For decades, the stalwarts of the American Left depicted all accused of disloyalty in the so-called “McCarthyite” era as victims of the Cold War and an American “witch-hunt.” One such individual, who until his death made a good living portraying himself in this fashion, was Cedric Belfrage, a British expatriate who lived in the U.S. from the ’40s until 1955.
Belfrage was the founder and editor-in-chief of what was the major fellow-traveling American weekly newspaper, The National Guardian, which was created in 1948 as an adjunct of the presidential campaign of Henry A. Wallace on the Progressive Party ticket. The British subject Belfrage was hauled before both Senator McCarthy’s Senate subcommittee and by HUAC in the 1950s, where he invoked the Fifth Amendment. Eventually, he was arrested and deported back to Britain in 1955.
Belfrage then wrote a few books. Among them was one published by a major American publisher in 1973, The American Inquisition: 1945-1950, in which the author claimed that he too was a victim of vicious false accusations that he was a Soviet agent.
We have known for some years, from both the Venona files and the Vassiliev KGB Notebooks, that in fact Belfrage was working for the KGB. In one of their books, Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes call him a “Betrayer of Two Nations.” Writing in Venona, they describe how KGB defector Elizabeth Bentley told the FBI that, while in the U.S., Belfrage regularly met with Soviet agent Jacob Golos to hand over material — both American and British — which he had obtained from the British Security Coordination Office for which he worked.
Bellfrage invented a fanciful story to explain his activities to the FBI when they interviewed him in 1947. He claimed that he had only met with U.S. Communist Party officials in order to gather information on what they knew about Soviet policy to pass on to the British. So in order to establish his credibility with the Soviets, he thought he had to give them some information about British policy.
Belfrage, of course, was lying. Cables proved that he had given the KGB an OSS report on the anti-Communist Yugoslav resistance during World War II, and that he had told the Soviets what Belfrage’s chief in Britain, William Stephenson, had said about the issue of a second front after a meeting Stephenson had with Prime Minister Churchill.
Belfrage also had given Golos actual documents he brought back with him from Britain that were classified.
Only after the FBI informed the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service that he was involved with Soviet intelligence did they move to deport him.
Now, many decades later, London’s Daily Mail features a story about Belfrage providing more information about his espionage in Britain for the Soviet Union. Newly declassified MI-5 files reveal that the information from both the Vassiliev Notebooks and Venona decrypts are totally accurate.
The story notes:
Cedric Belfrage leaked sensitive documents to the Russians while working for the British security services in the U.S. The information was of such value that he became more highly-prized by Moscow than notorious Cambridge spy Kim Philby.
He handed over intelligence about espionage method along with highly confidential documents about Vichy France and details of British policy in the Middle East and Russia, according to newly-declassified files.
As he said in the U.S. during the congressional investigations, Belfrage told the British government that what he gave them was only of a “trifling nature,” and that he was providing the information so he could get information from the Soviets for the West. The reality, as intelligence historian Christopher Andrews told the paper, was that the KGB records showed that what they received from Belfrage was “extremely valuable.”
In the U.S. from 1941 to 1943, Belfrage worked for two different British spy organizations while actually giving information to the Soviet Union through the agency of American Communist leader V.J. Jerome. Among the information he handed to Jerome was material on “the methods of training intelligence agents,” as well as secret foreign policy decisions of the British government relating to both the Middle East and Russia. In a secret transcript now released, Belfrage told British authorities that he had given Jerome:
… information about Scotland Yard surveillances and also … some documents relative to the Vichy Government in France, which were of a highly confidential nature with respect to their origin.
The British government wanted to arrest Belfrage and put him on trial for violation of the Official Secrets Act, but could not prove that the American Communists he handed the material to would actually give it to the Soviet Union — although they knew that was the case.
At the time, late anti-Communist liberal and social-democrat Sidney Hook had written:
[Belfrage] was a member of the British Intelligence Service who had been recruited by the Soviet Secret Police operating in the U.S. … a double-agent with basic loyalty to the Kremlin.
For that correct assessment made in the ’50s, Hook was himself condemned as an accomplice of the anti-Communist reactionary witch-hunters, written off by believers in the Popular Front as a deluded witch-hunter pretending to be a liberal. If only Hook was still alive to have witnessed himself vindicated.
If one lives long enough, the truth eventually comes out.