News & Politics

Banker Central to Creation of Modern Capitalism Revealed to be Soviet Spy

Henry Dexter White played a key role at the Bretton Woods conference. Turns out, he was sneaking information to the Soviets.

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A man at the center of the creation of globalized capitalism was actually a Soviet spy.

Henry Dexter White played a key role at the Bretton Woods conference, which established the main international financial institutions: the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. But he was in fact a staunch anti-capitalist who spied on the U.S. and fed information to Moscow for years.

The revelations come in a new book titled “The Battle of Bretton Woods,” published by Princeton University and authored by Benn Steil of the Council on Foreign Relations. While White’s spying has long been known, Steil reveals new details in his book.

“Dr. Steil presents evidence that White was also an informant for the Soviet Union, a starry-eyed admirer of what he saw as its remarkable economic success. For years, Dr. Steil says, White provided documents to the Soviets and favored their side in policy debates,” the New York Times’ Fred Andrews notes. “In 1948, White fended off the House Un-American Activities Committee, denying that he was a Communist. A more adverse light was shed on his activities when wartime codes were broken years after his death. Dr. Steil is more convinced of the espionage claims surrounding White than some historians who see his actions as more innocent. There is no sign that his interest in the Soviets affected his work at Bretton Woods.”

But there was nobody who suspected White at the conference. He prepared extremely well and helped ensure that the Bretton Woods conference resulted in a global economic order that was favorable to the United States.

“White made such an impact at Bretton Woods that on January 23, 1946, President Harry Truman nominated White to be the first American executive director of the IMF and he was widely tipped to become the fund's managing director,” the Daily Mail’s James Nye notes. “However, by this time FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had begun to investigate White, and the paranoid law enforcement chief placed him under investigation for two months after colleagues became concerned about his political beliefs.”

White died in 1948.

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Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.