BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Joseph E. Persico,
author of "Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR
and World War II Espionage," when did
you get the idea for this book?
Mr. JOSEPH PERSICO, AUTHOR, "ROOSEVELT'S SECRET WAR: FDR AND WORLD WAR II ESPIONAGE": Brian, I was a kid
growing up during the Roosevelt era.
He's always been a hero of mine. I
wondered how I would be able someday to write a book about
Franklin Roosevelt. I couldn't imagine there was anything that
hadn't been said. I pulled up on the Internet the catalog of
the Library of Congress and I went through it line by line and
there were something like 600 books on Franklin D. Roosevelt.
And I thought, `It's a--it's all said. But I've written a great
deal about intelligence and maybe I could combine the two,'
and there was nothing in this list of 600 books in the catalog
about FDR and intelligence. My--my reaction was, `Joe, you
are either brilliant and you've thought of something that
nobody else could think of or you're a fool and you're wasting
your time because there's no story.'
LAMB: So in the end, what--when did you start to see a--a
story that had never been told?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, I started going down, Brian, to Hyde Park,
to the Roosevelt Archives. And it--I started virtually from
ground zero. But as I started plowing through the papers of
George Marshall, the papers of Bill Donovan and FDR's papers,
I realized there were a lot of unst--untold stories and I was
very encouraged to proceed.
LAMB: Let's pick one of those names, Bill Donovan. Who was
Mr. PERSICO: Bill Donovan was an authentic hero of World
War I, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, subsequently a
vastly successful Wall Street lawyer. Now he becomes, in
effect, the first head of a central intelligence agency in the
United States. Franklin Roosevelt appoints him in the summer
of 1941 as--what eventually becomes the Office of Strategic
Services. Kind of a strange choice because Donovan was a
staunch Republican, had run for governor of New York on an
anti-Roosevelt, anti-New Deal platform. But he was also a
man of irrepressible spirit, boundless optimism, full of ideas
and, in a sense, he--he reflected the qualities of Franklin
Roosevelt. So he was named the head of our first spy service.
LAMB: As you know, they called him Wild Bill Donovan. Tell us
a wild story.
Mr. PERSICO: Well, one--one of the--one of the conclusions I
reached about Donovan was that he was a magnificent
magnet for attracting talent. His OSS attracted college
presidents, semanticists, philosophers, writers, journalists,
photographers, actors, cameramen. Arthur Goldberg had been
an OSS veteran, subsequently goes on the Supreme Court.
Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was with the OSS. The French
chef Julia Child was with the OSS. But what kind of
str--struck me about Donovan is the crack-brained ideas that
he could advance, one of which was that his agents would
somehow intrude into Hitler's diet substances that would
cause the Fuhrer's breasts to swell, his voice to rise and his
mustache to fall out. Another idea that he came forward with
was to drop leaflets over Japanese troops which show
pictures of Japanese women involved in compromising
positions with Caucasians, which presumably would--would
demoralize them and seeing that their women were not being
faithful. The thing that was surprising to me is that these
crazy ideas did not turn FDR off at all. He didn't reject them
out of hand because he loved the--the surreptitious, the
furtive, the clandestine and the covert.
LAMB: You say in your book at, I think, the height of the OSS,
he had something like 1,600 people working for him?
Mr. PERSICO: More like 16,000.
LAMB: Sixteen thousand people!
Mr. PERSICO: Yes.
LAMB: Boy, I missed that.
Mr. PERSICO: And that's starting from ground zero. You know,
we had no intelligence service to speak of, even the year
before Pearl Harbor.
LAMB: So kind of relate that to today. The president of the
United States has somebody who's a friend of his who creates
what kind of a--and what would--what would happen if this
kind of thing was developed today?
Mr. PERSICO: Well...
LAMB: Can you relate it to what's going on in the world right
Mr. PERSICO: Yeah. I--I th--I think that the--the real parallel
here is the shocking unexpectedness of Pearl Harbor and
September 11th. How could this happen? At the--after the
fact, the strand of intelligence that leads from A to B to C to
Pearl Harbor may stand out glaringly, and after the fact the
strand of intelligence that runs from X to Y to Z to the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon may seem to stand out
glaringly. But before the fact, this intelligence doesn't come in
single strands. It comes in great bundles. You know, we were
breaking the Japanese code, there were hundreds of
messages available to the president. We now have the NSA,
which I understand does something like $3 billion of
worldwi--wide eavesdropping. So what we have that's
comparable is a f--a flood tide of intelligence which seems to
overwhelm the circuitry. What we seem to be lacking is--then
and now is careful analy--an--analysis to say, `Well, we've
got this tide of intelligence. What direction is it falling in?
What do these jigsaw pieces tell us if we can put them
together?' That was a failing prior to Pearl Harbor and
obviously a failing now.
LAMB: Vincent Astor. What did he do for FDR?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, I mentioned a moment ago that the United
States didn't go into the intelligence business in a serious way
until 1941. We were probably the only world power that didn't
have a professional intelligence service. Roosevelt relied very
heavily prior to, let's say, 1940 on a circle of socialite friends
as his sources. There were a group of them who styled
themselves The Club, and they had taken a shabby apartment
on New York's Upper East Side. They had an unlisted phone
number. They had a secret mail drop. It--it--it sounded like
the spy games of boys being carried out by grown men. The
ch--the chief figure in this outfit called The Club was Vincent
Astor, one of the wealthiest men in the country.
