Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Robert Conquest, Eugene Lyons, Isaac Don Levine, Whittaker Chambers. All chronicled, in excruciating detail, perhaps the most monstrous tyranny the world has ever known–the Soviet Union of Lenin, Stalin and the brutal hacks who followed. Add to that list of heroes John Barron, the courageous and indefatigable investigative reporter, who died February 24 and will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Chambers, Louis Budenz, Hede Massing, Elizabeth Bentley and others wrote first-hand reports of their role in the Soviet conspiracies that penetrated the highest echelons of the West. But it was Barron who traveled the world to write definitive, contemporaneous exposÃ©s of the KGB, from KGB: The Secret Works of Soviet Secret Agents in 1974 to Operation Solo: The FBI’s Man in the Kremlin (published by Regnery, a HUMAN EVENTS sister company) in 1996. In between, Barron wrote four other books and more than 100 Reader’s Digest exclusives on topics ranging from Cambodia’s murderous Khmer Rouge to the Soviet subjugation of Afghanistan. Barron, 75, was born in Texas, son of a Methodist minister who moved from small town to small town. He got his master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri and became a spy. After studying Russian at the Naval Postgraduate School, he was assigned to Berlin, where he spent two years running anti-Soviet agents in the most frigid days of the Cold War. After leaving the Navy in 1957, Barron went to work for the Washington Star, where he quickly became the paper’s chief investigative reporter. With Paul Hope, he won the George Polk Award for uncovering the corruption of LBJ bagman Bobby Baker. Other honors included the Raymond Clapper Award for most distinguished Washington correspondent of 1964, the Washington Newspaper Guild Award for journalistic excellence and the American Political Science Association Award for “distinguished reporting of public affairs.” In the midst of the 1964 presidential campaign, Barron authored a sensational story on the arrest on sex charges in a YMCA bathroom of top White House aide Walter Jenkins. When Star management bowed to White House pressure from Abe Fortas and Clark Clifford and suppressed the story, Barron decided it was time to move on. In 1965, he joined the Washington bureau of Reader’s Digest and immediately began breaking additional stories. A series on IRS abuse of taxpayers led to headline-making Senate hearings. His 1980 devastation of Ted Kennedy’s version of Chappaquiddick was cited privately by Kennedy as the single most-damaging blow to his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. But it was his coverage of international communism and the KGB that assured Barron his lasting reputation. His first book, KGB, was four years in the making, during which Barron criss-crossed the globe, talking with every KGB defector except two and the intelligence services of every major Western nation. A key source was Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko, a KGB major who escaped to the United States via Switzerland in 1964 and was never interviewed by the press. In May 1970, Nosenko walked into the Washington office of the Digest and offered his assistance to Barron. Because Nosenko had been marked for assassination by the KGB, his contact with Barron, less than four blocks from the Soviet Embassy, caused consternation among U.S. authorities responsible for his safety. Nevertheless, Barron was able to call on Nosenko throughout his research. Barron’s book, which identified by name more than 1,500 KGB agents around the world, was an international bestseller. “A masterpiece of investigative reporting,” CBS called it. Newsweek minced no words: “In terms of hard geological importance, this book outranks and helps illuminate Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.” Three years later, Barron wrote (with Digest colleague Anthony Paul) Murder of a Gentle Land, the first documented report on the slaughter of millions by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. In 1980, he authored his third best-seller, MiG Pilot, the dramatic story of the daring escape from the Soviet Union of a young Russian lieutenant who delivered an ultra-secret aircraft to Japan, landing with only seconds of fuel left. In 1983, Barron’s KGB Today created international headlines with its accounts of Soviet penetration and even control of the nuclear freeze and peace movement. A fifth best-seller, Breaking the Ring, told the inside story of the Walker-Whitworth spy ring. Barron’s sixth book, Solo, also a best-seller, told the incredible story of Morris Childs, a top American communist, who, for 35 years, spied for the FBI at the highest levels of the Kremlin. Barron was more than an intrepid journalist. He testified as an expert witness for the government in 10 major espionage trials and was honored by the Justice Department with its Award for Meritorious Public Service, its highest civilian honor. Among those trials was the 1987 court-martial of Marine Sgt. Clayton Longtree, a guard at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Longtree–who had, ironically, read all of Barron’s books–fell for the wiles of a KGB seductress and turned over critical information to the enemy. “As Barron told of KGB use of sexual entrapment,” the Washington Post reported, “Longtree was seen to wipe his eyes. Defense counsel William Kunstler said later that Longtree had wept and whispered, ‘I thought she loved me.'” In its obituary last week, the Post‘s Matt Schudel described Barron as an “investigative reporter whose meticulously researched articles and best-selling books helped unravel the mysteries of Soviet espionage and the Khmer Rouge’s mass killings in Cambodia….He was sued, and Soviet agents carried out measures around the world to discredit Mr. Barron and his anti-communist message, but he never had to retract a single fact in his writings.” That pretty much sums up John Barron, one of the truly great reporters of the 20th Century and one who helped change the course of history.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter