Glasser, Harold (1905-1992)

Harold Glasser

Harold Glasser

A Keynesian economist and high-level official at the U.S. Department of the Treasury from November 1936 through 1947.

In 1945, Harold Glasser was named by Elizabeth Bentley as a source of information for Soviet NKVD intelligence. In 1948, Whittaker Chambers identified Glasser as his 1937 contact on behalf of Soviet military intelligence. Beginning in November 1945, Glasser was investigated by the FBI and eventually forced to leave government service. He testified before the grand jury in the Hiss-Chambers case and before Congressional Committees. After the release in 1995-1996 of partially decrypted Soviet intelligence cables in the Venona operation, Glasser was identified as the Soviet agent “Ruble” who appeared in a number of 1943-1945 cables.

Born in Chicago in 1905, Glasser was the youngest child in a family of immigrants from Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). The family was very poor; following the father’s death in 1909, the children had to earn their bread by delivering newspapers. Harold was the only one in the family who managed to get a university education. From 1922 to 1928, he studied economics at the University of Chicago (Ph.B., 1926) and Harvard University (1929-1930). In 1931-1932 Glasser did some research at the Brookings Institution. In 1933, he worked for six months at the Mid-Western Labor Bureau and then was an instructor at the Peoples Junior College in Chicago until 1935. From August 16, 1935 until April 16, 1936, Glasser worked as a statistician for the Chicago division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). From May 1 to November 21, 1936, he was an Assistant to the Director of the Tabulation Pool in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Home Economics, in Minneapolis. 1

On November 23, 1936, Glasser was hired by the U.S. Treasury Department as an economic analyst under Harry Dexter White, who had become Assistant Director in the Division of Research and Statistics the preceding month. Glasser would later recall that at that time he was “engaged in assisting President Roosevelt in the inauguration of various economic plans in furtherance of the New Deal” – working with White “on nights and weekends at the Treasury Department and at White’s residence” and putting in “considerable overtime working on these plans requested by the President.” After White became Director of Monetary Research on March 25, 1938, Glasser became Assistant Director of Monetary Research and served in that post until 1946. According to Glasser, he was “extremely close” to White “until sometime around the first part of 1940.” 2

After America became involved in World War II, Glasser began to receive temporary appointments to higher-level positions. From June 1940 until May 1942, he was the chief American economic adviser to the government of Ecuador, serving as an “expert in public finance” through a joint program of the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of State. From his return to the United States in May 1942 until around November of that year, he worked on foreign funds control (mostly concerned with South America). Then, from November 30, 1942 to January 10, 1943, he was on loan from the U.S. Treasury to the War Production Board, serving as its Vice-Chairman.

In early 1943, Glasser was detailed to the State Department and, on February 8, was dispatched to North Africa as Chief of the Financial Control Division of the North African Economic Board. While there, he served for nine months in the Civil Affairs Section of General Eisenhower’s staff. He returned to the USA on September 16, 1943 and resumed work as an assistant director of the Treasury’s Division of Monetary Research under Harry Dexter White, who had been in charge of all international matters for the Treasury Department since December 1941. 3 After the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was founded in November 1943 to provide relief to areas liberated from the Axis powers, Glasser was appointed to serve on its Council (composed of representatives of member states).

From March until June 3, 1944, Glasser was in Italy on behalf of the Allied Control Council. Later, he would describe his mission in a report to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau as “to assist the Allied Control Commission, at its request, in the study of inflation in Italy and in the preparation of a program designed to control inflation.” According to Glasser, that mission was completed by June 2, 1944, with “the program submitted to Combined Chiefs of Staff for concurrence.” 4

Upon his return to Washington from Italy, Glasser took charge of the Treasury’s Monetary Division when its head, Harry Dexter White, was traveling – to Atlantic City (in June 1944), the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference at Bretton Woods, N.H. (July 1-22, 1944) and London (mid-August). From September 15 to September 26, 1944, Glasser represented the U.S. government at the Second Session of the Council of the UNRRA at Montreal, Canada. He would later recall that the night before Secretary Morgenthau left for Canada, he (Glasser) was “staying up all night preparing his [Morgenthau's] German Plan for delivery to the conference.” 5

In the fall of 1944, Glasser became the Treasury Department representative on the French Economic Policy Committee – working, most prominently, on the details of the French “liberation loan.” In the Treasury Department files, we see him actively involved in all international matters at the Treasury, including planning U.S. military expenditures in China, and in financial planning for the occupation of Germany. In spring 1945, Glasser was assigned by Secretary Morgenthau to head a Treasury unit charged with supplying Treasury experts for financial investigations in Germany. 6

When White was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in early 1945, Glasser was considered as a candidate for director of the Division of Monetary Research – but was bypassed for that promotion. Nonetheless, White mentioned Glasser as his “candidate for the job of Assistant Secretary” in early April 1945, calling him one of only two “qualified persons in Treasury.” But other considerations prevailed. 7

In July 1945, Glasser was the principal representative of the Treasury Department at the Berlin Conference of the Big Three, and the next month he went to London for the Third UNRRA Council Meeting as advisor to the U.S. representative. In late 1945, there were plans to send him to Japan as economic advisor to General MacArthur.

However, the latter mission – as well as Glasser’s subsequent career – was stalled due to accusations against Glasser by Elizabeth Bentley. Starting in late November 1945, and for several years thereafter, Glasser was under continuous surveillance by the FBI as “a principal subject of an extensive investigation” of Soviet espionage operations. 8 This included monitoring Glasser’s family correspondence and telephone conversations and physical surveillance of his home and movements. According to the FBI Silvermaster File, between November 1945 and August 1947 the FBI distributed 12 reports mentioning Glasser – based on Bentley’s accusations – to the White House, the Departments of Justice and Treasury and other concerned authorities.

In August 1946, despite a warning about Glasser from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover more than six months earlier, the new Treasury Secretary, John W. Snyder, promoted Glasser to Director of Monetary Research, a post long held by Harry Dexter White. 9 In late 1946, Glasser became involved in the explosive Trieste issue, regarding claims by Italy and Yugoslavia to territory that lay between their two countries. Now part of Slovenia, the region became the Free Territory of Trieste in October 1947. In the beginning of that year, Glasser spent six weeks in Trieste. Three weeks after his return to Washington, D.C., he was dispatched to Moscow as an economic advisor to the U.S. delegation at the Meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers (March 10 – April, 24 1947). 10

In the months that followed, Glasser was part of General George C. Marshall’s team and was actively involved in economic planning for the Marshall Plan, or European Recovery Program. Glasser was remembered as “one of the most useful and intelligent people” on the team and was said to be “as useful and as competent a fellow on the Marshall plan as you could find,” doing a “super job … running all this balance of payments.” 11

After serving as an economic adviser to Secretary Snyder at the Second Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the World Bank (September 11-17, 1947, London), the bank’s president, John J. McCloy, became “very interested” in Harold Glasser, whom he considered “one of the outstanding experts on money in the country.” McCloy planned to put Glasser in charge of implementing and running the Marshall plan – but changed his mind after the FBI informed him that Glasser was “a principal subject of an extensive investigation involving suspected underground Soviet espionage operations.” 12

On the last day of 1947, after two years of FBI investigation and continuous reports to government agencies, Glasser – then one of three assistant directors of the Treasury’s Office of International Finance 13 – was forced to resign from government service. Treasury Secretary John Snyder wrote to Glasser upon his resignation, “We will miss the fine work you have done here. Best wishes for happiness and success.”

