Harry Dexter White (October 9, 1892 – August 16, 1948) was an American economist and senior official at the U.S. Department of Treasury. He was the first head of the International Monetary Fund, and played an important role in formation of the World Bank. He was also a Soviet secret agent.
On December 4, 1945, the FBI transmitted to President Truman a report entitled "Soviet Espionage in the United States." The report summarized White's espionage activities. Copies of the report were sent to Attorney General Thomas Clark too. The evidence indicated a substantial spy ring operating within the Government and involving White. Six weeks later President Truman, on Jan. 23, 1946, publicly announced his nomination of Harry Dexter White for appointment to head the International Monetary Fund.
On July 31st 1948, Elizabeth Bentley told the House Committee on Un-American Activities that White had been involved in espionage activities on behalf of the Soviet Union during World War II. Bentley said she received information passed information to her from him.
Whittaker Chambers subsequently testified on August 3rd of his association with White in the Communist underground secret apparatus up to 1938. FBI laboratories established a highly confidential handwritten memorandum provided to Chambers in 1938 was White's handwriting. Bentley said White’s colleagues had passed information to her from him and accused White of providing stolen U.S. currency plates to the Soviet Union. The plates were used to print unlimited amounts of occupation currency in the eastern zone of postwar Germany precipitating the Berlin Crisis.
On August 14th 1948, Harry Dexter White appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee to defend his reputation. White, though recovering from a series of heart attacks, stoutly proclaimed his lifelong commitment to the principles of democracy and the ideals of Roosevelt's New Deal. He died of a heart attack three days later.
In a memorandum dated 15 October 1950 White was conclusively identified in the Venona papers as a Soviet agent code named "Jurist". Venona ciphers quote him as saying he was willing for any self-sacrifice on behalf of the KGB, but was afraid that his activities, if exposed, might lead to a political scandal and have an effect on the 1944 Presidential election. In 1953 J. Edgar Hoover convinced Attorney General Brownell that White was a spy. White's bronze bust was ignominiously removed to the IMF's basement.
In 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy and Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr. alleged that Truman had known White was a Soviet spy when he appointed him to the IMF. However, this has now been refuted by declassified documents through the Freedom of Information Act which attest President Truman and the White House had not known of the existence of the Venona project.
It is often reported that White died of a Digitalis overdose, but I am unable to verify this. White had suffered a series of heart attacks prior to his death and given that a fatal dose of Digitalis is not much more than the therapeutic dose any overdose could easily have been an accident, rather than suicide.