Vol. 5, No. 6, September 1944

“Ambassador William Phillips”

  • Documents the Drew Pearson’s leak of the report William Phillips wrote for President Roosevelt at the end of his mission to India from July 25 (the original publication) to September 9 (a Pearson column reflecting the views of Far East Expert for the State Department, John P. Davis, Jr.).
  • Analysis: “Anglo-American relations with respect to the Indian political deadlock seemed to be approaching a climax during the last few weeks.  A swift succession of charges and counter-charges in the Press and in Congress culminated in the report that President Roosevelt would confront Prime Minister Churchill at Quebec with a demand for an immediate settlement in India.”

July 25, 1944: Pearson leak

  • On July 25, Drew Pearson, a popular political columnist for the Washington Post, published excerpts from a leaked copy of Phillips’ final report to Roosevelt on his mission, in his daily column, “Washington Merry-Go-Round.”

Kux, Estranged Democracies (1993)

  • “The story created a sensation in India and in Britain–although it cased little reaction in the United States” (36)
  • “The U.S. refusal to repudiate Phillips angered the British, boosting U.S. further in India” (36)
  • Phillips attempted to retire in August 1944, but Roosevelt did not accept his request in an attempt to not add to the hoopla (36)

Gould, Sikhs, Swamis, Students, and Spies (2006)

  • Gould frames his text around the Pearson leak and exposing Robert Crane as the leaker “Deep Throat”
  • marks the leak as a milestone in the relations between the US and India because, as according to Phillips, it “created a great commotion in England, a favorable impression here, and a burst of enthusiastic acclaim in India” (qtd. on 37)
  • the leak and aftermath cast a favorable glow on the US as being opposed to British imperialism for Indians, as well as strengthening the hand of the Indian-American lobbyists (38)
  • describes the leak as being “consummated in a David-and-Goliath propaganda war” between the British and the Indian lobbyists, who were committed to convincing “the American people that both colonialism and racism contradicted the principles upon which the American republic was erected, as well as the ideals fro which World War II was allegedly being fought” (39)

Aldrich, Intelligence and the War Against Japan (2000)

  • describes Pearson as “probably the most widely read political commentator in the United States” (148)
  • While the leak created “flap” in Washington, the uproar did not extend to India or Britain: most Indian nationalists had lost hope of any American intervention in favor of their independence, and Churchill believed the leak would keep Roosevelt from raising the question of Indian independence, calling Phillips “nothing more than ‘a well-meaning ass'” (149- assessment based on intelligence papers and a letter from Churchill to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden)
  • Focuses more material on British intelligence reaction to subsequent August 1944 leaks of telegrams between Eden and the Government of India, which Pearson also published (149-150)

Hess, America Encounters India (1971)

  • “the British response was immediate and definite”– wanted the U.S. gov’t to disavow Phillips’ report (143)
  • “virtually ignored in the American press” but received a significant amount of attention in India (144- cites major Indian newspapers)

Phillips, Ventures in Diplomacy (1952)

  • Phillips implies that he was about to facilitate discussions between the U.S. and Britain on the India issue at the time of publication, which in turn, dashed the possibility of revisiting the subject (413-414)
  • The publication of Phillips’ report: “created great commotion in England, a favorable impression here, and a burst of enthusiastic acclaim in India” (389).

White, A Rising Wind (1945)

  • Describes the leak as having “the highest significance” because it elucidated the arguments made by advocates of Indian independence (148)

August-September 1944: Pearson leak continued

  • In a follow-up to his July 25 column, Pearson wrote a second editorial on August 28 which labeled Phillips as a persona non grata based on messages between British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and Sir Ronald Campbell, the British ambassador in Washington (Hess, 143-44).

Crane, Robert I. “U.S.-India Relations: The Early Phase, 1941-1945” Asian Affairs, vol. 15, no. 4 (Winter 1988/1989): 189-193.

  • Crane describes how he came to work at the India desk in the State Department and his involvement with multiple lobbying organizations including the National Committee for India’s Independence and the Indian League of America.
  • “The Phillips Report had come routinely across my desk in the Division of Cultural Relations.  Impressed an pleased by its contents, I subsequently showed it to two of my close Indian friends in Washington. Though I was not aware of it then, one of them copied the Report verbatim and later gave it to Drew Pearson, who published it.  The Report had a substantial impact on public opinion” (191).

