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Arts and Culture

Ernest Hemingway: Dud KGB Spy?

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Posted on Jun 18, 2013
Marco Raaphorst (CC BY 2.0)

A new book, “Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America,” reveals that the beloved American novelist was a spy in the service of the KGB—but failed miserably at the job.

The book was written by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassilev. It is based on notes that Vassilev, a former KGB officer, made when he was given access in the ’90s to Soviet-era intelligence archives in Moscow.

A number of international figures who made their reputation in the Spanish Civil War have had their legacies complicated by details uncovered long after that 1930s conflict. The Guardian reports that George Orwell was shown to have provided a list of public figures who were “crypto-communists” to a Foreign Office propaganda arm in 1949. The most famous photo of that war, taken by Hungarian photographer Robert Capa, has been accused of being a fake. And Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s wife, has been outed as having been hostile to Arabs.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Guardian:

Its section on the author’s secret life as a “dilettante spy” draws on his KGB file in saying he was recruited in 1941 before making a trip to China, given the cover name “Argo”, and “repeatedly expressed his desire and willingness to help us” when he met Soviet agents in Havana and London in the 40s. However, he failed to “give us any political information” and was never “verified in practical work”, so contacts with Argo had ceased by the end of the decade. Was he only ever a pseudo-spook, possibly seeing his clandestine dealings as potential literary material, or a genuine but hopelessly ineffective one?

The latter reading would chime with his attempts to assist the US during the second world war in his fishing boat El Pilar, patrolling waters north of Cuba in search of U-Boats, making coded notes but only one sighting.

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