on May 29, 2014
First a disclaimer. I have known and respected Mark Bradley for many years. I did not, however, assist in the research and writing of this book.
“A Very Principled Boy” is a thoroughly researched and argued study of how Duncan Lee, whom William Donovan recruited into the OSS and apparently never ceased to trust, came to spy for the Soviet Union and successfully evaded prosecution. Bradley’s insights benefit from his legal training and professional experience in the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Justice. He also gained the cooperation of Duncan’s children who shared the false self justifying history Lee wrote for his family and his damning correspondence with his mother.
Bradley’s purpose is to evaluate Lee’s motivation and assess the damage to the United States. His reading of Lee as a narcissistic idealist who spied for the Soviets out of ideology and quit largely for fear of being caught and shot is persuasive. His conclusion that Lee’s principal damage was alerting the Soviets to whom the OSS had under suspicion, including their top penetration, also is convincing. So too is Bradley’s argument that the FBI’s inability to build prosecutable cases against Lee and other WWII Soviet spies exposed by Elizabeth Bentley contributed greatly to the rise of Senator Joe McCarthy and the Red Scare of the early 1950s.
Bradley's book also is striking as a study in intelligence amateurism and the price that all parties paid for that amateurism. Before World War II the United States had never tried to build an intelligence agency able to collect, integrate and analyze military, political and economic information acquired from a broad spectrum of sources. Nor did the United States focus on counter intelligence. The OSS had to be built on the fly. Not surprisingly Donovan drew heavily on personal networks, took calculated risks to acquire experience and relied heavily on trust. In sophistication his approach was not that far removed from raising a Civil War regiment. He had to use the FBI, the Civil Service, and the military for vetting. None had the resources or the expertise to do the job. Moreover, the FBI understandably focused on Axis sabotage and subversion but never appreciated that the Soviet Union was aggressively engaged in recruiting an espionage network built on broad penetration of the Federal Government.
The USSR as a consequence of Stalin’s 1930s purges had gutted the NKGB. Its' American network was surprisingly jerry built. Lee and other American assets were handled largely by Communist Party of the United States members who may have been good at spotting potential ideologically motivated recruits such as Lee but not at running them. Neither of Lee’s debriefers Mary Price and Elizabeth Bentley appear to have had even cursory training in how to psychologically assess his vulnerabilities or how to manipulate him to produce more productively. They consistently let Lee to set the terms of the relationship. Lee seems to have believed or rationalized himself in to believing that he was not harming his country via the information he selectively passed. He may even have believed he was benefiting the United States by strengthening the ability of an ally to defeat Nazi Germany. A trained professional could have played on these motives to more effectively prolong and direct Lee’s collection.
A few minor quibbles that do not detract from the thrust of the book. Tighter editing could have eliminated repetition. Before the United States entered the war the Germans were not sinking 500,000 tons of British shipping a month—total British losses in those 28 months were 5.3 million tons. Hubert Humphrey was Mayor of Minneapolis when he introduced the Civil Rights plank at the 1948 Democratic convention.
on May 2, 2014
Duncan Lee's life story goes to show that being well-born and well-connected opens a great many doors closed to lesser mortals. Family connections helped get him into Yale, and then into Christ Church, Oxford, and a Sterling Fellowship at Yale. His Rhodes scholarship opened more doors at posh Wall Street law firms, and finally into Bill Donovan's OSS, a "league of gentlemen," with the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war, he continued to exploit his connections, and parlayed them into a lucrative executive career. His connections protected him from the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover and HUAC. Even serial adultery and alcoholism did not prevent Lee from dying a multimillionaire. Duncan Lee was the Establishment equivalent of a Mafia "made man." Mark Bradley's excellent biography is both a valuable addition to Cold War history and to the prosopography of America's upper class whose day is far from gone.
