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Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case
     

Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case

by R. Bruce Craig
 

Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley shocked America in 1948 with their allegations that Communist spies had penetrated the American government. The resulting perjury trial of Alger Hiss is already legendary, but Chambers and Bentley also named Harry Dexter White, a high-ranking Treasury official. (Hiss himself thought that White had been the real target of

Overview


Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley shocked America in 1948 with their allegations that Communist spies had penetrated the American government. The resulting perjury trial of Alger Hiss is already legendary, but Chambers and Bentley also named Harry Dexter White, a high-ranking Treasury official. (Hiss himself thought that White had been the real target of the House Un-American Activities Committee.) When White died only a week after his bold defense before Congress, much speculation remained about the cause of his death and the truth of the charges made against him. Armed with a wealth of new information, Bruce Craig examines this controversial case and explores the “ambiguities” that have haunted it for more than half a century.

The highest ranking figure in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations to be accused of espionage, White played a central role in the founding of the United Nations’ twin financial institutions, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For years after his death, White was a target of red-baiting by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and Eisenhower’s attorney general Herbert Brownell. Two Republican-controlled Senate committees even held White accountable for formulating the “pro-Russian” Morgenthau Plan for post-war Germany and for orchestrating the loss of mainland China to the Communists.

Craig draws heavily on previously untapped or underused sources, including White’s personal papers, Treasury Department records, FBI files, and the once secret Venona files of decrypted Soviet espionage cables. Interviews with nearly two dozen key figures in the case, including Alger Hiss and former KGB officer V. G. Pavlov, also help bring White’s story to life. Sifting through this mountain of evidence, Craig retraces White’s rise to power within the Treasury Department and confirms that White was involved in a “species of espionage”—but also shows that the same evidence contradicts Bentley’s charges of “policy subversion."

What emerges is an evenhanded portrait of neither a monster nor a martyr but rather a committed New Dealer and internationalist whose hopes for world peace transcended national loyalties—a man who saw some benefit in cooperating with the Soviets but had no affection for dictatorship. Although it still remains unclear whether White leaked classified information vital to national security, Craig clearly shows that none of the most serious allegations against him can be substantiated.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Craig has issued a thoughtful and carefully-argued verdict on a legendary and controversial case that influenced the course of American history. Treasonable Doubt is a fascinating book, illuminating the shadowy world of the complex Harry Dexter White case as it examines legal, political, and moral issues that still affect us today.”—Michael Beschloss, PBS commentator and author of The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1941–1945 “Of all the New Deal officials caught up in the famous cold war spy cases, none was more significant, or elusive, than the brilliant economist Harry Dexter White. Craig’s well-told account of White and the controversy surrounding him is by far the most thorough ever written, incorporating a wealth of new evidence long-buried in archives at home and abroad.”—Sam Tanenhaus, author of Whittaker Chambers: A Biography “Craig’s lucid, fair-minded, and painstaking study of White as a dedicated New Deal internationalist who engaged in a ‘species of espionage’ in order to maintain good relations with the Soviet Union rings true. Thanks to his thoughtful analysis, we can at last understand why such a gifted public servant could become a spy.”—Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America “Craig’s provocative and meticulously researched book could provide a model for understanding other spies of the era and is sure to enliven the debate about Cold War espionage.”—Kathryn S. Olmsted, author of Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley “Exhaustively prepared, wholly fair and balanced in its analysis, and wholly right in its conclusions.”—Michael Straight, author of Trial by Television: The Army–McCarthy Hearings
Library Journal
White became a high-level economist in the Treasury Department under President Franklin Roosevelt and helped establish the framework for the current international financial system at the end of World War II. He was also a firm believer in international peace and a Soviet sympathizer. During the McCarthy era, White was accused with Alger Hiss of being a Communist spy and died a few days after testifying before Congress in 1948. Craig, executive director of the National Coalition for History, here presents a polished version of his 1999 dissertation for American University. In investigating White's case, he conducted considerable archival research and was able to get many important documents declassified. Though he does not always cite specific evidence, sometimes simply giving his evaluation, his work is extensively documented. In it he argues that the documents show that White passed along information but had nothing vital to give away and that he did not subvert U.S. policy. He also provides a good context of the times and of Soviet conspiratorial techniques. With all the documents now coming available, it would take some time to do the research and confirm that Craig's assessment is correct. But Craig is not just presenting a whitewash, and amid the growing volume of literature on Soviet espionage at the beginning of the Cold War, he poses a bigger, more important question: exactly what did the Soviets do with the information from their American agents, and how did it benefit them? Suitable for all libraries. Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780700613113
Publisher:
University Press of Kansas
Publication date:
03/01/2004
Pages:
436
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.24(h) x 1.54(d)

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