Communist spies, willing collaborators, benevolent enablers, progressive dupes, lazy bureaucrats, and useful idiots abound in M. Stanton Evans and Herb Romerstein’s Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government. The authors are interested in “the oft-neglected link between pro-Communist infiltration of the federal government on the one hand and calamitous policy outcomes on the other.” They admit that their evidence is “fragmentary and episodic” but it is solid enough to warrant serious accusations about a massive failure to protect U.S. national interest by our elected and appointed officials before, during, and after the Second World War. Therefore, the real anti-heroes of this superb and hard-hitting expose are agents of influence. The latter often overlap with spies. Spying was a serious threat, as most of us have been forced to admit since the implosion of Communism from 1989. However, “policy influence was by far the leading problem” in the United States. Espionage “did occur, but generally speaking was subordinate to the overarching Communist goal of influencing U.S. policy in favor of the Soviet interest.”
According to Evans and Romerstein, “the frontier between espionage and policy influence was often murky.” Spies performed illegitimate tasks surreptitiously; agents of influence carried out their assignments openly, as legitimate U.S. government actions. Both concealed their secret foreign allegiance and their mission objective. Both deceived. However, the spies deceived to remain invisible as they stole the nation’s secrets. The agents of influence deceived to remain visible as they rob the nation’s soul. They tricked America into collusion with the crimes of Communism.
Whereas plenty of Soviet spooks have been exposed, the activities of the agents of influence have been largely glossed over in embarrassing silence. Why? Well, conventional spying can be detected through classic counterintelligence measures. We further countered the Soviet espionage effort through code-breaking, notably Venona. Thus, we have been able to name names with a great deal of accuracy and certitude.
But it is almost hopeless to detect and identify agents of influence. Why? There are at least six reasons. First, we are a free democratic society and usually conduct our business in the open, treating lies as a sin, or at least a condemnable deviation from our customary openness and transparency. However, “in the Soviet world, deception was an everyday occurrence, used in peace as well as war, aimed at both foes and allies and fine-tuned to the level of a science. Such methods were for the Communists a matter of doctrine.” Thus, the Americans who turned Communist rejected their native heritage and embraced a modus operandi of an alien, antithetical civilization, which gave them an enormous advantage in their surreptitious operations.
Second, the American democratic system is predicated on freedom which seriously limits the ability to penalize one’s views or opinions. Hunting spies is different than witch hunting dissenters. And the Soviet agents of influence invariably donned the garb of legitimate American progressives. They were New Dealers in a hurry, you see. The ideological overlap and community of goals between our domestic leftism and Muscovite Communism was purely coincidental, of course.
Third, the Kremlin’s agents of influence did not need handlers and direct supervision, or at least not much. They worked on a cue, paying close attention to the zig zags of Soviet foreign policy and staying alertly attuned to the timber of its propaganda. By stealth they would influence Washington’s foreign affairs in congruence with the interests of Moscow. And the NKVD/KGB oversight was minimal. In essence, after the initial period, Pavlov’s dog did not require a handler, but a bell. A general signal prompted the Red collective to salivate in congruence with Moscow’s goals.
Further, fourth, to ply his vile trade, an agent of influence only had to justify his actions in a manner that would appear legitimate within the context of our democratic ways. The subversive Communist message and objective must sound mainstream liberal and progressive. This was rather easy. One needed only to dress up his pro-Soviet message with a few platitudes about social progress, equality, peace, tolerance, and the heritage of the American Revolution.
Thus, fifth, Stalin’s agents of influence could prosper undetected because of our freedom and democracy. America was free. Hence, Americans were free to profess any ideology whatsoever. Since there was practically no discrimination, the federal bureaucracy could hire whomever. Since it was infiltrated with the Communists, it hired the comrades. And the likeminded tend to congregate together. As a matter of course, networks form within the administration to protect their own. This ubiquitous mechanism was particularly insidious because network members and beneficiaries subscribed to a dogma inimical to the American system of the government, Communism. But it would not have happened to the extent that it did without the Enabler in Chief himself: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his liberal entourage, including, inter alia, his wife Eleanore, Vice President Henry Wallace, and the President’s top advisor and intimate friend Harry Hopkins (“throughout the war years, Moscow had no better official U.S. friend than Hopkins,”) in the White House.
Consequently, the Reds infiltrated our government during the 1930s and 1940s to a mind boggling extent. They networked suavely with one another, deceived shamelessly the public, and skillfully outmaneuvered their detractors. They hired, promoted, awarded, and cleared themselves. The Communists operated “in the interlocking fashion common in these circles.” At first they congregated in various federal institutions mainly related to labor and economics. During the Second World War they were active, chiefly, at the State Department, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Office of War Information (OWI), and the Treasury Department, where they controlled the purse strings.
