Treasonable Doubt:  The Harry Dexter White Spy Case

Treasonable Doubt:  The Harry Dexter White Spy Case


In 1948 Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley shocked America in 1948 with their allegations that Communist spies had penetrated the American government. The resulting perjury trial of Alger Hiss is already legendary, but Chambers and Bentley also named Harry Dexter White, a high-ranking Treasury official. When White died only a week after his bold defense before Congress, much speculation remained about the cause of his death and the truth of the charges made against him. This book examines this controversial case and explores the “ambiguities” that have haunted it for more than half a century.

The highest ranking figure in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations to be accused of espionage, White played a central role in the founding of the United Nations’ twin financial institutions, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For years after his death, White was a target of red-baiting by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and Eisenhower’s attorney general Herbert Brownell. Two Republican-controlled Senate committees held White accountable for “policy subversion” – for formulating the “pro-Russian” Morgenthau Plan for post-war Germany and for orchestrating the loss of mainland China to the Communists to name but two.

This book draws heavily on previously untapped or underused sources, including White’s personal papers, Treasury Department records, FBI files, and the once secret Venona files of decrypted Soviet espionage cables. Interviews with nearly two dozen key figures in the case, including Alger Hiss and former KGB officer V. G. Pavlov, also help bring White’s story to life. Sifting through this mountain of evidence, the book retraces White’s rise to power within the Treasury Department and confirms that indeed White was involved in a “species of espionage”–but that the same evidence contradicts Bentley’s charges of “policy subversion.”

What emerges is an even-handed portrait of neither a monster nor a martyr but rather a committed New Dealer and internationalist whose hopes for world peace transcended national loyalties—a man who saw some benefit in cooperating with the Soviets but had no affection for dictatorship.  Even though new information has emerged from the KGB archives that strongly suggests that White indeed was a Soviet spy, no researcher has managed to dismantle the central thesis advanced in this book nearly a decade ago: that none of the most serious allegations relating to White’s alleged policy subversion can be substantiated.


“Craig has issued a thoughtful and carefully-argued verdict on a legendary and controversial case that influenced the course of American history. Treasonable Doubt is a fascinating book, illuminating the shadowy world of the complex Harry Dexter White case as it examines legal, political, and moral issues that still affect us today.”
Michael Beschloss, PBS commentator and author of The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1941–1945

“Craig turns the complicated facts of White’s life into a terrific story, partly a spy yarn with philosophical overtones à la Graham Greene or Joseph Conrad, partly a convincing evocation of the mentality Craig calls ‘Rooseveltian internationalism.’ . . .The book is a work of prodigioius and meticulous scholarship. On the basis of this achievement, Craig deserves to be ranked among the finest historians of the domestic Cold War.”
—American Historical Review (review by Richard Gid Powers)

“Craig’s provocative and meticulously researched book could provide a model for understanding other spies of the era and is sure to enliven the debate about Cold War espionage.”
Kathryn S. Olmsted, author of Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley

“Of all the New Deal officials caught up in the famous cold war spy cases, none was more significant, or elusive, than the brilliant economist Harry Dexter White. Craig’s well-told account of White and the controversy surrounding him is by far the most thorough ever written, incorporating a wealth of new evidence long-buried in archives at home and abroad.”
Sam Tanenhaus, author of Whittaker Chambers: A Biography

“Craig’s lucid, fair-minded, and painstaking study of White as a dedicated New Deal internationalist who engaged in a ‘species of espionage’ in order to maintain good relations with the Soviet Union rings true. Thanks to his thoughtful analysis, we can at last understand why such a gifted public servant could become a spy.”
Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America

“Exhaustively prepared, wholly fair and balanced in its analysis, and wholly right in its conclusions.”
Michael Straight, author of Trial by Television: The Army–McCarthy Hearings

“A masterful historical investigation that examines the evidence in the White case, lays out an historical analysis that neither condemns White nor exonerates him, and encourages readers to tolerate the ambiguities that emerge in the historical record. Highly recommended.”

For more on the author and the book, visit the University Press of Kansas Web page:

To access the book’s Prologue go to:

To view a photo gallery go to: