Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government
A review by David Martin
Late in 2012 two notable books were published that deal with the outcome of World War II and the Cold War. Each was written by a pair of authors. One is long; the other is relatively short. If you only read the long one, and prior to having read it you knew little more about the subject than the average, college-educated American, you might find it persuasive. If you also read the short one, though, you will realize that virtually everything that the long one has to say about the fruits of World War II and the Cold War is wrong.
The two books we are talking about are Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s massive Untold History of the United States and the very effective antidote to it, Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein. The impression we would get from Untold History is that the Soviet Union, whose non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany allowed the two countries to fire the opening shots of World War II by attacking and carving up Poland, was a passive victim of the war and of the Cold War aftermath. Having suffered far more than their Western allies in the war, Stalin and the Soviet Union he controlled with an iron fist, according to Stone and Kuznick, wanted nothing more than to rebuild and to defend themselves from renewed threats from the West.
We should remind ourselves, though, that wars are not natural phenomena like hurricanes and earthquakes. They are political events, fought for political objectives. And Joseph Stalin was not just the ruler of the Soviet Union. He was the leader of the extremely virulent and aggressive worldwide Communist movement. By any objective measure, the big winners in World War II were the Soviet Union and the Communist movement. The Soviet Union became larger, swallowing up the Baltic countries and taking part of the territory of Poland. Not just Poland, the preservation of whose independence was the supposed casus belli of WW II for the West, but a number of previously independent Eastern European countries, including half of Germany, fell under the boot of Soviet-controlled Communist tyranny. Furthermore, the stage was set by the war for the Communist takeover of China and the northern part of Korea.
What we learn from Evans and Romerstein is that the Soviet war and post-war gains at the West’s expense were hardly an accident. They had ample assistance from a Roosevelt administration that was thoroughly laced with Stalin’s agents. The agents were sufficiently numerous and highly placed that almost any theft of secrets they might have accomplished was small potatoes compared to their influence upon policy. A central message of the book—never explicitly stated—is that there was an international conspiracy to, in effect, overthrow Western civilization. (The authors would never point it out, but readers of the book will notice that a high percentage of the people involved were Jewish. Readers of this review will notice, as well, that some of the key brave people sounding the alarm over this subversion were also Jewish.) Not only was the U.S. government penetrated at the highest level, but this organized Communist network also apparently controlled key positions in the U.S. opinion-molding business.
Nowhere was the subversive influence more important than at the pivotal Yalta Conference. It was there that Roosevelt made the major concessions that put the Red imprint on post-war Europe and opened the door for them in East Asia. One of the reasons we were so conciliatory to Stalin was supposedly that we needed the Soviet quid pro quo of their entry into the war against Japan 90 days after the defeat of Germany. But, according to Evans and Romerstein, Soviet agents of influence within the Roosevelt government played a key role in keeping intelligence estimates away from FDR that the Japanese were already so badly beaten that the Soviet assistance would not be needed. Perhaps no agent was more important than the notorious Alger Hiss. Here we pick up the Evans-Romerstein narrative early in Chapter 3 entitled “See Alger Hiss about this.” Bear in mind that FDR’s new secretary of state, Edward Stettinius Jr., was newly appointed and had very little experience in foreign affairs. He was, in short, in over his head:
At a White House briefing a month before the conference opened, Stettinius wrote, FDR said he wasn’t overly concerned about having any particular staffers with him at Yalta, but qualified this with two exceptions. “The President,” said Stettinius, “did not want to have anyone accompany him in an advisory capacity, but he felt that Messrs. Bowman and Alger Hiss ought to go (Authors’ footnote: Dr. Isaiah Bowman of Johns Hopkins University, who had been involved in the Versailles conference after World War I and was a Stettinius adviser. He did not go to Yalta, though Alger Hiss would do so.) No clue was provided by Stettinius or apparently by FDR himself, as to the reason for these choices.
Alger Hiss, it will be recalled, was a secret Communist serving in the wartime State Department, identified as a Soviet agent by ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers, a former espionage courier for Moscow’s intelligence bosses. This identification led to a bitter quarrel that divided the nation into conflicting factions and would do so for years to follow. The dispute resulted in the 1950 conviction of Hiss for perjury when he denied the Chambers charges under oath, denials that ran contrary to the evidence then and to an ever-increasing mass of data later.
Though Hiss is now well-known to history, in January 1945 he was merely one State Department staffer among many, and of fairly junior status—a mid-level employee who wasn’t even head of a division (third ranking in the branch where he was working). It thus seems odd that Roosevelt would single him out as someone who should go to Yalta—the more curious as it’s reasonably clear that FDR had never dealt with Hiss directly (a point confirmed by Hiss in his own memoirs).
