With his meticulous research and careful reporting, Usdin...pulls back the curtain on 80 years of propaganda and espionage emanating from the corner of 14th and F streets in Northwest Washington: the National Press Building ... he focuses on what was going on behind the scenes when organizations, governments and shady characters engaged in activities for which journalism was nothing more than a front ... Stories about Soviet operations make good cloak-and-dagger reading, but Usdin’s reporting on the influence operations of the British provide the most surprise ... My one concern as I read Bureau of Spies was whether Usdin’s narrative would add fuel to those forces that have tried to paint journalists as purveyors of fake news, writers with agendas or enemies of the people...'Revelations about the connections between a small number of journalists and intelligence agencies have coated all reporters with an undeserved layer of suspicion.' Suspicion is, of course, what we journalists most abhor given that we must stand for transparency and accuracy. Usdin’s look at the Bureau of Spies only underscores the danger for all of us when the press is used or manipulated. And that is whether or not you’re guileless enough to tell a suspicious source you’ve never heard of Langley.
In Bureau of Spies, a well-researched work of investigative history, Steven Usdin describes the espionage that was conducted in the building’s halls, bar and offices for decades. He shows how scores of 'reporters' from foreign bureaus spied for their countries’ intelligence agencies...Sometimes unwittingly, though sometimes not, American journalists or their staff members helped foreign governments by sharing whatever inside information they had about America’s politics and policies ... Today, Mr. Usdin notes, news gathering is more decentralized, and cyberspace is a better vehicle for spreading fake news. He believes that the current danger is the undermining of our confidence in the news media altogether, leading people to believe that 'there is no such thing as truth.'
The blurred boundaries between journalism, propaganda, and espionage are nothing new, as reporter Usdin reveals in this series of stories about the spies and spin masters who have worked out of the National Press Club Building in Washington, D.C. The building opened in 1927, and the first known agent to operate out of its warren of offices—reporter and antifascist Robert S. Allen—began sending reports to the Lubyanka, headquarters of Soviet intelligence, in 1933. Following him, a colorful cast of Soviet spies, fascist operatives, and British and Japanese agents sent reports to overseas masters, disseminated untruths, and worked to start or prevent wars—while posing as legitimate journalists ... Readers concerned about 'fake news' will find this account instructive, and readers who love tales of strategy, deception, and indoor cigar smoking will enjoy the trip to the 20th-century National Press Club building.