Adler, Solomon (1909-1994)

Solomon Adler

Solomon Adler

An economist and U.S. Treasury Department expert in international finance who spent many years in China – first as a representative of the U.S. Treasury and later working for the Chinese Communist government.

Adler was born in 1909 in Leeds, England. From 1927 to 1930, he attended New College at Oxford University, where he received a BA degree and first class honors. He then moved on to the London School of Economics (LSE), where he received a Master of Science degree in economics in 1933. He took his first known job that year as an assistant professor of money and banking at LSE. In the same year, as he would tell the FBI in December 1947, he made a trip to the United States and spent time at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. 1

Adler arrived in the United States in February 1935 with the intention of staying there permanently. His first known employment in the United States was during the summer of 1935, when he worked at Peoples Junior College in Chicago, Illinois as an instructor in economics. In the same year, according to the FBI summary of the interview quoted above, he visited China for the first time. Adler entered U.S. government service on February 20, 1936 as an associate economist for the National Research Project, a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in Philadelphia – and held that position until the end of November, 1936. He filed an application for naturalization in May 1936 but did not receive American citizenship until September 1940. On December 7, 1936, he began his service at the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. as an assistant economic analyst in the Division of Monetary Research and Statistics, which was headed by Harry Dexter White. He advanced rapidly through the ranks and, in June 1942, was appointed to the position of principal economic analyst. 2

In 1941 Adler was sent to Chungking, China as a U.S. Treasury representative at the Stabilization Board of China, to help that country cope with the hyper-inflation it was then experiencing. 3 From Chungking, Adler sent letters regularly to his colleagues at the Division of Monetary Research and Statistics. These were written in diary form – “to give the Division the basic data,” as he explained in a letter sent from Chungking in late November 1941. 4

According to U.S. Treasury files, Adler spent a few months in Washington in the later part of 1944, returning to Chungking by the end of that year. 5 The Treasury Department files show that Adler was in Washington again by the spring of 1945, most probably to take part in discussions on the U.S. gold loan program for China. The earliest record thus far discovered of his participation in these conversations is dated April 25, 1945, when he took part in a discussion on the issue of the “export of gold to China.” 6 According to FBI records, two days later, on April 27, 1945, Adler married Dorothy Richardson, who was also a Treasury Department employee. 7 In May 1945, Adler continued to participate in discussions on the export of gold to China at the U.S. Treasury and State Departments. 8

After a few months’ stay in Washington, Adler resumed his duties in China – only to return to Washington on July 14, 1946. 9 However, on August 6, 1946, Adler would again leave Washington – this time, according to FBI records, “on a special mission” to accompany Assistant Secretary of War Howard C. Peterson on his trip to Hawaii, Kwajalein, Guam, Manila, Shanghai and Tokyo. “Adler was to serve as an adviser to Peterson on the trip and upon arriving in Shanghai… to leave for Nangking, China, where he was to resume his duties as Financial Attaché of the U.S. Treasury Department.” According to the same report, Adler arrived in Shanghai on August 15, 1946, 10 and, as of April 1947, the records show that he was still “on foreign assignment.” 11 By the end of 1947, however, he was back in Washington once again. 12

By that time, Adler had been one of the subjects of a large-scale FBI investigation of pro-Soviet espionage activities in the United States for more than two years. The investigation was based on allegations by a former Communist courier, Elizabeth Bentley, who defected to the FBI on November 8, 1945.

