Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dorothy Kenyon: an Unexpected Danger

When the Soviet Union’s spy network was active in the United States, the distinction between an active Soviet agent and an unwittingly utilized instrument was not always obvious. Such was the case of Judge Dorothy Kenyon.

Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, when many of the Venona project’s files were declassified, and the large extent of the KGB network inside the United States became widely known, it is not clear to which extent Judge Kenyon understood that she was being used as a tool of espionage.

Dorothy Kenyon first came to the attention of authorities in early 1950. At that time, it was discovered that she was a member of at least twenty-eight different communist front organizations. These were groups which had been identified, usually by the United States Attorney General or by legislative committees in one of the forty-eight states, as being substantially linked to the Soviet government.

Such organizations served several different purposes. The KGB - and its predecessor, the MGB - could found the group, working under the cover of one or more of its agents in the United States. To the public, these organizations appeared in various guises, never disclosing their links to Moscow.

These groups could then recruit members, some of whom were knowingly and deliberately seeking to harm the safety and security of United States citizens, and others of whom had perhaps no idea that they were being shaped into either intelligence gathering tools or policy-influencing tool of the Soviet Union.

Concerning Dorothy Kenyon, evidence is inconclusive, and will perhaps always be so. It is plausible and probable that she did not consciously enlist her services to weaken the security of the United States. She was more likely a well-intentioned, if naive and idealistic, individual who joined groups which claimed to favor some progressive cause.

How would these organizations have used Judge Kenyon? Most likely, she was not a major source of valuable information. Although well-connected in the government, her branch of the government was not a storehouse of military information, nor was it privy to private discussions of foreign policy.

She was, however, connected in a way which gave her the ability to informally influence policy. Not a source of intelligence, she was capable of nudging the thinking of policymakers and writers on policy topics. The Soviets could school her in ways which led her to favor policies which played into the hands of the Kremlin. These views she would then casually and unwittingly spread through her social circle, which included prominent leaders in government and in the media.

Given her role in government, away from military and foreign policy matters, and given her probable unawareness of the ways in which she was being used, it surprised many when her involvement in so many subversive organizations came to light. One historian, M. Stanton Evans, writes:

The case was that of Dorothy Kenyon, a former New York City judge and State Department appointee to a U.N. commission on the status of women. It seemed a curious selection. Judge Kenyon wasn’t a well-known or high-ranking official, and her connection to the State Department had recently concluded.

The organizations to which Judge Kenyon belonged were not merely interested in free speech and free debate about U.S. policy. These organizations had direct links to the Kremlin, to the KGB, to the MGB, or to other branches of Soviet military intelligence.

The surprise surrounding the revelations about Dorothy Kenyon support the hypothesis that she had not fully understood how she was being exploited. The Soviets valued her well-placed friends, and sought to influence the thinking of those friends through Kenyon’s social contacts. The Soviets would value the ability to steer an influential policymaker’s line of thought or the writing of a media personality.

Kenyon’s connections in the United Nations would also be valuable to the Soviets. Two historians, L. Brent Bozell and William F. Buckley Jr., write:

The name of Dorothy Kenyon was little known to the public - much less in association with Communist activities. Judge Kenyon was a reputable New York City lawyer, had once served as a municipal court judge, and had attracted some attention as a political activist, especially in the advancement of women's causes. She had been hired by the State Department in 1947 to serve as American delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

While there can be no doubt that Judge Kenyon served the Soviet cause, it may never be certain whether she did so knowingly, or whether she was exploited as an unwitting accomplice. In either case, however, her career path from municipal judge to State Department employee simultaneously made her more interesting to the Soviets, but also revealed a lack of discernment on the part of the State Department in creating, not only a security risk, but an actual security breach.