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The Attack on I.F. Stone’: An Exchange

In response to:

The Attack on I.F. Stone from the October 8, 1992 issue

To the Editors:

Andrew Brown in his attempt to defend I.F. Stone has only succeeded in making the case that Stone was a KGB agent even clearer [NYR, October 8]. General Kalugin (KGB Retired) did not name his agent in his original discussion with Brown. Brown now reports that Kalugin identified that agent as I.F. Stone.

According to Brown, the news desk at the Independent asked him for “more on spying and less on Russian domestic troubles.” He then reinterviewed Kalugin.

Brown wrote, “Mr. Kalugin said that at the end of the Second World War people would come in dozens to volunteer to work for the Soviets, especially in France and Italy. But it was also true that in the United States the KGB ‘maintained very serious sources until the late-40s.’

The crucial year was 1956. Krushchev’s secret speech denouncing Stalinism (which leaked to the West and revealed the horrors of mass executions) revolted the whole world. After 1956, the intelligence service simply could not recruit people on ideological grounds. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was another almost mortal blow.”

Brown then quoted Kalugin as saying: “We had an agent—a well-known American journalist—with a good reputation, who severed his ties with us after 1956. I myself convinced him to resume them. But in 1968, after the invasion of Czechoslovakia…he said he would never again take any money from us.” (The Independent, Mar. 12, 1992)

Although the context makes it clear that the subject under discussion was intelligence agents, Brown tries to argue that “agent” merely meant that Stone was a luncheon companion. If this were true it would make Kalugin look like a fool who doesn’t know the difference between an agent and a casual contact. It is not true. Kalugin, an experienced intelligence officer who speaks excellent English, knows exactly what an agent is. He also said that the agent “would never again take any money from us.” While Stone also refused to allow Kalugin to pay for lunch, money is money and lunch is lunch.

The KGB’s definition of an agent has been provided by the former KGB rezident in London, Oleg Gordievsky, who defected to the British. He said that a KGB agent is one who fulfills two main conditions. “First he (or she) has to agree to secret, ‘conspiratorial’ collaboration. Second, he (or she) must be willing to accept instructions from the KGB.” (Andrew and Gordievsky, Instructions from the Centre, London, 1992, p. 40)

An agent is one who follows instructions and has a secret relationship with the KGB. Stone was not a mercenary. He only took the money to help him carry out the propaganda that both he and the KGB found useful. Sometimes, he used KGB crafted sources. For example, in I.F. Stone’s Weekly, January 8, 1968, Stone quoted from an interview in Izvestia with Kim Philby, the well-known KGB agent. Philby charged that an FBI official thought that Franklin Roosevelt was a Comintern agent. Stone used this false statement as part of an attack on the FBI. In later KGB materials released under Philby’s name this ridiculous story was left out.

Stone also made up his own disinformation. In I.F. Stone’s Weekly of September 26, 1966, he distorted the statement of a US pilot who had been rescued in Vietnam by a helicopter. Stone pretended that the pilot had said that he could smell gas that we were dropping on the Vietnamese. The pilot actually talked about smelling gasoline, not poison gas.

I had reported in Human Events, June 6, 1992, that the unnamed agent referred to by Kalugin in Brown’s original story was I.F. Stone. Brown has now gotten Kalugin to confirm this. Kalugin tried hard to conceal the name of his agent. Stone’s friends have now confirmed that it was I.F. Stone.

Herbert Romerstein
Clinton, Maryland

To the Editors:

During a recent visit to Moscow, I had an opportunity to talk with KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, who is discussed in Andrew Brown’s article “The Attack on I.F. Stone.”

Kalugin went further with me than he had with Andrew Brown. Romerstein criticized Andrew Brown’s questioning of Kalugin by saying that Andrew Brown could not ask the right questions. Romerstein claims that Andrew Brown did not ask Kalugin if Stone “was your agent” and “was he paid.”

