Ernest Hemingway’s Secret War – Was America’s Foremost Writer Really a Spy?  

Ernest Hemingway (centre) during the Spanish Civil War. While much is known about the author’s exploits as a war correspondent, little until now has been written about his work as a spy. (Image Source: WikiCommons via the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.)

“Thanks to newly revealed documents, this amazing story can now be told in its entirety for the first time.”

By Nicholas Reynolds

ERNEST HEMINGWAY was one of the most celebrated and influential writers of the 20th Century. He was also a spy.

In fact, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning novelist’s little-known fascination with the world of espionage changed his life. It led him into secret relationships with a number of intelligence services including the Soviet NKVD, a forerunner of the KGB, and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the organization that would later become the CIA.

In 1940 he agreed to work for the Soviets and, then after Pearl Harbor, became a self-directed, heavily-armed warrior-spy for his own country on two continents. Thanks to newly revealed documents, this amazing story can now be told in its entirety for the first time.

Hemingway first caught the eye of Soviet intelligence in the summer of 1935. The celebrated novelist wrote a scathing article for the hard-left magazine The New Masses about the federal government’s response to the deadly Labor Day Hurricane. Entitled “Who Murdered the Vets?” the piece attacked Washington for abandoning World War I veterans working on relief in the Florida Keys. Hemingway’s tirade caught the attention of the NKVD clipping service in Moscow.

Ernest Hemingway (centre) with foreign volunteers of Spain’s anti-fascist Republican faction in 1937. It was during the civil war that the author first made contact with Soviet intelligence. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Two years later Hemingway turned his newly-awakened political energy to the Spanish Civil War. Traveling four times to the war-torn country, the 38-year-old author dedicated himself to supporting the Republican cause, along the way reporting on fascist atrocities. While in Spain he first made contact with the Soviet Union’s massive spy apparatus. Spain eventually fell to the Nazi-backed Nationalist forces of Francisco Franco. But Hemingway was keen to continue the struggle and Moscow was eager to recruit another American spy. By late 1940 Hemingway, now living in Cuba, was ready for a Russian operative named Jacob Golos to recruit him for the NKVD.

Sadly for the Soviets, Hemingway never realized his full potential as one of their secret agents.

Within months of joining the NKVD’s rolls, the author began to have second thoughts about spying for this foreign government. When America entered World War II, he was eager to volunteer to help the U.S.

In 1942, Hemingway oversaw a counterintelligence bureau for the American Embassy in Havana, trolling the city’s bars looking for fascist sympathizers.

Ernest Hemingway at the helm of his cabin cruiser, the Pilar, in 1934. During the Second World War, the author outfitted the vessel to hunt German U-boats in the Caribbean. (Image source: WikiCommons via the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.)

He also joined the secret hunt for German submarines off the coast of Cuba for the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). The Navy supplied a small arsenal to the author and outfitted his 38-foot cabin cruiser Pilar with sensors and communications equipment to track and surprise enemy U-boats. But the Pilar never closed with any subs.

By 1944, Hemingway was in Europe covering the war for Collier’s magazine

When he found himself outside Paris in August 1944, the 45-year-old war correspondent joined forces with the head of OSS in Europe, the patrician Colonel David K. E. Bruce. Together they ran highly irregular operations against the German Army to collect tactical intelligence—arming French communist fighters, patrolling the dense forests that guarded the capital, capturing and interrogating German prisoners-of-war, staying up through the night to write reports for the general commanding the liberators. Hemingway and Bruce famously went on to liberate the bar at the Ritz where they ordered some 50 martinis for the troops who dropped rifles, pistols, and hand grenades to grab cocktail glasses.

When the war ended it was time for Hemingway to slow down and take stock. He retreated to Cuba in 1945 and started to digest his wartime adventures. The Soviets too thought this would be a good time to catch up and reached out in the hope of renewing their relationship. Hemingway rebuffed their advances, and downplayed his wartime contacts with the Russians. Keenly aware of the anti-communist fervor sweeping America, Hemingway kept a low profile.

Hemingway (centre) and Colonel David K. E. Bruce (left) with members of the French Underground outside of Paris.

By the late 1950s, the aging author once more found himself in the midst of conflict. Cuba was in revolution. A 33-year-old leftist named Fidel Castro was fighting to overthrow the right-wing military dictator Fulgencio Batista. This struggle rekindled the fervor Hemingway had felt in Spain, and he offered his support to the guerrillas. He rejoiced in Castro’s 1959 victory, but when the Cuban leader turned his people against the imperialistas to the north, the famous expatriate felt the by-now familiar pressure to choose between his country and a hostile foreign power. He chose the former and abandoned his beloved home overlooking Havana and moved to Idaho.

In his later years, he fretted about the possibility of FBI surveillance, and fell into a deep depression from which he never recovered.

Nicholas Reynolds is the author of Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935 – 1961. He has worked in the fields of modern military history and intelligence off and on for forty years, with some unusual detours. Freshly minted PhD from Oxford University in hand, he joined the United States Marine Corps in the 1970s, serving as an infantry officer and then as a historian. As a colonel in the reserves, he eventually became officer in charge of field history, deploying historians around the world to capture history as it was being made. When not on duty with the USMC, he served as a CIA officer at home and abroad, immersing himself in the very human business of espionage. Most recently, he was the historian for the CIA Museum, responsible for developing its strategic plan and helping to turn remarkable artifacts into compelling stories. He currently teaches as an adjunct professor for Johns Hopkins University and, with his wife, Becky, cares for rescue pugs.

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