By Samuel Nicholson
He is almost totally forgotten now. But for more than 30 years, Robert Sharon Allen was among the most influential columnists of his time, as celebrated as I. F. Stone, Walter Lippmann, or Drew Pearson. Allen rose to prominence in the 1930s as a political liberal, yet by the 1960s, he was one of the more conservative mainstream columnists in America, an unabashed nationalist who consistently emphasized the need for a stout defense during the Cold War. He counted among his good friends J. Edgar Hoover, the highly controversial director of the FBI.
Robert S. Allen also worked for Soviet intelligence.
In 1933, Allen was a fully recruited and undoubtedly witting Soviet agent. Under the assigned cover name of “George Parker,” he covertly exchanged privileged information for money. He provided the Soviets with intelligence about Japanese military fortifications; news about potential appointments in the incoming Roosevelt administration; and information about the US government’s plans for diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union.
If Allen’s FBI file is a reliable guide, the Bureau never suspected he worked for Soviet intelligence, or what was generally known in the ‘30s as the NKVD. Nor did such an allegation ever surface publicly or during Congressional hearings in the late 1940s and 1950s, when the hunt for suspected Soviet agents was at its zenith. Allen took the secret of his brief collaboration with Soviet intelligence to his grave. Still, the recent revelation of that work complicates the portrait of an already paradoxical man. And although his contemporaries like Stone, Pearson, Joe Alsop, and Walter Lippmann have attracted the lion’s share of historical interest, the story of Robert S. Allen offers an unusual perspective on the drama of those times—precisely because he did not fit any of the usual molds.