Reed Irvine - Editor
|January B, 1983|
THE NOT SO STRAIGHT AND NARROW
"In-the opinion of my attorneys. The New York Times has seriously libeled me. I have chosen to write this letter rather than to seek legal redress solely because I continue to hold The New York Times in high regard." So wrote Michael Straight in a letter dated January 6. 1983. Which was published by The Times the very next day in an unusual display of alacrity. Whether this was prompted by fear that Mr. Straight might sue or whether this was done from a desire to accommodate a member of the liberal establishment who was formerly deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and publisher and later editor of The New Republic magazine from 1946 to 1956, we do not know.
Michael Straight's angry letter was a response to a column by William Safire published in The New York Times and other papers on January 6. Safire, a former White House speechwriter during the Nixon administration, had contrasted the cases of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the German military intelligence organization under Hitler, and Michael Straight. Hitler executed Canaris as a traitor on charges of having provided American intelligence with information about the development of guided missiles by Germany during World War II. Allen Duties, who headed our intelligence operations in Europe during World War II and who later became the head of the CIA, testified that Canaris and four of his top officers were executed as traitors. Asked if that was a reasonable judgment, Dulles said, "They were traitors in the German sense... "
Safire pointed out that Michael Straight has escaped any such harsh labeling, even though he has acknowledged that in 1937, while a student at Cambridge, he was invited to become a Soviet agent in the United States by a young don, Anthony Blunt. We do not yet know precisely what Mr. Straight's reply to that invitation was. In an article published in The Times on March 26, 1981, Mr. Straight was quoted as saying that he declined the invitation. In a second story by the same reporter, David Binder, that appeared in The Times on December 27, 1982, it came out differently. Mr. Binder wrote: "Mr. Straight did not say no, although he declined the Soviet assignment to enter a Wall Street investment firm."
Safire said that Straight "was recruited by the Cambridge don and Soviet agent, Anthony Blunt" and "was sent home to the U.S. to become a high level 'mole.'" Mr. Straight in his letter responding to Satire did not challenge that description, directing his one "nonsense" and two "utterly false" rejoinders at less serious charges in the Satire column. Mr. Straight has acknowledged that after returning to the United States he periodically met a Soviet agent allegedly known to him only as "Michael Green" from 1938 to 1942. He gave "Green" "his own analyses of political and economic developments" during a period in which he was employed by the Interior Department, State Department, as a speechwriter for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and as an editor for The New Republic, a magazine that his wealthy parents had founded.
Safire was not gratuitously dredging up ancient history in order to make a comparison between Canaris and Straight. Mr. Straight has written a book, which will be published in the spring, titled After Long Silence. He has been talking to sympathetic reporters such as David Binder of The Times. Safire's acid column was perhaps a reaction to the cream-puff treatment Binder had given the Straight story on December 27.
The Straight story first surfaced in March 1981 in Great Britain, where it was revealed that a Confession that Straight had made to the FBI in 1963 had led to the exposure of Sir Anthony Blunt, the Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, as a Soviet agent. Blunt had reportedly confessed when confronted with the information obtained from Michael Straight, but the British government kept the story under wraps until the press broke it in 1981. When the story finally broke, Blunt was forced to resign his post on the Queen's staff, and he was stripped of his knighthood.
Michael Straight also had been protected by the U.S. government from any embarrassment during all those years. Richard Nixon appointed Straight as deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1969. a post he held until 1978. Until publication of the Satire column Straight continued to be reasonably well protected from embarrassment by the media. In his March 26, 1981 article in The Times, David Binder did not reveal that Straight had been a member of the Communist Party when he was at Gambridge. He said that Anthony Blunt had tried to recruit him but that he declined. Nothing was said about meetings with the Soviet agent; "Michael Green." after Straight came to Washington. The story gave the impression that the attempted recruitment was not taken very seriously. Straight told Binder that he had met Blunt and Guy Burgess, another Soviet agent who fled to Moscow in 1951, through a Cambridge intellectual group called "the Apostles." Binder reported: "He said it had not occurred to him to report the initial recruiting attempts until much later."