LAMB: Which one is he in this photo at top?
Mr. PERSICO: Vincent Astor is the one to the right of the bar
on the ship where's is standing.
LAMB: Or to the left of FDR?
Mr. PERSICO: And he's--and he--let's see. It looks to me like
he's to--yes. Yes.
LAMB: And--and who was he?
Mr. PERSICO: Vincent Astor was the--the heir of a massive
fortune in the United States. He was--he was a socialite, but
he was also a man interested in--in causes, owned probably
the biggest chunks of real estate in Manhattan. He and his
other members of The Club, while they seemed like dilettante
amateurs, had this value for FDR: They were very highly
placed. For example, Astor was a director of Western Union,
and consequently he was privy to the kinds of cables which
were going from foreign embassies in the United States back
to their homelands, and though it was illegal, he had these
cables intercepted and he passed this intelligence along to
FDR. Another member of The Club was Winthrop Aldrich, who,
at the time, was head of the Chase Manhattan Bank. Aldrich
knew about international financial dealings. He could report to
FDR all the money that was going into and coming out of the
Russian spy front in the United States, the Amtorg Trading
company. But this--this was a pretty unsophisticated level of
intelligence for a country the size of the United States at that
LAMB: Well, in 1939 and '40, what kind of an
intelligence-gathering operation did FDR have? Did he have an
Mr. PERSICO: No, he--that doesn't--he doesn't begin a
formal, official central intelligence agency until the summer of
1941. What he has before that are the military services, the
Office of Naval Intelligence, he has the military intelligence
division of the Army, and he has the FBI. And he ha--he
tri--he's very unhappy with the lack of coordination--and
doesn't that ring a bell today? For example, at one point, to
try to get these people moving in the same direction, he--he
calls a meeting of--of Hoover as the head of the FBI and the
head of military intelligence and naval intelligence. Hoover
doesn't dane to come.
LAMB: Just says, `I'm not coming'?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, he had to be ordered by FDR finally to
come. We had the Army and Navy with the lunatic handling
of--of the messages that we were decoding, particularly
Japanese diplomatic traffic. They had this rivalry in which the
Army would decode messages on even days, the--and the
Navy would do it on odd days. They had a s--a s--a system
where they would share who got to deliver the plum traffic to
the president. The Army would do it in certain months and
subsequent month would be in the Navy. And it was--it was
madness. And finally Roosevelt himself just cut out that
LAMB: Back to Vincent Astor. Was he the one that went on
the trip to try to find some intelligence over in Japan?
Mr. PERSICO: Yeah. Again, this indicates the rather
amateurish intelligence that Roosevelt conducted prior to
forming a formal agency in--in the OSS. Astor had a
magnificent ocean-going yacht called the Nourmahal. It had a
crew of over 40 members. FDR asks Vincent Astor to cruise
the Pacific, seemingly on a pleasure junket, and hit places in
the Marshall Islands, which were then managed by Japan
as--as a mandate, and to report on our preparations there.
And this was great fun for Vincent Astor and a great
adventure. He subsequently thought this would lead to his
becoming FDR's chief of intelligence, but he's up against
tougher rivals in Donovan and some others.
LAMB: John Franklin Carter. You've got a photo of him in your
book. Who does--who is he?
Mr. PERSICO: John Franklin Carter--interesting man--was a
columnist in Washington. At one point he wangles an
appointment with the president in the Oval Office and he, in
effect, says to FDR, `You know, I have extraordinary
contacts in journalism, among international government
figures, among businessmen worldwide. I could easily set up
for you a ring and I would report strictly to you.' Roosevelt
lapped that up. It was just the kind of thing that appealed to
FDR--off the books, circumventing his own bureaucracy,
something private, clandestine. A spy thriller kind of thing
appealed to him. So he took money out of his own White
House budget to set up the John Franklin Carter ring. Has this
money transferred into the State Department, where
presumably it's there to buy reports about foreign--foreign
governments. And then Carter operates throughout the war,
directly reporting to FDR and the Oval Office.
LAMB: How many people did he have working for him?
Mr. PERSICO: Very small group, only about 12. But the
interesting thing is that we have an OSS that doesn't
necessarily know about the John Franklin Carter ring. We have
John Franklin Carter who doesn't necessarily know about the
LAMB: And you say that FDR didn't write very much down.
Mr. PERSICO: FDR, by his character and temperament, was
ideally suited for--for secret warfare. He loved to trade in
secrets. He was a master manipulator of people. He misled his
own associates when it suited him. He seemed to enjoy
subterfuge for its own sake. And he said it best himself. He
said, `I'm a juggler. I never let my left hand know what my
right hand is doing.' And to answer your point, he left virtually
no fingerprints. One of the most frustrating things that
h--historians on the--on the trail of Franklin Roosevelt
complain about is the lack of written commitment to decisions
that he made or explanations as to what he did.
