Tyler Kent

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Tyler Gatewood Kent (24 March 1911 – 20 November 1988) was an American diplomat and cipher-clerk at the United States Embassy in London. It is claimed he stole "thousands" of secret documents for a pro-German organization before and during World War II. This has led some to label him a traitor. Others however, see him as an American patriot silenced by his own government because it feared the disclosure of non-constitutional commitments between Roosevelt and Churchill, beginning before the latter was Prime Minister and the US entry into WWII. This is summarized as:

" ... As we all know, our Nation is sharply divided into two camps on the responsibility of this war. All thought, and all query, boil down to this one plain issue. Stated simply and bluntly, this issue is: 'Were or were not Roosevelt and his cabal responsible for America's entry into the war?' Both camps cannot be right. Nor, we think, can the answer 'lie in between'. That is an old dodge, and we are tired of it. It never prevented war. The Kent case itself poses many questions, but the main question is - and so remains- What were the contents of those cables? ..."The Case of Tyler Kent, John H. Snow, The Long House, Inc., New Canaan, CT, 1946, p. 58

Early life and career

Kent was born in Nowchwang, Manchuria where his father was the U.S. Consul. He was educated at the prestigious private St. Albans School in Washington, DC, followed by Princeton University where he studied history, George Washington University, the Sorbonne (where he studied Russian) and the University of Madrid. Through his father's connections he joined the State Department and was posted to Moscow under William C. Bullitt, the first American ambassador to the Soviet Union. There he became a cipher-clerk.

By 1939 he was under suspicion for espionage for the Soviet Union, but lacking any solid evidence, the Diplomatic Service decided to act by transferring him to its embassy in London, beginning work there on 5 October, 1939. Winston Churchill had just been appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, and was regularly communicating with President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In London

As soon as Kent arrived in London, he was seen in the company of Ludwig Matthias, a suspected German agent who was being tailed by detectives of Scotland Yard's Special Branch. He was observed being a frequent guest of the Russian Tea Room in South Kensington, a habitué for White Russians led by Admiral Nikolai Wolkoff, the former naval attaché for Imperial Russia in London, and his wife, a former maid of honor to the Tsarina. Through one of their daughters, Anna, Kent met Irene Danishewsky, wife of a British merchant who was a frequent visitor of the Soviet Union. She became Kent's mistress. Because of their background, Irene and her husband were placed under surveillance by MI5 as possible Soviet spies.

With a position which required him to encode and decode sensitive telegrams, Kent had access to a wide range of secret documents, especially the communications between Churchill and Roosevelt, and he began to take many of the more interesting ones home with him. Meanwhile, he was also becoming active in politics. Kent's political views are unclear but many have assumed that he took an isolationist line, and that he was prepared to help British anti-war campaigns. Early in 1940, through Anna Wolkoff, he met Archibald Maule Ramsay, an anti-semitic Scottish Unionist Party Member of Parliament, and joined Ramsay's group "The Right Club". Ramsay gave Kent the Right Club's membership list which was written in the group’s "Red Book" (named for the color of the book’s binding) thinking the book would be safe since Kent had diplomatic immunity.

Kent later invited Wolkoff and Ramsay to his flat and showed them the stolen documents. He would later claim that he showed them to Ramsay in the hope that the latter would pass them to politicians hostile to Roosevelt. Anna Wolkoff herself made copies of some of these documents on April 13, and sent them to Berlin through an intermediary from the Italian Embassy. It was afterwards found that based on interception of wireless messages by British external intelligence agency MI6 that it came under the possession of Vice Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr.

Wolkoff approached fellow Right Club member Joan Miller, and asked her if she could pass a coded letter to William Joyce through her contacts at the Italian Embassy. Miller agreed, but what Wolkoff did not know was that Miller was an undercover agent for MI5, and directly under the supervision of its head of counter-subversion, Maxwell Knight. Miller agreed to take the letter, but instead of bringing it to the Italian Embassy, the letter was shown to Knight.

Arrest, trial and conviction

On May 18 The U.S. Ambassador, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was informed of this development, and agreed to waive diplomatic immunity against Kent. On May 20, 1940 Kent was arrested in a dawn raid at his flat. When officers of British internal security, MI5, inspected his flat, they found 1,929 official documents: besides Churchill's cables, there was a book containing the names of people under surveillance by Special Branch and MI5. Searchers also found keys to the U.S. Embassy code room.

On May 31, after 11 days of secret arrest, the U.S. State Department announced that he had been fired from their employment and "detained by order of the [British] Home Secretary". The statement did not say that he had been arrested under the Official Secrets Act. Anna was likewise arrested on May 20 and charged with violating the same act.

On October 23 Kent was tried in camera in the Old Bailey. Brown paper was pasted on the windows and glass door panels. He was specifically charged with obtaining documents that "might be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy" and letting Wolkoff have them in her possession. He was also accused of stealing documents that were the property of Ambassador Kennedy. The only spectators allowed at the trial were official observers, including Malcolm Muggeridge, representing MI6. Two of the witnesses against Kent were Maxwell Knight, and Archibald Ramsay himself who was interned on the Isle of Man under Defence Regulation 18B because he had seen the documents. British officials who were knowledgeable of the documents believed that if they would come to light at that time, it would seriously damage Anglo-American relations, for it showed that Roosevelt was looking at ways to evade the Neutrality Acts to bring America into the war. It would have also damaged Roosevelt's re-election bid for the Presidency that year.

In his trial, Kent also admitted that he secreted documents from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, with the vague notion of someday showing them to U.S. Senators who shared his isolationist, anti-semitic views. He said that he burned the Moscow documents before being assigned to London. It was learned later on that he fell in love with an interpreter who worked for the NKVD, thus fueling speculation that he had Soviet contacts.

On November 7, 1940 he was convicted and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. The trial and imprisonment of Kent, and the co-operation of the US authorities, led isolationist groups in the United States to claim that he had been framed and that the trial was an attempted cover-up of an attempt to get the U.S. to join the war.

As Kent was a U.S. Citizen and the documents found in his possession were in the U.S.Embassy and therefore their property, it is difficult to see upon what grounds the British authorities could have brought Kent to trial.

Later years

At the end of the war Kent was released and deported to the United States. He never changed his beliefs: he insisted that he had always been a staunch anti-communist. He was a member of Liberty Lobby’s Board of Policy an organization founded by Willis Carto. He died in poverty in Texas in 1988.

See also


  • Ray Bearse and Anthony Read, Conspirator: The Untold Story of Tyler Kent (New York: Doubleday, 1991).
  • Clough, Bryan. State Secrets: The Kent-Wolkoff Affair. East Sussex: Hideaway Publications Ltd., 2005. ISBN 0-9525477-3-2
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