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Agnes Smedley
  Intro | Maugham | Hari | Smedley | Berg | Hiss | Bentley | Fleming | Philby | Ames | Pollard

Agnes Smedley, a triple agent who worked for the Soviets, the Chinese Communists, and the Indian nationalists, was one of the most prolific female spies of the 20th century. Unlike most agents of the day, who were reasonably erudite, Smedley lacked a formal education and came from a poor, undistinguished family.

As a young adult Smedley attempted to make up for her minimal education by attending lectures and classes at universities as often as she could. On each campus, she threw herself in with a sophisticated intellectual and international crowd, and the connections she made eventually led to her life as a spy.

At New York University circa 1912, Smedley befriended a group of students from India who were agitators in their country's nationalist movement. She soon joined the Friends of Freedom for India, a secretive organization closely monitored by the U.S. government. Smedley offered to hide the group's codes, contact information, and correspondence in her room to keep their activities from possible government detection.

Though Smedley eventually moved away from New York, the Indian nationalist cause remained close to her heart. In 1918, while she was a student at the University of California, Smedley was arrested in the company of Salindranath Ghose, a prominent Indian nationalist, and charged with aiding and abetting espionage. She was indicted for fraud on charges of having helped the Friends of Freedom for India establish themselves in the U.S. as a legitimate government-in-exile, but she was never tried.

Soon after the indictment Smedley left the U.S. for Berlin. She became involved with the Communist faction of the Indian nationalist movement in Germany and entered into a common-law marriage with Virendranath Chattoopadhyaya, a Communist Indian nationalist leader. During their relationship Smedley traveled frequently between Moscow and Berlin under the aliases Mrs. Petroikas and Alice Bird, presumably to pass information between Soviet authorities and the Communist Party, to which she belonged. While in Berlin, she taught at the University of Berlin, formed the city's first birth control clinic, and published her first book, Daughter of Earth. She also suffered a bout of mental illness.

In 1928, Smedley left for Shanghai, China by way of Moscow. Agents there assigned her to keep tabs on the British-trained and British-directed police in Shanghai and to support the Communist cause there.

Smedley began a professional and romantic relationship with Richard Sorge, a Russian-born spy for the Soviets based in Shanghai. Through Japanese and German contacts Smedley provided, Sorge collected detailed information on Japanese and German military intentions and capabilities. Before Sorge was executed in Tokyo for espionage in 1944, he wrote that his espionage activities were made possible only with Smedley's assistance. He referred to her, however, by a code name.

During World War II Smedley lived intermittently in the U.S. and served as an advisor to the U.S. general Joseph Stilwell, who was the military advisor to Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of non-Communist China. Smedley used her position to recommend that Stilwell secretly send a limited amount of U.S. military supplies to the Chinese Communists in the event that they could help the U.S. against a potential Japanese attack. Stilwell agreed to Smedley's request.

By 1950, rumors began to circle among government officials about Smedley's identity as a Soviet agent. The FBI assigned a team of agents to monitor her activities. Feeling pressured, Smedley left for England. The House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed her shortly after she left. Smedley died in England less than three years later, never having appeared before the committee. Her ashes were spread in a cemetery for revolutionaries in the Chinese capital.

Intro | Maugham | Hari | Smedley | Berg | Hiss | Bentley | Fleming | Philby | Ames | Pollard

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