LAMB: What did you learn about him ba--as a person?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, I always had a--had a sense that--that
Roosevelt was a man with a certain amount of guile. My
research in writing "Roosevelt's Secret War" convinced me
even further of that. As I--as I said a moment ago, he was
ideally suited for this kind of thing. He--he was--I think some
of the best descriptions of him, which I accept as--as
essential to his character, one of which was made by one of
his New Deal associates, who said, `The man always conceals
the purposes of his mind.' An--another one of his close
associates said, `I'--this was Robert Sherwood, who wrote
speeches for Roosevelt--he said, `I could never penetrate
that heavily forested interior.' Henry Wallace said, `The only
certainty in the Roosevelt administration was what was going
on inside FDR's head.' M--my initial expectation that he would
be a--a man who held the cards close to the vest was
confirmed. Somebody said to me, `Well, did this make you
think less of him?' It made him more interesting to me, a more
LAMB: You say in the book that you're--Colin Powell helped
you with information on this book. Did I misinterpret that or
was that from your old friendship?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, in this sense, as--as you know, I w--I was
Colin Powell's collaborator on his autobiography, "My American
Journey." Colin Powell, needless to say, had very, very useful
connections throughout the federal bureaucracy, and when I
would have queries, I could go to some of his staff
who--who--who would get answers for me, for which I'm very
LAMB: How long did you work on his book?
Mr. PERSICO: He and I were together for about 20 months.
Most of the time I spent down in a little study in his office
examining the soles of his sneakers. He's a, you know, very
casual guy. And he put--propped his feet up on the desk
and--and we would just start talking with a tape recorder on,
and essentially, what we arrived at was an extended oral
history. Colin Powell has an extraordinarily retentive mind. He's
a great storyteller. Every once in a while when we were sated
with working on the book, he would regale me with his
renditions of Jamaican songs which had kind of a naughty
double entendre lyric. It was a s--stimulating experience.
LAMB: What do you know about him that we don't that gives
you a certain view of him during this crisis as secretary of
Mr. PERSICO: Well, I'm not sure who--who--who would not be
aware of this now, but my--my sense is that we're--we're
fortunate in that in--in Colin Powell we have an unusual
preparation for the work he's carrying on now. This man, from
the military standpoint, was the--the nation's chief military
figure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Frequently
overlooked is the fact that he had already been a national
security adviser. He was Reagan's man at the NSC. And then
he has developed a worldwide reputation for integrity,
in--intelligence, candor, so that in building coalitions, this is
enormously important. So I think we have an extraordinary
combination in Colin Powell, and I would say, in short, the man
I see is resolute, but at the same time reasonable.
That's--that's a comfort.
LAMB: But just on a personal level, if somebody came to you
and said that, `Joe, I'm gonna go meet Colin Powell. I've got
to do business with him,' what would you tip him off to do?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, I--I--I will tell you, Brian, what I--what I
told my wife when I first met Colin Powell. I went down to the
Pentagon the very day before he retired from 35 years in the
military. He's a joint--chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And we
were just kind of sizing each other up for the collaboration.
And I went home and my wife said, `Well, what is he like?'
And I said, `Colin Powell is the most comfortable man in his
skin whom I have ever met.' And what I would tell somebody
is pretty much expect a direct, casual figure with no guile, no
side to him.
LAMB: So how did you get to all this? Where were--where'd
you first get interested in being a writer?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, I wanted to be a writer ever since I was a
kid. Finally, I--I backed into writing, I guess. I was, for many
years, chief speechwriter for Governor and later Vice
President Nelson Rockefeller. Did that for a long time, as I say,
and started out--the first five years I loved it. The next three
years I tolerated it. The final three years I hated it. It had
nothing do with--with--with my boss. It was that I wanted to
write my own books. And finally, rather late in life I would say,
in my 40s, I started writing my own histories and biographies.
LAMB: I counted in the front part of the book that this would
be your ninth book. Did we miss any?
Mr. PERSICO: Not that I'm going to admit to. Yes, these...
LAMB: You--you wrote in '94 about Nuremberg, in '91 about
Mr. PERSICO: Right.
LAMB: ...in '98 about Edward R. Murrow...
Mr. PERSICO: Yeah.
LAMB: ...in '90--in '79, "Piercing the Reich: The Penetration of
Nazi Germany by American Secret Agents During World War
II." How much of that book led to what you're doing here?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, it--it led to a sense of confidence that I
could write reasonably well about intelligence. And I--I did
that book. An--another book that dealt with intelligence was
Casey, William J. Casey, who subsequently becomes the
director of central intelligence and who I first had met in--in
talking to him about Bill Donovan's OSS. Casey, you know, as
the Brits would say, had a pretty good war. Casey was--was
posted in--in England during the latter part of World War II,
and he was responsible for one of the great triumphs during
that period, which was something the British said couldn't be
done, and that is we got a number of teams inside Nazi
Germany, into--into something like 60 German cities. So this
would have been a coup for the OSS and a coup for the
Roosevelt administration of the war.
LAMB: What is MAGIC?
(Graphic on screen)
For More Information Random House 299 Park Avenue New
York, NY 10171
Mr. PERSICO: The US code crackers were working very hard
prior to 1940 in breaking the Japanese diplomatic code. They
called it code Purple. They finally broke that code, and
there--there b--it was broken s--by a team led by a man
named Frank Rowlett. Rowlett and--and his people were now
able, in effect, to place the president of the United States on
the distribution list of the Japanese Foreign Office because
we're breaking these messages, they're available in a very
sh--in a very short time. They may--it may be a message
from the foreign offices in Tokyo to the American--or
to--excuse me--to the Japanese Ambassadors in Washington.
