How should the media handle
sensational allegations that one of the most esteemed members of their
profession, former Time magazine journalist and top Clinton State Department
official Strobe Talbott, was a dupe of the Russian intelligence service?
How should they deal with hard evidence that one of their sacred cows,
the United Nations, is penetrated by Russian spies?
The answer is that most of
them will ignore it.
This is the fate they’re
giving to Comrade J, a blockbuster book about Russian
espionage written by former Washington Post reporter and author Pete
Comrade J is about a
Russian master spy, Sergei Tretyakov, who defected to the United States
because he was disgusted with the Russian/Soviet system and wanted to
start a new and better life with his family in America. He identifies
former Clinton State Department official Strobe Talbott, a current adviser
to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, as having been a trusted
contact of the Russian intelligence service.
Back in 2000, when Talbott
was named head of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, he
was described as “a key architect of U.S. foreign policy” during
the Clinton years. He now heads the Brookings Institution, a liberal
Washington, D.C. think tank.
But Tretyakov has some impressive
credentials of his own. He wasn’t just a low-level official. He is
described as the highest ranking Russian intelligence official ever
to defect while stationed in the U.S. and handled all Russian intelligence
operations against the U.S. He served under cover from 1995-2000 at
Russia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations but was secretly
working for the FBI for at least three years.
Talbott denies the charges,
calling them “erroneous and/or misleading,” and his denials are
featured on page 184 of the book. He says that he always promoted U.S.
foreign policy goals and that the close relationship that he had with
a top Russian official by the name of Georgi Mamedov did not involve
any manipulation or deception.
This is not the first time
that Talbott has come under scrutiny for his alleged contacts with agents
of a foreign intelligence service. In 1994, when he was being considered
for his State Department post in the Clinton Administration, he was
grilled by Senator Jesse Helms, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, about his relationship with Victor Louis, a Soviet “journalist”
who was actually a Soviet KGB intelligence agent. Talbott had been a
young correspondent for Time magazine in Moscow.
As reported by Herbert Romerstein
in Human Events newspaper, Talbott admitted knowing Louis from 1969
until his death in 1992 but that he was not aware of his “organizational
affiliations.” Pressed further, Talbott acknowledged that he was aware
of assertions or speculation to that effect about Louis. Helms then
confronted Talbott with a 1986 State Department publication revealing
that Louis had been identified as a KGB agent by KGB defectors and had
been used by the Soviets to spread disinformation. Talbott said he still
didn’t know for sure that Louis was a KGB agent.
Romerstein’s Human Events
article accused Talbott of writing articles following the Soviet line.
However, Talbott had powerful friends, including Senator and fellow
Rhodes Scholar Richard Lugar, who supported his nomination. Lugar continues
to call Talbott a “good friend” and “source of sound counsel”
who “continues to provide outstanding national and international leadership.”
Romerstein, a retired government
expert on anti-American and communist propaganda activities, said the
Earley book is valuable because it documents that the Russian intelligence
service picked up where the KGB left off, and that operations against
the U.S. continued after the end of the Cold War.
But he said the information
about Talbott needs further explanation from Talbott himself. “Talbott
really has to explain more than he did to Pete Earley what his relationship
was to Mamedov, and he should tell us about his relationship with Victor
Louis,” Romerstein told AIM.
While the accusations against
Talbott are sensational and raise serious questions about security and
procedures at the Department of State, Tretyakov also aims heavy fire
at the institution where he was based-the U.N. He calls the world
body “a nest of spies and scoundrels,” says a major figure in the
U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency is a Russian spy, names
several U.N. ambassadors as Russian spies, and describes how a Russian
spy infiltrated the U.N.’s oil-for-food program for Saddam Hussein’s
Iraq in order to help loot it.
Earley tells Accuracy in Media
that while the timing of the release of the book could have been better,
coming during a time of frenetic presidential campaign activity, the
information deserves more attention than it is getting. He says the
three major broadcasting networks, as well as the New York Times and
the Washington Post, have shown no interest in treating the information
in the book as a major news story. He says he is also disappointed that
conservative talk radio has failed to cover the book.
