Sunday, August 12, 2012

9 Worst American Traitors

For those of you who might have flashed on the thought that the subject of this blog is about current political situations—it is not! Only 2 of the people on the list are post World War II and I was surprised to see that neither of them were the infamous Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, executed for providing atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union.

I recently came across an article about what the people compiling the list considered the 9 worst American traitors. While I thought I had a decent knowledge of most of these cases, I was surprised with information I had never heard before in some of the cases.

I don't know why the list is in this order as it's neither alphabetical nor chronological. And I even question some of the choices for the concept of worst on a list of only 9, but here's the list.

You hear the name and immediately associate it with traitor without even questioning it…at least here in the United States. You might also assume the perpetrator of such dastardly deeds was summarily arrested and executed for such betrayal. This was not the case with Benedict Arnold whose military career had him moving quickly toward being an American hero of the Revolutionary War with important victories against the British in New York at Saratoga and Fort Ticonderoga. Unfortunately for him, a combination of his quick temper and his lack of knowledge about the ins and outs of politics and bureaucracy soon earned him powerful enemies and side-tracked his military career. When ultimately relegated to a military command in Philadelphia, he made contacts among the American Loyalists and began selling intelligence information to the British. He joined the British army and eventually went to Canada to live out his days. So, although famous (or perhaps notorious?) as a Revolutionary War turncoat, he was never arrested, officially tried and convicted as such.

An interesting and honorable man, not the type that comes to mind when you mention traitor which usually conjures up images of people sneaking around performing clandestine acts against their own country. Perhaps he should not be on this list associated with the traditional concept of traitor. Robert E. Lee continued his family's history of illustrious and exemplary military service. Abraham Lincoln promoted him to full colonel after Texas seceded from the Union. He was approached several times by Confederate conspirators but always swore allegiance to the Union. He was one of only a few people who believed a civil war would be a long and bloody action. As Civil War became inevitable, Lee's allegiance was first to his state of Virginia and second to his country. When Virginia seceded he felt he had no choice but to resign his commission in the Union and join the Confederacy. After the war, he immediately set his goal on reconciliation efforts between the North and the South.

One of two post World War II traitors on this list. Aldrich Ames created the most damage of any mole in CIA history and the most damaging spy in American history until the discovery of Robert Hanssen (#6 on this list). Ames started working for the Russians in 1985. It was 9 years later that the CIA finally noticed that a $60,000 a year desk analysis had paid cash for his $50,000 Jaguar and $540,000 house and also had credit cards with a minimum monthly payment more than his monthly salary. It finally dawned on them that he must have another source of income. After investigating, the CIA finally brought him in. He casually admitted to selling the Soviets information that exposed over a hundred Western agents behind the Iron Curtain, several of whom were executed based on that betrayal. Ames pleaded guilty in order to avoid the death penalty and the American intelligence community called it case closed on the worst leak in our country's history. But only for the time being…

The other post World War II traitor. Robert Hanssen was a computer and wiretapping expert who rose high in the FBI structure while actively spying for the Soviets and the Russian Federation governments for all but the first 3 years of his career. During his 22 year spy career he earned an ill-gotten $1.4 million which comes out to only a little less than $64,000 a year. He maintained a much lower profile than Aldrich Ames. He might never have been caught if his brother-in-law (also an FBI agent) hadn't spotted a huge stack of cash on top of a nightstand during a visit to Hanssen's house. He was captured in 2001.

A committed Fascist, Ezra Pound was an expatriate poet and literary critic who blamed the international banking system for World War I. He believed that only a Fascist government could implement a system of social credit to replace banks. He moved to Italy and met Mussolini. His poetry took a backseat to his new activities centered on writing pamphlets and giving lectures with anti-Semitic wording and ending with Heil Hitler. During the World War II invasion of Italy, he made propaganda broadcasts to American Troops. He was arrested in 1945, was subjected to harsh conditions in an American prison camp in Italy. It's said the experience drove him insane (assuming he wasn't already there) which deemed him unfit to stand trial. After his release from a Pennsylvania mental institution in 1958, he returned to Italy for the rest of his days.

