Was Harry Hopkins A Soviet Spy?

What the evidence says -- and does not say.

Frontpage Editors: Today, we are proud to publish this scholarly article by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr on the question of whether or not "Agent 19," the code name of a Soviet agent found in the decrypted Venona documents, is Harry Hopkins. Haynes and Klehr are the foremost scholars of the Venona documents and have published a series of books on them for Yale University Press.

This article is a model of how to evaluate historical evidence, and shows the perils involved when isolated data is plucked from historical sources without adequate acquaintance with the sources themselves or with the scholarly discourse concerning them. It also shows why those who insist Hopkins was a Soviet agent have not carried out a scholarly inquiry, and why their conclusions are unreliable.

In 1933 newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt extended diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union.  But high expectations of a fruitful relationship soon dissipated.  Diplomatic relations were politely cordial, but significant economic and personal engagement between the two nations failed to develop.  After the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939, diplomatic relations cooled, and President Roosevelt publicly rebuked the USSR for its attack on its neighbor Finland in late 1939.

But the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 began a new phase in Soviet-American relations.  FDR quickly extended American aid to the USSR and sought to assist its resistance to the German invasion.  When the United States entered the war in December, Roosevelt regarded maintaining a military alliance with the USSR as indispensable for defeating Nazi Germany and sought to make the USSR a full and leading partner in the coalition of Allied powers fighting Nazi Germany.  FDR’s policy toward the Soviet Union was one of accommodation, demanding little from the Soviets while offering generous military and economic aid without strings and seeking to satisfy Stalin’s foreign policy wants and needs.  Further, as Allied victory became more certain, Roosevelt sought to make the USSR a full partner in shaping and leading the international system that would emerge after the war.

The president’s policy of accommodating the USSR had wide support among FDR’s advisers, but none was more fervent than Harry Hopkins.  Hopkins had long been a close Roosevelt associate, but by 1940 he had emerged as his most trusted aide.  Indeed, when Hopkins developed serious health problems, FDR insisted that he move into the White House where his medical condition could be better treated and monitored.  He would live there more than three years.  In addition to his policy advice, Roosevelt used Hopkins as his personal envoy for sensitive wartime diplomatic missions.  Additionally, FDR appointed Hopkins to administer the Lend-Lease program.  This massive program of providing military and economic aid to America’s wartime allies was a vital part of America’s war effort, and Hopkins’ direction of it made him a powerful figure in wartime Washington.

After the war ended the hopes of a peaceful post-war era vanished as Soviet-American tensions escalated and the Cold War developed.  (Hopkins died in 1946, so what he thought of the collapse of the plans that he and FDR had pursued is unknown.)  With the development of the Cold War, not surprisingly, harsh retroactive criticism emerged toward Roosevelt’s wartime policy of lavish accommodation of Soviet wants and needs.  As one of the figures most identified with FDR’s accommodationist policy toward the Soviets, Hopkins was among the chief targets of post-war critics.

However, some critics went beyond criticism of Hopkins’ foreign policy judgment and suggested that he had been a Soviet agent, a spy who subverted American national interests in cooperation with Soviet intelligence officers.  Until the 1990s the case for Hopkins as a Soviet agent was an unconvincing one.  There was no direct evidence of Hopkins having any covert contact with Soviet intelligence.  Instead there was simply the fervor of his pro-Soviet policy.  Essentially, the case came down to asserting that anyone as ardent as Hopkins, in pursuing Roosevelt’s policy of accommodating the Soviets, in particular Hopkins' role in providing the Soviet Union with massive, no-strings-attached Lend-Lease aid, just had to have been a Soviet agent.  From the point of view of serious historical scholarship such an argument is a non sequitur.  That Hopkins enthusiastically supported, embraced, and carried out an accommodationist policy toward the Soviet in World War II is not at issue.  Someone, including senior government policy makers, can easily hold mistaken, stupid, destructive, or outrageous views about what should be the foreign policy of the United States without being the agent of a hostile foreign power.  Indeed, numerous people have done so and continue to do so.

