Tags: Samuel Dickstein | russian | spy | congressman

NYC Plaza Still Named After Ex-Congressman Turned Russian Spy

By    |   Tuesday, 07 Oct 2014 05:44 PM

A fight to change the name of a Lower Manhattan street has brought back to life the shady legacy of an ex-Democratic congressman-turned-Soviet-spy code-named "Crook."

The New York Times last year profiled how a civic honor bestowed a half-century ago on 1930s lawmaker Samuel Dickstein was actually saluting a turncoat on the Soviet payroll who collected $1,250 a month to steer congressional investigators away from communists.

The Times article triggered a campaign by the marketing director for Lower Manhattan's famed Henry Street Settlement to change Samuel Dickstein Plaza to Lillian Wald Way to honor Henry Street Settlement's founder, Politico Magazine reports in its latest edition.

The effort has collected 300 signatures so far, the news website DNAinfo reported in August.

But Politico Magazine notes Dickstein's notoriety was unearthed years before, in 1999, after the publication of  "The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America – the Stalin Era."

Using previously unavailable KGB records, the book revealed how Stalin's spy in Congress was none other than Dickstein, who left Washington in 1946 and served as a state Supreme Court justice until his death in 1954.

"We are fully aware whom we are dealing with," according to one pre-KGB spy agency memo revealed, the magazine notes. "'Crook' is completely justifying his code name. This is an unscrupulous type, greedy for money, consented to work because of money, a very cunning swindler. … Therefore it is difficult to guarantee the fulfillment of the planned program even in the part which he proposed to us himself."

The magazine credits Dickstein for introducing the phrase "un-American activities" into the nation's lexicon as he transformed into the only known U.S. representative to have served as a covert agent for a foreign power.

Dickstein rose to prominence initially leading the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, beginning a career "as a scourge of the disloyal," the magazine reports.

In March 1934, he convinced the House to pass his resolution establishing what was officially titled the "Special Committee on Un-American Activities Authorized to Investigate Nazi Propaganda and Certain Other Propaganda Activities" —  a hunt "for Nazi spies not Communist ones," the magazine reports.

Dickstein, the committee's vice chair, conceded the gavel to John McCormack, the Massachusetts lawmaker who would ultimately become speaker of the House.

Dickstein's first contact with the NKVD, a predecessor of the KGB, was in 1937, the magazine notes. He didn't work cheap.

"Dickstein approached the Soviet ambassador in Washington, spoke of his 'friendly attitude toward the Soviet Union,' and offered information on a Russian fascist group for $5,000 to $6,000," the magazine notes.

"The Soviets agreed to hear him out but refused to pay such a vast sum… When Dickstein demanded a $2,500-a-month salary to keep up the flow, his Soviet handler, 'Igor,' would go no further than $500. The typical American family earned about $1,800 a year in 1937."

"With the expectation that he would be named as a key figure on the panel, Dickstein struck a deal with Igor, agreeing to provide the Soviet Union with materials on fascists uncovered by the committee and to steer its investigators away from looking into Communists," the magazine notes. "His pay would be $1,250 a month."

Dickstein had earned a total of $12,000 during his time on the Soviet payroll, "about $200,000 when adjusted for inflation," the magazine notes.

"[Dickstein] doesn’t deserve his name on the plaza," Henry Street Settlement marketing director Susan LaRosa told DNAinfo in August.

"If you’ve discovered somebody who had done something bad, why continue to have him or her honored with a plaza named for them?" LaRosa asks. "It just doesn’t make sense. You have new information so why not act on it?"


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A fight to change the name of a Lower Manhattan street has brought back to life the shady legacy of an ex-Democratic congressman-turned-Soviet-spy codenamed Crook. The New York Times last year profiled how a civic honor bestowed a half-century ago on 1930s lawmaker Samuel...
Samuel Dickstein, russian, spy, congressman
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2014-44-07
Tuesday, 07 Oct 2014 05:44 PM
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