Amerasia Case

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AMERASIA CASE. The Amerasia Case was the first major Cold War event to suggest a communist infiltration of the State Department. That charge faded soon after the Amerasia story broke in 1945 because World War II (1939–1945) was still absorbing the public's attention. But within a few years, the case became a staple of partisan politics. This was particularly true after the several events: the agreements made at the World War II Yalta summit conference gradually becoming known, the fall of China to communism in 1949, the perjury conviction in 1950 of former State Department employee Alger Hiss, and the nearly concurrent emergence of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

The 26 January 1945 issue of the Asian-American journal Amerasia contained an article based on a highly classified report on British-American relations in southeast Asia. In June 1945, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Amerasia editor Philip Jaffe and five others associated with the journal. The charge, espionage on behalf of Chinese communists, did not hold. On the one hand, there was an inherent conflict between freedom of the press and government classification restrictions designed to protect wartime secrecy. On the other, the lack of clear and convincing evidence to support the charge of espionage was compounded by at least one break-in and other questionable FBI surveillance activities. Ultimately, there was no trial. Jaffe pleaded guilty and one other person pleaded no contest in 1945—on the relatively benign charge of unauthorized possession of government documents. Even the Justice Department admitted that all parties were merely guilty of "an excess of journalistic zeal."


Klehr, Harvey, and Ronald Radosh. The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.


See alsoMcCarthyism .