Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Uncle Joe bugged FDR at Yalta

By Aussiegirl

Read the absolutely amazing unclassified CIA report by Gary Kern entitled, "How Uncle Joe Bugged FDR" recounting how Roosevelt willingly allowed himself to be recorded to demonstrate his trust in Stalin, not only at the Yalta conference, but the Teheran conference which had been held in 1943.

Here's an excerpt of this gripping story, which shows the naivete, or perhaps the willingness to appease that Roosevelt and his advisors engaged in at the end of the Second World War. By such simple but momentous decisions were the lives of millions of people decided -- as Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar: "Thus with a spot, I damn him."

From the article:

. . . the operant factors were: the President's supreme confidence in his own powers of persuasion, his profound ignorance of the Bolshevik dictatorship, his projection of humane motives onto his Soviet counterpart, his determined resistance to contradictory evidence and advice, and his wishful thinking based on geopolitical designs?mindsets supported and reinforced by his appointed advisors. Taken together, these factors produced a false view of US-Soviet relations and inspired policy that had only superficial contact with reality.

As an instance in point, they induced the President of the United States to do the unthinkable: walk into a surveillance trap, not once, but twice, and willingly.

Normally, in order to avoid the possibility of intelligence leaks and personal embarrassment, as well as to ensure physical safety, traveling US presidents stay in their own country's embassies or other diplomatic buildings, whose tables and walls have been swept by instruments able to discover listening devices. But when Roosevelt went abroad to meet Stalin, he wanted very badly to please him, holding him to be a key figure in the postwar division of powers, and so did not insist on such accommodations.

Consequently, at the conference in Teheran (November 1943) and again at Yalta (February 1945), he stayed in Soviet quarters and was bugged like no other American president in history.

FDR's Acquaintance With Bugs

Roosevelt was no stranger to technical surveillance. In 1939, piqued by an incident in which he believed that the press had deliberately misquoted him, he had a secret recording system installed in the White House as a means of self-protection. Since German tape-recording technology had not yet found its way to America, something had to be invented. FDR's assistants took the problem to David Sarnoff of the Radio Corporation of America. In June 1940, Sarnoff personally presented the President with a "continuous-film recording machine" that made use of motion-picture sound film. Set in a wire cage in a room beneath the Oval Office, the device was activated either by the President using a switch inside his desk drawer or by his technician down below throwing a switch on the machine itself. A single microphone poked out through a lamp on FDR's desk. . .

. . .In the very year of the Teheran conference, he was reminded of hidden microphones when watching Mission to Moscow, a movie based on a book of that title by Joseph E. Davies, America's second Ambassador to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Produced in 1943 with the President's blessing, possibly even at his explicit request, this blatant piece of propaganda was designed to drum up public enthusiasm for a political shotgun wedding: It colored Stalin as a simple, practical man with whom one could do business; rhapsodized about Soviet construction, government, and politics; and justified the Soviet blood purges, the Moscow show trials, and Stalin's two-year pact with Hitler, which had ended when Hitler turned the tables on Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Attempting to forestall any criticism of the Soviet system, Davies even contrived to make a brief for bugging. In one scene, set in the American Embassy in Moscow, the Ambassador's assistants warn him of listening devices, but he rebukes them severely:

I say nothing outside the Kremlin that I wouldn't say to Stalin's face. Do you? . . . We're here in a sense as guests of the Soviet government, and I'm going to believe they trust the United States as a friend until they prove otherwise. Is that clear?

When the assistant persists that still, after all, there may be microphones, Davies, played with aplomb by FDR's favorite actor, Walter Huston, cuts him off: "Then let 'em hear! We'll be friends that much faster!"

This cinematic scene was based on an actual incident. In 1937, when a bug was discovered directly over the Ambassador's desk at the US Embassy in Moscow, the real Davies laughed it off. If the Soviets wanted to listen in, he told his incredulous staff?which included George Kennan, Charles Bohlen, and other skilled State Department diplomats?they would only obtain proof of America's sincere desire to cooperate with them.