We're breaking that code and these messages go up to
Pre--to President Roosevelt very quickly. And that's what the
MAGIC operation was. Very important because our breaking of
the Japanese codes were responsible for our 1942 victory in
the Pacific at Midway, which is a turning point of that war.
LAMB: Frank Rowlett is what kind of a guy back then and
where did he operate from?
Mr. PERSICO: Frank Rowlett was operating out of a former
girls' school in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington
called Arlington Hall. He operated with a very small group of
people. I can't imagine they made a great deal of money.
They worked for the Army as cryptographers, but they were
very dedicated. And their--their breakthrough was really a
significant advance for us.
One of the things that they--they--they enabled us to
do--by breaking the Japanese codes, we also were able to
find out German intent. How did that come about? Because
the Japanese had an ambassador posted to Berlin. His name
was Oshima. Oshima was a rabid pro-Nazi. Consequently, he
won the confidence of Adolf Hitler. Hitler would bring in
Oshima and say, `Mr. Ambassador, I'm going to send you to
inspect the Atlantic Wall. I want you to see what I'm erecting
to repel an Allied invasion of the continent,' or he would say
to Oshima, `I'm going to tell you how many divisions I have
deployed in Norway, Denmark, in Belgium,' most importantly
in--in France. And then he would say to Oshima, upon
these--these rather critical revelations, `and I don't want you
to breathe a word of--of this to anybody.'
Well, Oshima did what a good diplomat does. He would report
back to Tokyo, virtually verbatim, his conversations with Hitler
through that diplomatic code that we're breaking, and these
messages then are available to the president, to his secretary
of War, to the military chiefs. One of the most significant
revelations was when--when Hitler tells Oshima, `I'll tell you
where the Allies are going to strike. They're going to strike at
the Pas-de-Calais,' the narrowest part of the British
Channel--the English Channel. And he reports this back to
Tokyo. We intercept it. We now know that Hitler expects the
invasion there. Why is that significant? Because that was our
deception plan. That's exactly what we wanted him to think,
and we know it's working.
LAMB: You say that--that some 400 messages that FDR could
have read from Oshima?
Mr. PERSICO: There--there was something like 400 Oshima
intercepts per year. General Marshall...
LAMB: Per year?
Mr. PERSICO: Yes. General Marshall said that he was our best
source of information on German intentions. He was
our--our--our best agent, an unwitting agent albeit. And for
the president, it was not simply peeking at the other fella's
hand. It was like holding the other fella's hand.
LAMB: So the president's in the Oval Office, and every day
they could bring in these Oshima messages. And did the
Japanese ever find out that the president knew all this stuff?
Mr. PERSICO: It's really extraordinary. In 1942, after the
Battle of Midway, the Chicago Tribune front-paged a story
which practically blew the secret. The--the--the Tribune
headline read, in effect, Navy Knew Japanese War Plan. Well,
how else would we have known it? The story's virtually saying
we're--we're breaking the Japanese code. Astonishingly, while
any cabdriver in Chicago could have drawn that conclusion,
the Japanese considered their code unbreakable. They used
the same compromised code to the end of the war.
LAMB: You mentioned the Chicago Tribune. And again, I want
to try to relate to the atmosphere we're living in right now.
First of all, when you read this book, the first thing that
comes to mind is that FDR knew a lot more than the American
people ever knew. And I wonder if you think that our
president today knows a lot more than we'll ever know about
what's going on in the world.
Mr. PERSICO: Well, I--I would think the president does, I
would think the intelligence-gathering agencies do,
be--because, you know, it's al--it's almost like a criminal
investigation or a manhunt that we're on now. And--and--and
by revealing everything you know, you also tip off your
adversaries as to what you know. You dry up sources, you
compromise people. I think it has to be that way.
LAMB: You point out that 20 cases of espionage happened
here in the United States from outside coming in, and that at
one point there were 16 of the 20 they had in--in jail
somewhere. But the--what I'm getting at is how much--I'm
looking at a story of Willie Copaw--Is that the way you
Mr. PERSICO: Yes. Yeah.
LAMB: How much of the--you know, the enemy coming inside
this country did we have back in World War II?
Mr. PERSICO: Surprisingly little. The FBI had rounded up
almost all agents operating with the United States. However,
Hitler was very unhappy with the job being done by his
intelligence service, the Abwehr, and pressured Admiral
Kanaris, his intelligence chief, do something more dramatic.
The result was an operation called Pastorius in which eight
Germans who had lived in the United States, two of whom had
been US citizens, and--men who had gone back to Germany,
were recruited to form this team. They were put ashore in the
United States via submarine in the summer of 1942 to carry
out espionage. One of them decided to rat on his other
comrades, thinking this would make him a hero.
This--and--and--and so they were all quickly rounded up.
This story is--is fairly well-known.
What is far less known was Roosevelt's attitude towards
these saboteurs. He immediately directs his attorney general,
Francis Biddle, to organize the trial outside of the civilian
courts through a military tribunal. And he said to Biddle, in
effect, `These are agents of the enemy. They've come
ashore in wartime th--in civilian clothes. I don't think there
can be any doubt as to what their fate must be.' So he keeps
the--this case out of the civilian courts because the rules of
evidence are strict, the opportunities for appeal seem to be
endless. A military court which he creates and he names all
the members, and then he directs his attorney general, Biddle,
to prosecute the case, so that within eight weeks of these
saboteurs setting foot in the United States, they have b--all
been condemned to death. Two of them subsequently are
commuted. But what I found interesting was that this Hudson
River patrician, this amiable, genial Franklin Roosevelt, was
underneath hard as nails. He expressed his only regret in this
case that these men hadn't suffered the more ignominious
fate of being hanged rather than being electrocuted.
