An obscure wartime spy working for the OSS, the wartime precursor to the CIA, gets a thorough exposé by a government lawyer and former CIA officer.
Bradley’s sense of frustration at how this arrogant, dissembling underling of William Donovan got away with passing information to the Soviet spy network is partly explained by the general atmosphere of fear raging after the war and the fact that the American government had bigger fish to net—e.g., Alger Hiss. Indeed, while Duncan Lee (1913–1988) did not seem to have done harm to the U.S. war effort, he did provide the Soviets with information about OSS internal employees at security risk, thus tipping off the Soviets to the status of their agents. A child of missionary evangelicals in China, a student at Yale in the 1930s and a Rhodes scholar, Lee became politically radicalized at Oxford, largely under the sway of his socialist wife-to-be, Ishbel. Visiting the Soviet Union, he grew infatuated with communism and, in 1937, announced to his horrified parents “in a mixture of scripted lecture and outright rebellion” that he and Ishbel were joining the Communist Party of Great Britain. Back in the U.S., the couple first came under the scrutiny of the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, when their landlady reported their “decidedly pink” views. The outbreak of war brought Lee to Washington to work with Donovan in his new intelligence service, and Lee began passing information to Mary Price, his first handler, a fellow Southerner working for Soviet agent Jacob Golos. From Price, he would be passed to agent Elizabeth Bentley, whose eventual breakdown and confession to the FBI would out Lee and dozens of others, dragging them before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1948. Yet Lee’s subsequent work in China funneling arms to Chiang Kai-shek allowed him to fly under the radar of prosecutors.
A murky effort exacerbated by myriad shadowy agencies and a deeply unsympathetic protagonist.