FBI Documents: Hemingway ran U.S. funded rogue spy operation in Cuba, greatly annoying J. Edgar Hoover
Larger than life novelist charmed his way into WW2 spy operation in Cuba while fishing for Marlin, insulting, marginalizing Hoover’s FBI
By Nate Thayer
August 31, 2014
Earnest Hemingway was a secret spy for the United States in Cuba during WW 2–sort of.
Washington provided him weapons and provisions and money, procured, apparently, through Hemingway’s powers of persuasion, his charm,his larger than life persona, and his genuine knowledge and contacts on issues of national security priority to the U.S.
But secret FBI documents suggest he may have embarked on his career as a foreign intelligence agent for the U.S. government mostly to just annoy the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and it’s cranky, authoritarian, conspiracy obsessed director, J Edgar Hoover.
Ernest Hemingway ran an intelligence operation in Havana Cuba in 1942 and 1943 out of the U.S embassy, running an organization of hand-picked agents he created, reported directly to the U.S. Ambassador, sought and received funding directly from U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt, and, pointedly, ignored, belittled, and bypassed the agents of the FBI assigned to the U.S. embassy in Havana.
J. Edgar Hoover was unamused, and dispatched a hapless Keystone Kops series of FBI agents to keep track of Hemingway and fail in repeated attempts to thwart him.
Hemingway openly mocked the resident FBI agent in charge in Havana and left him entirely out of the loop of his clandestine operations, reporting to the U.S. ambassador.
“In attendance at a Jai Alai match with HEMINGWAY, this writer was introduced by him to a friend as a member of the Gestapo. On that occasion, I told HEMINGWAY I did not appreciate that introduction,” wrote the U.S. embassy to Havana Legal attaché, the FBI Special Agent in charge in Cuba, R. G. Leddy, in an October 8, 1942 secret cable back to J. Edgar Hoover.
The FBI protested to the U.S. Ambassador in Havana that “some consideration should be given to the question of relationship between Mr. HEMINGWAY and the Bureau representatives directly,” Leddy complained to FBI headquarters in Washington.
But Hemingway managed to gain the confidence and support of other embassy personnel, specifically the U.S. ambassador, and entirely sideline the FBI.
Wrote the FBI Bureau in Havana to Director Hoover in Washington: “Regarding Hemingway’s position in Cuba, the Legal attaché advises that his prestige and following are very great. He enjoys the complete personal confidence of the Ambassador and the legal attaché has witnessed conferences where the Ambassador observed Hemingway’s opinions as gospel and followed enthusiastically Hemingway’s warning of the probable seizure of Cuba by a force of 30,000 Germans transported to the Island in 1,000 submarines. A clique of celebrity minded hero worshipers surround Hemingway wherever he goes, membering such persons as Winston Guest, Lieutenant Tommy Shevlin (wealthy son of a famous Yale football player), Mrs. Kathleen Vanderbilt Arostegni and several Embassy officials. To the, Hemingway is a man of genius whose fame will be remembered with Tolstoy.”
FBI agent Leddy “pointed out to the Ambassador that Hemingway is going further than just an informant; that he is actually branching out into an investigation organization of his own which is not subject to any control whatsoever.”
“At a meeting with him at his finca (residence) on September 30, 1942, the writer was advised that he now has four men operating full-time basis, and 14 more whose positions are barmen, waiters, and the like operating on a part-time basis. The cost of this program is approximately $500 per month. Reports are submitted to HEMINGWAY, who dictates them to a personal secretary and furnished duplicate copies to Mr. JOYCE, one being for the Embassy and the other for our use,” wrote the FBI agent in charge in Havana back to Hoover.
“Mr Ernest Hemingway, well-known American writer, recently had been acting as a personal informant of Ambassador Spruille Braden, in Havana Cuba” read a secret cable to J. Edgar Hoover, adding: “Hemingway, it will be recalled, joined in attacking the Bureau in 1940 at the time of the “general smear campaign” following the arrests of certain individuals in Detroit…severely criticizing the bureau” and that “Hemingway has been accused of being of Communist sympathy”
Special Agent Leddy lamented that “Hemingway is personally friendly (and) enjoys the complete confidence of the Ambassador…Hemingway is also on very friendly terms with United States Consul Kennett Potter, presently stationed in Cuba, and with Mr. Robert P. Joyce, second consul of the American embassy in Havana.”
