An in-depth look at the intriguing dark days at the break of World War II, when fear of a “Fifth Column” was rampant.
Sifting through a cache of archives at Boston University, where Rand teaches journalism, the author became aware of the hushed-up story of a low-level American embassy employee in London who had been arrested in May 1940 by British MI5 for squirreling away compromising missives between the top U.S. and British leaders. Tyler Kent, then a code clerk in the American embassy and formerly part of the first U.S. embassy team put in place by William Bullitt in Moscow, was a strangely disgruntled young man who deeply sympathized with growing reactionary elements, like pro-German, pro-isolationist, anti-Semitic views then vying with more interventionist segments both in England and in the U.S. In fact, Kent had been flirting with (and providing documents to) members of the Right Club in London, led by a destabilized, intensely anti-Semitic Member of Parliament, Archibald Ramsay, convinced of the pernicious “Jewish menace” trying to ruin the government; and another dangerous member, Russian Baroness Anna Wolkoff, who was actually providing said documents to the notorious William Joyce, making his incendiary broadcasts in Berlin. Although Kent had been under surveillance for some months, the defeat of British naval forces in Norway intensified the “Fifth Column Panic” then sweeping the government, and Kent was apprehended, stripped of diplomatic immunity, quietly tried and imprisoned for the duration of the war. The damning documents found in Kent’s possession would have revealed Roosevelt’s and others’ attempts to circumvent the Neutrality Act, which Kent intended to reveal to U.S. senators.
A fascinating work enriched by the author’s deep knowledge and command of his material.