FDR strongly approved of the film. In his assessment of Soviet politics, he was much closer to Davies, his second Ambassador, than to his first, William C. Bullitt.6 Contrary to Davies, Bullitt never missed an opportunity to warn FDR of Stalin's treachery. In a typical exchange, Roosevelt responded:

Bill, I don't dispute your facts; they are accurate. I don't dispute the logic of your reasoning. I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man. Harry [Hopkins] says he's not and that he doesn't want anything but security for his country, and I think if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.

FDR's hunch, Hopkins' glowing reports on Stalin, and Davies' boundless trust in the Soviet regime were the President's counters to the admitted facts about Hitler's recent ally, history's greatest mass-murderer, and the sole ruler of a party and state dedicated to worldwide communism.

Missions to Moscow

Certain that he had the correct line on Stalin, FDR desired to meet him, turn his famous charisma on him, and decide world affairs with him on a personal basis. As early as March 1942, he wrote British Prime Minister Winston Churchill:

I think I can personally handle Stalin better than either your Foreign Office or my State Department. Stalin hates the guts of all your top people. He thinks he likes me better, and I hope he will continue to do so.

Guided by this conviction, FDR steered a straight-line policy on "Russia," as he unfailingly and mistakenly called the Soviet Union: unswerving conciliation of Stalin, capped off with a face-to-face meeting.

To advance this policy, he relied heavily on Davies. In March 1943, when the Ambassador to the USSR at the time, Adm. William H. Standley, complained in Moscow that the Soviet authorities had concealed the extent of American Lend-Lease aid from the Soviet people, FDR feared that Stalin would take offense. Chastising Standley, he informed him that his sole purpose in Moscow was "full and friendly cooperation" with the Soviet Union.

Soon afterward, the President entrusted former envoy Davies with a new mission: flying to Moscow and telling Stalin in private how much the American President respected him and how much he wanted to build their special relationship. To prove it, Davies was to tell the tyrant that FDR wanted to meet him face-to-face.

Prior to his departure in May 1943, Davies brought a fresh print of Mission to Moscow to the White House for a sneak preview. After its viewing, he secured FDR's permission to take a copy with him to Moscow, along with a sealed envelope that the President had prepared for Stalin.
When Davies arrived in Moscow, Amb. Standley, not informed of the mission in advance, resigned in disgust. Davies met Stalin in the Kremlin and read him the letter.

He emphasized the US government's disapproval of British imperialism and broadly hinted that the USA and the USSR, without the British, could rule the world together. Having betrayed British allies and destroyed the incumbent Ambassador, Davies then retired with Stalin to the Kremlin screening room to watch Mission to Moscow, where his cinematic glorification of the dictator, to his disappointment, did not win a rave review, but only a grunt or two. However, Davies got what he came for: Stalin agreed to meet FDR in Alaska. Davies' biographer, Elizabeth Kimball MacLean, calls it "the coup of his diplomatic career."


At 12:07 PM, Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Thanks for posting that! I hadn`t seen it; although I am not in the least surprised. FDR always had a blind spot for Stalin.

At 7:42 PM, Blogger Pindar said...

To "commemorate"--note the sarcastic quotes--the 60th anniversary of the Yalta Conference, Feb. 4-11, 1945, I can't think of a better way than re-post a comment Hindrocket posted on the June 29, 2003 Power Line blog: "I've always known that Roosevelt gave away the store to Stalin at Yalta, and have suspected him of being a Communist sympathizer (as his wife certainly was, to the point that the Soviets discussed approaching her to spy for them). But this Study In Intelligence by the CIA, which describes how Roosevelt allowed himself to be spied upon by Stalin both at Teheran in 1943 and Yalta in 1945, makes Roosevelt appear to be even a worse chump than I thought. This sample Roosevelt quote, addressed to the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, who tried to warn Roosevelt against Stalin, is priceless:

"Bill, I don't dispute your facts; they are accurate. I don't dispute the logic of your reasoning. I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man. Harry [Hopkins] says he's not and that he doesn't want anything but security for his country, and I think if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace."

It would be hard to imagine a more stunning combination of arrogance and ignorance. Franklin Roosevelt's reputation has declined in recent years, but it hasn't declined anywhere near enough."

February 16, 2005 4:35


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