Cedric Belfrage

Cedric Belfrage

Cedric Belfrage, the son of a wealthy physician, was born in London on 8th November 1904. He lived in a house with 20 rooms and six servants. (1) He was sent to Cambridge University with a manservant and what he later called a "meager" allowance of two pounds a week. (2)

In 1924 he began writing film reviews for the Kinematograph Weekly in 1924. Three years later he moved to Hollywood and was employed as a film critic of the New York Sun. He also worked as a press agent for Sam Goldwyn. Belfrage became a socialist after becoming friends with the novelist, Upton Sinclair.

Belfrage explained that while at university he had no interest in politics. This changed while he was living in America. During the Great Depression he witnessed great inequality. Like many intelligent people at the time he became convinced that capitalism had failed. He said in an interview that he "could not stomach the inequalities" that he saw and he therefore became a socialist and an anti-fascist activist. As he admitted that this decision "started me on the road to ruin". (3)

Belfrage got a reputation for upsetting film studios. According to one source: "He became a press agent to a picture company at three pounds a week. He was fired. He went to New York and got a job as scenario reader with Universal Pictures. He was fired again. He then became a movie critic, which profession he kept up until 1930, when he had interviewed all the stars several times over and had been ejected from four major studios." (4)

Cedric Belfrage - Film Critic

In the early 1930s he became the film critic of The Daily Express. When he returned to Hollywood he took his friend, Eric Maschwitz, with him. (5) Maschwitz recalled in his autobiography, No Chip on My Shoulder (1957): "In Hollywood Cedric and I settled into a small apartment at the Roosevelt Hotel. As representative of a leading London newspaper he had the entree to all the studios, then very active in the first flush of the talking picture. He was kind enough to take me with him on his rounds and I found myself, as wide-eyed as any juvenile movie-fan, face to face with the gods and goddesses of the screen. I met most of them and remember few of them - except for Sylvia Sidney with her quick wit and almost Oriental beauty and Douglas Fairbanks Junior, who remains my friend to this day."

Belfrage introduced Maschwitz to Upton Sinclair: "An old friend of Cedric Belfrage's was Upton Sinclair, the novelist at that time still active in the Socialist cause. Sinclair lived then in a wooden house in Pasadena so entangled in jasmine that, when we called to visit him, the perfume was almost stifling. A frail, yet dynamic man in the mid-fifties he talked fascinatingly for hours, communicating at intervals with his wife, who was upstairs in bed with a chill, by means of a police-dog to whose collar he tied notes. When we were about to leave, he said: 'Well, I guess you boys would like a drink'; we accepted and were immediately regaled with two glasses of water! I took away with me an autographed copy of his latest novel The Flivver King which was an expose of the Henry Ford Empire." (6)

One of Belfrage's reviews in The Daily Express upset "the entire film industry in protest withdrew advertising from his paper. He quit dramatic reviewing for a time until the trouble blew over. He left on his round-the-world trip in January, 1934, and returned in December.... He then took up business at the old stand again." In April, 1936 he went on a visit to the Soviet Union with his wife, the journalist Molly Castle.

Hollywood Anti-Nazi League

Belfrage became an active member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League (HANL) in 1936. Other members included Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Walter Wanger, Dashiell Hammett, Donald Ogden Stewart, John Howard Lawson, Clifford Odets, John Bright, Dudley Nichols, Frederic March, Lewis Milestone, Oscar Hammerstein II, Ernst Lubitsch, Mervyn LeRoy, Gloria Stuart, Sylvia Sidney, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chico Marx, Benny Goodman, Fred MacMurray and Eddie Cantor. Another member, Philip Dunne, later admitted "I joined the Anti-Nazi League because I wanted to help fight the most vicious subversion of human dignity in modern history". (7)

In 1937 Belfrage joined the American Communist Party, but withdrew his membership a few months later. He was too much a political maverick to accept the discipline of the party. For example, at one meeting, John Bright, asked Victor Jerome, the leading party member in Hollywood: "Comrade Jerome, what if a Party decision is made that you cannot go along with?" Jerome replied: "When the Party makes a decision, it becomes your opinion." (8)

Belfrage became active in the fight against fascism and developed a close relationship with Victor Gollancz and the Left Book Club. He wrote several books during this period on politics. This included Away From It All (1937), Promised Land (1937), Let My People Go (1937) and South of God (1938). Belfrage was passionate about what his son described as the "plight of humanity". Nicholas Belfrage later argued: "He fought all the time against oppression, privilege, injustice, all that. He never gave a damn about material things or money, which meant that it fell to my poor mother to support and look after the family with very little help." (9)

Ruth Dudley Edwards, the author of Victor Gollancz: A Biography (1987) has commented: "Belfrage, the author of the February 1938 choice (of the Left Book Club) Promised Land, an inner history of Hollywood - showing what happened to art under capitalism." Edwards quotes Belfrage as saying that at one packed meeting at the Empress Hall, which seated 11,000, he found the occasion "the atmosphere of a true religious revival". (10)

British Security Coordination

In June, 1940, Winston Churchill appointed William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC). Stewart Menzies, head of MI6, sent a message to Gladwyn Jebb, of the Ministry of Economic Warfare: "I have appointed Mr W.S. Stephenson to take charge of my organisation in the USA and Mexico. As I have explained to you, he has a good contact with an official who sees the President daily. I believe this may prove of great value to the Foreign Office in the future outside and beyond the matters on which that official will give assistance to Stephenson. Stephenson leaves this week. Officially he will go as Principal Passport Control Officer for the USA. I feel that he should have contact with the Ambassador, and should like him to have a personal letter from Cadogan to the effect that it may at times be desirable for the Ambassador to have personal contact with Mr Stephenson." (11)

