PBS Lies for FDR over Allegations by Whittaker Chambers 

Below is exchange that I had on alt.history on Usenet during the first week of January, 2006.  I would like to express my appreciation to Mr. Robert Cohen for responding to my repeated postings.  His responses prompted me to do additional research and led me to the discovery, recounted in entry #7 below, that the Public Broadcasting System has written apparent untruths that would tend to absolve President Franklin Delano Roosevelt of responsibility for protecting a Soviet spy ring that operated in the highest reaches of his administration for many years.

1. DC Dave 
Jan 1, 10:15 am 
Subject: Whittaker Chambers' Witness

I have just finished reading Whittaker Chambers' 1952 memoir, 
Witness, for the first time, and here are a few of my observations: 

The book certainly establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that Alger 
Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and company were active Communists dealing 
with very important matters in the upper reaches of the U.S. 
government. I think that I already knew that from my general reading, 
and I believe that that is now pretty much the consensus of accepted 
history as it is taught in our colleges, although it might be 
downplayed and glossed over for the most part. What is particularly 
glossed over is that these people were simply traitorous espionage 
agents little different from the Rosenbergs or Kim Philby. 

What I did not know at all, and what I consider to be the really big 
news of the book, was that Whittaker Chambers had gone to Franklin 
Roosevelt's internal security chief, Adolph Berle, some eight years 
before he appeared before the House committee that Richard Nixon was on 
and had told him pretty much the same story at that time. Amazingly, 
FDR had blown the whole thing off, and, clearly, nothing would have 
ever been done had it been left up to the Democratically controlled 
executive branch of the government. I get the distinct impression that 
FDR's brush-off was not a consequence of his simply not believing 
Chambers. It appears that the FBI already had some strong indications 
of the ongoing treason and had relayed it to Berle. Rather, it appears 
that Roosevelt acted with malice aforethought, and was thus complicit 
in the treason. 

I think that this revelation in the book has been little publicized for 
fairly obvious reasons. It raises fundamental questions as to who has 
been running our government and to what ends. It also makes the 
observation of James Forrestal to newly-elected Senator Joseph 
McCarthy, as quoted in Cornell Simpson's, The Death of James 
Forrestal
, look all the better: 

"Consistency never has been a mark of stupidity. If the diplomats who 
have mishandled our relations with Russia were merely stupid, they 
would occasionally make a mistake in our favor." 

Also, I learned a lot in Witness about the means by which the 
Communists compartmentalized their covert operations, as all good 
covert operations must. Chambers' window upon the penetration of 
the country by the Communists, therefore, was very limited. The 
likelihood that there were other spy nests within the government or 
other power nodes in the country that Chambers would have had no way of 
knowing about is probably pretty high. One must wonder what ever 
became of them. 

As worldly-wise as Chambers had become from all his experiences, he 
seems curiously na´ve in some ways, though. It is not just the press 
and the historians who have made too little of FDR's guilty knowledge 
of treason at his elbow, Chambers, himself seems to make too little of 
it in his book. Toward the end he sings the praises of the FBI when 
they are finally put to work on his side and against Hiss and company. 
He appears to have forgotten that they, whose job it is to prevent such 
things, were nowhere to be found when the Hiss crowd, and who knows how 
many others, were carrying out there treason for many years after Chambers 
had made FDR aware of it.

Maybe it can be blamed on his editors, but Chambers seems not to have 
come away from his experience questioning who really rules us and for
what purpose. Turning to religion, as he does, may be the right thing 
to do, but he treats it almost as an end in itself in dealing with our 
political landscape. It might provide you with a pretty good compass, 
but you're still going to need a map. 


2. Robert Cohen 
Jan 1, 4:18 pm show options 
re: Whittaker Chambers 

I read the amazon write-ups about WITNESS to 
refresh my history of the era, which always interests me. 

I had off 'n on 
subscribed to NATIONAL REVIEW in the 1970s and 1980s, and Wm F. 
Buckley, Jr. is very pro--Chambers, continually defending him against 
Hiss and the Democrats/left-liberals.

FDR was not uncontroversial nor was HST. They were both the bug-a-boos 
of the right of 1930s, 1940s and 1950s: 

"FDR has the syph, and Truman is part of the Pendergast machine." 

The nasty, damning charges of being pro-Communist against Democrats are standard operating 
accusations; and also the implications of the fairly recent release of Verona papers of the KGB 
do not let Hiss, the Rosenbergs nor FDR's assistant Harry Dexter White off the hook. 

Pat Buchanan is also recently defending American Firsters' pov: The 
U.S. should've been neutral, and let the NAZIs win (or whatever) 
is his inference. Am I mis-stating Buchanan's book--I did not read it, 
only excerpts and reviews. 