The FBI man in Havana complained to Hoover that the Ambassador decided that Hemingway would work as a spy “directly in contact with Mr. Joyce and not with the writer,” wrote the FBI. “It was also decided that the expenses he would incur would be paid directly by the Embassy out of special funds. Consequently, early in September 1942, ERNEST HEMINGWAY began to engage directly in intelligence activities on behalf of the American Embassy Havana. These activities he manages from his Finca (residence), with visits to Havana two or three times weekly. He is operating through Spanish Republicans whose identities have not been revealed.”
“The Ambassador has noted on several occasions he likes Mr HEMINGWAY’S approach,” wrote the FBI Special Agent in charge in Havana.
In late 1942, the FBI attaché sent a “personal and confidential” letter to FBI director Hoover advising that Hemingway’s wife, Martha Gelhorn, was to be in Washington and staying as a guest of Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House, and “The ambassador has outlined to her certain aspects of the intelligence operation in order that she convey that to Mrs. ROOSEVELT “specifically to request for approval of financing by the American Government” of the intelligence operation.
FBI director was not amused.
On December 9, 1942, Hoover sent a cable to his top lieutenants saying: “”concerning the use of Ernest Hemingway by the United States Ambassador to Cuba, I of course realize the complete undesirability of this sort of connection or relationship. Certainly, Hemingway is the last man in my estimation to be used in any such capacity. His judgment is not the best, and if his sobriety is the same as it was some years ago, that is certainly questionable.”
Hoover then advised not to directly confront the U.S. ambassador of the FBI objections, and opined that “the ambassador is somewhat hot-headed and I haven’t the slightest doubt that he would immediately tell Hemingway of objections being raised by the FBI. Hemingway has no particular love for the FBI and would no doubt embark upon a campaign of vilification”
“In my conference recently with the President, he indicated that some message had been sent him, the President, by Hemingway through a mutual friend, and Hemingway was insisting that one-half million dollars be granted to the Cuban authorities so that they could take care of internees.”
Hoover ordered that “Hemingway does not deal directly with us or we deal directly with Hemingway.”
Hemingway’s spy operation, funded and equipped by, and reporting directly to the U.S. ambassador, quickly expanded. FBI agent Leddy complained to Headquarters that Hemingway was “largely concerned with certain political matters, particularly as to the connection or alleged connection of certain Cuban leaders with the Spanish Falange and the involvement of Cuban officials generally in local graft and corruption within Cuba.”
The alarmed FBI agent in Havana admitted he “has not checked out any reports from Hemingway concerning corruption in the Cuban government” but “that he should not be involved in any such investigations” and “that if we get involved in it, is going to mean that all of us will be thrown of Cuba “bag and baggage.”
Hemingway had gained the confidence of the U.S. Ambassador to Havana–and the contempt between the FBI and Hemingway was palpable.
Leddy stated that “Hemingway’s information is valueless; that our agents in Cuba have, of course, to check on it when it is submitted; that it is completely unreliable information; that the time taken to investigate it and check on it is purely wasted time and wasted effort; that Hemingway has not actually interfered with any investigation that we might be conducting to date, but with the way he is branching out with his undercover informants, he undoubtedly will.”
Hemingway’s contempt for the usefulness of the FBI was similar. “In personal relations Hemingway has maintained a surface show of friendship and interest with representatives of the FBI….However it is known that Hemingway and his assistant Gustave Duran have a low esteem for the work of the FBI which they consider to be methodical, unimaginative and performed by persons of comparative youth without experience in foreign countries and knowledge of international intrigue and politics. Both Hemingway and Duren, it is also known, have personal hostility to the FBI on an ideological basis, especially Hemingway, as he considers Hemingway anti-liberal, pro-fascist and dangerous as developing an American Gestapo,” wrote a senior FBI official in Washington to Hoover and other top FBI officials.
