Chambers accuses Hiss of being a communist spy

Chambers accuses Hiss of being a communist spy

In hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Whittaker Chambers accuses former State Department official Alger Hiss of being a communist and a spy for the Soviet Union. The accusation set into motion a series of events that eventually resulted in the trial and conviction of Hiss for perjury.

READ MORE: Red Scare: Cold War, McCarthyism & Facts

Chambers was a little known figure prior to his 1948 appearance before HUAC. He was a self-professed former member of the Communist Party. Chambers also admitted to having served as a spy for the Soviet Union. He left the Communist Party in 1938 and offered his services to the FBI as an informant on communist activities in the United States. By 1948, he was serving as an editor for Time magazine. At that time, HUAC was involved in a series of hearings investigating communist machinations in the United States. Chambers was called as a witness, and he appeared before the committee on August 3, 1948. He dropped a bombshell during his testimony. Chambers accused former State Department official Alger Hiss of having been a communist and a spy during the 1930s. Hiss was one of the most respected men in Washington. He had been heavily involved in America’s wartime diplomacy and attended the Yalta and Potsdam conferences as an American representative. In 1948, he was serving as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Hiss angrily denied the charges and declared that he did not even know Whittaker Chambers. He later admitted that he knew Chambers, but at the time he had been using a different name–George Crosley. In the weeks that followed Chambers’ appearance before HUAC, the two men exchanged charges and countercharges and their respective stories became more and more muddled. Finally, after Chambers publicly declared that Hiss had been a communist “and may be one now,” Hiss filed a slander suit. During the course of that trial, Chambers produced microfilmed copies of classified State Department documents from the 1930s, which he had hidden in hollowed-out pumpkins on his farm. The “Pumpkin Papers” were used as evidence to support his claim that Hiss had passed the papers to him for delivery to the Soviets.

Based on this evidence, Hiss was indicted for perjury for lying to HUAC and a federal grand jury about his membership in the Communist Party. The statute of limitations had run out for other charges related to his supposed activities in the 1930s. After the first trial ended with a hung jury, Hiss was convicted in January 1950 and served 44 months in jail. Hiss always maintained his complete innocence. For his part, Chambers remained equally adamant in his accusations about Hiss.


Richard Nixon (right) and staff investigator Robert Stripling pose for photographs with the “Pumpkin Papers”- microfilms that implicated Hiss as one of Chambers’s Communist contacts.

In 1948, Americans watched anxiously as a dramatic espionage tale unfolded in the House of Representatives. Whittaker Chambers, a Time editor, confessed to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that he’d been a spy for the Soviet Union. Chambers accused a former State Department official, Alger Hiss, of being among his Communist contacts.

Hiss fiercely denied the charge. Representative Richard Nixon of California, suspecting that Hiss was lying, convinced Chambers to produce microfilm documents from Hiss—documents that Chambers had hidden on his farm in a hollowed-out pumpkin. Hiss sued for libel, but was convicted of perjury in 1950 and sent to prison. The Hiss–Chambers confrontation riveted the nation, triggering widespread espionage fears and spurring further congressional investigations.


Papers Revive Enduring Fascination of ‘40s Hiss Spy Case

The case of Alger Hiss, accused of being a communist spy in the State Department, had plenty of intrigue to rivet the nation in the late 1940s: Soviet espionage, the communist underground in America. Secret papers hidden in a hollowed-out pumpkin.

It still arouses interest today. The government’s release of 4,200 pages of grand jury testimony from the Hiss case Tuesday packed a news conference with reporters and historians and reignited debate about the controversial case.

Hiss’ son, Tony, said the transcripts will support his father’s innocence: “Clearly there is a great deal of material here that, had it been known, would have been a great help to the defense,” he said. But some Cold War historians argued that the testimony will support Richard Nixon’s belief that Hiss was a traitor.

Nixon, then a young congressman from California and a member of the communist-hunting House Committee on Un-American Activities, was determined to expose Hiss.

His zealous pursuit was a springboard to the Senate. Yet his unusual, eleventh-hour appearance as a grand jury witness was criticized as political interference in the legal process and raised questions about the fairness of Hiss’ indictment.

Hiss was imprisoned for four years on two counts of perjury. Nixon went on to become a senator, vice president and president.

The case against Hiss began when Whittaker Chambers, an underground courier for the Communist Party who later turned his back on communism and became a senior editor for Time magazine, accused Hiss of being a communist mole.

The accusation startled many Americans. It was one thing for the communist threat to exist far away, behind the Iron Curtain, but quite another for communists to work in high-level corridors of the government’s diplomatic agency.

David Vladeck, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which petitioned for release of the records, agreed that some of the newly released testimony might have aided Hiss’ defense.

“Chambers changed his story before the grand jury on multiple occasions. Some of the occasions are really shocking,” Vladeck said, citing Chambers’ misidentification of a photographer who had taken pictures of secret documents.

Vladeck also questioned whether it was proper for Nixon to be a grand jury witness.

Nixon testified on Dec. 13, 1948. He arrived carrying metal canisters containing microfilm of the “pumpkin papers"--hundreds of pages of documents representing material that Hiss was said to have given Chambers. Just days before Nixon took the stand, Chambers had pulled the film from a hollowed-out pumpkin at his farm in Westminster, Md.

“This is extraordinary--in the middle of a criminal investigation--a member of Congress is withholding evidence [the microfilm] from the Justice Department,” Vladeck said.

On the other hand, Sam Tanenhaus, author of a biography of Chambers, said he thinks the grand jury transcripts will provide historians further evidence of Hiss’ guilt.

“What you see is the rawness of Alger Hiss’ testimony at the moment he’s been trapped,” Tanenhaus said.

Bruce Craig, a historian who has read all 4,200 pages of documents, said Nixon lobbied strongly for Hiss’ indictment but his oratory did not amount to blatant manipulation of the grand jury process.


More Comments:

Steven johnson - 1/2/2011

When I carved a jack'o'lantern for my kids, I found if I carved the pumpkins too early, the damn things rotted. I have never been able to picture anyone hiding anything in a hollow pumpkin for more than a few days. And it appears that the documents were supposed to be there since 1938? The Hiss allegations sound like a total pack of lies from thoroughly corrupt hacks.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/14/2009

The Soviet espionage in the 40's-50s has not played such a prominent role in developments of their nuclear arsenal, as Mr. Hughes (and others in his interpretation camp) claims.
Also, the great intelligence "job" done by Soviets had little effect on the major political and strategic developments of the Cold War period, at least, much lesser one than the general political, ideological, and military designs of the opposing sides.
May I also remind Mr. Hughes and others that it was the US, not the Soviets that almost invariably would initiate a new coil in the continuous spiral of the armaments (primarily - offensive) race, spending all those enormous sums on the "defense" he so much regret.

All the above-mentioned is clear now not only from the previously known facts and events, but from the numerous declassified archival documents and reminiscences of the participants on the both sides, over the last 20 years.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 10/12/2008

Weisenmiller's piece is quite straightforward for HNN on this topic, except for the words "Who may or may not exist" in his title. Of course they were spies.

One trouble with Weisenmiller, and his critic, is that they discuss Chambers and Hiss out of context. There were hundreds of communists working in the New Deal under FDR and HST. It was no accident Alger Hiss first got a job at the Agriculture Department--another communist there sponsored him, and another communist sponsored him for the next job, etc. These webs and cells are all exposed and known today. "Clever Girl," a biography of Elizabeth Bently by liberal Prof. Lauren Kessler, is well worth your time. The Soviets did a first class job of stealing every atomic secret of the United States, which played no small part in causing the 40-year Cold War which ensued. Millions died behind the Iron Curtain while that went on, and enormous sums were needed by us for defense. Poor security systems under Roosevelt & Truman caused fault lines which run down to us today-- The Democrats are still believed by many to be soft on communism thanks to the reputation they earned by kicking away the victory of WW II.

Weinstein started out to write a book exculpating Alber Hiss, but found the evidence of his guilt so overwhelming he decided instead to write a book proving it in irrefutable terms, which he did--the definitive work. Tanenhaus concurs, of course, in a more recent effort.

Lorraine Paul - 10/8/2008

Thank you, Mr Hartshorn for your rebuttal to this self-serving and slipshod article by Weisenmiller.

Lewis Hartshorn - 10/6/2008

The Hiss trials occurred in 1949-1950, not 1948. He was tried for perjury, not espionage. The HUAC “spy” hearings were held in 1948. However, Chambers always denied knowledge of espionage in the famous public and private HUAC sessions of August 1948, making it clear he was a former member of the American Communist Party with no connection to the Soviets. Chambers later changed his story – and admitted that he had lied under oath to HUAC and a grand jury.
Alistair Cooke’s “A Generation On Trial” was published after Hiss’s second trial (the jury was hung 8 to 4 for conviction in the first) in 1950, not in 1948. Cooke did not take sides though he noted that “outside pressure to swallow whole the Hiss story or the Chambers story, and to join one or other of the entailed crusades, was almost irresistible.” Yet Cooke was certain that HUAC and the press inflicted “such irreparable damage to Hiss that by the time he came to court an acquittal could be only the first step towards a distant prospect of vindication.”

BACKGROUND OF CHAMBERS
In the printed record almost all we have to go on for the “background of Chambers” is what Chambers himself wrote. Sam Tanenhaus and Allen Weinstein accept most of what Chambers wrote at face value, and employ Chambers as their major source. But other scholars and investigators, especially the late William A. Reuben who researched the case for more than 50 years, have shown that much of the story Chambers told about himself, particularly his “underground” years as a Communist, is not true. Reuben’s papers can be read at the University of Michigan, and a book on the Hiss-Chambers affair based on his research is in progress.

