U.S. Intelligence presence in revolutionary Russia
This chapter describes the early collaboration between U.S. intelligence and White forces in their common fight against the Bolsheviks, which startedtowards the end of the short-lived Provisional Government of Alexandr Kerenskii in 1917. When the Russian Civil War was lost by the White-Entente alliance, the U.S. supported White émigrés that had settled in the West, particularly in Germany and France, the centers of White emigration in the interwar period. To that effect, the U.S. predominantly extended aid to staunchly Orthodox émigré figures, since they saw godless Bolshevism as an assault on Christian supremacy. Furthermore , the U.S. continued to liaise with representatives of the repressed Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia, which it saw as an important ally in the fight against the atheist Soviet Union from within.
The same could be said about the intelligence outposts inside Russia that continued unabated when the U.S. finally joined the war in April 1917 amidst an ongoing revolution. Diplomatic emissaries from the Wilson government played a key role in forging contacts among the counterrevolutionary White forces, which would be supported in the future fight against Bolshevism.

Root Commission
Following the February Revolution, Lansing’s State Department, fully sanctioned by Wilson, prepped the U.S. Root Commission to Russia, which was to sound out U.S. opportunities within the unstable Kerenskii government. The composition of the Commission, lasting from May to August 1917, gives an overview of the U.S.'s imperatives in Russia when it entered the war.⁴² The Commission was handpicked by Lansing together with Arthur Balfour (1848−1930), the then British foreign secretary in the Lloyd George ministry, and Elihu Root (1845−1937), the future leader of the mission and a former Secretary of War and State under Theodore Roosevelt, who, in 1918, became the founding chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. Lansing says in his memoirs:⁴³

The personnel of the rest of the commissioners was the subject of considerable discussion. The endeavor was to have as members of it men who represented various elements of our people, so that, from the social, industrial and political points of view, appeals could be made to the various Russian blocs by those whom they would recognize as having similar interests.

With this idea in mind Cyrus H. McCormick was chosen to represent American industry because [of] the Harvester Company, of which he was president …; James Duncan, vice-president of the American Federation of Labor, to represent the workingmen; S. R. Bertron, financial interests; Charles Edward Russell, the Socialists; John R. Mott, religious and social betterment; Charles R. Crane, an expert on liberal thought in Russia; General Hugh L. Scott, Chief of Staff, on military affairs; and Rear Admiral James H. Glennon, on naval affairs. Stanley Washburn was named as secretary of the mission.

De Witt Clinton Poole

Alongside those official diplomatic emissaries, intelligence personnel also set foot in revolutionary Russia. To that end, in late summer of 1917, Lansing’s State Department sent De Witt [sometimes DeWitt] Clinton Poole
(1885−1952) to serve in Moscow as deputy to Consul General Maddin Summers
(1877-May 4, 1918). This, however, was just the cover for his real role as "Washington's spymaster in Russia."⁴⁴ Vice Consul General Poole and Maddin Summers were working under the last U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, David R. Francis (1850−1927), headquartered in the then-capital Petrograd (St. Petersburg), a position Francis held from March 1916 until the October Revolution of 1917, when normal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were interrupted.

Poole’s activities are worth expanding on in greater detail, since, as future Head of the Russian Division within the State Department (1919−1923), Poole’s influence on the course of Russian affairs became considerable, with a diplomatic/intelligence career spanning the Russian Revolution and beyond World War II. That his key role as a U.S. contact with the White movement and éminence grise in Russian affairs has largely remained a secret, seems like a continued success from an intelligence perspective, given the atrocities the Whites were to commit with American support. According to Barnes Carr, Poole’s mission was primarily "to investigate alternatives to both Kerenskii and Lenin," however, also eying a White-aligned military dictatorship.

Poole had started his career as a researcher at the U.S. State Department’s Office of Trade Agreements in 1910. An ambitious young man, the following year he received his first diplomatic assignment as Vice-Consul in Berlin from 1911 to 1914, until the outset of WWI, when he then became Vice-Consul in Paris from 1914 to 1916 and in 1916, full Consul.

He arrived from Washington to Vladivostok in late August 1917⁴ and headed for Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railway—a trip he spent in the company of the famed British spy and novelist, William Somerset Maugham (1874−1965), who was reporting for duty in Moscow on September 1, 1917.⁴ Maugham had been hired by the British and American governments to financially support the Mensheviks, to gather intelligence, and, according to Carr, "to start an intelligence propaganda service in Russia for America and the Allies; writing for U.S. magazines was his cover."⁴ However, he fled the country shortly after the October Revolution for safety in London.

Kornilov Affair

Poole’s arrival in Moscow coincided with the Kornilov Affair (September 10−13), an attempted military coup by the commander-in-chief of the Russian Army, General Lavr Kornilov (1870-April 1918),⁵⁰ against the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet, causing active distrust towards foreign agents inside Russia. Kornilov, supported by the bourgeoning White movement, had gathered a small army of counterrevolutionaries with the intention to nbsp; move into Petrograd, to eliminate the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies and to declare martial law.

Kornilov received support from the British military attaché and Brigadier-General, Alfred Knox, whom Kerensky accused of disseminating pro-Kornilov propaganda.¹ Kerensky furthermore claimed that Lord Alfred Milner wrote him a letter that showed Milner’s support for Kornilov.² Also, a British armored car squadron under the command of Oliver Locker-Lampson, whose troops were dressed in Russian uniforms, took part in the coup attempt.³ So did Boris Savinkov, at the time the Deputy War Minister in Kerensky’s Provisional Government and a notorious terrorist throughout the latter part of his life. Whites who in the future would be involved in subversive activity in Germany and join the bourgeoning Nazi movement were also involved.

