There are a lot of misconceptions out there.
Ernest Hemingway was a man of many talents and many adventures. He was a literary giant, an accomplished outdoorsman, a halfway decent boxer (according to Hemingway himself, at least), and a Soviet spy.
A new book called “Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy” tells the little known story of Papa Hemingway’s colorful engagement with espionage– for both the Americans and the Soviets.
It examines in great detail Hemingway’s recruitment by Soviet spies in the NKVD (the precursor to the KGB), followed by the author’s relationships with the American OSS (the forerunner to the CIA) and the US Department of State.
It’s a story of intrigue and deception, bravado and struggle. It’s classic Hemingway.
- Nicholas Reynolds Former CIA officer and historian at the CIA Museum. Author of "Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway's Secret Adventures, 1935-1961"
An Excerpt from 'Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy'
Chapter 5, ‘The Secret File: The NKVD Plays Its Hand’
A man named Jacob Golos urgently wanted to see Hemingway before he left for China. Golos was one of those true originals who surface from time to time in the history of espionage. He was born in 1890 in the Ukraine, at the time part of Czarist Russia, into a well-to-do Jewish family. His first arrest, at the age of eight, for distributing anti-Czarist propaganda, suggests that his family was, to put it mildly, left-leaning. (More than a few Russian revolutionaries were Jewish, one reaction to the state-sanctioned anti-Semitism and the resulting pogroms that occurred with frightening regularity.)
The first arrest did nothing to dampen Golos’s revolutionary ardor; he continued to distribute, and later to print, Bolshevik propaganda. After his second arrest he claimed to have survived a mass execution by falling to the ground and pretending to be dead. His third arrest was in 1907 at the age of seventeen. Now a seasoned Bolshevik, this time he was banished to Siberia. Within two years he had escaped by heading east, making it to China on foot and then to the United States via Japan. He pursued the same line of work in the United States as in Russia—that of revolutionary. First in Detroit and then in New York, he integrated himself into exile communities, mixing with expatriate plotters who never much cared for America and spent their time thinking obsessively about politics in the old country.
By 1915 Golos had become an American citizen. In 1917, the revolution finally came to pass; the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. Golos stayed in the United States and became one of the first members of the CPUSA, which put him on the road to becoming one of its leaders as it grew. The party had various names and branches over time, but there was one constant: it was always Moscow’s instrument in the United States and an arm of Soviet intelligence. Party members could become spies in their own right, or they could play a supporting role. Before long, Golos developed into a facilitator par excellence, the kind of man who could serve as a bridge between Soviet intelligence and American society in a way that was good for the Soviets but not for America.
No matter how long he lived in America, Golos looked and sounded like a Russian revolutionary. He was stocky and short, only five feet two inches; he had blue eyes, thick lips, and a receding hairline. In pictures the remaining hair, said to have been red, looks bushy and dense, creating a halo effect. He never lost his accent. His clothes were shabby, his shoes usually scuffed. This revolutionary cared little for creature comforts. His personal possessions were weighted in favor of party paraphernalia and pamphlets. But he was self-confident enough to substitute his own judgment for that of his NKVD masters from time to time. (From the Moscow perspective it looked like he was hoarding information and sources. In the spy business this was akin to the sin of falling in love with your agents, and often signaled that the handler cared as much for them as for the mission.) His operational judgment was not perfect, but more than good enough for an amateur. Since childhood, he had been a member of one of the most conspiratorial political parties in history, and he had an instinctive feel for intrigue. His people skills were well developed, and he had a way with the ladies. (One of his paramours went so far as to call him the “cutest man in Russia” while he was on a kind of sabbatical in the Soviet Union in the 1920s) Holding American citizenship and knowing his way around New York were enormous added benefits.
More than anything else, Golos was a true believer. Throughout his life he held a candle for the ultimate victory of communism, which he believed would usher in a workers’ paradise. Though he could be highly manipulative, the sincerity of his revolutionary ardor shone through and made him more effective when it came to recruiting and working with spies. He was someone who could bring foreigners into the fold and motivate them to steal secrets for him. While it is hard to compare Golos to other communists whom Hemingway had met, his independence and authenticity made him something like Regler—that is, someone the writer could like and trust.
From WRITER, SAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 by Nicholas Reynolds. Copyright © 2017 by Nicholas Reynolds. William Morrow Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
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