Although born in Germany, he lived and worked in America since 1928. He was in charge of the infamous U.S. Nazi group called the German-American Bund. In addition to being an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler's ideas on racial purity and the Fascist system of government, he was also a fan of Hitler's style. But in an odd twist of fate, Hitler was not a fan of Kuhn and his American Nazi party. Kuhn's Bund meetings were often highlighted by dramatic outbursts of violence unknown to the American way at that time. Hitler wanted a powerful American Nazi party, but not one so powerful that it would propel the United States into the war. Kuhn was arrested following a New York City tax investigation that showed he had embezzled $14,000 from the Bund. After he got out of jail, he was arrested as an enemy agent. He was released after the end of the war and returned to Germany.

Germany's Nazi-run SS formed several volunteer and propaganda divisions of non-German and sometimes even non-Aryan ethnicities. French traitors had the Charlemagne Division, British traitors were the Freiwillige Korps, and for years there were rumors about a George Washington Brigade made up entirely of American traitors. The existence of the George Washington Brigade turned out to be a myth, but there were occasional discoveries of SS troops with American accents and names, some naturalized citizens and others born in the U.S. There isn't any information about the specific numbers of Americans who actually fought on the side of the Nazis as soldiers rather than being spies.

One noteworthy American SS was Martin James Monti, an Army Air Corps pilot. In October 1944 he made his way to an Italian airbase, stole a plane, and flew it north into Axis hands to defect. He made a few propaganda broadcasts and eventually became an SS sergeant in the final weeks of the war. His mother was native German, but it's not clear why he chose to defect at a time when Germany was obviously losing the war. When caught in a full-dress SS uniform, he convinced a U.S. Army patrol that he was only a U.S. Army deserter, not a defector. He served a short jail sentence, then was released back into the army. He kept a low profile and actually made sergeant by 1948 when someone at the FBI caught up with the situation and he ended up in prison for the next 25 years.

The list contained a lot of information about Burr the traitor that I didn't know. We've all heard about the infamous duel where Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton. And we know that Aaron Burr was Thomas Jefferson's Vice President at a time when the President and Vice President were often from different parties and spent a great deal of time in heated conflict with each other. We also know that Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury. After killing Hamilton, Burr's political career was essentially over. Then came all that other stuff about Aaron Burr (this is the part where my surprise came in). Burr decided on dramatic measures to revive his career. And what could be more dramatic than to take control of the Texas and Louisiana territories and possibly invade either Mexico or Washington D.C.? Unfortunately for Burr, Thomas Jefferson had been keeping a close eye on him and various states were collecting evidence on the Burr Conspiracy. A treasonous letter Burr had written was intercepted and decoded, then published in a New Orleans newspaper in full along with notice of a reward for his capture. He abandoned his small army and went into hiding. He was eventually captured and put up for trial before the Supreme Court. Despite Jefferson's push for guilty and execution, the Supreme Court threw out the case based on a technicality. He might have assembled an army of about 100 men, but he hadn't actually done anything with them yet. Burr briefly exiled himself to Europe but returned to the U.S. under an assumed name, but even under his new identity couldn't manage to keep a low profile.

And there you have it…a list of the 9 Worst American Traitors, at least according to the list I read.


Beth Trissel said...

Interesting list. Being from Virginia, I strongly disagree with the inclusion of Lee.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hey Samantha! This is really interesting. I expected to see Timothy McVeigh in here somewhere, and certainly didn't expect to see Robert E. Lee. I didn't know about most of these people--thanks for an interesting and informative post!

Samantha Gentry said...

Beth: I thought that, too, about Robert E. Lee which is why I added my personal comments.

Thanks for stopping by.

Samantha Gentry said...

Hi, Cheryl: I assume you and your family were safe from those fires?

Timothy McVeigh didn't even occur to me (slapping my forehead with my hand). I guess in my mind I was separating traitors (clandestine behind the scenes passing secret information to foreign governments) from terrorists (home grown and foreign). Timothy McVeigh certainly belongs in a prominent place on a list of bad guys.

Thanks for your comments.