According to Binder's story, Straight had twice threatened to expose Guy Burgess as a Soviet agent, in 1948 and again in 1951, when he encountered Burgess in Washington. He said that he threatened to expose Burgess unless he quit the British diplomatic service. Burgess fled to Moscow in May 1951, not from any fear that Straight would expose him, but because British intelligence was closing in on him and another Soviet agent in the British diplomatic corps, Donald Maclean. They both slipped away to Moscow. According to Binder, Straight tried to tell the British Embassy what he knew about Burgess after his escape, but "he was turned away.'"
Binder reported that Straight had been offered the post of chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts by President Kennedy in 1963. Binder said that he told Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., then a Kennedy aide, that he could not take the job and "then told of the Soviet recruitment efforts." He said that Mr. Schlesinger sent Straight to the FBI, where he gave "an exhaustive account of the affair." The FBI reported his disclosures to the British, and Straight himself went to London to talk to the authorities there.
This rather modest story, carried on page 3 of The Times, gave the impression that Michael Straight had been approached more or less out of the blue to become a Soviet agent, had spurned the request and had not thought much of it until 16 years later when he chanced to mention it to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. on the occasion of his declining a presidential appointment. Schlesinger, recognizing the possible importance of the matter, recommended that he tell his story to the FBI, which he did, with the result that an important Soviet agent was unmasked. Mr. Straight looked almost heroic, although one might have wondered why he himself had not gone to the FBI a great deal sooner.
That is not the way the story' was portrayed in Great Britain. In his second article in The Times on December 27, 1982, David Binder, with the help of Michael Straight, provided additional facts, which knocked off Mr. Straight's halo. But did so gently.
It turns out that Straight was a card-carrying communist during his student days at Cambridge, but the reader is subtly advised not to read anything sinister into that. Straight, we are told, did not subject himself to the "dreary discipline" of the Communist Party or engage in "strict cadre work." "Rather, it was more like an extended college bull session, the Communist cell convening openly in his rooms at Trinity," Binder tells us. To show how undisciplined and lighthearted young Straight was, Binder reports, "Of his green party card he says: 'I threw mine away. I thought it was stupid.'"
Having been invited by Anthony' Blunt to become a Soviet agent in the U.S., Straight does not straight- forwardly decline. As in Binder's earlier version. Now Mr. Binder tells us: "Mr. Straight did not say no. Although he declined the Soviet assignment to enter a Wall Street investment firm." Indeed, we now learn that Mr. Straight, presumably still a member of the Communist Party, even if he had discarded his green card, proceeded to meet periodically in Washington with a man he knew to be a Soviet agent. Mr. Binder suggests that this was "relatively harmless." We are told. Mr. Straight was only "desultorily employed at the State Department, Interior Department and as a presidential speechwriter." Binder neglects to mention that part of this desultory employment was also writing for his family's influential magazine. Binder assures us that Mr. Straight "had no access to classified documents." How he knows that, he does not say. Security in government in those days was even more lax than it is today. He indicates that all Straight gave the Soviet agent was "his own analyses of political and economic developments." Mr. Straight was 22 years old in 1938.
Finally, it turns out that Mr. Straight did not casually dismiss all of this and absent-mindedly forget to tell the FBI about it. Now Mr. Binder tells us, Straight knew by 1946 what he had to do. Straight said, "I started to go to the British," after he encountered Guy Burgess in Washington in 1951 "and realized he was spying for the Russians under the cover of a British embassy post." But he didn't, even though this was during the Korean War, when Americans were being killed in Korea by Stalin's Korean puppets. How Straight knew that Burgess was a Soviet agent, Binder does not tell us. Even Burgess's intimate friends who were not themselves agents did not know that Burgess was working for the Soviets, according to Andrew Boyle's book about the Burgess- Maclean-Philby affair, The Fourth Man.