LAMB: I mention Willy Copaw. You--you write on page 387,
`He had never fit in. He was a bony 6' 2" 26-year-old from a
good Greenwich, Connecti--a good Connecticut family but a
social outcast and a loner.' What happened there with
Mr. PERSICO: He got caught.
LAMB: What did he do, though? What was that story?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, C--Copaw, as you've just read, didn't
seem to fit anywhere. He had German ancestry, and
consequently, he was enamored of--of what was happening in
Germany and very much impressed by Hitler's early victories
and manages to get himself thrown out of the US Navy
for being overtly pro-Nazi; manages, through merchant
vessels, to get himself to Europe, and he volunteers with
another figure to carry on probably the last attempt the Nazis
made to--to land saboteurs ashore on the United States. He
meets one of his former schoolmates, who persuades him that
this is madness. Copaw turns himself in, serves a--a--a
modest sentence after the war. We knew we had victory in
hand now, and there wasn't quite this s--spirit of vengeance
that FDR had expressed earlier.
LAMB: But you put--I mean, one of the things that's
interesting is that he was dropped into Frenchman's Bay up
there in--I assume, in Maine.
Mr. PERSICO: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: That's the way he got back into the country.
Mr. PERSICO: Right. He--he did--he did make it back to the
United States wi--with a bundle of money. He had a good
time with the Fuehrer's dollar supply but was useless as an
agent. And I think the--the lack of appropriateness of this
man and the previous team I talked about is an indication of
how weak German intelligence was as targeted against the
LAMB: Who's this fellow right here?
Mr. PERSICO: That man is Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengel. That
was his nickname, Putzi. He had been a close personal
associate of Hitler's. He handled the foreign press for Hitler.
He was a pretty good pianist, and he was dubbed Hitler's
piano player. Hanfstaengel was eventually driven out of
Hitler's circle by more ruthless Nazi rivals, became fighting for
his life, went to England, the war breaks out, and
Hanfstaengel is interned in a POW camp. He is subsequently
sprung by one of FDR's personal agents, John Franklin Carter,
who I mentioned earlier, and they bring him to the United
States and they install him in a safe house in Washington
Now Roosevelt is very interested in Hanfstaengel because,
first of all, he is half-American and he comes from a pedigreed
New England family, and like FDR, he went to Harvard.
Hanfstaengel's job is to provide the president with inside
information on the cast of characters in the Third Reich and
anything else he can provide of value. Much of what he
provides is--is more titillating than elevating. He sent
re--reports to Roosevelt about how Hitler had ex--sent out
agents to recover pornographic paintings that the--the
Fuehrer had done as a penniless artist in Vienna. He--he was
able to report to the president on how the Hitler-Eva Braun
romance had begun. He further was able to tell the president
about Hitler's sexual ambiguity.
He also was able to deliver some intelligence or estimations
that were of s--of substance. For example, he was the first
to insist that Hitler, no matter how bad things got, would not
surrender, that he would commit suicide first, which is,
indeed, what happened. The president looked forward to
these reports from Hanfstaengel. He called them `my Hitler
LAMB: What en--what hap--ended up happening to Putzi?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, Putzi s--seemed to lose favor when he got
done telling his bedtime stories or when he had revealed
whatever he knew, which--about the Third Reich and he's
now a number of years divorced from that, and because he's
kind of a pain in the neck who expects the United States to
provide him with a piano, take care of all of his dental work.
He's finally shipped back to the POW camp in Britain, and that
is the end of his spy career.
LAMB: Also, you have sprinkled in your book some stories
that, if it were to happen today, they would keep some cable
networks going for about three months. And what I'm getting
at is things like the Eleanor Roosevelt-Joseph Lashe story, the
personal side of that. Where do those--did--did the--how did
the president--did the president know about those kinds of
Mr. PERSICO: Well, there's an--there's an interesting
dichotomy in--in Hoover's relationship with FDR and with
Eleanor Roosevelt. He got along surprisingly well. You have
this genial, patrician, charming figure on one side and the dour
Hoover on the other, but they cooperated very closely.
However, Eleanor Roosevelt had made the mistake once of
referring to J. Edgar Hoover as stupid because he was
pressing a background clearance of a White House staffer who
had been around for years. Hoover was not the kind of figure
who would forget a slight, and consequently, when the Army
came up with a preposterous report that Eleanor Roosevelt
had been involved in a sexual tryst with her young protege,
Joe Lash, Hoover kept this information in his own private files
to the day of his death.
LAMB: What was the story, though? Did--was it ever proved
that they had a relationship?
Mr. PERSICO: No. The Army intelligence people that provided
this information to Hoover had made a--a small error in their
eavesdropping. They had found Eleanor Roosevelt in a--in a
hotel with Lash visiting. But what they produced as proof of
a tryst was young Lash's involvement with hi--with his
girlfriend. He was having an affair with a married woman at
the time, who he subsequently married himself. But the--the
Army mili--military intelligence people are--are taping this,
they're peeping through--through holes in the wall, and
somehow it gets mixed up that it's not Lash and his girlfriend
Trudy, but it's Lash and Eleanor Roosevelt.
