Matt Cvetic

Matthew “Matt” Cvetic (March 4, 1909 – July 26, 1962) was a Pittsburgh native who was a spy and informant working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation inside the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) during the 1940s. He told his story in a series in the Saturday Evening Post, and his experiences were then fictionalized in the old time radio show I Was a Communist for the FBI, adapted for a Warner Brothers motion picture in 1951. He testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s.

Slovenian-American anti-communist FBI informant (1909–1962)
Matthew ‘Matt’ Cvetic
Born (1909-03-04)March 4, 1909

Died July 26, 1962(1962-07-26) (aged 53)
Occupation FBI Counterspy
Years active 1941–1950
Known for I Was a Communist for the FBI, anti-communist activities
Children 2

. . . Matt Cvetic . . .

Cvetic was born in 1909 to Slovenian immigrants living in Pittsburgh. One of 11 children, Cvetic graduated from St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Grammar School in 1922. Thereafter, his formal education is difficult to verify, in part due to the often-contradictory testimony he provided before various audiences over the course of his career. At various points he claimed to have attended “prep school or college,” although during a hostile cross examination in 1954 was forced to admit that he had only completed the tenth grade.[1] Before his employment with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Cvetic worked a series of jobs, including various sales positions as well as briefly serving at the Pennsylvania State Department of Labor and Industry.[2] On August 15, 1931, he married a pregnant Marie Barsh, who gave birth to twin sons the next year. The marriage proved to be a tumultuous one, as Barsh claimed that he was physically and verbally abusive with her as well as unfaithful, leading to a separation followed by a divorce in January, 1946.[3] This period was especially difficult for Cvetic as he was arrested in 1939 after allegedly having beaten his sister-in-law badly enough that she required hospitalization.[2] During World War II, he volunteered to join the United States Army but was rejected for being too short.[4]

In April 1942, Cvetic came to the attention of the FBI which offered him the opportunity to penetrate the American Communist Party as part of their broader anti-communist efforts.[5] Cvetic quickly agreed, and by the end of 1942, was considered suitable material for membership in the Pittsburgh branch CPUSA, his membership being granted to him in February, 1943.[5] Shortly after his joining the party, Cvetic was offered weekly compensation in the amount of $15, which was increased to $35 per week in late 1943, then $65 by 1947.[6] By 1948 he was earning $85 per week for his work, and although he continually pressured the Bureau to increase his salary to $100 and threatened to quit if his requests were not granted, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover rebuffed his requests.[7]

Despite the valuable information provided to the FBI by Cvetic, his increasingly erratic behavior began to undermine his credibility with both the Bureau as well as the CPUSA. As early as 1946, Cvetic had been identified as a potential FBI mole by Hearst reporter James Moore. In 1947, Cvetic was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct and while in the Pittsburgh city jail allegedly shouted “you can’t do this to me, I work for the FBI!”[8] In addition, Cvetic had difficulty maintaining his cover and, by his own admission, had admitted to several people that he worked for the FBI, including his brother, his psychiatrist, and “more than one girl.”[7] By 1947, the FBI was considering discontinuing the use of Cvetic as an informant due to his security breaches, but ultimately decided to continue employing him.

The depth to which Cvetic penetrated the CPUSA remains unclear. Although subsequent film and radio adaptations portrayed Cvetic as one of the party’s primary operatives in the United States, Cvetic did not appear to have risen above the party’s lower echelons. At a HUAC report on the American Slav Congress in 1949, Cvetic was listed as “a Slovenian Communist Party member.”[9] He was trusted enough by the party to be allowed access to numerous party documents and files, but by his own admission, by the end of his career Cvetic was employed by the CPUSA, “doing odd jobs.”[9]

In February 1950, Cvetic surfaced for the first time and was summoned to testify before HUAC.[10] During this testimony he was accompanied by several Communist Party members from Pittsburgh who he had been working with, and they did not find out he was an undercover FBI agent until he began testifying against them, despite having accompanied him to the hearing.[11] During his testimony in February 1950 and in subsequent sessions throughout the rest of the year, Cvetic named several hundred people as members of the CPUSA, and provided information regarding the internal workings of the Pittsburgh branch of CPUSA as well as various allegedly communist-controlled organizations. However, while Cvetic was considered a reliable witness when testifying in front of friendly audiences, hostile cross-examinations often left him at a loss for words, unable to remember key details and often refusing to answer questions on the grounds that he did not wish to give away FBI secrets to the communists.[12] While testifying at the trials of CPUSA leader Steve Nelson for sedition in 1951 and 1952, Cvetic was questioned on the stand by Nelson who, acting as his own counsel, repeatedly referred to Cvetic as “a fingerman” and “professional patriot.”[12] Cvetic continued to appear at various government hearings until 1955.

. . . Matt Cvetic . . .

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. . . Matt Cvetic . . .

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