Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Seemingly Innocent Conversation

When a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) named John Service met with some members the Institute for Pacific Relations (IPR) in late 1944, it might have seemed like an obvious and mundane event - perhaps even boring. It would have seemed natural for a State Department bureaucrat, one of whose tasks it was to write regular reports from China about China and send them to Washington, to meet with a few members of what seemed to be an academic organization of scholars who studied contemporary eastern Asia.

Why would anyone care about, or be interested in, a bunch of tedious intellectuals gathering to discuss diplomacy between China and the United States?

Because they were all Soviet communist spies.

FSO John Service was actually working for Stalin’s intelligence agencies. He gathered information about the situation in China, and about U.S. policy toward China, and handed it off to operatives who forwarded it to Moscow. He had detailed, confidential, and sensitive information about the struggle in China: that nation was in the throes of a civil war between Mao’s Communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists.

The Soviet were working to aid the Communists. The Soviets were also working to persuade the United States not to support Chiang’s Nationalists (‘Chiang Kai-shek’ is also spelled ‘Jiang Jieshi’).

John Service wrote reports from China to Washington, allegedly to inform U.S. policymakers about conditions in China so that they could shape U.S. diplomacy toward China. In reality, Service’s reports were Maoist propaganda pieces, designed to deflate U.S. support for Chiang.

While sending disinformation to Washington, Service sent accurate information to the Soviets, both about China, and about how Washington was thinking about China.

The Soviet operatives with whom John Service networked were an impressive list of communist spies: Owen Lattimore, who did not have academic credentials, was nonetheless given a post at Johns Hopkins University; the Soviets brokered this deal for him because it gave him a credible base from which to launch propaganda, and it gave him a cover for his espionage activity. Lattimore also worked for Pacific Affairs, the official publication of the IPR, and for Amerasia, the unofficial publication of the IPR.

The IPR had, on paper, no connection to Amerasia, but a list of IPR employees and Amerasia employees was essentially the same list. Those who sat on the board of directors for the IPR were also working at Amerasia.

This information became interesting when the FBI found plentiful evidence that the staff of Amerasia had stolen documents from the government which were marked ‘classified’ or ‘secret’ or ‘confidential’.

Another of Service’s discussion partners was John Carter Vincent, who was, like Service, an FSO who’d worked in China. Like Service, Vincent seemed more determined to undermine Chiang than to relay information about the situation. Historian Stan Evans writes:

At all events, Service did talk to the Washington IPR, and would thus plug into the shadowy network of pro-Red China watchers who would now figure decisively in his story. In attendance were the ubiquitous Lattimore, IPR employee Rose Yardumian, State Department official Julian Friedman (an aide to Vincent), and Friedman’s friend and federal colleague, Andrew Roth. A former IPR researcher, Roth was at this time a lieutenant in the Far East division of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), liaising with Vincent’s State Department office. He would prove to be a crucial liaison as well in the strange adventures of John Service.

Information flowed through a far-flung network of Soviet operatives who’d hidden themselves as “moles” inside various government offices. Rose Yardumian was married to Peter Townsend, a British journalist and link between Mao’s communists and English leftists.

If Yardumian and Townsend were the bridge to the communists hidden in Britain, then Andrew Roth was the bridge to Soviet operatives in postwar Germany. Roth was employed by the Office of Naval Intelligence and therefore privy to highly secret military information. Stan Evans writes:

Though a bit player in the Service drama, Roth was an intriguing figure, if only for what his career revealed about security standards of the era. In addition to his work at IPR, he had publicly defended the activities of something called the “Free German Committee,” a Communist operation based in Moscow. Despite this, he had been commissioned an intelligence officer in the Navy. The former head of ONI explained this, as quoted in a U.S. Senate report, by saying “The fact that an officer was a Communist was not a bar to a commission.” As seen, this was a perfectly accurate statement of the wartime practice.

The IPR also had offices in New York, which Service would later visit. Service would also travel to the West Coast to meet with communists in California.

Were John Service and individuals connected with the IPR responsible for the fall of China and for Mao’s communist tyranny which would execute millions of Chinese? While they may not bear sole responsibility, they were certainly a contributing factor.