LAMB: How public has the Sumner Welles story been, the one
in the train?
Mr. PERSICO: It's--it's fairly well-known. And you--what
you're referring to is the fact that Sumner Welles, who was
the undersecretary of State in the Roosevelt administration
and who was an important figure, he was Roosevelt's man.
The secretary of state was Cordell Hull, and Roosevelt pretty
much circumvented him and--and worked through Sumner
Welles, who was an old family friend. Welles had made some
sexual advances on trains, part of his--his business trips, to
black porters on these trains, who reported him. This was
concealed for a long time. It was two or three years before it
finally erupted. Roosevelt is under tremendous pressure from
people who fear that having a man with homosexual
tendencies in such a sensitive position at State--we have to
remember we're not talking about the current world; we're
talking about the attitudes of the--of the 1940s. He's looked
upon as a--as a--a security threat, and Roosevelt very
unhappily eventually dismisses Sumner Welles.
What I thought was interesting was after he has to--has to
force Welles out of the State Department, he considers
sending Welles on a mission to Moscow for him, and he's
talked out of that. But one can only imagine, with the
capabilities of the NKVD to--to blackmail and to lead people
into compromising positions, what might have come of that
LAMB: And how does William Bullitt fit into all this?
Mr. PERSICO: William Bullitt was a--a rival of--of Sumner
Welles. Bullitt had been FDR's ambassador to France.
Obviously he has to come back when France falls, and he is
one who is pressuring the president to do something about
Sumner Welles, to get rid of him. Roosevelt i--is--is loyal to
people, and he's very fond of Sumner Welles, and he is very
dependent on Sumner Welles. And after he hears of the
tarring of Sumner Welles by Bill Bullitt, he, in effect, says to
Bill Bullitt, `What Sumner Welles is doing is wrong, but what
you are doing to denigrate another man will send you down
there,' and he makes this hellward gesture.
LAMB: There are so many stories, as you know, in this book.
You be--in the back you have a legend of where you got a lot
of it. You mentioned the library. How much time did you spend
at the Hyde Park Library?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, I was practically living there for many
months. Hyde Park was a--a commute for me almost. It was
about an hour and a half from my home in Albany, New York.
That was my greatest source. I also had marvelous results in
my research at the National Archives, the Library of Congress.
The stories I was telling about the messages that were
intercepted by Ambassador Oshima I managed to track down
at the National Archives. I don't think they'd been looked at
very much or at all since that time. That was very rewarding
for a researcher.
LAMB: Well, o--one of the things you have listed is PS--and
you have the little designation so you can tell where
something's coming from--`PSF, president's secretaries file,
Roosevelt Library.' Have a lot of people mined that file?
Mr. PERSICO: Certain areas, things have been mined rather
heavily. But there--there are always fresh revelations
that--that--that astonish me. For example, there was some
suspicion that an economist by the name of Lachlan Curry,
who was an--a utility infielder for President Roosevelt, took
on--undertook many trusted missions--there was some
suspicion about his--his loyalty, and I'm plowing through the
archives at Hyde Park, and I find that Lachlan Curry was the
White House man tracking the development of the secret
explosive RDX. Somehow Soviet Union finds out about the
development of RDX. On another occa--on another occasion,
he is assigned to track the development of a new bomber, the
B-29. Somehow the Soviet Union finds out about the B-29.
These were things that I discovered that I--I don't imagine
anybody paid any attention to before. So there are still,
among these millions of pages, some fresh research nuggets.
LAMB: Whatever happened to Lachlan Curry?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, Lachlan Curry denied, after the war,
that--that he had ever been a--a spy or that he's ever been
a member of the Communist Party. Lachlan Curry was one of a
number of--of--of people who were useful to the Soviet
Union, who took the position at that period that Russia is our
ally, why should we hold anything back from the Soviet Union?
So a g--a guy like Curry may not have been a spy in the
White House in the most narrow, technical sense, but he
certainly was a--a--a--a priceless source of in--of
LAMB: It's not often that I would cite a PR insert in a book,
but this was the most complete PR advance work I've ever
seen. I guess it's from Random House.
Mr. PERSICO: That's right, my publisher.
LAMB: And the reason I cite it is 'cause it--in spite of reading
the book, it makes it so easy. I'm gonna go down the list of
things that they point out here, because time goes by very
quickly, but just give people just a little nugget of
what--what you're talking about here. It says here, `Among
the revelations discussed in "Roosevelt's Secret War," the
failure of US intelligence to anticipate the surprise Pearl
Mr. PERSICO: Well...
LAMB: Why--why did they fail?
Mr. PERSICO: Because, a--as I have explained to people at
the time or--I sh--excuse me, after the fact, that thread of
intelligence running from A to B to C to Pearl Harbor seems
glaringly obvious, or from X to Y to Z...
LAMB: But did they have the in--the intelligence information?
Mr. PERSICO: They--they had--they had the intelligence.
They had the information, but it came in a flood tide.
