the launch of my book, and while I can probably change my ticket without too much trouble it will mean staying nearly an extra week....
with best wishes,
To which I received the following response:
We have next to now money for this event, so the only thing I could do is to have your partake in lunch and otherwise make it worth your while by helping spread the word about the book. If my assistant's tight budgeting is successful and we have any funds left, I will have it go your way. But I just can't promise. When will copies of your book be available?
Now that the record is completely clear, perhaps we can move on to what remains shocking about the conduct of an institution claiming to be “a neutral forum for free, open, and informed dialogue.” First there is the matter of lending institutional endorsement to documents with such a dodgy provenance. I have never claimed, either in my review of Spies or in my remarks at the Wilson Center, that the Vassiliev Notebooks were a forgery. However as Vassiliev himself remarked at one point, it would have been a simple matter for him to insert a sentence or two of disinformation into otherwise genuine material. (Indeed this was standard practice among Vassiliev’s colleagues in the First Chief Directorate of the KGB. It is also perhaps worth noting that the identification of the Soviet source “Blin” as I.F. Stone depends on precisely one handwritten line in Vassiliev’s 1100 pages.) What I did say is that with no independent recourse to Vassiliev’s primary sources, his own credibility and motivation are indeed at issue. That I was permitted to point out Vassiliev is still under an outstanding libel judgment in Britain, and allowed to ask how he managed to support himself since that judgment—and how much he was paid, and by whom, for making his notebooks available to Haynes and Klehr—is hardly cause for self-congratulation on Mr. Ostermann’s part. Apart from Harvey Klehr’s admission that the conference itself was partly financed by the Smith Richardson foundation, these questions still remain unanswered.
Making the notebooks available online is probably better than keeping them secret, though it should also be noted that given the widespread criticism of Allen Weinstein for keeping his source material (including Vassiliev’s first draft of The Haunted Wood) locked up for so long, the authors had little choice if they wanted to be taken seriously. But by lending its web site and institutional imprimatur to this material the Wilson Center have once again tipped the balance from scrutiny to credulity. Would Mr. Ostermann seriously claim that posting, say, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on a website is a neutral act? Or that a single critical response to such a posting, in the context of overwhelming endorsement, would be anything other than a fig leaf?
It’s true that only one of the papers was specifically about I.F. Stone. But it is precisely the charges against I.F. Stone—and the spurious certainty with which they are delivered—that allow the authors of Spies to pretend to be offering anything more than a warmed-over reprise of The Haunted Wood. Why else would Haynes and Klehr choose the Stone material for their curtain raiser in Commentary ? It may suit them to claim my criticisms are part of some hagiographical devotion to Stone’s legacy—though most of American Radical’s reviewers have felt otherwise. But Mr. Ostermann really ought to know better. I focused on the Vassiliev material’s shortcomings regarding Stone because, as someone who knew the context, they were obvious to me. Bruce Craig—the one officially sanctioned skeptic among the 15 papers--made many of the same points regarding Harry Dexter White. But anyone interested in a genuinely informed discussion would have invited participants with similar expertise concerning Lauchlin Currie, Alger Hiss, or indeed J. Robert Oppenheimer—precisely the observation I was about to make when White cut me off.
Mr. Ostermann says I am on the record as “commending the scholarly nature of the discussion.” Readers who take the trouble to follow the link will realize that what I was actually commending was the session devoted to Atomic Espionage, which was indeed a fairly civilized debate, owing partly to Ron Radosh’s far more tolerant regime as chair (my unrequited fondness for Radosh is a matter of public record) and more importantly to Barton Bernstein’s insistence that Martin Sherwin, whom he knew disagreed with his views, be given time to reply despite not having been included on the program. If G. Edward White had shown a fraction of Bernstein’s scholarly decency I would indeed have no ground for personal complaint.
But this really isn’t personal, and Mr. Ostermann’s efforts to suggest otherwise are perhaps the best indication that he just doesn’t get it. To put it bluntly, this is about a great institution getting snookered. That neither Mr. Ostermann nor the Wilson Center are yet willing to recognize how they have been used is perhaps the saddest commentary on the whole affair.
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art eckstein - 7/29/2009
I read the Commentary article, and the evidence is as Professor Klehr says. It looks iron-clad to me.