“in September of 1939, in a secret meeting at the home of then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle, Chambers confessed to being a spy and also gave Berle the names of almost 20 federal government employees who had previously worked as spies for the CPUSA.”
Chambers wrote very little about the Berle meeting in his autobiography “Witness,” but he did say that the “dirty word espionage” was not mentioned, though Chambers insisted espionage was implied somehow -- a meaningless statement. Isaac Don Levine, conservative writer/editor, was also present at the meeting with Berle. Levine wrote in “Eyewitness to History” (1973): “The general picture drawn by Chambers that night was of two Soviet undercover ‘centers’ or rings which, according to his firsthand knowledge, had operated in Washington for many years.” But Berle’s unvarying account (Berle died two years before Levine’s book was published) in his testimony before HUAC and the grand jury, and to interviewers and in his published diary, denied any question of espionage. In a 1952 diary entry about Chambers’s book “Witness,” Berle wrote: “At no time does he record what he said to me, and thus gives the impression that he told me everything he told many years later in the Hiss case. The fact, of course, was that he did not state anything he told me as personal knowledge – but as something he had heard about while in the Communist Party in New York. He did not even remotely indicate that he personally had been engaged in the operation. He did not charge individuals with espionage – they were merely ‘sympathizers’ who would be hauled out later when the great day came. He would not take his story to the FBI. He would not even stand to it himself – he would not himself verify or stick to the story. Further, under some cross-examination, he qualified everything to the point of substantial withdrawal…. I thought I was dealing with a man who thought he was telling the truth but was probably afflicted with a neurosis.”

Chambers’s “stylish prose was making him famous” at Time magazine. And Chambers was famous at Time for calling anyone a Communist who disagreed with his rightwing view of the world. He often told colleagues “the truth doesn’t matter.” The foreign correspondents at Time so despised his lying ways that they revolted and forced Luce to remove Chambers as foreign editor, a position he held in 1944-45. Ultimately, Time’s executives banished Chambers from the news side of the magazine.

Hiss at Yalta and the United Nations.
Hiss was chosen for the Yalta delegation only at the last minute, as a substitute, and Hiss’s name rarely appears in any of the serious books on Yalta, including “Speaking Frankly” by James Byrnes, a top aide to FDR and Truman’s first Secretary of State. Hiss was temporary secretary-general of the UN’s founding conference at San Francisco. He arranged travel and hotel accommodations and provided the delegations with relevant documents.

“It was only when Representative Karl E. Mundt, one of the Congressmen on the committee, asked Chambers a number of questions about Hiss that reporters began to question Hiss’s pleas of innocence. Later on, Hiss would testify, some days after Chambers … that he wasn’t a Communist and never met or knew Chambers.”
Hiss made no “pleas of innocence” for reporters to question when Chambers testified on August 3. Hiss sent HUAC a telegram, read into the record on August 4, saying Chambers’s accusations were complete fabrications. Hiss appeared voluntarily before HUAC on August 5, and after his testimony most reporters were convinced Hiss was telling the truth.

The HUAC hearings were completely politically motivated, as attested to by J. Parnell Thomas, the committee chairman of the 1948 spy hearings. He told the New York Times in 1954 that the Republican National Committee wanted him to put the heat on Truman before the 1948 election.
Elizabeth Bentley was interrogated and investigated for years by the FBI and grand juries at enormous expense –and no resulting indictments. Bentley and Chambers did not know each other, and Bentley never “reaffirmed” Chambers, certainly not about Hiss. And Bentley “confessed” years before Chambers, not after.

“… the more that Chambers talked, the more it became apparent that he knew numerous details about Hiss’s personal life.”
Chambers should have known some details because Hiss admitted knowing Chambers in the mid-1930s as George Crosley. Hiss claimed it was a professional relationship, Chambers insisted that he and Hiss were best friends. But most of those details were inventions or embellishments. Chambers could not describe the interiors of any places the Hisses had lived in D.C., his only recollection was of a leather cigarette box. The details Chambers got right about Hiss and his family were also listed in Who’s Who or the 1947 Current Biography.

THE “PUMPKIN PAPERS”
In addition to the word of Chambers there exists corroborating documentary evidence against Hiss, but not independent evidence (required even in 1950 by the Supreme Court for a perjury conviction) because Chambers himself provided it, and the documents appear to have been assembled for the purpose of implicating or framing Hiss. There are four small pieces of paper with Hiss’s handwriting on them which could have been taken from his office or removed from other documents to which they could have been attached. (Why would a spy pass notes in his own hand?) There are 35mm films, some frames show documents with Hiss’s initials on them. (Again, pretty careless tradecraft for a master spy.) And finally there are the typewritten pages, actual copies and summaries of official State Department telegrams and memos. Chambers claimed these were typed on Hiss’s home Woodstock machine. A lone FBI documents examiner compared a dozen or so characters from those typewritten copies with recovered Hiss household letters typed on their Woodstock. He claimed both sets were typed on the same typewriter. But later experts, admittedly hired by Hiss’s lawyer, compellingly disagreed.

“Top Secret coded Soviet files – commonly known as the Venona Project – provided strong indications of Hiss’s guilt.”
The “strong indications” appear in a footnote on a single document, Venona 1822, in which one of the editors suggested that a Soviet agent codenamed ALES, was “probably” Alger Hiss.


New Evidence or New Disinformation -- in Hiss Case

Forty-five years have elapsed since Whitaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss of having been a Communist and a spy for the Soviet Union.

Hiss, a former State Department official, denied the charges and was eventually convicted of lying in making that denial. As the U.S. wartime alliance with the Soviet Union was turning into anti-Communist hostility, the case became a harbinger of a change in the nation's political mood from New Deal idealism to Cold War ideological combat.

The publicity that the Hiss case garnered brought a little-known congressman from California, Richard M. Nixon, to national consciousness. It also persuaded a Wisconsin senator, Joseph R. McCarthy, that a coordinated Communist hunt promised a path to political prominence.

McCarthy and Chambers have long been dead the Soviet Union expired two years ago. But Alger Hiss lives on, and the controversy about his guilt or innocence goes on.

The latest rounds in this dispute started a year ago, when Gen. Dmitry Volkogonov, Moscow's leading military historian, was quoted as asserting that Soviet archives revealed no proof that Hiss had been a spy while serving in Washington as an ascending aide in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration.

Hiss hailed the remark as a complete vindication and "the end of an ordeal." Those believing in his guilt belittled the general's conclusion, which the Russian himself later said was based on incomplete evidence.

Round two came in April with the publication in Commentary of an article, "Hiss: Guilty as charged." The material, recently recycled in the New York Times (Oct. 15) and New Republic (Nov. 8), reported that Maria Schmidt, a Hungarian historian, had proved that Hiss was a member of a Soviet spy cell.

The supposed "smoking gun" was a yellowing confession an American had made to the Communist secret police after being imprisoned on spy charges in Budapest. Depending on whom one believes, Noel Field, who later asked for political asylum in Communist Hungary and died there, was either a Soviet or CIA spy, or both.

The Nation, which has consistently proclaimed Hiss' innocence, quickly produced its own review of the evidence. Its conclusion was that Field was trying to save his skin and telling his captors whatever he believed they wanted to hear.

"Statements made in such a setting are neither 'unimpeachable' nor even 'testimony,' as those terms are used in our legal tradition," the Nation's investigator, Ethan Klingsberg, wrote in the Nov. 8 issue.

Over the years, the Hiss case has assumed a watershed quality that was not readily apparent in 1948 when Whitaker Chambers made his initial charges in an open session of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Up to that point, HUAC had been a stridently Republican panel bent on discrediting Roosevelt's New Deal. Hiss' friends and counsel urged him to disregard charges from Chambers, a Time editor who was a repentant Communist and self-acknowledged perjurer.

Hiss, who had recently received an honorary doctorate from the Johns Hopkins University and moved from the government to head the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, rejected that advice. He testified before HUAC and sued Chambers for libel. This turned out to be a major legal blunder because inconsistencies in his testimonies could then be submitted to a grand jury.

For a while, the grand jury seemed to go nowhere. But just days before its term was to end, Representative Nixon produced microfilms and documents incriminating Hiss that had been found hidden inside a pumpkin on Whitaker Chambers' farm near Westminster in Carroll County.

What had started as something of a crank accusation suddenly was daily front-page news. Hiss was soon convicted of lying. Chambers became a professional anti-Communist crusader. By then, the Cold War was raging overseas, and a McCarthyite witch hunt was starting at home.

To a British journalist, Alistair Cooke, the change of political climate from reason to hysteria was so stark that he came to call the spectacle "a generation on trial."

Until his conviction, Hiss had seemingly lived a charmed life: a year as a secretary to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, acquaintance with Justice Felix Frankfurter and other leading legal lights.

He had worked on sensitive New Deal assignments, culminating with important roles at Dumbarton Oaks and Yalta, two conferences that shaped the postwar world. When the United Nations was established in 1945, Hiss was the secretary general of the founding conference. There was talk he might be the secretary of state one day.

