I will begin with Maj. George Racey Jordan, who in 1949 and 1950 came forward to testify under oath before Congress that one big reason the Soviet Union had recently surprised the world by exploding an atomic bomb was that he, Jordan, the top "expediter" shipping thousands of tons of U.S. war supplies and aircraft through an airfield in Great Falls, Mont., to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease during World War II, had personally overseen the shipment of uranium to Moscow.
Really? Sure enough, as a congressional investigator would testify, two specific shipments of uranium oxide and nitrate were "completely documented to include even the number of the plane that the flew the uranium ... out of Great Falls." This postwar revelation before Congress would shock and anger Gen. Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, because he had slapped an embargo on the wartime export of uranium from the U.S. Of course, the shipments in question came from Canadian stocks. How did that happen? Therein lies a tale -- a tale of betrayal.
Meanwhile, it wasn't just uranium that Jordan expedited, as he testified. Heavy water, too.
The congressional committee was able to document the shipment of heavy water, too.
In all, Jordan "expedited" 23 atomic materials through the big airbase in Montana to Moscow during the war, along with nearly 14 million pounds of aluminum tubes, also essential to atomic experimentation.
Findings in Soviet archives would later confirm that possession of the atomic bomb was what emboldened Stalin to trigger the Korean War in 1950. The implications of the theft of U.S. atomic secrets, then, becomes staggering.
After Jordan went public, all manner of witnesses stepped forward to corroborate different aspects of his story. There was the pilot who flew the uranium shipment (and said he handled brown grains of uranium that spilled from a box). There was the GI who recognized in Moscow-bound blueprints the chemical structure of uranium. Soviet defector Victor Kravchenko, celebrated author of "I Chose Freedom," would himself testify before Congress and corroborate specific allegations by Jordan attesting to Lend-Lease as a giant conduit of Soviet espionage.
What even this skeletal synopsis of a tale that unfolds in detail in "American Betrayal" should make clear is that it wasn't just the Rosenberg atomic spy ring that enabled the Soviet theft of U.S. atomic secrets. There was a massive looting effort underway inside the U.S. government overseen by senior Washington officials. Chief among these powers was Harry Hopkins, FDR's very top, very enigmatic, very sinister (I have concluded) adviser. Hopkins was the power behind Lend-Lease -- often the power behind Roosevelt, too -- and a central figure in my book.
I knew none of this "lost" history going into my research more than four years ago. Precious few Americans, I've since learned, do. Hopkins, once famously known as Roosevelt's "co-president," is as absent from our national history lessons as Jordan, a credible eyewitness to what might well have been treason. Why do we have such blanks? Why isn't Jordan's earth-shaking testimony, most of it corroborated by documentation and supporting eyewitness accounts, ever taught? How did Hopkins, once the most powerful man in Washington next to FDR (and maybe more so) slip out of our collective memory? Who stole our history -- and why?
These are the questions I set out to unravel in "American Betrayal." On this quest, I learned there was nothing like seeking out, dusting off and listening to history's truth-tellers.
(Diana West's new book is "American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character" from St. Martin's Press. She blogs at dianawest.net, and she can be contacted via email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @diana_west_.)