But in the 1990s some direct evidence appeared that some researchers judged was sufficient to conclude that Harry Hopkins knowingly cooperated with Soviet intelligence agencies. Among the more prominent works are Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel’s The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America’s Traitors, M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein’s Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government, and, most recently, Diana West’s American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character.[1]  Ronald Radosh has ignited an angry debate with a full-throated attack on West’s conclusions about Hopkins as well as other aspects of her book that has been met with fierce denunciations by her and her defenders.[2]

The case advanced for Hopkins' guilt has two parts.  The first is a highly specific claim that Hopkins was a Soviet agent code-named “19,” a high level source who appears in a Soviet cable deciphered by the U.S. National Security Agency.  That claim, however, is entirely mistaken.  The fallback position is that even if Hopkins is not “19,” there is nonetheless convincing evidence that he was a Soviet agent.  That claim is based on evidence too weak to be the basis for a confident conclusion.  We do not believe the notion that Hopkins had a knowing and covert link to Soviet intelligence should be entirely dismissed, but the evidence of such a link is insufficient to support so explosive a charge.

Hopkins and Agent “19”

“Venona” was the name of a highly successful American project to decipher a set of coded Soviet international cables, largely exchanges between Soviet intelligence stations in New York, Washington, London, and other locations with their headquarters in Moscow.  The Soviets had used a normally unbreakable code, but a procedural error made about 3,000 cables, largely 1942-1946, vulnerable to decryption.  While the messages generally used cover names to refer to sources and persons of interest to Soviet intelligence, in many cases it was not difficult to attach a cover name to a real name.  Because the Soviets believed their cipher to be unbreakable, they on occasion used real names.  Further, even when a real name was not given, the deciphered messages often described the cover-named person in such detail as to his or her employment, travel, and other activities that Venona project analysts, assisted by FBI field work, could confidently attach a real name to a cover name.  But while hundreds of cover names were identified, there remained hundreds that were not due to the paucity of the information provided about the person’s activities.  One of those unidentified cover names was a Soviet source with the cover name “19.”

Source “19” appears in a single Venona message numbered 812, dated 29 May 1943, and sent to Moscow from the New York station of the NKGB (predecessor to the Cold War era KGB).  The NKGB station operated out of the Soviet diplomatic consulate in New York City.  The National Security Agency declassified the decrypted Venona messages in 1995-96 and has made them public on the web.[3]

In 1999 we published Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, a book that explored what could be learned from the Venona decryptions about Soviet intelligence operations in the United States. We discussed the mysterious “19” at length, writing: he “reported on a private conversation he had with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill during the just ended ‘Trident’ conference of the two Allied powers in Washington.  The message, from the New York KGB office to Moscow, is signed by the KGB illegal officer, Iskhak Akhmerov.  It states ‘19 reports that Kapitan [Roosevelt] and Kaban [Churchill], during conversations in the Country [USA], invited 19 to join them and Zamestitel.’  Unfortunately much of the subsequent text is only partially deciphered.  It is clear, however, that Source no. 19 reported on Churchill’s views that an Anglo-American invasion of continental Europe in 1943 was inadvisable.  The message also reported that Zamestitel supported a second-front and that it appeared that Roosevelt had been keeping Zamestitel in the dark about ‘important military decisions.’”[4]

We further stated: “There is too little material for a firm judgment on the identity of Source no. 19 It appears that this source was at the Trident conference or one of its ancillary events and was very highly placed, since he was asked to join a private conversation with Roosevelt and Churchill.  Beyond that, however, it is difficult to get much of a clue about Source no. 19’s identity.  It is not even clear that Source no. 19 was American; possibly he was part of the British delegation that accompanied Churchill, and there were a few Trident events attended by senior officials of other Allied powers and several governments-in-exile.  Unfortunately, the deciphered parts of the message do not give the exact date of Source no. 19’s conversation with Roosevelt and Churchill.”[5]  Additionally, we noted that even the identity of Zamestitel was not clear.  Since in Russian it means “deputy,” Venona project analysts at first though it referred to Vice President Henry Wallace but later suggested that it might be Harry Hopkins.  We thought the original Wallace designation the more likely.

While we judged “19” to be unidentifiable, a colleague had reached a different conclusion.  The late Eduard Mark published an essay in 1998 entitled “Venona’s Source 19 and the Trident Conference of May 1943: Diplomacy or Espionage?”[6]  We knew and respected Mark’s scholarly ability.  We discussed the agent “19” issue with him as he was preparing his essay (and we were then preparing our Venona book) and, at his request, commented on early drafts of his essay.  Mark’s argument was essentially a "last man standing" one.  He meticulously went over records of who was known to have been at various Trident-related events to narrow down the list of who was present simultaneously with Roosevelt, Churchill, and Wallace and could plausibly have discussed the second front issue.  (Mark also considered the possibility of Zamestitel being Hopkins but, as we had, thought Wallace more likely.)  Mark came down to seeing only four plausible candidates for “19”: Harry Hopkins, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, London-based Lend-Lease coordinator W. Averill Harriman, and Britain’s Lord Beaverbrook.  He then considered each in turn and finally concluded, “the fact remains that there is no plausible candidate for 19 but Hopkins.”[7]

