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The Lonely Crusade of an IMF Historian to Whitewash the Spy Career of the Fund's Founder

Author: Benn Steil, Senior Fellow and Director of International Economics
August 15, 2013
Forbes Online


American economist James Boughton recently retired from the International Monetary Fund after nearly two decades as the institution's official historian. Over his long tenure at the Fund, Boughton labored, according to an article in the Fund's Finance and Development magazine, to shed light on "an organization long criticized for its secrecy and lack of transparency."

Yet when it comes to the subject of the Fund's founding architect, FDR Treasury official Harry Dexter White, Boughton was, and continues to be, demonstrably and wilfully inaccurate. Boughton is now virtually alone among contemporary chroniclers of White in exculpating him – in spite of overwhelming documentary evidence, the authenticity of which Boughton does not challenge – of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union.

President Harry S. Truman's efforts to keep secret the FBI's investigation of White's illegal activities was the reason why White never became managing director of the Fund – and indeed the reason why the tradition of a European heading the Fund, rather than an American, began in the first place. What Truman, and indeed the FBI, had been unaware of in 1946 was that intercepted wartime Soviet intelligence cables would establish White's culpability. Decrypting of such cables, part of the top-secret "Venona Project," took place over many decades, and the first one mentioning White's activities was not known to the FBI before 1950.

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