At all events, Hiss did go to Yalta, one of a small group of State Department staffers there, and would play a major role in the proceedings. Such a role would have been in keeping with the President’s expressed desire to have him at the conference. It’s not, however, in keeping with numerous books and essays that deal with Yalta or Cold War studies discussing Hiss and his duel with Chambers.
In standard treatments of the era, the role of Hiss at Yalta tends to get downplayed, if not ignored entirely. Usually, when his presence is mentioned, he’s depicted as a modest clerk/technician working in the background, whose only substantive interest was in the founding of the United Nations (which occurred some three months later). Otherwise, his activity at the summit is glossed over as being of no great importance.
This writer can vouch for the standard treatment of Hiss at Yalta from his reading on the subject. The name “Alger Hiss” does not even appear on the “Yalta Conference” Wikipedia page, a lacuna that some reader of this essay and hopefully of Stalin’s Secret Agents, at least of Chapter 3, will be able to correct. At the very least, Hiss, as a Soviet agent, was in place to pass along to the opposition what the U.S. negotiating position would be. Furthermore, with our foreign policy first team not even present at Yalta, in express accordance with Roosevelt’s wishes, the way was clear for the influence that Hiss wielded, which the authors go on to describe in their chapter.
The Yalta story was played out over and over in the late Roosevelt and early Truman years. Yugoslavia was betrayed by agents who furnished misinformation about the nature of the anti-Communist resistance to the Nazis. Chiang Kai-shek was betrayed in China in a similar manner. Similar misinformation was given about the Katyn Forest massacre of virtually the entire Polish officer corps by Stalin’s forces, all to the post-war benefit of the Communists. Perhaps the most disgraceful episode of the post-war period, Operation Keelhaul, the return of millions of former residents of the Soviet Union to face almost certain death, was another of the fruits of this betrayal. An even greater potential atrocity, the Morgenthau Plan for the destruction of the German economy, was only narrowly averted by the resistance raised by Truman’s anti-Communist cabinet members like Secretary of State James Byrnes, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, and others. It was the brain child of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau’s (an FDR crony) top assistant, Harry Dexter White. White, like Hiss, had been identified as a Communist agent to FDR aide Adolf Berle in 1939. Henry Wallace, FDR’s vice-president before Truman, who ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948 and darling of Stone and Kuznick, promised in the campaign that White would be his treasury secretary if he were elected president.
Also named by Chambers as a Soviet agent along with White and Hiss, was White House aide, Lauchlin Currie, the patron of Owen Lattimore, who would play a key role in the loss of China to the Communists. Not named by Chambers was the most powerful of FDR’s aides promoting Soviet interests in the Roosevelt administration, his “assistant president,” Harry Hopkins. Hopkins’ name, however, would turn up later among the Venona intercepts as a likely Soviet agent, as would the name of his powerful protégé on the staffs of both Roosevelt and Truman, David Niles.
Among the key sources for the revelations of Evans and Romerstein are the aforementioned early revelations of Chambers as recounted in his 1952 book, Witness, Chambers’ Congressional testimony in 1948, the testimony of another Communist defector, Elizabeth Bentley, in the same year, and the files of the FBI and KGB files made accessible since the fall of the Soviet Union.
How Could Roosevelt Subvert His Own Government?
For all the extremely valuable information in Stalin’s Secret Agents it falls crucially short in the most fundamental information that it fails to impart. We see the vital missed opportunity early in Chapter 6, “The First Red Decade”:
In 1939, shocked by the Hitler-Stalin pact and otherwise disenchanted, Chambers decided to break openly with Moscow and tell the authorities what he knew about the infiltration. In September 1939, accompanied by anti-Communist writer-editor Isaac Don Levine, he had a lengthy talk with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle, then doubling as a specialist on security matters for the White House.
Chambers would later repeat his story to the FBI, at legislative hearings, and to federal courtrooms, as well as in a bestselling memoir, becoming in the process the most famous and in some ways most important witness in American Cold War history. However, it’s evident from the record that much of what he had to say was revealed in this initial talk with Berle. And what he would reveal, both then and later, was an astonishing picture of subversion, reaching into numerous government agencies and rising to significant levels.
Specifically, Chambers would name a sizable group of suspects then holding federal jobs, most notably Alger Hiss, and provide examples of activity by official U.S. staffers working on behalf of Moscow. Judging by Berle’s notes—and a parallel set recorded by Levine—it was a shocking tale that should have set alarm bells ringing and led quickly to corrective action. But so far as anyone was ever able to tell, no bells were rung or action taken. It appears, indeed, that virtually nothing would be done about the Chambers data for years thereafter.