We disagreed and told him so when his essay was still in draft form.  In our view a "last man standing" argument is indirect and circumstantial and is only convincing when one can definitely identify all of the possible candidates and eliminate all but one.  While the records of who attended formal Trident conference events were largely reliable, those of Trident-related events, particularly less formal social events, were not.  Record keeping in that era of social functions were simply too casual to be regarded as definitive.  Not everyone on an invitation list showed up, and those that did would, particularly if they were of senior standing, bring a guest.  Mark was of the view that most social events could be ignored because something as sensitive as the second front would not be discussed.  Our view was that senior officials in that era were notorious for gossiping about such matters among themselves even at such events and those venues could not be ruled out.  Consequently, one could not be confident of knowing all of the possible candidates for “19” and a "last man standing" argument could not be viewed with certainty due to the fragility of the scaffolding of evidence.

We also added that the substance of the message did not suggest Hopkins as a likely candidate for “19.”  While the message was so poorly broken that it was difficult to be sure of anything, nonetheless one could tell that “19” was reporting new information that he had discerned from the conversation between FDR, Churchill and Wallace and that one of the revelations was: “19 thinks that 'Kapitan' [FDR] is not informing Zamestitel [Wallace] of important military decisions and that therefore Zamestitel may not have exact knowledge of [1 cipher group unrecovered] with the opening of a second front against Germany and its postponement from this year to next year.”  Given the close relationship of Hopkins to FDR, the knowledge that Roosevelt was and had been almost from the outset of the war excluding Wallace from the inner-circle of war policy advisors would not have been new information and would have been reported to the Soviets long ago if Hopkins were “19.”

Mark, however, was confident of his argument and proceeded with publication.  We made note of his argument that “19” was Hopkins in our Venona book which was published subsequent to Mark’s essay and noted that he also concluded “that the readable portions of the message do not allow a clear determination of whether Hopkins/19 was a Soviet covert source or as a benign ‘back channel’ diplomatic contact between Roosevelt and the Soviets.  We agree that the partial decryption and ambiguity of the message does not allow a confident judgment on Source no. 19’s relationship to the Soviets; while impressed by Mark’s analysis, we view the evidence as too slim to enable us to reach a judgment about Source No. 19’s identity.”[8]

We would add that there was never any acrimony between us over this matter.  We simply agreed to disagree.  Indeed, our respect for Mark was such that a few years later we invited him to assist with our work on Alexander Vassiliev’s notebooks that had not yet been made publicly available.  Vassiliev’s notebooks with their 1,115 pages of extracts, lengthy quotations, and summaries of KGB archival documents were a true treasure trove of primary documentation of Soviet espionage in America.  The notebooks would be the basis of our 2009 book, Spies:The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America.[9] Simultaneous with the appearance of our book, Mark published an exceptionally fine essay on Alger Hiss using the Vassiliev material.[10]

We did not, in fact, give any more thought to the identity of “19” until we gained access to the Vassiliev notebooks.  These notebooks put a "case closed" end to the mystery of “19.”  Source no. “19” was Laurence Duggan.  Duggan had joined the State Department in 1930 and served as Latin American Division chief, 1935–37, and then chief of the Division of the American Republics (merger of the Latin American and Mexican Divisions).  In 1940 he became a senior advisor to the Secretary of State on Latin America.  He left the State Department in 1944.  He was recruited as a Soviet spy in 1935 and remained an active source until he left the State Department.  Soviet intelligence remained in touch with him even after he resigned from the State Department in hopes he would regain a government position of interest to them, a hope based on his close relationship with Henry Wallace.  The two were friends, and Wallace often asked Duggan for advice on foreign policy matters.  (Vassiliev’s notebooks also put an end to the ambiguity of “Zamestitel.”  He was Wallace, as Venona analysts first determined.)  Duggan’s close relationship with Wallace also suggests why he was included in a conversation involving Wallace with FDR and Churchill.