But by the end of August, Kerenskii and the local Soviet decisively intervened and ultimately, jailed Kornilov and his co-conspirators in the Bykhov Fortress.
Although tangible evidence of U.S. involvement in the Kornilov conspiracy has never surfaced, U.S. diplomatic corps in Russia, despite their hitherto ostentatious support for the Provisional Government, seemed at least to approve of a coup.⁵⁵ Charles Crane concluded that General Kornilov would have been "the only man who might have saved the regime," and when his attempted military coup failed, left the country.⁵⁶ In any case, the U.S. would come to support the White troops led by Kornilov later in the context of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army, after Kornilov managed to escape from Bykhov Fortress.

Poole arrived at the time when the Provisional Government’s foothold was crumbling, hardly kept alive by the large U.S. funds demanded by Ambassador Bakhmeteff in Washington, which by November 1917 had totaled almost $ 200 million.⁵⁷ Both, Secretary of State Lansing and Bakhmeteff, argued for a military intervention to stop the Bolshevik tide and for a grand effort to curtail the mass desertion of Russian soldiers still fighting on the Eastern Front against the Central Powers.

U.S. funds, however, stopped flowing immediately when, on November 6−8, Red Guard forces, under the leadership of Bolshevik commanders, drove out the ineffectual Provisional Government. By November 7, most government offices were occupied and controlled by Bolshevik soldiers. The Tsar’s Winter Palace, the last holdout of the Provisional Government ministers, was captured the next day. Kerensky escaped the Winter Palace raid and fled to Pskov, where he rallied some loyal troops for an attempt to retake Petrograd. His troops managed to capture Tsarskoe Selo but were defeated the next day. Kerensky spent the next few weeks in hiding before fleeing the country—first to France and eventually to the U.S.—spending most of the remainder of his life at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, contributing to the Institution’s extensive archive on Russian history.

In all the chaos of the ensuing Russian Civil War (1917−1922), Poole’s role was twofold: on the one hand, he had "become a self-initiated back channel between the Bolshevik Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Department of State—trying to push for American aid to Russia as a ‘carrot' to lead the Bolsheviks to cooperate in the face of German advances on military and commercial fronts."⁵⁸ On the other hand, contacts to counter-revolutionary forces became a prime objective of quasi-mission chief Poole.

Root Commission (May, 1917)
Lavr Kornilov (1870–1918)
Chapter Content
U.S. Intelligence presence in revolutionary Russia
De Witt Clinton Poole (1885−1952)
Kornilov Affair (1917)
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[42] Matthew Lee Miller, “John R. Mott, The American YMCA, and Revolutionary Russia: An Introduction,” Journal of Russian American Studies 4, no. 2 (October 27, 2020): 80–91, 80,
[43] Lansing, War Memoirs of Robert Lansing, 333–335.
[44] Barnes Carr, “The Lenin Plot: The Concealed History of the US-Led Effort to Overthrow the USSR,” History News Network, Columbian College of Arts & Sciences, The George Washington University, November 10, 2020, This article is a synthesis of Barnes Carr, The Lenin Plot: The Unknown Story of America’s Midnight War against Russia (New York: Pegasus Books, 2020) (electronic version),
[45] Carr, The Lenin Plot, 84.
[46] Bruno Navasky, “Poole, DeWitt Clinton Jr. (1885–1952),” DocumentsTalk,
[47] Phoebe Taplin, “DeWitt Clinton Poole: A young American in the midst of a revolution,” Russia Beyond, February 4, 2015,
[48] Navasky, “Poole, DeWitt Clinton Jr.”
[49] Carr, The Lenin Plot, 84–85.
[50] Kornilov had not immediately accepted the position, but first stipulated conditions upon which he would agree, including the appointment of General Anton Denikin as commander of the Southwestern Front.
[51] Richard Ullman, Anglo-Soviet Relations 1917–1921, Volume 1, Intervention and the War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 11–13;
[52] Ullman, Anglo-Soviet Relations 1917–1921, 11.
[53] Ullman, Anglo-Soviet Relations 1917–1921, 12.
[54] Notably Pavel Bermondt-Avalov, Fedor Vinberg, Piotr Shabelskii-Bork, Fyodor Keller and others. See: Michael Kellogg, The Russian Roots of Nazism: White émigrés and the making of National Socialism 1917–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 43–44.
[55] “American representatives in Russia hoped General Lavr Kornilov was moving to take control in Petrograd.” Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 55 ff.
[56] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 83–84.
[57] “As the authority of the Provisional Government deteriorated in the fall of 1917 … Bakhmeteff came to share Lansing’s belief in the necessity of a military crackdown. At Lansing’s house on October 3, the Russian ambassador ‘said that he felt that bloodshed in Petrograd was almost impossible to prevent and that the radicals would have to be put down by force.’ … The public pronouncements by Lansing and other administration officials accorded with this advice. … In mid-October, after Bakhmeteff applied for additional credits, the Treasury Department extended a further $50 million. By November, the administration had agreed to provide a total of $325 million in loans and credits, though it had actually transferred only $187,729,750 to the Provisional Government. … Under the headline, ‘We Assist Russia; She Stays in War—Lansing Voices Full Faith,’ the New York Times reported on November 3 that ‘Russia is not out of the war. She is to make no separate peace. The Russian Embassy and the State Department made that clear today. The confidence of the United States Government in the Russian cause was emphasized by the action of the Treasury Department in placing an additional credit of $31,700,000 at Russia’s disposal.’” Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 55 ff.
[58] Navasky, “Poole, DeWitt Clinton Jr.”
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