James Aronson, Cedric Belfrage and John T. McManus in 1948
Cedric Belfrage

As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase (British Security Coordination) is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention." (12)

An office was opened in the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan with the agreement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. Roosevelt's top security advisor, Adolph Berle, sent a message to Sumner Welles, the Under Secretary of State: "The head of the field service appears to be Mr. William S. Stephenson... in charge of providing protection for British ships, supplies etc. But in fact a full size secret police and intelligence service is rapidly evolving... with district officers at Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco, Portland and probably Seattle.... I have in mind, of course, that should anything go wrong at any time, the State Department would be called upon to explain why it permitted violation of American laws and was compliant about an obvious breach of diplomatic obligation... Were this to occur and a Senate investigation should follow, we should be on very dubious ground if we have not taken appropriate steps." (13)

An important British agent, Charles Howard Ellis, was sent to New York City to work alongside William Stephenson as assistant-director. Together they recruited several businessmen, journalists, academics and writers into the BSC. This included Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Ian Fleming, Ivar Bryce, David Ogilvy, Isaiah Berlin, Eric Maschwitz, A. J. Ayer, Giles Playfair, Benn Levy, Noël Coward and Gilbert Highet.

Cedric Belfrage joined the BSC in December 1941. According to William Deaken, one of the senior figures in the organisation: "Belfrage was brought in as one of the propaganda people... he was a known communist." He was recruited by the BSC because if his contacts with American journalists. The strategy was to work with American journalists to persuade them to write articles that would advocate intervention in the Second World War.

Belfrage worked with organizations such as the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDAAA) that had been founded by William Allen White. He gave an interview to the Chicago Daily News where he argued: "Here is a life and death struggle for every principle we cherish in America: For freedom of speech, of religion, of the ballot and of every freedom that upholds the dignity of the human spirit... Here all the rights that common man has fought for during a thousand years are menaced... The time has come when we must throw into the scales the entire moral and economic weight of the United States on the side of the free peoples of Western Europe who are fighting the battle for a civilized way of life." (14)

According to William Boyd: "BSC's media reach was extensive: it included such eminent American columnists as Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, and influenced coverage in newspapers such as the Herald Tribune, the New York Post and the Baltimore Sun. BSC effectively ran its own radio station, WRUL, and a press agency, the Overseas News Agency (ONA), feeding stories to the media as they required from foreign datelines to disguise their provenance. WRUL would broadcast a story from ONA and it thus became a US "source" suitable for further dissemination, even though it had arrived there via BSC agents. It would then be legitimately picked up by other radio stations and newspapers, and relayed to listeners and readers as fact. The story would spread exponentially and nobody suspected this was all emanating from three floors of the Rockefeller Centre. BSC took enormous pains to ensure its propaganda was circulated and consumed as bona fide news reporting. To this degree its operations were 100% successful: they were never rumbled." (15)

Roald Dahl was assigned to work with Drew Pearson, one of America's most influential journalist as the time. "Dahl described his main function with BSC as that of trying to 'oil the wheels' that often ground imperfectly between the British and American war efforts. Much of this involved dealing with journalists, something at which he was already skilled. His chief contact was the mustachioed political gossip columnist Drew Pearson, whose column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, was widely regarded as the most important of its kind in the United States." (16)

Cedric Belfrage and the FBI

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, much of the BSC's security and intelligence work could legitimately be taken over the FBI and other United States agencies. William Stephenson told Stewart Menzies, head of MI6, that the very existence of the BSC was now threatened. In January 1942, the McKellar Bill was before Congress, requiring the registration of all "foreign agents". Stephenson told Menzies this "might render work of this office in U.S.A. impossible as it is obviously inadmissible that all our records and other material should be made public". (17) After some vigorous lobbying by Stephenson and others, the McKellar Bill was amended so that agents of the Allied "United Nations" would be exempt from registration and need only report in private to their own embassy. (18)

BSC agents now worked very closely with the FBI. Belfrage was asked to infiltrate a Soviet network run by Jacob Golos. He was the most important Soviet agent in the United States. Golos had been recruited by Gaik Ovakimyan, the NKVD station chief in New York City. Secret Soviet intelligence cables from Golos as "our reliable man in the U.S." According to Allen Weinstein, the author of The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999): "Through bribes, Golos developed a network of foreign consular officials and U.S. passport agency workers who supplied him not only with passports but also naturalization documents and birth certificates belonging to persons who had died or had permanently left the United States." (19)

The FBI became aware that Golos was running a travel agency, World Tourists in New York City, as a front for Soviet clandestine work. (20) His office was raided by officials of the Justice Department. Some of these documents showed that Earl Browder, the leader of the Communist Party of the United States, had travelled on a false passport. Browder was arrested and Golos told Elizabeth Bentley: "Earl is my friend. It is my carelessness that is going to send him to jail." Bentley later recalled that the incident took its toll on Golos: "His red hair was becoming grayer and sparser, his blue eyes seemed to have no more fire in them, his face became habitually white and taut." (21)

The FBI decided that he was worth more to them free than in prison. According to Bentley, United States officials agreed to drop the whole investigation, if Golos pleaded guilty. He told her that Moscow insisted that he went along with the deal. "I never thought that I would live to see the day when I would have to plead guilty in a bourgeois court." He complained that they had forced him to become a "sacrificial goat". On 15th March, 1940, Golos received a $500 fine and placed on four months probation. (22)

On 18th January, 1941, the FBI saw Golos exchange documents with Gaik Ovakimyan. The FBI also observed Golos meeting Elizabeth Bentley at the offices of the of the U.S. Service and Shipping Corporation. The agents wondered if she might be a Soviet spy as well and she was followed. On 23rd May, 1941, Ovakimyan was arrested and deported. (23)

