Tyler Kent was born in China in 1911. His father was a member of the U.S. Diplomatic Corps. Kent was educated at Princeton, the Sorbone, the University of Madrid and George Washington University. Kent, who spoke French, Greek, German, Russian, Italian and Spanish, joined the State Department in 1934 as a clerk in the Foreign Service and was posted to Moscow.
While in the Soviet Union Kent was accused of helping White Russians to smuggle into the United States various Imperial Russian treasures. It was later revealed that he was also passing on documents to Nazi intelligence while in Moscow.
Kent was transferred to London to work as a cypher clerk at the American Embassy. His arrival in England in the company of Ludwig Matthias, a Gestapo agent, brought him to the attention of MI5. Kent, later admitted, that he had"anti-Semitic tendencies for many years." He also believed that "all wars are inspired, formented and promoted by the great international bankers and banking combines which are largely controlled by the Jews."
In February 1940, Tyler met Anna Wolkoff. Her father, Admiral Nikolai Wolkoff, was the former aide-to-camp to the Nicholas II in London. After the Russian Revolution Wolkoff decided to remain in England. The Wolfoff family ran the Russian Tea Room in South Kensington, a place where members of the secret society, the Right Club, used to meet. Wolkoff introduced Tyler to Archibald Ramsay, the leader of the organization. Wolkoff, Kent and Ramsay talked about politics and agreed that they all shared the same political views.
MI5 agent, Joan Miller, had infiltrated the Right Club. She later recorded that "he appeared strongly anti-Communist and pro-Fascist in outlook." Kent was concerned that the American government wanted the United States to join the war against Germany. He said he had evidence of this as he had been making copies of the correspondence between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Kent invited Wolkoff and Ramsay back to his flat to look at these documents. This included secret assurances that the United States would support France if it was invaded by the German Army. Kent later argued that he had shown these documents to Ramsay in the hope that he would pass this information to American politicians hostile to Roosevelt.
On 13th April 1940 Anna Wolkoff went to Kent's flat and made copies of some of these documents. Joan Miller and Marjorie Amor were later to testify that these documents were then passed on to Duco del Monte, Assistant Naval Attaché at the Italian Embassy. Soon afterwards, MI8, the wireless interception service, picked up messages between Rome and Berlin that indicated that Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of German military intelligence (Abwehr), now had copies of the Roosevelt-Churchill correspondence.
Soon afterwards Wolkoff asked Miller if she would use her contacts at the Italian Embassy to pass a coded letter to William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) in Germany. The letter contained information that he could use in his broadcasts on Radio Hamburg. Before passing the letter to her contacts, Miller showed it to Maxwell Knight.
On 18th May, Knight told Guy Liddell about the Right Club spy ring. Liddell immediately had a meeting with Joseph Kennedy, the American Ambassador in London. Kennedy agreed to waive Kent's diplomatic immunity. Tyler Kent was arrested on 20th May, 1940. According to Joseph E. Persico, the author of Roosevelt's Secret War (2001): "They found 1,929 U.S. embassy documents, including secret correspondence between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The content of these messages was such that their exposure to the public could harm the President and the Prime Minister, and jeopardize America's presumed neutrality in the European war. What they revealed could also influence the upcoming U.S. presidential election."
The Special Branch officers also found duplicate keys to the embassy code room. The officers were also shocked to find that in Kent had what became known as Ramsay's Red Book. This book had details of the supporters of the Right Club and had been given to Kent by Archibald Ramsay for safe keeping.
Anna Wolkoff was also arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act. The trial took place in secret and on 7th November 1940, Wolkoff was sentenced to ten years. Kent, because he was an American citizen, was treated less harshly and received only seven years.
In December 1945 Tyler Kent was deported to the United States. Surprisingly, his former employer the Department of State decided not to prosecute him for working as a spy for Nazi Germany. He was however, the subject of six FBI investigations from 1952 to 1963.
After marrying a wealthy woman, he became a publisher of a newspaper that supported the Ku Klux Klan. In the early 1960s Kent condemned President John F. Kennedy as a communist. After the assassination of Kennedy he claimed that he was killed by agents of the Soviet Union because he was abandoning his communist beliefs.
Tyler Kent died in poverty in a Texas trailer park on 20th November 1988.
Tyler Kent had arrived in Britain in October 1939 after spending five years at the United States Embassy in Moscow. At this time, he appeared strongly anti-Communist and pro-Fascist in outlook. As it turned out, he'd drawn attention to himself almost as soon as he got to London, by allowing a suspected Gestapo agent to visit him in his rooms. MI5 kept an eye on him from this point on, but took no immediate action. Kent actually made contact with the Russian Tea Room conspirators at the beginning of 1940, joining the Right Club shortly afterwards.
On the evidence of certain documents passing through his hands in the course of his work, Kent was strongly of the opinion that America's foreign policy had taken a disastrous turn. It was clear to him that Roosevelt planned to involve his country in the war, largely against the wishes of the American people. All documents tending to support this hypothesis, however obliquely, were copied by him and the copies transferred illegally from the embassy to his flat. It didn't take him long to amass a formidable collection. He intended to get this to the United States as soon as possible; once it became public property, he reasoned, it would furnish the isolationist movement with the power to defeat Roosevelt in the coming election. As far as Tyier Kent was concerned, the President was upholding America's neutrality in public, while actually planning to bring it to an end: such duplicity cried out for exposure.
