Stalin’s American Spy

Noel Field, Allen Dulles & the East European Show Trials

June 2014 9781849043441 424pp


Stalin’s American Spy tells the remarkable story of Noel Field, a Soviet agent in the US State Department in the mid-1930s. Lured to Prague in May 1949, he was kidnapped and handed over to the Hungarian secret police. Tortured by them and interrogated too by their Soviet superiors, Field’s forced ‘confessions’ were manipulated by Stalin and his East European satraps to launch a devastating series of show-trials that led to the imprisonment and judicial murder of numerous Czechoslovak, German, Polish and Hungarian party members. Yet there were other events in his very strange career that could give rise to the suspicion that Field was an American spy who had infiltrated the Communist movement at the behest of Allen Dulles, the wartime OSS chief in Switzerland  who later headed the CIA.

Never tried, Field and his wife were imprisoned in Budapest until 1954, then granted political asylum in Hungary, where they lived out their sterile last years. This new biography takes a fresh look at Field’s relationship with Dulles, and his role in the Alger Hiss affair. It sheds fresh light upon Soviet espionage in the United States and Field’s relationship with Hede Massing, Ignace Reiss and Walter Krivitsky. It also reassesses how the increasingly anti-Semitic East European show-trials were staged and dissects the ‘lessons’ which Stalin sought to convey through them.

Table of contents


List of Abbreviations



1. ‘An outsider from the beginning’: Swiss Childhood, 1904–22

2. New World: Harvard, Social Work and Pacifism, 1922–26

3. ‘Perfect bureaucrat’: State Department Years, 1926–34


4. I Spy: The Massings and the Fields, 1934–36

5. ‘Working for the same boss’: Hiss, Hede and Noel, 1935–36

6. Murder and Defection: The Fields, Reiss and Krivitsky, 1936–37

7. Promised Lands: Pilgrimage to Moscow; Mission in Spain, 1937–39

8. ‘At the risk of death’: Hermann Field, 1939–40

9. Family Breakdown: Noel, Herta and Erica, 1939–41


10. Cadres and Camps: The USC and the KPD Foreign Secretariat

11. ‘Saving our Cadres’: Marseille and Geneva, 1941–44

12. Dangerous Liaisons: Noel, Dulles and the OSS, 1942–45

13. Teetering Edifice: USC Europe, 1945–47

14. The Searchers: Noel and Herta, 1947–49


15. Past Becomes Present: Hede’s Friends, Old and New

16. ‘Decisive measures on our part’: Stalin’s Role

17. Heresy: Tito versus Stalin


18. Less Than Rhapsodic: RЗkosi’s Hungary

19. Fateful Contact: Noel and the ‘Szőnyi Group’

20. The Spider and the Spy: Netting the Fields

21. ‘Whatever you want me to say’: Torture and Truth

22. ‘The enemy’s man’: LЗszlЧ Rajk

23. Jigsaw Justice: Aspects of the Rajk Trial

TIME OF TRIALS, 1949–1953

24. The Urge to Purge: Trial and terror 1948–53

25. The Evaded Show Trial: Sacrificing the Polish ‘Fieldists’

26. ‘Former German political .migr.s’: Witch-hunt in the GDR

27. The Laggards of Prague: The Fields and the SlЗnský trial

28. ‘Terrorist activities’: Stalin’s Last Killings


29. Belated Tears for Stalin: Prison, Release and Asylum

30. Fade-out: Bystander, Apologist, Nobody





‘Sharp has constructed an excellent and highly detailed account of the life of Field, his activities, and contacts. One walks away with the impression that no detail has been spared in researching Field, and what is more, that the narrative is written in a language both enjoyable and enthralling.’ — Journal for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies

‘Sharp’s gripping book provides the most detailed account of Noel Field, [whose] journey from a pro-communist Westerner to a pawn in Stalin’s Hungarian show trials is unusual and enlightening… invaluable for gaining an insight into one of the many mysteries of the Cold War.’ — Budapest Business Journal

‘This is the first truly authentic, comprehensive and factual analysis  in English of the fascinating life of Noel Field, one of the most mysterious figures on Stalin’s chessboard of spies, agents  and stooges. The author`s gripping account is more than  a personal biography of a legendary figure.  This book is also  essential reading for understanding  the world of Stalinist show trials and  key chapters of the Cold War in Europe.’ — Paul Lendvai, journalist and author of Hungary: Between Democracy and Authoritarianism and Austria: New Challenges, Old Demons

Stalin’s American Spy is a compelling piece of work. It is historically rich, and yet moves along like a novel. Noel Field can be seen as an emblem of the ideology war of the ’30s and its lost history. Moving and impressive.’ — Robert Dover, author of Learning from the Secret Past: Cases in British Intelligence History

‘This is a superb and original book in a much under-researched area. A fine work of history.’ — Gerry Hughes, Lecturer in Military History, Aberystwyth University, and author of Britain, Germany and the Cold War: the search for a European Détente, 1949-1967


Tony Sharp has lectured in European Studies at Dundee University. He is the author of The Wartime Alliance and the Zonal Division of Germany and Pleasure and Ambition: The Life, Loves and Wars of Augustus the Strong.

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