Meet the Press   |  July 11, 2010

A look back at the spy games of old

Fifty-seven years ago, ex-Soviet spy Elizabeth Bentley appeared on Meet the Press to discuss her decision to break with the Soviet Union. NBC’s David Gregory reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MR. GREGORY: And we're back with our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE . Nearly two decades after the end of the Cold War , a spy swap between the U.S. and Russia this week. Ten Russian sleeper spies arrested last month in the U.S. are traded for four Russians accused of illegal contact with the West . Fifty-seven years ago, former Soviet spy Elizabeth Bentley appeared right here on MEET THE PRESS and talked about Soviet espionage and her decision to break with the Communists .

Announcer: Our guest on MEET THE PRESS , ladies and gentlemen, is Ms. Elizabeth Bentley , former Soviet spy.

MR. LAWRENCE E. SPIVAK: Can you explain how you got away with so much for so long, and how others got away with it so long? Were you fellows so clever, or were we so dumb?

MS. ELIZABETH BENTLEY: Well, I would say it was a combination of the two. For one thing, Russia was considered our ally and presumably the intelligence people were concentrating on the Germans. For another thing, I don't think Americans in general knew too much about Communist espionage methods. They simply didn't expect that sort of thing. And for another thing, the Communists worked very hard and took a lot of precautions to keep these things secret.

MR. ROBERT RIGGS: When you went to the FBI in 1945 you said cold, I believe. What was your reception? Were they surprised to see you? Did they -- were they credulous? Were they incredulous? Were they -- did they doubt your word, or did they accept you as a bonafide spy?

MS. BENTLEY: Well, at first I couldn't tell whether they believed or disbelieved because they were extremely courteous, but noncommittal. But later I was told, about a month, I think, after it was -- I'd told them my story, one of them told me that they had been checking frantically and that they were amazed at the accuracy of it.

MR. RIGGS: Did they indicate they'd had no knowledge of your work before? Was it all brand new to them, do, do you think?

MS. BENTLEY: Well, now they wouldn't have been likely to tell me that.

MR. RIGGS: You could tell by the expression on their face, couldn't you?

MS. BENTLEY: No, because the FBI are good, trained intelligence agents, and they keep poker faces.

MR. GREGORY: Three years after her defection, Bentley , who became known as the "Red Spy Queen," testified before Congress and gave evidence of widespread Soviet espionage in the United States during World War II . The Russian spies sent home this week appear to have uncovered little of value during their time in the U.S. And we'll be right back.