John Earl Haynes - 7/29/2009
I have several observations about D.D. Guttenplan’s distortions, mistakes, assorted innuendoes, and drama queen histrionics.
First, while he is central to Mr. Guttenplan’s universe, I.F. Stone has only a minor part in the story of KGB activities and networks in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s detailed in Klehr and my book SPIES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE KGB IN AMERICA. Most of the references to him in our book are in passing, and the totality of his activities take up only six pages out of 548 pages of text. Nor is Guttenplan claim that we “choose the Stone material for their curtain raiser in COMMENTARY” accurate. The curtain raiser was an article in the NEW YORK TIMES (18 January 2009) by Sam Roberts that discussed the book’s identification of Russell McNutt as an hitherto unknown Soviet atomic spy who had been recruited by Julius Rosenberg as well as discussing what SPIES had to say of Hiss and Oppenheimer. That story didn’t even mention Stone (possibly why Guttenplan knows nothing of it). Nor was Stone the central topic of the Wilson Center conference. There were three panels and nine papers delivered at the conference, and only one of the papers was on I.F. Stone. But Stone is an obsession with Mr. Guttenplan, and he attempted to divert the entire conference to his monomania.
In any event, the evidence that Soviet intelligence covertly recruited I.F. Stone in 1936 and that he functioned as a KGB agent until the end of 1938 is entirely convincing, as we detail in SPIES, and those interested in the matter can check out footnotes to get the particular page references to the Vassiliev notebooks download able from the web at cwihp.org. Further, while we give Stone only six pages, we suggest serious researchers review Max Holland’s JOURNAL OF COLD WAR STUDIES article (free for downloading) at: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/jcws.2009.11.3.144 . Holland’s sixty-two page essay is far more of problem for Stone hadn’t than our brief discussion. Not surprisingly, Guttenplan pretends that Holland’s essay (presented as a paper at the conference Guttenplan attended) doesn’t exist.
Second In his essay in THE NATION, attacking SPIES and the Vassiliev notebooks, Guttenplan also ostentatiously thanked Victor Navasky and Moscow historian/propagandist Svetlana Chervonnaya for their assistance. These acknowledgments warrant two comments.
Navasky, former editor and publisher of THE NATION and currently a professor at Vsn Columbia University and chair of the COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW, has long been a leading champion of Alger Hiss’s innocence, perhaps the most prominent figure in the dwindling band of Hiss supporters. In 2007, Navasky gave the keynote speech at a New York University conference devoted to defending Hiss. Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya authored the chief paper presented at the conference. The Bird-Chervonnaya paper, later an article in THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR, purported to show that the Soviet spy “Ales” in Venona wasn’t Hiss and was actually Wilder Foote, a close aide to Secretary of State Edward Stettinius. Navasky was described as “bursting with enthusiasm” for the Bird-Chervonnaya thesis that Foote was the real spy. [Ron Rosenbaum, “Alger Hiss Rides Again,” Slate, 16 July 2007] Guttenplan also makes favorable reference to their article in his essay. As we pointed out at the time and repeat in SPIES, and as the late Eduard Mark definitely demonstrated in his article [cited above], the Foote thesis is a fantasy and “Ales” was, indeed, Alger Hiss.
Guttenplan appears to be clueless about the damage he does to his own cause by bringing up the Bird-Chervonnaya essay. The key document upon which Bird and Chervonnaya base their argument, and which they insist is authoritative and accurate, is a 1945 two-page cable written by Anatoly Gorsky, the KGB’s Washington station chief. It is not actually an individual document from KGB archives but photocopied pages from Vassiliev’s notebooks. Guttenplan, who spent much of his article in THE NATION, here in HISTORY NEWS NETWORK, and in his narcissistic histrionics at the Wilson Center in an effort to discredit the authenticity of the notebooks, has unknowingly endorsed the reliability of the notebooks, that is, when he and his allies perceived it suited his purposes.
