Eminent Cold War Historian Herbert Romerstein Argued Harry Hopkins was Agent 19, and A “Conscious Agent” of the Soviet Union

(Published at American Thinker as “FDR’s Traitor?”)

A controversy has re-ignited over Franklin Delano Roosevelt “co-President” Harry Hopkins’s potential role as an agent promoting Soviet influence operations during World War II. Diana West, in her new book, American Betrayal (and summarized here), makes the case that Hopkins was a conscious agent; Ronald Radosh rejects this contention .

The career trajectory of the late Herbert Romerstein (who died May 7, 2013), Cold War authority par excellence, was encapsulated by his obituarist, Professor Paul Kengor, as follows:

Herb knew the Cold War and communist movement unlike anyone. He understood it because he lived it and breathed it. Born in Brooklyn in 1931, he himself had been a communist, having joined the Communist Youth League before becoming a card-carrying member of Communist Party USA (CPUSA). He broke ranks over 60 years ago, the final straw being the Korean War, which made clear to him that he was dealing with inveterate liars, whether in Korea, Moscow, or among communists on the home-front. He went on to become one of America’s best anti-communists and most respected authorities, regularly testifying before Congress. He became a chief investigator for the House Committee on Internal Security. In the 1980s, he joined the Reagan administration, where his full-time job at the U.S. Information Agency was to counter Soviet disinformation, a duty for which few were so well-equipped or enthusiastic. He relished the role of taking on professional Soviet propagandists such as Georgi Arbatov and Valentin Falin. Later, he did the highly touted analysis of the Venona transcripts, which he published as The Venona Secrets.

Romerstein’s final work, Stalin’s Secret Agents, co-authored with journalist and Cold War era scholar, M. Stanton Evans, was just published this past November, 2012.

After enumerating a litany of Harry Hopkins’s pro-Soviet activities, on  pp. 113-119 of  Stalin’s Secret Agents, Romerstein and Evans offer this self-evident summary assessment:

The obvious net meaning of these episodes is that Hopkins was a zealous advocate for Stalin. [emphasis added]

They segue immediately from this recounting of Hopkins’s “zealous advocacy” for the Soviet dictator, to their own discussion of the distinct likelihood that Hopkins was KGB agent 19.

That thought [i.e., Hopkins as “zealous” Stalin advocate] would gain further traction when the Venona decrypts [i.e., encrypted messages exchanged between the Soviet intel bosses in Moscow, and their US agents] were unveiled and other aspects of the record were made public.

Here is the case Romerstein and Evans make that Hopkins was indeed Agent 19, and thus a “conscious,” not merely an “unconscious” agent of the Soviet Union during the World War II era of  Stalin’s dictatorial reign.

Among such revelations was a Venona entry concerning a Roosevelt/Churchill meeting in May 1943. In a report to the KGB, a Soviet contact identified as “No. 19” informed the Russians of what was said between the Western leaders in one of their private conversations. From this message, it appeared contact 19 was in the room when the leaders met, and scholars dealing with Venona concluded that this contact was Hopkins. As he was the main person-to-person link between the leaders, it was logical that he would have been in the room when they had their meeting. Less logical, from a US standpoint, was that he would secretly report their talk to Moscow.

More definite than surmises about No. 19 was the revelation of KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky that Hopkins had been named in Russia as a Soviet intelligence agent. In a book by British historian Christopher Andrew, Gordievsky was quoted as recalling a lecture by veteran KGB operative Iskhak Akhmerov, a longtime “illegal” in the United States operating under a commercial cover. In this lecture, Akhmerov discussed his relationship with Alger Hiss and other Soviet agents but said that “the most important Soviet war-time agent in the United States” was Hopkins. Akhmerov, said Gordievsky, had then discussed his contacts with Hopkins in the American capital city.

These comments, while conforming to the pattern of Hopkins’s behavior, were obviously contrary to the accepted wisdom on such matters, and if taken in their literal meaning would have been the cause of shock and scandal. However, according to Andrew, Gordievsky later modified his account to say Akhmerov meant Hopkins was merely an “unconscious agent.” This softening of the message would be repeated by Andrew and others in subsequent treatment of the matter.

In one version of this approach, it’s argued that Hopkins was simply acting as a “back channel” to the Russians, maintaining informal East-West contact. But that explanation doesn’t compute with the facts about Akhmerov and the workings of Soviet intelligence. If Hopkins were merely trying to maintain such contact, he could have done so through Soviet ambassadors Litvinov, Constantine Oumansky, or Andrei Gromyko, or members of the Soviet Purchasing Commission, all of whom were in the United States in legal fashion at one time or another, and with whom Hopkins could have had all the dealings that he cared to. Akhmerov, however, was an illegal operating under false cover and would not have revealed himself to Hopkins unless absolutely certain his secret KGB identity would be protected. So, whatever Hopkins’s motivation, “unconscious agent” doesn’t fit the picture.

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