By contrast, Whitaker Chambers, while unquestionably talented, had been a loser for much of his life. He had done some translations but seemingly had difficulty keeping jobs. The dozen aliases he had used suggested a man who was adrift. He and Hiss seemed to have little in common, and that was Hiss' contention. Chambers claimed the two had been very close.

There was wild speculation. Unwilling to accept Alger Hiss' guilt -- which he has always denied -- his supporters came up with all kinds of explanations for his downfall.

In his 1977 book, "Laughing Last," Tony Hiss wrote about his father and family: "I have heard as 'true stories' about Al that President Roosevelt wanted to help the Russians and secretly ordered dad to spy for them that mom was a Russian spy and dad was covering up for her (this was Mrs. Roosevelt's own explanation) that Whitaker Chambers . . . was under Kremlin orders to frame dad and thereby discredit President Truman that dad and Chambers were lovers (this is Dick Nixon's explanation) that Chambers and mom were lovers that Chambers and my brother Tim were lovers that dad allowed himself to be jailed so that no one would ever know that mom had had an abortion back in the 1920s or that Tim had been kicked out of the Navy for a gay episode as a teen-ager in the 1940s."

If any of this is true, we still don't know.

The American right believes Alger Hiss got what he deserved: three years and eight months at Lewisburg, Pa., as inmate No. 19137. An article of faith among leftists is that the whole case was the first in a series of frame-ups and that the FBI forged a key piece of evidence, Woodstock typewriter N230099.

Richard Nixon's subsequent "dirty tricks" make this self-evident to them. "Watergate devastatingly ended Nixon's official career. A fuller investigation of all the Russian files could expose the fraud that launched that career," the Nation's Victor Navasky wrote earlier this year.

Alger Hiss was born and raised in Baltimore, Whitaker Chambers resided here. After the accusations were first aired, the whole city became divided. Old friendships were broken in arguments.

Alger Hiss now lives in Manhattan and celebrated his birthday Thursday. He is 89. He is hard of hearing, but his mind works.

The famous Whitaker Chambers farm is still in Westminster. His son lives nearby.

The original house burned years ago but pumpkins still occasionally are grown on the land. No new films have been discovered but the 10-year-old son of Baltimore State Sen. George W. Della Jr. -- whose deceased mother owned the farm -- loves to go through the fields with his metal detector.

I used to be captivated by this case as a time capsule of Cold War Americana and thought I could solve its many puzzling questions.

Long ago, I gave up. With so much suspicion of skulduggery and evidence produced by recanting informers, there were simply too many unprovables.

Whenever I see an old Woodstock typewriter, I still check the serial number, though. Just in case.


Contents

Alger Hiss was one of five children born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Mary "Minnie" Lavinia (née Hughes) and Charles Alger Hiss. Both parents came from substantial Baltimore families who could trace their roots to the middle of the eighteenth century. Hiss's paternal great-great-grandfather had emigrated from Germany in 1729, married well, and changed his surname from "Hesse" to "Hiss". [8] Minnie Hughes had attended teacher's college and was active in Baltimore society. Shortly after his marriage at age 24, Charles Hiss entered the business world and joined the dry goods importing firm Daniel Miller and Co. He did well, becoming an executive and stockholder. When Charles's brother John died suddenly at the age of 33, Charles assumed financial and emotional responsibility for his brother's widow and six children in addition to his own expanding family. [8] Charles also helped his wife's favorite brother, Albert Hughes, find work at Daniel Miller. Hughes at first distinguished himself and was promoted to treasurer of the firm, but then he became involved in a complicated business deal and was unable to meet the financial obligation that was part of a joint agreement. [8] As a matter of honor, Charles Hiss felt compelled to sell all his stocks to make good his brother-in-law's debts, as well as to resign from the firm. This was in 1907, the year of a great financial panic. After inconclusive attempts by relatives to find him a job, Charles fell into a serious depression and committed suicide, cutting his throat with a razor. Minnie, who had made the most of her former prosperity and social position, now had to rely on her inheritance and assistance from family members. [ citation needed ]

Alger Hiss was two years old at the time of his father's death, and his brother Donald was two months old. As was customary in those days, they were not told of the circumstances of Charles Hiss's death. When Alger learned of it inadvertently years later from neighbors, he angrily confronted his older brother Bosley, who then told him the truth. Shocked, Hiss resolved to devote the rest of his life to restoring the family's "good name". [8]

Although shadowed by melancholy, Hiss's early childhood, spent in rough-and-tumble games with his siblings and cousins who lived close by, was not unhappy. Their Baltimore neighborhood was described by columnist Murray Kempton as one of "shabby gentility." [9] Hiss, however, portrayed the economic circumstances of his childhood as "modest", but "not particularly shabby". [10] (Two further tragedies occurred when Hiss was in his twenties: his elder brother Bosley died of Bright's disease and his sister Mary Ann committed suicide.) [10]

Hiss learned to compartmentalize and to seek out paternal surrogates. At school, he was popular and high performing. He attended high school at Baltimore City College and college at Johns Hopkins University, where he was voted "most popular student" by his classmates and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. In 1929, he received his law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was a protégé of Felix Frankfurter, the future U.S. Supreme Court justice. During his time at Harvard, the famous murder trial of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti took place, ending in their conviction and execution. Like Frankfurter, who wrote a book about the case, and like many prominent liberals of the day, Hiss maintained that Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted unjustly. [ citation needed ]

Hiss served for a year as clerk to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., before joining Choate, Hall & Stewart, a Boston law firm, and later the New York law firm then known as Cotton, Franklin, Wright & Gordon. [ citation needed ]

During the era of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, Hiss became a government attorney. In 1933, he served briefly at the Justice Department and then became a temporary assistant on the Senate's Nye Committee, investigating cost overruns and alleged profiteering by military contractors during World War I. [11] During this period, Hiss was also a member of the liberal legal team headed by Jerome Frank that defended the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) against challenges to its legitimacy. Because of intense opposition from agribusiness in Arkansas, Frank and his left-wing assistants, who included future labor lawyer Lee Pressman, were fired in 1935 in what came to be known as "the purge of liberals". [12] Hiss was not fired, but allegations that during this period he was connected with radicals on the Agriculture Department's legal team were to be the source of future controversy.

In the meantime, Hiss also served initially as "investigator" [13] and then "legal assistant" [14] [15] [16] (counsel) to the Nye Committee from July 1934 to August 1935. [17] He "badgered" DuPont officials and questioned and cross-examined Bernard Baruch on March 29, 1935. [18] [19] [20] [21] In 1947, Baruch and Hiss both attended the burial of Nicholas Murray Butler. In 1988, he called Baruch a "vain and overrated Polonius much given to trite pronouncements about the nation". [22]

In 1936, Alger Hiss and his younger brother Donald Hiss began working under Cordell Hull in the State Department. Alger was an assistant to Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Sayre (son-in-law of Woodrow Wilson) and then special assistant to the director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs. From 1939 to 1944, Hiss was an assistant to Stanley Hornbeck, a special adviser to Cordell Hull on Far Eastern affairs.

In 1944, Hiss was named Director of the Office of Special Political Affairs, a policy-making entity devoted to planning for post-war international organizations. Hiss served as executive secretary [23] of the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, which drew up plans for the future United Nations. In November 1944, Hull, who had led the United Nations project, retired as Secretary of State due to poor health and was succeeded by Undersecretary of State Edward Stettinius.

In February 1945, as a member of the U.S. delegation headed by Stettinius, Hiss attended the Yalta Conference, where the Big Three, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill, met to consolidate their alliance to forestall any possibility, now that the Soviets had entered German territory, that any of them might make a separate peace with the Nazi regime. Negotiations addressed the postwar division of Europe and configuration of its borders reparations and de-Nazification and the still unfinished plans, carried over from Dumbarton Oaks, for the United Nations. Before the conference took place, Hiss participated in the meetings where the American draft of the "Declaration of Liberated Europe" was created. The Declaration concerned the political future of Eastern Europe and critics on the right later charged that it made damaging concessions to the Soviets. [24]

Hiss stated that he was responsible for assembling background papers and documentation for the conference "and any general matters that might come up relating to the Far East or the Near East." [25]

Hiss drafted a memorandum arguing against Stalin's proposal (made at Dumbarton Oaks) [26] to give one vote to each of the sixteen Soviet republics in the United Nations General Assembly. Fearing isolation, Stalin hoped thus to counterbalance the votes of the many countries of the British Empire, who he anticipated would vote with Britain, and those of Latin America, who could be expected to vote in lockstep with the United States. [27] In the final compromise offered by Roosevelt and Stettinius and accepted by Stalin, the Soviets obtained three votes: one each for the Soviet Union itself, the Ukrainian SSR, and the Belorussian SSR. [28]

Hiss was Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on International Organization (the convention that created the UN Charter), [29] which was held in San Francisco from April 25, 1945 to June 26, 1945. Allen Weinstein wrote that Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet delegate to the conference, praised Hiss to his superior Stettinus for his "impartiality and fairness". [30] Hiss later became full Director of the State Department's Office of Special Political Affairs. [29] In late 1946, Hiss left government service to become president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he served until May 5, 1949, when he was forced to step down.