No matter the instigation of the Churchillian 
"Cold War," the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, the Democrats & even moderate 
President Eisenhower will forever be accused by the American right of 
pandering/consorting/soft-dealing with the Commies: The U.S. shoulda 
defeated/nuked 'em early-on, the 
right apparently holds: 

The Right still says: The "Democrats lost China." 

I suppose that some Democrats, some GOP moderates and 
left-liberalism will thus be forever suspect in the rightwing's 
perception. 

3. DC Dave 
Jan 1, 10:54 pm 
Subject: Re: Whittaker Chambers' Witness 

I'm trying to look past the left vs. right aspects of this episode. 
Whittaker Chambers, a defector from the Communist underground, brought 
to Roosevelt very solid evidence that he was surrounded by a nest of 
spies for Stalin's Soviet Union, and FDR, through Adolph Berle, blew 
him off. When you add that to the known facts about FDR's extremely 
pro-Soviet foreign policy what you get is a very strong inference that 
Roosevelt, himself, was guilty of treason. 

I am writing this as a born and raised Democrat whose father was such a 
Roosevelt admirer that he named his youngest son Franklin D. My 
father's heart might have been in the right place, but like most people 
he didn't read very much and what he read he did not read critically, 
and also, like most people, he tended to think tribally in "us" vs. 
"them" terms. As I recall, there was never any doubt in his mind that 
Alger Hiss was innocent, because Hiss was one of "us." 

4. Robert Cohen 
Jan 2, 9:53 am 
Subject: Re: Whittaker Chambers' Witness

I skimmed thru this article about FDR: It's fascinating--especially if 
true (w/o substantial distortion). 

The author holds: FDR wasn't naive about intelligence/spying. FDR was 
very much interested in intelligence from the onset of his 
governmental-political carrer. 

If/when I find something that exculpates/indicts FDR regarding 
allegation/idea of an "agent/spy of USSR," I'll throw it at ya for 
comment/rebuttal. 

Meanwhile, the article: 

http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/stafford-roosevelt.html 

5. DC Dave 
Jan 2, 11:14 am 
Subject: Re: Whittaker Chambers' Witness

The New York Times article referenced here agrees completely with the 
charge made by Chambers in Witness. Here is the key NY Times quote:

Ironically, Soviet espionage was already at work in America. But 
Roosevelt, like most others, misunderstood the threat. This was seen in 
the case of Whitaker Chambers. 

A journalist, Chambers was a courier and contact in Washington for 
Soviet intelligence. In 1938 he recanted his allegiance to Moscow, and 
after hiding for several months to escape Stalin's assassins re-emerged 
as a writer for Time magazine. Shocked by the brutal cynicism of 
Stalin's pact with Hitler in August 1939, he told his story to Adolf 
Berle, Roosevelt's international security adviser in the State 
Department, and also pointed the finger at more than thirty Communist 
agents at work in the federal government, including the senior State 
Department official Alger Hiss. Berle told neither his department nor 
the FBI, but did, according to one source, pass the intelligence on to 
Roosevelt. But the President merely `scoffed at the charge'. He was 
incredulous that there could be a Soviet espionage ring in his 
administration; to him Communists were blue-collar trade union 
militants, not suave representatives of the east coast establishment. 
Gentlemen like Hiss could simply not be traitors. As a result, no 
counter-intelligence programme for identifying Communist agents in the 
federal government was put in place. (end quote) 

Whatever his motivation, FDR would have to be regarded as criminally 
negligent, at the very least, in his disregard of the report by 
Chambers. I think that it was worse than negligence, and the fact that 
so little is made of this reaction by Roosevelt in the 
secret-power-protecting press and the toady history establishment 
strengthens my suspicion. 

The fact that the New York Times, itself, would go along with Chambers' 
version of the story on this initial stifling of any proper Soviet spy 
investigation by FDR is significant. This is the newspaper that gave 
us the extraordinarily influential Stalin propagandist, Walter Duranty, 
after all. See http://www.deanesmay.com/archives/000981.html . It is 
completely in character that The Times would make excuses for Roosevelt 
for what appears to me to be complicity in treason, rather than holding 
him to account. 

6. Robert Cohen 
Jan 2, 4:55 pm 
Subject: Re: Whittaker Chambers' Witness

As I understand the accusation: 

The NY TIMES reported that Berle, FDR's intelligence assistant, 
informed FDR that 30 Soviet agents were then operating/participating in 
his administration according to informant Whittaker Chambers circa 
1939. 

FDR reportedly scoffs. 

My questions: 

Did Berle tell/refer-to FBI/U.S. military of Chambers' information (?). 

Whose word/testimony are we supposed to trust as the source of the 
accusation: Berle? Chambers? J.E. Hoover? Stimson?/Knox? 