He later explained to the FBI that under orders from BSC he had passed files to Russian contacts during the war in order to get material back in return. "My thought was to tell him certain things of a really trifling nature from the point of view of British and American interest, hoping in this way to get from him some more valuable information from the Communist side." (24)

Venona Files

The Soviets gave Belfrage the code-name, UCN/9. He was also known as "MOLLY". We know about this because of the declassifed Venona files. After the war a team led by Meredith Gardner was assigned to help decode a backlog of communications between Moscow and its foreign missions. By 1945, over 200,000 messages had been transcribed and now a team of cryptanalysts attempted to decrypt them. The project, named Venona (a word which appropriately, has no meaning), was based at Arlington Hall, Virginia. (25)

It was not until 1949 that Gardner made his big breakthrough. He was able to decipher enough of a Soviet message to identify it as the text of a 1945 telegram from Winston Churchill to Harry S. Truman. Checking the message against a complete copy of the telegram provided by the British Embassy, the cryptanalysts confirmed beyond doubt that during the war the Soviets had a spy who had access to secret communication between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain.

Meredith Gardner and his team were able to work out that more than 200 Americans had become Soviet agents during the Second World War. They had spies in the State Department and most leading government agencies, the Manhattan Project and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). This included Elizabeth Bentley, Marion Bachrach, Joel Barr, Abraham Brothman, Earl Browder, Karl Hermann Brunck, Louis Budenz, Whittaker Chambers, Frank Coe, Henry Hill Collins, Judith Coplon, Lauchlin Currie, Hope Hale Davis, Samuel Dickstein, Martha Dodd, Laurence Duggan, Gerhart Eisler, Noel Field, Harold Glasser, Vivian Glassman, Jacob Golos, Theodore Hall, Alger Hiss, Donald Hiss, Joseph Katz, Charles Kramer, Duncan Chaplin Lee, Harvey Matusow, Hede Massing, Paul Massing, Boris Morros, William Perl, Victor Perlo, Joszef Peter, Lee Pressman, Mary Price, Joseph North, William Remington, Alfred Sarant, Abraham George Silverman, Helen Silvermaster, Nathan Silvermaster, Alfred Stern, William Ludwig Ullmann, Julian Wadleigh, Harold Ware, Nathaniel Weyl, Donald Niven Wheeler, Harry Dexter White, Nathan Witt and Mark Zborowski.

These agents were never prosecuted because the FBI and the CIA did not want the Soviets to know they had broken their code. However, the Soviets knew as early as 1949 because one of Gardner's assistants, William Weisband, was also a Soviet agent. To make sure that the FBI was unaware that they knew that the code was about to be broken, they continued to use it. The "operatives" were instructed "every week to compose summary reports or information on the basis of press and personal connections to be transferred to the Center by telegraph." As Allen Weinstein, the author of The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999) has pointed out the "Soviet intelligence's once-flourishing American networks, in short, had been transformed almost overnight into a virtual clipping service." (26)

Ever since the Soviet Union had entered the war, Joseph Stalin had been demanding that the Allies open-up a second front in Europe. Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt argued that any attempt to land troops in Western Europe would result in heavy casualties. Stalin began to worry that the Allies wanted Adolf Hitler to destroy Soviet communism. It was important for Stalin to be convinced that a Second Front would eventually be achieved.

Cedric Belfrage was part of this project. In 1995-96 over 2,990 fully or partially decrypted Soviet intelligence cables from the Venona archives were declassified and released by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. This included cables that concerned Belfrage. One dated 19th May, 1943, from Vassili Zarubin stated that UCN/9, had informed them that there was a "growing movement" for "opening a second front in Europe". (27)

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This information about the desire for a Second Front had been obtained by BSC agent, David Ogilvy, who worked for the Audience Research Institute, that had been set-up by George H. Gallup and Hadley Cantril. According to the official BSC history, from later 1941 on Ogilvy was "able to ensure a constant flow of intelligence on public opinion in the United States, since he had access not only to the questionnaires sent out by Gallup and Cantril and to the recommendations offered by the latter to the White House," but also to "internal reports prepared by the Survey Division of the Office of War Information and by the Opinion Research Division of the U.S. Army". (28)

According to Robert J. Lamphere, a member of the Soviet Espionage unit of the FBI, who was involved in interviewing Elizabeth Bentley, reports that she claims that Belfrage passed to Golos a "Scotland Yard secret instruction manual on the training of British Intelligence agents". (29)

It is also clear that since joining the British Security Coordination (BSC) in December 1941, Belfrage had not told the Soviets of the existence of the organisation. In June, 1943, Pavel Klarin, the Soviet vice-counsul in New York City, and a senior NKVD officer, was requested to investigate the existence of this organization. On 21st June he replied: "The organization 'British Security Coordination' is not known to us. We have taken steps to find out what it is. We will report the result in the next few days." (30)

By this time Jacob Golos was having doubts about Belfrage. His assistant, Elizabeth Bentley, later told the FBI "Belfrage was an extremely odd character, and rather difficult to deal with. Although passionately devoted to the cause, he still considered himself a patriotic Britisher, and hence he would give us no information that showed up England's mistakes or tended to make her a laughing-stock." (31)

In September 1943, Golos broke off contact with Belfrage. The official reason was that Golos had shown some of the material provided by Belfrage to Earl Browder. He had used some of this information in an article that he had written for an article that appeared in a magazine controlled by the Communist Party of the United States. Terrified that the FBI might trace the source of the leak, the Soviets decided to have nothing more to do with Belfrage. (32) However, the real reason is that another Soviet agent, HAVRE (the true identity of this agent has never been discovered), had reported that Belfrage had failed to give Golos details about the BSC. This suggested to the Soviets he was working as a double agent. (33)

