STALIN’S SECRET AGENTS:
The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government
by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein
(New York: Threshold Editions)
Paperback: 304 pages
Reviewed by Mervyn F. Bendle
Franklin D. Roosevelt was a very sick man at Yalta, the February 1945 conference between the American President, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that defined the post-war world and the shape of the Cold War to come.
Various commentators noted Roosevelt’s bleary-eyed, slack-jawed appearance, captured in a revealing photograph reproduced in this interesting book (p.33). Others were aghast at his flimsy grasp of the momentous issues that were being addressed and at the way Stalin was so easily able to manipulate him.
Ironically, Roosevelt had allowed himself to be convinced by his senior advisers that he had Stalin’s measure. He sought always to align himself with the Soviet dictator, whom he described as a “Christian gentleman” (p.21), and against Churchill in a pathetic and futile attempt to curry favour with Stalin. He told Churchill bluntly that “Stalin hates the guts of all your people”, and that he could personally handle Stalin best.
He also took to taunting Churchill, and recalled how “I began to tease Churchill [and] kept it up until Stalin was laughing with me, and it was then that I called him ‘Uncle Joe’” (p.23). He adopted the Soviet view of world affairs and denounced Britain as an imperialist and colonialist power.
When Stalin insisted that the first thing that needed to be done at the end of the war was to summarily shoot 50,000 Germans, and Churchill objected, Roosevelt suggested sarcastically that perhaps they could compromise on 49,500. Kept in a cocoon of confidence by his advisers, the President had no idea that the Soviets had bugged his quarters at Yalta, and that Stalin would begin breakfast each morning by reading a transcript of Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s private discussions from the previous night.
Tragically for the free world, Roosevelt also had no idea that he was surrounded by officials hand-picked to misinform and mislead him in these crucial negotiations, a situation repeated at the other vital conferences at the time.
Most of these were communist fellow-travellers and agents of influence, but many were actual Soviet agents. Their identities and activities were eventually exposed through such counter-intelligence programs as the Venona project run by the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Service and by the exposés and memoirs of ex-agents, and this material forms the backbone of this book. It is supported by the monumental work by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West (2000).
Although dozens of these agents are listed and discussed in this book, the pivotal figures were Harry Hopkins, Harry Dexter White and Alger Hiss. Hopkins was a life-long leftist and ex-social worker who had gained Roosevelt’s favour through his administration of several New Deal job-creation schemes. Hopkins came to wield more influence over the President than the Cabinet and he was a key ally of Eleanor Roosevelt, who also championed radical causes.
From left to right: Harry Dexter White, Alger Hiss and Harry Hopkins.
Hopkins even came to live at the White House where he entered into an affair with the President’s private secretary. And it was Hopkins who convinced Roosevelt that he and Stalin shared a special bond, a proposition later derided by the American diplomat and expert on Soviet affairs, George F. Kennan, and belied by everything known about Stalin’s unrelieved treachery towards friends and foes alike, including the Americans once the war was over.
When America entered the war, Hopkins was appointed to liaise with the Soviets and used his un-excelled influence over Roosevelt to ensure that American economic and military policy always favoured Moscow. Crucially, he gained control of the vast Lend-Lease program and made sure not only that it was extended to the USSR but that the USSR also received the majority of the aid. He also championed Soviet interests in every major issue that the Roosevelt administration faced.
As the authors discuss (pp.116-117), Hopkins worked hard to obscure Soviet culpability for the 1940 Katyn Forest massacres of some 22,000 Polish army officers, teachers, professionals and intellectuals; and he facilitated the Soviet betrayal of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising by blocking crucial military aid. As a result, around 20,000 resistance fighters were killed and 200,000 civilians died in systematic executions by the Nazis after the Poles had been encouraged by the Soviets to rise up. The Soviets were happy to see the destruction of all Polish forces that would have resisted their own impending invasion and occupation.
