- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 8, 2004

Upwards flare one’s arms in frustration at the latest ploy by the academic left to excuse work done by high officials of the Roosevelt administration — some of it surely meeting the definition of espionage — on behalf of the wartime Soviet Union.

All save the more diehard (i. e., foolish) defenders of such figures as Alger Hiss have finally shut up about the basic issue of guilt, especially since the 1996 release of the Venona papers, intercepts of 1943-45 Soviet intelligence messages.

The same papers directed a condemning finger at Harry Dexter White, a high Treasury department official who, as R. Bruce Craig writes in Treasonable Doubt (University of Kansas Press, $34.95, 496 pages, illus.), “was numbered among the most powerful and influential men in the government.”

As de facto deputy to Treasury secretary Robert Morgenthau, White played an enormous role in shaping both domestic and foreign economic policies through the end of World War II. Concurrently, according to Soviet spy couriers Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley, White supplied sensitive Treasury documents for transmission to Moscow.

White denied all in dramatic congressional testimony in 1948, then dropped dead of a heart attack several days later, achieving lasting leftist martyrdom as “yet another victim of anti-Communist hysteria.”

Mr. Craig labored in archives for a decade seeking to prove the spy charges false, only to have the Venona bombshell detonate beneath his feet. And although he haggles over details — sounding at times like a magistrate-court defense lawyer badgering a police sergeant — he is left with no choice but to acknowledge the core truth of the Bentley-Chambers allegations.

White’s use of Soviet tradecraft, as revealed by Venona, “leaves little question that [he] knowingly conveyed information to the Soviet underground over an extended period of time.”

Further, Mr. Craig acknowledges “hard circumstantial [sic] evidence linking … White to what the Soviets termed ‘informational work’ (to some American scholars, a euphemism for spying) and that he provided ‘informatsiya’ (political information) for their underground.” Mr. Craig concludes that White engaged in “a species of espionage.”

Then comes Mr. Craig’s somewhat astounding explanation as to why White’s giving secrets to the Soviets was excusable: “Left-of-center, progressive thinking fellow travelers, the New Dealers saw no disconnect between being loyal Americans and, at the same time, Soviet collaborators …

“[I]n his meeting with [Soviet intelligence officers] White probably believed that, by answering questions posed by representatives of the Soviet underground and in offering to provide his perspectives on American policy and world events, he would be able to provide America’s present and future friend with an insider’s view of the American bureaucracy and thereby advance the goal of a Soviet-American partnership.”

Mr. Craig also defends White’s prevarications in his testimony before the House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1948.

He writes, “In keeping silent, if not committing perjury when questioned by the FBI, by grand jury prosecutors, and by HUAC investigators about what he actually may have known about the past and present Communist Party connections of the Econ-umists [slang for Red economists] White invoked and applied his own moral standards relating to personal loyalty, and made a conscious decision not to play into the hands of those who were out to destroy the Rooseveltian internationalist legacy.”

Mr. Craig further justifies White’s silence because, in his words, “Radical-right fringe groups have alleged the existence of an internationalist Communist conspiracy since the Bolshevik Revolution.”

The right was not alone in this belief, and one would think that a scholar who bears the title of “executive director of National Coalition for the Promotion of History” would be familiar with the Communist International, or Comintern, which was the physical embodiment of “an internationalist Communist conspiracy” from 1919 until Stalin dissolved it in 1943. I refer Mr. Craig to a useful new book, “The Diary of Georgi Dimitrov,” edited by Ivo Banac. Dimitrov ran the Comintern from 1935 to 1943.

Mr. Craig’s main achievement in defending White is his debunking of a claim that Bentley made years after her initial interviews with the FBI: that White was instrumental in shipping printing plates for German occupation currency to the Soviets. Moscow benefited by literally billions of dollars via the printing press.

By the time she made this charge Bentley was a pathetic figure who had lost her moment of fame — a souse and a sleep-about who made life miserable for her FBI handlers. Mr. Craig convincingly demonstrates that the currency-plates story was concocted by a Bentley ghostwriter.

An important book published last year by historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, “In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage,” lamented the “dishonesty, evasion and special pleading and moral squalor” that marks much academic writing about communism and espionage. “Treasonable Doubt” certainly advances their thesis.

• • •

Understandably, many of the intelligence books on the Pacific phase of World War II have concentrated on signals intelligence — the code-breakers who tracked the Japanese fleet over waters covering almost half the world. Now comes a look at the intelligence behind the “island hopping” phase of the campaign in Jeffrey M. Moore’s Spies for Nimitz: Joint Military Intelligence in the Pacific War (Naval Institute Press, $29.95, 336 pages, illus.).

Planners of the island campaign — by war’s end, there had been eight fiercely contested beach landings — realized early on their ignorance of the targets. What were beach gradients? How sturdy were Japanese defenses? How about the tides?

Given that amphibious assaults are highly dependent on surprise, Adm. Chester Nimitz knew that answers to these and other questions must be found. So he created an inter-service office, the Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Areas (JICPOA), to make up for the lapses.

To me, the fascinating part of Mr. Moore’s book is his comparison of pre-invasion estimates with what actually happened, a rare instance of a report card on intelligence operations. To be sure, there were glitches: For instance, a shift in Japanese tactics from coastline stands to redoubt defenses was detected only after a frightful cost of lives.

But as Mr. Moore writes, “Although severely bloodied at times, the United States never lost a Central Pacific battle, and that was in large part because Nimitz and his lieutenants had either a very good picture of the enemy situation, or a fair picture of it.” The JICPOA experience led ultimately to creation of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

So why have naval historians ignored JICPOA for half a century? Secrecy. JICPOA personnel “were forbidden even to mention the organization’s real name and managed to keep Nimitz’s most secret weapon hidden for the entire war.”

Members of JICPOA wore no insignia to designate their specialty. “As far as Nimitz was concerned,” Mr. Moore writes, “the outside world had no ‘need to know’ about JICPOA’s activities.”

However belatedly, Mr. Moore now gives the men and women of JICPOA their just due, in a well-documented book that should interest both the lay reader and the intelligence professional.

Joseph C. Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is [email protected]aol.com.

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