Is it possible Chambers lies/exaggerates/distorts about his 
conversation(s) with Berle? 

Chambers' treason/espionage accusation against Alger Hiss circa 1948 is 
seemingly true; while the scoff-conversation/administration-inaction 
has never been verified/proven (?). 

7. DC Dave 
Jan 3, 9:29 pm 

Subject: Re: Whittaker Chambers' Witness

First, let's look again at what the generally leftist, FDR-defending 
New York Times said in that article you found: 

Berle told neither his department nor the FBI, but did, according to 
one source, pass the intelligence on to Roosevelt. But the President 
merely `scoffed at the charge'. He was incredulous that there could be 
a Soviet espionage ring in his administration; to him Communists were 
blue-collar trade union militants, not suave representatives of the 
east coast establishment. Gentlemen like Hiss could simply not be 
traitors. As a result, no counter-intelligence programme for 
identifying Communist agents in the federal government was put in 
place. (end quote)

They say, "according to one source," and they put "scoffed at the 
charge," in quotes as though they are quoting that source directly. 
That source is clearly not Chambers' book, Witness, because Witness 
doesn't use those words. Here's the Witness quote:

But nothing at all happened. Weeks passed into months. I went about 
my work at Time. Then, one day, I am no longer certain just when, I 
met a dejected [Isaac Don] Levine. (Levine had been present at the 
Berle meeting. ed.) Adolf Berle, said Levine, had taken my information 
to the President at once. The President had laughed. When Berle was 
insistent, he had been told in words which it is necessary to 
paraphrase, to 'go jump in a lake.' (end quote) 

Next we have Francis P. Sempa writing at 
http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/archives_roll/2001_07-09/sempa_chambers/sempa_chambers.html

Two years after his break with communism, Chambers attempted to warn 
the Roosevelt Administration about communist infiltration of the 
government (the same information that he revealed to HUAC in 1948). 
Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle ' brought Chambers' 
information directly to Roosevelt, but the president refused to believe 
it. FDR's response to Chambers' information typified his 
administration's lax attitude about the threat of communist subversion. 
(end quote) 

Then there's the 1997 Sam Tanenhaus biography of Chambers, on pages 
203 and 204: 

Nothing had come, after all, of his meeting with Berle in 1939.

It was not Berle's fault. The official had taken Chambers's story to 
the White House, to no effect. And Don Levine had made every effort to 
reach the president, telling the Chambers story to every contact he 
knew. One of Levine's recruits, columnist Walter Winchell, had gone 
directly to FDR but had been rebuffed. "I don't want to hear another 
thing about it!" Roosevelt had said angrily, jabbing a finger at the 
columnist. "It isn't true." (end quote)

I think that leaves little doubt as to where the blame lies for the 
treasonous failure to get this nest of spies out of the government.

But wouldn't you know, the usual suspects are still covering up for 
FDR. Check out what the Public Broadcasting System has to say on its 
oh-so-authoritative NOVA site: 

In the late 1930s Hiss was a key State Department official during the 
formative years of the United Nations. He eventually served as 
Secretary General at the 1945 San Francisco meeting at which the U.N. 
was founded. In 1939, however, Whitaker Chambers, a former member of 
the U.S. Communist Party, told Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle 
that Hiss was a communist. Berle, under whom Hiss worked, scoffed at 
the charge. (end quote) 
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/venona/dece_hiss.html 

There's nary a hint in their article of the sorry role played by their 
fair-haired hero in the Oval Office. They have a feedback tab on their 
site and I have asked them for the source of their information, but I 
don't think that we should hold our breath for a response. It's too 
bad that quite a few people actually believe what they see on Public 
Television. 

8. Robert Cohen 
Jan 4, 9:46 am 

Subject: Re: Whittaker Chambers' Witness

I must hereby concede the D.C. Dave point/Chambers' criticism against 
FDR/the FDR Administration, as it seems valid, substantive, and has 
been subsequently very consequential. 

Momentous history is, as I perceive it: 

FDR was attacked by both the Right and the Left throughout his 4 terms. 

The Depression years held potential for an extreme change of 
government, whether of a Huey Kingfish Long and/or of a Father Coughlin 
and/or of a Norman Thomas and/or of an Earl Browder, et al.

An "anti mentality" had knocked-out the Catholic NY Governor Al Smith's 
presidential Democrat candidacy circa 1928. 

Our country's politics reflects our overall society's accords/discords/dynamics:

There are 4 or 5 Catholics serving today on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Literary, intellectual, academic, and artistic types were joiners of 
idealistic & leftist causes, including Communist influenced groups or 
front groups. 

It seemingly was normative in the 1930 U.S. to be associated with Communists.

Stalin's USSR took advantage of the situation, and implanted agents/spies. 