"I started to go to the CIA," Straight said. But he didn't. He said it "was like standing three feet away from a fire in which somebody is burning.' Straight lacked the will to make a move. He had a first cousin, Tracy Barnes. who was deputy director of the CIA. He invited Barnes to ask him questions about Cambridge, he says, but Barnes was not interested.
Now, it seems, Straight didn't casually bring up his experience with Anthony Blunt with Arthur Schlesinger while declining a presidential appointment. Binder says that Straight sensed that if he took the job his past might he exposed. Therefore he told Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. that he couldn't accept the appointment and explained why. Schlesinger advised him to talk to the FBI, which he did. Binder says that the FBI was not much interested in Straight's contacts with the Soviet agent in Washington, "Michael Green." That is Straight's version. A retired Fill official told AIM that he did not recall Straight mentioning contacts with a Soviet agent in this country, but conceded that his memory might be faulty on that point. It seems improbable that the FB! Would have been uninterested in learning all they could about "Green" and the spy ring that he was running. AIM will try to obtain the Fill file on Straight's interviews under a Freedom of Information Act request.
In his letter to The Times, Michael Straight charged that he had been seriously libeled by William Safire's column. Ignoring the most serious charge, that he had been "sent home to the U.S. to become a high-level 'mole,'" Straight focused on three lesser points made in the Safire column.
1. He said that it was "nonsense" to say as Safire did that Straight's "greatest contribution to the Soviet spy system came in 1951, when he ran into another of Mr. Blunt's recruits, Guy Burgess, in Washington" and instead of turning him in, "simply told the top Soviet agent to stop spying and to go home."
Straights objection is that Safire exaggerated Burgess's importance as a Soviet agent. He says" Burgess was a minor and discredited official with no access to highly sensitive material." He also denies that Burgess had been recruited as a Soviet agent by Anthony Blunt and be says that the year he met him in Washington was 1952, not 1951. Straight is mistaken about the date. Burgess and Donald Maclean fled to the Soviet Union in May 1951. He is also incorrect in saying that Burgess was a minor official with no access to highly sensitive material. That is demonstrated by the fact that Burgess's close friend and fellow Soviet agent, Kim Philby, was the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) representative in Washington. Philby passed to Burgess the information that their fellow spy, Donald Maclean, was scheduled to be questioned on charges of espionage, enabling Burgess to bundle Maclean off to Moscow in the nick of time. One of Burgess'a closest friends, a man who knew him far better than Straight, said Burgess "knew the composition and routines of Britain's security services like the back of his hand through his highly placed friends within." (Andrew Boyle, The Fourth Man, Dial, 1979, p. 336) We can grant that Straight probably knows who recruited Guy Burgess as a Soviet agent. According to Andrew Boyle, Prof. Anthony Blunt converted Burgess to Marxism, but his recruitment as someone else may well have handled an agent.
Straight justifies his long silence about Blunt and Burgess by saying that the information he had about them was "insufficient to provide the basis for prosecution."-That may be true, but the information he provided was an important factor in the extraction of a confession from Anthony Blunt. Straight's information might have helped expose the spy ring many years sooner. Straight himself conceded on the Braden- Buchanan talk show on WRC Radio in Washington that the early exposure of Kim Philby could have saved many lives. Philby tipped off the Soviets to Western covert action operations and brought about the deaths of scores of men involved in them.
2. Referring to Straight's articles denouncing Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Safire said: "How delicious it must have been for a Red under the bed to deride Joe McCarthy for looking for Reds under the bed."
Straight said this was "utterly false." He said: "In my book on McCarthy, Trial by Television, and in editorials in The New Republic, I condemned the Communist Party as a source of subversion and espionage. My criticisms of McCarthy were identical to those made by The New York Times."
In his forthcoming book, Michael Straight will presumably tell us when and why he ceased being a communist and a Soviet agent. His articles on McCarthy, which were subsequently converted into a book, were published in The New Republic in 1954, under the title 'Trial by Television.' They did contain a few derogatory references to communism and to communists. In every case that we found, Straight was comparing McCarthy's "fanaticism' or his "immorality" with those same characteristics in the communists. For example, he wrote: "In the deepest and most classical sense McCarthy was a revolutionary. Like the Communists and the Nazis, he sought to overthrow existing values. Like them he devoured his allies and sought total power. Like them, in his quest for power, he regarded as moral that which advanced his course." That might seem a bit feverish even to critics of McCarthy, since there is no evidence that McCarthy ever aspired to an office more powerful than that of U.S. senator, nor is there any record of the senator having advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government by Force in order to satisfy his alleged lust for power.
What is missing from Straight's signed articles in the issues of The New Republic that we examined is any hint that the infiltration of communist agents into the U.S. government, the media and other American institutions might be a serious problem. This is not to say that Mr. Straight never wrote such an article or editorial. Perhaps he did. But we note that in 1955, he got into an argument with Norman Thomas over the investigation of Prof. Owen Lattimore and communist infiltration and manipulation of the Institute of Pacific Relations by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. Norman Thomas defended the investigation. Describing it as a "model in Congressional investigation." Straight, who knew from personal experience the reality of Soviet exploitation of agents of influence, condemned the investigation because, he said. "Opinion and influence, not conduct or action, were clearly the basic concern of the McCarran Committee." Straight was willing to grant that Norman Thomas was right in saying that Owen Lattimore had "erred in professing na´vetÚ or ignorance" of Communist infiltration of the Institute of Pacific Relations, but he said that was of marginal relevance.
According to David Binder, Michael Straight thinks he bears "the stigma of an informer," but he "heatedly rejects suggestions that he was a 'traitor,' 'spy,' or 'Soviet agent.'" He did not, however, deny Safire's charge that he had been sent back to the U.S. to become "a high-level mole." Having lived in England since age 9, Straight wrote that he had no sense at all that he owed any loyalty to the United States. He could be loyal to causes, he said, but not to nations. He takes pride in the fact that he remained "a political liberal" after ceasing to be a communist. In Trial by Television, he showed contempt for those who had abandoned communism to become militant anti-communists, describing them as "that shabby crowd of informers who camp around Capitol Hill carrying The Cross and the Flag in their pockets and reciting to anyone who pays them increasingly lurid versions of their dull careers in the Communist Party 30 years ago."
Mr. Straight's third and final criticism of Safire's column was a denial of the charge that he made his statement to the FBI in 1963 "strictly to clear his career path." "Utterly false." he says. He refused the appointment before he made his statement. That is, of course. True, but his secret confession nevertheless served to clear his career path six years later when he was finally given the No. 2 job at the National Endowment for the Arts.
Michael Straight, whatever his intentions were, did clear his career path. What he has so far failed to do is to draw upon his personal experience to warn the public that bright young people from the best families, educated at the best schools, are sometimes recruited by the agents of the Soviet Union to help promote secretly the interests of the Soviets in our government, our media, and other institutions.
Mr. Straight's book will be out in the spring, when it will probably get attention on television and radio talk shows and in newspapers and magazines. We suggest that you hold on to this issue of the AIM Report and use it to correct any serious inaccuracies that may come to your attention in these articles and programs. You may wish to begin by writing to The New York Times about Mr. Straight's January 7 letter. The address is Editor, The New York Times, 229 West 43rd St., New York. N.Y. 10036
On December 22, 1982, AIM's Chairman, Reed Irvine, sent a letter to President Ronald Reagan in which he said the following.
"The low-key reaction of much of our media to the official Italian charges that Bulgarian intelligence was implicated in both the shooting of the Pope and the kidnapping of General James Dozier is both surprising and appalling. It means that an opportunity to educate our public about the true nature of the communists is being wasted. At the same time... it is conveying the impression that America is too afraid of the Soviets to publicize this awful story the way they would publicize any story that would put the President of the United States in an unfavorable light.
