Elizabeth Bentley : biography
Elizabeth Terrill Bentley (January 1, 1908 – December 3, 1963) was an American spy for the Soviet Union from 1938 until 1945. In 1945 she defected from the Communist Party and Soviet intelligence and became an informer for the U.S. She exposed two networks of spies, ultimately naming over 80 Americans who had engaged in espionage for the Soviets. When her testimony became public in 1948, it became a media sensation and had a major effect on the popular anti-communism of the McCarthy era.
Bentley's entry into espionage came at her own initiative. In 1938 she obtained a job at the Italian Library of Information in New York City; an organization that was fascist Italy's propaganda bureau in the United States. She then reported to CPUSA headquarters, telling them of her willingness to spy on the fascists. The Communists were interested in the information Bentley could provide, and NKVD officer
Jacob Golos was assigned to be her contact and controller. Golos was a Russian émigré who had been a naturalized United States citizen since 1915.
At this point, Bentley thought she was spying solely for the American Communist Party. In fact, Golos was one of the Soviet Union's most important intelligence agents in the United States. At the time when he and Bentley met, Golos was involved in planning the assassination of Leon Trotsky, which would take place in Mexico in 1940. Bentley and Golos soon became lovers, although it would be more than a year before she learned his true name, and, according to her later testimony, two years before she knew that he was working for Soviet intelligence.
In 1940, two years into their relationship, the Justice Department forced Golos to register as an agent of the Soviet government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. This made it dangerous for him to contact and take documents from the network of American spies he controlled, and he gradually transferred this responsibility to Bentley. Golos also needed someone to take charge of the day to day business of the United States Service and Shipping Corporation, a Comintern front organization for espionage activities.
Bentley stepped into this role as well. Although she was never directly paid for any of her espionage work, she would eventually earn $800 a month as vice president of U.S. Service and Shipping, a considerable salary for the time. An equivalent salary in 2008 dollars, adjusted for inflation, comes out to over $12,000 per month. As Bentley acquired an important role in Soviet intelligence, the Soviets gave her the code name Umnitsa, loosely translated as "clever girl" or "Miss Wise." (In some literature it is less correctly translated as "good girl".)
The Silvermaster group
Most of Bentley's contacts were in what prosecutors and historians would later call the "Silvermaster group," a network of spies centered around Nathan Gregory Silvermaster that would become one of the most important Soviet espionage operations in the United States. Silvermaster worked with the Resettlement Administration and later with the Board of Economic Warfare. He didn't have access to much sensitive information himself, but he knew several Communists and sympathizers within the government who were willing to pass information to him, and by way of Elizabeth Bentley, ultimately to Moscow. At this time, the Soviet Union and the United States were allies in the Second World War, and much of the information Silvermaster collected for the Soviets had to do with the war against Nazi Germany. It included secret estimates of German military strength, data on U.S. munitions production, and information on the Allies' schedule for opening a second front in Europe. The contacts in Golos and Bentley's extended network ranged from dedicated Stalinists to, in the words of Bentley's biographer Kathryn Olmsted, "romantic idealists" who "wanted to help the brave Russians beat the Nazi war machine."
Conflicts with Soviet spymasters
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