Is History Repeating Itself? And Who Will Be Today’s Ted Hall? An Interview with the Director of “A Compassionate Spy”

Saturday, 3 December 2022 — CoverAction Magazine

By Ron Ridenour

C:\Users\Ron Ridenour\Pictures\A Compassionate Spy\the principle three and writer ron ridenour with nobel peace prize.jpgInterviewer Ron Ridenour holds Ted Hall’s posthumous Nobel Peace Prize in the form of a Peace Lily as film director Steve James makes a point with Joan Hall and journalist-producer Dave Lindorff. [Source: Photo courtesy of Jette Salling]

[In this piece, Ron Ridenour interviews Steve James, the director of A Compassionate Spy, and Joan Hall, Ted Hall’s wife. See Ron’s review of the documentary here.—Editors] 

Q: Joan, how do you think the world would look today had Ted Hall not given vital information to the Soviets, in order to avoid a monopoly of nuclear power, seeking a balance in the world?

“I heard a four-year-old boy in a train station the other day say: ‘We’re going to have a war with Russia.’ Isn’t that the world today? 77 years after World War II and Russia is capitalist?”

Joan refers to the Soviet Union being the U.S.’s enemy before and just following World War II because it was communist, yet it is still the enemy even when it converted three decades ago to U.S./England/EU’s economy of choice.

Surely, Western capitalist countries cannot fear that it is behind the Russian Federation when it comes to a military position. The U.S. has 800 military bases in 70+ countries, plus occupying troops at “military facilities” in another 90 countries. The U.S. funds 50 military bases for several countries where it also has its own troops. Many of these are in the U.S. “backyard,” especially in Colombia and Central America.

The U.S. has 95% of the world’s foreign bases. It also has scores of ships sailing around the world with nuclear weapons. Then there are the 4,154 military bases in its 50 states and 114 in its territories. It allows no foreign bases on its territory. (See David Vine’s book Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World[1]

[Source: twitter.com]

Was Ted more a whistle-blower than a spy—someone like Daniel Ellsberg with the Pentagon Papers, the scores of CIA and military personnel who came over to our side, such as Phil Agee, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning?

“I had a hard time accepting the term ‘spy’ for Ted,” Joan answers. “But I came to understand it, in the film context. Ted contrasted between the military-political leadership and the people, Russian and everywhere in the world.”

C:\Users\Ron Ridenour\Pictures\A Compassionate Spy\steve.jpgSteve James at Joan’s Cambridge home, October 2022.
[Source: Photo courtesy of Jette Salling]

“Edward Snowden comes closest to what Ted did,” Steve says. While Ted was not a military/CIA patriot such as Snowden in his youth, both wanted to help the U.S. when Nazi Germany was a real enemy and aggressor. Snowden was naïve [until he realized what secrets the U.S. was hiding from everyone]. [2]

“I was astonished by what Ted did,” Steve continues. “So incredibly heroic. Even if you disagree with his act, you have to see his true motivation and bravery.”

“We might not have been here had Ted not done what he did,” Dave says. “Having seen the horrors of the Vietnam War as a war resister, the U.S. is only interested in expanding its global power. As Muhammad Ali retorted to his critics for refusing to fight the Vietnamese, ‘No Vietcong ever called me a Nigger.’ Had Russia not had the atomic bomb, the U.S. could have destroyed Vietnam and any other country.”

Q: How was it working with Joan in the film?

“Joan is a gift from the documentary gods, an incredible story teller,” Steve states unequivocally.

Joan, “We waited so long without telling the story. It wasn’t just political, but this reality should have been known long before, for the sake of world peace. People should be grateful for what Ted did. If Ted, however, had seen A Compassionate Spy, he would have been embarrassed. He wasn’t out for fame.”

The states had to give the people something, Joan continues, implying that some governments have made a few significant concessions for welfare or there would have been world revolutions.

“Ted knew what capitalism brought with it in the United States. For example: depression, poverty, hunger, racism, injustice, and suppression of popular movements.”

A 2003 Memoir of Ted Hall by Joan

“In June 1999, during the last awful months of Ted’s illness, one day a radio news reader announced that thousands of people had gathered in the City of London to protest against ‘capitalism.’

“There was a crack in the usual deadpan style of BBC news reporting—that last word was spoken with an incredulous titter. Perhaps the announcer had never heard of such a weird idea. We were told that this demonstration, with a heavy involvement of young people, had been organized through the internet. There were police; there were arrests. Our grandson was there, but luckily didn’t get arrested.

“More demonstrations…people from many different political spheres…not only fighting on single issues but also uniting against what they now identified as the basic enemy: global capitalism.

