David Frum

02.20.13

'The Red-Baiters Had it Right'

Ron Radosh praises a new book about Harry Dexter White, the crucially important Treasury Department official at the Bretton Woods conference, long believed - and now known - to have been a Soviet agent. 

As part of his work he stole documents which he gave to Whitaker Chambers when he was working for the Soviets in the 1930’s, believed it was his duty to give the Soviets what they could not legally obtain during the years of the wartime alliance, favored a pro-Soviet foreign policy, and when he had a chance, used what powers he had to help Stalin’s regime out. In postwar Germany, maneuvered to give the Soviet currency plates that were in Western hands, so they could print their own currency and undermine the stability of German currency in the Western sector, allowing the Soviets to raid “the U.S. Treasury for $300-$500 million, roughly $4.0-$6.5 billion in today’s dollars.”

White might have actually been appointed by President Harry S. Truman as the first head of the IMF, created at the Bretton Woods conference, but as Neil writes, J. Edgar Hoover nipped it in the bud. The FBI director told the president that they had evidence White was a “valuable adjunct to an underground Soviet espionage organization,” and that his appointment could undermine the new banking institution.

White later left government, working for Henry A. Wallace’s presidential campaign, the pet public cause of the American Communist Party, believing, Neil puts it, “that the 1917 Russian Revolution had been a seminal event in the history of the struggle for human freedom.” As I noted earlier, had Wallace actually won the election, he would have made White Secretary of the Treasury, and the United States would have had a Soviet dupe as president and a Cabinet Official who was an actual Soviet agent.