Another inadvertent endorsement came from Chervonnaya during the conference at the Wilson Center. Someone distributed a paper by the Russian researcher, who now runs a website, DocumentsTalk.com, dedicated to “re-examining the documentary evidence” and “going beyond the American post-Cold War consensus” on the controversial spy cases. (The website is underwritten, perhaps entirely, by THE NATION INSTITUTE, the grant-making affiliate of the magazine). The paper, entitled “Vassiliev’s Notes on Pavlov Orientation: A Comparison,” painstakingly compared a 1942 memo written by a KGB officer named Vitaly Pavlov with the same memo as summarized in Vassiliev notebooks. At the same time hard copies were distributed, the paper was posted on DocumentsTalk.com.
Chervonnaya’s paper, while exaggerating the historical importance of this one memo, reflected her pride in making the entire document available as opposed to a handwritten summary. The full text certainly conveyed more information and is preferable to any summary. But what Chervonnaya seems not to have noticed is that rather than undercut Vassiliev, the essay confirms the fidelity of his note-taking and his no less important ability to get down the gist of a useful document. Vassiliev’s summary is entirely accurate, and includes all the key points from the 1942 Pavlov memo. If anything, Chervonnaya’s comparison tends to authenticate the provenance and reliability of Vassiliev’s notebooks. This cannot be what the remaining defenders of Hiss want. It is likely that THE NATION and Hiss defenders have assigned Chervonnaya, Bird, and their accusations against Wilder Foote to Orwell’s memory hole.
Harvey Klehr - 7/29/2009
Mr. Dresner might look at the article Haynes and I wrote for Commentary http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewArticle.cfm?id=15120.
Briefly put, there is a KGB memo identifying Stone, then known as Feinstein, as "Blin" and indicating its interest in recruiting him. Another memo notes that relations with "Blin" had entered the phase of "normal operational work." Other memos documented his low-level assistance in identifying other candidates for recruitment, serving as a courier for another Solviet source and passing along low-level political and journalistic gossip. A final 1939 memo from the NY KGB residency listed him among the station's agents. The Russian word used in the memo for agents is defined in a KGB lexicon prepared by the KGB's former archivist as someone consciously assiting Soviet intelligence.
Jonathan Dresner - 7/29/2009
It would be tiresome to once again go over the evidence that Stone cooperated with Soviet intelligence.
Actually, it would be entirely on point, and very helpful to those of us who haven't spent our careers on these subjects.
Harvey Klehr - 7/29/2009
Don Guttenplan repeats many of the baseless charges and nasty innuendoes he has been tirelessly circulating ever since Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America appeared. No doubt it is disconcerting to devote nearly twenty years to a biography of IF Stone and discover just as it hits the bookstores that there is clear and convincing evidence that your subject, despite your denials, worked for Soviet intelligence. Instead of confronting that evidence honestly, Guttenplan decided to smear the authors/messengers and label their evidence fraudulent.
It would be tiresome to once again go over the evidence that Stone cooperated with Soviet intelligence. Guttenplan's mantra is that "of course" Stone could not have been a source. But his own evidence and his book shows that in the 1930s Stone was besotted by the Soviet Union and desparate to do anything he could to fight fascism. Guttenplan even suggests Stone was about to join the CPUSA in the summer of 1939. Why, then, is it so unbelievable that he acted on his beliefs? Particularly when several KGB documents make it crystal clear that de did so? If Vassiliev's notebooks had repeated that Stone is the agent code-named "Blin" twenty times instead of once, then Guttenplan would in all liklihood be highly suspicious. So how many times was Vassiliev supposed to note that Stone was "Blin" before Guttenplan's suspicions are not aroused? Is three a more appropriate number? Is nine too much?
On another matter, Guttenplan is exercised about the funding for our project and the Wilson Center Conference. His great bugaboo is the Smith Richardson Foundation, which he labels as "ultra-right." The Smith Richardson Foundation gave Haynes and myself a grant to cover the costs of translation. There is no "right-wing" or "left-wing" translation and, in any case, we made the original Russian language version of Vassiliev's notebooks available on the Wilson Center website, with the enthusiastic agreement of the Foundation. There was a small balance left in the grant and Smith Richardson graciously agreed to allow us to use it to partially fund the conference. It never asked us who the Center was going to invite.