I asked Kalugin both of those questions on September 4, 1992, in Moscow at the Journalists Club, in the presence of other witnesses, and he said that as far as he knew I.F. Stone was never an agent and I.F. Stone was never paid.

Kalugin said, “I have no proof that Stone was an agent. I have no proof that Stone ever received any money from the KGB or the Russian government, I never gave Stone any money and was never involved with him as an agent,” he said. He further said Romerstein had misreported what was told him.

Hence, the sole source of the allegation against I.F. Stone is Herbert Romerstein. I met Herbert Romerstein years ago when he worked for New York State Senator John Marchi’s Senate Committee investigating Communist infiltration in New York City government. I represented people he accused of being Communist. In the time I spent with Romerstein I concluded that he was utterly untrustworthy.

The entire story circulated by Romerstein and Accuracy in Media, the right wing pressure group, is scurrilous and false.

The New York law of libel says that you can not libel or defame a dead man but that is certainly what Romerstein and Accuracy in Media have done. I am sorry that I.F. Stone is not here to defend against their claim.

Martin Garbus
Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein and Selz
New York City

Andrew Brown replies:

Arguing with Herbert Romerstein is like trying to shake hands with a lamprey, but here goes:

He has erected a monstrous inverted pyramid of speculation on one fact: that Oleg Kalugin was reported by me in the London Independent as having used the phrase “an agent” to describe someone who turned out to be I.F. Stone. I understood this, in context, to mean “a contact,” or “someone who proved useful”; Romerstein insists that it must mean someone who took orders from the KGB and collaborated with them secretly. Clearly, there is an ambiguity here. Good journalistic practice would dictate that we try to clear it up by asking Kalugin what he meant.

When I did, Kalugin told me that Stone was not and never had been a Soviet agent, had not taken money from the KGB, and that to suppose otherwise was “a malicious misinterpretation.” I reported this to Romerstein. He replied that I had asked the wrong questions. I should have asked, in terms, “Was he your agent?” “Was he paid.” So Martin Garbus asked Kalugin those questions, in front of witnesses. He repeated his denials.

Where does this leave Romerstein? Still, lamprey-like, sucking at the now empty word “agent.”

He had promised us further anonymous KGB evidence if Kalugin let him down. There is not even any of that in his letter. Instead, we have a couple of stories from I.F. Stone’s Weekly. Even by Romerstein’s standards, these could not be evidence of secret, conspiratorial collaboration, which is what he is trying to prove. Nor could they be evidence—either way—that Stone accepted money from the KGB.

The two stories are worth examining, though, because they tend to show what Romerstein and his friends found offensive about Stone in the first place.

In one of them, Stone is accused of peddling KGB disinformation by quoting Kim Philby as saying that a deputy director of the FBI believed that Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Comintern agent. The immediate source for Stone’s quote would appear to be the transcript of Philby’s interview published in full in The New York Times, which by Romerstein’s logic must itself be run by Communist agents peddling KGB disinformation. Or is it rather the case that denouncing obsessional anticommunism proves you must yourself be a Communist?

It is also worth noting that the Philby story appears on the same page of I.F. Stone’s Weekly as an extended quote from Vladimir Bukovsky’s speech in a Soviet court when he was given three years by the KGB. Bukovsky is in this excerpt praising freedom of speech, especially as practiced in the US. It is headlined “What Soviet Youth Finds Inspiring in the USA.”

In the other story, Stone quoted from the transcript of the rescued pilot’s press conference, as released by the Defense Department to the Senate Armed Services Committee for its hearing of September 16, 1966. The transcript says:

When I heard the chopper and the aircraft, I went in the bush. And when they dropped the gas, I smelled it, and I said, “Man, that is Uncle Sam’s gas. That is real.” So I went and laid down an SOS.

Stone appears to have mistaken the pilot’s reference to “gas,” as in gasoline, for gas as possibly referring to poison gas. His single comment on the matter was, “No one asked him…what kind of gas we were dropping on them.” This seems to have been an honest mistake, though I doubt Romerstein would ever admit that. In his world there are only dishonest mistakes.

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