Benjamin Franklin -- Founding Father, American patriot, the man who earned the title "The First American" because of his tireless campaigning for independence -- was also a massively huge security risk, according to an article recently released by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The article has no author listed, and was originally intended only for the CIA's "in-house" magazine, entitled Studies in Intelligence. Typically, a few articles from each issue of the journal are released to the public, but this article, along with many others, remained classified until just recently, when the CIA declassified dozens of articles, spanning decades, in an effort to settle a lawsuit.
The article is fascinating -- the idea that Benjamin Franklin, a man whose life was dedicated to the purpose of American independence and the ideals of freedom, was actually a great security risk and made major mistakes that could have cost the United States the war is ironic, to put it lightly.
The article took a close look at Benjamin Franklin's extensive time in France, where he was part of a three-man force representing the American Commission, a diplomatic group that was considered instrumental in securing France's much-needed assistance to America's Revolutionary forces. But according to the CIA, the group had been penetrated by British spies.
Using historical documents, the CIA says that the American Commission had at least four British agents among their numbers, including Edward Bancroft. Bancroft was more than just a spy within the American Commission -- he also served as the Commission's secretary, which gave him access to all of their documents as well as being considered a close, personal friend of Benjamin Franklin.
Fellow members of the America Commission openly voiced their suspicions about Bancroft's loyalties, but Benjamin Franklin refused to hear them out. It was, apparently, nearly impossible for Franklin to even consider the idea that he had been compromised. Additionally, it's noted that Franklin was terrible at keeping secrets, and was viewed as something of an egomaniac.
Not exactly traits anyone would expect to see on the resume of a Founding Father.
The article took Franklin to task.
"While highly respected, [Franklin] was also vain, obstinate, and jealous of his prerogatives and reputation. He had decided that his role would be that of an 'agent of influence' among the politically powerful in France...the Commission was 'under protection' of the French government, and Franklin may have underestimated British capabilities to operate in a friendly third country...But, despite some of Benjamin Franklin's rather dangerous blunderings and his penchant for allowing spies access to critical, sensitive documents, obviously America still won its independence... mainly because, as the CIA article notes, "Perhaps the greatest irony in the whole story of the penetration of the American Commission is that, while British intelligence activities were highly successful, British policy was a total failure."
His ego may have overwhelmed his common sense. Like many government officials before and after him, he may have believed that he knew exactly what he was doing and that his judgement required no additional verification."
[Image via History.com]