Perversely, the Reds and pinks used the U.S. taxpayer’s money to achieve the Soviet leadership’s goals, even as extreme as the rustification of Germany (so-called Morgenthau Plan), shooting of German POWs, kidnapping Soviet citizens and others from Europe for slave labor in the Gulag. This was shameless human trafficking. There were other similarly vile undertakings. Perhaps the most egregious single operation enabled Stalin to divert “American Lend-Lease supplies shipped to Russia via the Pacific to the control of the Japanese, in exchange for materials Moscow was receiving from Japan.” Arguably the most lethal, aside from enabling the Soviets to steal our nuclear secrets, was a joint action by Stalin’s agents in America and Japan to deflect Tokyo’s aggression from the USSR and, instead, to channel it against the United States and our Western Allies: “Thus did the policies promoted in official U.S. circles by [Harry Dexter] White, [Lauchlin] Currie, and [Owen] Lattimore dovetail with those advanced by the [Richard] Sorge-[Hotsumi] Ozaki network in Japan – all converging toward the result that there would be no American-Japanese rapprochement and, even more to the point, no Japanese attack on Russia.”
When confronted, the Communists brazenly denied their Soviet affiliation. Those were not secret party cells; they were innocuous “study groups” (which, in reality, “might have several different functions, ranging from discussion of philosophical issues to pro-Red propaganda to covert subversive action.” When caught red-handed, the Reds played innocent, called in favors, used influence, pulled strings, rigged juries, and committed Rufmord. They also superbly manipulated America’s democratic system. One of the most egregious cases of Red influence was the Amerasia scandal of 1945. After several Communist spies were caught, most of them were promptly set free because of a failure of the Justice Department to do its duty. This was “a felonious conspiracy to break the law, dupe the public, and cover up a case of pro-Red spying… The suppression of the case was the result of a plot among U.S. officials to rig the grand jury process and falsify the legal and historical record.” Most of the facilitators of this shocking miscarriage of justice were not Communists: “these were the officials who by their complicity or indifference had let the penetration happen.”
As the authors remind us, because of the “interactive, global nature” of Communism, the Reds inflicted upon the free world an integrated strategy of enormously subversive intensity. Thus, to back its mignons, Moscow deployed not only a whole arsenal of active measures, propaganda in particular, but, occasionally, resorted to violence: kidnapping and even assassination. And the Communists were aided by other sympathizers operating outside of the U.S. government, for example do-gooder Raymond Robins, oligarch Armand Hammer, and journalist Walter Duranty.
There were plenty of willing pro-Soviet helpers “in academic institutions, lobby groups, civic organizations, and think tanks… the importance of this outside activity was that it helped create a climate of opinion and set forth an alleged body of empirical data that prepared the way for pro-Red policy makers in federal office. Likewise, once a policy of such nature was adopted, sympathetic media spokesmen could help publicize and promote it, while attacking the views and reputation of people who wanted to move in other directions.” The agents worked in concert, subconsciously and consciously synchronized to the chimes of the Kremlin.
The pro-Red media reinforced dispatches from secret Communist agents whose day job was in FDR’s government. For example, a Soviet spy in our intelligence community excoriated Yugoslav pro-Western resistance “as collaborators with the Axis and traitors to the Allies,” while he “compared the Communists to the American Revolution, [and] said that they believed in democratic freedoms.” In another instance, Red assets led us to believe that “the U.S. Poles were… too Catholic, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Soviet, and hence a threat to unity with the Kremlin.” Sentiments like this immediately insinuated themselves into popular press, radio, and Hollywood.
According to Evans and Romerstein, “a propaganda tactic in which the Reds specialized was to accuse their foes of what they themselves were doing.” And, of course, “noteworthy also was the Communist penchant for branding opponents as fascists or Nazis”, or “feudal” like most notably the Polish government-in-exile, Yugoslav monarchist underground of Draza Mihailovic, and Chinese Nationalist forces under Chang Kai Shek. But similar invective applied also to the intrepid Americans like Rear Admiral Adolphus Staton who saw the Red menace clearly and refused to compromise our security standards after 1941 by implementing the infamous order that “the United States was bound not to oppose the activities of the Communist Party.” His career was put in serious jeopardy.
Strangely, mainstream academia either ignores the issue of pro-Soviet political influence as inconsequential or avoids it altogether. Part of it has to do with the fact that the Communists and their fellow travelers framed the discourse over half a century ago and that poisonous legacy continues to influence our perception of the 1930s and 1940s. “Red deceptions and obfuscations would repeatedly confuse the issues and distort the record – and continue to do so even now.”. In fact, “pro-Moscow falsehoods were recited so widely and so often, from such a seemingly diverse array of sources, as to become embedded in the historical record, often going unchallenged by Western journalists and authors… Cold War falsehoods are passed on by writers who apparently don’t know that they’re recycling disinformation.” Scholars tend to repeat the New Deal pattern of deception rather than disentangle the Komintern web of conspiracies. Thus, “the cause of historical truth…[is] eroded by an ongoing process of falsification, corruption, and inversion.” What amounts to a habitual and reflexive cover up requires apologetic contortions of the highest skill. Most scholars seem uncomfortable at the perspective of being branded as conspiracy theorists. Well, writing about the Cold War one enters a clandestine world of deception and denial and, thus, by the force of inertia, one must become a historian of conspiracies. What’s wrong with that? This is vastly different from sinking into the morass of conspiracy theories. Cold War studies should be about conspiracy practice, somewhat documented, but mostly neglected until the advent of Evans and Romerstein’s herculean efforts spanning decades of research and instruction.