On August 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist Party member, appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to denounce Alger Hiss. A senior editor at Time magazine, Chambers had written a scathingly satirical editorial critical of the Yalta agreements. [31] Chambers asserted that he had known Hiss as a member of "an underground organization of the United States Communist Party" in the 1930s. [32] The group, which Chambers called the "Ware Group", had been organized by agriculturalist Harold Ware, an American communist intent on organizing black and white tenant farmers in the American South against exploitation and debt peonage by the cotton industry (Ware had died in 1935). According to Chambers, "the purpose of this group at that time was not primarily espionage. Its original purpose was the communist infiltration of the American government. But espionage was certainly one of its eventual objectives." [33] As historian Tim Weiner points out, "This was a crucial point. Infiltration and invisible political influence were immoral, but arguably not illegal. Espionage was treason, traditionally punishable by death. The distinction was not lost on the cleverest member of HUAC, Congressman Richard Nixon. He had been studying the FBI's files for five months, courtesy of J. Edgar Hoover. Nixon launched his political career in hot pursuit of Hiss and the alleged secret Communists of the New Deal." [34]

Rumors had circulated about Hiss since 1939, when Chambers, at the urging of anti-Stalinist Isaac Don Levine, had gone to Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle, Jr. and accused Hiss of having belonged to an underground communist cell at the Department of Agriculture. [35] In 1942, Chambers repeated this allegation to the FBI. In 1945 two other sources appeared to implicate Hiss. In September 1945, Igor Gouzenko, a 26-year-old Ukrainian whose three-year tour as a cipher clerk stationed at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa was coming to an end, defected from the Soviet Union and remained in Canada. [36] In exchange for asylum, Gouzenko offered to Canadian authorities evidence about a Soviet espionage network actively working to acquire information about nuclear weapons, [37] along with information that an unnamed assistant (or more precisely an "assistant to an assistant") to U.S. Secretary of State Stettinius was a Soviet agent. When informed of this, Hoover assumed Gouzenko was referring to Alger Hiss. [38] Three months later (in December 1945), Elizabeth Bentley, an American spy for the Soviet Union, who served also as a courier between communist groups, [39] told the FBI, as documented in the FBI Silvermaster File that "At this time Kramer told me that the person who had originally taken Glasser away from Perlo's group was named Hiss and that he was in the U.S. State Department." [40] Bentley also said that the man in question, whom she called "Eugene Hiss" worked in the State Department and was an adviser to Dean Acheson. In both cases (Gouzenko and Bentley), the FBI decided that Alger Hiss was the likely match. [32] [41] Hoover put a wiretap on Hiss's home phone and had him and his wife investigated and tailed for the next two years. [42]

In response to Chambers's accusations, Hiss protested his innocence and insisted on appearing before HUAC to clear himself. Testifying on August 5, 1948, he denied having ever been a communist or having personally met Chambers. Under fire from President Truman and the press, the Committee was reluctant to proceed with its investigation against so eminent a man. [43] Congressman Richard Nixon, however, who later described Hiss's demeanor that day as, "insolent", "condescending", and "insulting in the extreme", wanted to press on. [44] Nixon had received secret information about the FBI's suspicions from John Francis Cronin, a Roman Catholic priest who had infiltrated labor unions in Baltimore during World War II to report on communist activities and had been given access to FBI files. [32] [45] Writing in a paper titled "The Problem of American Communism In 1945", Cronin wrote, "In the State Department, the most influential Communist has been Alger Hiss." [46]

With some reluctance, the Committee voted to make Nixon chair of a subcommittee that would seek to determine who was lying, Hiss or Chambers, at least on the question of whether they knew one another. [47]

Shown a photograph of Chambers, Hiss conceded that the face "might look familiar" and asked to see Chambers in person. Confronted with him in person in a hotel elevator with HUAC representatives present, Hiss admitted that he had indeed known Chambers, but under the name "George Crosley", a man who represented himself as a freelance writer. Hiss said that in the mid-1930s he had sublet his apartment to this "Crosley" and had given him an old car. [32] [48] Chambers, for his part, denied on the stand ever having used the alias Crosley, though he admitted to Hiss's lawyers in private testimony that it could have been one of his pen names. [49] When Hiss and Chambers both appeared before a HUAC subcommittee on August 17, 1948, they had the following exchange:

HISS. Did you ever go under the name of George Crosley? CHAMBERS. Not to my knowledge. HISS. Did you ever sublet an apartment on Twenty-ninth Street from me? CHAMBERS. No I did not. HISS. You did not? CHAMBERS. No. HISS. Did you ever spend any time with your wife and child in an apartment on Twenty-ninth Street in Washington when I was not there because I and my family were living on P Street? CHAMBERS. I most certainly did. HISS. You did or did not? CHAMBERS. I did. HISS. Would you tell me how you reconcile your negative answers with this affirmative answer? CHAMBERS. Very easily, Alger. I was a Communist and you were a Communist. [50]

Chambers's statements, because they were made in a Congressional hearing, were privileged against defamation suits Hiss challenged Chambers to repeat them without benefit of such protection. When, on the national radio program Meet the Press, Chambers publicly called Hiss a communist, Hiss had attorney William L. Marbury Jr. file a libel lawsuit against him.

Chambers retaliated by claiming Hiss was not merely a communist, but also a spy, a charge he had not made earlier and, on November 17, 1948, to support his explosive allegations he produced physical evidence consisting of sixty-five pages of re-typed State Department documents, the last of which was dated April 1, 1938, plus four notes in Hiss's handwriting summarizing the contents of State Department cables. These became known as the "Baltimore documents". Chambers claimed Hiss had given them to him in 1938 and that Priscilla had retyped them (Hiss could not type) on the Hisses' Woodstock typewriter for Chambers to pass along to the Soviets. [32] One of the handwritten notes copied the contents of a telegram (received January 28, 1938) [51] related to the November and December 1937 arrest and disappearance in Moscow of a Latvian-born man and his wife, an American citizen. [52] Under questioning, neither Hiss nor his superior, Francis Sayre, recollected the incident. Hiss initially denied writing the note, but experts confirmed it was his handwriting. [53] Interrogated in 1949, Sayre stated that the telegram was unrelated to Hiss's duties, which concerned trade matters and told his questioners, "He could not understand why he was on the distribution list for this cable nor why the note would be made on it or especially why an exact copy should be made." [54]

In their previous testimony, both Chambers and Hiss had denied having committed espionage. By introducing the Baltimore documents, Chambers admitted he had previously lied, opening both Hiss and himself to perjury charges. Chambers also gave a new date for his own break with the Communist Party, an important point in his accusations against Hiss. For over nine years, beginning September 1, 1939, he had claimed to have quit the Party in 1937. Chambers now began to claim the actual date was sometime in early March 1938, the year of the "Baltimore documents", before finally settling during the trial, on April 15, 1938. [55] [56] [57]

On December 2, Chambers led HUAC investigators to a pumpkin patch on his Maryland farm from a hollowed-out pumpkin in which he had hidden them the previous day, he produced five rolls of 35 mm film that he said came from Hiss in 1938, as well. While some of the film was undeveloped and some contained images of trivial content such as publicly available Navy documents concerning the painting of fire extinguishers, there were also images of State Department documents that were classified at the time. As a consequence of the revelation's dramatic staging, both the film and the Baltimore documents soon became known collectively as the "Pumpkin Papers". [32]

The grand jury charged Hiss with two counts of perjury—it did not indict him for espionage since the period of limitations had run out. Chambers was never charged with a crime. Hiss went to trial twice. The first trial, presided over by Judge Samuel Kaufman, started on May 31, 1949, and ended in a hung jury on July 7. Chambers admitted on the witness stand that he had previously committed perjury several times while he was under oath, including deliberately falsifying key dates in his story. Hiss's character witnesses at his first trial included such notables as future Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, Supreme Court Justices Felix Frankfurter, and Stanley Reed, and former Democratic presidential candidate John W. Davis. President Truman famously called the investigation "a red herring". [58] The second trial, presided over by Judge Henry W. Goddard, lasted from November 17, 1949, to January 21, 1950.

At both trials, a key to the prosecution's case was testimony from expert witnesses, stating that identifying characteristics of the typed Baltimore documents matched samples typed on a typewriter owned by the Hisses at the time of his alleged espionage work with Chambers. The prosecution also presented as evidence the typewriter itself. Given away years earlier, it had been located by defense investigators. This trial resulted in an eight-to-four deadlocked jury. "That, according to one of Hiss's friends and lawyers, Helen Buttenweiser, was the only time that she had ever seen Alger shocked—stunned by the fact that eight of his fellow citizens did not believe him." [59]

In the second trial, Hede Massing, an Austrian-born confessed Soviet spy who was being threatened with deportation, and whom the first judge had not permitted to testify, provided some slight corroboration of Chambers's story. She recounted meeting Hiss at a party in 1935. [57] Massing also described how Hiss had tried to recruit Noel Field, another Soviet spy at State, to switch from Massing's ring to his own. [60] [61]

This time the jury found Hiss guilty. According to Anthony Summers, "Hiss spoke only two sentences in court after he had been found guilty. The first was to thank the judge. The second was to assert that one day in the future it would be disclosed how forgery by typewriter had been committed." [62]

On January 25, 1950, Judge Goddard sentenced Hiss to five years' imprisonment on each of the two counts, to run concurrently.

At a subsequent press conference, Secretary of State Dean Acheson reacted emotionally, affirming, "I do not intend to turn my back on Alger Hiss." Acheson quoted Jesus in the Bible: "I was a Stranger and ye took me in Naked, and ye clothed me I was sick and ye visited me I was in prison and ye came unto me." Acheson's remarks enraged Nixon, who called Acheson's words sacrilege. [63] The verdict was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, [64] and the Supreme Court of the United States denied a writ of certiorari. [65]

The case heightened public concern about Soviet espionage penetration of the U.S. government in the 1930s and 1940s. As a well-educated and highly connected government official from an old American family, Alger Hiss did not fit the profile of a typical spy.