Belfrage also co-edited a left literary magazine, The Clipper, during the Second World War. In the magazine he promoted the work of Orson Welles. According to the authors of Radical Hollywood (2002), he selected Citizen Kane "as the supreme example of what radical innovators could do in Hollywood, the proof that showed the way forward." Belfrage argued that the movie was "as profoundly moving an experience as only this extraordinary and hitherto unexplored media of sound-cinema can afford." Belfrage suggested that progressive figures in Hollywood had been"hoping and trying for a chance like this.... but always the film salesman, speaking through the producer, has the last word." (34)

James Aronson, Cedric Belfrage and John T. McManus in 1948
James Aronson, Cedric Belfrage and John T. McManus in 1948

In 1944 Belfrage worked at the "Psychological Warfare Division" of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) in Paris under the direct control of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Belfrage was involved in setting up a free and democratic press in West Germany. As Belfrage pointed out, at last "albeit kicking and screaming, democratic capitalism had joined with Soviet socialism to wipe from the earth the war virus in the most pestilent form - fascism." Belfrage welcomed the new power he had been given. "We were part inquisitors, part entrepreneurs but with privileges denied to a Beaverbrook or Hearst. Waving the conqueror's wand, we simply requisitioned real estate, materials, and equipment for use by the new "democratic" press we were required to create." In late 1945 General Eisenhower told him in a telegram that it was not considered right to employ someone who was "British" in what had become an "American zone" and he returned to the United States. (35)

Elizabeth Bentley

On 11th October 1945, Louis Budenz, the editor of the Daily Worker, announced that he was leaving the Communist Party of the United States and had rejoined "the faith of my fathers" because Communism "aims to establish tyranny over the human spirit". He also said that he intended to expose the "Communist menace". (36) Budenz knew that Elizabeth Bentley was a spy and four days later she showed up at the FBI's New York office. Vsevolod Merkulov later wrote in a memo to Joseph Stalin that "Bentley's betrayal might have been caused by her fear of being unmasked by the renegade Budenz." (37) At this meeting she only gave the names of Jacob Golos and Earl Browder as spies.

Another meeting was held on the 7th November 1945. This time she the FBI a 107 page statement that named 80 people including Cedric Belfrage, Victor Perlo, Harry Dexter White, Nathan Silvermaster, Abraham George Silverman, Nathan Witt, Marion Bachrach, Julian Wadleigh, William Remington, Harold Glasser, Charles Kramer, Duncan Chaplin Lee, Joseph Katz, William Ludwig Ullmann, Henry Hill Collins, Frank Coe, Abraham Brothman, Mary Price and Lauchlin Currie as Soviet spies. The following day J. Edgar Hoover, sent a message to Harry S. Truman confirming that an espionage ring was operating in the United States government. (38) Some of these people, including White, Currie, Bachrach, Witt and Wadleigh, had been named by Whittaker Chambers in 1939. (39)

There is no doubt that the FBI was taking her information very seriously. As G. Edward White, has pointed out: "Among her networks were two in the Washington area: one centered in the War Production Board, the other in the Treasury Department. The networks included two of the most highly placed Soviet agents in the government, Harry Dexter White in Treasury and Laughlin Currie, an administrative assistant in the White House." (40) Amy W. Knight, the author of How the Cold War Began: The Ignor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies (2005) has suggested that it had added significance because it followed the defection of Ignor Gouzenko. (41)

Elizabeth Bentley
Elizabeth Bentley

J. Edgar Hoover attempted to keep Bentley's defection a secret. The plan was for her to "burrow-back" into the Soviet underground in America in order to get evidence against dozens of spies. However, it was Hoover's decision to tell William Stephenson, the head of head of British Security Coordination about Bentley, that resulted in the Soviets becoming aware of her defection. Stephenson told Kim Philby and on 20th November, 1945, he informed NKVD of her betrayal. (42)

On 23rd November, 1945, Moscow sent a message to all station chiefs to "cease immediately their connection with all persons known to Bentley in our work and to warn the agents about Bentley's betrayal". The cable to Anatoly Gorsky told him to cease meeting with Donald Maclean, Victor Perlo, Charles Kramer and Lauchlin Currie. Another agent, Iskhak Akhmerov, was told not the meet with any sources connected to Bentley. (43)

It was not until April, 1947, that the FBI descended on the homes of the names provided by Bentley. Their properties were searched and they were interrogated by agents over several weeks. This included Cedric Belfrage. Unlike all the other people who were interviewed, Belfrage was willing to make a confession. However, he claimed that he had only passed information to the Soviet Union on behalf of British Security Coordination.

Belfrage confessed that in 1942 he met with Earl Browder, a leading figure in the Communist Party of the United States. He was then introduced to Jacob Golos. The following year he met with Victor Jerome, eight or nine times. Belfrage said that he met with Jerome "with a view to finding out what I could about Communists and Russian politics". Belfrage reported that in order to induce Jerome to provide him with information: "I supplied him with information about Scotland Yard surveillances and also with some documents relative to the Vichy Government in France, which were of a highly confidential nature with respect to their origin but which contained information of no value whatever."

Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, the authors of Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (2000) have argued: "Belfrage did not know it, but his statement about giving Jerome material on Scotland Yard surveillance matched closely with a Bentley statement that among the documents Belfrage had handed over was a British security service manual on procedures and techniques for the proper running of agents... The Venona cables also corroborate Bentley's story that Golos shared Belfrage's information with Browder." (44)

The National Guardian

In 1948 Belfrage helped establish the National Guardian with James Aronson and John T. McManus. (45) The newspaper provided positive publicity for Vito Marcantonio and the American Labor Party (ALP). The newspaper also campaigned against the convictions of Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg. One of its journalists, William A. Reuben, who wrote many of the articles on the case, later published The Atom Spy Hoax (1954) on the Rosenbergs.