Berle himself would later downplay the Chambers information, saying the people named were merely members of a “study group” and thus not a security danger. But this version was belied by Berle’s own notes about his talk with Chambers. The heading he gave these wasn’t “Marxist study group,” but “Underground Espionage Agents.” As Chambers would comment in his memoir, he was obviously describing “not a Marxist study group, but a Communist conspiracy.” And the people named would fully live up to that description. (pp. 78-79)
Talk about an astonishing picture! Consider, please, the kicker in the foregoing passage and its passive voice: “But so far as anyone was ever able to tell, no bells were rung or action taken.”
Who didn’t ring the bells or take the action? Certainly it was not Berle:
When I called on Berle a couple of weeks later, he indicated to me that the President had given him the cold shoulder after hearing his account of the Chambers disclosures. Although I learned later, from two different sources who had social relations with Berle, that Roosevelt, in effect, had told him to "go jump in a lake" upon the suggestion of a probe into the Chambers charges, I do not recall hearing that exact phrase from Berle. To the best of my recollection, the President dismissed the matter rather brusquely with an expletive remark on this order: "Oh, forget it, Adolf."
The writer is none other than Isaac Don Levine, the man who set up the Chambers-Berle meeting and took part in it. It’s on pages 197-198 of his extraordinary 1975 book, Eyewitness to History: Memoirs and Reflections of a Foreign Correspondent for Half a Century.
One would do better reading Wikipedia than reading Evans and Romerstein on this question:
Berle found Chambers' information tentative, unclear, and uncorroborated. He took the information to the White House, but the President dismissed it, to which Berle made little if any objection. Berle kept his notes, however (later, evidence during Hiss' perjury trials).
From Levine we gather that that characterization of Berle’s initial reaction is completely wrong no matter what Berle said later in protection of his party and his former boss, but at least it tells us that Berle informed the president. Even Ann Coulter, of all people, is better on this point than these co-authors:
Berle urgently reported to President Roosevelt what Chambers had said, including the warning about Hiss. The president laughed and told Berle to go f--- himself. No action was ever taken against Hiss. To the contrary, Roosevelt promoted Hiss to the position of trusted aide who would go on to advise him at Yalta. Chambers's shocking and detailed reckoning of Soviet agents in high government positions eventually made its way to William C. Bullitt, former ambassador to Russia and confidant of the president. Alarmed, Bullitt brought the news to Roosevelt's attention. He, too, was laughed off.
What Evans-Romerstein and Coulter have in common is the short shrift they give to Levine. Coulter air brushes Levine out of the picture completely, never naming the “friend” who set up the meeting with Berle, that it was he who told Bullitt, and not even mentioning that there was a third party present at the Chambers-Berle meeting. Of course, she has no reference to Levine’s book, but neither do Evans and Romerstein.
Now consider what the latter have told us about FDR handpicking the man to go with him to Yalta when, as they relate it, there is no indication of how he would even know who Alger Hiss was…except that he had been informed very authoritatively that the man was a spy for the Soviet Union. Holy treason, Batman!
It is very, very hard to come to any other conclusion than that these two men, who could well be described as America’s leading surviving Red hunters, are covering up for Franklin D. Roosevelt. That impression is greatly reinforced by Evans in a presentation on the book that he made to The Heritage Foundation, which one can listen to here. He is asked specifically about Roosevelt’s complicity in permitting his government to be laced by Communist agents, and Evans attributes it all to FDR’s naiveté. Perhaps someone should have also asked him about the failure of the FBI in all this, the people who have the national responsibility for counter-espionage. But the FBI ultimately works for the president. He had the power to make them stand down, and there is every indication that that is just what he did.
Further indication that the authors are covering up for Roosevelt is their failure to mention at all the Soviet defector Walter Krivitsky. Krivitsky, as former chief of Soviet intelligence in Europe, very likely knew a good deal more about Soviet infiltration of the U.S. government than Chambers did. But instead of being embraced and welcomed by the Roosevelt administration, he was harassed by them. In February of 1941 he was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in a Washington, DC, hotel room. The District police ruled the death a suicide after only a cursory investigation. Who would have had the power to, in effect, make the DC police stand down on this one?