"You are the one person in the country that can do something about this. You have apparently been advised not to comment on the matter. The Department of State has been silent. Inadequate as the media reaction has been, it has been greater than that of our government.
"I think the time has come for you to demonstrate once again that the President of the United States and the leader of the Free World recognizes his obligation to denounce this infamy. The Italian government has spoken. Your own intelligence information must confirm what the Italians have revealed. To be sure the legal investigation is still going on, but we know that there will be no legal trial of Bulgarian intelligence or the KGB. They must be tried in the court of world public opinion. We would make a terrible historic error to shrink from our duty to prosecute the case.
"Permit me to make one additional but related suggestion. A Polish military tribunal has sentenced the two Polish ambassadors who defected last year, Ambassadors Rurarz and Spasowski. To death in absentia. I have spoken to Amb. Rurarz, and I know that he and Mr. Spasowski take this very seriously. He himself would not want to request this favor, but I am sure that he would appreciate it. A statement from the United States government warning General Jaruzelski that any attempt to carry out these death sentences would be viewed with the utmost gravity by this country might help deter him. It might give Messrs. Rurarz and Spasowski a little additional peace of mind."
As we go to press no reply to this letter has been received. At his January 5 news conference. the President was asked if he had any comment on the charges of KGB and Bulgarian involvement in the at lack on the Pope. Mr. Reagan declined to comment on the ground that the case was still under investigation in Italy. He said he knew no more about the results of that investigation than anyone else. He did acknowledge that if it were shown that the Soviets were involved, it would be serious.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski have both stated on television that the evidence strongly points to Soviet involvement in the plot. Four Italian cabinet officers have made similar public statements. If the shoe were on the other foot, the Soviets would have quickly mounted a massive campaign to destroy Reagan. The timidity of our leaders must amuse them.
AIM REPORT is published twice monthly by Accuracy In Media, Inc., 1341 G Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, and is free to AIM members. Dues and contributions to AIM are tax deductible. The AIM Report is mailed 3rd class to those whose contribution is at least $15 a year and 1st class to those contributing $30 a year or more. Non-member subscriptions are $35 (1st class mail).
I FEEL A LITTLE GUILTY IN USING SO MUCH SPACE TO DISCUSS IN DETAIL THE CASE OF Michael Straight, a man whose name will mean nothing to many of our readers. I urge you to read through the entire story. I think you will agree with me that it casts significant light on a question that I am frequently asked: How do you explain the anti-anti-communism of so many of our Journalists, writers and academics? I view Michael Straight as one of the high priests of this religion. During the period that he was editing the influential New Republic magazine, he was critical of communism and the Soviet Union, but he was even more critical of anti-communists--especially those who thought that it was important to expose communists and communist-sympathizers who had wormed their way into influential positions. The strongest anti-communists have often been former communists or sympathizers who realized their mistake. Having had personal knowledge of the conspiracy and its widespread insidious influence, they understood the need to combat it. They admitted and often wrote about their experience, hoping to help others avoid their mistakes. I know, because I was a youthful sympathizer who changed.
THAT WAS NOT THE COURSE OF THE FORMER EDITOR AND PUBLISHER OF THE NEW REPUBLIC, Michael Straight. An open, militant communist at Cambridge, he allowed himself to be recruited as an agent. He says that at some point he had a change of heart, but he lacked the will or courage to make a public confession of error. He claims to have warned the British diplomat, Guy Burgess, whom he knew to be a Soviet agent, to resign from the Foreign Service or he would expose him. One wonders what the flamboyant Burgess replied. He might very well have said, "Michael, behave yourself or I will expose you!" The fear of exposure of his past misdeeds must have weighed heavily on Michael Straight's mind during the McCarthy era. His writings showed his hatred of those who were turning over the rocks. What his readers didn't know was that he was deeply afraid that they might come across his tracks. As a result, Straight continued to be very useful to the communists even when he was openly criticizing their policies.
