Sunday, September 2, 2007

On This Day

On this day in 1939, Whittaker Chambers met with Adolf A. Berle, an Assistant Secretary of State and President Roosevelt's advisor about internal security, to relate to Berle how Chambers had run a Communist espionage ring involving several mid-level employees of the United States government, including Alger Hiss, in the mid-to-late 1930s. The meeting had been set up by a journalist named Isaac Don Levine, who had a special interest in anti-Communist stories. Most notably, Levine had collaborated on a series of articles with Walter Krivitsky, an important figure in the Soviet espionage apparatus in Western Europe who defected in 1937 to escape Stalin's purges. This marked the first time that Chambers had told someone in authority about his espionage work since his break from the Communist party in early 1938. Levine convinced him that it was his duty to do so, in light of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression pact signed late the previous month and the outbreak of World War II the day before and of the fact that Chambers knew that German and Soviet intelligence were cooperating in the United States and elsewhere as early as 1937. Berle was alarmed by what Chambers told him, but the story ultimately went nowhere: Roosevelt simply could not believe that Soviet espionage was a problem. The State Department and the FBI did not begin to investigate Hiss seriously until late 1945, by which time he had already served as an important advisor to the American delegation to the Yalta conference and as chief organizer of the founding conference of the United Nations.

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