Conspiracy of One

Title:                      Conspiracy of One

Author:                 Peter Rand

Rand, Peter (2013). Conspiracy of One: Tyler Kent’s Secret Plot Against FDR, Churchill, And The Allied War Effort. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, An imprint of Globe Pequot Press

LCCN:    2012051752

D810.S8 K467 2013


Date Posted:      March 28, 2017

Reviewd by CIA[1]

Tyler Kent was born in 1911 in China, where his father, a member of Virginia’s gentry, was serving in the Foreign Service. After Kent’s early education in several European countries, where he acquired a taste for the diplomatic lifestyle, the family returned to Washington, DC, where Kent, by then a handsome young man, attended St. Albans School. From there he went to Princeton. Leaving after three years, he continued his education in Madrid and Paris, graduating from the Sorbonne skilled in six languages. Kent returned to Washington in 1932. By then he was self-centered, arrogant, anti-Semitic, socially inept, and egotistical. He applied in the middle of the Great Depression for the Foreign Service, only to learn that there were no openings. Eventually, thanks to Ambassador William Bullitt—making a decision he would regret—Kent was given a clerical position in the Moscow embassy, becoming the only clerk clothed by Brooks Brothers. Another attempt to become a Foreign Service Officer faltered when Kent failed the oral examination.

Conspiracy of One tells of Kent’s progress from ordinary clerk to code clerk during the mid- to late 1930s. Despite his boring, low-level job and the restrictions of Stalinist Moscow, Kent acquired a gun and a car, lived on the economy, and maintained a studio where he photographed his Soviet-furnished mistress in the buff. Kent also began keeping copies of official messages for “historical purposes.” While these facts might suggest that Kent was working for the NKVD, his State Department superiors, if they were aware of his activities, never pursued the issue. In 1939, Kent was transferred to London to be the code clerk in the US embassy there. He arrived in London with a suspected German agent MI5 was expecting, and both were put under surveillance. Kent was subsequently seen having an affair with the Russian émigré wife of a British soldier and meeting with another suspected German agent, the Baroness Anna Wolkoff.

In 1940, MI5 suspected that Wolkoff had given Kent evidence of her fifth column activities for safekeeping, and approval was obtained from the American embassy to search Kent’s flat. Kent was caught in bed with his mistress, and the search yielded evidence against the Baroness. But to everyone’s surprise, except Kent’s, the searchers also discovered hundreds of classified US embassy cables, many of which were private exchanges between Churchill—not yet prime minister—and President Roosevelt. Churchill was pressing for US war support, which was then illegal in the United States, and Roosevelt was shown to be sympathetic while running for a third term. Kent, an anti-interventionist, planned to use the cables to thwart Roosevelt’s reelection. Author Peter Rand explains how the British kept the fact of the Churchill-Roosevelt correspondence quiet while persuading Ambassador Kennedy to waive Kent’s diplomatic immunity so that he and Wolkoff could be tried in camera; both were convicted.

This is not the first book about the Kent affair,[2] but it is the first based on Kent’s personal papers and on interviews with some of the participants and their descendants. Thus Rand has added details about MI5’s role and suspicions that Kent’s Russian émigré mistress was a Soviet agent. Rand concludes with a summary of Kent’s life after his release from prison at the end of the war—he married a wealthy lady, publicly defended his actions, and ended his days in a trailer park in Arizona.

[1] CIA, Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf, Historical

[2] Bearse, Ray (1991) and Anthony Read. Conspirator: The Untold Story of Tyler Kent. New York: Doubleday

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