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Mark Bradley '78 Illuminates “Ornery Spy” Duncan Lee

Visiting Washington and Lee University is “always like coming home,” said Mark Bradley, a member of the W&L Class of 1978, former CIA analyst and current Department of Justice attorney. The occasion for his Oct. 8 return: to give a lecture about the subject of his well-reviewed recent book, “A Very Principled Boy: The Life of Duncan Lee, Red Spy and Cold Warrior.”

Lee, who was born in China in 1913, possessed quite a pedigree: the son of missionary parents, a member of the Lee and Alden families, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale, a Rhodes Scholar, an attorney, an OSS officer—and a Communist and a spy for the Soviet Union. Discovered but never prosecuted, he died in 1988. “He always denied being a Communist and betraying his country,” said Bradley. “The damage Lee did was much more after the fact. It paved the way for McCarthyism.”

Bradley, who participated in Prof. Rich Bidlack’s seminar on Russian history before giving his talk, became intrigued with Lee at the behest of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, for whom he once worked as a legislative assistant for foreign affairs and intelligence matters.

As Bradley explained it, Lee became a spy due to a complex blend of influences and circumstances that included parental religious zeal; immersion in a post-World War I segment of elite British society that found Communism appealing; a fear of fascism; and a 1937 visit to the Soviet Union. Like Lee and his attraction to Communism, “many Westerners wanted to believe in the great experiment,” said Bradley.

In the late 1930s, Lee joined both the Communist Party and a Wall Street law firm headed by William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the founder of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which morphed into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Donovan recruited Lee into the OSS, and the Soviets in turn recruited Lee.

In Bradley’s telling, Lee was “an ornery spy.” For instance, rather than hand over classified documents, he’d memorize them and relate their contents to his Soviet contacts. By 1944, he realized that the U.S. would win World War II and feared his discovery, which would have meant execution for treason. Although the U.S. learned of his activities, it did not prosecute Lee for strategic reasons, a decision his biographer finds correct. “This shows how messy and nuanced history can be,” said Bradley, who also folded in such topics as McCarthyism and psychological theory. After the war, Lee styled himself as an anti-Communist and a Cold Warrior.

Bradley, himself a Rhodes Scholar, earned a B.A. in history from W&L, an M.A. in modern history from Oxford University, and a J.D. from the University of Virginia. He has received the CIA’s Exceptional Performance Award, the Department of Justice’s Outstanding Performance Award and Special Achievement Award, and the 1999 James Madison Prize in History from the Society of History in the Federal Government. In 2005, he gave the convocation talk at W&L.