There were many sympathizers who weren't conscious KGB "spies."

Perhaps FDR was indeed naive and overly defensive, despite that he did 
know much about intelligence/spy machinations as the NYT article 
reports.

Ernest Hemingway and The Abraham Lincoln Brigarde were 
pro-left/republicans in the Spanish Civil War, late 1930s. 

Alger Hiss is said to be the epitome of the 
intellectual-internationalist-idealistic crust. 

Robert J. Oppenheimer MAY too have been a spy, as were some other atomic bomb 
spies. 

Ezra Pound took the Rightist side and broadcast Axis propaganda from 
fascist Italy during the war. 

Reality/history/politics is dynamic and complicated. 

9. DC Dave 
Jan 5, 8:47 pm 
Let's put a couple more nails in the FDR coffin. This is from the 
2000 book by Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets, 
Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors.


Whittaker Chambers reported to the FBI an odd story about [key 
Roosevelt aide] Niles that he had heard from a fellow Soviet agent 
named John Hermann in 1934 or 1935. A Soviet agent named Silverman (not 
George Silverman) was living in the next building from Alger Hiss. This 
Silverman apparently had an obviously homosexual affair with David 
Niles. Silverman had told Niles of the work of the underground 
apparatus in Washington, and Niles later threatened to expose the 
activities of the Communist group unless Silverman left his wife. To 
solve the problem, J. Peters, the head of the American Communist 
underground, ordered Hermann and Harold Ware to get Silverman to leave 
Washington, D. C. immediately. (pp. 180-181)

And this is from the 1966 book by Cornell Simpson, The Death of James 
Forrestal.


The mysterious Niles, who had an office in the White House, operated 
very secretively; however when various Fifth Amendment Communists were 
asked by congressional committees if they knew Niles, they refused to 
answer on the grounds that if they did so they might incriminate 
themselves. (p. 90)

Now I guess it's possible that Niles kept all the information he had on 
the communist infiltration of their administration away from Roosevelt, 
but he was a very close adviser to the President. More than likely, 
when Adolf Berle relayed Chambers' charges to the President in 1939, he 
was telling him something that he already knew. 

10. Robert Cohen 
Jan 6, 11:02 am 

Subject: Re: Whittaker Chambers' Witness

re: an indirect comment that is relevant 

The embarrassing sexual, homosexual, lesbian & gay phenomena figure-in 
these reports/incidents/anecdotes of blackmail/intimidation/spying; and 
the phenomena have been costly surely more than anybody can really 
know/calculate. 

For an obvious/publicized instance: 

Immediately prior to the Iraq (mis)advenrture, 2003(?), a number (5?) 
gay American translators was cashiered-out/fired from the U.S. military 
by way of the "don't ask, don't tell" flimsiness, whether 
Constitutional, moral, or whatever it's policy/reality. 

Hmmmmmmm: There has been a decidedly lack of good/accurate intelligence 
about Iraq. 

Draw one's own conclusions about The Human Comedy/The Human Tragedy/The 
Human Absurdity of reality. 

Rumor I read in NATIONAL REVIEW years ago: Hiss-Chambers allegedly also 
had a sexual affair/encounter in 1930s. 

END EXCHANGE

The Public Broadcasting System is actually worse on this subject than I have characterized them in entry #7 above.  Here is how they begin their short Alger Hiss profile, which is part of a larger piece on notorious spies:

"Though Alger Hiss, a U.S. State Department official, was accused of spying for the Soviet Union and imprisoned, he was never convicted of espionage per se. Throughout his life, Hiss denied any involvement in espionage, and many historians (sic) have for years remained polarized on the question of Hiss's spying; some believe that declassified documents prove he did spy for the Soviets, and some still see these allegations as groundless."

Indeed, it is possible to find, even at this late date, a few extreme left-wing ideologues, or people pretending to be such in order to mislead the public and keep it divided, who will argue that Hiss was innocent.  On this subject they have lost the ability to polarize anyone who has taken any time at all to look into the matter.  The battle over this question is essentially over.  Alger Hiss, with the assistance of Whittaker Chambers, spied on the United States for the Soviet Union.  Chambers broke with the Communists and tried very hard to get Hiss, whom he called his best friend in the party, to break with them as well, but Hiss continued as a covert operative.

So why is PBS still covering up for Alger Hiss, and, more importantly, why is it telling lies to protect Franklin Roosevelt?  

Oh, by the way, as of this writing, PBS has not responded to my request for the source of their allegation that Adolf Berle scoffed at the claims of Whittaker Chambers.

January 29, 2006

 

The Bird The Bird Columns DCDave's Homepage DCDave's Column DCDave's Column 4
newsgroup: alt.thebird email: dcdave1@cox.net