He’s perhaps as famous for his adventurous life as he is for his Nobel Prize-winning writing. And now, a new book claims that Ernest Hemingway’s adventures may have included time as a spy for both the United States and the Soviet Union during World War II and into the Cold War.
In Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961, former Marine colonel and CIA officer Nicholas Reynolds discusses Hemingway’s connections with the Soviet People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), forerunner of the KGB, and America’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA.
As for the former, HISTORY reports, Reynolds marshals evidence that in December 1940 NKVD agents met with Hemingway in New York, gave him the code name “Argo,” and successfully recruited him for intelligence work.
Reynolds’ evidence for these claims appears to come mainly from a 2009 book by former KGB officer Alexander Vassiliev. Vassiliev had smuggled Soviet files, including the one on Hemingway, out of the country years earlier.
However, what neither Reynolds’ book nor Vassiliev’s files seem to fully reveal are the exact nature of Hemingway’s work for the NKVD. The smuggled files allude to Hemingway’s “work on ideological grounds,” suggesting that he may have worked as a propagandist of some sort, but none of it is entirely clear.
No matter the nature of the work, Reynolds suggests that Hemingway may have undertaken it because of his strong opposition to fascism and his respect for the Soviet Union in opposing it during the Spanish Civil War, in which Hemingway actually served with the republican guerrillas, an act that may have brought him to the attention of the NKVD in the first place.
It was likely this, Reynolds writes, that got Hemingway into bed with the Soviets, and not any particular love of communism nor any anti-American sentiment. In fact, Hemingway may have taken on military and intelligence work for the US as well.
Reynolds discusses Hemingway’s activities with both the OSS and the Office of Naval Intelligence, including one mission in which he chased down German U-boats in the Caribbean using his own boat during World War II.
After the war ended, Hemingway wrote letters to friends revealing his fear that his Soviet connections would make him a victim of the Red Scare. This, Reynolds suggests, may have influenced Hemingway’s decision to spend so much time outside the U.S., including time in Cuba, between the war and his death by suicide in 1961.