However, the FBI had first heard allegations of Adler’s Communist party membership more than two years earlier, when they received the notes made by Assistant Secretary of State Adolph Berle on his conversation with Whittaker Chambers on September 2, 1939. These notes (now commonly known as the “Berle List“) contained the following line:

“Schlomer Adler (Sol Adler?), Counsel’s Office, sends weekly reports to C.P. (General Counsel’s Office).” 13

In 1945 Chambers expanded his brief 1939 description, advising the FBI in the course of an interview with the Bureau that “Solomon Adler was definitely known to him to be a Communist. …that he knew Solomon Adler to be in close contact with Peters and to have made reports of a financial nature to Peters. Chambers … suspected the Communist Party was playing the stock market and they utilized Sol Adler’s financial information in this connection.” 14

As for the allegations made by Elizabeth Bentley, they were initially of a very vague nature and, as she herself stated, “harmless.” In her original statement signed on November 8, 1945, Bentley said:

“Sol Adler wrote letters back from China… but the letters were harmless. … He hasn’t produced anything while I was connected with them…” 15

However, in the course of many hours of interviews in the later part of 1945 and early 1946, Bentley expanded her story. Here is how her story looked in a late February 1946 FBI account:

“… during the latter part of 1942 and the early part of 1943, [Bentley] was advised … that Sol Adler, United States Treasury Department representative in Chungking, China, was making information available to this Soviet espionage parallel for transmittal to the Soviet Union. This admitted Soviet agent [Bentley] saw letters written by Adler from Chungking to the Treasury Department at the home of Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, the leader of one of the Soviet espionage parallels in Washington, D.C., which letters from Adler were in the Silvermaster home for copying in order that they could be transmitted through this Soviet agent to the Soviet Union.

This admitted Soviet agent [Bentley] advised also that Adler was a member of the Communist Party, USA, and that party dues were collected from him by Nathan Gregory Silvermaster and turned over to this Soviet agent.” 16

As of mid-1948, Solomon Adler was the subject of a Loyalty of Government Employees investigation. It is noteworthy that, when the Treasury Department asked to call Whittaker Chambers as a witness in Adler’s Loyalty hearing, the “information supplied by Chambers regarding Adler” proved to be “negative.” 17

Adler reportedly resigned from the Treasury Department some time in 1950, just prior to a decision about his loyalty by the Civil Service Commission (date to be established). Soon, Adler returned to Britain. When his American passport expired after three years, he lost his American citizenship.

While in London, Adler continued his studies of the Chinese economy; the eventual result was a book, Chinese Economy, published in London in 1957. 18 The next year, Adler co-authored a pamphlet with his wife on Chinese economic perspectives. It was published by the British Fabian Society 19 with a foreword written by Harold Wilson, who would later serve as a Labor Prime Minister of Great Britain. 20

Around 1961 or 1962 (date still to be established), Adler moved to China, where he had been invited to work as an advisor on international economic matters. He was assigned to a Chinese economic think tank, the Institute of World Economics, where he advised on international trade and global macroeconomic conditions. He reportedly continued consulting the Chinese leadership in the period of China’s economic transition.

At the time of the release in 1995 – 1996 of Soviet intelligence cables dating from the World War II period, partially decrypted in the course of the Venona operation, Adler had not been identified as a Soviet source by Venona translators. However, in 2005 his name appeared in a late 1940s list of failures Soviet intelligence had suffered as a result of betrayals of its operations:

“18. “Saks” [“Sax” or “Sachs”] – Solomon Adler, former official of the U.S. Treasury Department.” 21

The code name “Saks” [Sachs] appeared in a single Venona message – KGB New York to Moscow #14, January 4, 1945 — in the context of a request from “Robert” (Identified as Nathan Gregory Silvermaster) and “Sachs” to pass on to “Helmsman” (Earl Browder, the head of the Communist Party of the USA) “certain materials in particular concerning the Chinese.” However, this cover name remained unidentified.

Adler in China

With the lack of documentation establishing Adler’s true standing with the Soviets, it would be premature at this point to jump to any conclusions.

Adler died in China on August 4, 1994; top Chinese Government leaders sent their condolences. 22 He is buried in Beijing and is survived by his second wife, Pat.

Watch for alerts on this website to see if Adler could have been the writer of weekly “Kiplinger Letters” to the Communist Party USA, as was alleged by Chambers – and to get a first-ever glimpse of these fascinating letters.