Alas, illogically and fatally, most scholars remain in denial. Should we care that “all three of the Treasury staffers… advising [Henry] Morgenthau to undercut the [Chinese] Nationalist leader [Chang Kai Shek] were Soviet secret agents”? Was it inconsequential at Yalta that GRU asset Alger Hiss was put in charge of all cable traffic between Roosevelt and the State Department? Or that he later adjudicated “the Polish boundary” issue to Moscow’s benefit? Did it matter that NKVD agent Lauchlin Currie was the President’s executive assistant there? Of course all this was crucial to American policy. It does matter who briefed the Commander in Chief. Why was the outcome of Yalta so inimical to the West? Looking at the final results, “nothing could have been further from the oft-stated aims” of the Western Allies. That is also because “in some cases, the President’s staffers simply took things into their own hands, making decisions in his name without his knowledge.”
Similarly, it was extremely important that it was Hopkins who handled the cover up of the Katyn forest massacre of Polish POWs by Stalin’s NKVD and the denial of aid to the Polish underground fighting in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Further, “a key member of Hopkins staff would hinder efforts by anti-Communist Polish-Americans to protest the communization of their ancestral country.” Ultimately, the pro-Soviet agentura within the State Department and the White House gave Poland to Stalin, plain and simple. “The cover-up of Katyn, important as it was, would be far exceeded in strategic impact by what occurred at Yalta.” As a result, according to Evans and Romerstein, “the Soviets imposed a brutal Red regime in Poland and the United States stood back and let it happen.” And that’s just the tip of an iceberg. The Soviets won most diplomatic engagements from before the Teheran summit through Lend Lease to Potsdam. No wonder; they were playing with marked cards.
“Hundreds of Soviet agents, Communist Party members, and fellow travelers, were ensconced on official payrolls.” They made sure that “the impending dominance of Soviet power in Europe was not something to be combated, deplored, or counterbalanced, but rather an outcome to be accommodated and assisted.” According to a document presented to the President by Hopkins, “since Russia is the decisive factor in the war, she must be given every assistance and every effort must be made to obtain her friendship.” And this is genius. Let us pretend that we are merely pragmatists, expediting the Allied victory over Hitler, rather than the goals of Stalin.
Thus, we witnessed a convergence of personal grudges, liberal prejudices, and Communist objectives, as, for example, in the “[General George] Marshall-[General Joseph] Stillwell linkage” on China which almost led to a White House authorized assassination of Chang Kai Shek. And it really does not matter whether, say, Hopkins was a “conscious” or “unconscious” agent of the Kremlin. “The pro-Soviet policies advanced by Hopkins would be of the same effect, and as calamitous for free world interests.” Same applies to others. Of course, the Soviet agents of influence were greatly assisted by the mortal sickness of FDR, and by the Enabler in Chief’s naïveté: “If I give him [Stalin] everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work for world democracy and peace.” Spoken like a true useful idiot himself.
There are a few inconsequential snags in the Evans-Romerstein narrative, like a tidbit about Poland’s secret anti-Communist Freedom and Independence (WiN) being a KGB avatar. In fact, a fake WiN command was established only after the real WiN had been crushed after several years of fighting the Reds without any Western assistance. When the U.S. became interested, the freedom fighters were alas mostly dead and the CIA was deceived by Communist agents. But that is really minor.
The greatest achievement of the authors is to have debunked a long held prejudice about the non-existence of the Red threat, or, as they put it, “an established narrative about our domestic Cold War and related security matters, the main theme of which is that the internal Communist problem was vastly overstated, if not entirely nonexistent, and that the people accused as infiltrators were innocent victims.” They were guilty as sin and they seriously undermined the United States of America by aiding and abetting Stalin, while enhancing the power and influence of the Soviet Union. Americans tend to overlook it because “as with the case of spying versus policy influence, we seemed incapable of gauging the threat we faced unless it was presented in the most explicit and glaring fashion.”
All those interested in 20th Century geopolitical history can by reading Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government easily arrive at the conclusion, well documented as it is, that the former Soviet Union, through its infiltration and networking of the American government over the decades, has exerted the greatest influence of any foreign power over U.S. policy – both foreign and domestic – inuring to its favor, including the alteration of the Constitution by political and judicial means contrary to the intentions of the Founders.
Ably combining cutting-edge scholarship, investigative journalism, and anti-Communist punditry, my good friend and colleague Herb Romerstein and his esteemed partner M. Stanton Evans never disappoint. Another disclaimer: not only do I know the authors, I also helped some with the research. Kudos to the duo, in particular Evans, who stubbornly saw the project through despite Romerstein’s serious illness.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics , A Graduate School of National Security and International Affairs in Washington, DC, where he also holds the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies. Professor Chodakiewicz is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.