Unfortunately, Tretyakov is
concluding his interviews about the book on Wednesday, January 30, and
will be going into hiding, fearing retaliation from the Russian government.
The book, however, speaks for
itself. And the allegations about Strobe Talbott could prove damaging
to the Clinton machine and the Democratic Party in general.
A close personal friend of
Bill and Hillary Clinton, Talbott is described in the book as having
been “a special unofficial contact” of the Russian intelligence
agency, the SVR, when he was Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton
Administration. Talbott had been in charge of Russian affairs.
“Inside the SVR, that term
was used only to identify a top-level intelligence source who had high
social and/or political status and whose identity needed to be carefully
guarded,” the book says. On the same level of interest was Fidel Castro’s
brother Raul, a communist “recruited by the KGB during the Khrushchev
era” who continued to work for the Russians after the Soviet collapse,
the book says. He, too, was a “special unofficial contact.”
Talbott’s Russian Friend
Talbott was allegedly manipulated
and deceived by Russia’s then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Georgi Mamedov, who was “secretly working” for Russian intelligence,
the book alleges. The book, however, does not make the specific charge
that Talbott was recruited as a Russian spy or was a conscious agent
of the Russian regime.
The book cites Talbott as an
“example of how a skilled intelligence agency could manipulate a situation
and a diplomatic source to its advantage without the target realizing
he was being used for intelligence-gathering purposes.” It says Mamedov
was “instructed” by the SVR to ask specific questions to get information
about certain matters.
“The point is that there
are many ways to get intelligence,” Earley explained. “And one of
the best ways is not by stealing secrets but by becoming friends, getting
people to let their guard down, massaging egos, and getting them to
tell you helpful information.”
However, the book says that
Talbott was so compromised by his relationship with Mamedov that the
FBI asked Secretary of State Madeleine Albright not to share information
with Talbott about an espionage investigation at the State Department
because Mamedov might learn about it and tip off Russian intelligence.
Earley says he confirmed this account but that Albright has refused
to discuss the incident.
The book cites a House of Representatives report, released in September 2000, which
found that the Clinton Administration and Talbott in particular had
excused the actions of the Russian government and had failed to promote
democracy and free enterprise there.
Earley’s book itself discusses
how, during the mid 1990s, Talbott, State Department spokesman Mike
McCurry, and President Clinton himself echoed Russian propaganda that
justified Russian attacks on Chechnya. This “delighted the propagandists
inside the SVR,” which “claimed credit” for what the U.S. officials
had said, the book says.
It seems that Talbott has a
tendency, which continues to the present day, of whitewashing the Russian
In congressional testimony just last October on U.S.-Russian
relations, Talbott attacked the Bush Administration for withdrawing
from the ABM treaty, urged Russian membership in the World Trade Organization,
and advocated more negotiations and agreements with Russia over nuclear
arms. The U.S. has “set a bad example” for the Russians in foreign
affairs, Talbott said.
Talbott Promotes the U.N.
Ironically, Talbott has been
about town promoting his own book, The Great Experiment, about
the need for “global governance” and expanding the power of the
U.N. in foreign affairs. His book ignores the role of Soviet spy Alger
Hiss in founding the U.N. but thanks George Soros and Walter Isaacson,
formerly of Time but now with the Aspen Institute, for their input on
Talbott also gives thanks to
convicted document thief Sandy Berger, Bill Clinton’s national security
adviser who now advises Hillary’s presidential campaign; Soros associate
Morton Halperin, formerly of the ACLU; Javier Solana of the European
Union; and Bill Clinton, “for helping me better to understand several
aspects of his view of the world and America’s role in it.”
With all of these high-powered
connections, the story about Talbott being used by the Russians seems
to be a story worth reporting or commenting on. However, if the media
examine the charges against Talbott, they might have to deal with other
evidence and information in the book about how spies for the Soviet
intelligence service manipulated the U.S. media.
The book, for instance, explains
how the Soviet KGB peddled charges that deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons
to Europe in the 1980s might lead to their use and a “nuclear winter”
or climate crisis for the world. The book says the story was cooked
up by the KGB and fed to the Western world by anti-nuclear activists
such as Carl Sagan, who penned an article on the topic for the Council
on Foreign Relations journal Foreign Affairs. The book notes that Sagan
later appeared on the ABC television network to talk about the subject.
