Izzy, Esther, and Me: Memories of I.F. and Esther Stone

The American Spectator reports on I.F. Stone, charging as others have that he was an agent -- at least for a time -- of the Soviet Union:

Stone has been hailed by liberals for decades as the literal "conscience" of journalism. The Los Angeles Times dubbed him the "conscience of investigative journalism," and CNN's Larry King called him a "hero." When Stone died, an Oliphant cartoon showed him outside the Pearly Gates, with Saint Peter telephoning God, "Yes, THAT I. F. Stone, Sir. He says he doesn't want to come in -- he'd rather hang around out here, and keep things honest."

But we now know that Stone was not always so honest. At one time, he was a paid Soviet agent. In their latest work, published by Yale University Press, historians John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev conclude that Stone was a "Soviet spy." In an article excerpted from the book and published in the April 2009 online version of Commentary magazine, they wrote: "To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I. F. Stone was a Soviet spy." Also closely studying Stone's case is Herb Romerstein, the authority on the Venona papers. In The Venona Secrets, Romerstein and co-author Eric Breindel wrote: "it is clear from the evidence that Stone was indeed a Soviet agent." One of the stronger confirmations from the Soviet side is retired KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who stated flatly: "He [Stone] was a KGB agent since 1938. His code name was 'Blin.' When I resumed relations with him in 1966, it was on Moscow's instructions. Stone was a devoted Communist." Kalugin added that Stone "changed in the course of time like many of us"; in other words, he did not remain a communist -- but for a time he was a Soviet agent.

I am not in a position to argue for or against the assertions that for at least some period of time he served as a KGB agent.

I can say that he and his lovely wife Esther were my neighbors from 1976 to their deaths, and they were lively, interesting, and very nice neighbors.

I had no idea that the Stones lived across the street when we moved in to our home in 1976.  It's a nice neighborhood with lots of embassies, ambassadorial residences, and some reporters.  (Tad Szulc lived two houses from us in another direction.)  But most of the homes are, as ours was, family homes where both parents held professional positions.  That meant that unlike some more closely knit communities, we didn't know each other very well unless some other factor -- often children of the same age -- brought us together.

I just remember one day my son introduced me to his friends, "Izzy and Esther," who explained they were the Stones and lived across the street.  I had never read Izzy's newsletter which by then had been out of print for years, ever since he had suffered a heart attack.

Esther explained that because of Izzy's health they took long walks every day and often found themselves in the company of David and our housekeeper and had become friends.  Either then or at some later time, Izzy mentioned that he liked to swim, and I invited them to join us and our friends on summer Sundays around the pool, an invitation they readily accepted.

Even then Izzy's eyesight was poor and his routine was as follows.  He'd remove his thick-lensed glassed, put on goggles, walk to the diving board, dive in, and swim to the end of the long pool.  He'd repeat this several times and then join the conversation.  Among the regulars were Nina Totenberg and Richard Perle.  Richard and Izzy often debated whether Reagan was right to force the Soviet Union to its knees by escalating their defense costs.  Izzy, like I must say a large number of people at the time, was convinced that taking the pressure off the Soviets would allow them to become richer and, once richer, civil liberties in their country would improve.

Esther was a Republican who didn't participate much in those conversations , but over time I grew to appreciate how intelligent and funny she was.  Her mother had died when she was young, and she and her sister had not liked their stepmother but loved each other and remained devoted to each other.  Her sister was married to the leftist lawyer Leonard Boudin, and she was the mother of Michael Boudin, who was appointed to the federal bench by President H.W Bush, and Kathy Boudin , co-founder of the Weather Underground.  Esther seemed particularly close to her nephew, Michael.  Once over at her house on some errand or another I saw them warmly huddled together in conversation.  I remember her sharing her sister's distress when Kathy went to prison because she and her husband were too old to care for Kathy's son, Chesa.  In time, of course, the Boudins turned custody over to Bill Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn, other Weathermen who had by dint of Ayers' money and FBI error avoided Kathy's fate.

Esther and Izzy had three children: Jeremy, active in the Union of Concerned Scientists, who lived with his lovely wife, B.J. in nearby Bethesda and who bore the burden of assisting Esther in her later years; Chris, a law professor in California who with his wife and daughters visited on occasion; and a daughter, Celia, a feminist poet in Cambridge, Massachusetts, married to the co-discoverer of Interferon, Walter Gilbert, a childhood sweetheart.

Esther told me that she knew early on that Walter would be a great scientist.  He was so precise, she said, that if you asked him if it was raining outside, he'd look out the window and reply, "Not on this side of the house."  As for Celia's poetry, Esther said, "I don't know why she's so angry.  Her husband did win the Nobel prize for her."

Neighbors changed so often around here in this still-transient city, but the Stones remained, so I listed them as references when I was nominated for a judgeship.  One day I got a call from Esther telling me the FBI had been to the house asking about me.  "They asked if you had black friends, and I said you did.  I think it's no problem now -- at least I hope not. In the old days that would have knocked you out of the running."

Izzy's eyes grew even weaker, and he was hard at work on his book on Socrates.  Esther got him an early-version computer with large-type letters.  Izzy had always typed his own work and could not adjust to the idea of working with a stenographer but could not manage a typewriter.  As bright as he was, he was technologically a klutz.  Until he got the hang of it, he'd walk over in the evenings, knock on our door, and ask our son for help, which was gladly offered, the two of them walking arm by arm across the street to retrieve a days' work accidentally dropped or some such catastrophe.  Then Izzy would show David his very valuable old books, and Esther would give him some cookies as recompense.

In time, Izzy's health no longer permitted swimming, and we saw him less and less.  Once after the Soviet Union fell I ran into him.  He said, "Richard was a hero.  I was wrong about the Soviet Union.  He was right."