Nicolae Ceausescu and Robert Maxwell in happier days
"Who were Armand Hammer and Robert Maxwell? Agents who became businessmen or businessmen who became agents?"
So asks the late Vladimir Bukovsky in his capstone work, Judgment in Moscow.
Bukovsky's question arose as he considered the documentation he had before him on the Soviet Union's secret financial dealings with Western communists, both in cold cash (since 1969 "something to the tune of $400 million"), and, more intriguing, "other forms of financing." These other forms included an array of transactions with, in communist parlance, "firms of friends."
As we continue processing revelations around the supposed "suicide" of Jeffrey Epstein and the wherabouts of his confederate Ghislaine Maxwell, now said to be in hiding, Ghislaine's deceased father, the Marxist publisher, MP and British "press baron" Robert Maxwell should remain on our radar for possibly having run just such a "firm of friends."
Edward Jay Epstein long ago decoded Armand Hammer's lifelong career as an agent of Soviet influence in his book Dossier. While Robert Maxwell's Moscow relationship seems overshadowed by reports of his relationship with Israeli intelligence, we know from declassified FBI files that the US government was concerned about a Soviet-Maxwell connection starting in the 1950s. What happened after that?
The published record is voluminous and confounding. There is much about Maxwell and the Mossad, a hot story today; and there is much about Maxwell and his close relationship with Kremlin and the Eastern bloc, not a hot story today. Then, here in Judgment in Moscow, Robert Maxwell was crossing Vladimir Bukovsky's mind as he wrote in the 1990s in the context of businessmen thought of as Soviet agents.
The context is instructive. Hammer and Maxwell pop up in Bukovsky's book at the end of a discussion of documents Bukovsky found in Central Committee archives in Moscow describing the Soviet government's relationship with yet another Marxist magnate -- the Greek communist publisher and industrialist George Bobolas. Circa 1980, Bobolas was suffering financial losses, including, as Bukovsky writes, financial losses over the publication of a Greek translation of Peace: Mankind's Best Reward with a foreword by Brezhnev.
Pausing only to wipe a way the tiniest tear over this touching title, one is reminded of the series of books Robert Maxwell published at his Pergamon Press on Brezhnev and just about every other communist dictator of the Soviet day.
I even wonder whether the Greek Bobolas Brezhnev book, Peace: Mankind's Best Reward (with the foreword by Brezhnev) might be related to the English Maxwell Brezhnev book, Leonid I. Brezhnev: Pages from His Life (with the foreword by Brezhnev)? I don't know the answer; however, it's hard to imagine Robert Maxwell wasn't swimming in the same red ink as George Bobolas when it came to producing these same kinds of communist books.
Besides the Brezhnev book, the list of Politburo and Communist Bloc classics from Maxwell's Pergamon list is almost comically exhaustive. These include: A New Stage in International Relations by A.N. Lebedev (1978); Only for Peace by A.A. Gromyko (1979); Selected Speeches and Writings by M.A. Suslov (1980); Erich Honecker: From My Life (1981); Selected Speeches and Writings by B.N. Ponomarev (1981); Selected Speeches and Writings by Aleksey Nikolayevich Kosygin (1981); Konstantin Chernenko: Selected Speeches and Writings (1982); Nicolae Ceausescu: Builder of Modern Romania and International Statesman (1983); Y. Andropov: Speeches and Writings (1983); Speeches and Writings by Deng Xiaping (1984); Jaruzelski: Selected Speeches (1985); Todor Zhivkov: Statesman and Builder of New Bulgaria (1985).
Not only did Maxwell publish these books, he often wrote the preface or conducted one-on-one interviews with these dictators du jour, who, a few years hence, would topple. or, in Ceauscescu's case, be shot by a firing squad.
These Maxwell books, then, stand as relics not only of an era but also of a particular form of agit prop. Take the Ceausescu book ("Part 1: A Lifetime Dedicated to the People"). Alongside a photograph of Maxwell and Ceausescu shaking hands, Maxwell opens his interview thus: "Dear Mr. President, You have been holding the highest political state office in Romania for almost 18 years, a fact for which we warmly congratulate you. What has, in your opinion, made you so popular with the Romanians?"
