Cedric Belfrage

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Cedric Belfrage

Cedric Henning Belfrage (8 November 1904 – 21 June 1990) was an English film critic, journalist, writer, and political activist. He is best remembered as a co-founder of the radical US-weekly newspaper the National Guardian. Later Belfrage was referenced as a Soviet agent in the US intelligence Venona project, although it appears that he had been working for British Security Co-ordination as a double-agent.

Early years[edit]

Cedric Henning Belfrage was born in Marylebone, London, on 8 November 1904, the son of a physician.[1] He was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, before entering Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

While still a student at Cambridge, Belfrage began his writing career as a film critic, publishing his first article in Kinematograph Weekly in 1924. In 1927 he went to Hollywood, where he was hired by the New York Sun and Film Weekly as a correspondent. Belfrage returned to London in 1930 as Sam Goldwyn's press agent.[citation needed] Returning to Hollywood, he became politically active, joining the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and co-editing a left-wing literary magazine called The Clipper. He decided to make the United States his home and took out first papers for citizenship in 1937, although he failed to complete the process within the statutory seven-year time limit.[2]

Belfrage joined the Communist Party USA in 1937, but withdrew his membership a few months later. Thereafter, he maintained a friendly but critical relationship as a so-called "fellow traveler" outside of party membership and discipline, recalling in his 1978 memoir that for "temperamentally argumentative" adherents of socialism such as himself, such status as a "non-Communist, non-anti-Communist...suited us better."[3] Despite his non-membership in the American Communist Party, Belfrage remained a believer that that organisation functioned as "the core of the radical movement."[3]

Second World War[edit]

During the Second World War, Belfrage worked in the British Security Coordination for the Western hemisphere. After the fall of Nazi Germany, he was appointed as a "press control officer" in the Anglo-American Psychological Warfare Division and was dispatched to Germany to help reorganize that nation's newspapers. He and his associates requisitioned buildings, equipment, and supplies for a new "democratic" German press and oversaw a purge of Nazi collaborators from the new German newspaper industry.[4]

It was while Belfrage was in Frankfurt working to establish the Frankfurter Rundschau – a new daily – that he met James Aronson, a veteran newspaper reporter and editor from Boston who shared Belfrage's radical politics.[5] Aronson was attached to Belfrage and together the pair helped to establish new newspapers in Heidelberg, Kassel, Stuttgart, and Bremen, developing a friendship and forging vague plans to launch a new radical newspaper in the United States following the end of the war.[5]

Belfrage was soon discharged from the Army and returned to the United States, however, and nothing immediately came of the pair's plans. Aronson returned to a job with the then-liberal New York Post in April 1946, moving later that year to a new job with the New York Times.[6]

National Guardian[edit]

The National Guardian was established by Belfrage, James Aronson, and John T. McManus in 1948 in conjunction with the Henry Wallace for President campaign.
Main article: National Guardian.

In 1948, Belfrage co-founded, together with James Aronson and John T. McManus, a radical weekly newspaper called the National Guardian. He would remain affiliated with the publication – renamed The Guardian in 1967 – until late in the 1960s.[citation needed]

Later years[edit]

At the height of McCarthyism, Belfrage was summoned in 1953 to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In 1955, he was deported back to England. His wife, Molly Castle, had already been deported by that time. He traveled to Cuba in 1961. In 1962, he traveled throughout South America, finally settling in Cuernavaca, Mexico.[citation needed]

Belfrage returned to the US for the first time in 1973, touring around the country with to promote his new book, The American Inquisition. He later debuted as a Spanish-English translator, notably for the Latin American author Eduardo Galeano. He was commissioned by Monthly Review Press to translate Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America. Belfrage continued to write extensively until his last years.[citation needed]

Death and legacy[edit]

Cedric Belfrage died on 21 June 1990 in Mexico, aged 85. He and his wife, Molly Castle, had two children; Sally and Nicolas. He also had a child, Anne Hertz (Zribi), with partner Anne-Marie Hertz. Cedric was the younger brother of actor and BBC newsreader Bruce Belfrage (1900–1974).[citation needed]

Intelligence allegations[edit]

According to FBI files, Belfrage was questioned by the FBI in 1947 about his involvement with the Communist Party. The interview covered his relations with CPUSA General Secretary Earl Browder, Jacob Golos, V. J. Jerome, and surveillances and documents about Scotland Yard and the Vichy Government of France.[7]

In 1995, intercepts decrypted by Venona – a project between the US and British intelligence services to decipher Soviet messages – were made public. United States intelligence has alleged that Unnamed Codename Number 9 (UNC/9) was Belfrage. Venona also had a cover name "Charlie" that was not identified by the FBI.