The profound long-term importance of the geopolitical issues being addressed at the time is also exemplified by the Morgenthau Plan, which Hopkins strongly supported because it catered for Moscow’s strategic interests. This draconian plan was developed by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr and his assistant Harry Dexter White, who was a veteran Soviet agent. It proposed the complete post-war de-industrialisation of Germany and its systematic transformation into a simple agrarian society. As the book explains, this “would have reduced a population of 70 million to bare subsistence … and ensured that there would be no nation on the continent that could hinder the growth of Soviet power” (p.177).
In response to criticism that this would entail mass misery, famine and even the elimination of some 25 million Germans, Morgenthau declared that “he couldn’t care less … and that levelling [Germany’s] economy to the ground was worth doing whatever the cost in human suffering” (p.181). Subsequently, at the 1944 Anglo-American summit conference in Quebec, Morgenthau gained Roosevelt’s approval of the plan, along with that of Churchill, who was enticed into signing by Treasury’s promise of a US$6.5 billion dollar post-war loan.
The alternative position, which accorded much more with America’s (and Western Europe’s) strategic interests, was promoted by the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson. This involved the de-Nazification and democratisation of Germany as a Western ally and its development as a buffer state against Soviet expansionism. Morgenthau ridiculed such views as “warmongering” and complained to Hopkins that Stimson “didn’t have the guts” to just admit he was anti-Soviet (p.177).
As it turned out, Stimson prevailed in this vital dispute, after he confronted Roosevelt and detailed the implications of the plan he had approved. In a revealing example of Roosevelt’s failing capacity to deal with such profound issues, Stimson recalls the President conceding that he was “frankly staggered by this and said he had no idea how he could have initialled this; that he had evidently done it without much thought” (p.183), a simply incredible admission.
Undeterred, Morgenthau and White arranged for a directive to be given to the American occupying forces in Germany prohibiting all efforts at economic rehabilitation or assistance. Instead, they promoted the view that everything possible had to be done to develop the USSR, irrespective of the cost, and even favoured Moscow’s proposal that post-war reparations include the transfer of millions of Germans there to be used as slave labour. When this came under criticism from Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson as a war crime in the making, the Treasury response was to complain that failure to deliver on the plan would look bad to the Soviets, “the evident meaning of which was that slave labour for Russia had to be sanctioned by the United States to keep from offending Moscow” (p.190).
Alger Hiss went to Yalta at Roosevelt’s direction after Hopkins insisted he accompany them. Hiss’s attendance was quite unusual as he was a comparatively junior figure in the State Department, Roosevelt had never met him, and many other more senior officials were passed over. Hiss was later revealed to be a Soviet agent, but at Yalta “there were few subjects … on which Hiss wasn’t a significant player” (p.43), ensuring outcomes favourable to Moscow.
One notable occasion involved Hiss promoting the role of the Comintern in China, an intervention that would later be revealed to be highly significant after the Communist takeover of China. Hiss also acted as a key American negotiator on other important matters, including the French occupation zone in post-war Germany, German slave labour, voting arrangements for the United Nations, and even the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe.
Given the tragic results of the work of Hopkins, White, Hiss and many other less prominent Soviet agents, it is cold comfort to recall that both Hopkins and White died within a few years of the end of the war and that Hiss was exposed and later convicted on perjury charges, for which he served a short sentence, the statute of limitations having expired on his espionage activities.
On the other hand, it is alarming also to recall that Roosevelt was grooming Hopkins to succeed him as President and that White was the architect and director of the International Monetary Fund. Hiss became and remained a cause célèbre of the international left right through the Cold War and until his death in 1996. Overall, most of the Soviet agents discussed in this book evaded any significant punishment, despite the damage caused by their misplaced idealism and criminal behaviour.
Evans and Romerstein have produced a very useful book, and one that is more accessible than The Mitrokhin Archive, which nevertheless buttresses their arguments and itself remains the definitive text on the penetration of Western political and cultural institutions by the KGB and other Soviet espionage agencies.
Such exposés illustrate the vulnerability of these institutions and particularly the susceptibility of political leaders in liberal democracies, where they must rely on many policy advisers with their own agendas, and frequently have little time (or inclination or capacity) to develop a deep knowledge of the many crucial issues on which they have to pass judgment.
Dr Mervyn Bendle is a former academic. He writes frequently for Quadrant magazine.