Such an operatic show of sychophancy is noteworthy in constructing any Maxwell intelligence-career-profile, whether as an agent of influence or just an agent (or just a sycophant), along with his more restrained comments: "Like most people who read this volume, I do not agree with everything Mr. Andropov says or writes...."
Then there is the chalky tonnage of communist rhetoric that Maxwell dumped on the West via Pergamon.
Take the typically effervescent prose of General Secretary Chernenko: "The positive results of the Soviet Union's constructive policy of peace, consistent implementation of the Leninist foreign policy principles, and the Peace Program are clearly visible throughout the entire broad spectrum of its foreign relations ....In the Ninth Five Year Plan period higher increments in industrial production, capital investments, government appropriations to implement new measures to improve the well-being of the people have been attained than in any other earlier Five Year Plan period ..."
If a few of these volumes received Western press notice, it's a good bet that Pergamon was not profiting in the conventional sense (cents) with this long product-line of communist cant. What was Maxwell gaining in the course of these ventures? Proximity to Politburo power to make business or other deals, a la "firms of friends"? Pergamon's specialty, meanwhile, was scientific publishing, which, as the FBI suspected long ago, always skirts the realm of espionage. Maxwell held Marxist sympathies; perhaps this was a labor of labor-love.
But about George Bobolas. Bukovsky discovered documents in Soviet archives which, ex post-facto, destroyed the high-profile libel suits Bobolas waged against journalistic efforts published in the 1980s to unmask his media empire as a base of Soviet disinformation in Greece and beyond. These documents include a Central Committee document titled "On Cooperation with G. Bobolas," which urged "preference" to Bobolas "in view of the positive part he has played in pursuit of Soviet-Greek links." At the very time Bobolas was incurring those material losses over the Brehznev book, a KGB report attached to the Central Committee document was describing Bobolas' publishing house Akadimos as a "publishing base for ideological influence in Greece and in Greek communities in a number of countries." Kremlin thinking, therefore, was that it would be a good idea through business with to Soviet government to bring about "large, mutually beneficial deals."
Bobolas's bought the newspaper Ethnos a couple of years later, Bukovsky wrote, whereupon it became known as "the main mouthpiece for Soviet disinformation in Greece."
Why bring any of this up, aside from showing how these connections between the Kremlin and "firms of friends" covertly advancing communist interests for Moscow's benefit in the West worked?
While trying to learn more about Bobalas and his base of Soviet influence in Greece and beyond, I came across a report that introduced an American red thread into the story.
On March 10, 1996, "Parade's Special Intelligence Report" by Jane Ciabattari (not to be confused with "Walter Scott's Personality Parade" written by Derek, Cody and Brooke Shearer's father Lloyd Shearer) carried the following item: "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts"
Following a thumbnail on the kind of Soviet disinformation published by Ethnos and also Bobolas' conviction for wire-tapping the New York Times bureau in 1983 in Athens, Ciabattari asks: "Does this sound like the sort of publication that should be paying for a trip to Greece by a senior Clinton aide?"
Enter George Stephanopoulos.
To recap, the newspaper Ethnos -- which, to repeat, Bukovsky describes as having been "the main mouthpiece for Soviet disinformation in Greece" while owned by a Greek communist secretly recognized and financially assisted by the Soviet government for "exerting ideological influence in Greece and in Greek communities in a number of countries" -- partly financed the 1995 trip to Greece of a senior Clinton White House official of Greek descent, and honored him at a dinner.
What for? We never got a straight answer from the press (let alone Stephanopoulos), which instead crowned Stephanopoulos ABC anchor of "This Week.”
Some would call that a happy ending.
Here’s another. When post-Soviet Pravda was given new life, "allegedly, on funds provided by Greek communists," Bukovsky notes, "officially, Pravda's fairy godmother was named as one Yanis Yanikos, a partner in Bobolas' past publishing feats."
I guess the red thread doesn’t just continue, it never quits.