Robert Neuman is a retired university professor and management consultant. He is a co-author of The Six Sigma Way, and other books.
on April 24, 2014
Once again we read about an "idealistic youth," who is really a despicable traitor, a communist mole who sold his country to a totalitarian dictator, Joseph Stalin, in pursuit of the elusive and deceptive dream of creating a "workers' paradise." This tome is an excellent biography of the American spy Duncan Lee by former CIA agent Mark A. Bradley, based on previously unreleased CIA and State Department records. Duncan Lee was indoctrinated into communism as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, later becoming a State Department employee and ultimately an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) double agent during World War II. Lee was only later exposed by defectors and decrypted Venona intercepts.
The book makes compelling narrative that reads like fiction, only that the characters existed and the events really happened. It is a fascinating cloak and dagger story and a fascinating read, exposing yet another cog in the many wheels of communist agents infiltrating the U.S. government and spying for the Soviets. It is of interest and an irony of history that Duncan Lee also claimed that his deadly espionage was a McCarthyite invention. Once again, the vilified Senator Joseph McCarthy seems to have been right as proved by Venona, declassified material, and KGB records made available after the fall of the USSR. Senator McCarthy was destroyed. Duncan Lee, like many other Soviet moles during the Cold War, was never prosecuted and after his betrayal lived comfortably in self-imposed style in Bermuda and later Canada. Suffice to say, this well-researched and captivating book should be a welcome addition to the accumulating knowledge of communism and Cold War espionage, and I recommend it without reservations to scholars as well as history buffs interested in the subjects of history, espionage -- and unadulterated treason.
The reviewer Dr. Miguel Faria is a retired Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, medical historian, and an Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International (SNI). He is the author of Cuba in Revolution -- Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002), and numerous articles on political history, including "Stalin's Mysterious Death" (2011); "The Political Spectrum -- From the Extreme Right and Anarchism to the Extreme Left and Communism" (2011); etc., all posted at his website haciendapublishingdotcom & drmiguelfariadotcom
on October 27, 2014
Never heard of Duncan Lee? Well, you will if you read Mark Bradley's "A Very Principled Boy."
Duncan Lee was a member of the famous Lee Family of Virginia, the "First Family of Virginia" an FFV if ever there was. Two ancestors were Signers of the Declaration of Independence. A cousin line produced Robert E. Lee, arguably the best general North or South in the American Civil War. Bold, principled and courageous people.
Duncan Lee was the son of an Episcopal missionary with evangelistic zeal who set out early in his adult life to convert heathen Chinese. Episcopalians are not now nor ever have achieved the evangelical stature that Mormons or Jehovahs Witnesses strive for but Duncan's father Edmund was in that mold. Both Edmund and Lucy Lee, Duncan's parents, had a passion and fervor for spreading the gospel and spirit of Christ, teaching in what we now call the Third World. Whether away from home or back in the United States, his parents devoted their lives to the cause.
Duncan on the other hand, saw Christianity and religion in general as unequal to such a challenge. Once out from under his parents direct influence, Duncan Lee moved increasingly to an agnostic and ultimately atheistic world view. By the time he came of full age in the mid-1930's, market capitalism as an econmic system and ideology in the West seemed to be failing. Marxism, socialism and communism seemed to offer solutions that Lee could believe in.
Did Duncan Lee ever become an actual member of the Communist Party of the United States? Probably but never proven. More to the point, did Lee embrace the Soviet Union, the communist ideology, even Stalin's governance? This is what author Mark Bradley sets forth.
As to spying, how did Lee get away with it? In the early 1940's the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as other Western nations in the Allied Alliance were in full battle with Hitler's Nazi's, as well as with his Italian and Japanese partners. The watch-slogan of the day ran something like, "my enemy's enemy is my friend." Did Lee enter the spy business merely as an instrument of common interest? More to the point, Lee had bought into the Soviet line much earlier in the 1930's, well before WWII broke out. Lee was already a "fellow traveler" if not a "card-carrying member," an active spy for the Soviet Union.
After the War ended, the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover could never prove it. Lee's primary handler "Bentley" renounced her own Communist affiliation and outed Duncan Lee along with many other active Communist spies she managed or knew. Although intelligent and well-educated, she was a unstable person, an alcoholic and emotionally unstable. She did not make for a good witness.