Robert J. Lamphere later reported that Belfrage's campaign against the proposed execution of the Rosenberg's upset the FBI: "The important thing was that the Reuben articles provided the fodder for a concerted campaign to make the public believe not only that the Rosenbergs were framed but also the United States government was guilty of murdering innocent Jewish idealists. This campaign was ultimately of great benefit to the Soviet Union." (46)

On his return to the United States he was approached by the journalist, Joseph North, to rejoin the Communist Party of the United States. Belfrage rejected the idea as he had opposed the party's support of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the way it had purged members for not supporting the policy of Joseph Stalin. Instead he joined the Progressive Party, led by Henry A. Wallace. He admitted that Wallace was "too capitalist for our heartiest cheers" but felt he could provide a "political home" for his socialist beliefs. (47)

House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

On 6th May 1953 Belfrage was summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HCUA). According to Glenn Fowler, of The New York Times, the main reason for this was for his work in the "Psychological Warfare Division" in West Germany. Belfrage and James Aronson were accused of having approved "Communists to publish newspapers". (48)

His son, Nicholas Belfrage, later recalled: "One morning I heard on the radio that the band leader Artie Shaw and the journalist Cedric Belfrage were to appear that day before HUAC. I knew it was coming but I was terrified nonetheless, because at that time there was a general atmosphere of fear and I thought I stood a good chance of being beaten up at my Bronx school or at least ostracised by my friends. In the event none of my contemporaries ever mentioned it, though my teacher, one Bessie Coyne whose adoration for McCarthy was matched only by her loathing of Communists and Brits (I was deemed to be both) inquired of me before a packed and silent class: 'Who are you going to kill today, Belfrage?' I was 13 at the time." (49)

Belfrage refused to answer questions put to him by Harold H. Velde because "whatever answers I would give would be used to crucify me and other innocent persons". Another HUAC member, Bernard W. Kearney, told Belfrage: "I'm going to contact immigration authorities and find out why you are still in this country. I think you're the type to be deported immediately." (50)

Belfrage later argued that Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn were determined to bring an end to the National Guardian as it was one of his major critics. "McCarthy struck red gold: two subversive army officers who, after laboring to create a 'red press' in Germany, had returned to establish one at home - a paper now leading the fight for the Rosenbergs, at whose trial Cohn had been an assistant prosecutor." (51)

Later that month Belfrage was arrested and taken to Ellis Island, at that time, the immigration detention centre. On 10th June, 1953, he was freed by Federal District Judge Edward Weinfeld. In a statement issued by Weinfeld he argued: "If for the long period of seven years following... the immigration and other government officials did not consider Belfrage's presence and activities inimical to the nation's welfare and a threat to its security, it is difficult to understand how, overnight, because of his assertion of a constitutional privilege, he has become such a menace to the nation's safety that it is now necessary to jail him without bail." (52)

Cedric Belfrage was eventually deported on 15th August 1955. "America banished one of its most devoted sons last week in the person of Cedric Henning Belfrage, editor of the newspaper. With his wife, the Guardian editor sailed at noon, Monday, August 15, on the Holland-America liner Nieuw Amsterdam for his native England under a deportation order demanded 27 months ago by Senator Joseph McCarthy." (53) The following year Belfrage published The Frightened Giant: My Unfinished Affair with America (1956). (54)

Cedric Belfrage and the Soviet Union

In 1956 Belfrage visited Moscow and brought up the issue of political prisoners being executed without trial in the Soviet Union. He was told by a Soviet spokesman that this was "an internal matter". Belfrage wrote in the National Guardian that the executions were no different "from the Rosenberg executions in America - except that the Rosenberg's did get trials". (55)

Later that year Belfrage was horrified by the Soviet reaction to the Hungarian Uprising. "The Soviet-Hungarian convulsions of 1956 shook a different kind of faith in socialists around the world - faith not in the past but in the future." Belfrage was also dismayed by the way the events were reported in China. Imre Nagy and other leaders of the revolt were described as "imperialist henchmen, renegades, slanderers". Belfrage argued that: "If the socialist world leaders fail to recognize in such protests the voices of their true friends it will be perhaps the greatest tragedy of all. The voice is saying that socialists in the capitalist world have made sacrifices too for the cause, and will not stand silent while that cause is again dragged through a mire of terror where socialism reigns and torn to pieces where the fight remains to be won." (56)

Cedric Belfrage
Cedric Belfrage

In 1960 Cedric Belfrage travelled to Cuba where reported on the new government of Fidel Castro. (57) After spending some time in the region he published The Man at the Door with the Gun: Contemporary Developments in Latin America (1963) where he discussed the possibility of future revolutions in the region. Belfrage argued that Castro had "made some serious errors of judgment" but he "anchored himself in scores of millions of hearts beyond Cuba to Latin America's darkest confines" and made himself a top target of CIA's assassination programme. (58)

Belfrage was often away from home. His son, Nicholas Belfrage recalls: "From a son’s point of view he was someone to admire rather than love. He was always too busy saving the world to be a good father (although my sister Sally, who adored him, would disagree). He was a man led by principle. He had a lot of charm and a great sense of humour, which he always said was essential in life." (59)

Assassination of John F. Kennedy

Belfrage took a close interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. One of the first books claiming a conspiracy was written by Thomas Buchanan. When Who Killed Kennedy? was published in the United States in 1964, it was mainly ignored. However, Time Magazine reviewed it and made much of the fact that Buchanan was a former member of the American Communist Party. Belfrage, argued in the journal, Minority of One, that it was "irrelevant whether Buchanan was a former communist or a former Zen Buddhist". Belfrage went on to state that what was important was Buchanan's "common sense of the assassination and the American crisis it symbolizes". (60)

Belfrage's book about The American Inquisition, was about Joe McCarthy and McCarthyism was published in 1973. He is also the co-author with James Aronson of Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian 1948-1967 (1978). In 1988 the work won a citation from PEN, the international literary organization. (61) Robert Meeropol met Belfrage when he was living in exile and described him as "charasmatic, charming, intelligent and thoughtful, a fine, fine, human being." (62)

Cedric Belfrage died in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on 21st June, 1990.

