An Unambiguous Example of Harry Hopkins’s Pro-Soviet Perfidy, Revealed

Diana West’s American Betrayal enumerates an impressive litany of FDR “co-President” Harry Hopkins’s pro-Soviet activities. Here is a partial listing: his excessive largesse toward the USSR via Lend-Lease, which he oversaw, even to the point, arguably, of sacrificing American and British military needs; his relentless dedication to Stalin’s “Second Front” demands, opposing at least equally viable military alternatives less “advantageous” to Soviet expansionist designs in Eastern Europe, as originally laid out in the secret August, 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany; his dismissal of the 1940 Soviet Katyn massacres of 22,000 Polish civilians, soldiers, and officers; his labeling of Soviet defector to the U.S., Victor Kravchenko (author of  the memoir, “I Chose Freedom”), a “deserter,” while pressing FDR to deport Kravchenko back to the USSR, where he faced certain execution; and, according to one very credible American witness, his apparent role in the facilitation of uranium shipments to the Soviets—after such shipments were embargoed.

This incomplete litany far transcends the controversy over whether Hopkins was Soviet “agent 19”—a case made, separately, by intelligence historians Eduard Mark, and Herbert Romerstein, but contended by the intelligence historian team of Haynes and Klehr.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence West presents of Hopkins’ traitorous perfidy is conveyed by reproducing a personal and confidential letter FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote to Hopkins and FDR (dated May 7, 1943), and chronicling what followed via revelations from a KGB archive. But what is of equal importance, in terms of West’s discussions of the glaring omissions in our historical understanding is a striking example of how established academics—in this instance, Christopher Andrew, insert their own a priori judgments in attempting to exculpate Hopkins of having consciously abetted Soviet anti-US espionage. More remarkable is Andrew’s omission of objective evidence—the direct contents of Hoover’s letter to Hopkins—making explicit what Hopkins had been told about Soviet “embassy member” Zarubin/Zubilin, i.e., that he was a Comintern agent.

What follows is Diana West’s own full elucidation of this telling episode, which elaborates on its summary portrayal by Christopher Andrew, from pp. 187-190 of American Betrayal:

We know this also from another Soviet source, the Mitrokhin archive, which tells us that “earlier in the year he [Hopkins] had privately warned the Soviet embassy in Washington that the FBI had bugged a secret meeting at which Zarubin (apparently identified by Hopkins only as a member of the embassy) had passed money to Steve Nelson, a leading member of the U.S. Communist underground.” (Andrew and Mitrokhin, Sword and Shield, 111.)

Let’s leave aside the unsubstantiated parenthetical comment preemptively declaring Hopkins “apparently” guileless: We have just learned that Hopkins blew an ongoing FBI surveillance operation by revealing to the Soviet embassy that a Soviet official had been bugged delivering money to the American Communist underground. Never mind that this Soviet chain of activity was in flagrant violation of the 1933 terms of U.S. diplomatic recognition prohibiting espionage activities in this country. The footnote to the statement cites Mitrokhin’s archive (vol. 6, ch. 12) and further notes, “Hopkins had been personally briefed by Hoover on Zarubin’s visit to Nelson. Hoover would doubtless have been outraged had he known that Hopkins had informed the Soviet embassy.” (Andrew and Mitrokhin, Sword and Shield, 594.)

With good cause. Hoover’s briefing came in the form of a “personal and confidential” letter to Hopkins, which the authors cite from Benson and Warner’s book VENONA, where it is reproduced in full.(Benson and Warner (eds.), VENONA, 49–50.)

To unpack Andrew and Mitrokhin’s statement and really shake out the wrinkles, we need to know, first, that Vasily Zarubin, who used the cover name Vasily Zubilin (that’ll throw people off), was a Soviet Comintern agent, later identified as the top NKVD rezident in the United States. We need to know also that Hopkins knew that Zarubin was a Soviet Comintern agent, despite Andrew and Mitrokhin’s parenthetical testament to Hopkins’s “apparent” ignorance. We know Hopkins knew this because J. Edgar Hoover, in the very letter Andrew and Mitrokhin cite, told Hopkins so.(Benson and Warner (eds.),  VENONA, 49–50.)

“Dear Harry,” Hoover wrote in a letter marked “personal and confidential,” stamped May 7, 1943—some weeks after George Racey Jordan claims to have gotten orders from Hopkins to expedite a uranium shipment to Moscow:

“Through a highly confidential and reliable source it has been determined that on April 10, 1943, a Russian who is an agent of the Communist International paid a sum of money to Steve Nelson, National Committeeman of the Communist Party, USA, at the latter’s home in Oakland, California. The money was reportedly paid to Nelson for the purpose of placing Communist Party members and Comintern agents in industries engaged in secret war production for the United States Government so that information could be obtained for transmittal to the Soviet Union. The Russian agent of the Communist International has been identified as Vassili Zubilin, Third Secretary of the Embassy of the USSR.”

