Short answer: no. Did he pass a secret to the Russians? Perhaps.
Lately I’ve become interested Harry L. Hopkins, a man who rose from humble beginnings to become Franklin D. Roosevelt’s closest advisor. Hopkins was a study in contrasts: he was not only an idealistic small-town midwesterner, but also a jaded New Yorker at home among the east coast academics of Roosevelt’s Brain Trust. A native of Sioux City, Iowa and graduate of Grinnell College, Hopkins settled in New York City and then Washington working as a social worker, for the Red Cross, and eventually as Roosevelt’s closest advisor both during the Great Depression and WWII.
During the New Deal Hopkins was a strong advocate within the administration for make-work programs which would create jobs for the unemployed as opposed to simply providing handouts. He headed three of Roosevelt’s alphabet agencies, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), spending billions and putting millions to work building airports, roads, bridges, airports, public buildings, even projects putting to work writers, artists, and performers.
During WWII, Hopkins headed the Lend-Lease program which provided $48 billion in arms to the allies, and served as emmisary for Roosevelt to both Churchill and Stalin. He was the liberal Karl Rove of his time: the ultimate insider who had the ear of the president and a knack for making things happen. Unlike Rove, Hopkins was also a skilled administrator and diplomat, who helped Roosevelt bring the country through a severe economic crisis and navigate treacherous international waters during World War II.
It’s no wonder the conservatives are out to smear his legacy. This Newsmax article, “Hopkins: Traitor, Not Hero” is a typical attack I turned up with google, and this Hopkins biography on Amazon contains reader comments calling Hopkins a spy. Curious, I decided to investigate the evidence. As far as I can tell the rumor about Hopkins first appeared in print in the 1990 book “KGB: The Inside Story” as simple hearsay: someone in the KGB once boasted Hopkins was a spy. Not very convincing. In fact, the New York Times coverage of the book at the time inspired Hopkins’ grandson to write this angry letter. The Newsmax article from above also cites a book published in 2000 titled “The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB.” Thanks to Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature I was able to quickly determine Hopkins is only referenced twice in the book, and both allegations of his spying cite the same journal article written by Eduard Mark and published in the Summer 1998 edition of the journal Intelligence and National Security.
Mark’s article discusses a message declassified as part of the Venona revelations, the documentary evidence for the attacks on Hopkins. The Venona messages — decoded during the 1940s by British and American codebreakers and declassified in the 1990s — and contain evidence of widespread Soviet espionage in the United States. The declassified message number 812 contains a source which apparently refers to Hopkins. In the article, titled “Venona’s Source 19 and the ‘Trident’ Conference of 1943: Diplomacy or Espionage,” Mark concludes there is strong evidence Hopkins was the only man who could be the source. However, he concludes it seems likely Hopkins was acting on Roosevelt’s behalf through a back channel to pass information to the Soviets.
Basically, in the spring of 1943 the Russians were trying to push back a German invasion while the Americans and British were fighting in North Africa. Stalin had openly suggested he might be tempted to negotiate peace with Hitler if the Americans and British delayed a cross-channel invasion too long. The partly-decoded message’s source “19,” likely Hopkins, tells the Soviets about a conversation between Churchill and Roosevelt over the date of the invasion, and suggests to them the decided date would not be until the following year – May 1944. The message also assures them that the vice president is not involved in decisions of military strategy (he had recently made an impolitic outburst Roosevelt hoped to quell). Mark then observes the message is devoid any further intelligence information from the conference, concluding it was a carefully crafted plea “that the Soviets should not judge the United States by their suspicions of the British” and that although the British were the cause of the delay, both sides were committed to an invasion of France. Mark notes the approach is uncannily similar to that taken by Roosevelt when dealing with Stalin.
Does passing intelligence to an ally through a back channel to help defeat fascism makes Hopkins a spy? I think not.