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Amerasia was a journal of Far Eastern affairs, founded by "millionaire Communist" Frederick Vanderbilt Field (who was also Editorial Board Chairman) and Philip Jaffe, and edited by Jaffe and Kate L. Mitchell. It is most noted for a case in which several of its staff and their contacts were suspected of espionage and charged with unauthorized possession of government documents. The 1940s journal should not to be confused with the academic journal of the same name published by the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Amerasia Affair

What came to be called the Amerasia Affair began when Kenneth Wells, an analyst for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), noticed that an article printed in the January 26, 1945, issue of Amerasia was almost identical to a 1944 report he had written on Thailand. OSS agents investigated by breaking into the New York offices of Amerasia on March 11, 1945, where they found hundreds of classified documents from the Department of Statemarker, the Navy, and the OSS.

The OSS notified the State Department, which asked the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker (FBI) to investigate. The FBI's investigation indicated that Jaffe had probably obtained the documents from State Department employee Emanuel Larsen and Andrew Roth, a lieutenant with the Office of Naval Intelligence. Free-lance reporter Mark Gayn was also a suspect, as was State Departmentmarker "China Hand" John S. Service.

FBI surveillance recorded that during this investigation Jaffe met with Service several times in Washington and New York, reporting that at one meeting, "Service, according to the microphone surveillance, apparently gave Jaffe a document which dealt with matters the Chinese had furnished to the United States government in confidence."

An FBI summary reported that Jaffe visited the Soviet consulate in New York, and two days after a meeting with Service had a four-hour meeting in his home with Communist Party Secretary Earl Browder and Tung Pi-wu, the Chinese Communist representative to the United Nations Charter Conference.

In carrying out its investigation, the FBI illegally broke into the offices of Amerasia and the homes of Gayn and Larsen, and installed bugs and phone taps in the Amerasia offices and in Larsen and Jaffe's homes. Six people were arrested on June 6, 1945: Jaffe, Mitchell, Larsen, Roth, Gayn and Service. Simultaneously, the Amerasia offices were raided and 1,700 classified State Department, Navy, OSS, and Office of War Information documents were seized.

Because no evidence was found indicating that any documents had been forwarded to a foreign power, the Justice Departmentmarker decided not to seek an indictment under the Espionage Act. Instead, an indictment was sought against the six for unauthorized possession of government documents. A grand jury ultimately indicted three of the six: Jaffe, Larsen, and Roth. Before the trial began, Larsen's defense attorney learned of the FBI's illegal break-in to Larsen's home. Faced with the possibility that more of the illegal investigative techniques used by the FBI would become known and that the cases would be lost at trial as a result, the Justice Department arranged a deal whereby Jaffe agreed to plead guilty and pay a fine of $2,500, while Larsen pleaded no contest and was fined $500. The charges against Roth were dropped altogether.

Congressional investigations

Despite the anticlimactic outcome, the Amerasia Affair continued to attract attention. In the growing atmosphere of McCarthyism, many saw the case as an indication of the danger of both Communist espionage and Communist influence on the government, particularly the State Department. Senator Joseph McCarthy would often speak of the case in these terms, maintaining it was a security breach and cover-up of immense proportions.

In 1946, a House Judiciary subcommittee chaired by Rep. Samuel F. Hobbs and, in 1950, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Investigation of Loyalty of State Department Employees, or "Tydings Committee", investigated the Amerasia case. In 1955, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee asked the Justice Departmentmarker to deliver the Amerasia materials to them. The records were declassified and, in 1956 and 1957, the Justice Department delivered 1,260 documents to the subcommittee.

The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee published a two-volume book entitled The Amerasia Papers: A Clue to the Catastrophe of China in 1970. The "catastrophe of China" in the title refers to the "loss of China" to Communism, an event that many conservatives blamed on the alleged Communist sympathies of the so-called "China Hands" in the Foreign Service.

Communist connections

Amerasia's chief financial benefactor was Frederick V. Field. Phillip Jaffe was a friend of Earl Browder, general secretary of the Communist Party of the United States. Its staffers and writers included a number Communists or former Communists, including at one time Joseph Milton Bernstein, a GRU contact between Soviet agents operating in the Office of Strategic Services and the Board of Economic Warfare.

Notes

  1. Craig Thomson, “America's Millionaire Communist,” The Saturday Evening Post, September 9, 1950.
  2. FBI Report: Institute of Pacific Relations, Internal Security – C, November 4, 1944 ( FBI file: Institute of Pacific Relations, Section 1, PDF p. 45)
  3. Report of the United States Senate Subcommittee on the Investigation of Loyalty of State Department Employees, 1950, appendix, p. 2051.
  4. FBI Amerasia file, Section 52.


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