The Magazine

Stalin's Agents

None dare call it spying

Dec 25, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 15 • By ROBERT D. NOVAK
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The president's most trusted adviser is a Soviet agent. The nation's leading nuclear scientist is turning secrets over to the Kremlin. The entire federal government is honeycombed with Communists. American intelligence agencies are infested with Russian spies. Soviet agents are working in the offices of renowned American columnists, and one beloved journalist is actually on Moscow's payroll.


This isn't the plot of a second-rate spy thriller. This is the actual truth about the astounding Soviet penetration of the United States during Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, as carefully researched and dispassionately presented by Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel in The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors.


The book was nearly completed when Breindel, who had served more than a decade as the editorial page editor of the New York Post, died in 1998 at the age of forty-two. Romerstein, an expert for the United States Information Agency and congressional committees on Soviet espionage and disinformation, finished the book.


Getting it published, however, proved no easy task. A mainstream publishing firm voided its contract -- on the pretext of Breindel's death, but in reality because it could not deal with the exposure as traitors of such icons of the "greatest generation" as Harry Hopkins and J. Robert Oppenheimer. The conservative publisher Regnery stepped in to prevent The Venona Secrets from being spiked, but what is still in question is whether this work will get the attention it deserves.


The inspiration of this book was the release by the National Security Agency of intercepted and decrypted communications between Soviet spies and their spymasters. Given the code name "Venona," these messages, Romerstein and Breindel write, "are the mortar that holds together information from Soviet archives and U.S. government investigations. Together, they give a clear picture of Soviet World War II espionage against the United States." The impact of Moscow's effort was profound. Soviet influence in the Roosevelt administration is shown killing any chance for an early Nazi surrender to the Western allies. It hastened the Kremlin's development of the atom bomb, permitting Stalin to give the green light to the Communist invasion of South Korea. The result in each instance was heavy loss of life by American soldiers.


The Venona files have settled many arguments once and for all, silencing liberal claims that had persisted for half a century. The decrypted messages prove that Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg genuinely were spies. The first 1995 Venona release "sent shock waves through the ranks of the Rosenberg defenders." It also vindicates the two early sources about Communist espionage, Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley. These former spies had become government witnesses after years of soul-searching, "only to be called liars by the Left and vilified in numerous books and articles." The Venona Secrets also demolishes the old liberal saw that the Communist Party USA was just another political party. "Venona shows that most of the agents working for the NKVD during World War II were members of the Communist party; some were Party officials." That included party leaders Earl Browder and Eugene Dennis.


But Romerstein and Breindel combine the Venona files with other sources to make bold assertions. None is bolder than their treatment of Roosevelt's confidant Harry Hopkins, who has been canonized by mainstream historians as a hero gallantly battling chronic illness in the cause of winning the war.


In a section headed "Harry Hopkins -- Soviet Spy," the president's top adviser is shown lobbying relentlessly to give tons of uranium to the Kremlin. When Soviet official Victor Kravchenko defected in Washington in 1945, Hopkins pleaded with Roosevelt to send him back to Russia. Instead of presenting to Stalin the American desire for a free Poland, Hopkins told the Soviet dictator "that the United States would desire a Poland friendly to the Soviet Union."


Hopkins's role was truly remarkable. Janet Ross, Moscow correspondent for the Communist Daily Worker, was an NKVD agent who in 1943 reported U.S. ambassador William Standley's criticism of Soviet policy made to a small group of American journalists. Only two days later, Hopkins "pressed for the removal of Ambassador Standley on the grounds that the ambassador had lost Stalin's confidence." Hopkins earlier had insisted, over the objections of Army intelligence, on sending pro-Soviet military officer Philip Faymonville (called by his colleagues the "Red Colonel") to Moscow as a lend-lease administrator.