  1. FBI summary of Adler’s December 19, 1947 interview – FBI Silvermaster File, No. 65-56402, Vol. 144, Serials 3620X3-3646, pdf pp. 60-61.
  2. FBI Silvermaster File, No 65-56402, Vol. 045, serials 1019, pdf pp. 5-6.
  3. Thus far, I have not been able to establish the exact date when Adler was sent to China. According to a record discovered in the FBI Silvermaster File, he was already in China as of September 1941 – Sol Adler to Frank Coe, September 12, 1941, cited in the FBI Silvermaster File, No 65-56402, Vol. 055, Serials 1281-1290, pdf pp. 19-20.
  4. Sol Adler to Frank Coe, November 22, 1941, Ibid., pdf pp. 13-16.
  5. Memo on a meeting in Harold Glasser’s office, September 27, 1944, re: “Indian request for 65 mln ounces of silver,” with Adler in attendance; Friedman’s memo, December 5, 1944 on H.D. White’s visit to China, mentioning that “Mr. Adler was returning to Chungking” – RG 56, General Records of the Department of the Treasury, Records of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, re: Monetary and International Affairs, Box 70, Binder, “Conferences: General – 1944,” NA, College Park, MD.
  6. Memo on a meeting in Mr. Coe’s Office, April 25, 1945 – Ibid, binder “Conferences: General – 1945.”
  7. The FBI Silvermaster File, Op. Cit., Vol. 144, Serials 3620X3-3646, pdf p. 59.
  8. See, for example, memos on a conference at the Department of State, May 5, 1945, and on a meeting at the Treasury, May 15, 1945 – RG 56, Op. Cit., binder “Conferences: General – 1945.”
  9. The FBI New York Office from WFO, July 15, 1946 – The FBI Silvermaster File, Op. Cit., Vol. 056, Serials 1291 to 1340, pdf p. 44.
  10. The FBI Silvermaster File, Op. Cit., Vol. 144, Serials 3620X3-3646, pdf p. 59.
  11. Case summary, April 4, 1947 – Ibid., Vol. 102, Serials 2245-2259, pdf p. 43.
  12. Memo on the FBI interview with Adler, December 19, 1947 – The FBI Silvermaster File, Op. Cit., Vol. 144, pdf p. 61.
  13. Cit. The FBI Silvermaster File, Op. Cit., Vol. 008, serials 235-6, pdf p. 89.
  14. The FBI New York Office to the Bureau, Washington, D.C., 26, 1945 – Ibid., Vol. 023, serials 561 to 573, pdf p. 84.
  15. Photostatic copy of the signed statement of Elizabeth Terrill Bentley dated November 8, 1945 – Ibid., Vol. 024, Serials 574-630, pdf p. 41.
  16. Underground Soviet Espionage Organization (NKVD) in Agencies of the United States Government, February 21, 1946 – Ibid., Vol. 025, Serials EBF 621, Part I, pdf p. 113.
  17. Fletcher to Ladd, Aug 2, 1948 – Ibid., Vol. 138, Serials 3271-3350, pdf p. 198; see also Vol. 143, Serials 3551- 3620 x 2, pdf p. 31.
  18. Chinese Economy, by Solomon Adler. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957.
  19. The Fabian Society is an organization of British socialist intellectuals which has existed since 1884 and advocates the gradual transformation of a capitalist society into a socialist one. Since 1900, it has been affiliated with the British Labor Party.
  20. China: An Economic Perspective: Fabian Tract No. 314, by Joan Robinson, Sol Adler, Harold Wilson (Foreword) – London: Fabian Society, 1958.
  21. A.Gorsky report – to Savchenko S.R. 23 December, [19]49: Failures in the U.S.A./”Sound” and “Myrna” Groups. http://algerhiss.com/gorskylist.html
  22. “Remembering Sol Adler – an Economic Advisor to the Chinese Government,” by James Peck – Monthly Review, December, 1994; CHINA-NN Archives, http://lists.asu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind9409a&L=china-nn&T=0&F=&S=&P=537