Lowry, Helen (Elena Ivanovna Akhmerova) (c. 1910 – 1981)

An American-born Soviet intelligence courier in the United States in the late 1930s and from December 1942 to December 1945.

Helen Lowry, who is commonly described as the niece of Earl Browder (the leader of the CPUSA from the early 1930s to 1944) was born in Kansas. 1 She came to New York in 1935 and worked as a secretary at a trading firm. 2

In 1936, Lowry was recruited to serve as a courier for the NKVD foreign intelligence (INO) “legal station” in New York. In November 1937, she was transferred to the NKVD “illegal” station in New York as a courier between New York and the station’s sources in Washington, D.C. and keeper of a safe house in the U.S. capital. 3 She worked under the station’s operative in the USA, Iskhak Akhmerov, who became the station’s chief (resident) in late 1937, using the cover name “Jung.” According to Vassiliev’s notes, Akhmerov assigned the cover name “Madlen” (Madeline) to Lowry.

From the very beginning, Helen Lowry impressed Akhmerov as “a very serious, quiet, and thoughtful young woman.” 4 He soon fell in love with his young assistant, and in September 1939 he sent a letter to the NKVD head, Lavrentii Beria, asking him for a permit to marry Lowry and bring her to Moscow on his return. According to contemporary eyewitness accounts, Beria was outraged and ordered an investigation to see whether Akhmerov’s station had been penetrated by American spies. However, a reference for Akhmerov’s work in the United States, prepared at the request of Pavel Fitin, the foreign intelligence head, gave a high evaluation of his work – and noted that the girl was the niece of the American Communists’ leader, of whom Stalin had the highest opinion. This argument probably helped Akhmerov to survive – and to obtain permission for the marriage. 5

In December 1939, Akhmerov brought his young wife to Moscow, where she was admitted to Soviet citizenship under the name of Elena Ivanovna Akhmerova and became an intelligence officer. In the early 1940s, she taught American English to young intelligence officers and trainees. In December 1941, Helen Lowry accompanied her husband to the United States on his second mission as an “illegal” resident. They settled first in New York City but later moved to Baltimore. Lowry, whose cover name was then “Nelly,” was her husband’s assistant and courier to his agents and sources. In October and November 1943, she was the courier between her husband and Elizabeth Bentley, who knew her only as “Catherine.” Bentley left a description of “Catherine” as a woman of “34 to 35 years of age” who was “very tall (“height five feet eight or nine inches”), of “slender build,” with “dark blonde hair worn in feather cut style, eyes bluish green, complexion light, small turned up nose.” She added that Lowry usually wore “suits with ruffled blouses,” talked “with a typical Midwestern accent” and had “all the mannerisms of a native born American.” 6 In July or August 1944, Helen Lowry gave a birth to a daughter. In early 1946, she was recalled to Moscow with her husband after they had to terminate work with their sources in the aftermath of Bentley’s defection to the FBI in November 1945. For some time, she continued to serve at Moscow headquarters, reportedly training young officers.

  1. Helen Lowry’s family history is discussed in “Helen Lowry and Earl Browder: The Genealogy of a KGB Agent and Her Relationship to the Chief of the CPUSA,” by John Earl Haynes, James G. Ryan and Harvey Klehr, American Communist History, vol. 6, issue 2, December 2007, pp. 229-238; Correction to “Helen Lowry and Earl Browder” by John Earl Haynes, James G. Ryan and Harvey Klehr, American Communist History, vol. 8, issue 1, June 2009, pp. 135-136.
  2. Ocherki istorii rossiiskoi vneshnei razvedki, tom 4, 1941-1945, Moskva: “Mezhdunarodnye otnoshenija,” 2003, ss. 222-223 (Essays on the History of Russian Foreign Intelligence, vol. 4, 1941-1945, Moscow: “International Relations,” 2003, pp. 222-223).
  3. Ibid., p. 223; Alexander Vassiliev’s notes on “Jung to the Center, November 9, 1937,” in Alexander Vassiliev Yellow Notebook No. 2, p. 21; Alexander Vassiliev’s notes on a KGB historical monograph, “Rezident Gold.” polkovnik A.E. Vassiliev, polkovnik v otstavke A.A. Koreshkov. Krasnoznamennyj institut KGB imeni Y.V. Andropova, Moskva, 1984, ss. 50-51 (Station Chief Gold, by Colonel A.E. Vassiliev, Ret. Colonel A.A. Koreshkov. The Y.V. Andropov Red Banner KGB USSR Institute, Moscow, 1984) – in Alexander Vassiliev, Black Notebook, p. 138.
  4. Alexander Vassiliev’s notes on “Jung to the Center, November 9, 1937,” Op. cit.
  5. Vladimir Sergeevich Antonov, “Iz Soedinennyh Shtatov s ljubovju,” Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, 7 aprelja, 2006. (“From the United States with Love,” by Vladimir Sergeevich Antonov, Independent Military Review, April 7, 2006.
  6. Signed Statement of Elizabeth Terrill Bentley, dated November 30, 1945, The FBI Silvermaster File, Vol. 006, Serials 220-233, pp. 74-75.