Windmiller, Marshall. “A Tumultuous Time: OSS and Army Intelligence in India, 1942-1946” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 8, no. 1 (1995): 105-124.

  • “According to Crane, he showed the letter to two Indian friends, and one of them gave it to the columnist Drew Pearson.  It became a cause célèbre and caused a major diplomatic problem with Britain” (114).

Kux, Estranged Democracies (1993).

  • The second leak reported came from an Indian member of Agent-General Girja Bajpai’s staff (36).

Hess, America Encounters India (1971).

  • Pearson, in his memoir “Confessions of an S.O.B,” published in the November 3, 1956 issue of Saturday Evening Post, revealed that his informant was a State Department employee who felt that Phillips’ suggestions would generate more Indian support of the war (142).

Aldrich, Intelligence and the War Against Japan (2000).

  • Repeats Windmiller’s explanation of the leak, but goes on to identify Major Altaf Qadir, Third Secretary of the Indian Agent-General in Washington, an “ardent nationalist,” as the source behind the second leak to Pearson (149).
  • The British Security Co-ordination, headed by William Stephenson in New York, also identified Chaman Lal, an Indian journalist, as the person who gave the Phillips report to Pearson (149).

Gould, Sikhs, Swamis, Students, and Spies (2006)

  • Gould describes a chain from Crane to K.A.D. Naoroji, the Deputy Director of the Government of India Supply Mission (“an organization whose purpose was to expedite the flow of strategic supplies to India” 318), to K.C. Mahendra, an owner of a Bombay import-export company, to Obaidur Rahman, Press Officer at the Indian High Commission, who then gave the report to Pearson (373-374).
  • Gould seems to base this information off of interviews, though he does not include any visible citations.
Venkataramani, K.S. Roosevelt, Gandhi, Churchill: America and the Last Phase of India’s Freedom Struggle. New Delhi: Radiant Publishers, 1983.
  • In response to an indignant letter from Phillips’ wife, Roosevelt speculated that Welles might have been the source of the leak: “because of the friendship between Sumner Welles and Drew Pearson, the suspicion points to him” (qtd. on 212).
  • In a biography of William Stephenson, fellow operative H. Montgomery Hyde identified Chaman Lal as the person who gave the Report to Pearson (212).
  • In an interview with the author, however, Dr. Anup Singh (former editor of India Today and board-member of the National Committee for India’s Freedom) rejected Hyde’s account because while Lal claimed to have been the leaker, he had no role in the drama.  Instead, according to Singh, an sympathetic officer in the State Department gave the document to Obaidur Rahman who gave it to Singh who, in turn, gave the report to Pearson (213).


Drew Pearson (1897-1969)

Drew Pearson, 1954, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

  • wrote the popular syndicated political column, “Washington Merry-Go-Round,” for the Washington Post from the 1930s until 1969
  • on July 25, 1944, published a leaked letter written by William Phillips, criticizing the British stance on Indian Independence
  • held a weekly radio program from 1938-1955

Pearson, Washington Post, July 25, 1944




Reference Source

American National Biography, profile


Oliver Pilat, Drew Pearson: An Unauthorized Biography. New York: Harper’s Magazine Press, 1973.

Primary Sources

Papers, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, University of Texas, Austin.

Diaries, 1949-1959. Ed. Tyler Abell New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974.

“Confessions of an S.O.B.,” Saturday Evening Post, November 3, 1956, pg. 23-25, 87-91, 94. (4 Part Series)

  • “The luck really began when I was able to publish, during the latter part of the war, the secret report written to Roosevelt by his special ambassador to India, William Phillips, recommending independence or dominion status for India.  Phillips reasoned that if India were given some inspiration to fight, she could raise enough troops to crack the Japanese from from Burma and the south, thereby saving many American lives. Thanks to a State Department official who wanted to see American lives saved, I was able to obtain and publish that report, together with some intercepted British cables, declaring that Ambassador Phillips, never again would be permitted in India. I think my publication hastened dominion status for India, but in any case it made the British see red” (88, 90).