Born on this day in 1916, Angela Calomiris was a lesbian
photographer who lived a simple life in New York’s Greenwich Village before she was recruited
and plucked her out of obscurity by the FBI. Under the fake name Angela Cole,
she successfully infiltrated the Communist Party of America (CPUSA) and took
out the organization from the inside.
Angela Calomiris at her typewriter, courtesy of Rae Skinner (x).
Born on August 1, 1916 in the Lower East Side, Angela was the
daughter of working-class Greek immigrants. Her father was a successful fur trader until the
Great Depression hit and the family began to suffer financially. However, despite the money troubles, Angela was eventually able to afford two years at Brooklyn College. Afterwards, she settled down in Greenwich Village, famous for its
artist communities, determined to make it as a professional photographer. That dream for life was interrupted though in February of 1949 when
Angela was approached by two FBI agents. The FBI asked her if she would be
willing to join the Community Party of America (CPUSA) as an informant and
report back to them everything she learned about CPUSA’s internal plans. After
a week of deliberation, Angela agreed to their request.
Eventually rising in
the ranks to become CPUSA’s financial secretary, she was able to give the FBI
the real names and personal information of all of CPUSA’s members and leaders.
Her cover was finally revealed with the 1948 Smith Act Trials, where Angela’s
testimony revealed CPUSA’s plan of overthrowing the American government on
October 13, 1949 and condemned 12 different communist leaders to imprisonment.
After the trials, she became a celebrity to the American public and was hailed
as an American hero; the fact that she was also dating a woman named Myrtis
Johnson who was the sister-in-law of her FBI handler just made the story that
much more scandalous.
A newspaper clipping from February 18, 1951 advertises Angela’s memoir and boasts the title “RED MASQUERADE: FBI’s Girl Agent Tells of 7 Years as a Communist” (x).
The truth behind Angela’s motivations for joining the FBI
and destroying CPUSA remain somewhat of a mystery. In a 1950 interview with the
New York Times, Angela said that she
agreed to join the FBI because she “kind of wanted to be a hero.” In later
years, however, it has been revealed that she was being paid a considerably
large salary for her work and many of Angela’s lesbian friends agreed that
there was no ideological or political force behind her actions, but that it was
the money that made Angela agree to infiltrate CPUSA. The FBI’s notoriously
conservative reputation has also led many to believe that Angela was targeted as
a lesbian who already had communist connections via the left-leaning New York
Photo League and that the FBI used the threat of outing her to blackmail Angela
into agreeing to their request. Whatever the truth may be, Angela ultimately only gained
from her work with the FBI. After her celebrity status began to wane, she moved out of the city and operated a small bed and breakfast until her death on
January 30, 1995.