After Long Silence

Title:                  After Long Silence

Author:                Michael Straight

Straight, Michael (1983). After Long Silence. New York: W.W. Norton

LCCN:    82014543

CT275.S8779 A32 1983

Subjects

Date Updated:  November 5, 2015

It was Michael Straight, as is now known, who informed on Anthony Blunt in 1963 – after 26 years of silence. His memoir is intended to explain 1) how he let himself be recruited by Blunt as a Soviet spy in 1937; 2) that he did no actual spying, and soon broke away; 3) why he waited so long to blow the whistle on Guy Burgess and Blunt. The prime interest, however, is the identity and trajectory of Michael Straight himself.

Straight was born in 1916; Whitney scion; son of the founders of The New Republic. He was raised at Dartington Hall, the radical utopian community established by his mother and her second, agriculturalist husband; entangled, at 16, in London School of Economics left-wing politics; protégé of Keynes– and student-Socialist/student-Communist– at 1934-37 Cambridge.

Repeatedly, Straight speaks of his guilt at inheriting wealth; his desire to please, and fear of offending; his yearning to belong “to some brotherhood.” “Intellectually, I was a follower of Keynes; emotionally I was dependent upon James and John. Sadly, in those days I separated my head and my heart.” So this is in some respects a familiar apologia– but not entirely: for at the same time Straight moves “from the outer fringes of the Socialist Society to the inner core of a Communist cell,” he is writing to his mother: “I don’t know why I do what I do. . . there’s no sound basis for communism at Cambridge. . . . Worse still, I’m bringing new people into the movement, wondering all the time if I’m damaging their lives.” Thus, Straight seems never to have been committed– or duped.

He was told by Blunt, on the authority of “The International,” that he should return to the US upon graduation (which he’d never thought of doing), and become a Wall Street banker; he rejected the Wall Street role, but not the “entrapment.” As a volunteer researcher/writer at the State Dept., he passed along a few of his own, non-sensitive reports to his Soviet-agent contact; then he got out of State, and out of the government, and saw no more of the agent. (The man, he later learned, vanished in 1942.) He ran into Burgess intermittently, gathered he had been behind Blunt, and repeatedly considered turning him in; but he needed a spur. In 1951, during the Korean War, he threatened Burgess; a few: months later, Burgess and MacLean defected. (Blunt, he thought, had quit.) Then, in 1963, Straight was offered an arts-administration post by JFK; turned it down, to avoid disclosure; and laid the ghost by going to the FBI. Blunt, he says, later thanked him (that, of course, was before Blunt’s unanticipated public disgrace). Straight, meanwhile, had devoted himself to The New Republic, liberal causes, and– to his regret– the Wallace candidacy. That is another very considerable story, but also part of why Straight feels he must “work my passage home.” It’s not a sympathetic or appealing story– but it has luminaries galore and inescapable grab.

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[1]

Walking in the Aldwych, see on the north side of the curve, in Houghton Street, the main entrance to The London School of Economics. Tangentially connected to the LSE are two people whose stories I am eager to tell and for whom I can find no other sites in London. My apologies to all the decent people at the LSE (even the seriously deluded ones) who did not serve Soviet Intelligence.

Michael Whitney Straight, son of an American heiress, studied for a year here before he went up to Cambridge in 1934 and was recruited to the Soviet cause by Anthony Blunt. Almost three decades later, Straight would implicate Blunt: the first to do so. He was “one of Blunt’s recruiting failures,” writes Knightley—and costly failure it was for Blunt, despite the immunity given him.

Straight suffered too, as he tells us in his book After Long Silence (1983). At first he pleaded with Blunt about the orders relayed to him by Blunt: to return to the US, work in Wall Street, and begin feeding information to the Comintern; Straight wanted to become a British subject and stand for Parliament.