Duggan and his wife were well-liked figures in Washington society.  Duggan had met President Roosevelt on numerous official and social occasions and was a favored acquaintance of Mrs. Roosevelt.  In 1948, after a former KGB spy, Hede Massing, identified Duggan as having been a Soviet source in the late 1930s, the FBI questioned him, but he denied any involvement.  Five days later the KGB, which had not been in touch with him for several years, attempted to recontact him.  The pressure from two sides appears to have been too much for Duggan, and he jumped to his death from his sixteenth-floor office at the Institute of International Education in New York. A few days later a reporter asked Congressman Karl Mundt, a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, when the committee would name other Soviet spies, and he tactlessly responded, “We’ll name them as they jump out of windows.” Enraged, Duggan’s prominent friends—including former undersecretary of state Sumner Welles, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, poet Archibald MacLeish, and prominent journalists Drew Pearson and Edward R. Murrow—all defended his reputation and integrity and blamed his death on irresponsible red-baiting.  Several generations of historians agreed. As late as 1995 the prominent historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., denounced Yale University Press for allowing our book, The Secret World of American Communism, to refer to Duggan as a Soviet source, angrily writing that it “should not have permitted this book to blacken the name of a man whom many knew as an able public servant.” All of them were wrong. Duggan was a Soviet spy.[11]

Not only was Duggan a Soviet spy, he was “19.”  His career is exceptionally well documented because Alexander Vassiliev had access to Duggan's personal KGB files, and his extracts from these files occupy thirty-nine pages of his Yellow Notebook #2.[12]  Because of his lengthy service Duggan was designated by a number of cover names in KGB communications.  The one he held the longest was “19” along with variants “Nineteen” and “Nineteenth” from 1935 to 1944. There are two exceptions in this period.  Duggan was recruited and run by the KGB “illegal station” but the “legal station” operating out of the Soviet embassy in Washington briefly designated him with the cover name “Official” in 1935 before it was waved off by the illegal station because it had already begun his recruitment.  Further, in 1943 and 1944 Iskhak Akhmerov wrote some special reports on Duggan where he referred to him as “Frank.”  As for KGB regular communications, a Moscow directive changed his cover name from “19” to “Sherwood” in August 1944, and then to “Prince” starting in September 1944.  Duggan appears in various Venona messages under these same cover names.  Venona analysts correctly identified Duggan as the real name behind “Frank,” “Prince” and “Sherwood” but, as we know, designated “19” as unidentified due to it occurring only in a single message with too little personal information.[13]

While a number of KGB officers had contact with Duggan, his longest and closest relationship was with Akhmerov, who had first dealt with Duggan in the late 1930s and had to engage in a good deal of "hand-holding" as the American grew uneasy with the Moscow Trials and news that the upper leadership of the Soviet government was being purged.  There had been a gap in their relationship after Akhmerov returned to the USSR in 1939; he came back in 1942.  Other Soviet officers had been in contact with Duggan in the interregnum, but the relationship had been rocky, and one of Akhmerov’s task on returning was to reestablish Duggan’s trust and convince him to become a more active source.  Duggan was a special concern to Akhmerov because he was at that time the most highly placed source the illegal station had in the U.S. Department of State.  In a report to Moscow in August 1942 Akhmerov wrote: “In a ‘Re ‘Frank.’ – For the sake of convenience and simplicity I will continue to call ‘19’ ‘Frank.’  My relationship with him has improved significantly. He is not displaying his former nervousness and conveys the impression of a person who is sincerely sympathetic to us,” but went on to note that increasing Duggan’s productivity might take some time.[14]

Our book Spies with its lengthy section on Duggan that noted his various cover names and quoted from various KGB documents about him as “19” up through August 1943 has been available since 2009.  Further, the Vassiliev notebooks have been on the web and available for research use as part of the Woodrow Wilson Center virtual archive since 2009 as well, although a page index making research much easier was not available until 2013.  Consequently, we are puzzled that two books, Evans and Romerstein’s Stalin’s Secret Agents and West’s American Betrayal, that appeared subsequent to Spies and to the public availability of the Vassiliev notebooks, assert that “19” in Venona 812 was Hopkins but fail to note our description of “19” as Duggan and avoid mentioning how “19” as Duggan appears in the Vassiliev notebooks through August 1944.  Both book stress, and rightly so, that Harry Hopkins was President Roosevelt’s chief personal advisor on war policy.  Consequently, the assertion that Hopkins was a Soviet agent is not a minor matter.  We think these authors had a responsibility to show that they had considered the evidence of the Vassiliev notebooks and why they had, nonetheless, concluded that “19” in Venona 812 was Hopkins.  They failed to do so, and we think it seriously weakens both books.