If I wanted to play tit for tat, I would ask Guttenplan to reveal all the sources of funding over the nearly two decades it took for him to research and write or his biography of Stone or demand that NYU reveal everyone who contributed to its conference on Alger Hiss two years ago. Several years ago Ellen Schrecker launched a similar charge against one of our earlier books. We noted that we had publicly revealed our sources of funding and wondered why, if "conservative" foundation support somehow rendered our work illegitimate, her publicly acknowledged support from the Rabinowitz Foundation, funded by a long-time secret Communist, on whose board sat two men later identified as Soviet agents, was somehow appropriate. The Smith Richardson Foundation performed a public service by funding this translation. Just as Guttenplan's work should be judged on its merits, so too should ours.
The other source of funding for the conference was a research fund attached to my endowed chair at Emory University. Since I hold the Andrew Mellon Chair, I suppose Guttenplan will sniff out an effort by the Steel Trust to bend scholarship to its wishes. And, it is worth noting that the two biggest expenses for commentators were to bring Barton Bernstein from California and Bruce Craig from Halifax. Neither one was uncritical, although, unlike Guttenplan, neither engaged in ad hominem attacks or smarmy accusations.
Any reader who doubts the last statement should consider Guttenplan's odious comparison of Vassiliev's notebooks with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He does not have one shred of proof that the notebooks are forgeries. There is a mountain of evidence that they are genuine. That he is so reckless says volumes about his judgement and his ethics.
Myra MacPherson - 7/29/2009
From Myra MacPherson: In the light of what has been written, I am including my correspondence regarding the Wilson Center commitment to me as well. I am the author of the award-winning biography “All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone” [Scribner, 2006, paperback 2008). As the major biographer of Stone at the time and having received prominent reviews--including in the Woodrow Wilson Institute’s very own Quarterly-- it seemed logical that I might have been apprised of this seminar if there was any concern for balance on such a controversial subject. I had extensively covered the Venona files and earlier works by Haynes-Klehr regarding Stone. I felt their new book, which would be the topic of one panel, exceedingly thin regarding evidence to back up their incendiary charges that Stone was a spy. After hearing about the seminar from another source, I wrote to Mr. Ostermann and asked permission to attend. I was assured, as his assistant e-mailed me: “Your in-depth knowledge of I.F. Stone will contribute a great deal to the conference both in terms of scholarly content and also by ensuring that the discourse on I.F. Stone is well-balanced; this is why Christian chose to invite you.”
I was astonished at the one-sided presentation. Nor was there any attempt made to provide time for a long discussion after, as I had been told. After Don was cut off I attempted to be acknowledged (not an easy task as the moderator settled on those closer to the panel ).Now knowing I had but one minute, I hurriedly attempted to relay several points and was told my time was up even as I was in mid-sentence. There was an air of total indifference to differing points of view and no attempt to allow for honest debate. If you care to know what I would have said, here is a link to the Huffington Post piece that ran following the conference—along with a note I sent to Mr. Ostermann following the affair. “Dear Mr. Oystermann, .I attended the second day and was rather surprised that this was such a one-sided seminar with no chance to respond except very briefly and it was very difficult to get the moderator's attention to even comment slightly. Here is the piece I then wrote for the Huffington Post. As I have so admired your work at the Institute this lack of discourse in which there was no chance to defend I.F. Stone against thin evidence was disappointing. Thank you, Myra MacPherson”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/myra-macpherson/review-ispies-the-rise-an_b_208731.html#comments
My total correspondence with the Woodrow Wilson Institute follows.