In--in--in the Roosevelt era, you know, Roosevelt didn't get
in--intelligence decrypts that had been examined by analysts
and--and placed together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. He
got raw intelligence. You know, it's very hard to sense, what's
the direction of this? What's it warning us about? What is our
antagonist likely to do next? Also we had--we had nobody on
the ground. We had no spies inside Ja--Japan, just as
apparently we--we haven't done very much to penetrate the
inner sanctum of--of our current adversaries.
LAMB: Another item: `FDR wanted to bomb Tokyo before Pearl
Mr. PERSICO: Yeah. That's amazing. Roosevelt was outraged
by the behavior of the Japanese in the war against
China--machine-gunning civilians in the street, bombing
defenseless cities. He considered a plan--This was a y--a
year in advance of Pearl Harbor--whereby the United States
would give B-17 bombers to the Chinese and train Chinese
pilots to fly them against Tokyo. He was told that it would
take too long to train these pilots. So the backup position was
we would give the bombers to China; we would have American
pilots resign from the Air Force and volunteer to fly them. So
we would have American pilots flying American planes a year
before Pearl Harbor against Tokyo. He was advised by cooler
heads that this would be an outright provocation and could
only lead to war.
LAMB: `The British fed FDR phony intelligence to draw the
United States into the war.'
Mr. PERSICO: Well, Winston Churchill was very eager to have
the United States join the war against Hitler, and
consequently, British agents were to provide intelligence that
would help ro--this happen. They told Roosevelt about the
fact that the Germans had taken a map and cut Latin America
into six future Nazi vassal states, that--that a Bolivian pro-US
government was going to be toppled by the Nazis, that we
had 6,000 Brazilian troops--excuse me, 6,000 German troops
in Brazil. Roosevelt used some of this information in his
speeches and in his Fireside Chats. It was all fabricated by
the--by the British to help encourage the United States to
enter the war.
LAMB: `FDR's yielding to Churchill led to the theft of the
Mr. PERSICO: Yeah. A curious tale. In the beginning, the
United States and Britain were full partners in developing an
atomic weapon, but as time went on and the United States
launched the Manhattan Project, was putting millions of
dollars into this, creating the facility at Los Alamos, we
became the dominant partner and started cutting the British
out of what was happening for security reasons. Churchill
comes to the United States at one point, sees Roosevelt at
Hyde Park. He's furious. He accuses Roosevelt of reneging. So
a compromise is reached: The British will not be getting
s--information on the A-bomb imported into Britain, but we will
allow a small team of British physicists, mathematicians and
other scientists to work at Los Alamos. One of them turns out
to be Klaus Fuchs. So as we know, Klaus Fuchs steals major
secrets of the bomb, gives this information to his Soviet
controllers. He is it--at Los Alamos because of a deal cut
between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
LAMB: What happens to Klaus Fuchs?
Mr. PERSICO: Fuchs is finally unmasked several years after
the war in--in 1950. He was sentenced, I think, a 14-year
prison term. Eventually, upon his release, he--he continued
his work in East Germany.
LAMB: How did he get into this in the first place?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, he--Klaus Fuchs had been a young, avid
Communist in his native Germany. Things got very tough
for--for Communists in Germany as the Nazis came to power,
so he fled to Great Britain and eventually became a British
LAMB: Back to the PR sheet here, which--by the way, did you
Mr. PERSICO: I made some suggestions.
LAMB: Because, you know, sometimes authors don't, and then
they're always surprised by what's in here. `A leaked FDR plan
led Hitler to declare war on the United States.'
Mr. PERSICO: Yeah, this is frequently overlooked, Brian,
th--that the United States did not cl--declare war on
Germany; we declared war only on Japan on December 8th,
1941. Why did Hitler do something seemingly so rash? There
was a leak of an important document called Rainbow Five, a
contingency plan that Roosevelt had called for: What would
we need, should we go to war against Germany by 1943? How
many divisions, how many ships, how many aircraft, how much
fuel, etc.? The Chicago Tribune gets a hold of this secret plan
and front-pages it, does not play it as a contingency plan.
The Tribune plays it as a war plan, and the--the headline says
FDR, Five Million Troops Against Germany by '43. And when
Hitler declares war on the United States four days after Pearl
Harbor, he--he virtually quotes this. He says, `Fra--President
Roosevelt intends to make war against us by 1943,' so in
declaring war against the United States, he doesn't view it as
being rash. He views it as anticipating the inevitable and
getting the draw on the US.
LAMB: `The relationship between FDR and Josef Stalin.'
Mr. PERSICO: Well, the--the president recognized that Stalin
was taking 80 percent of the casualties during World War II
and inflicting 80 percent of the casualties on the Germans. So
he was very, very eager to cultivate and placate Joe Stalin,
would bend over backwards. I'll g--I'll give one example. There
is the long-standing controversy about the Katyn forest. Who
murdered 9,000 Poles in the Katyn forest? The Germans
claimed the Soviet Union did it. The Soviet Union claimed that
it happened when the Germans occupied this territory. This
story was rather controversial for a half a century.
Interestingly enough, Roosevelt and Churchill knew from day
one that these murders of the Poles had been done by Soviet
Union on Joe Stalin's orders. They didn't say anything, again,
because they did not want to alienate Stalin, who could
conceivably make a separate peace with Germany; then we
would have been left with the bulk of the fighting and the bulk
of the casualties.