Why the BBC and the Daily Mail ran a false story on anti-fascist campaigner, Cedric Belfrage

The problems of appearing in a BBC documentary

Primary Sources

(1) Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner, Radical Hollywood (2002)

Perhaps the most important point of Hollywood discussion had already been reached in the short-lived Clipper by another political oddball at least as curious as Bright: British-exile novelist, newspaper "personality" interviewer, and past film publicist Cedric Belfrage. He chose Citizen Kane as the supreme example of what radical innovators could do in Hollywood, the proof that showed the way forward. This was a more obviously left-wing choice than critics (except perhaps those on the Right) were able to admit for decades-not only because Kane's factual basis happened to be the Red-baiting William Randolph Hearst, of course, but because of Orson Welles himself.

That Welles of the Mercury Theatre days had been surrounded by future blacklisted writers like Howard Koch and that he so depended upon the Popular Front-ish John Houseman as his producer could have been no secret. The notorious 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast hoax caught savants of the Merc flat-footed: no one expected it to be taken seriously. The arrival of America's bad boy and mass-artistic genius in Hollywood has been made legend again and again. Right down to gofer William Alland, who drove Welles westward from New York and turned up as the narrator of Citizen Kane with back to the camera, Welles was surrounded by helpful, sometimes worshipful Communists.

(2) Glenn Fowler, The New York Times (22nd June, 1990)

Cedric H. Belfrage, an author, editor and translator who was deported from the United States to his native Britain in 1955 after refusing to tell Congressional investigators whether he had ever been a Communist, died yesterday at his home in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He was 85 years old.

His wife, Mary, said he had been in declining health since suffering a stroke nine years ago. But Mr. Belfrage continued writing, winning awards for translations of the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

A self-proclaimed ''independent radical,'' Mr. Belfrage was the editor and co-owner, with James Aronson, of The National Guardian weekly newspaper when he was deported. He was its editor-in-exile until 1967 when both men resigned after a dispute over editorial policy with the weekly's staff, and turned their stock over to the staff.

Mr. Belfrage was born in London, the son of a well-to-do physician. Shortly after World War I, he was sent to Cambridge University with a manservant and what he later called a ''meager'' allowance of two pounds a week.

He persuaded his father to finance a trip to New York, and he later worked his way to Hollywood, where he found he could sell interviews with movie stars to British magazines.

He returned to London and became a film critic. In 1933, he took a round-the-world trip, which he chronicled in his first book, Away From It All: An Escapologist's Notebook.

He returned to Britain, but his view of British life and values remained negative, as he recorded in another autobiographical book, They All Hold Swords, in 1941.

After serving as a correspondent during World War II, he and Mr. Aronson worked in Germany for United States occupation authorities seeking to re-establish German newspapers. They were later accused of having approved Communists to publish newspapers, charges that were the main basis for their subpoenas from the House Committee on Un-American Activities and its counterpart in the Senate.

In 1948, Mr. Belfrage and Mr. Aronson began publishing The National Guardian in New York as an independent left-wing journal. Five years later, Mr. Belfrage refused to say at Congressional hearings whether he had ever been a Communist or had engaged in espionage against the United States, charges that had been made by a former Communist courier, Elizabeth Bentley.

In 1954 the Immigration and Nauturalization Service ordered him deported ''on grounds of Communist Party membership.'' After the order was upheld a year later on appeal, he sailed for England rather than remain in detention pending a Supreme Court appeal.

In 1973, he was permitted to visit the United States for a monthlong tour to promote his book The American Inquisition, published by Bobbs-Merrill. The book described what he called ''massive'' assaults on the Bill of Rights from 1945 to 1960.

In the early 1980's, he and Mr. Aronson had a rapprochement with The National Guardian, and he resumed writing book reviews and other commentary. He returned to this country almost annually after the 1973 book tour. Mr. Aronson died in 1988. From 1985 to 1988 Mr. Belfrage published a trilogy, Memory of Fire, translations of Mr. Galeano. In 1988 the work won a citation from PEN, the international literary organization, and last year it won an award from the Before Columbus Foundation at the American Booksellers Association convention. His translation of Mr. Galeano's Book of Embraces will be published by W. W. Norton next spring.

Mr. Belfrage is survived by his fifth wife, the former Mary Bernick, whom he married in 1960; two daughters, Sally, of London, and Anne Zribi of Paris; a son, Nicholas, of London, and five grandchildren.

(3) Gordon Corera, Cedric Belfrage, the WW2 spy Britain was Embarrassed to Pursue (21st August 2015)

Britain failed to prosecute a member of the intelligence services who passed secrets to Russia in World War Two out of fear of embarrassment, files in the National Archives have revealed.

MI5 also appeared to have failed to grasp the significance of former film critic Cedric Belfrage's activities.
The Briton worked for an arm of MI6 in New York after a career in Hollywood.

But his colleagues were unaware he had become increasingly left wing, probably after a trip to the Soviet Union.
In November 1945, Elizabeth Bentley approached the FBI and said she had been part of a Soviet spy ring operating in the US.

