- The Washington Times - Friday, November 27, 2009





By Lynne Joiner

Naval Institute Press. $37.95, 450 pages

Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden

In the matter of John Stewart Service, a diplomat of the China experts generation, even critics of Joseph McCarthy must admit that this is one case where the blustery senator had things half-right, at least.

By Service’s own admission, he supplied secret State Department documents to a publication run by a man with strong communist ties. Further, the legendary Democrat political fixer Thomas “Tommy the Cork” Corcoran persuaded the Truman Justice Department to drop charges against Service without a trial under circumstances that can only be described as very smelly.

But where McCarthy overstepped was to accuse Service of being a member of a State Department coterie of communists who were bent on turning China over to Mao Zedong. To be sure, Service was guilty of extraordinary misjudgment in passing around secret documents, some of them pertaining to military matters. Nonetheless zealotry - and stupidity - do not equate with treason.

Lynne Joiner, a West Coast journalist, was a friend of Service for 30 years, and unsurprisingly, her book gives him the benefit of the doubt at every turn. Service, she asserts, was the “designated leaker” for State Department officials who wished to end U.S. support for the Nationalist Chinese government of Chiang Kai-shek. These officers felt the Nationalist regime had failed by 1945 and that the United States should recognize that the communists would prevail in the civil war raging in the country. Whatever materials he gave to journalists was at the behest of superiors. Or so he argued, and Ms. Joiner buys his story.

(Professors Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh are far more skeptical of Service in their 1996 book “The Amerasia Spy Case.” They also provide far more detail on the background of persons arrested with him.)

Service seemed bound for a distinguished diplomatic career. Born of missionary parents in China in 1904, Service spent much of World War II there and immersed himself in the fierce political battle over the nation’s future. Then came a fatal stumble.

In early 1945, the Office of Strategic Services was startled to see a near-verbatim version of a secret report, “British Imperial Policy in Asia,” printed in Amerasia, a small publication edited by Phillip Jaffee. Part of the report - not published in Amerasia - dealt with a top secret anti-Japanese operation in Thailand. OSS recognized that the leak was serious. Investigators crept into the Amerasia office and found a treasure trove of documents from throughout government, some marked top secret.

The FBI put Jaffee under FBI surveillance, and one of the people seen in frequent contact with him turned out to be Service, who often handed Jaffee bulging envelopes of documents. Agents established that Jaffee, who had made a small fortune in the stationery business, had long lent his name (and pocketbook) to communist causes.

Other contacts also had pro-communist backgrounds. One was Andrew Roth, a young lieutenant in the Office of Naval Intelligence. Oddly, ONI did a background check and concluded that Roth was a communist but gave him a commission anyway. Emmanuel S. “Jimmy” Larsen worked for the Navy and then the State Department, compiling biographical material on Chinese warlords and politicians; he, too, had a “fellow traveler” background. Another was Mark Gayn, a journalist who wrote for such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s.

FBI bugging experts picked up a hotel conversation in which Service told Jaffe, “Well, what I said about the military plans is, of course, very secret.” As Ms. Joiner writes, “This comment apparently referred to something Service had said during breakfast, out of earshot of FBI agents sitting nearby. This incriminating comment would be cited many times over the next three decades as evidence that Service was a security risk.”

The FBI also caught a chat between Roth and Jaffee, in which the latter said, “I shouldn’t tell you this. I shouldn’t tell it to anybody.” He related that Joseph Bernstein, a former Amerasia employee, complained that an acquaintance - “an agent for the Soviet Union for many years” - was having “a problem” getting information from Washington. Jaffee said Bernstein asked him “whether you are willing to give me the dope” about China that he was receiving from State Department sources. Jaffee said he recognized that he would be giving information to Soviet intelligence agents. Roth counseled caution.

With President Truman’s approval, arrests were made in June, with headlines blaring “spies in the State Department.” In an interview with FBI agents, Service expressed a willingness to testify against the other people. Such was not to be: Enter now Corcoran, who had come to Washington as a New Deal legal wunderkind, and now was in private practice. Although he was never Service’s attorney-of-record, he burned the telephone wire to the Justice Department - including the attorney general - to get Service out of the legal mess.

Transcripts of these calls were first revealed by Mr. Klehr and Mr. Radosh in their 1966 book. Neither they nor Ms. Joiner could fix a motive for Corcoran’s intervention - although it is plain that the Truman administration did not want to be caught in a “spy scandal.” Corcoran said he did not want a “Dreyfus case,” with all the publicity. And he succeeded. Service was not indicted; Jaffee, Roth and Larsen pleaded guilty to misuse of government documents.

Service lost his clearance and his job. He had painful appearances before the McCarthy committee (marked by more fury than facts) and other panels. He appealed to the courts. He was reinstated to State Department, but assigned to do-nothing jobs, none of which required a high clearance. The media rehabilitated him. And much of his 1940s reporting on the balance of power proved to be prescient.

Service gave perhaps the best explanation for his conduct during questioning by State Department security officer Otto Otepka. He admitted he had been used by the communists and their sympathizers. “It is not a pleasant thing to say but, yes, I was certainly being used. I don’t like the impression that I am a complete dope. … Inevitably I am afraid it’s the conclusion that is to be drawn.”

Joseph C. Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence.

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