Louis C. Fraina - Biography - 1919–20 Espionage Controversy

1919–20 Espionage Controversy

The first international conclave attended by Fraina as representative of the CPA was a secret conference conducted by the short-lived Western European Bureau of the Communist International, slated to begin on February 10, 1920, in Amsterdam. As he was not a citizen of the United States, Fraina was forced to make this trip without a passport and legal visas. The services of one Jacob Nosovitsky were employed by the CPA to aid with Fraina's travel arrangements and to accompany him abroad. Nosivitsky, believed to be an active and trustworthy member of the Communist movement and an individual who had been used as a secret international courier, was in actuality a police spy working undercover in the radical movement and reporting on the activities of its principals to the U.S. Department of Justice as its special employee N-100.

Although apparently not tipped off by Nosovitsky himself, Amsterdam police authorities were well aware of the Comintern's secret gathering in the city, and bugged the conference room with a dictaphone machine—a device discovered by delegate Michael Borodin on the second day of the proceedings. A raid by the authorities soon followed, during which many delegates were arrested before being ordered to leave the country or physically deported. Fraina and Nosovitsky were not detained, but rather made their way to the home of Dutch radical S. J. Rutgers in Amersfoort, where several other delegates had assembled. They remained there a week before returning home to America.

Back in America, a scandal was brewing. A former Finnish-American Socialist newspaper editor with extensive linguistic abilities named Ferdinand Peterson was induced to join the Justice Department as an undercover informant after being discharged from the American Army in 1919. Peterson confided in his former party comrade Santeri Nuorteva, now a leading member of the Russian Soviet Government Bureau (RSGB) in New York—the de facto consulate of Soviet Russia—of this assignment. Nuorteva helped Peterson provide a stream of uncontroversial and non-revelatory content for his daily reports throughout the summer and early fall of 1919.

The Justice Department seems to have been aware of Peterson's duplicity, but nevertheless kept him on the payroll. Peterson came to believe—or was led to believe—that Louis Fraina was also on the payroll of the Justice Department. This information was conveyed to Nuorteva, a factional opponent of Fraina and the CPA, who levied these suspicions publicly in the pages of the Socialist Party daily, the New York Call.

Just as Fraina was preparing to depart for Europe again to attend the 2nd World Congress of the Comintern in Moscow, these espionage allegations regarding Fraina came to a head and the RSGB declared the necessity of resolution of the question before Fraina would be permitted to travel. A "party trial" was held at the office of the RSGB in an attempt to determine the veracity of Peterson's charges. Peterson offered direct testimony about reports he had been allowed to see bearing Louis Fraina's name, checks he had been allowed to see bearing Louis Fraina's signed endorsement, and details of three separate encounters with a person he had believed to be Louis Fraina in the halls of the Department of Justice's New York headquarters.

Defending Fraina's honor against the allegations of the admitted double-agent Peterson, bolstered by the testimony of Nuorteva, was the still-concealed Justice Department employee Jacob Nosovitsky together with Fraina himself and his attorney, Louis Boudin. Implausibilities in Peterson's testimony were ultimately highlighted and Fraina was able to provide a rock-solid alibi that he was not in the city of New York at the time of one of the three alleged "sightings" at Justice Department headquarters, and Fraina was exonerated of Peterson's allegations and allowed to travel to Soviet Russia again. A stenographic report of the Peterson-Fraina encounter was published by the CPA as a pamphlet as Stenographic Report of the "Trial" of Louis C. Fraina, in which it was broadly hinted that it was Nuorteva rather than Fraina who was guilty of espionage activity.

Finally allowed to depart for Moscow, Fraina arrived only to find that rumors of the espionage charge had not been dispelled. Two more hearings were held under the auspices of the Comintern itself — one before the convening of the 2nd World Congress and the second one immediately after. The findings of all committees were unanimous and the charges of espionage against Fraina were dismissed, albeit never fully dispelled.

Read more about this topic:  Louis C. Fraina, Biography

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