Tretyakov says he discovered
“dozens of case studies” of the KGB using “propaganda and disinformation
to influence public opinion” in the West.
His Time at Time
A prominent journalist himself
at one time, Talbott achieved notoriety for writing a July 20, 1992,
Time column, “The Birth of the Global Nation,” saying that in the
next century “nationhood as we know it will be obsolete,” that we
will all some day become world citizens, and that wars and human rights
violations in the 20th century had clinched “the case for world government.”
This reflects the views of the pro-world government World Federalist
Talbott was identified as a
World Federalist when he took over the Brookings Institution. He has
acknowledged that his parents were members of the World Federalist movement,
which collaborated with Soviet front groups such as the Soviet Peace
Committee during the Cold War and tried to avoid scrutiny from anti-communist
congressional committees after World War II. Talbott even says he had
a dog growing up known as “Freddie,” which was short for World Federalists.
Other prominent World Federalists
have been Senator Alan Cranston and Rep. John B. Anderson.
As we noted in a 2003 AIM Report, Talbott’s global left-wing vision
was endorsed personally by President Clinton, who had sent a June 22,
1993, letter to the World Federalist Association (WFA) when it gave
Talbott its Norman Cousins Global Governance Award. In the letter, Clinton
noted that Cousins, the WFA founder, had “worked for world peace and
world government” and that Talbott was a “worthy recipient” of
the award. Talbott and Bill Clinton became friends when they were both
Hillary Clinton, who has been
friends with Talbott since their days together at Yale University, gave
a videotaped address to the WFA in 1999 on the occasion of the group
giving former anchorman of the CBS Evening News Walter Cronkite its
global governance award. She praised Cronkite’s work. For his part,
Cronkite declared that “we must strengthen the United Nations as a
first step toward a world government” and America must “yield up
some of our sovereignty.”
The WFA, which renamed itself
Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), lobbies for more power and authority
for the U.N., including passage of the Law of the Sea Treaty. It pours
money into Congressional races for the House and Senate and receives
funding from major liberal foundations. One of their favorite politicians
has been Senator Richard Lugar, perhaps the most prominent Senate proponent
of the Law of the Sea Treaty, who joined Talbott at the Brookings Institution
last October 8 to discuss U.S.-Russian relations. Lugar has accepted
campaign cash from the CGS political action committee.
Will the story about Talbott
grow or die?
Earley tells AIM that he and
Tretyakov have been giving interviews, many to the foreign media, as
well as to the wire services that provide information in the U.S. and
abroad. However, an Associated Press story and a Reuters story ignored the information about Talbott.
“They were told it,” Earley said. “They saw it. I don’t know
why they chose to ignore that.”
However, Earley said journalists
may be reluctant to report this kind of information because of Talbott’s
“high reputation” in the business.
Jeff Stein of Congressional
Quarterly covered the book, noting the charges against
Talbott as well as his denials, while Joseph Goulden mentioned the brewing
Talbott controversy in a Washington Times review.
The Washington Post has ignored
the book as a news story but published a quick review by David Wise trying to play down
the charges against Talbott. “All defectors tend to exaggerate their
own importance, or at least the importance of their information, especially
if they worry that when they run out of secrets to reveal they may be
cast aside,” Wise says. He describes the Talbott charges as “a case
in point” from a “name-dropper” who wants to sell a book. He says
that Tretyakov’s charges about Talbott, which stop short of calling
him a spy, are “Nixonian.”
But Earley, who investigated
the allegations before reporting them, is a well-respected reporter
who himself worked for the Post for many years and has written other
books on espionage cases. A quotation on Earley’s website from the Post itself describes him
as a “fair-minded” journalist interested in providing the facts
to his readers.
Those facts include why Tretyakov,
who had access to wealth and status as a top Russian official and spy,
defected to the U.S. It may sound cornball, Earley says, but Tretyakov
“really is a believer in the U.S. system. He decided he wanted a better
life for his family and his daughter.”