HOW MANY OF OUR ANTI-ANTI-COMMUNIST JOURNALISTS CONCEAL A PRO-COMMUNIST PAST OF which they are ashamed? There is no way of knowing. Occasionally the communists will proudly acknowledge one of their own on the obituary page of their newspaper, The Daily World. That's how we learned that the former editor of the Madison (Wisconsin) Capital Times, Cedric Parker, had been a communist throughout his journalistic career. The Communist Party membership of a former editorial page editor of the Jacksonville (Florida) Journal, Richard Greenleaf, came to light in the same way. Another editorial page editor, the late Lucian Price of The Boston Globe, shortly before he died confessed to a friend of mine that he had been strongly sympathetic to communism. In her student days, Katharine Graham, the chairman of the board of The Washington Post, was a member of the board of American Youth for Democracy, a well-known Communist front organization. I am sure that Mrs. Graham's political views have changed a lot since those days, but like Michael Straight, her anti-anti-communism seems to have been stronger than her dislike of communism. Sydney Schanberg, The New York Times correspondent who wrote the memorable article that ran in The Times on April 13, 1975 under the headline, "Indochina Without Americans: For Most A Better Life," had a reputation of being sympathetic to Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, which is perhaps why he remained in Phnom Penh when they occupied the city. Mr. Schanberg, who now writes a column for The Times, recently was a featured speaker at a banquet in New York sponsored by the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, which has long been identified as a Communist front. At the dinner, Corliss Lamont, the defender of Stalin's purge trials, gave actor Ed Asner "The Tom Paine Award."
EVGENII PRIMAKOV, DIRECTOR OF THE INSTITUTE OF ORIENTAL STUDIES OF THE USSR, WILL be honored by the Council on Foreign Relations at a luncheon in New York City on January 20. Mr. Primakov will speak on developments in the Persian Gulf. According to the invitation, Mr. Leslie Gelb, national security correspondent of The New York Times, will preside.
CONGRESSMAN JIM LEACH, A LIBERAL REPUBLICAN FROM DES MOINES, IOWA, MADE A FOOL OF himself at a press conference in Washington on January 5 at which he warned that the New Right and the Republican Party were in danger of being subverted by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his followers in the Unification Church. Leach charged that New Right leaders had "entered into an alliance of expediency" with Rev. Moon, but the evidence he cited to support the charge proved to be either false or ludicrous. Those named as presumably being part of this alliance included direct mail king Richard Viguerie, the College Republicans, Jessie Helms' Congressional Club, Accuracy in Media, The Washington Inquirer and a host of conservative columnists, including Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation. Bernie Yoh, AIM's communications director, attended the press conference and pointed out the falsity of Leach's charges as far as AIM is concerned, beginning with the assumption that AIM is part of the New Right. AIM is a non-partisan organization founded in 1969. We do not engage in any partisan political activity. Contrary to assertions made by Mr. Leach, we have not and do not use Unification Church volunteers and "low-cost Moon workers" to do anything for us. Mr. Leach misquoted Bernie Yoh, and he apologized for having done so. In response to Bernie's criticisms and the strong statements made by Grover Norquist of the College Republicans on the falsity of Leach's information, the Congressman conceded that the research, which had been done by the Society, might be less than perfect. One of the more ludicrous conclusions that Leach and his Riponers reached was that syndicated columnists whose columns are used by publications financed by the Unification Church are somehow part of the alliance to promote the Church's goals. That is how he was able to include in his smear people like Ed Feulner, Pat Buchanan, M. Stanton Evans, Phyllis Schlafly, Ralph de Toledano and many others. Of course, he made a great deal of Moon's underwriting Washington's new conservative newspaper, The Washington Times. He totally ignored the fact that not only do the professional, non-Moon Journalists who run the paper assert that they have iron-clad guaranties of independence of editorial control, but also the product that comes out five days a week attests to the truth of that claim. Rep. Leach was shot down on the spot at his news conference. If an anti-communist had been similarly embarrassed in trying to show communist infiltration in the Democratic Party, the media would have denounced him for intolerable "McCarthyism." The media did not make that charge against Leach.