The Silvermaster File
Bentley’s Washington contacts included several dozen people who worked for the Federal government as of November ’45, or had recently done so. These contacts were in turn connected to scores of others, many also in government jobs, who had still other such connections, in a series of ever-widening circles. Places where the subjects worked included the Treasury, State, War and Commerce Departments, various wartime/post-war and international agencies, and the White House.
A sizeable number of these subjects, the FBI would learn, were in contact with outside Communist party functionaries, officially cited Communist front groups, and Soviet and other officials from Communist countries, not only via Bentley herself but in many cases directly. Many names of such identified CP figures and alleged front groups, Soviet officials and foreign contacts appear in the records also.
In surveilling the Bentley suspects, the FBI at the outset was mainly looking for information on espionage, but evidence of this was not discovered. What the Bureau found instead was a large network of people linked to the Bentley suspects, many of whom knew one another and/or had contacts in common, who were or had been employed in official posts, often involving foreign policy matters. Various memos in the file reflect the FBI belief that policy influence was the main object of the people it was surveilling.
The Bureau also discovered overlaps between the Bentley investigation and other cases—most notably the Amerasia case and its focus on China issues, the COMRAP and CINRAD probes centered on the atom project, and the Hiss-Chambers case that was at this time beginning to develop. The result was a sometimes bewildering number of cross-references involving different groups of subjects and linkages to other records.
According to Bentley, the Treasury group was linked in turn via Bentley herself and/or directly to officials in other Federal agencies—Lauchlin Currie, formerly at the White House, Robert Miller, Alger Hiss and others at the State Department, William Remington at Commerce, Maurice Halperin and Duncan Lee of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, and a considerable group of lesser known officials. All of these, she said, were members of the pro-Soviet network with which she was connected.
Based on the Bentley allegations, the Bureau launched a wide-ranging investigation of the suspects and their many contacts, eventually developing an enormous file involving several hundred people. The “Silvermaster” record is the story of this investigation as it unfolded over the next three years, presented in roughly chronological order, including the FBI data-take from wiretaps, physical surveillance, statements by informants, and background records on the nature of the penetration. (As ever, the mere fact that somebody’s name appeared somewhere in these files was not in itself evidence of wrongdoing, nor did the FBI so construe things.)
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