Even if Hopkins is not “19,” is there convincing evidence of his having been a Soviet agent?  The single item of quasi-direct evidence suggesting Hopkins' link with Soviet intelligence is found in Christopher M. Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky’s KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev.[15]  Andrew, a British historian, is one of the leading Western historians of Soviet espionage and many professional historians would name him the leading historian. Gordievsky was a senior KGB officer and head of its London station from 1982 until 1985.  But in the late-1960s he had become a double agent for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).  When he fell under KGB suspicion in 1985 he defected to the United Kingdom.  The book was a collaboration that combined Andrew’s deep understanding of the history and evolution of the KGB with Gordievsky’s personal knowledge of its operations in Western Europe from the late 1960s until his defection in 1985.  It remains to this day one of the premier histories of the KGB.

The portion of KGB relevant to the Hopkins matter derives from Gordievsky, not from Andrew’s archivally based historical research.  It is secondhand, verbal, and not contemporary.  From the point of view of scholarly history this is the weakest sort of evidence.  Not so weak that it should be entirely dismissed and forgotten, but too weak to be regarded as much more than suggestive and something to be kept in mind in case it allows one to make sense of more reliable contemporary documentation.  What is reported in KGB is that Gordievsky remembered in the late 1980s a lecture he attended in the mid- to late-1960s as a young KGB officer.  The lecturer was Iskhak Akhmerov, then a retired KGB officer in his mid-60s.  Akhmerov had been a highly successful field officer with a long career with the KGB, operating in Europe, Asia, and North America.  As told in KGB:

The main subject of his lecture was the man whom he identified as the most important of all Soviet wartime agents in the United States: Harry Hopkins, the closest and most trusted adviser of President Roosevelt. Gordievsky later discussed the Hopkins case with a number of officers in Directorate S [illegals] and FCD [foreign intelligence] American experts.  All were agreed that Hopkins had been an agent of major significance.  Gordievsky, however, came gradually to the conclusion, as he discussed the Hopkins case, that Hopkins had been an unconscious rather than a conscious agent.  That interpretation of Hopkins’s connection with the KGB best fits the evidence of his career available in the West.[16]

What we have here is Gordievsky’s 20+ year old memory of a lecture by Akhmerov remembering events from 20+ years earlier.  Gordievsky never saw any documentation, contemporary or otherwise, about Hopkins.  The story is secondhand: Gordievsky is reporting what he heard Akhmerov say.  This is literally what is called “hearsay” evidence that is not normally admissible in an American court.  “Hearsay” evidence, however, is perfectly admissible in history as long as it is treated with care and excessive weight is not put upon it.  In this case, it is not only secondhand, it is second hand and 40+ years after the events in question happened, so this is the edge of what a responsible historian would take seriously.  Non-contemporary secondhand evidence is, frankly, notoriously unreliable.  Not only are non-contemporary memories poor, there tends to be a significant amount of embellishment that occurs.  Was Akhmerov embellishing?  That, we believe, was Andrew’s conclusion and the source of the last sentence quoted above that Hopkins was likely an unconscious source.

Because of its inherent weakness, scholarly historians treated Gordievsky’s secondhand memory as an interesting uncorroborated story or, as had Andrew, as an embellishment of Hopkins' long know attitude toward the Soviets.  What gave Gordievsky’s story renewed life was when some researchers connected Gordievsky’s story with Venona 812.  The latter message was signed by Akhmerov, and some writers leaped to the conclusion that since Venona 812 was signed by Akhmerov and mentioned a source close to FDR, that source must be Hopkins.  Further, Eduard Mark appeared to prove that “19” was Hopkins.  The Breindel, Romerstein, Evans, and West books all take this position.  But “19” wasn’t Hopkins, he was Duggan.

Venona 812, then, provides no support for Gordievsky’s story.  Nor do any other Venona messages offer any support.  Consequently we are back to his story being non-contemporaneous secondhand evidence that is too weak to support a confident assertion.

Since Venona’s release in the mid-1990s, two other significant sources of documentation on Soviet espionage have become available: the Mitrokhin archive and Vassiliev’s notebooks.  Neither offers any support for Gordievsky’s story.