LAMB: Page 273. This seemed to be one of those sentences
that people who don't like FDR probably use when they're
talking about him. "I th"--and this is a quote: "I think if I give
Stalin everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him
in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and
will work with me for a world of democracy and peace." Where
does that come from?
Mr. PERSICO: It comes out of Franklin Roosevelt's character,
which is a reliance on a--an almost overwhelming charm.
Roosevelt could charm almost anybody, and he thought that
he could charm Joe Stalin by being utterly--utterly respectful
and admiring and not questioning anything that Stalin did,
underrating the hard pragmatism of a Joe Stalin.
LAMB: Did that hurt us in the negotiations?
Mr. PERSICO: Well, it hur--it hurt us to the extent--for
example, the story I just told about the Katyn forest, that
we--we are not letting the American people know the--that
the monstrousness of Stalin is not all that different from that
of--of Adolf Hitler. But in--in the end, I--I--I don't accept the
charge that--that Roosevelt gave the store away at Yalta,
which is a common conclusion of--of many who discuss this
era. He was too forgiving and too accommodating to Stalin. I
do--but I--I don't think he--he gave anything away that
created our--our post-war confrontation with the Soviets.
LAMB: Did you learn anything about his relationship with
Winston Churchill that you hadn't known in the past?
Mr. PERSICO: It was a relationship that s--that started
poorly. Franklin Roosevelt had a tre--tremendous ego. As a
young assistant secretary of the Navy, he had visited Britain,
and he'd come away with a very poor opinion of Winston
Churchill. He said that Winston Churchill had not shown
any--any respect for him. He called Winston Churchill `a
stinker.' Subsequently, wh--when Pearl Harbor is attacked,
Churchill calls him and says, `We're all in the same boat now.'
They pretty much behaved that way, although we have two
men, both with--with giant egos, and--and they--and they do
collide occasionally because Britain's ob--ob--objectives are
not the United States' objectives, and this is clearest
in--in--in Churchill's determination to win this war, at least in
part, to be able to restore the British Empire, much of which
had been taken away by the Japanese. And Chur--and
Roosevelt wants to go in the opposite direction. He wants this
war to serve the human end of allowing countries to develop
their--their--their own independence, their own freedom. So
there is a real collision.
LAMB: You--you say that President Kennedy's father, Joseph
Kennedy, called him at one point, quote--he was angry, called
him a "crippled SOB." Do you remember where that quote
came from, and why did he call him that?
Mr. PERSICO: Joe Kennedy had a son, Joe Kennedy Jr., the
elder brother of the future president. Roosevelt was very
insistent that a certain secret operation take place in which
an aircraft would be loaded with high explosives. The pilot and
the co-pilot would head it towards the target, V-1s and V-2s,
the German secret weapon launching sites. The pilots would
bail out and a guide plane would--would--would, in effect,
lead this flying bomb towards the target through radio remote
control. Churchill opposed this. Churchill was afraid that the
Nazis would retaliate against London, and Roosevelt took the
position, `We know they're developing these secret weapons.
They're gonna strike London anyway.'
So this plan, Aphrodite, went forward, and on the first
mission, Joe Kennedy and his pilot take off with this
explosives-laden aircraft. It--it explodes mysteriously. Both
men are killed. Joe Kennedy, Sr., who at one point had been
Roosevelt's ambassador to Great Britain, runs into Harry
Truman at an event. Truman is then Roosevelt's vice
presidential candidate in the 1944 election. And Joe Kennedy
says to Harry Truman, `Harry, what are you doing working for
that crippled SOB who killed my son Joe?'
LAMB: There's a woman that is always around FDR in your
book, someone named Margaret Suckley, Daisy Suckley. Who
was she and where did you get the information about her?
Mr. PERSICO: Daisy Suckley was a distant cousin of
LAMB: She's in the middle in this picture.
Mr. PERSICO: Let me take a little closer look. Yes. And Daisy
Suckley was a person who Roosevelt would confide in, things
that he would not tell to anybody else. He felt perfectly
comfortable. Because she adored him, he knew he had her
absolute trust. So he to--he told her things that, for example,
would have very much surprised other members of the--of the
Roosevelt team, one of which was the state of FDR's health.
From the last year at least of FDR's life, he w--he was a dying
man. He had been examined at the Bethesda Naval Center by
cardiologists that realized he had astronomic blood pressure,
that he was suffering from hardened--hardening of the
arteries. Amazingly, Roosevelt never asked a question. He
never asked: What was the result of these examinations?
What had they found? A cardiologist is assigned to him in the
White House who checks him out daily. He joshes with the
cardiologist, gossips with him, never asks about his condition.
So one would have the sense that he doesn't know what's
happening or doesn't want to know. But he, on one occasion,
in one of these private sessions with his confidante and
distant cousin, Daisy Suckley, he says, in effect, `I--I am
very sick, much sicker than I have been told, and if I am sick
enough, I will not run for another term. I must be convinced
that I can complete another term.' He's talking about a fourth
term. And as we know, he--he--he's right on one count. He
runs again. He's wrong on another count, he dies only four
months into his fourth term.
LAMB: Unfortunately--no, fortunately, I have about a hundred
more questions for you, but unfortunately, it's--time is up.
Our guest has been Joseph Persico. His book is called
"Roosevelt's Secret War." Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. PERSICO: Thank you for having me, Brian.
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