INVESTIGATIONS: The Strange Case of Amerasia

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In a Justice Department office last week, staffmen of a Senate subcommittee combed through three large boxes containing hundreds of documents seized five years ago in the Amerasia case. Around the boxes swirled a storm of argument. Republican Senators, none of whom had actually seen the contents, cried that the Administration had put the fix on the Amerasia case, and that a real probe of the case would prove it. From Iowa, where he was campaigning in a primary election, Bourke Hickenlooper charged that at least some of the documents were important U.S. wartime secrets. Didn't one of them show the disposition in 1944 of U.S. submarines in the Pacific? Wasn't one of them a highly confidential ("for eyes only") message from Roosevelt to Chiang Kaishek? Said Hickenlooper: "I think that all Americans will be appalled when the whole truth becomes known."

Such talk, Administration sources replied, was hogwash; the documents were nothing much. Said Assistant Attorney General James M. Mclnerney: Hickenlooper is "100% wrong."

"By Deceit & Subterfuge." As thick as the argument was the smoke screen of confusion around the whole affair, which the Administration seemed determined to preserve at all costs. In 1945, Amerasia was a magazine (circ. about 2,000) devoted more or less openly to the Communist line and the Far East, and published sporadically in New York by one Philip Jaffe. The case began that February when the eyes of a Government official fell upon a surprising Amerasia article. It quoted at length and almost verbatim from a secret report which was supposed to be tucked safely away in the Office of Strategic Services' file. The OSS immediately put a special investigator, Frank Brooks Bielaski, on Amerasia's pink and wispy trail.

Chunky, spectacled Frank Bielaski, an ex-Wall Street broker turned Government secret agent, had handled many cases for OSS during the war. One midnight, tracing down the document quoted in Amerasia, Bielaski and four aides let themselves into a dark, empty building at 225 Fifth Avenue. They took an elevator to the eleventh floor and there, by what Bielaski later called "deceit and subterfuge," entered Amerasia's office. Once inside, they began a careful inspection. They found one room fitted out with photocopy equipment, a desk in another room spread with copies of Government documents. Behind a door were a bellows-type suitcase and two briefcases packed with other papers—altogether close to 300 originals and copies of documents stolen from the Offices of Naval Intelligence and Censorship, G2, OSS, State Department and British Intelligence. A few of them were marked "Top Secret" and "Secret"; all of them were labeled for official scrutiny only.

The raiders picked up a dozen documents to show the kind of material they had found, and left. A few hours later Bielaski laid his report and the documents before officials in Washington.

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