Publicity surrounding the case thrust Richard M. Nixon into the public spotlight, helping him move from the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate in 1950, to the Vice Presidency of the United States in 1952, and finally to President of the United States in 1968.

Senator Joseph McCarthy made his famous speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, two weeks after the Hiss verdict, launching his career as the nation's most visible anti-communist.

Although he had been sentenced to five years' imprisonment, Hiss served only three years and eight months in Lewisburg Federal Prison. He was released from prison on November 27, 1954.

While in prison, Hiss acted as a volunteer attorney, adviser, and tutor for many of his fellow inmates.

After his release in 1954, Hiss, who had been disbarred, worked as a salesman for the stationery company S. Novick & Sons located in the Puck Building, 295 Lafayette St. in New York City. In 1957, he published In the Court of Public Opinion, [66] a book challenging in detail the prosecution's case against him, and maintaining the typewritten documents traced to his typewriter had been forged. Hiss separated from his first wife, Priscilla, in 1959, though they remained married until her death in 1984. In 1985 he married Isabel Johnson, who had been living with him since soon after they met in 1960. [67]

On November 11, 1962, following Richard Nixon's failed 1962 bid for governor of California, Hiss appeared in a segment titled "The Political Obituary of Richard M. Nixon" on the Howard K. Smith: News and Comment show on ABC television. (The Chicago Tribune reported targets of Hiss's "invective" and whom he "denounced as conspirators in a monstrous plot to convict him on concocted evidence" included: the presiding judge at his second trial, the three appellate court judges who rejected his appeal, J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, assistant attorney general Alexander M. Campbell, federal prosecutor Thomas F. Murphy, members of the New York grand jury who indicted him, jury members in his two trials who convicted him, and HUAC members and particularly Richard Nixon and Karl Mundt". [68] ) His appearance led sponsors to withdraw from Smith's program when viewers bombarded ABC with complaints about letting a convicted perjurer appear on the air. Smith's show was cancelled in June 1963. [69]

The five rolls of 35 mm film known as the "pumpkin papers" had been characterized as highly classified and too sensitive to reveal and were thought until late 1974 to be locked in HUAC files. In 1975, independent researcher Stephen W. Salant, an economist at the University of Michigan, sued the U.S. Justice Department when it denied his request for access to them under the Freedom of Information Act. On July 31, 1975, as a result of this lawsuit and follow-on suits filed by Peter Irons and by Alger Hiss and William A. Reuben, the Justice Department released copies of the "pumpkin papers" that had been used to implicate Hiss. One roll of film turned out to be totally blank due to overexposure, [70] two others are faintly legible copies of non-classified Navy Department documents relating to such subjects as life rafts and fire extinguishers, and the remaining two are photographs of the State Department documents that had been introduced at the two Hiss trials. [71] A few days after the release of the Pumpkin Papers, on August 5, 1975, Hiss was readmitted to the Massachusetts bar. The state's Supreme Judicial Court overruled its Committee of Bar Overseers [72] and stated in a unanimous decision that, despite his conviction, Hiss had demonstrated the "moral and intellectual fitness" required to be an attorney. Hiss was the first lawyer ever readmitted to the Massachusetts bar after a major criminal conviction. [32]

In 1988 Hiss wrote an autobiography, Recollections of a Life, in which he maintained his innocence. He fought his perjury conviction until his death from emphysema on November 15, 1996, at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, four days after his 92nd birthday. [73] [74] His friends and family continue to insist on his innocence.

In 1929, Hiss married Priscilla Fansler Hobson, a Bryn Mawr graduate and grade school teacher. Priscilla, previously married to Thayer Hobson, had a three-year-old son, Timothy Hobson (September 19, 1926 – January 8, 2018). [75] Hiss and Priscilla had known each other before her marriage to Hobson.

Testimony by Bullitt and Weyl Edit

In 1952, former US Ambassador to France William C. Bullitt testified before the McCarran Committee (the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee) that in 1939, Premier Édouard Daladier had advised him of French intelligence reports that two State Department officials named Hiss were Soviet agents. [76] When asked about it the next day, Daladier, then 68 years old, told reporters that he did not recall this conversation from 13 years previously. [77] Also called to testify before the McCarran committee was economist Nathaniel Weyl, a former Communist Party member "at large" who had worked for the Department of Agriculture during the early days of the New Deal and had become disillusioned with what he considered the underhanded methods of the Communist Party. In 1950 Weyl had been interviewed by the FBI and had told them that in 1933 he had belonged to a secret Communist Party unit along with Harold Ware and Lee Pressman and confirmed that Alger Hiss had been present at some meetings held at Ware's sister's violin studio. [78] Weyl's is thus the only testimony appearing to corroborate some of Chambers's allegations. In 1950 Weyl, however, had published an anti-communist book, Treason: The Story of Disloyalty and Betrayal in American History (1950) that made no mention of the so-called "Ware Group". Moreover, in this book, which came out shortly after Hiss's conviction, Weyl expressed doubt that Alger Hiss had been guilty of espionage. [57] [79] [80]

Forgery by typewriter hypothesis Edit

At both trials, FBI typewriter experts testified that the Baltimore documents in Chambers's possession matched samples of typing done in the 1930s by Priscilla Hiss on the Hisses' home typewriter, a Woodstock brand. At both trials, the testimony was directed to comparing two sets of typed documents and not to the typewriter eventually submitted into evidence. As early as December 1948 the chief investigator for the Hiss defense, Horace W. Schmahl, set off a race to find Hiss's typewriter. [81] The FBI, with superior resources, was also searching for the typewriter, which the Hiss family had discarded some years earlier. Nevertheless, Schmahl was able to track it down first, and the Hiss defense introduced it with the intention of showing that its typeface would not be a match for that on the FBI's documents. Surprisingly, however, the typefaces proved to be an excellent match and confirmed the FBI's evidence. Schmahl subsequently changed sides and went to work for the prosecution.

After Hiss had gone to prison, his lawyer, Chester T. Lane, acting on a tip he had received from someone who had worked with Schmahl that Hiss might have been framed, filed a motion in January 1952 for a new trial. [82] Lane sought to show that (1) forgery by typewriter was feasible and (2) such forgery had occurred in the Hiss case and the forgery was responsible for the spy papers. Unaware that the feasibility of such forgeries had already been established throughout the War by the military intelligence services that engaged in such practices, the Hiss defense sought to establish feasibility directly by hiring a civilian typewriter expert, Martin Tytell, to create a typewriter that would be indistinguishable from the one the Hisses owned. Tytell spent two years creating a facsimile Woodstock typewriter whose print characteristics would match the peculiarities of the Hiss typewriter. [83]

To demonstrate that forgery by typewriter was not merely a theoretical possibility but had actually occurred in the Hiss case, the defense sought to show that Exhibit #UUU was not Hiss's old machine but a newer one altered to type like it. According to former Woodstock executives, the production date of a machine could be inferred from the machine's serial number. The serial number on the Exhibit #UUU typewriter indicated that it would have been manufactured after the man who sold the Hiss machine had retired from the company and the salesman insisted that he did not sell any typewriters after his retirement. Decades later, when FBI files were disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, it turned out that the FBI had also doubted that the trial exhibit was Hiss's machine and for exactly the same reasons although the FBI expressed these concerns internally as the first trial was about to begin, the public did not learn about the FBI's doubts until the mid-1970s. [84]

To explain why typing from Exhibit #UUU seemed indistinguishable from the typing on Hiss's old machine, Lane assembled experts prepared to testify that Exhibit #UUU had been tampered with in a way inconsistent with professional repair work to make it type like Hiss's old typewriter. In addition, experts were prepared to testify that Priscilla Hiss was not the typist of the Baltimore documents. [85] In summarizing the conclusions of the forensic experts he had assembled in his motion for a new trial, Lane told the court, "I no longer just question the authenticity of Woodstock N230099. I now say to the Court that Woodstock N230099—the typewriter in evidence at the trials—is a fake machine. I present in affidavit form, and will be able to produce at the hearing, expert testimony that this machine is a deliberately fabricated job, a new type face on an old body. This being so, it can only have been planted on the defense by or on behalf of Whittaker Chambers as part of his plot for the false incrimination of Alger Hiss." [86]

In July 1952 Judge Goddard denied Hiss's motion for a new trial, expressing great skepticism that Chambers had the resources, knew how to commit forgery by typewriter, and would have known where to plant such a fake machine so it would be found. In his decision, Goddard did not address the possibility, raised by Hiss's defenders, that someone other than Chambers, namely Horace Schmahl and/or his associates on the prosecution side, might have been involved in faking the typewriter. [87]

In 1976, Hiss called ex-FBI official William C. Sullivan, who recounted in his 1979 memoir:

In 1976, five years after I left the FBI, I got a telephone call at my home in New Hampshire from Alger Hiss. Still working on his case, he wanted me to tell him whether the typewriter that helped convict him of a perjury charge was a fake which had been put together at the FBI Laboratory.
Although I never worked on the Hiss case myself, I knew that we were giving Richard Nixon, who was in charge of the investigation, every possible assistance. Had Nixon asked the FBI to manufacture evidence to provide his case against Hiss, Hoover would have been only too glad to oblige. I told Hiss that the typewriter was not made in the FBI Lab. What I didn't tell him was that even if we had wanted to, we simply wouldn't have been capable of it. [88]