The Mitrokhin material came to light in 1999.  Mitrokhin was a KGB field officer who later became the agency’s archivist.  Alienated from the regime, he began copying, extracting and summarizing archival material on KGB operations.  He defected to the British SIS in 1992.  Mitrokhin’s material covers sixty years of KGB operations.  Some of Mitrokhin’s material has been made public but most is available only via the two books: Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin’s The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB and The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World.[17]

The only new material Mitrokhin provided on Hopkins was a 1943 report that Hopkins had notified the Soviet ambassador in Washington that the FBI had observed a Soviet diplomat meeting covertly with Steve Nelson, who supervised San Francisco area operations of the Communist Party of the United States.  The FBI had bugged Nelson’s residence and overheard Soviet diplomat Vasily Zubilin delivering funds for Nelson’s work and discussing possible cooperation between Nelson and covert Soviet activities.  The FBI surmised, correctly, that Zubilin was likely a Soviet intelligence officer.  Indeed, he was the new head of the KGB legal station.  (His real name was Vasily Zarubin.)  The FBI had reported the incident to the White House via a letter to Hopkins.[18]

This incident, however, was not evidence of Hopkins having a covert link to Soviet intelligence.  Had that been true, it would have made far more sense for him to deliver the information to his covert intelligence contact.  Instead, Hopkins delivered the warning to the Soviet ambassador.  Soviet intelligence officers often used diplomatic cover for their activities; Zubilin/Zarubin is an example of that.  But real diplomats and intelligence officers avoided getting their activities mixed up.  The Soviet ambassador was not a professional intelligence officer, and neither he nor the KGB officers who worked undercover in his embassy wanted him to knowingly engage in meeting with Soviet agents.  It was too complicated and risked either disrupting Soviet diplomacy, Soviet intelligence, or both.[19]  That Hopkins approached the ambassador with this information is actually evidence that he did not have a covert intelligence contact to whom he could provide the information.

But, even if he did not have a covert link to Soviet intelligence, why would Hopkins alert the Soviets to what the FBI had learned?  It was likely yet another example of the exaggerated lengths to which not merely Hopkins but other leading officials in the Roosevelt administration, including the president himself, went in attempting to win the Soviets’ trust and make them into working partners with the United States in winning the war and in constructing the peace to follow.  To give another example, in late 1944 the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency) obtained from Finnish intelligence officers a Soviet code book (or a collection of Soviet code and cipher material, the record is not entirely clear).  Secretary of State Stettinius learned of the matter, and in what is in retrospect a remarkably naive act, successfully urged President Roosevelt to order the OSS to hand the material over to the Soviets as a gesture of good will.  So far as is known, the OSS did not even keep a copy.[20]

Likely Hopkins’ 1943 act was a similar gesture of good will and a friendly warning to the Soviet ambassador to keep the intelligence officers on his staff under control.  Like virtually all such gestures to the Soviets, it went unreciprocated and was treated as a sign of American weakness.  It was both reckless and destructive, but not evidence that Hopkins was a Soviet agent.[21]

In addition to establishing that “19” was Duggan and not Hopkins, Vassiliev’s notebooks do not have any information pointing toward Hopkins having a covert relationship with Soviet intelligence.  Hopkins’ name shows up on numerous occasions, but always as innocuous references to his position as head of the Works Progress Administration and other New Deal agencies in the 1930s, secretary of commerce in the late 1930s, and during WWII, chief personal adviser to and personal representative of President Roosevelt.[22]  Also, in regard to Gordievsky’s report of Akhmerov’s claims about Hopkins, Vassiliev copied excerpts in his notebooks from the 1984 book Station Chief Gold, an internal KGB summary of Akhmerov’s career, used as an instructional textbook at the Andropov Red Banner Institute, a KGB training school, when Vassiliev was a student there in the late 1980s.  None of the passages Vassiliev excerpted mention Hopkins.[23]  There are cover names of sources in Vassiliev notebooks that cannot be attached to a real name, but none that could be Hopkins.   To be sure, no information is not negative information.  The absence of information linking Hopkins to Soviet intelligence in Vassiliev’s notebooks is not proof that he did not have such ties, but simply shows that this source offers no corroboration for claims that he had such ties.

Nor is there any information from defectors from Soviet intelligence in the 1930s and 1940s such as Whittaker Chambers (from Soviet military intelligence), Hede Massing (KGB) or Elizabeth Bentley (KGB) that point to Hopkins. Nor is there any information in FBI files that we have reviewed, and we have reviewed tens of thousands of pages of FBI files.  Again, however, this is simply a lack of corroboration, not negative proof.  There are also plenty of FBI files we have not read.

