Elizabeth Bentley was an American born graduate of Vassar College who attended meetings of the American League Against War and Fascism while in graduate school in Florence, Italy. Her association with many of the League’s members, who were communists, led to her joining the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) upon her return to America in 1935, and to her new job at New York City’s Italian Library of Information.
The library was mainly a fascist propaganda facility and Bentley indicated her willingness to spy on Fascist Italy for the CPUSA. Jacob Golos worked as Bentley’s handler, and by 1940 the pair were lovers. Unknown to Bentley at the time was Golos’ role as a NKVD intelligence officer. The pair were deeply involved in obtaining American classified information regarding Nazi Germany and forwarding it to the Soviets.
In 1943, Golos suffered a fatal heart attack and Bentley assumed his role in the Soviet espionage hierarchy, although she was plagued by depression over the loss of her lover and a serious drinking problem which went back to her days in Italy. By 1945, Soviet agents were urging Bentley to emigrate to the Soviet Union.
Bentley, possibly through paranoia exacerbated by her heavy drinking, believed that she was being closely watched by Soviet agents and that if she was to go to Russia it would lead to her arrest and execution. In late November 1945, with World War II over, and the Soviet-American relationship rapidly deteriorating, Bentley decided to reveal her spying activities to the FBI.
Bentley informed the FBI of over 150 agents spying in the United States for the Soviets, more than three dozen of them employees of the federal government. The FBI decided to leave Bentley in place and suspicion of her by the Soviets soon led to a recommendation from Moscow that she be eliminated. In the late 1940s, Bentley testified before the HUAC and identified numerous Communists and Soviet spies working in the United States. By the early 1950s the former Soviet spy was a paid informer for the FBI, was converted to Catholicism by Bishop Fulton Sheen, and lectured on the perils of godless communism to largely Catholic audiences. She died in 1963 of cancer, in New Haven Connecticut.