Was Harry Hopkins a Soviet Spy?

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.

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. If you are referring to the decrypt I think you (and Dr. Mark) are, I doubt that Unrecovered Cover Name no. 19 is Hopkins. In that decrypt MAYOR (Iskhak Abdulovich Akhmerov) reports to VIKTOR (Lt. Gen. Pavel Ivanovich Fitin) in Moscow on a meeting between UCN 19, DEPUTY, BOAR, and CAPTAIN. BOAR is Churchill, CAPTAIN is Roosevelt, 19 is not known, and DEPUTY is supposed to be Henry Wallace.

    However, a hand emendation says that DEPUTY is more likely to be Hopkins than Wallace, whose covername was CHANNEL PILOT (LOTsMAN in transliteration).

    If the NSA emendation is correct, 19 cannot be Hopkins. Romerstein is mistaken.

    Nigel West, a British conservative historian, declares flatly that 19 is Eduard Benes. He gives no documentation for his assertion but he is definite about it.

    For the decrypt in question see http://www.nsa.gov/venona/releases/29_May_1943_m4_p1.gif and http://www.nsa.gov/venona/releases/29_May_1943_m4_p2.gif

  2. Agent 19 went to Moscow immediately after Yalta. We know Hopkins went to Moscow right after Yalta. Who else did? If Hopkins wasn’t agent 19, then who was? The list of suspects should be rather short.

  3. Harry Hopkins “power” in the White House has been made quite clear in many references. This is how he could contribute to Russia’s goals. I have no doubt he not only towed the FDR party line concerning the Communist movement and Russia, but also, have no doubt he was an “Agent of Influence”.

    It has been estimated, over 500 agents had infiltrated into the USA from Russia and 150 (or so) obtained positions in Government. Obviously, HLH wasn’t one of them. Neither was Dr. Lauchlin Currie nor Henry Dexter White or Alger Hiss and many more. Nevertheless, these individuals, “fellow travelers”, did some things that contributed greatly to the Soviet designs. Currie managed the execution of Joint Board Plan 355, which was an act of war, prior to the USs involvement in WW II. White penned ther Hull Ultimatum on instructions from Moscow, which historians say, was the incident that finally provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl. Alger Hiss was instrumental in forming the United Nations, amongst other things.

    Harry, in his duties of expediting the “Lend-Lease” program was directly involved in giving Russia over 11 billion worth of material (20% of the total), some of which had nothing to do with “defense”. If it wasn’t for the Lend Lease and HLH, the Russians wouldn’t have gotten Atomic material and intell to build the bomb and it was because of him, that Russia did. This is witnessed by (then) Major George Racey Jordan (now General) who saw the material off from Great Falls,MO., to Fairbanks and on through Siberia to Moscow. He saw, as well, the influx of Communist “Illegals” into the USA, via return trips.

    Whilst one may argue about Hopkins being a “Spy” or not, amongst all the really great things he did, one can’t deny that he committed Treason of the highest order — but that’s hindsight. Back then, he was surrounded by a number of “powerful people”, including FDR, who were just as treasonous.

    I’d be more than happy to send you links to the above if you write me privately. You have my addy.



  4. I have personnaly interviewed a military officer who was involved with the transfer of lend-lease planes in Fairbanks. I hope he is still alive. He has pictures that I was shown of the contents of the materials with references to “Manhattan Project” The gentlemen is easily found in Fairbanks through the Aircraft Museum he founded. He is quite adamant that Hopkins was a spy and offers, in my opinion, credible data that he has maintained over the years. (Fairbanks was the final stop on US soil for the lend-lease planes that came up from Montana and loaded with largely stolen war secrets and material. This individual is able to provide explicit details of Hopkins invoking his authority for the Russian spies to ship state secrets of the Manhattan project through these lend-lease planes.
    I hope that this man’s intelligence/information become part of the record against Hopkins
    Mike Horn

  5. r&b says:

    Agent 19 went to Moscow immediately after Yalta. We know Hopkins went to Moscow right after Yalta. Who else did? If Hopkins wasn’t agent 19, then who was? The list of suspects should be rather short.

    Sorry to be so late getting back on this.

    So far as I recall, there is no evidence in the decrypts that Agent 19 went to Moscow after Yalta, or at any time. The decrypt in question is set in Washington, not Yalta.

    r$b is confusing Alger Hiss with UCN 19.

    The best guess for who 19 is, is the NSA’s, that is, Eduard Benes.

    I suggest that folks who want to comment on VENONA start reading the darned things first. See my index to the decrypts at
    http://webpages.charter.net/jktaber/. It indexes covernames, real names, and messages in which they occur.

  6. ” It’s no wonder the conservatives are out to smear his legacy. ” Great way to start, it is conservative’s fault that Top Secret information ends up in Soviet hands. ( our allies is the way you put it.) A few short years previously, they were agreed partners with Nazis, but Hitler’s greed makes that all right. And I keep wondering how Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White and The Rosenberg’s were victims of idle chatter and smear campaigns. No Mister Goodspeed, a few failed programs does not make Hopkins culpable of anything. But having your name show up in a crypted Soviet message as a benefactor to an regime avowed to overthrow our government does not appear to be a smear campaign by anyone. It raises a hell of a lot of questions. I recall how the left chastised Joe McCarthy for raising questions for something now proven, and wonder what kind of mentality one must have to refuse to believe anything detrimental to communist killers and their fellow travelers. And Venona has deciphered only 10% of the cables?

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