We are left, in the end, with a view that, first, Harry Hopkins was not source “19” in Venona 812.  Any argument that Hopkins was a spy based on that assumption is simply false.  Second, the Gordievsky story is interesting and should not be dismissed but it is secondhand, purely verbal, and 40+ years after the events in question.  Without corroboration it should not be used to make an assertion that Hopkins was a Soviet agent, and we are not aware of any corroboration. We do not totally dismiss the idea that Hopkins had covert Soviet intelligence ties, but the evidence is very thin.

Some people would point to Hopkins’ avid pursuit of a "give the Soviets everything they want and ask for nothing in return" and ask "what difference does it make whether he was a Soviet agent or not?"  There is an important difference between a policy-maker who advocated and implemented policies highly destructive to American national interests because they had foolish, naive, or even dangerous notions about foreign policy and those who are agents of a foreign power.  The first are wrong, the second are traitors.  We don’t think an assertion that someone was an agent of a foreign power should be made unless one has convincing evidence.  To do so in the absence of convincing evidence is poisonous and contaminates civil discourse.  That Hopkins made stupid or pernicious decisions is one thing: there is, however, no convincing evidence that he was a traitor.


[1]Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America’s Traitors (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2000), 112–15; M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein, Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government (New York: Threshold Editions, 2012), 112–22; Diana West, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013), 129–48.

[2]Ronald Radosh, “McCarthy On Steroids,” FrontPage Magazine, 7 August 2013, Http//Frontpagemag.Com/2013/Ronald-Radosh/Mccarthy-on-Steroids/.  Diana West’s website, dianawest.net, has posted her own replies, such as Diana West, “If Frontpage Lies About This, They’ll Lie About Anything - Pt-2” (2013), Http://www.dianawest.net/Home/tabid/36/EntryId/2610/If-Frontpage-Lies-about-Thi..., as well as those of others.

[3]A downloadable image of Venona 812 can found at http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/declass/venona/may_1943.shtml.  A more easily readable transcription can be found in Venona New York KGB 1943, 100 accessible via John Earl Haynes, “Venona Project and Vassiliev Notebooks Index and Concordance” (2013), Http://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/venona-project.

[4]John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press [Nota Bene], 2000), 205.  While this book first appeared in 1999, we are quoting from the 2000 edition.

[5]Haynes and Klehr, Venona [2000], 205–06.

[6]Eduard Mark, “Venona’s Source 19 and the Trident Conference of May 1943: Diplomacy or Espionage?” Intelligence and National Security 13, no. 2 (April 1998).

[7]Mark, “Venona’s Source 19,” 16.

[8]Haynes and Klehr, Venona [2000], 422–23, n. 42.

[9]John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).

[10]Eduard Mark, “In Re Alger Hiss: A Final Verdict from the Archives of the KGB,” Journal of Cold War Studies 11, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 26–67.  Mark originally presented this article as a paper at a May 2009 symposium, “Alexander Vassiliev’s Notebooks and the Documentation of Soviet Intelligence Operations in the United States, 1930–1950,” at the Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC.  During one of the question-and-answer periods and in informal conversations at the symposium Mark remarked that the Vassiliev notebooks had convinced him that “19” was Duggan and he no longer held to his 1998 position.  He died unexpectedly shortly after the symposium and, consequently, never published a formal statement on the matter.

[11]Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov, The Secret World of American Communism, trans. Timothy D. Sergay (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 117; Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (New York: Random House, 1997), 269; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., “The Party Circuit,” New Republic, 29 May 1995, 39.

[12]Vassiliev Yellow Notebook #2, 1-39.

[13]Both Vassiliev’s notebooks and the Venona messages where these cover names appear as well as his real name can accessed on the web.  See Haynes, “Venona & Vassiliev Index” for downloadable PDF files of all of these sources.  Duggan appears under his real name at: Vassiliev Black Notebook, 17, 78, 88; Vassiliev Yellow Notebook #2, 1–4, 30–32, 36; Venona New York KGB 1943, 209; and Venona New York KGB 1944, 22, 152, 258, 312, 372, 463, 649, 668.  He appears as “19” in Vassiliev Black Notebook, 17, 43, 46, 48, 78, 88, 161, 170, 172–75; Vassiliev White Notebook #1, 12–13, 30–33, 45, 47, 55; Vassiliev White Notebook #3, 116, 118–119, 121; Vassiliev Yellow Notebook #2, 2–3, 5–30, 33–38; Vassiliev Yellow Notebook #4, 96, 98–99, and Venona New York KGB 1943, 65–66.  He appears as “Nineteen” in Vassiliev Yellow Notebook #2, 23 and as “Nineteenth” in Vassiliev Yellow Notebook #2, 11, 25–28.  His single appearance as “Official” is in Vassiliev Black Notebook, 17.  He appears as “Frank” in Vassiliev White Notebook #1, 45; Vassiliev Yellow Notebook #2, 29, 32–33; Venona New York KGB 1943, 208–9; and Venona New York KGB 1944, 22, 152, 258, 312, 371–72.  He appears as “Sherwood” in Vassiliev White Notebook #1, 55; and Venona New York KGB 1944, 462–63.  He appears as “Prince” in Vassiliev Black Notebook, 72, 78, 88; Vassiliev White Notebook #1, 55; Vassiliev Yellow Notebook #2, 1, 34, 36; and Venona New York KGB 1944, 462–63, 648–49, 666–68.

