Defense & National Security

Infiltration, intrigue and Communists

Infiltration, intrigue and Communists

In writing “Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government”, authors M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein have produced a highly informative volume that will enlighten not only relative newcomers to the field of Communist subversion but scholars as well. What they learn will be utterly sobering. Soviet loyalists, with enormous influence over policy, are revealed to have been far more deeply entrenched than ever previously acknowledged.  More surprising, these agents had alarmingly easy access to the Oval Office.

Take the case of Soviet spy Alger Hiss, whom journalists and biographers suggest was not much more than a mid-level State Department staffer at the momentous 1945 wartime Yalta conference, which found FDR accommodating Stalin on virtually every critical post-war issue. In one of their most illuminating chapters, Evans and Romerstein explode the myth that Hiss was just a bit player. He had, in fact, a dominant role, dealing virtually as an equal with foreign ministers and speaking authoritatively for the American government on such crucial topics as the future of Germany and post-war policy in general. Hiss, along with others, even had meetings with the President himself.

Then Secretary of State Edward Stettinius confirmed this remarkable–and previously untold–story in his personal papers and discussions with Walter Johnson, who helped draft Stettinius’s memoirs.  The authors unveil more startling news: that it was the Communist Hiss–contrary to Hiss’s denials–who placed the subject of post-war China on the table on the eve of the Crimean conference with Stalin, Churchill and FDR. Hiss informed the British that the U.S. was committed to having the anti-Communist regime of Chiang Kai-shek coalesce with his Red foes –a policy that proved catastrophic for Chiang but was resolutely pushed by Hiss’s fellow conspirators strategically placed throughout our most important governmental institutions.

The book also raises a most interesting question: How come FDR, who apparently had never dealt directly with Hiss or known him personally, urged Stettinius to bring Hiss to the conference? Historians will have to plumb this most intriguing mystery, but a most plausible explanation is that it was one of the swarm of secret Soviet agents channeling policy options to the President. New light is also shed by the authors on how Communist agents, through a variety of tactics, were able to rig data that fatally undermined anti-Communist leaders friendly to the West.  China’s Chiang Kai-shek, Yugoslavia’s Draza Mihailovich and the leaders of a free Poland were clearly victims of such insidious disinformation plots, relentlessly echoed by pro-Communist elements in our government and in the media.

Wherever FDR seemed to turn, as the authors document, he was absorbing data furnished by pro-Soviet advisers constantly at his elbow. They, in turn, were gleaning information >  from Soviet spies and Stalin enthusiasts firmly lodged in the Foreign Service and in such powerful wartime agencies as the U.S. Treasury, the Office of War Information and the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services. At one point, the Treasury Department harbored at least a dozen Communist agents, including Soviet spies Harry Dexter White and Solomon Adler, who were clearly manipulating the non-Communist Treasury chief, Henry Morganthau, on topics ranging from China to slave labor to a plan to neuter a post-war, de-Nazified Germany so it could never challenge Soviet power in Europe.

The chapter on Pearl Harbor is likewise instructive as to how Soviet agents operated. Japan seriously considered an attack on Russia, but Stalin’s agents in the Japanese government and in the highly efficient Sorge spy ring on the island nation helped persuade Imperial Japan to turn its aggression “elsewhere.” That “elsewhere” eventually turned out to be Pearl Harbor. Stalin’s acolytes in the U.S. were simultaneously pushing a foreign policy against Japan that would lead the Japanese away from any designs on Siberia and toward conflict with America.

How did this massive penetration and policy twisting occur? Deception, Evans mentioned at a recent lecture, succeeds best when people want to be deceived. Franklin Roosevelt’s willful blindness to Stalin’s malignant goals, aggravated by the President’s health problems, was clearly a major cause. FDR saw what he wanted to see: that Josef Stalin liked him and would cooperate in preserving a peaceful and just world. That mindset went hand-in-hand with a New Deal bureaucracy chock-a-block with Soviet agents, Communist party members and ardent Stalinist sympathizers, including two FDR confidants, Lauchlin Currie and Harry Hopkins, FDR’s most trusted friend who for several years lived at the White House.

Nor does this begin to exhaust the revelations in “Stalin’s Secret Agents”. The authors, themselves experts on Soviet subversion, detail how the Truman Administration successfully blocked or sabotaged two investigations of Communist infiltration, including a New York grand jury’s probe of ex-Communist courier Elizabeth Bentley’s sworn charges in 1947  against some 40 people, many of whom had been– or were still–working for the U.S. government. (Subsequent investigation has proved the accuracy of her testimony.) The result was that these deadly enemies of the United States walked and the public was shielded from revelations that would have greatly deepened its understanding of the Red conspiracy in America.

All this and more can be found in this very readable–and very well documented–book.

Based in Washington, D.C., Mr. Vernon is a professional writer and a veteran broadcast journalist.

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