The authors do talk about the very well connected Soviet spy, Michael Straight, who as publisher of The New Republic hired Henry Wallace as editor, but they have no reference to the extremely revealing biography Last of the Cold War Spies: The Life of Michael Straight, by Australian journalist Roland Perry. Perhaps that is because Perry, like Levine in his similarly ignored book, has a lot to say about Walter Krivitsky. Perry even suggests that Straight, a family friend of the Roosevelt’s working for the State Department at the time and feeling threatened, was involved in Krivitsky’s assassination. (See the review by Wes Vernon.)
Another Look at Harry Hopkins
Had the authors not neglected to tell us that Berle had fully briefed FDR in 1939 on the Soviet infiltration of his government, we would read the entire book in a different light, but particularly their Chapter 9, “Friends in High Places.” That chapter talks about Harry Hopkins, Lauchlin Currie, and David Niles, all members of the White House staff. Roosevelt had been informed by Berle that Currie was a Soviet agent. Neither Hopkins nor Niles had been named by Chambers (Niles was not yet in the White House), but Hopkins was so aggressively pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin that one has to wonder how FDR could not have known what would later be indicated by the Venona intercepts and by Soviet defectors. To their credit, in Chapter 9 the authors reveal virtually all the evidence that I have in “Harry Hopkins Hosted Soviet Spy Cell” that Hopkins was a Soviet agent. Unfortunately, they don’t include what is fresh and new in that article, that is, the fact that he hosted that spy cell while he was working at Roosevelt’s right hand. It’s a shame, because it would have strengthened their argument considerably.
Hopkins, like Alger Hiss, was also a very important figure in the sell-out to Stalin and world Communism at Yalta. The following passage is particularly revealing:
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.
It was certainly very late in the day by that point, but FDR for a long time had every reason to know what he was getting from his principal aide Hopkins.
The Tell-Tale Media Role
Chapter 11 is promisingly titled “The Media Megaphone.” Unfortunately, we get only a pecking around the periphery of the sell-out to the Soviet Union during the Roosevelt era. We learn that I.F. Stone with his I.F. Stone’s Weekly was a Soviet agent and that two of the staffers for one of Oliver Stone’s heroes, columnist Drew Pearson, were Communist agents, those being the disreputable David Karr and Andrew Older. Karr was also a speech writer for Henry Wallace. We also learn a little bit about Communist propagandists like Edgar Snow, who was even able to get published in the generally conservative pages of the Saturday Evening Post. “His most famous journalistic effort, and basis for his reputation, was his 1938 book, Red Star Over China, which was for the most part an unabashed commercial on behalf of the Communist Mao Tse-tung.” They also tell us about Michael Straight and his New Republic and remind us of the selling job for Stalin that the infamous Walter Duranty had done in the pages of The New York Times.
When Evans and Romerstein talk about Duranty, though, they are even easier on those to whom he reported than they are on the man to whom Hopkins, Currie, and Niles reported:
Duranty arrived in Russia in August 1921, at the same time as [Armand] Hammer, and over the next decade would establish himself as the dean of Western journalists in the country. After a brief early period of hostility, he would experience a complete conversion and become an avid promoter of the Soviet system. Why he did so is uncertain. It doesn’t appear he was an ideological Communist, as he reportedly had no ideology at all beyond a kind of Nietzschean will-to-power view that didn’t mind dictators and apparently hardened him to scenes of suffering. This would have been useful emotional armor in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, when the suffering was intense and would get more so. (p. 73)
What motivated Duranty? Perhaps Dr. James Mace can clear things up for us a little:
In the 1980s during the course of my own research on the Ukrainian Holodomor [famine] I came across a most interesting document in the U.S. National Archives, a memorandum from one A.W. Kliefoth of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin dated June 4, 1931. Duranty dropped in to renew his passport. Mr. Kliefoth thought it might be of possible interest to the State Department that this journalist, in whose reporting so much credence was placed, had told him that, " 'in agreement with The New York Times and the Soviet authorities,' his official dispatches always reflect the official opinion of the Soviet government and not his own."
Note that the American consular official thought it particularly important for his superiors that the phrase, in agreement with The New York Times and the Soviet authorities, was a direct quotation. This was precisely the sort of journalistic integrity that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. -- "A Tale of Two Journalists: Walter Duranty, Gareth Jones, and the Pulitzer Prize," Ukraine List 203, July 15, 2003.
What a novel idea? Walter Duranty, like Harry Hopkins, Lauchlin Currie, and David Niles, was doing just what his boss expected him to do, or what their mutual bosses expected them to do. Were they so inclined, the authors could have done a much better job of informing their readers had they availed themselves of this writer’s “The New York Times and Joseph Stalin.” They could also have benefitted from reference to Freda Utley’s The China Story and Joseph Keeley’s The China Lobby Man: The Story of Alfred Kohlberg. Evans and Romerstein talk about the influence of the Communist infiltrated Institute of Pacific Relations. But had they referenced these books, they would have permitted us to see the powerful role that The New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune played in spreading pro-Communist IPR propaganda.
Both Freda Utley and Joseph Keeley, the author of the Kohlberg biography, stress the near monopoly the IPR and their pro-Communist friends had over the book publishing and reviewing industry in the United States as it related to China in the critical period of the 1940s. This is Utley, page 144:
In America, during the 1940’s, the union of the friends of the Chinese Communists enjoyed what amounted to a closed shop in the book-reviewing field. Theirs were almost the only views expressed in such important publications as the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune Sunday book supplements and the Saturday Review of Literature—publications which make or break books. (The Sunday Book Review supplement of the New York Times seems in recent months to have discarded many of its old reviewers in favor of others without Communist sympathies.) If one looks through their back numbers, one finds that it was rare that any book on China was not given to a small group of reviewers. Week after week, and year after year, most books on China, and on the Far East, were reviewed by Owen Lattimore, John K. Fairbank, Edgar Snow, Nathaniel Peffer, Theodore White, Annallee Jacoby, Richard Lauterbach, and others with the same point of view.
Appendix H of the Keeley book on Kohlberg is a listing of the books on China reviewed by The New York Times Book Review and the New York Herald Tribune over the 1945-1950 period. Altogether, 31 such books were reviewed by The Times and 36 by the Herald Tribune. Lattimore was the leading reviewer, racking up 12 altogether. Eleven of those were in the Herald Tribune, but the most influential one in the whole list might have been his glowing 1947 review in The Times on The Unfinished Revolution in China by Israel Epstein. Epstein later defected to Communist China and became its leading propagandist and a high level official in the government. All four of Lattimore’s books over the period were reviewed by both publications. One may assume that the reviews were favorable; two of them were by Snow and an equal number by Fairbank. Overlooked by Utley in her list of reviews were five in the Herald Tribune by Lattimore’s wife, Eleanor. – “The Institute of Pacific Relations and the Betrayal of China”
Dall maintained a family loyalty but could not avoid several disheartening conclusions in his book [FDR: My Exploited Father-in-Law, 1970]. He portrays the legendary president not as a leader but as a “quarterback” with little actual power. The “coaching staff” consisted of a coterie of handlers (“advisers” like Louis Howe, Bernard Baruch and Harry Hopkins) who represented the international banking cartel. For Dall, FDR ultimately was a traitor manipulated by “World Money” and motivated by conceit and personal ambition.
In that picture, big media with The New York Times in the forefront during the Roosevelt-Truman years, may be likened to members of the coaching staff. But all of them hearken to the voice of the team owner or owners, the international banking cartel. They had financed the Bolsheviks and they were still promoting their interests until the propaganda bubble began to burst, starting with the testimony of Elizabeth Bentley.
Evans and Romerstein’s little book has been very well received. Of the eight customers who have reviewed it so far on Amazon.com, six have given it the maximum of five stars. The other two gave it four. But one of the five-star reviewers, Jerry Cooper of Napa, California, captures the prevailing situation well with his lead-off:
Unfortunately, this book will likely only be read by those [who are] already somewhat knowledgeable as to its shocking contents. I doubt if it will end up on many university recommended reading lists. As a result, many students of history will be woefully lacking in their understanding of World War II and the Cold War Era. This book is one of a handful of those must-reads exposing a scandal of epic proportions. Without this missing piece of the puzzle post-WWII history is inexplicable.
Mr. Cooper and his co-readers of the book are no doubt all wringing their hands in frustration. At the same time, the big pro-Communist propaganda work by Stone and Kuznick, which came out only two weeks before Stalin’s Secret Agents, has had 135 customer reviews, with almost as high an average favorable rating. As we note in “Oliver Stone and the Japanese Surrender,” the book has had a little bit of help. We had thought that for the “team owners” Zionism was all the rage, as it has been for about as long as anyone can remember, but looking at the strange enthusiasm being shown for Untold History, one might well conclude that Communism is coming back into style with them (if it ever really went out). And we really do mean “strange enthusiasm.” Just this week we discovered two more opinion molding organs to get on board the Stone-Kuznick fashion parade, The American Conservative, one of whose founding editors is Patrick J. Buchanan, and the putatively conservative Washington Times. To the establishment Left among the book’s promoters, we can now add the establishment Right. I really wonder what M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein would have to say about that.
February 1, 2013
See also “FDR Winked at Soviet Espionage,” especially the addendum.