Based on Justice Department documents released in 1976, the Hiss defense filed a petition in federal court in July 1978 for a writ of coram nobis, asking that the guilty verdict be overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct. In 1982, the Federal Court denied the petition, and in 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal. In the writ, Hiss's attorneys argued the following:

  • The FBI illegally withheld important evidence from the Hiss defense team, specifically that typewritten documents could be forged. Unbeknownst to the defense, military intelligence operatives in World War II, a decade before the trials, "could reproduce faultlessly the imprint of any typewriter on earth". [89]
  • With regard to the Woodstock No. 230099 typewriter introduced as Exhibit #UUU by the defense at the trial, the FBI knew there was an inconsistency between its serial number and the manufacture date of Hiss's machine but illegally withheld this information from Hiss. [32]
  • That the FBI had an informer on the Hiss defense team, a private detective named Horace W. Schmahl. Hired by the Hiss defense team, Schmahl reported on the Hiss defense strategy to the government. [90][91]
  • That the FBI had conducted illegal surveillance of Hiss before and during the trials, including phone taps and mail openings. Also that the prosecution had withheld from Hiss and his lawyers the records of this surveillance, none of which provided any evidence that Hiss was a spy or a communist. [92]

Federal Judge Owen, in denying Hiss's coram nobis petition, quoted verbatim two points made by Judge Goddard in denying Hiss's appeal for a new trial 30 years earlier, namely, that "there is not a trace of any evidence that Chambers had the mechanical skills, tools, equipment or material for such a difficult task [as typewriter forgery]," and that "If Chambers had constructed a duplicate machine, how would he have known where to plant it so that it would be found by Hiss?"

Stephen Salant, whose FOIA requests had revealed to the public the contents of the "pumpkin papers", has documented that Schmahl was a trained Army "spy-catcher" (as they called themselves), a special agent in the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC). While on the payroll of the Hiss defense and searching for Hiss's typewriter, Schmahl confided to the FBI that his "present employment" in December 1948 was with Military Intelligence his claim has not yet been independently verified. [93] [94] At the Military Intelligence Training Center, CIC agents learned the rudiments of forgery and how to detect it through matching of typed samples with the typewriter that produced them. [95] During the 1940s the CIC's domestic surveillance of civilians was extensive but so covert that it usually escaped notice. When detected, undercover CIC agents were often mistaken for FBI agents, since only the Bureau was authorized to investigate civilians. [96] During the 1930s Army counterintelligence monitored another suspected communist connected to Chambers, Franklin Vincent Reno, a civilian employed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, who shortly afterwards passed information about U.S. Army weapons to Chambers. [97] It is not known if U.S. Army counterintelligence monitored Chambers' other associates, but when Hiss presided over the UN Charter Conference, more than a hundred undercover CIC agents were in attendance. [98]

In his 1976 memoir, former White House counsel John Dean states that President Nixon's chief counsel Charles Colson told him that Nixon had admitted in a conversation that HUAC had fabricated a typewriter, saying, "We built one on the Hiss case." [99] According to Anthony Summers, "When Dean's book was published, Colson protested that he had 'no recollection of Nixon's having said the typewriter was 'phonied,'" and Nixon himself characterized the claim as 'totally false.' Dean, however, insisted that his contemporaneous notes confirmed that Colson had quoted the President as he indicated and seemed serious when he did so." [100] Summers and others suggest that Dean's version of events is plausible: "'Had Nixon asked the FBI to manufacture evidence to prove his case against Hiss,' opined former FBI Assistant Director Sullivan, 'Hoover would actually been only too glad to oblige.'" As to whether Nixon would actually have gone as far as to frame Hiss, Summers notes, "the later record includes disquieting instances of forgery or planting false information." [101]

Cold War historian John V. Fleming disagrees, arguing that on the White House tapes Nixon never says anything that would have corroborated Colson's statement to John Dean about forging a typewriter in the Hiss case. Fleming and others maintain that the indistinct phrase during a conversation with John Dean that sounded to certain transcribers like "we made a typewriter" is actually a reference to Hiss's legal team. [102] Throughout the tapes Nixon stresses how he had tried Hiss in the press, not the law courts, because that's how these things were done:

We won the Hiss case in the papers. We did. I had to leak stuff all over the place. Because the Justice Department would not prosecute it. Hoover didn't even cooperate. It was won in the papers. I leaked out the papers. I leaked out the testimony. I had Hiss convicted before he ever got to the grand jury. Go back and read the chapter on the Hiss case in Six Crises and you'll see how it was done. It wasn't done waiting for the goddamn courts or the attorney general or the FBI. [103]

According to Anthony Summers: [104]

The one substantive piece of information indicating typewriter forgery features the OSS and its chief, William Donovan. In late 1948, when the Hiss defense and the FBI began hunting for the Woodstock typewriter, a man named Horace Schmahl joined the defense team as an investigator. Schmahl had worked for either the OSS or army intelligence during the war, then joined the Central Intelligence Group, which operated between the closedown of the OSS and the inception of the CIA. After his stint for the Hiss side, Schmahl defected to the prosecution team. [105]

Against the forged typewriter theory Allen Weinstein writes:

[I]f there existed any persons with the means, motive, and opportunity to "substitute" a different Woodstock for the Hiss machine in the months after Hiss's indictment, the evidence . indicates the possible conspirators, Mike Catlett and Donald Hiss, who for two months withheld knowledge from Alger's lawyers that the typewriter had been traced to Ira Lockey. [106]

Noel Field Edit

In 1992, records were found in Hungarian Interior Ministry archives in which self-confessed Soviet spy Noel Field named Alger Hiss as a fellow agent. An American citizen from a Quaker family who had grown up in Switzerland, Field attended Harvard and worked in the US Foreign Service from 1929 until 1936, when he left the State Department for a job at the League of Nations in Geneva, helping refugees from the Spanish Civil War. During World War II, Field, who never concealed he was a communist, headed a Unitarian Services organization to aid displaced persons in Marseilles, before fleeing to Geneva, where he collaborated with Allen Dulles of the OSS (who was based in Bern). In 1948, when the Hiss trials started, Field and his German wife were still living in Switzerland. By 1949 Field was broke, having been fired from the U.S.-based Unitarian Service Committee for his communist associations. Wishing to avoid returning to the United States and possibly having to testify before Congress, Field traveled to Prague, hoping to be hired as a lecturer at the Charles University. [107] Instead, he was seized by Stalinist security services from Poland and Czechoslovakia and secretly imprisoned in Hungary. Field was accused of having organized an anti-communist resistance network in Eastern Europe for the OSS during the war and later for the new CIA [108] and was held for five years in solitary confinement. [109] Repeatedly interrogated under rigorous torture, Field broke down and confessed to being "head of the U.S. Secret Service", under his controller, Allen Dulles, "the famous pro-Nazi OSS spymaster". [110]

While being "rehabilitated" after the torture had ceased, Field referred four times to Hiss as a Soviet agent, for example: "Around the summer of 1935 Alger Hiss tried to induce me to do service for the Soviets. I was indiscreet enough to tell him he had come too late." This agreed with Hede Massing's assertion to US authorities in 1947 that when she attempted to recruit Noel Field for one Soviet spy network (the OGPU), Field had replied that he already worked for another (the GRU). (Massing repeated this story at Hiss's second trial when she testified that at a party at Noel Field's house in 1935 she had obliquely joked with Hiss about recruiting Noel Field. [111] ) In 1954, the Hungarian secret police released Field, exonerating him. He then formally wrote to the Communist Party's Central Committee in Moscow stating for the record that the tortures he had undergone in captivity had made him "confess more and more lies as truth". Hiss's defenders argue that Field's implications of Hiss may well have been among those lies. [112] [113] Field remained in communist Hungary until his death in 1970. In public, Field continued to maintain Hiss was innocent and, in 1957, wrote Hiss a letter calling Hede Massing's dinner party story "the false testimony of a perjured witness" and an "outrageous lie". [114]

Venona and "ALES" Edit

In 1995, the CIA and the NSA for the first time made public the existence of the World War II Venona project, which, beginning in 1943, had decrypted or partially decrypted thousands of telegrams sent from 1940 to 1948 to the primary Soviet foreign intelligence agency—for most of that period, the NKVD—by its U.S. operatives. Although known to the FBI, Venona had been kept secret even from President Truman. One cable, Venona #1822, mentioned a Soviet spy codenamed "ALES" who worked with a group of "Neighbors"—members of another Soviet intelligence organization, such as the military's GRU. FBI Special Agent Robert J. Lamphere, [115] who supervised the FBI's spy chasing squad, concluded that the codename "ALES" was "probably Alger Hiss". [116] [117]

In 1997, Allen Weinstein, in the second edition of his 1978 book Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, calls the Venona evidence "persuasive but not conclusive". [32] The bipartisan Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy, chaired by Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, however, stated in its findings that year: "The complicity of Alger Hiss of the State Department seems settled. As does that of Harry Dexter White of the Treasury Department." [118] In his 1998 book Secrecy: The American Experience, Moynihan wrote, "Belief in the guilt or innocence of Alger Hiss became a defining issue in American intellectual life. Parts of the American government had conclusive evidence of his guilt, but they never told." [119] In their numerous books, Harvey Klehr, professor of political science at Emory University, and John Earl Haynes, historian of twentieth-century politics at the Library of Congress, have mounted an energetic defense of Lamphere's conclusion that ALES indeed referred to Alger Hiss. [120] National Security Agency analysts have also gone on record asserting that ALES could only have been Alger Hiss. [121] The Venona transcript # 1822, sent March 30, 1945, from the Soviets' Washington station chief to Moscow, [117] appears to indicate that ALES attended the February 4–11, 1945, Yalta conference and then went to Moscow. Hiss did attend Yalta and then traveled to Moscow with Secretary of State Stettinius. [122]

