Nicola Napoli was the President of Artkino Pictures, Inc., the primary distributor of Soviet films in the United States, Canada, Central America and South America from 1940 to 1982. Napoli passed information from the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) to Soviet intelligence during World War II.
Napoli was born 16 November 1905 in New York of Italian parentage and was taken to Italy at an early age by his parents. He returned to the United States in 1924, and up to 1928 edited Il Lavoratore, an Italian Communist publication in New York. In the mid-1930s, he became an employee of Amkino Corp., at that tiime the US distributor of Soviet films. In 1936 Napoli travelled to Russia and other European countries. At one time Napoli was an officer of Intourist, Inc., the parent company of World Tourist, which was operated by Jacob Golos, high level operative in the CPUSA's secret apparatus. Shortly before Golos' death of a heart attack in November 1943, Golos told Soviet defector Elizabeth Bentley that he was turning Napoli over to another Russian contact to continue the covert relationship.
In 1940, following the collapse of Amkino Corp., Napoli founded, with Rosa Madell, Artkino Pictures to continue Amkino's mission. During World War II, with the Soviet Union as part of the Allies, Napoli saw the firm's imports being accepted by a far wider number of cinemas that during the 1930s, with its Red Scare. With the collapse of Soviet-American alliance following the War, Artkino was back on the "side of the enemy" and was registered with the U.S. Department of State under the Foreign Agents registration Act (FARA) as an agent of the Soviet Government. However, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the War Department had difficulty and no cooperation in gaining Artkino's full compliance with the FARA Act, an investigation under the Internal Security Act revealed. Following the death of Stalin and attendant changes within the Soviet film industry, allowing for production of non-political, artistic films, a wider market for Soviet film product resumed and Artkino found itself in increasing competition with other foreign film distributors in the United States. Nonetheless, the company held its own until Napoli's death, continuing under Madell's guidance until, nearing retirement age, she affiliated Artkino with International Film Exchange and allowed that company to take over Artkino's role in Soviet film importation and distribution by the late 1970s.
A Venona cable of decrypted Soviet intelligence traffic which lists the names of scientists engaged on the problem of atomic energy, has Saville Sax contacting Napoli, who then directed him to Sergey Kurnakov.
Nicola Napoli is referenced in the following Venona project decrypt:
1699 KGB New York to Moscow, 2 December 1944.
- FBI Silvermaster file, pgs. 463, 464 (PDF pgs. 64, 65).
- John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), pgs. 239, 259, 303.