When the FBI approached those alleged to be involved, the only one to initially offer a partial confession was Cedric Belfrage...

By 1941 he was working for British Security Co-ordination (BSC) in New York, which co-operated with the FBI and where he had access to secret information.

During his time at BSC he was introduced by American communists to a top Russian spy called Jacob Golos.
The Russians codenamed Belfrage "Benjamin" and between 1941 and 1943 he passed on secret documents on subjects including British policy on Russia and the Middle East, reports on France and from British police.

The revelation that Belfrage had passed secrets worked its way back to MI6. An MI6 officer wrote back to MI5 regarding his employment saying "Belfrage's career since that date is well known to our New York office, by whom, in fact, he has been employed".

What is remarkable is the MI6 officer who wrote those lines was Kim Philby, himself a Soviet spy, and one of the Cambridge spy ring recruited by the Soviets while at university in the 1930s.

It seems almost inevitable that Philby would have told his Russian handlers of the revelations from the US including about Belfrage. This, in turn, may have allowed Belfrage to carefully plan his response.

He was detained in 1955 and sent back to Britain. The grounds for his deportation were not espionage but the fact that he had been a member of the American Communist Party in the 1930s under a false name.

All this attracted considerable attention in the UK press and Parliament - where some lauded him as a hero for standing up to the anti-communist fervour sweeping the US.

But his return to the UK left MI5 with a headache. They had seen the evidence he had been spying and there were some who wanted to prosecute him.

But Belfrage had offered a defence in his secret partial confession to the FBI.

He had admitted he had passed files to Russian contacts during the war but claimed this was on the orders of his superiors in British intelligence in order to get material back in return.

"My thought was to tell him certain things of a really trifling nature from the point of view of British and American interest, hoping in this way to get from him some more valuable information from the Communist side," Belfrage said, according to the files...

Prof Christopher Andrew, who has acted as official historian for MI5 and worked on secrets taken from the KGB archive, said: "Soviet intelligence in the middle of World War II actually ranked him ahead of Philby - only for a year or two, but nonetheless, it was an important year or two."

He says this was because partly because Philby was mistrusted as a double agent but also because of Belfrage's important position at the junction between Britain and the US.

"I think he was one of the most important spies the Soviet Union ever had," agrees Svetlana Lokhova, an expert on Russian intelligence, in part because the Soviet Union would have been desperate for intelligence on British and US policies at a key moment in the war.

She also points to decrypted Soviet communications mentioning Belfrage, the fact he was run directly by Jacob Golos, and that the Russians made repeated attempts to reconnect with him after Golos died, she said.

Ms Lokhova and Prof Andrew also say the fact that KGB has never revealed anything about Belfrage suggests his importance.

But concerns over embarrassment and the failure of MI6 to unearth evidence that could be used to prosecute him, meant he appears to have been a spy who got away.

(4) Claire Ellicott, The Daily Mail (21st August 2015)

A leading British theatre critic betrayed his country and passed secret documents to the Russians during the Second World War, newly-declassified MI5 files reveal.

Cedric Belfrage leaked sensitive documents to the Russians while working for the British security services in the US. The information was of such value that he became more highly-prized by Moscow than notorious Cambridge spy Kim Philby.

He handed over intelligence about espionage method along with highly confidential documents about Vichy France and detail of British policy in the Middle East and Russia, according to newly-declassified files.

Moscow were so pleased with him they held him as a key asset and held him in higher regard than Philby, a member of the notorious Cambridge Five spy ring, according to the MI5 official historian Professor Christopher Andrew.

When he was finally identified as part of a Soviet spy ring, he claimed the information was of a ‘trifling nature’ and maintained he was using the intelligence to try to get information from the Soviets.

MI5 seem largely to have agreed with this assessment and he has never been tried, though appeared before a Grand Jury from the Committee of Un-American Activities in the US.

Professor Andrew said Belfrage’s Soviet handler praised the intelligence he provided to Moscow as "extremely valuable".

He added: "For a year or so in the middle of the Second World War, Soviet intelligence even rated him ahead of Philby. Though Moscow has released some of Philby’s KGB file, however, it has revealed nothing about Belfrage."
Born in London in 1904, Belfrage studied at Cambridge University, where he developed a passion for film, but left without taking a degree.

He was exposed after the spy Elizabeth Bentley defected from the Communist Party to become an informant for the US in 1946.

Authorities learned he had been passing intelligence to the Soviets during the 1940s and was part of a spy network.
The newly-released files reveal he supplied Moscow with a report from Scotland Yard on methods of training intelligence agents as well as notes from "some prominent burglars in England’ on ‘surreptitiously opening safes, doors, locks, and other protective devices".

He also handed over intelligence on British policy in the Middle East and Russia, as well as information from high-ranking British officials in the US.

When questioned by the FBI in June 1947, he confessed to leaking secrets to the Soviets but he said that what he passed on was of a "really trifling nature", adding that it contained "information of no value whatever".

(5) Nicholas Belfrage, statement, Channel 4 News (21st August 2015)

Cedric Belfrage, my father, has been accused of spying for the USSR in documentation dis-embargoed at midnight on 21st August 2015.

I have not been able to view this documentation so cannot comment directly. What I do know is that the Belfrage family - Cedric, Mollie, Sally (all deceased) and myself - transferred from Los Angeles in the middle of 1941 to New York city where Cedric had been recruited to work with British intelligence. He was a passionate anti-Nazi and had not yet qualified as an American citizen.

This was before either the USA or the USSR had entered the war. Britain had its back to the wall and without these alliances was facing almost certain defeat. The simple brief of British intelligence was to persuade America and Russia to join Britain against the common foe, and to do whatever necessary to achieve this end.

