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Was Ernest Hemingway a player in international espionage?

Ernest Hemingway's life as a spy
Ernest Hemingway's life as a spy 03:42

From action on the battlefield to the running of the bulls, the works of famed author Ernest Hemingway take us on amazing adventures. But Hemingway’s own life was full of adventure too, including a little-known chapter when he was apparently a player in the world of international espionage.

“Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961” by Nicholas Reynolds

A new book, “Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy,” by Nicholas Reynolds, details Hemingway’s suspected undercover work for both the U.S. and the Russians before and during the Cold War.

In late 1940, as Hemingway’s new novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was becoming a literary phenomenon, the American author was secretly meeting with a Soviet agent to sign up as a spy, reports “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Anthony Mason.

Reynolds, a Hemingway fan since he was a boy, also spent more than a decade as an officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. Reynolds said he felt “almost physically ill” when he found that out.

“So the idea of Ernest Hemingway have done anything with the Soviets, especially having been recruited by the Soviets, was really difficult for me to absorb,” Reynolds said.

In his new book, Reynolds tracks Hemingway’s courtship with Soviet intelligence.
“What I found was the record of Hemingway having agreed to a recruitment by the NKVD, which is the predecessor to the KGB.  That’s like a pivotal moment in the spy business. It’s like a sale to a realtor,” Reynolds said.

Translated excerpts of Hemingway’s Soviet file, smuggled out of Russia, show he was given the code name “Argo” and was recruited by Jacob Golos, a top agent in the NKVD office in New York.
“When did that deal get sealed and how?” Mason asked.

“The deal got sealed here in New York, somewhere on the Lower East Side. We don’t know exactly,” Reynolds said. “We do know Hemingway gave a set of stamps as recognition symbols to Golos. And so Hemingway said, ‘In case I have to meet an unknown, you take these stamps. And then when that unknown comes to see me, he can authenticate himself by showing me the stamps.’”
During the ‘40s, Hemingway had several meetings with Soviet contacts. Throughout this period, his Soviet file reads: “’Argo’ did not give us any polit(ical). Information, though he repeatedly expressed his willingness and desire to help us.”

But when World War II broke out, Hemingway would also sign up with the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA, performing several missions.
“The most colorful was chasing German U-Boats in the Caribbean, and he took his cabin cruiser Pilar and outfitted that with the Office of Naval Intelligence,” Reynolds said. 

Hemingway committed suicide in 1961. Reynolds believes his later letters reveal the writer was haunted by his Soviet connections.
“He says, ‘You know, I did confidential things for the Soviets. And if that came out now, I’d be a candidate for the gallows,’” Reynolds said.

“You think that worry was weighing on him?” Mason asked.

“I’m pretty sure it was. And on the last night of his life, he looks over at the next table and he says, ‘Those two guys over having dinner, they’re from the FBI,’” Reynolds said.

Hemingway first came to the Soviets’ attention when he was covering the Spanish Civil War and he became very sympathetic to the anti-fascists there. But ultimately he really didn’t do much work for the Soviets at all, and Reynolds thinks he got buyer’s remorse about he’d made this agreement.

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