“Ambassador Braden, as you will recall is a very impulsive individual and he apparently had a “bee in his bonnet” for some time concerning alleged graft and corruption on the part of certain Cuban officials. Agent Leddy has stated that Mr. Hemingway had apparently organized a number of informants among the Spanish refugee group, whose identities are not known to Leddy, and, according to the best of his information, their identities are not known to anyone but Hemingway.”
The FBI agent advised Hoover that “Hemingway’s activities have branched out and that he and his informants are now engaged in reporting to the embassy various types of information concerning subversive activities generally” and that he was “quite concerned with Mr. Hemingway’s activities and that they are undoubtedly going to be very embarrassing unless something is done to put a stop to them.”
The FBI was particularly alarmed at Hemingway’s one man campaign targeted the FBI’s counterpart in Havana, the senior leadership of the Cuban police, saying “Hemingway is apparently undertaking a rather involved investigation with regard to Cuban officials prominently connected with the Cuban government, including General Manuel Benitez Valdes, head of the Cuban National Police” which the FBI was “sure that the Cubans are going to eventually find out about this if Hemingway continues operating, and that serious trouble may result.”
Hemingway was not deterred by J Edgar Hoover or his agent’s objection. When the FBI sent a new agent to Havana, Hemingway successfully had him sidelined.
“Hemingway’s ill-disguised hostility to the FBI became more evident in February 1943 when the Ambassador received charges that Special Agent Knoblaugh, just assigned to the embassy as Assistant Legal Attaché, was a participant of the Franco movement in Spain and had acted as a paid Franco propagandist,” wrote the beleaguered FBI top agent at the embassy in Havana. ” The Ambassador declined to disclose the source of these charges when they were promptly challenged and proof demanded by the Legal Attaché. The latter learned, however, positively that the charges were given to the Ambassador by Ernest Hemingway….The charges centered about a book written by Special Agent Knobluagh “Correspondent in Spain” upon his return from assignment as Associated Press correspondent in Madrid in 1938. Hemingway knew Special Agent Knoblaugh at that time.”
The Ambassador “requested the Legal Attached to have Mr. Knoblaugh transferred to some other position where the Spanish Falange were not the acute problem…”
By April, 1943, FBI pressure from Washington resulted in the Ambassador assuring the FBI Attaché that Hemingway’s spy operation would be shut down.
On April 21, 1943, FBI Agent Leddy wrote to FBI director Hoover: “Re: ERNEST HEMINGWAY
Dear Sir: The Bureau has previously been advised of the activities of Earnest Hemingway in the operation of an undercover “intelligence” organization in Cuba, under the auspices of the American Embassy.
The writer has been advised in confidence by an Embassy official that Hemingway’s organization was disbanded and its work terminated as of April 1, 1943. This action was taken without any consultation or notice to representatives of the Federal Bureau Investigation. A complete report on the activities of Mr. Hemingway and the organization which he operated is now being prepared, and will be forwarded to the Bureau in the immediate future.”
But Hemingway’s spy operation was not discontinued.
“After his services were discontinued Hemingway told XXX (name redacted) that the Ambassador acted because the FBI was jealous of his work and fearful lest he, an untrained investigator, should uncover a case which had escaped the highly trained FBI agents; further that for this reason the FBI wished no competitive organization in the same field and would endeavor to eliminate it.. Hemingway added that the FBI agents were not very smart individually, but by sheer weight of detail they eventually buried the opposition under index cards and files and so came out on top. XXXXX (NAME REDACTED) who has known Hemingway intimately for ten years advises he is so naturally egotistical and self-centered that he is certain he can do intelligence work better than anyone, and with the temperament of an artist he reacts violently to any criticism” and that warned that “Hemingway has a vindictive nature and will not rest until he settles his side of the score with an adversary.”
But agent Leddy’s personal nightmare was not over yet.