[14]“Mer” [Akhmerov] letter to the Center via Zarubin, 29 August 1942, Vassiliev White Notebook #1, 45.

[15]Christopher M. Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (New York, NY: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1990).

[16]Andrew and Gordievsky, KGB, 287.

[17]Christopher M. Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (New York: Basic Books, 1999); Christopher M. Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World (New York: Basic Books, 2005).

[18]Andrew and Mitrokhin, Sword and the Shield, 111.  FBI summary of Nelson/Cooper [Zarubin] conversation, 22 October 1944, serial 3515, FBI Comintern Apparatus file 100–203581. The FBI summary of the recorded conversation is found in U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, Interlocking Subversion in Government Departments [Hearings] (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1953), part 15, 1050–51. See also “COMRAP—Vassili M. Zubilin” and J. Edgar Hoover to Harry Hopkins, 7 May 1943, reproduced in Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, Venona: Soviet Espionage and the American Response 1939–1957 (Washington, D.C.: National Security Agency; Central Intelligence Agency, 1996), 49–50, and FBI report, “Soviet Espionage Activities,” 19 October 1945,” attached to Director to Vaughan, 19 October 1945, President’s Secretary’s Files, Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.

[19]In the late 1940s the Soviets attempted to coordinate diplomacy with intelligence by making the ambassador not only the chief diplomat but the ‘chief of station’ of the intelligence unit operation out of the Soviet embassy.  The experiment did not go well, and was soon abandoned. Haynes, Klehr, and Vassiliev, Spies, 521–22.

[20]Edward Stettinius, Jr., memorandum for the President, “Soviet Codes,” 27 December 1944, President’s Secretary’s Files, “Russia -- 1944,” box 49, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.

[21]This 1943 Hopkins warning to the Soviet ambassador is the single item of new information on Hopkins that is derived from Mitrokhin’s archival material.  There is, however, a confusion in The Sword and the Shield that requires explanation.  Mitrokhin’s archival notes contain documents on KGB activities in the late 1930s in the United States and identify Duggan as a KGB source with the cover name “19,” just as do Vassiliev’s notebooks.  Andrew drew the conclusion that Duggan’s cover name had changed to “Frank” by 1943, based the 1943 Venona messages were “Frank” appears and is identified as Duggan.  Because of this assumption, Andrew gives credit to Mark’s analysis of Venona 812 that the “19” in that message is Hopkins and takes the view that it was reporting back-channel diplomacy, not espionage.  Andrew and Mitrokhin, Sword and the Shield, 106, 111, 591, n. 7, 594, n. 65.  However, the Vassiliev notebooks show that “19” remained as the regular cover name for Duggan until it was changed to “Sherwood” in August 1944. Center [Moscow] to May, 11 August 1944, Vassiliev White Notebook #1, 55. “Frank” was a special name that Akhmerov used in some special reports on Duggan in 1943 and 1944, adopted, he said “for the sake of convenience and simplicity.” Mer” [Akhmerov] letter to the Center via Zarubin, 29 August 1942, Vassiliev White Notebook #1, 45

[22]The references to Hopkins can be found at: Vassiliev Black Notebook, 42–43, 46; Vassiliev White Notebook #1, 22, 26, 87; Vassiliev White Notebook #2, 116; Vassiliev White Notebook #3, 113, 120; Vassiliev Yellow Notebook #4, 38, 122, 124.  References to him in Venona, equally innocuous are: Venona New York KGB 1943, 66; Venona New York KGB 1944, 517–18, 767; Venona New York KGB 1945, 185; Venona USA Diplomatic, 17, 67; Venona USA Trade, 3, 22.

[23]A. E. Vassiliev and A. A. Koreshov, Station Chief Gold, Andropov Red Banner Institute, 1984, Vassiliev Black Notebook, 19, 138–40.

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