Harry Hopkins Hosted Soviet Spy Cell

Harry Hopkins was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s closest aide and confidante.  Formally, his two top positions were first as director of the Works Progress Administration and later as head of the Lend-Lease Program.  With his heavy involvement in key areas of both domestic and foreign policy and his close association with the president and especially with the very influential first lady, Eleanor, he was actually as near to being an assistant president as anyone in the United States has ever been.  The evidence is accumulating that he was also an agent of the Soviet Union.

The leading evidence that Hopkins was a spy for Joseph Stalin is presented by Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel in their 2000 book, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's TraitorI have summarized their argument elsewhere as follows:

Their evidence is, first, that Soviet KGB defector, Oleg Gordievsky, said that Hopkins was in regular communication with top Soviet covert operative, Iskhak Akhmerov, in New York City. This was more than just a "back channel" for communication between Roosevelt and Stalin because Hopkins had existing back channels at the Soviet embassy that he used, and Akhmerov's identity as an operative was not supposed to be known to the U.S. government. Second, the Venona project decrypts of Soviet communications with its spies, which came to light only in the 1990s, reveal a report on a Washington discussion between Roosevelt and Winston Churchill by an "agent 19." Only Harry Hopkins among suspected Soviet agents would have been privy to that conversation. Third, former Communist Whittaker Chambers testified to Congress in 1948 about the formation of Communist "study groups" within the U.S. government from which espionage agents were recruited. One of those groups, led by Lee Pressman, was established within the Department of Agriculture in late 1933, and Hopkins was a member of that group. Fourth, his policies were strongly pro-Soviet, particularly in his work as head of the Lend-Lease program. 

The degree to which he far exceeded any strategic necessity in aiding the Soviet Union in that latter capacity is well described in the 1952 book by Major George Racey Jordan entitled From Major Jordan’s DiariesA summary, with key excerpts, are in the previously referenced article, “How We Gave the Russians the Bomb.

Now, corroborating and entirely independent evidence of Hopkins’ likely treason has come to light in the pages of an obscure book by Emanuel M. Josephson.  The title is The Strange Death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and while it does have a very intriguing chapter on FDR’s demise, the main subject of the book is better captured by the subtitle, A History of the Roosevelt-Delano Dynasty, America’s Royal Family.  The following passage is on pp. 145-146:

In later years, Murray Garsson, the munitions manufacturer who was convicted for bribery and irregularities in connection with war contracts, reported that Harry Hopkins had been very helpful to him in securing and handling those contracts.  In return for his help, Hopkins had demanded and received liberal payment for his influence.  Garsson regularly paid Hopkins’s numerous losses on bets on the horse races.  But one form of payment demanded by Hopkins stood out as most odd, Garsson said.

Garsson maintained quarters at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington in connection with his war contracts.  But he spent his weekends in New York with his family.   Harry Hopkins demanded of Garsson that he permit him and his friends to use the quarters during the weekends, and that he defray the cost of refreshments and entertainment.  Garsson permitted Hopkins and his guests to charge their expenses to his account.

In looking over his bills, Garsson noted the names of the persons who had signed the tabs charged to him.  Among Harry Hopkins’s associates who had signed tabs were Carl Aldo Marzani and the whole array of the members of what was later proved to be the Hal Ware (Communist) cell that operated in the Government.  Garsson stated that he did not become aware of the fact that he was acting as involuntary host to Hopkins’s Communist cell until after Marzani had been convicted and sent to jail for perjury in swearing in his State Department application that he was not, and never had been, a member of the Communist Party.

Josephson, who was hardly an admirer of Roosevelt and his New Deal, lacks references for his allegations, but many factors militate in favor of their basic accuracy.  The strongest of these is that they dovetail perfectly with the other Soviet-agent charges against Hopkins and, coming much earlier, they could not have been influenced by them.  In combination, the charges are much stronger than any one of them is alone.  Hopkins was also known to have a number of personal weaknesses; he was a heavy drinker and gambler.  His first wife had divorced him, charging him with infidelity, and he was left with large alimony and child support expenses.  Combined with his taste for luxury and the cost of his vices, those expenses are likely to have outstripped his meager government income.  A common acronym for the main four reasons that people get involved in espionage is “MICE,” Money, Ideology, Compromised, and Ego.  Often it only takes one of them, but Hopkins would appear to have been vulnerable on all four points.