Hemingway didn’t cease his intelligence operation; he initiated a new scheme. “The Bureau Legal Attaché has ascertained that Hemingway since April 1, 1943, continued operations in Cuba on behalf of the United States Naval Attache; that is, operations consisting of cruising the waters off of Cuba in a small boat for the purpose of ascertaining the extent of enemy submarine operations…..”
The long-suffering FBI agent in Havana complained “that despite the ostensible discontinuance of Hemingway’s intelligence activities on April 1, 1943, the Bureau Legal Attaché has ascertained that Hemingway had a quantity of gasoline charged to him from the private stock of the Ambassador for the month of April, 1943, indicating an actual continuance of the arrangement which had previously been in effect for Hemingway’s intelligence organization prior to April 1, 1943.”
“One of the aspects of Mr HEMINGWAY’S relationship with the embassy is the plan of the Naval Attache, Lieutenant Colonel HAYNE D. BOYDEN, U.S.M.C., to utilize his services for certain coastal patrol and investigative work on the south coast of Cuba. HEMINGWAY, who has a wide reputation as a fisherman, knows the coastline and waters of Cuba very intimately.”
“On the pretext of continuing such investigations, the Naval Attache has acceded to HEMINGWAY’S request for authorization to patrol certain areas where submarine activity has been reported. Special permits have been secured for him, and an allotment of gasoline has now been secured for his use. He has requested that some firearms and depth charges be furnished him, which is also being done, and he has secured from the Ambassador a promise that his crewman will be recognized as war casualties for purposes of indemnification in the event any loss of life results from his operation.”
Then Hemingway used his secret weapon to strike fear in the heart of FBI headquarters–e made it known he planned to write a book about his year as a spy for the U.S government and name names.
On August 13, 1943, the Bureau Legal Attache advised that “Hemingway recently told an undercover SIS representative that he is currently writing a book based on his experiences in intelligence activities in Cuba. He indicated that his book would make mention of all the persons he had interacted with during the last year in Cuba concerning intelligence activities.”
The urgent missive to FBI director Hoover said that the FBI in Havana had “ascertained that Hemingway left Havana on September 19 on another submarine patrol in the Caribbean area.”
Hoover’s deputy wrote “it is proposed with your approval to instruct the Bureau Legal Attache at Havana Cuba to ensure that Bureau agents assigned to the Embassy in Havana and working undercover be on the alert to report any information received that would indicate that Hemingway plans to include mention of the Bureau in any publication, which he may be in the process of preparing.”
On August 13, 1943, Leddy sent an urgent classified cable to Hoover:
“Re: Ernest Hemingway
SIS #357 advises that Mr. Hemingway, of whose intelligence activities under Ambassador Spruille Bradon the Bureau has been previously advised, is currently engaged in writing a book based on his experience in that work. Hemingway states that all of the people whom he has known during the last year in Cuba in connection with intelligence work will appear in his book, including Ambassador Bradon. We are not yet informed as to what role the representatives of the FBI will play, but in view of Hemingway’s known sentiments, will probably be portrayed as the dull, heavy-footed, unimaginative professional policeman type.”
“XXXXX (name redacted) has advised that in recent conversations with Hemingway, he has indicated that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is only a mediocre intelligence organization. He has also made reference to the departure of SIS #783, with the statement that he succeeded in having this Bureau Agent removed from Cuba by use of his great personal influence with Ambassador Spruille Braden. Very Truly Yours, CONF. INFMT. S.I.S. #396, R.G. LEDDY, Legal Attache”
A Radio Cable marked Urgent and written in capital letters on Sept 17, 1943 read:
VIA BUREAU SPECIAL CYPHER PAD
RE ERNEST HEMINGWAY–CUBA LATIN AMERICA MATTERS. REFERENCE PREVIOUS REPORT CONCERNING BOOK BEING WRITTEN BY SUBJECT CONCERNING INTELLIGENCE EXPERIENCES IN CUBA. ACCORDING TO NEWS ITEMS IN THE UNITED STATES, SUBJECT HAS LEFT CUBA. ADVISE BUREAU IMMEDIATE WHEREABOUTS OF SUBJECT AND PROPOSED ITINERARY, IF ANY; ALSO, FURNISH ANY ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CONCERNING THE NEXT BOOK AND EXTENT TO WHICH THE BUREAU IS MENTIONED
FBI HQ went on alert over the issue that Hemingway would be employing the power of his pen directed at the FBI
On October 14, J Edgar Hoover ordered his agents to get to the bottom of Hemingway’s plot.