Some, however, question whether Venona #1822 constitutes definitive proof that ALES was Hiss. Hiss's lawyer, John Lowenthal argued:

  • ALES was said to be the leader of a small group of espionage agents but, apart from using his wife as a typist and Chambers as courier, Hiss was alleged by the prosecution to have acted alone. [123] The CIA, however, concluded the "small group" comprised Alger, his wife Priscilla, and brother Donald.
  • ALES was a GRU (military intelligence) agent who obtained military intelligence and only rarely provided State Department material. In contrast, during his trial, Alger Hiss, an employee of the State Department, was accused of having obtained only non-military information, and the papers he was accused of having passed to the Soviets on a regular basis were non-military, State Department documents.
  • Even had Hiss been a spy as alleged, after 1938 he would have been unlikely to have continued espionage activities as ALES did, since in 1938 Whittaker Chambers had broken with the Communist Party and gone into hiding, threatening to denounce his Communist Party colleagues unless they followed suit. Had Hiss been ALES, his cover would thus have been in extreme jeopardy and it would have been too risky for any Soviet agency to continue using him. [124]
  • Lowenthal suggests that ALES was not at the Yalta conference at all and that the cable instead was directed to Soviet deputy foreign minister Andrey Vyshinsky. [125] According to Lowenthal, in paragraph six of Venona #1822, the GRU asks Vyshinsky to get in touch with ALES to convey thanks from the GRU for a job well done—which would have been unnecessary if ALES had actually gone to Moscow, because the GRU could have thanked him there in person. [114]

Eduard Mark of the Center for Air Force History hotly disputed this analysis. [126] In 2005, NSA released the original Russian of the Venona texts. At a symposium held at the Center for Cryptologic History that year, intelligence historian John R. Schindler concluded that the Russian text of Venona #1822 made clear that ALES was indeed at Yalta: "the identification of ALES as Alger Hiss, made by the U.S. Government more than a half-century ago, seems exceptionally solid, based on the evidence now available message 1822 is only one piece of that evidence, yet a compelling one." [127]

Rebutting Lowenthal's other points, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr argued that:

  • None of the evidence presented at the Hiss trial precludes the possibility that Hiss could have been an espionage agent after 1938 or that he had only passed State Department documents after 1938.
  • Chambers's charges were not seriously investigated until 1945 when Elizabeth Bentley defected, so the Soviets could in theory have considered it an acceptable risk for him continue his espionage work even after Chambers's 1938 defection.
  • Vyshinsky was not in the U.S. between Yalta and the time of the Venona message, and the message is from the Washington KGB station reporting on a talk with ALES in the U.S., rendering Lowenthal's analysis impossible. [128]

An earlier Venona document, #1579, had actually mentioned "HISS" by name. This partially decrypted cable consists of fragments of a 1943 message from the GRU chief in New York to headquarters in Moscow and reads: "from the State Department by name of HISS" (with "HISS" "spelled out in the Latin alphabet", according to a footnote by the cryptanalysts). "HISS" could refer either to Alger or Donald Hiss, both State Department officials at that time. Lowenthal argued that had Alger Hiss really been a spy, the GRU would not have mentioned his real name [114] in a coded transmission, since this was contrary to their usual practice. [120]

At an April 2007 symposium, authors Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya postulated that, based on the movements of officials present at Yalta, Wilder Foote, a U.S. diplomat, not Hiss, was the best match for ALES. [129] They note Foote was in Mexico City when a Soviet cable placed ALES there, whereas Hiss had left several days earlier for Washington (see above). In response, Haynes and Klehr point out that Foote doesn't fit other aspects of the description of ALES (Foote was publishing newspapers in Vermont at the time when ALES was said to have been working for Soviet military intelligence) and suggest that the cable came from someone who managed KGB assets (rather than GRU assets like ALES) and may have been mistaken when he stated that ALES was still in Mexico City. [130] [131] Mark also disputes that Foote was ALES, arguing that Foote was never shown to be associated with the communists or any foreign intelligence services Hiss was the "one possible candidate" who could have been ALES, Mark contends. [132]

Oleg Gordievsky Edit

In 1985, a high-ranking KGB agent, Oleg Gordievsky (b. 1938), who was recruited in 1974 as a British double agent, defected and wrote a series of memoirs, in one of which, The KGB (1990), he recalled attending a lecture given before a KGB audience by Iskhak Abdulovich Akhmerov, who identified Hiss as a World War II Soviet agent. [133] Gordievsky went further and claimed that Hiss had the codename identity of "ALES". Appearing before the Venona cables were made public, this at first appeared to be independent corroboration of the codename, but it was later revealed that Gordievsky's source for the ALES identity was an article by journalist Thomas Powell, who had seen National Security Agency documents on Venona years before their release. [134] Gordievsky's status as a reliable source was challenged in sections of the British media. [135]

Aleksandr Feklisov Edit

According to Serguei Kostine in the introduction to Alexandr Feklisov's book The Man Behind the Rosenbergs (2001), Hiss was guilty: "Like Alger Hiss, who went to his death pretending innocence, Morton Sobell has spent his entire life honoring the lie. " [136]

Soviet archives Edit

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Alger Hiss petitioned General Dmitry Antonovich Volkogonov, who had become President Yeltsin's military advisor and the overseer of all the Soviet intelligence archives, to request the release of any Soviet files on the Hiss case. Both former President Nixon and the director of his presidential library, John H. Taylor, wrote similar letters, though their full contents are not yet publicly available.

Russian archivists responded by reviewing their files, and in late 1992 reported back that they had found no evidence Hiss ever engaged in espionage for the Soviet Union nor that he was a member of the Communist Party. However, Volkogonov subsequently stated he spent only two days on the search and had mainly relied on the word of KGB archivists. "What I saw gave me no basis to claim a full clarification", he said. Referring to Hiss's lawyer, he added, "John Lowenthal pushed me to say things of which I was not fully convinced." [112] General-Lieutenant Vitaly Pavlov, who ran Soviet intelligence work in North America in the late 1930s and early 1940s for the NKVD said that Hiss never worked for the USSR as one of his agents. [137]

In 2003, retired Russian intelligence official General Julius Kobyakov disclosed that it was he who had actually searched the files for Volkogonov. Kobyakov stated that Hiss did not have a relationship with SVR predecessor organizations, [137] although Hiss was accused of being with the GRU, a military intelligence organization separate from SVR predecessors. In 2007, Svetlana Chervonnaya, a Russian researcher who had been studying Soviet archives since the early 1990s, argued that based on documents she reviewed, Hiss was not implicated in spying. [138] In May 2009, at a conference hosted by the Wilson Center, Mark Kramer, director of Cold War Studies at Harvard University at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, stated that he did not "trust a word [Kobyakov] says", [139] At the same conference, historian Ronald Radosh reported that while researching the papers of Marshal Voroshilov in Moscow, he and Mary Habeck had encountered two GRU (Soviet military intelligence) files referring to Alger Hiss as "our agent". [140]

In 2009, Haynes, Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev published Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, based on KGB documents reportedly hand-copied by Vassiliev, a former KGB agent, during the 1990s. The authors attempted to show definitively that Alger Hiss had indeed been a Soviet spy and argue that KGB documents prove not only that Hiss was the elusive ALES, but that he also went by the codenames "Jurist" and "Leonard" while working for the GRU. Some documentation brought back by Vassiliev also refers to Hiss by his actual name, leaving no room, in the authors' opinion, for doubt about his guilt. Calling this the "massive weight of accumulated evidence", Haynes and Klehr conclude, "to serious students of history continued claims for Hiss's innocence are akin to a terminal case of ideological blindness." [141] In a review published in the Journal of Cold War Studies, military historian Eduard Mark heartily concurred, stating that the documents "conclusively show that Hiss was, as Whittaker Chambers charged more than six decades ago, an agent of Soviet military intelligence (GRU) in the 1930s". [142] Newsweek magazine reported that Civil Rights Movement historian David Garrow also concluded that, in his opinion, Spies "provides irrefutable confirmation of [Hiss's] guilt". [143]

Other historians, such as D. D. Guttenplan, Jeff Kisseloff, and Amy Knight, however, assert that Spies ' conclusions were not borne out by the evidence and accused its authors of engaging in "shoddy" research. [144] [145] [146] Guttenplan stresses that Haynes and Klehr never saw and cannot even prove the existence of the documents that supposedly convict Hiss and others of espionage, but rather relied exclusively on handwritten notebooks authored by Vassiliev during the time he was given access to the Soviet archives in the 1990s while he collaborated with Weinstein. According to Guttenplan, Vassiliev could never explain how he managed, despite being required to leave his files and notebooks in a safe at the KGB press office at the end of each day, to smuggle out the notebooks with his extensive transcriptions of documents. [147] Haynes and Klehr respond that the material was examined by historians, archivists, and intelligence professionals who unanimously agreed that the material was genuine. [148]

Guttenplan also suggested, moreover, that Vassiliev might have omitted relevant facts and selectively replaced cover names with his own notion of the real names of various persons. [147] According to Guttenplan, Boris Labusov, a press officer of the SVR, the successor to the KGB, has stated that Vassiliev could not in the course of his research have possibly "met the name of Alger Hiss in the context of some cooperation with some special services of the Soviet Union". [147] Guttenplan also points out that Vasiliev admitted under oath in 2003 that he'd never seen a single document linking Hiss with the cover name "Ales". [147] However, Haynes and Klehr also cite a 1950 memo indicating that a GRU agent, described as a senior State Department official, had recently been convicted in an American court. "The only senior American diplomat convicted of an espionage-related crime in 1950 was Alger Hiss." [148]


Joan Brady: Alger Hiss 'was framed by Nixon'

J oan Brady first met Alger Hiss on a hot summer evening in Manhattan in 1960. She was a 20-year-old ballet dancer, her future husband Dexter Masters was 52, and she was used to feeling patronised by visitors to their apartment.