“I even offered to turn over all the wealth that I had if I were released,” writes Straight. He was not released. He wouldn’t have been, of course, but we have only his own word that he even made the request. In the US in 1938 and 1939, working in the State Department, then in the Interior Department, then as a speechwriter, he gave the Soviets various documents and reports, including some he had written. These were not very secret and probably not very useful. But his return to the State Department late in 1940 inspired renewed interest from his contact. This in turn inspired Straight to leave government altogether, as he tells it. In 1941 he joined The New Republic, .a magazine founded by his parents. In 1942 he joined the US Army Air Force. He claims not to have seen his Soviet contact after 1942. In fact, the man disappeared: a victim of Stalin’s paranoia .

Whether or not Straight gave the Soviets further information after ·the war, he dutifully rendered other services. Late in 1945, he was the organizer of a protest in Washington by pro-Soviet scientists; in 1948, he was an important backer of Henry Wallace’s presidential bid; in the 1950s, as editor of The New Republic, he was a leader of ·the media pack in full cry against Senator Joseph McCarthy and his ”ism.” One can reasonably say many bad things about the late Senator: he was irresponsible, a bully, arguably a psychopath. But the main theme of the anti-McCarthyites was that he was lying about communist infiltration of the US government. When Michael Straight published all those words ridiculing McCarthy’s crusade against “reds under the bed”, implying that there were none, it was Straight who was lying. He knew better. He had been one.

But it’s not so much what he did as what he failed to do. He didn’t tell about Blunt, and then Burgess, even after telling them that he was no longer with them. Nor did he tell about Burgess, even after Burgess escaped to Moscow. Straight claims that he threatened Burgess with exposure earlier in 1951 when they met by chance in Washington. But-once Burgess had gone, and for another 12 years Straight kept silent—about Blunt, Burgess, and others.

Finally, in 1963, when Straight was asked to chair the new National Endowment for the Arts, he decided to rid himself of his “burden” before the required FBI check might discover it. He hoped that by telling the story himself he could still become chairman. (He later served as deputy chairman appointed by—of all people—Nixon.) I have seen Straight’s gesture called “an act of personal honesty” but! cannot forget that he acted only when there was something in it for ihim. He didn’t care about the damage that Blunt and the others had done to the West; he cared only about the damage that his own connection with them might do to him.

Was Straight the vacillating and troubled soul, the moral weakling, that his book would have us believe? Hard to know. He tells us that he didn’t deliver anything of real value to the Soviets. But he also didn’t deliver his Soviet case-officer to the FBI. Straight comes across as a clear-headed pragmatist, cooperating knowingly with a Soviet intelligence officer and maintaining security like the most tough-minded agent.

A writer of fiction in addition to his book After Long Silence(and possibly including that book), Straight tells us that when he saw Blunt for the first time after Straight’s confession, the response from Blunt was—relief! Although Straight’s book should cure me of reading spy memoirs, it probably won’t. At least I didn’t pay good money for this one. I found it at my library’s annual rummage sale, where it had been donated by someone else who has had enough of Michael Straight,

Sonya’s Report [sic], the memoir of long-term Soviet agent Ruth Kuczynski[2], is also outrageous: for her fantastic rationalizations of Stalin’s crimes and her grotesque defence of herself. (Was she “anti-fascist” before Hitler even came to power? during the Pact? after the war when she worked against Labour-governed Britain?), Even in a book written as an apologia pro sua vita, she comes across as the quintessential Leninist—cold-blooded, ruthless, willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to her work.

Unlike Michael Straight, “Sonya” was enormously helpful to her chosen side, she was well trained, she probably had the protection of a person or persons inside MI5, and she had no regrets whatsoever (even Straight allowed himself some arguments as to the nature of Soviet power). Unlike Straight, she never attended the LSE. Her father, a Soviet sympathizer, taught here as a pioneer in the field of demography; her brother, a Soviet agent, did graduate studies here in economics. Both Robert and Jürgen Kuczynski knew that Ursula Ruth Kuczynski Hamburger Beurton was a GRU agent.