On a gray London morning, May 20, 1940, four men approached a flat at 47 Gloucester Place. Behind the door, a young man, clean-cut and studious-looking, sat amid the remains of his breakfast. He did not respond to the knocking even when a booming voice shouted, "Police!" Instead he bolted the door and called out coolly, "No, you can't come in." A Scotland Yard detective rammed his shoulder against
the door and it burst open. The others filed in, a second detective, an officer from M15, the British domestic military intelligence service, and the second secretary of the American embassy. The man they had broken in on was Tyler Kent, a code clerk also attached to the embassy. One of the detectives produced a search warrant, and Kent stood by, unruffled, as his visitors rummaged through his apartment. They found 1,929 U.S. embassy documents, including secret correspondence between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The content of these messages was such that their exposure to the public could harm the President and the Prime Minister, and jeopardize America's presumed neutrality in the European war. What they revealed could also influence the upcoming U.S. presidential election....
One American vigorously disapproved of the collusive nature of the secret correspondence passing between FDR and Churchill, the code clerk Tyler Kent, who had access to these messages. The reserved twenty-nine-year-old lone wolf was a deeply discontented man. Kent believed that he was working well below his station. He possessed all the WASP credentials favoring a successful diplomatic career. Tyler Gatewood Kent descended from an old Virginia family that dated to the 1600s. His father, William Patton Kent, had been a career officer in the U.S. Consular Service. Tyler had been born during his father's posting to Manchuria and thereafter traveled with the family to subsequent assignments in China, Germany, Switzerland, England, and Bermuda. He had received a first-class education, St. Albans, Princeton, the Sorbonne, and spoke French, Greek, German, Russian, Italian, and Spanish. Still, Kent had been hired by the State Department in 1934 not as a fledgling diplomat but as a clerk. He had come to London in October 1939 after serving at the American embassy in Moscow, where he had been assigned to the code room. His political ideas had begun to take shape at that time, characterized by a visceral hatred of communism.
A code clerk was essentially a technician, and Kent's fellow clerks encoded and decoded messages that were shaping history with the indifference with which bank tellers handle bundles of money. Kent, on the contrary, read, reread, and thought deeply about the secrets that passed through his hands. For him, the FDR-Churchill exchanges had taken on an alarming turn from the very first. In a dispatch dated October 5, 1939, Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, asked FDR to have American warships alert the British navy to any German ship movements in the Atlantic. "The more American ships cruising along the South American coast the better," Churchill observed, "as you, sir, would no doubt hear what they saw or did not see." He began signing his dispatches "Naval Person," chummily underlining his present and FDR's former navy affiliation. Roosevelt readily complied with Churchill's request. Admiral John Godfrey, director of British Naval Intelligence, reported on February 26, 1940: "Their (U.S.) patrols in the Gulf of Mexico give us information, and recently they have been thoroughly unneutral in reporting the position of the SS Columbus," a German merchant vessel subsequently captured by the British.
Another secret exchange further punctured the thin membrane of neutrality. American shipowners complained bitterly to the President that the Royal Navy was forcing their vessels into British ports to be searched. The British, seeking to maintain a blockade against shipments that might aid their enemies, believed themselves within their rights in detaining any vessels, including American. Roosevelt told Churchill of the American shipowners' discontent. Churchill made a swift exception. He responded, "I gave orders last night that no American ship under any circumstances be diverted into the combat zone around the British Isles declared by you. I trust this will be satisfactory."
Roosevelt's breaches of neutrality drove Tyler Kent to a desperate act. The American people, he was convinced, did not want to be enmeshed in Europe's fight. A Roper public opinion poll taken immediately after the war began indicated that less than 3 percent of Americans wanted their country to enter the war on the Allied side. The largest percentage, 37.5 percent, preferred to "Take no sides and stay out of the war entirely." Yet, here was an American president, in Kent's view, conniving with the British, risking America's entanglement in a conflict his people decidedly did not want. There could be little doubt of what Churchill wanted; as the Prime Minister put it to an Admiralty official, "Our objective is to get the Americans into the war... We can then best settle how to fight it afterwards."
Tyler Kent, as he brooded in the airless silence of the code room translating messages into the State Department's Gray code, fretted that FDR was "secretly and unconstitutionally plotting with Churchill to sneak the United States into the war:" He had developed a corollary obsession: "All wars are inspired, formented and promoted by the great international bankers and banking combines which are largely controlled by the Jews." He had, he later admitted, "anti-Semitic tendencies for many years." Kent finally decided where his duty lay. He had to gather evidence that he could place into the hands of the U.S. Senate and the American press to expose Roosevelt's duplicity and keep the United States out of the war.
Though recognizing a kindred spirit, Kent found the old soldier politically naive. The embassy clerk determined to enlighten Ramsay. He took him to his flat and spread before him a feast of classified documents. Ramsay was dazzled to be reading in a London bed-sitting room secret exchanges between Roosevelt and Churchill. Kent explained their underlying meaning, Churchill's desire to draw America into this "Jew's War" and Roosevelt's obvious connivance in the scheme.
On a visit to Kent's room in March 1940, Anna Wolkoff asked him if she might borrow some of the purloined documents. Kent, knowing of Captain Ramsay's interest, assumed she wanted to show them to the Englishman again, and agreed. Instead, she took the papers to a photographer friend of her father, who copied them. Wolkoff, of the aristocratic past, then gave the photos to a fellow patrician, Don Francesco Maringliano, duke of Del Monte, a lieutenant colonel in the Italian army posted to his country's London embassy. The duke knew that what Churchill and the supposedly neutral FDR were secretly telling each other could prove invaluable to Italy and its Axis partner, Germany. The stolen information that he relayed to Rome was about to be intercepted itself by means the duke could not have predicted.