Whatever one’s character or vulnerability, a primary reason not to be a spy against one’s own country is obvious enough.  It is typically very risky.  The penalty can be quite severe, as we know from the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case.  But the official relationship with the Soviet Union and Communism had changed radically by the time the Rosenbergs were executed.  Under Franklin Roosevelt, the attitude toward espionage by the Soviet Communists was permissive in the extreme, and Harry Hopkins had to know it.  As we document in detail in “FDR Winked at Soviet Espionage,” Communist defector Whittaker Chambers had told Roosevelt’s security adviser, Adolf Berle, all about Harold Ware’s spy nest, which included the infamous Alger Hiss, in 1939.  Berle had relayed the information to Roosevelt, and Roosevelt had blown him off.  Spying for the Reds under Roosevelt was essentially risk free.  The results are well summed up by historian Thomas Fleming on page 319 of his 2001 book, The New Dealers' War: FDR and the War within World War II:  

There was scarcely a branch of the American government, including the War, Navy, and Justice Departments, that did not have Soviet moles in high places, feeding Moscow information.  Wild Bill Donovan's Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, had so many informers in its ranks, it was almost an arm of the NKVD.  Donovan's personal assistant, Duncan Chaplin Lee, was a spy.

The spy ring also reached into the White House in the person of economic adviser, Lauchlin Currie, according to Chambers.  As with the evidence against Hopkins that came initially from Garsson and from Major Jordan, the evidence against Currie was later reinforced by the same Venona intercepts that Romerstein and Breindel used to conclude that Hopkins was also a spy.

David Martin

February 11, 2011


Addendum 1


With a search of the Internet using the terms “Harry Hopkins” and “David Niles” we have turned up some additional evidence connecting Hopkins to Communist subversion:


In l936 James Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins invited David Niles to Washington from Boston.  In l94l or l942 he became a resident assistant to the President at the White House.  He retired in 1951 after serving Presidents Roosevelt and Truman.  He was bitterly attacked by anti-Israel factions as reported in New York Times story May 5, l948.  Active member of Ford Hall Forum in Boston, Never attended college.


Niles, then, can be seen as something of a protégé of FDR’s son and of Harry Hopkins.  Niles, apparently, had his own connections to Communist subversion.  This passage is from page 181 of the aforementioned Romerstein-Breindel book, which we quote in “Who Killed James Forrestal?”


Whittaker Chambers reported to the FBI an odd story about 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.


As for Niles’s other patron, we learn from Wikipedia that, “[James] Roosevelt was one of the first politicians to denounce the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy. He was also the only Representative to vote against appropriating funds for the House Un-American Activities Committee.” One must wonder now if that might have been because he feared what they might expose.


David Martin

February 15, 2011


Addendum 2


More evidence of Hopkins’ work on behalf of the Soviets  turns up in the case of defector, Victor Kravchenko.  In this instance he was in league with FDR’s extremely pro-Soviet ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph E. Davies.  The following passage is from page 275 of The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia by Tim Tzouliadis (2008):


Victor Kravchenko had been a Soviet Lend-Lease official who defected in 1944, while stationed in New York.  At the time, the Soviet embassy had tried hard to force Kravchenko’s extradition as a war-time “deserter,” and had engaged the willing intervention of Ambassador Joseph Davies to its cause.  What followed was the farce of the FBI having to call up Kravchenko anonymously to tip him off that “the heat was on” from the State Department, and warn him that he should “carefully hide himself.”  But Kravchenko’s English was not yet up to such head-spinning machinations, and the FBI agent had to repeat the whole conversation to a friend, who took the appropriate evasive action on Kravchenko’s behalf.  Joseph Davies, meanwhile, appealed directly to the president and secretary of state to have Kravchenko sent back to Russia.  The moral issue of Kravenchenko’s inevitable execution was elegantly sidestepped by Harry Hopkins, who argued that if he was returned, no one would know what happened to him.  Only President Roosevelt had sensed a fast-approaching political calamity; “Will you tell Joe that I cannot do this?” he instructed his secretary, and the defector’s life was spared.  (emphasis added)


Kravchenko’s very revealing book, I Chose Freedom, was published in April of 1946, and even the formerly pro-Soviet New York Times, reviewed it favorably.


Hopkins apparently served his Soviet masters almost to the end of his days.  The following passage is from pp. 118-119 of Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein (2012):


Hopkins’s pro-Soviet leanings would be on further display in the Yalta records, where his handwritten comments are available for viewing.  Though seriously ill at the time of the meeting, he continued to ply his influence with FDR, who himself was mortally sick and susceptible to suggestion in ways that we can only guess at.  After FDR had made innumerable concessions to Stalin, there occurred a deadlock on the issue of “reparations.”  At this point, Hopkins passed a note to Roosevelt that summed up the American attitude at Yalta.  “Mr. President,” this said, “the Russians have given in so much at this conference I don’t think we should let them down.  Let the British disagree if they want—and continue their disagreement at Moscow [in subsequent diplomatic meetings]” (Emphasis added by Evans and Romerstein).

One may search the Yalta records at length and have trouble finding an issue of substance on which the Soviets had “given in” to FDR—the entire thrust of the conference, as Roosevelt loyalist [Robert] Sherwood acknowledged, being in the reverse direction.

David Martin

March 19, 2013


Addendum 3


New doubt has arisen over the best evidence that Hopkins was actually a Soviet agent.  See my article “Harry Hopkins and FDR’s Commissars.”


David Martin

January 24, 2014




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