Years later, as has emerged in the documentation, the FBI questioned Cedric on his wartime activities and he maintained that the information he fed the Soviets was of a 'trifling nature' whose purpose was to get more substantial information from the Soviets.

At this time (1947) Cedric had already started planning work on his unapologetically left-wing weekly, The National Guardian. He never made any attempt to pretend he was not an avid left-winger whose goal in life was to bring justice and equality to humanity. He had been a declared member of the Communist party in the 1930s in Hollywood, but left the Party in disgust at its regimentation.

Was Cedric Belfrage a spy? As a recruited member of British intelligence, yes.

Was he a double agent? Possibly.

Did his work help to deliver humanity from the evil of Nazism? Almost certainly.

Perhaps he is owed more congratulation than vilification.

Many years after the war, as I recall, the Sunday Times printed on its front page a list of alleged Russian spies, some alive, some dead.

Cedric was listed among the dead. I phoned him at his Mexican home and said: "Pa, did you realise that you are a dead Russian spy?"

Silence. Finally: "Well, I do feel a bit dead at times, but I didn't know I was a Russian spy."

Cedric was urged by his daughter Sally to claim damages on the grounds of not being dead. He received a moderate settlement which he used to come and visit us in Europe.


(1) Cedric Belfrage, interviewed in 1977 for the Thames TV series Hollywood (1980).

(2) Glenn Fowler, The New York Times (22nd June, 1990)

(3) The Hollywood Spy ( 17th September, 2015)

(4) Harry Redcay Warfel, American Novelists of Today (1951) page 31

(5) Cedric Belfrage, Promised Land (1937) pages 158-9

(6) Eric Maschwitz, No Chip on My Shoulder (1957) page 151

(7) Philip Dunne, Take Two: A Life in Movies and Politics (1992) page 110

(8) John Bright, quoted in Tender Comrades (1997) page 151

(9) Nicholas Belfrage, email to John Simkin (29th August, 2015)

(10) Ruth Dudley Edwards, Victor Gollancz: A Biography (1987) page 294

(11) Stewart Menzies to Gladwyn Jebb (3rd June 1940)

(12) William Boyd, The Guardian (19th August, 2006)

(13) Adolph Berle, letter to Sumner Welles (31st March, 1941)

(14) William Allen White, Chicago Daily News (May, 1940)

(15) William Boyd, The Guardian (19th August, 2006)

(16) Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl (2010) page 229

(17) William Stephenson, cable to Stewart Menzies (January 1942)

(18) Keith Jeffery, MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service: 1909-1949 (2010) page 451

(19) Allen Weinstein, The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999) page 85

(20) Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, The Secret World of American Communism (1995) page 11

(21) The Washington Post (15th March, 1940)

(22) Kathryn S. Olmsted, Red Spy Queen (2002) page 46

(23) David Stout, The New York Times (18th August, 2002)

(24) Gordon Corera, Cedric Belfrage, the WW2 spy Britain was Embarrassed to Pursue (21st August 2015)

(25) Robert J. Lamphere, The FBI-KGB War (1986) page 82

(26) Allen Weinstein, The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999) page 286

(27) Vassili Zarubin, cable to NKVD headquarters in Moscow (19th May, 1943)

(28) Jennet Conant, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington (2008) page 200

(29) Robert J. Lamphere, The FBI-KGB War (1986) page 254

(30) Pavel Klarin, cable to NKVD headquarters in Moscow (21st June, 1943)

(31) Elizabeth Bentley, FBI interview (8th November, 1945)

(32) Nigel West, Venona: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War (2000) pages 109

(33) Vassili Zarubin, cable to NKVD headquarters in Moscow (22nd June, 1943)

(34) Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner, Radical Hollywood (2002) page 281

(35) Cedric Belfrage & James Aronson, Something to Guard (1978) page 4

(36) New York Times (11th October, 1945)

(37) Allen Weinstein, The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999) page 105

(38) Edgar Hoover, memo to President Harry S. Truman (8th November 1945)

(39) Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952) page 464

(40) G. Edward White, Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars (2004) page 48

(41) Amy W. Knight, How the Cold War Began: The Ignor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies (2005) 89-90

(42) Silvermaster FBI File 65-56402-8

(43) Allen Weinstein, The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999) pages 105-106

(44) Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (2000) pages 110-111

(45) Glenn Fowler, The New York Times (22nd June, 1990)

(46) Robert J. Lamphere, The FBI-KGB War (1986) page 254

(47) Cedric Belfrage & James Aronson, Something to Guard (1978) page 9

(48) Glenn Fowler, The New York Times (22nd June, 1990)

(49) Nicholas Belfrage, email to John Simkin (29th August, 2015)

(50) Bernard W. Kearney, comment at the House Un-American Activities Committee (6th May, 1953)

(51) Cedric Belfrage & James Aronson, Something to Guard (1978) page 180

(52) Edward Weinfeld, statement (10th June, 1953)

(53) John T. McManus, National Guardian (22nd August, 1955)

(54) Glenn Fowler, The New York Times (22nd June, 1990)

(55) Cedric Belfrage & James Aronson, Something to Guard (1978) page 230

(56) Cedric Belfrage & James Aronson, Something to Guard (1978) page 231

(57) Cedric Belfrage, National Guardian (12th December, 1960)

(58) Cedric Belfrage & James Aronson, Something to Guard (1978) page 264

(59) Nicholas Belfrage, email to John Simkin (29th August, 2015)

(60) Cedric Belfrage, Minority of One (October, 1964)

(61) Glenn Fowler, The New York Times (22nd June, 1990)

(62) The Hollywood Spy (17th September, 2015)