I have toted home a few books on spies for my husband which got me thinking. Many writers were spies – but were there librarian spies? I could only find three.
Vasili Mitrokhin was a KGB librarian. For 10 years, from 1975 to 1985, he logged the names of KGB officers, their agents and informants. Disgusted with corruption in the Russian government, he copied thousands of documents. In 1991, he asked for asylum. The CIA refused his request because he was just a librarian with copies of documents, not the real thing. However, astonished by the range and depth of Mitrokhin’s treasure, the British not only granted him asylum, they made him an MI6 agent. The files solved many old espionage cases and convicted two Americans, Robert Lipka and Felix Block. Russian intervention was rife in Mitrokhin’s documents, just as in our time. Back in Carter’s administration, the Russians tried to recruit Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor, and Cyrus Vance, the Secretary of State. They also planted stories about Martin Luther King, tapped Henry Kissinger’s telephone and infiltrated large American companies, particularly those in the defense industry. Plans to sabotage the port of New York City, dams, water supplies, electrical grids and military arsenals were also commonplace.
On the other side of the spectrum, Philip and Mary Keeney were American librarians who were charged but never convicted of spying for Russia. Throughout their careers, the Keeney’s aligned with liberal political movements. Philip was ousted from his position as head librarian at Montana State University in 1937 on a book censorship incident. They founded the Progressive Librarians’ Council which battled with the American Library Association (ALA) to support progressive social issues, including urging Roosevelt not to enter World War II and supported Archibald MacLeish, a known “communist sympathizer,” for Librarian of Congress. During the 1940s, the Keeneys held federal jobs in the United States and abroad including at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). They both had access to high level Russian agents. After Senator Joseph McCarthy announced them as communists in 1950, they were convicted of contempt for not answering questions about their allegiance to Congress, but were never imprisoned.
Although there are many recent books on real life spies, my husband is enjoying a book published in 1978 called The Wizard War by R.V. Jones, which I received via interlibrary loan. According to Helen Fry who listed the five best books on clandestine agents during World War II in the Wall Street Journal, the Jones book is still the most important account of how the Allies won the technology war against Nazi Germany. Thankfully, there are still 16 copies of this more than 40-year-old book in Connecticut libraries, but as space becomes tight in libraries, more and more classic books, like this one, get tossed.