Cover image for A very principled boy : the life of Duncan Lee, Red spy and cold warrior
A very principled boy : the life of Duncan Lee, Red spy and cold warrior
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group, [2014]

Perseus Books Group 2014
Physical Description:
xvii, 348 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Born to Serve -- A Nursery of Somewhat Revolutionary Ideas -- The Party -- My League of Gentlemen -- A Crisis of Conscience -- Gregory -- On the Outside Looking In -- The Terrible Summer of 1948 -- The World's Most Shot-at Airline -- A Loyal American -- Ishmael -- The Irony of My Life.
"Duncan Chaplin Lee was one of the highest-ranking moles in the wartime U.S. intelligence apparatus. Lee was chief aide to William "Wild Bill" Donovan, the fabled head of the Office of Strategic Services and grandfather of the CIA. During World War II, Lee's political sympathies and desire to advance the fight against fascism led him to leak highly classified information to the Soviets. J. Edgar Hoover would tirelessly trace Lee's movements in an attempt to prove his guilt. A Very Principled Boy shows just how deeply Soviet spies were entrenched in the American intelligence community at the height of the Cold War"-- Provided by publisher.


Material Type
Shelf Number
Book 940.548673 LEE 1

On Order



Duncan Chaplin Lee was a Rhodes Scholar, patriot, and descendent of one of America's most distinguished families--and possibly the best-placed mole ever to infiltrate U.S. intelligence operations. In A Very Principled Boy intelligence expert and former CIA officer Mark A. Bradley traces the tangled roots of Lee's betrayal and reveals his harrowing struggle to stay one step ahead of America's spy hunters during and after World War II.

Exposed to leftist politics while studying at Oxford, Lee became a committed, albeit covert, member of the Communist Party. After following William "Wild Bill" Donovan to the newly formed Office of Strategic Services, Lee rose quickly through the ranks of the U.S. intelligence service--and just as quickly gained value as a Communist spy. As one of the chief aides to the head of the OSS, Lee was uniquely well placed to pass sensitive information to his Soviet handlers, including the likely timeframe of the D-Day invasion and the names of OSS personnel under investigation for suspected communist affiliations.

In 1945, one of Lee's former handlers confessed to the FBI and named Lee as a Soviet agent. For the next thirteen years, J. Edgar Hoover would tirelessly, but futilely, attempt to prove Lee's guilt. Despite being accused of treason in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the increasingly paranoid Lee miraculously escaped again and again. In a move to atone for what he had done, Lee later became a Cold Warrior in China, fighting Mao Zedong's communists. He died a free but conflicted man.

In A Very Principled Boy , Bradley weaves a fast-paced cat-and-mouse tale of misguided idealism, high treason, and belated redemption. Drawing on Lee's letters and thousands of previously unreleased CIA, FBI, and State Department records, Bradley tells the unlikely story of a spy who chose his conscience over his country and its dark consequences.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

With access to Soviet archives, former CIA officer Bradley delivers an engrossing biography of Lee (1913-1988), who spied for the U.S.S.R. throughout WWII and was never arrested. Lee, the son of a Protestant missionary, was an idealist who became a communist while at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar between 1935 and 1938. Lee joined a posh Wall Street law firm to conceal his party membership and later became a special assistant to OSS Director William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, a flamboyant war hero, when F.D.R. chose him to head the new intelligence service in 1942. Aware of a potential intelligence bonanza, Soviet agents appealed to Lee for help, and he obliged. But despite Bradley's efforts, Lee remains a perplexing figure: a workaholic nerd with a purely abstract devotion to world revolution, whose commitment to espionage frightened him. He refused to steal documents, always delivering information verbally. The resulting absence of written evidence proved a godsend to Lee when suspicions arose soon after he quit in 1945. In Bradley's anticlimactic, but still gripping finale, Lee resumes his career and prospers, despite a nerve-wracking, unsuccessful 13-year campaign by the FBI, Congress, and the Justice Department to indict him. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

An obscure wartime spy working for the OSS, the wartime precursor to the CIA, gets a thorough expos by a government lawyer and former CIA officer. Bradley's sense of frustration at how this arrogant, dissembling underling of William Donovan got away with passing information to the Soviet spy network is partly explained by the general atmosphere of fear raging after the war and the fact that the American government had bigger fish to nete.g., Alger Hiss. Indeed, while Duncan Lee (19131988) did not seem to have done harm to the U.S. war effort, he did provide the Soviets with information about OSS internal employees at security risk, thus tipping off the Soviets to the status of their agents. A child of missionary evangelicals in China, a student at Yale in the 1930s and a Rhodes scholar, Lee became politically radicalized at Oxford, largely under the sway of his socialist wife-to-be, Ishbel. Visiting the Soviet Union, he grew infatuated with communism and, in 1937, announced to his horrified parents "in a mixture of scripted lecture and outright rebellion" that he and Ishbel were joining the Communist Party of Great Britain. Back in the U.S., the couple first came under the scrutiny of the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, when their landlady reported their "decidedly pink" views. The outbreak of war brought Lee to Washington to work with Donovan in his new intelligence service, and Lee began passing information to Mary Price, his first handler, a fellow Southerner working for Soviet agent Jacob Golos. From Price, he would be passed to agent Elizabeth Bentley, whose eventual breakdown and confession to the FBI would out Lee and dozens of others, dragging them before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1948. Yet Lee's subsequent work in China funneling arms to Chiang Kai-shek allowed him to fly under the radar of prosecutors. A murky effort exacerbated by myriad shadowy agencies and a deeply unsympathetic protagonist.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

During World War II, Duncan Lee (1913-88) served in the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS, predecessor to the CIA) and spied for the USSR. Bradley, a former CIA officer and a current attorney with the Department of Justice, tells the fascinating story of this complicated spy's life. While studying at Oxford, Lee became interested in communism. After returning to America, he secured a position with the OSS and began spying for the Soviets. During the Chinese Civil War, Lee incongruously assisted -Chiang Kai-shek's government in its struggle against Mao Zedong's communist forces. Although he was exposed by a flipped Soviet spy at a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in 1948, Lee escaped punishment through a combination of deft strategy, bureaucratic bumbling, and sheer luck. After his death, the National Security Agency declassified documents that confirmed his crimes. VERDICT Bradley provides extensive background information regarding the events of the time and all the characters involved, painting a vivid picture of the world in which Lee operated. Readers interested in Cold War history or real-life spy dramas will enjoy this thoroughly researched and highly readable work.-Joshua Wallace, South Texas Coll. Lib., McAllen (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.