President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s most powerful assistant was a “conscious Soviet agent,” according to a new book that details how Harry Hopkins and others in FDR’s administration revealed U.S. secrets — and influenced American policy — to help Josef Stalin‘s Communist dictatorship.
Hopkins went so far as to alert Soviet officials about FBI surveillance that had discovered a Communist agent’s role in what proved to be the U.S.S.R.’s plan to steal atom-bomb secrets from the Manhattan Project, author Diana West explains in her new book, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character.
“If Harry Hopkins, the top aide to President Roosevelt, was indeed a conscious agent … what does this say about Roosevelt?” West said Tuesday, describing the “implications” of Hopkins’s role in shaping FDR’s domestic and foreign policy agenda. “History as we know it completely unravels.”
Since the 1990s, when the U.S. declassified its “Venona” decodings of secret Soviet cable messages, several Cold War historians have suspected that Hopkins was the agent identified in the cables as “Source 19,” who in 1943 provided the Kremlin with details of a private top-secret conversation between Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. No official in FDR’s White House had as much access to the President as Hopkins, and West’s book cites extensive evidence from both Russian and U.S. sources to chronicle Hopkins’s role as the most influential of those who pushed American policy in a pro-Soviet direction during Roosevelt’s presidency.
Known to history primarily as an architect of FDR’s New Deal economic policies, Hopkins died in 1946, before investigations of Communist subversion and espionage exposed traitors like State Department official Alger Hiss and atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. As director of Lend-Lease policy, Hopkins’s pro-Soviet leanings were no secret during World War II, when the U.S. was allied with the U.S.S.R. against Hitler’s Germany, and an August 1943 article in the New Yorker described Hopkins as “an articulate propagandist for all-out aid to the Russians.”
Yet the presidential aide’s influence became the subject of controversy in 1949, when a U.S. Army officer who had worked in the Lend-Lease program, Maj. George R. Jordan, testified to Congress that wartime shipments to Russia approved by Hopkins included uranium and other materials necessary to the development of atomic weapons. Jordan testified that the Soviets also used Lend-Lease shipments to smuggle back to Moscow classified U.S. documents about the top-secret Manhattan Project. Much of Jordan’s testimony about the flow of stolen secrets to Moscow was corroborated by Victor Kravchenko, a Soviet official who defected in 1944 — and whom Hopkins unsuccessfully sought to have handed back over to the Russians.
Further evidence indicating Hopkins’s status as a Soviet agent emerged in the 1990s with the defection of KGB agent Oleg Gordievsky, the declassification of the Venona decryptions, and the publication of KGB documents smuggled out of Russia by former Soviet intelligence officer Vasili Mitrokhin. In a 1990 book, Gordiesvsky said that a top KGB official, Iskhak Akhmerov, described Hopkins as “the most important of all Soviet wartime agents in the United States.”
“Defenders of Hopkins have been trying to dance around it ever since,” said conservative author M. Stanton Evans, who last year published Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government, co-authored with former U.S. counter-intelligence expert Herbert Romerstein. Evans said in a telephone interview that Romerstein, who died last month, “said definitively that Hopkins was a Soviet agent.”
Despite the post-Cold War revelations, many biographers and historians continue “whitewashing” Hopkins’s record, Evans said. Controversy is likely to continue because unlike those Evans calls “slam dunk cases” like Hiss and other Roosevelt administration figures including Lauchlin Currie and Harry Dexter White — where the Venona messages and other proof clearly identifies them as Soviet agents — the evidence pointing to Hopkins as “Source 19″ is subject to interpretation. Other possibilities, including State Department official Laurence Duggan, have been suggested as “Source 19,” although Evans said, “I don’t buy it.”
Some have argued that Hopkins was an unwitting agent who didn’t realize he was being used by Stalin to influence U.S. policy. However, Evans noted Hopkins’s connections to other known or suspected Soviet agents, including his onetime assistant David Niles, who was mentioned in the Venona cables as helping two KGB agents obtain U.S. visas. But perhaps the most damning evidence is how Hopkins tipped the Soviets in 1943 to the FBI’s surveillance of Communist espionage activity.
A confidential message from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, reproduced in West’s new book, told Hopkins that a “continuing” investigation had discovered that Russian diplomat (and Comintern agent) Vasily Zarubin had made a payment to U.S. Communist Party official Steve Nelson to help place espionage agents “in industries engaged in secret war production … so that information could be obtained for transmittal to the Soviet Union.” This information had come from a “bug” at Nelson’s home in Oakland, California, through which the FBI first learned of the Soviet effort (code-named “Enormous”) to obtain the atomic secrets of the Manhattan Project. Instead of warning President Roosevelt, however, Hopkins “privately warned the Soviet embassy in Washington that the FBI had bugged a secret meeting” between Nelson and Zarubin, according to documents from the KGB archives smuggled out by Mitrokhin.
West’s new book — praised by Evans as “explosive” — extends far beyond Hopkins to survey not only the history of Soviet penetration of the American government in the 1930s and ’40s, but also the intense effort to prevent exposure of the secret agents who served Stalin’s dictatorship while on the U.S. payroll. That effort has continued even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the revelations from Russian and American sources that confirm the testimony of such ex-Communist witnesses as Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley.
“While this story is political and historical, it is also moral and cultural,” West said. “Not only is there is a major rewrite of history in order, there are some major wrongs that need to be righted — wrongs to our great witnesses and investigators, our truth-tellers, including of course Sen. Joe McCarthy. Only in this way, I believe, do we get a chance at returning even just closer to a moral universe of right and wrong, black and white, truth and lie.”
Like McCarthy, who has been demonized as a “witch hunter,” others who told the truth about Communism were smeared and dishonored, West said, while Soviet agents who betrayed their country are celebrated as heroes.
“Is there a statue to Bentley at her alma mater Vassar? … Of course not. There is, however, the Alger Hiss Professor of Social Studies at Bard College.” This history “is not taught to Americans and is not known to Americans,” West said, because “the people who do know it would never be permitted to teach it on our campuses.” West said the resulting distortions of history have consequences.
“There is also an urgent relevance in terms of current national security,” West said. “The lies about Communism and Communist influence operations then and the lies about Islam and Islamic influence operations now are striking, as I note throughout the book. The most frightening aspects of this are not due to the challenges posed by staving off threats to liberty from another collectivist totalitarian ideology, but rather by the greater threat posed by the spectacle of the U.S. government lying to the American people about Islam today as it once lied about Communism.”