The Magazine

I. F. STONE

Jun 22, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 40 • By ROBERT D. NOVAK
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THIS IS THE NINTH ANNIVERSARY of I. F. Stone's death. When he died of a heart attack in a Boston hospital on June 18, 1989, he rated a top-of-the-page New York Times obituary that called him "a pugnacious advocate of civil liberties, peace and truth" and asserted that his "integrity" was acknowledged even by "detractors." On ABC television, Peter Jennings praised Stone's credo: "To write the truth, to defend the weak against the strong, to fight for justice." A eulogy by the civil libertarian Nat Hentoff described him as a "lonely pamphleteer" prying loose the truth in I. F. Stone's Weekly (1953-68) and I. F. Stone's Bi-weekly (1969-71).


From the days when I covered Congress in the late '50s and early '60s, I remember Izzy as a solitary figure prowling Capitol Hill, rumpled, loaded down with documents, and flashing a bemused smile. He was much admired as a symbol of incorruptibility. In fact, looking back at Stone's lifetime work, one sees a pattern emerge.


He was born Isidor Feinstein, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, in Philadelphia in 1907. He dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania his junior year to devote full time to duties as a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. While working for the Philadelphia Record in 1933, he wrote articles for Modern Monthly under the pseudonym "Abelard Stone" that assailed Franklin D. Roosevelt for moving toward fascism and called for a "Soviet America."


In the 1930s, Stone -- writing editorials for the New York Post -- applauded Stalin's infamous show-trials. "Stone was lyrical in his praise of the Soviet government," writes Dr. Kenneth J. Campbell in Moscow's Words, Western Voices, "claiming that Communism was transforming Europe's most backward nation 'into the most advanced.'"


Stone's subsequent writings in the Nation and other left-wing publications expressed nearly unrelieved approval of Soviet policy and opposition to NATO and other anti-Kremlin initiatives. The climax came with the publication in 1952 of Stone's book The Hidden History of the Korean War, which claims that the United States and South Korea provoked the North Korean invasion in 1950. Campbell calls it "a masterpiece of innuendo, anti-American rhetoric, repetition of Soviet propaganda themes and a dearth of evidence to support his theses."


From its beginning in 1953, I. F. Stone's Weekly was the launching pad for missiles aimed at U.S. foreign policy -- especially when it collided with Moscow's. So, to Stone, Nikita Khrushchev, not John F. Kennedy, was the hero of the 1962 missile crisis. Needless to say, Stone attacked the U.S. intervention in Vietnam early and often.


That Izzy Stone was far out on the left (a fact largely omitted from the fawning obituaries) began to take on a sinister cast four years after his death.


Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB major general stationed in Washington, in a 1992 interview with the London Independent, said: "We had an agent -- a well-known American journalist -- with a good reputation who severed his ties with us after 1956 [Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin]. 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." Gen. Kalugin later told Soviet intelligence expert Herbert Romerstein and Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media that the agent was I. F. Stone.


Under intense fire from the mainstream media, Kalugin backed away from this identification -- saying Stone was only "a fellow traveler." But other information started to come out. In 1993, Accuracy in Media obtained FBI documents under the Freedom of Information Act that showed that former Daily Worker editor John Gates, operating as an informant, identified Stone as a covert Communist party member in the 1930s.


More damaging is evidence from the Venona papers. These intercepted documents, decoded by U.S. intelligence and released by the National Security Agency in 1996, show that NKVD agent Vladimir Sergei, working under cover of the Tass news agency's Washington bureau, recruited Stone in 1944. Stone was at first unresponsive, but Sergei learned that Stone had belonged to the party in the '30s and tried again. He was more successful on the second attempt.


According to Sergei, Stone had reacted to the first approach "negatively, fearing the consequences." Now, it was reported back to Moscow that Stone "was not refusing his [Sergei's] aid," while urging the Russian spymaster to "consider that he had three small children and did not want to attract [the FBI's] attention." Stone expressed his "unwillingness to spoil his career," Sergei reported.