Subsequently, Glasser became Director of the Institute of Overseas Studies, which was part of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds in New York – a post for which he was recommended by both Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Treasury Secretary John Snyder. In his reference, Snyder wrote, “We have relied heavily on his judgment, his estimate of situations and his recommendations . . . He has no hidden facets to his personal qualities.” When Elizabeth Bentley publicly charged in the summer of 1948 that Glasser had been a Soviet spy, Glasser’s former colleagues questioned Secretary Snyder once again. His response was: “All I can do . . . is reaffirm the appraisal I made of him in my earlier letter.” 14 In 1953, Glasser resigned from his job at the Council of Jewish Federations after refusing, on the grounds of self-incrimination, to answer any questions about Communist associations and espionage in his testimony before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. 15

In many contemporary American articles and books, Harold Glasser is described as an agent of Soviet military intelligence (commonly known as the GRU) during the latter part of the 1930s (according to Whittaker Chambers), as a “member of [the] Perlo group of spies during World War II” (according to Elizabeth Bentley), and as the agent “Ruble” mentioned in several cables partially decrypted in the course of the Venona operation.

Watch for alerts on this website to judge for yourself whether the Glasser story as it appears in Wikipedia and other sources tallies with Venona decrypts and Comintern and Soviet intelligence files.

  1. Glasser personnel file cited in the FBI Silvermaster File, Vol. 025, Part II, Serials EBF 621, PDF pp. 153-155.
  2. Memo to the Director of the FBI on the interview with Harold Glasser, May 13, 1947. – The FBI Silvermaster File, Vol. 116, Serials 2380-2430, p. 5 (PDF, p. 123).
  3. Chronological File of Harry Dexter White, 11/34 – 04/46, Box 14. – RG 56, General Records of the Department of the Treasury, Records of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Re: Monetary and International Affairs, National Archives,. College Park, MD; The FBI Silvermaster File, Vol. 025, Part II, PDF pp. 155-156; “Harry Dexter White and the International Monetary Fund,” by James M. Boughton. – Finance and Development (a quarterly magazine of the IMF), September 1998, Vol. 35, Number 3.
  4. December 19, 1944 Memo to the Secretary from Mr. Glasser: Report on Assignment to Italy: April and May 1944. – Chronological File of Harry Dexter White, 11/34 – 04/46, Box 12, RG 56, National Archives, College Park, MD.
  5. James M. Boughton to Svetlana Chervonnaya, June 14, 2005; Memo to the Director of the FBI on the interview with Harold Glasser, May 13, 1947, p. 9. The FBI Silvermaster File, Vol 116, Serials 2380-2430, (PDF, p. 128).
  6. Secretary Morgenthau to Bell, April 9, 1945. – Chronological File of Harry Dexter White, Box 16, “Intra-Treasury Memoranda of Harry Dexter White, 1934-45,” folder “Intra-Treasury Memoranda D.W. Bell, Feb. 1945 to date.” RG 56, National Archives, College Park, MD.
  7. Harry D. White memo to Secretary Morgenthau, April 7, 1945. – Chronological File of Harry Dexter White, Box 12, folder “Chrono # 70, Apr 1945,” Op. Cit., National Archives, College Park, MD.
  8. “D.M. Ladd to the Director, FBI, October 29, 1947. – The FBI Silvermaster File, Vol. 132, Serials 2896-2984, PDF p. 33.
  9. “Closing the Ring,” Time, November 30, 1953.
  10. Transcripts of Grand Jury Testimony in the Alger Hiss Case. Testimony of Harold Glasser, February 8 and 9, 1949.
  11. Oral History Interview with Paul H. Nitze, August 4, 1975, pp. 155, 156. Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.
  12. D.M. Ladd to the Director, FBI, October 27, 1947; D.M. Ladd to the Director, FBI, October 29, 1947, with a “blind memo” on Harold Glasser attached, “to be delivered to Mr. John J. McCloy, president of the World Bank.” – The FBI Silvermaster file, Vol. 132, Serials 2896-2984, PDF pp. 41, 32-40.
  13. An office established in July 1947, which replaced the Divisions of Monetary Research and Foreign Funds Control. – Title 31. Money and Finance: Treasury. 1947 Supplement to the Code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America. United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1948.
  14. Cit. “A Cast of Characters.” Time, November 23, 1953.
  15. Ibidem.