There's much more to "A Very Principled Boy" including considerable infiltration into "Wild Bill" Donovan's OSS, the HUAC hearings, the rise of McCarthyism, Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs, events which provide context and to some extent, protective cover for Lee's time as a Soviet spy. Only decades later when VENONA evidence de-classified from NSA sources became available would the most damning facts about Duncan Lee's time as a spy finally come out.
Duncan Lee died rich but unhappy and unfulfilled in Toronto, Canada, a renunciatory expatriate. He was never proven guilty of spying or punished. On the other hand, he was never cleared. The evidence leaves little doubt that for a time, Lee was a communist sympathizer, Soviet spy and traitor.
on August 6, 2014
Breaks fresh ground concerning NKVD/KGB penetration of the OSS and the early years of the Cold War. Scholarly, well documented, clearly written of Duncan Lee's betrayal of his mentors, family, and heritage..
on August 20, 2014
This book is exceptionally well written and tells a compelling tale. It is a real page turner. There is a powerful Shakespearean element to the tale because it is about how the truth is rarely known and how power can obscure it. This book rips away the veil, but in a very balanced manner, simply holding a very accurate mirror up to the actions and facts as they naturally happen. The author does not have an ax to grind. You will have to read the rest of your life to find a small handful of books that are as thoroughly researched; it is clear that the author has read everything directly and indirectly involved with this personal history. Here is the best part. It really is exceptionally well written. I have recently read Adrian Goldsworthy's book on Julius Ceasar, and it contained missing antecedents, poorly turned phrases, meandering suppositions, and some rather large omissions. But it is one of those books that everyone feels they have to praise or else they are not an intellectual. A Very Principled Boy is much more well written. You won't be able to put it down. And it will leave you with the shuddering realization that there are Duncal Lee types all around us, people who have gotten away with it.
on July 31, 2015
A pleasure to read, unfortunately I didn't know when to stop the second night, finishing it too early in the a.m. and thereby messing up my next day. Very well researched. A lot of work went into it and is appreciated. Duncan Lee was, at the end of the day, a second-tier spy for the Soviets. Some have criticized the book for going downhill in the second half, after Lee has been accused, escapes because the hard evidence is not there and -- like Hiss and some others -- he is willing to lie, then for a time becomes "a Cold Warrior," but inexorably goes South personally. I enjoyed the second half as much as the first. The only criticism I have is that the chapter that puts Duncan Lee in the middle of the China Air Transport story and the end of the Chinese civil war is a more confusing and elaborate than it need be. Too bad the author didn't have someone with China background straighten out that chapter for him. Very valuable are the author's sound ruminations on the long-term political significance of the early post-WWII anti-Commie spy hysteria, a foundational historical myth for American politics for two generations.
on October 4, 2014
This biography of a little known OSS officer who was a communist is an interesting story told well for the first half of the book. The last half bounces around and left me wondering why I was reading this widely documented history. I stopped reading in favor of other authors. I congratulate the author for his detailed study but wonder what he hoped to contribute to history of WW II and the post war period with his long rambling account of the guilty conscience of Duncan Lee. The CIA knows this story and adjusted its security procedures to keep out admitted communists. The book highlights General Bill Donovan's misplaced trust in this "principled boy."
on September 11, 2014
Very well-written, however disturbing to know this person was never brought to justice. This Yale/Oxford graduate should have been shot (and at least he agreed with me to the extent that he lived in fear and never could really enjoy all the money he made as a
lawyer after the war.) The author also sheds light on the incompetence of the U.S. intelligence community--again, painful to read.
on November 22, 2015
After I finished this book, I just had to shake my head in disbelief. I am flabbergasted that Lee was able to get away with espionage because he was a blue-blooded white male. His case was a product of the environment back in the 30s and 40s when white males ruled. (Well, maybe it's not so different nowadays either.) The book is well-researched and well-written, but the character of Lee really left me cold. None of the other main characters in this farce were sympathetic either.