A FORGOTTEN SPY CASE
Nov 27, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 11 • By DONALD LYONS
On a recent Charlie Rose program, New York Times columnist Abe Rosenthal's anxieties about the aggressive expansionism of China were " balanced" by a young Asian woman, Alice Young, who denounced such fears as imperialist and expressed doubt that China was even worth worrying about. Don't forget the Cold War, she warned, when we were frightened of something we now know didn't exist. This is the old anti-anti-Communist line in a nutshell: The Cold War was an excuse for McCarthyite persecution of idealistic progressives at home and an alibi for defense buildups and interventions against a chimerical Red Empire abroad.
Nothing defined the early Cold War times so much as spectacular spy cases, the very first of which -- the forgotten story of Amerasia magazine -- gets an airing in The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism by Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh (University of North Carolina Press, 266 pages, $ 29.95). Klehr is the coauthor of The Secret FYorld of American Communism, which once and for all demonstrated that the American Communist party was primarily an arm of Soviet espionage; Radosh is co-author of The Rosenberg File, whose damning conclusions about the executed couple have been confirmed by recent decodings of Soviet material. With their eyes wide open about American Communists and sympathizers, the writers have an amazing tale to tell.
In 1936, radical socialire Frederick Vanderbilt Field and the Institute for Pacific Relations started a new magazine, Amerasia, a left-leaning journal about China. Field appointed one-time greeting-card manufacturer and maverick never-quite-Communist China specialist Philip Jaffe as editor. In 1937, Jaffe made an enthusiastic tour of the Communist-held part of China. By 1941, Field had withdrawn his financial support from Amerasia and World War II had cut off the receipt of propaganda from China. By 1944, Jaffe and assistant Kate Mitchell were writing the whole mag, which cost a then-substantial 15 cents and was printed on good glossy paper, by themselves.
Desperate for filler, Jaffe began going to Washington to cultivate sources. He met Lt. Andrew Roth, the Naval Intelligence liaison to the State Department -- a lefty Asia hand whose hobby was Japanese communism. Roth introduced Jaffe to Emmanuel Larsen, a civilian "China expert" who worked at State. Larsen started giving Jaffe official China documents, which Jaffe published virtually verbatim. For example, the January 26, 1945, issue of Amerasia contained a top-secret and potentially damaging report on the details of the anti-Japanese Thai resistance movement.
This reckless publishing policy came to the notice of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, whose chief investigator Frank Bielaski promptly put the Amerasia office at 225 Fifth Ave. under surveillance. On Sunday night, March 11, 1945, the OSS entered the empty but messy office, finding a well-equipped darkroom and photocopies of some 20 top- secret government documents.
Bielaski's men took a few with them to Washington. On March 14, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal gave the case to the FBI, which began trailing, bugging, and phone-tapping Jaffe.
On April 19, 1945, the FBI x. Jtapped a hotel-room meeting between Jaffe and John Stewart Service, a brilliant upper-level State Department China hand, the China-born child of missionaries and Berkeley graduate who'd been the American liaison -- and an increas, ingly critical one -- at the corrupt court of Chiang Kai-Shek until six days before. Service saw the Chinese Reds as devoted to "agrarian reform, civil rights, the establishment of democratic institutions" the same Chinese Reds soon tO inaugurate one of the three most homicidal tyrannies in human history.