Zarubin/Zubilin was the top Soviet intelligence officer in the United States, who, we would later find out, “supervised Soviet atomic espionage.” (Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov, The Secret World of American Communism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995, 216)

In fact, it was from this bugging of Nelson’s home in Oakland, California, that the FBI learned about both the existence of the supersecret Manhattan Project and the Soviet espionage operation targeting it for the very first time. (Romerstein and Breindel, Venona Secrets, 545–46.)

Hopkins’s reaction to Hoover’s revelation may be the most damning piece of evidence of all in the case against Harry Hopkins. When we read what Hoover told Hopkins in his confidential letter—that a Comintern agent posing as a senior Soviet diplomat in Washington was passing money to the American Communist underground to establish Comintern networks within the U.S. war industry to steal military secrets—and see Hopkins immediately turn around and tell the Soviet Embassy, where that same “diplomat” was posted, that the FBI was onto them, we have to realize we are looking at a traitor acting with Soviet, not American, interests at heart. I don’t see any other plausible conclusion—and this traitor was the closest adviser of the president of the United States.

I must interject one additional detail that Romerstein and Breindel provide in their report on the Zarubin-Nelson link, as recorded by a young FBI agent named William Brannigan, who would go on to head the FBI’s Soviet Counter- intelligence Section. In the course of their conversation, Zarubin and Nelson also discussed the work of Gregory Kheifetz, NKVD San Francisco rezident, and his mistress, Louise Brantsen, a wealthy California Communist who hosted parties bringing agents together at her San Francisco home.

Kheifetz was the agent assigned by Moscow to raid UC Berkeley’s RadiationLaboratory, where work on the atomic bomb was being done. (Romerstein and Breindel, Venona Secrets, 255–57.) George Racey Jordan mentioned Kheifetz in his 1950 testimony on the shipment of atomic materials—the cadmium rods, heavy water, uranium, and other atomic pile in- gredients that went through the Lend-Lease hub under his supervision in Great Falls, Montana. Discussing a young Soviet sergeant Jordan believed was, in fact, a KGB minder sent to Great Falls to watch over the Soviet Lend-Lease chief at the base, Colonel Kotikov, Jordan mentioned that this particular ser- geant took a lot of “mysterious” trips for a junior NCO.

Where would he go? “When he would apply to go to San Francisco, he would go to see Gregory Kheifetz,” Jordan recalled. (Hearings 1950, Shipment of Atomic Material, 1163)

This detail may not connect another dot, but it does add a dot to enlarge the plane on which the Soviet conspiracy was taking place. As Kotikov was collecting the ingredients in his “Bomb Chemicals” folder, his minder was tripping off to San Francisco to see a senior NKVD officer overseeing atomic espionage in the United States. From Jordan we have testimony that Harry Hopkins tele- phoned to push uranium through Great Falls to Moscow in April 1943. From Mitrokhin’s KGB archive we know that Hopkins tipped off the Soviets to the FBI’s April 1943 surveillance of atomic espionage in San Francisco. From J. Edgar Hoover’s May 1943 letter we know that Hopkins knew, at the very least, that he was tipping off the Soviets to FBI surveillance of a known Soviet agent seeking U.S. military secrets. In light of what Hopkins did upon receiving the Hoover letter, I don’t see how Hopkins can conceivably be described as any- thing but a conscious and conscientious agent of the Soviet Union.

The Hoover letter goes on to note the existence of further evidence of coop- eration between the CPUSA and the Comintern in such penetration operations, to offer details on Nelson’s background, and to caution Hopkins about the confidential nature of the information “inasmuch as the investigation is continuing.” Summing up, Hoover wrote, “Because of the relationship demonstrated in this investigation between the Communist Party, USA, the Commu- nist International and the Soviet Government, I thought the President and you would be interested in these data.” (Benson and Warner (eds.), VENONA, 49–50.)

“The President and you.” It wasn’t just burbling magazine copy that promoted the Roosevelt-Hopkins co-presidency; it was for real. Sure enough, Hopkins was so very interested in Hoover’s data he couldn’t wait to tell . . . the Soviets. (Did he ever even tell Roosevelt? We don’t know. Somehow, I doubt it.) The net effect of Hopkins’s spilling the FBI’s beans to the Soviets, then, was to make the Soviets—the “Freshmen”—more discreet in the future, more mindful of FBI eyes and ears. Just think: We wouldn’t know about this act of treason if a retired KGB archivist named Mitrokhin hadn’t bothered to copy, hide, and successfully smuggle his archives out of the former Soviet Union in 1992. Hopkins’s guilt on this particularly damning count would have remained secret, probably forever.

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