The Traitorous Code Clerk, Part Six
By David H. Lippman
The story began in Part One and continued in Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five.
In our previous installment, Scotland Yard finally caught up with Tyler Kent.
Kennedy was infuriated by the revelations, as he was learning the full scale of the treachery for the first time. Livid, he snarled at Knight, “Send the traitorous bastard in!”
Detective Inspector Pearson shoved Kent into the ambassador’s office, and Kennedy gave Kent his best steely glare.
“This is quite a serious situation you have got your country involved in,” Kennedy opened. “From the kind of family you come from – people who have fought for the United States – one would not expect you to let us down.”
“In what way?” Kent replied calmly.
“You don’t think you have?” Kennedy retorted. “What did you think you were doing with our codes and telegrams?”
“It was only for my own information.”
“Why did you have to have them?” Kennedy asked.
“Because I thought them very interesting,” Kent replied. Through the interview, Kent was, according to Kennedy, “cool, contemptuous, and arrogant.”
Disgusted, Kennedy handed over the questioning to Knight. He asked Kent about the American’s links to Anna Wolkoff, which he did not deny, then warned that Anna had a “channel of communication” with Germany and was involved in pro-German propaganda.
Knight turned the screw: “As your ambassador has just said, you have been found with documents in your private rooms to which he considers you to have no proper title. You would be a very silly man if you did not realize that certain conclusions might be drawn from that situation, and it is for you to offer the explanation, not us.”
Kent said nothing. Knight pressed Kent: “I am now talking to you by invitation of your ambassador, and not in any way in connection with matters which concern only Great Britain at the moment. The situation as I see it is this: I think it is just as well you should know you can be proved to have been associating with this woman, Anna Wolkoff.”
“I don’t deny that,” Kent said.
Knight asked Kent what the leather-bound book contained. Kent shrugged, and said he didn’t know, drawling, “I think probably if you opened it you would find out.”
Knight repeated his question.
“Captain Ramsay,” Kent answered. “What it contains I do not know. He asked me to keep it.”
Knight was unsatisfied, of course, and asked, “Don’t you think it strange that a Member of Parliament should come to you, a minor official in an embassy, and give you a locked book to take care of for him?” Kent didn’t answer three versions of the question.
So Knight showed a letter Kent had written to Anna on March 21, 1940, in which the American hoped to “make the acquaintance of more of your interesting friends.” Knight wanted to know who these were.
Kent, still supercilious, said he was talking about Captain Ramsay, whom he found interesting because “we had a sort of common view, to a certain extent.”
Knight snapped, “I am going to speak now extremely bluntly. I am afraid I must take the view that you are either a fool or a rogue, because you cannot possibly be in any position except that of a man who has either been made use of or who knows all these people.” Knight asked Kent if he’d heard of the Right Club. Yes, Kent had. But he didn’t remember what he’d said to Anna or any members of the Right Club.
“You have a good memory for what you have not said, but not a very good memory for what you have said,” Knight said, covering his irritation. But Knight had the upper hand – he had detailed information on Kent’s meetings with Anna. The conversation went back and forth with Kennedy periodically interjecting his anger that it was against the law for Kent to have those documents. Was Kent aware that was the case?
“I am not aware of that,” Kent said.
“Well, let me assure you that it is,” Kennedy said. “You were not by any chance going to take them with you to Germany when you asked for a transfer there, without our knowledge?”
“No, I couldn’t have got them out,” Kent said. “I’m not entitled to that exemption.”
“But I think you will find that in regard to many countries you’d get it,” Knight said. Kent was silent.
Knight tried a new direction. “Do you consider Anna Wolkoff a loyal British subject?” he asked.
“Well, if you mean that she holds some views that are apparently at variance with some of the ideals possibly of the British government,” Kent said, “that is quite true; but it doesn’t mean that she is not a loyal British subject.”
Knight pounced . . . would a loyal British subject communicate with the King’s enemies?
Kent tried to back off. “No, but I have absolutely no knowledge of that. This is the first I have heard of it. If you say that she is in communication with the enemy, why of course she is not a loyal British subject; but when you put the question to me this morning, I didn’t know that.”
“But this morning you wouldn’t say yes or no,” Knight persisted. “A person is loyal or disloyal.”
“If you think that everybody that doesn’t approve of what is being done by the country is disloyal . . . ”
Knight cut him off again. “Now you are merely trying to talk like a parlor politician, but we are dealing with fundamentals.”
Kennedy could tell that Kent didn’t realize the gravity of the situation. As Kent later admitted, he expected merely to be deported back to the United States, where the political fallout from the purloined papers – if exposed at trial – were so great that the administration would not convict him. Kent was not only well-dressed, but absolutely arrogant.
Kennedy tried to undo the arrogance, asking Knight, “If you prove that she (Wolkoff) is in contact with them (the Germans) she is more or less a spy. If the United States government decides to waive any rights they may have, do I understand that they might very well make Kent part and parcel of that?”
Knight immediately said, “Subject to the production of evidence under the law, yes.” There it was – a trial for Kent. But the American clerk was not impressed.
Knight decided to move along. “I think, honestly, that at this stage nothing very useful is to be got by carrying on this conversation.” Kennedy agreed. He ordered Kent relieved of his diplomatic passport and immunity, and Kent was taken away to be formally charged.
Next, the British moved – with Kennedy’s approval – to have all of Kent’s calls at work answered by a Special Branch detective. Despite being held, Kent continued to get plenty: from his other girlfriends, the president of the Russian Refugee Committee, and his tailor, demanding payment for an overdue £10.9.0. Kent’s solicitor paid the bill later.
But the most important call came from a woman named Enid Riddell, who was wondering why Kent blew off dinner with her after his arrest. Special Branch raided Ms. Riddell’s home, to find nothing incriminating. But Enid had a story to tell. The dinner that Kent was supposed to attend was to be with her and Duke Del Monte. There was the linchpin to the case – Kent was clearly giving the messages to Del Monte, who was passing them by diplomatic routes to Rome, who passed them to the German Embassy there, who in turn sent them to Berlin.
The British had their man. The Americans were furious. With Secretary of State Cordell Hull laid low by illness, Assistant Secretary of State Sumner Welles was in charge. He exploded at the department’s number three, Breckinridge Long, both over the espionage and the potential damage the exposure could do for American foreign relations with Britain, invaded neutrals like Belgium and The Netherlands, and nations still on the war’s sidelines. And what else could Kent have purloined?
The State Department ordered a full investigation of its London Embassy, and found that at least no code or cipher books were missing. But Long scrutinized the list of recovered documents and found it “appalling. Hundreds of copies – true readings – of dispatches, cables, messages . . . It is a terrible blow – almost a major catastrophe.”
David H. Lippman, an award-winning journalist
and graduate of the New School for Social Research,
has written many magazine articles about World
War II. He currently works
as a public information officer for the city
of Newark, N.J. We're always pleased to add his work
to our Daily Content.