Information And Intrigue

Title:                      Information And Intrigue

Author:                 Colin B. Burke

Burke, Colin B. (2014). Information And Intrigue: From Index Cards to Dewey Decimals to Alger Hiss. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press

LCCN:    2013035293

Z1004.F54 B87 2014


  • Raising a perfectly modern Herbert — An unexpected library revolution, at an unexpected place, by an unusual young fellow — The great men at Harvard and Herbert’s information “calling” — Challenging the British “Lion” of science information — New information ideas in Zurich, not Brooklyn or Paris — Starting an information revolution and business, the hard way — Big debts, big gamble, big building, big friends, a special librarian — Lydia’s other adventurous boy, family responsibilities, to America with hat in hand, war — From information to intrigue, Herbert, WWI, a young Allen Dulles — Returning to a family in decline, meeting with the liberal establishment — To the centers of science and political power, and a new information world — More conflicts between old and new science — Wistar and the Council’s abstracts vs. Field’s elegant classification, round 1 — A Concilium without Herbert Field, Nina and the Rockefeller’s great decisions — A voyage home and the Council’s vision for world science vs. the Concilium, round 2 — The information consequences of “capitalism’s disaster” and the shift to applied science information — The 1930’s ideological journey of the Fields and their liberal friends — Intrigue begins, in Switzerland, England, and Cambridge — New loves, a family of agents, science information in war, librarians stealing books?, Soviet espionage without cost — Looking forward to more intrigue, the postwar stories of big science, big information, and more ideology.


Date Posted:      January 10, 2017

Review by Emil H. Levine, Captain, USNR, Ret[1]

Chapters on author Burke and Levine are included in Covert and Overt, Recollecting and Connecting Information Services and Information Science.[2]

Despite their contributions to intelligence, librarians are rarely acknowledged in the literature of intelligence.

Author Colin Burke has provided a unique contribution to this literature as well as that of library/ information science. Money, Ideology, Compromise, and Ego are generally accepted as motivations which lead into espionage. Burke documents the Ideology and Ego of Herbert Haviland Field, who conceived and operated one of the first commercial ventures in the production and sale of scientific information; that of his sons, Noel Field, who served as a Soviet spy within the US government from the 1920s; and Hermann Field, also a communist sympathizer and supporter.

Herbert, born in 1868 to a wealthy Brooklyn Quaker family, entered Harvard in 1885, where he quickly earned a master’s and doctorate in zoology (the “Big Science” at that time). Field’s Quaker-based ideology drove his ambition of sharing scientific knowledge throughout the world. His innovative format used cards, as opposed to printed periodical bibliographies, popular at that time.

As American library methods were coming under criticism, Zurich was selected as the home of his Concilium Bibliographicum due to its close proximity to a large source of zoological publications, Germany. At its high point in1908, Field had 160 purchasers for his full database and nearly 500 subscribers for subsections. He had indexed more than 175,000 articles and sent out millions of cards.

The Concilium was closed in 1916 in the midst of World War I. Field was recruited by the young Alan Dulles and traveled to Germany and France where he gathered intelligence of use in both the war and of Communist infiltration of organizations. He died in 1921. The Concilium was revived and struggled on until forced to close by World War II in 1940.

Herbert’s son, Noel Field, born in 1904 and also graduated from Harvard, accepted the Ideology of the Communist Party. He took the State Department examination in 1925 but was refused a diplomatic position based on his speech difficulty and “general demeanor.” He accepted an analyst position in 1926, despite some protests concerning the left-wing contacts of his family.

The rejection to become a diplomat may have provided his motivation to enter into espionage, Ego. Noel was eventually assigned to the Swiss and League of Nations desks and became a member of their disarmament teams traveling to Europe in 1933. During this period he had contacts with Soviet agents through the American Communist Party and provided them with classified information. (While at State he became friends with Alger Hiss. Both were named as intelligence sources for the Communists by Soviet defectors and ex-members of the American Communist Party.) In 1936 he accepted a position at  the League of Nations.

World War II brought Noel deeper into intrigue. As a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), he worked for Allen Dulles in Switzerland, as had his father. He was also working for the Swiss Communist Party.

Hermann Field, Noel’s brother, began relief work with a British Quaker group in the late 1930s, which included travel in Europe. He was suspected by both British intelligence and the FBI of being a Soviet agent in 1941.

Both Noel and Hermann continued their espionage work after the war. They were kidnapped in 1949 by the Soviets, along with Herta, the wife of Noel, and Erica, their adopted daughter, and released in 1954.

Alger Hiss, Robert Dexter, Edward Barsky, Varian Fry, Paul and Hede Massing and others are related by author Burke to the Field brothers.

Information and Intrigue includes many primary sources and extensive secondary resources and notes. A 61 page online bibliography is found at

Not listed in the bibliography is Stalin’s American Spy: Noel Field, Allen Dulles and the East European Show Trials[3], which provides details on the disappearance of the Fields in 1949, as well as their involvement in espionage, and Operation Splinter Factor[4], which blames their disappearance on Dulles.

Chapters on author Burke and Levine are included in Covert and Overt, Recollecting and Connecting information Services and Information Science, 2005, Robert V. Williams and Ben-Ami Lipetz.


[1] Emil H. Levine in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, pp. 127-128). Emil Levine is an American library and information science consultant living in Vienna, Austria. He was retired as a Captain, US Navy Reserve and served at the Office of Naval Intelligence (NF010), the National Security Agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

[2] Williams, Robert V. (2005) and Ben-Ami Lipetz, ed. Covert And Overt: Recollecting And Connecting Intelligence Service And Information Science. Medford, NJ: Published for the American Society for Information Science and Technology by Information Today in cooperation with Scarecrow Press

[3] Sharp, Tony (2014). Stalin’s American Spy: Noel Field, Allen Dulles And The East European Show Trials. London: Hurst & Company

[4] Steven, Stewart (1974). Operation Splinter Factor. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott

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