Lattimore Story - John T. Flynn

9. Amerasia Spies Go Free

In February 1945 the security officer of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) read a copy of Amerasia. One article contained a paragraph taken verbatim from a secret OSS document. A visit to the offices of Amerasia revealed that this magazine was directed by Philip Jaffe and Frederick V. Field, both IPR officials and both of whom were known to the agents as Communists. The case was turned over to Frank Bielaski, OSS Director of Investigations. Bielaski visited the Amerasia offices after midnight—admitted by the building superintendent. To his amazement he found stacks of government documents, most of them marked "secret" and "top secret." He found the desks of Jaffe, the editor, and of Kate Mitchell, his assistant, littered with secret documents from Army and Naval Intelligence, the OSS and the State Department. Bielaski was impressed particularly by one document marked "top secret." It dealt with something called "A-bomb." He supposed it referred to some new piece of ordnance. Yet here was a secret document dealing with the atomic bomb, still unexploded—the most highly guarded secret of the war—lying in the offices of a group of Communists connected with the IPR.

Bielaski reported these disturbing discoveries to General William Donovan, chief of OSS. The officers felt they had walked into a "large going wholesale business in secret government documents." Amerasia had a small circulation—about 2,000 at the time—yet it had large offices provided with every mechanism for reproducing documents. The case was promptly reported to the State Department and the FBI, which put 75 operatives on the trail of Amerasia and kept them there for two months. They found a steady flow of documents from the State Department to Amerasia and back. The documents originated in Army and Naval Intelligence and the OSS, but they were routed to Amerasia through State.

D. Milton Ladd, Assistant Director of the FBI, said some of these documents contained such closely guarded secrets as to cause the greatest alarm. One of them revealed one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war. After two months' preparation, the FBI arrested Philip Jaffe, editor, Kate Louise Mitchell, assistant editor, John Stewart Service, a State Department research officer, Andrew Roth, a lieutenant in Naval Intelligence, Emanuel Larsen, a State Department employee, and Mark Gayn, a left-wing journalist. Roth had been a research worker for Amerasia before he went to Naval Intelligence. Although he was reported to be a Communist, Naval Intelligence ruled this could not be held against him, and he was assigned as liaison officer between Naval Intelligence and the State Department, where he could do the most harm. The entire story was given to a grand jury which indicted Jaffe, Larsen and Roth. Service, Mitchell and Gayn were not indicted.

The chief relevance of all this to our present narrative is that all those involved were connected with the IPR. In fact, Amerasia was planned and launched by the IPR. In 1937, Frederick V. Field, Communist and secretary of the IPR, discussed the subject with his associates on the executive committee. He has testified that he told them "one of the best ways to ensure that the Institute remain in the research field and avoid becoming political was to establish an organization where it could blow off steam outside the organization" (p. 115). That is, the Institute could remain in appearance a research organization but could use a separate organization to employ that research for propaganda purposes. This proposal, he testified, carried great weight with his IPR associates. They established Amerasia as a separate corporate organization, but set up shop on the same floor with the American Council of IPR—in fact in adjoining offices with communicating doors. Field said it had the blessing of the IPR managers. In fact, it was an IPR satellite.

Amerasia was financed by Field and Jaffe. Field owned 50 percent of the stock and Jaffe 49 percent. Field, executive secretary of the IPR, was chairman of the board of Amerasia and Jaffe was editor. Others connected with Amerasia on its board were T. A. Bisson, Benjamin Kizer, Kate Louise Mitchell, Harriet L. Moore —all pro-Communists and all active in IPR. It included Owen Lattimore and that insouciant secretary of IPR, William W. Lockwood, who testified under oath that he never knew any Communists in the IPR. Amerasia, as a periodical journal, became, as anyone may see clearly from its contents, an out-and-out Communist organ.

The most extraordinary feature of this strange case was the trial and disposition of the charges. Mark Gayn, John Stewart Service and Kate Louise Mitchell were not indicted. Roth was indicted but never tried and the charge against him was dropped. Jaffe and Larsen were indicted, but the indictments were dismissed and an ordinary charge of simple larceny was substituted.

Gayn said he got the material from Jaffe in typewritten form—he saw no government documents—despite the testimony of an FBI agent that he found Gayn's fingerprints on original documents. Service had been detected by the FBI visiting Jaffe's hotel room and turning over documents to Jaffe which Service warned him were secret. Service admitted he had made copies of his own secret documents and given them to Jaffe. Miss Mitchell was not indicted, although 18 envelopes of secret documents were found on her desk. On one occasion the FBI trailed Miss Mitchell and Jaffe to the home of a Mrs. Blumenthal in the Bronx. Jaffe went in alone and returned with a large envelope. The car then returned to the Amerasia offices, where Miss Mitchell got out with the envelope. Mrs. Blumenthal testified she had made typed copies of the original government secret documents for Jaffe. Despite all this, no action was taken against Gayn, Mitchell and Service. Most astonishing, Service was reinstated in his State Department job. It was not until five years later that his dismissal was forced on the State Department by the Loyalty Board when it declared him a poor security risk.

The charge of larceny against Jaffe and Larsen was tried on a quiet Saturday morning. The government prosecutor explained to the court this was merely a case of excessive professional zeal. The defendants were journalists, the judge was told, a bit too industrious in their profession, and passing out secret documents to journalists was a common practice—which was a falsehood. The statement was made that the documents were unimportant. This was in 1945, when the honeymoon with Russia was over. The prosecutor insisted he did not know Jaffe was a Communist, yet the FBI had trailed him to a conference in Earl Browder's office. Jaffe was fined $2500 and Larsen $500, which Jaffe paid.

What was not made clear at the time was that Amerasia was a propaganda arm of the American Council of IPR. The arrests had produced a state of consternation in the IPR offices. But, despite the fact that the personnel were all IPR officers or agents and that they occupied adjoining and communicating offices, the connection was never revealed by the government.