From: MYRAM@att.net MacPherson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, Apr 9, 2009 at 8:40 PM
Subject: Fwd: Panel
To: Christian.Ostermann@wilsoncenter.org From: MYRAM@att.net MacPherson <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, Apr 9, 2009 at 8:40 PM
Subject: Fwd: Panel
Dear Christian Ostermann- I am a biographer of an award winning book on I.F. Stone--"All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone." [2006 Scribner, 2007 paperback.] My research was greatly enhanced by the reports of the Woodrow Wilson Cold War project and I think the Institute is providing tremendous depth and balance to the on-going discussions of the Cold War. I read with interest the Vassiliev pages on Stone and think that there are some alternative concepts to add to your panel. For example, I detailed the verbatim quotes from J. David Stern, the publisher of the New York Post regarding the firing of Stone and it had nothing to do with, as the new book alleges, Stone's views on Russia; rather it was a dust up over an editorial Stone wrote regarding the New York transit system. While I repeatedly criticized Stone's sometimes blind eye on Russia, and report that Stone referred to himself as a former "fellow traveler" (during the Popular Front era that the Vassiliev information refers to) I feel that the contextual time lines are important as to why Stone may have "cooperated" with Russia. (Far less than did Walter Lippmann, for example.) I also published a private taped interview with Todd Gitlin that contains Stone’s own explanation of his stance at that time. I also used many examples of Stone's writing to illustrate his private and public criticisms of Stalin well before he visited Russia in 1956. An interesting exchange between Stone and a heckler during a speech ended with Stone challenging him: "So who were you for during that time, Hitler?" Like many, Stone saw only a choice in the '30's between European fascism or communism. An often repeated comment by Paul Berman in his New York Times review of my book is, again, completely out of context and casts a very bad light on Stone's reportage. Berman observed that Stone admitted writing untruths--without explaining what Stone was referring to--and implying that this was a long time practice in his life's work, especially regarding Russia. As I clearly wrote, Stone's comment addressed only one watershed moment in history, the Spanish Civil War, when one could not find any balance in American coverage that either sided with the Fascists or the Communists.
If possible I would like to be included in your May panel discussion. Best wishes, Myra MacPherson
On Mon, Apr 13, 2009 at 9:06 AM, Christian Ostermann <Christian.Ostermann@wilsoncenter.org> wrote:
Dear Ms MacPherson,
Thanks for your note. We would be delighted to welcome you to the conference, designed as a larger roundtable discussion that we hope will give a broad spectrum of opinions on the Vasiliev materials and their implications. We hope to have the Vasilev notes up and accessible on our website a few weeks before the conference. My assistant Tim McDonnell will send you and updated agenda a bit close to the conference.
Look forward to welcoming you to the Wilson Center.
Christian F. Ostermann
Director, European Studies Program
Director, History & Public Policy Program
Woodrow Wilson Center
Date: Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 7:33 PM
Subject: Re: Alexander Vassiliev's notebooks--now available online
To: Timothy McDonnell <Timothy.McDonnell@wilsoncenter.org>
Have I been invited as a member of the audience or as a participant?
On Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 7:58 PM, Timothy McDonnell <Timothy.McDonnell@wilsoncenter.org> wrote:
Dear Ms. MacPherson,
We hope to be able to devote a solid hour+ to discussion in each panel, and these discussions--as is our custom here at the Wilson Center--will involve genuine give and take among the panelists, discussants, and audience members.
Your in-depth knowledge of I.F. Stone will contribute a great deal to the conference both in terms of scholarly content and also by ensuring that the discourse on I.F. Stone is well-balanced; this is why Christian chose to invite you.
Jefferson Flanders - 7/28/2009
I attended much of the Wilson Center conference on the Vassiliev notebooks and, contrary to Don Guttenplan, found it a balanced consideration of new scholarship on Soviet Cold War espionage.
Since the Cold War International History Project focuses on “new findings from previously inaccessible sources on ‘the other side’ -- the former Communist world” it’s hard to imagine a gathering more in keeping with its stated mission.
There was no suppression of dissenting viewpoints at the conference. Guttenplan and Myra MacPherson, another of I.F. Stone’s biographers, challenged the conclusions reached by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Vassiliev about I.F. Stone’s involvement with the KGB in the 1930s, and I can't imagine anyone left the conference unaware of that fact.
Guttenplan characterized the speakers as running “the gamut from conservative to far-right,” a characterization which I am sure would be disputed by many of the panelists—for example, I doubt that Max Holland, contributing editor at The Nation, or R. Bruce Craig, author of “Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case” would accept that designation. Further, the list of those attending included foreign and domestic historians, journalists, government officials, Cold War scholars, and some attendees from the intelligence community as well as a sprinkling of history buffs.
Funny thing, but I didn’t encounter any McCarthyites there. As one whose Yankee relative (Senator Ralph Flanders of Vermont) introduced the resolution that would eventually lead to McCarthy’s censure, I think I can spot ‘em.