“Reference is made to your radiogram dated September 18, 1943, concerning a book which had previously reported to be under consideration by Ernest Hemingway, the subject matter to be based on his intelligence experiences in Cuba. It is desired that you take steps to insure that Bureau personnel assigned to the Embassy and operated under cover be on the alert to report any information received that would indicate Ernest Hemingway’s plans to include mention fo the Bureau in any publication which he may be preparing or about to prepare. It is further advised that the Bureau be kept advised as to the whereabouts of Ernest Hemingway and as to the date of his departure from Cuba for the United States. It is suggested that this letter be destroyed when it has served your purpose. Very Truly Yours, John Edgar Hoover, Director”
Hemingway gave the FBI the jitters for decades afterwards.
His Spanish partisan fighter which he , managed to get on the U.S. government payroll at Embassy Havana and have Washington dispatch to join him in Cuba carrying out espionage against corrupt Cuban police and government officials, support Spanish partisans he befriended covering the anti Fascist Spanish civil war who had taken refuge in Cuba, and getting the backing of the U.S. embassy to equip and fund Hemingway “patrolling” the waters off Cuba “disguised as a Marlin fisherman” while looking for German submarines, was achieved through the sheer force of his larger than life personality and charm.
Gustaf Duran, the Spanish partisan fighter Hemingway manged to get on the payroll of the Embassy by befriending the U.S. ambassador and other embassy officials, was the real life figure Hemingway based as the hero in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
U.S Ambassador to Cuba Spruille Braden, who befriended and supported Hemingway to the unending angst and consternation of J Edgar Hoover and his hapless gumshoe agents in Cuba, went on to become assistant under secretary of state.
In the early 1950’s, Hemingway got into a feud with a right wing American newspaper columnist, Edward “Ted” Scott, and challenged him to a duel.
This set Hoover’s FBI off on another round of sleuthing.
In August 1954, the FBI office in Cuba wrote Hoover that “Ernest Hemingway returned to his home in Cuba about a month ago after having spent sometime in Europe following his narrow escape from death following two airplane crashes in Africa.”
After arriving in Cuba, Hemingway began a feud of sorts with a New Zealander who wrote a column called “Interesting if True” in the Cuban English language daily the “Havana Post.” Scott penned one gossip piece quoting Hemingway’s wife as saying “Lion steaks were delectable” and the gossip columnist disagreed, whereupon Hemingway’s wife, Mary Gelhart called him a “stupid British colonial.”
By 1954 the FBI reported to Hoover that Hemingway had apparently called off the duel because, according to FBI documents “giving as his reasons that he is in ill-health and has ‘lots of writing to do.'” Hemingway further stated that he felt sure that a court of honor would not consider this cowardice on his part. SCOTT advised that although he was not satisfied with HEMINGWAY’s answer, he did not know ‘what else he could do about the matter.’ ”
By 1961, Hemingway’s health had deteriorated, and in 1961 he checked in to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where his mental and physical health was grave. He underwent electro-shock therapy.
The FBI followed him even to his hospital bed. One FBI cable noted Hemingway had checked in under an assumed name and was worried the FBI was going to leak the information to the press.
“Hemingway is now worried about his checking in under an assumed name, and is concerned about a FBI investigation. XXX (name redacted) stated that inasmuch as this worry was interfering with the treatments of Mr. Hemingway, he desired authorization that he tell Mr. Hemingway that the FBI was not concerned with him registering under an assumed name. XXXX (name redacted) was advised that there was no objection.”