“While Ted’s early fears of a nuclear monopoly were not realized in the form he envisaged, the situation that has emerged in the past half century makes those fears seem all too prophetic. Without a monopoly of any one weapon, the United States now commands an immense arsenal, which enables it to dictate to other nations, to kill millions of people and run the world for the benefit of American corporate interests.

“That power, daily resisted worldwide, is now being threatened from a new (if not unexpected) quarter—the ‘anti-globalization’ movement, which is in fact a mobilization of worldwide public opinion against the globalized market.”

Dave is finishing a book, A Spy with No Country, with the film in mind (Prometheus Books, Autumn 2023). Ted’s history and his role in creating the 77-year hiatus of any use of a nuclear bomb is the kernel.

Ted Hall [Source: historyofspies.com]

The U.S. still uses, however, depleted uranium—a by-product of natural uranium—for nuclear fuel, armor-piercing shells and bombs. It is still radioactive but less damaging than the initial material. Such munitions have been used against Iraqis (315-350 tons), Serbians and Albanians. England and Israel have also used them.

Despite the current war between U.S./NATO/Ukraine and Russia, Dave believes that Ted’s effort to create a global balance of nuclear weapons still is operative. Non-nuclear wars occur constantly, a score today, yet the film’s initial creator thinks nuclear world war will be averted. This possibility would be enhanced, if the anti-capitalist globalization movement, about which Joan wrote, were reborn and deepened throughout the world.


  1. Russia has five military bases, two radar communication facilities and two missile-testing centers in nine former Soviet Republics. It has 23,500 military personnel at these bases and sites. In addition, Russia has three military bases in Syria with 7,000 military personnel, without which Syria would be in U.S./Israel/Turkey/Gulf States and jihad cut-throat warrior organizations’ hands.Russia has also the Sevastopol Naval Base and 18 military facilities with 33,000 military personnel in Crimea, whose citizens overwhelmingly voted to join the Russian Federation in 2014. So these military personnel are actually not on foreign territory but in Russia. Regardless, the total count of troops “outside” Russia are only 56,500. List of Russian military bases abroad – WikipediaThe U.S. has 6,255 nuclear weapons to Russia’s 5,550, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). “How the US stacks up against Russia’s nuclear arsenal” (nypost.com)

    China has 350; North Korea between 20 and 50; U.S. allies France=290; England=225; Israel=90. Sometime ally Pakistan=165 and India=156.

    The U.S. has 4,032 sea-based nuclear missiles while Russia has only 1,648. “4032 vs 1648: US and Russia sea-based nuclear power comparison” – Defence View 

  2. Snowden was granted Russian citizenship by a decree signed by President Vladimir Putin last September. Snowden has been living in Russian exile since releasing the fact that the National Security Agency spies on any and all it wants to not only in the U.S. but around the world, including its closest allies such as Denmark where this interviewer lives. The U.S. uses omnipresent spying for making wars, and for greater profits for its corporations.
    Here is one example:“Even before the XKEYSCORE program [Snowden revealed], ECHELON was used to undermine a deal for the European firm Airbus, in order to secure a $6 billion contract for Boeing-McDonnell Douglas. Raytheon was among other weapons companies garnering such favors from NSA, whose information gained from spying helped Raytheon win a $1.3 billion contract to provide radar to Brazil, edging out the French company Thomson-CSF.” A similar deal was made for Lockheed Martin F-35 nuclear missile carrying jets. “Trade Secrets: Is the U.S.’s most advanced surveillance system feeding economic intelligence to American businesses?” (fas.org) and”Outposts of the U.S. Surveillance Empire: Denmark and Beyond” – CovertAction Magazine

    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in 2020, that blanket surveillance of U.S. persons’ telephone records is unlawful. While Snowden wants to return to the U.S., the government would still imprison him on whatever charges it wished. “Edward Snowden granted Russian citizenship” – BBC News 


About the Author

Ron Ridenour is a U.S.-born author and journalist, anti-war and civil rights activist since 1961. After joining the U.S. Air Force at 17, he saw the inner workings of U.S. imperialism first hand and resigned. In the 1980s and 1990’s he worked with the Nicaraguan government and on Cuban national media.

He now lives in Denmark and, in addition to writing a dozen books, has served as a special correspondent and freelance investigative journalist for many publications in the U.S. and several Latin American and European countries—among them: The Morning StarNew StatesmanThe Guardian (U.S. and England), Playboy, Liberation News Service, Pacific News Service, Coast MagazineQuiSkepticSeven Days, and Pacifica Radio.

CAM co-founder Philip Agee wrote commentaries to two of his dozen books: Yankee Sandinistas: Interviews with North Americans Living and Working in the New Nicaragua, and Backfire: CIA’s Biggest Burn. See also: The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert and Winding Brook Stories at Amazon and Lulu. Other work can be found at ronridenour.com.

Ron can be reached at ronrorama@gmail.com.

Posted in: USA

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