I once took a job right out of college at the Queens Museum of Art, about two weeks too late. A fortnight prior to my arrival, the son of Alger Hiss had given a talk at the museum about his poor, martyred father and, judging by the internal press clippings of the event, nary a skeptical question was put to fils about pere's standing today in the annals of communist historiography--at least among those who respect the truth more than liberal piety. Roosevelt's man at Dumbarton Oaks and Yalta was framed, you see, the first in a long line of McCarthy's victims broken by a lying reactionary element (and never mind that Hiss's trial and imprisonment occurred when the scrofulous senator from Wisconsin was still a freshman best known for unhorsing Robert LaFollette). Hiss was certainly more charismatic and handsome than brooding, portly Whittaker Chambers, but he was also a Soviet spy, and a lousy one at that. He'd have gladly done more to aid the Stalinist cause on American soil, however much his naive zealousness would have simultaneously jeopardized it: His biggest blunder as a liaison between the "underground" cell administered by Colonel Bykov and the State Department was offering to donate his personal car for above-ground party use. A big no-no that would surely have had him liquidated if he were a man of greater importance.
But I digress. Defenders of the fellow traveling faith are nowhere thicker in number and sensibility than in the pages of The Nation magazine, and so I don't know why I was even mildly surprised to find, on page 36 of the current issue, the following advertisement:
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Marjorie S. Deane
5 W. 63rd Street
New York, NY 10023
Bernie Dwyer's 2007 film of
Philip's last interview will be shown.
Messages from friends are welcome.
Agee, of course, was the CIA agent who not only broke with the spy organization in the mid-70's, but then published a book in Britain, Inside the Company, naming names of all his former associates, many of whom were still deployed overseas as secret agents (and many of whom were no doubt captured and killed as a result of this expose). But despite Agee's defection to Castro's Cuba, for which he toiled with the same serf-like devotion he had formerly exhibited in his wet work, he always maintained that he had not switched superpower sides in the Cold War and fed information directly to the Soviets. This was a falsehood.
According to The Mitrokhin File, the definitive history of the KGB's activities in Europe and the Third World, Agee did in fact approach Oleg Kalugin, the head of the FCD's Counter-Intelligence Directorate, in 1973 in Mexico City. Agee offered, according to Kalugin, "'reams of information about CIA operations." But the Russian was too suspicious of such a bounty and declined to accept. Then,
Agee then went to the Cubans, who welcomed him with open arms...The Cubans shared Agee's information with us. But as I sat in my office in Moscow reading reports about the growing revelations coming from Agee, I cursed our officers for turning away such a prize.
You may think, as I do, that the CIA has been a moral and strategic liability for this country since its inception. You may also think it no more than a matter of journalistic freedom of information to write an insider's tell-all about the national security establishment. (For what it's worth, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, passed in 1982 as a pretext to go after Agee legally, was lately used in the ludicrous prosecutions of Judith Miller and Scooter Libby, both of whom, shall we say, are not in good odor at The Nation. But the only principled leftist there I could find to dismiss the "Plamegate" controversy as utterly beside the point was Alexander Cockburn, who welcomed the outing of CIA agents and who remembered fondly the day Agee walked into the London offices of New Left Review with his hot little manuscript.) Very well. But actively providing the KGB with sensitive U.S. intelligence was an act of treason, plain and simple. Yet this is the man for whom a "memorial service" (Agee died in Havana in 2008) is now being held on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, with the commercial and ideological consent of one of the oldest liberal weeklies in America.