The 1948 Gorsky Memo, found in Soviet Archives, identifies Belfrage as having a covert relationship with Soviet intelligence as a member of the "Sound" and "Myrna" groups. Seven Venona decrpyts reference UNC/9 in passing conversations between Belfrage's bureau chief and Winston Churchill on to the Soviets.[7] Belfrage is referenced in the following Venona decrypts, 592 KGB New York to Moscow, 29 April 1943; 725 KGB New York to Moscow, 19 May 1943, p. 1 725, KGB New York to Moscow, 19 May 1943, p. 2, 810 KGB New York to Moscow, 29 May 1943, p. 1, 810 KGB New York to Moscow, 29 May 1943, p. 2, 952 KGB New York to Moscow, 21 June 1943, p. 1, 952 KGB New York to Moscow, 21 June 1943, p. 2, 974 KGB New York to Moscow, 22 June 1943, p. 1, 974 KGB New York to Moscow, 22 June 1943, p. 2, 1430 KGB New York to Moscow, 2 September 1943, 1452 KGB New York to Moscow, 8 September 1943, p. 1, 1452 KGB New York to Moscow, 8 September 1943, p. 2. During the period in question, the United States and the Soviet Union were wartime allies while at the same time the Soviet Union maintained a spy network of American citizens who passed US secrets to the Soviets.[8]

Modern media and allegations of spying[edit]

In August 2015, Christopher Andrew, professor of modern history at Oxford and official historian of MI6 accessed documents released from the UK National Archive which confirmed that Belfrage worked for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) during the war and also spied for the Soviet Union.[9] The Financial Times described Belfrage as "a 'sixth man' to stand alongside the notorious Cambridge Five spy ring."[10] Other UK print, TV and radio media carried the story.

On 17 September 2015 a BBC Radio Four documentary "The Hollywood Spy"[11] examined Christopher Andrew's allegations, but also put forward information by historian John Simkin that Belfrage was working for British Security Co-ordination as a double-agent, which would explain why he handed information to the Soviets. [12]


  1. ^ Cedric Belfrage and James Aronson, Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian, 1948-1967. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978; pg. 4.
  2. ^ Belfrage and Aronson, p. 7.
  3. ^ a b Belfrage and Aronson, p. 8.
  4. ^ Belfrage and Aronson, pp. 1-2.
  5. ^ a b Belfrage and Aronson, Something to Guard, pg. 4.
  6. ^ Belfrage and Aronson, p. 9.
  7. ^ a b John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009; pp. 109–111, 312. See also John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009; pp. 191 and 581, footnote 89.
  8. ^ Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fredrikh I. Firsov, The Secret World of American Communism, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995, p. 233.
  9. ^ Corera, Gordon (21 August 2015). "Cedric Belfrage, the WW2 spy Britain was embarrassed to pursue". BBC News (London). 
  10. ^ Jones, Sam (21 August 2015). "Cedric Belfrage – 'sixth man' Soviet spy who hid in plain sight". Financial Times (London). 
  11. ^ Corera, Gordon (17 September 2015). "The Hollywood Spy". BBC Radio Four (London). 
  12. ^ Simkin, John (17 September 2015). "The problems of appearing in a BBC documentary". Spartacus Blog. 


  • Away From It All. Gollancz, London, 1937; Simon and Schuster, 1937; Literary Guild, 1937 Penguin (Britain).
  • Promised Land. Gollancz, London, 1937; Left Book Club, London, 1937; Republished by Garland, New York, Classics of Film Literature series, 1983.
  • Let My People Go. Gollancz, London, 1937.
  • South of God. Left Book Club, 1938.
  • A Faith to Free the People. Modern Age, New York, 1942; Dryden Press, New York, 1944; Book Find Club, 1944.
  • They All Hold Swords. Modern Age, New York, 1941.
  • Abide With Me. Sloane Associates, New York, 1948; Secker and Warburg, London, 1948.
  • Seeds of destruction; the truth about the U.S. occupation of Germany Cameron and Kahn, New York, 1954.
  • The Frightened Giant. Secker and Warburg, London, 1956.
  • My Master Columbus. Secker and Warburg, 1961; Doubleday, New York, 1962; Editiones Contemporaneous, Mexico, (in Spanish).
  • The Man at the Door With the Gun. Monthly Review, New York, 1963.
  • The American Inquisition. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1973.
  • Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian, 1948-1967. With James Aronson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.

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