Ruth Kuczynski came early to her service to the Soviets. Born in Germany in 1907, she was an agitprop leader for the KPD by the age of 19. She met her first husband on a trip to the US; when they went to live in China in 1930 she worked for Soviet Intelligence as protégée and lover of the legendary Richard Sorge. Next came a six-month stay in the USSR learning tradecraft, Then .Manchuria (during the Japanese occupation), Poland, Switzerland, and (in 1941) England.

Now she had two children and a second husband, Len Beurton, a British veteran of the Spanish Civil War. (In Switzerland she had been ordered by Moscow Centre to marry someone British in order to gain entry to the UK, and she was rejected by the only other possibility, Allan Foote.) In England she went immediately to Oxford to live, journeying twice a month to London to gather information from her father and brother. In Oxford itself she made other contacts and served as Klaus Fuchs’ case-officer (her brother had sent Fuchs to her in 1942). That’s according to her own story. According to others she ran “a bevy” of Soviet agents, including Roger Hollis (see Site 52 18 Elsham Road and Site 54 6 Campden Hill Square) who worked at nearby Blenheim Palace with the rest of MI5 and was acting head of the section in MI5 responsible for overseeing Soviet and pro-Soviet activities in the UK.

The “probability” that her target in Oxford was someone important in MI5 “seems overwhelming”, writes Chapman Pincher in Too Secret Too Long[3]. Certainly she was not sent there to assist Fuchs, who required servicing only after her arrival, And her residence a mile from Hollis’ home is “rather difficult to accept as sheer coincidence,” continues Pincher. Hollis denied their having met—in China, Switzerland, or Oxford. Her book doesn’t even include Hollis in the index, although a one-sentence mention of him denies that she “ever had anything to do” with him.

MI5’ approach to Ruth Kuczynski was “criminally soft”, writes Pincher in Their Trade Is Treachery[4]. The fact that she was never under surveillance, either during or after the war (even after Fuchs named her as his controller), the fact that her transmissions from Oxford continued until at least 1947, the fact that she was allowed simply to leave Britain for East Germany in 1950, all suggest to Pincher (among others) “the existence of a powerful protective hand inside MI5.” It is certainly curious that the government became interested in her only after Foote’s defection in 1947 (see Site 58 9-17 Clifton Gardens). According to Foote, she had ceased spying when she left Switzerland. Did Foote really believe this, Pincher wonders, or did MI5 “exaggerate” it when ghost-writing his memoirs, to excuse their own negligence?

Interviewed too cordially on American television a few years ago, the grandmotherly “Sonya” remains a clever manipulator. She is still a communist, hoping only that a better communism will take over the world, and she is still unrepentant about the excesses of Leninism and Stalinism. Even Rosa Luxemburg, greatly admired by her, stood up to Lenin. Ruth Kuczynski never protested; the wish to maintain her privileges in East Germany kept her silent.

Ruth’s older brother Jürgen—like her, an emigre from Germany—was equally ruthless. He was head of the underground section of the German Communist Party in Britain and was an active GRU agent throughout WWII; he left for East Germany within months of the war’s end. He never seems to have been questioned about his own activities or his sister’s, writes Chapman Pincher; indeed, after a three-month internment in 1940, he “never seems to have been subject to any interference by MI5.” .

Jürgen had joined the US Army Air Force in Britain, and one of his wartime jobs was to help produce a fortnightly report on damage to the German economy from Allied bombing; this top-secret report, distributed only to about 15 people (reports Knigh tley), went secretly to the Soviets too. Certainly Jürgen made sure that all OSS agents dropped into Germany near the end of the war were inclined towards the Soviet Union (he was in charge of selecting these agents from German refugees in Britain). And it is more than likely that he betrayed to the Soviets the OSS project to photograph all of Central and Western Europe from the air in early 1945; the Soviet responded by shooting down several of the British and American planes.

[1] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 255-260

[2] Kuczynski, Ruth (1991). Sonia’s Report. London: Chatto & Windus

[3] Pincher, Chapman (1984). Too Secret, Too Long. New York: St. Martin’s Press

[4] Pincher, Chapman (1981). Their Trade is Treachery. London: Sidgwick & Jackson

 

 

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2 Responses to After Long Silence

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