John Earl Haynes - 7/28/2009
David Lowenthal’s current skepticism regarding Vassiliev’s notebooks contrasts sharply with his use on this very site of photocopies of several pages from one of the notebooks to attack the professional competence and personal integrity of Allen Weinstein, whose Perjury had delivered a fatal blow in the eyes of most historians to the view that Alger Hiss had not cooperated with Soviet intelligence. In “Did Allen Weinstein Get the Alger Hiss Story Wrong?” (History News Network, 2 May 2005), Lowenthal evinced no skepticism whatsoever about Vassiliev’s material. Instead, he accepted their authenticity, asserted that they are “troublesome for Weinstein’s scholarly repute” and suggested that the material indicated Weinstein was at least “incompetent” if not worse. Lowenthal claimed that “far from strengthening the case against Hiss, . . . the previously unseen data call into question evidence earlier adduced against him.” Lowenthal concluded that the photocopied document from Vassiliev’s notebooks “a critical piece of evidence” and that it “undermines the thesis that Hiss was a spy at all.”
In another 2005 essay Lowenthal cited several other photocopied pages from Vassiliev’s notebooks to declare that they proved that the Soviet spy “Ales” could not have been Alger Hiss (David Lowenthal and Roger Sandilands, “Eduard Mark on Venona’s ‘Ales’: A Note,” Intelligence and National Security, 20,3 September 2005). Again, Lowenthal accepted the authenticity of Vassiliev’s notes.
What changed between Lowenthal’s embrace of Vassiliev’s material in 2005 and his 2009 skepticism? Chiefly what changed was that in 2005 only a few photocopied pages from the notebooks were public. Today, all 1,115 pages are available, both in the original handwritten Russian and in a skilled translation. Among other points, the complete notebooks shows that the photocopy that Lowenthal used regarding “Ales” was badly made, leaving out one key line at the top of a page, a line that destroyed the argument that “Ales” was not Hiss. When all of the Vassiliev material is examined it adds greatly to the already more than convincing evidence that Hiss covertly assisted Soviet espionage. (See “Alger Hiss: Case Closed” in Spies and Eduard Mark’s “In Re Alger Hiss: A Final Verdict from the Archives of the KGB,” Journal of Cold War Studies 11, no. 3 Summer 2009).
John Earl Haynes
HNN - 7/28/2009
"The [Wilson] Center made every effort to ensure that anyone with an interest in the topic knew that they were free to attend and participate in the discussion," says Christian Ostermann in his response to Don Guttenplan (The Vassiliev Papers: Who's Afraid of I. F. Stone? HNN 7-26-09).
For the record, this assertion does not seem to square with the facts. I for one was not informed of the event by the Center, even though I have written extensively on the topic, had been in frequent email contact with John Earl Haynes, was the first to bring the Notebooks to scholars' attention, and was acknowledged in Alexander Vassiliev's Introduction to SPIES to have triggered his approach to his co-authors and hence to the Notebooks being made publicly available. It is hard to understand my not having been informed except for a fear that my response to the Notebooks' history and interpretation would be skeptical.
jeff kisseloff - 7/27/2009
I was at the conference as well (to defend the reputation of Alger Hiss), and Mr. Guttenplan's assessment is essentially correct(and ultimately, I think even Christian Ostermann wouldn't disagree): the panels were not balanced and that those who disagreed had comparatively very little time to respond. That's really what it boils down to. It was about publicity, not scholarship, and I doubt the conference was one of the Wilson Center's prouder moments.
Randll Reese Besch - 7/27/2009
No evidence that either Hiss or Stone gave away secrets at all. The Rosenbergs were afraid just one country having a super weapon would be too much of a temptation to use it again and again. I can see their logic. Since they had no way of removing the A-bomb and H-Bomb technology from the USA arsenal and destroying it. They paid for what they did in the ultimate.
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 7/27/2009
You don't mention the Commentary Magazine article about Stone, in the issue of May 2009, which is still up on the web.
All the leftists said Alger Hiss was innocent for decades, and likewise the Rosenbergs and Harry Dexter White. For a long while they would not recognize ANY communist spy. Now they quickly change the subject. And why shouldn't they?
The Russians stole every single atomic secret we had, and maintained a very large network of spies in this country, many of them in high government or media jobs. They ran wild in Washington and Hollywood during the FDR and Truman administrations. It could hardly have been any worse.
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