THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: Former Communist spy’s evidence before US inquiry

From the News Letter, August 12, 1948

Thursday, 12th August 2021, 10:00 am
Singer Paul Robeson testifies in Washington June 12, 1956, before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Robeson, who also excelled as a lawyer, athlete and scholar, risked everything to become a human rights activist, and his visits with supporters in the Soviet Union were a cardinal sin in the red-baiting McCarthy era. (AP Photo/Bill Achatz)
Singer Paul Robeson testifies in Washington June 12, 1956, before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Robeson, who also excelled as a lawyer, athlete and scholar, risked everything to become a human rights activist, and his visits with supporters in the Soviet Union were a cardinal sin in the red-baiting McCarthy era. (AP Photo/Bill Achatz)

Miss Elizabeth Bentley, a self-confessed former Communist spy, testified before the US House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee that she had been paid £500 in October, 1945, by Mr Gromov, first secretary of the Russian Embassy.

She said she received the money in cash from Mr Gromov, whom she knew as ‘Al’, in a lonely spot on the New York waterfront. She said, also that ‘Al’ told her in November, 1944 – about a year before she was given the money – that the Supreme Soviet Presidium had awarded her a red star decoration “in return for extremely valuable services to the Soviet Union”.

The committee chairman, Representative Parnell Thomas, said earlier that Miss Bentley had turned the money over to the FBI and that it was impounded.

Miss Bentley derided testimony by some witnesses that she was “neurotic”, a “drinker” and a “social nuisance”. She said that any Communist who “reformed” was subject to vilification, and added that the FBI had never found one major discrepancy in her stories.

State Department records showed that M Anatol Gromov was first secretary of the Soviet Embassy from September, 1955, to February, 1945. They stated: “He is no longer connected with the Embassy.”

WITNESS’S PROTESTS

Mr Henry Collins, Jnr, a former Military Government officer, and the first witness before the committee, denied that he had ever spied for a foreign country, but refused to say whether he was or had been a Communist. He protested at the committee’s investigation methods.

“Every person mentioned in these hearings is pilloried in the headlines from coast to coast,” he said. He refused to answer most questions on the grounds that answers might incriminate him.

At a special meeting the committee decided to send sub-committees to Canada and New York to question additional witnesses in its spy investigation.

‘WILL BE PROTECTED’

Mr Marshall, Secretary of State, declared that the protection of American law would be given to any non-diplomatic Soviet citizens who wished remained in the US.

At the same time he declared that the protest about the movements of two Russian teachers, delivered to State Department by Mr Panyushkin, the Soviet Ambassador, was “based on incorrect information”.

“There can be no question,” Mr Marshall said, “that this Government will not countenance any action that interferes with diplomatic immunity of Soviet officials.”

It had been pointed out, however, that neither of the two Russian teachers had diplomatic immunity. The situation was complicated by the fact that “our laws and Soviet law are different”. He added: “But in this case out laws will dominate the situation.”