Irritable and conscious of her limitations as a cook, Brady was taken aback by Hiss when he came to dinner. He showed a highly developed interest in ballet, was polite about the overcooked beef, and showed “no anger, no bitterness” although he claimed to have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice when he was convicted of perjury in 1950, jailed and denounced as a communist spy.

As she recounts the remarkable tale of their first meeting, Brady still sounds surprised: ”Here I am meeting somebody that I read in my school books was such an evil human being, and he comes to the door and looks like a boy scout.”

Though Joan never warmed to Hiss’s wife Isabel, the couples became friends. Hiss was reliable, cheerful and a great letter writer. Had he really spied for the Russians? Neither Joan or Dexter knew or much cared.

Fifty-five years on from that first meeting, Brady has changed her mind. Her new book America’s Dreyfus: The Case Nixon Rigged sets out to clear Hiss’s name. Hers is not the first attempt. Pulitzer prize-winning historian Kai Bird and former editor of the Nation Victor Navasky are among those who have already tried. But Brady’s book, which she has worked on for 10 years and will be published in the US next spring, offers a unique perspective.

“This is probably the biggest and longest-lasting cover-up in history, when you think about who was involved,” she says. “It was instigated by a guy who became the president, it was supported by the secret services. It involves all these important people and has so many ramifications and every American schoolchild knows who this traitor is. It is extraordinary.”

When he was brought down by Richard Nixon, then a California congressman, Hiss belonged to the top slice of the American elite: he was president of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and seen as a likely future secretary of state. There are photographs of him with Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at the 1945 Yalta conference.

‘Jaw-dropping’ discoveries . Joan Brady at home in Oxford. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Hiss’s fall was spectacular and when Brady knew him, he was a salesman. But though she recognised his loyalty and her husband enjoyed their conversations, she says she failed to appreciate him: “I should’ve been fascinated but I wasn’t, the flaw was in me.” Events in her own life caused her to reassess. Starting in 2000, Brady fought a protracted battle with South Hams District Council in Devon, after a shoe factory moved into the building next door to her home. Brady was poisoned by chemicals used in the factory, but the council refused to support her complaints and, when she built a wall in an attempt to block out the fumes, took her to court for planning violations and threatened her with jail.

The whole, traumatic experience, which left her with neurological damage and, eventually, a £115,000 payout, gave the author – who has joint US and UK citizenship, and who won the Whitbread prize in 1993 for her novel Theory of War – new sympathy for Alger Hiss as a fellow victim of injustice.

In the US, Hiss is famous. Whittaker Chambers, who testified against Hiss, remains a hero to American conservatives and was awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1984. Hiss’s conviction opened the way for the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s, and was the crowning achievement of the House Un-American Activities Committee, set up in 1938 to investigate links with Nazi Germany but soon diverted to catching communists.

Brady, who I visited at the house in Oxford she has lived in for 10 years, insists the Hiss case is “simple”. For the uninitiated it can appear baffling, so here is a summary: in 1948 Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist Party member, appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and gave the names of several government officials he claimed were part of a communist network. All but Alger Hiss took the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, but Hiss chose to appear in public to deny Chambers’s claim.

Brady believes Hiss was doomed from this point on, by a combination of his own arrogance and naivity, and by the determination of the committee, steered by Nixon, to get their man. At first Hiss denied knowing Chambers, but it turned out he had known him by another name. When Chambers accused Hiss of communism on the radio, Hiss sued him for libel. Chambers went on to claim that both men had been involved in espionage, and produced documents – one batch from a hollowed-out pumpkin on his Maryland farm – to support the claim. Hiss was twice tried for perjury, and convicted the second time.

Aside from Chambers’s evidence, the case against Hiss relied on these documents as well as an earlier batch. In the decades since, defenders of the conviction have relied on the identification of an agent codenamed “Ales” who some historians believe was Hiss. Brady points out that a libel suit brought by Russian researcher Alexander Vassiliev in the UK in 2003 tested this identification and that Vassiliev lost the case.

So what does Brady, by her own account an amateur historian who did much of her research online, bring to all this? “I suppose the first thing was a memoir,” she says. “Meeting Alger was so odd. I found him absolutely astonishing that first evening.” Because she knew Hiss, and although she steers clear of psychological speculation, her memories are a primary source and carry some weight. Second, she is an expert storyteller who clears a reasonably comprehensible path through a tangle of evidence. Initially, she had thought of using Hiss’s life as the basis for a novel, but decided the truth was stranger than any fiction could be: “At every turn in this case you find yourself thinking ‘no’. Can you imagine? Treason in a pumpkin? Ha ha ha.” She spent hours reading transcripts of hearings and has identified gaps in the record – including a crucial moment where the date in Chambers’s account changed from 1937 to 1938 – where she believes the conspiracy to frame Hiss was hatched.

Third, she found some new information that led to a theory of her own: a letter of condolence from President Nixon to the widow of a Kentucky lawyer named William Marshall Bullitt, thanking him for “his invaluable help in the case of Alger Hiss”. Bullitt’s first cousin William Christian Bullitt was the first US ambassador to the USSR, and Brady believes the two men supplied Nixon with the documents needed to prove Hiss’s involvement in spying.

Brady also did some research on Whittaker Chambers, found an FBI file referring to a claim that he sexually abused Hiss’s young stepson, and uses this to bolster her view that Chambers did Nixon’s bidding under duress. And she uses the example of her parents – neither of whom were communists and both of whom had FBI files – to give a painful account of how extreme the persecution of suspected leftists was. Brady’s father, a professor of economics, headed a protest against a loyalty oath at his university, but later capitulated and tried to kill himself. The local newspaper called him a “pink professor” when it reported the overdose, from which he never fully recovered. Brady was a teenager at the time.

She also read up on dealings between corporate America and Nazi Germany, and suggests Hiss made powerful enemies, some of whom went on to become Nixon’s backers, when he worked for the Nye Commission investigating arms sales in the 1930s. And she flags up the surely remarkable fact that no corroborating witness or evidence has ever emerged.

“You see how stupid the evidence against him was, and how stupid the evidence keeping him in this position is, and in all the 67 years since this thing started, not a single witness has come forward in Russia.” Nor are there any Russian history books or biographies of this once-celebrated American who is supposed to have been a Soviet spy.

Those who continue to maintain Hiss’s guilt will no doubt dismiss all this as a conspiracy theory. Brady admits she was shocked by what she learned about the extreme rightwing leanings of some of Nixon’s allies (Stripling, the committee’s chief investigator, had been a publicist for the Nazi-supporting German American Bund). She takes aim at those she calls the “New Prosecutors”, led by historian Allen Weinstein, whose book Perjury reaffirmed Hiss’s guilt in 1978. Weinstein died in June this year, but no doubt his allies will fire back.

But the plank of Brady’s argument that looks hardest to shift concerns the role the press played in demolishing Hiss’s reputation. On his White House tapes, Nixon said of the case: “I convicted him in the press, I played them like a master”. Brady has spent hours in online newspaper archives, reading news reports alongside transcripts of the hearings, and believes what she found is “jaw-dropping”.

Again and again, what Hiss told the committee is twisted beyond recognition in the following day’s stories: so he is said to have categorically denied knowing Chambers, when he didn’t said to have refused to take a lie detector test, when he didn’t while Nixon claims to have cracked “a spy case” long before Chambers even accused Hiss of spying. Chambers worked for Time magazine, which paid his costs. Brady shows it wasn’t only Time that did a terrible job of writing the first draft of history.

“If I were writing the Greek play, I think the tragic flaw was the belief that he was right. All his friends said don’t do it, take the Fifth, get out, and he wouldn’t,” Brady tells me. She is pleased with her work, happy it will be published in the US, though her health means she won’t travel to promote it.

Based on her research, she thinks Hiss unwittingly colluded in his own destruction. What he showed her during the period of their friendship, from 1960 until his death in 1996 – and which took on new significance after her own ordeal at the hands of vindictive officialdom in south-west England – was how to survive.

America’s Dreyfus: The Case Nixon Rigged by Joan Brady is published by Skyscraper for £20. It is available from the Guardian bookshop for £14.


Chambers accuses Hiss of being a communist spy - HISTORY

By Allen Weinstein - May 14, 2013

Once upon a time, when the Cold War was young, a senior editor of Time accused the president of the Carnegie Endowment of having been a Soviet agent. The Time editor made his charge stick, aided by an obscure young congressman from the House Un-American Activities Committee, a tough federal prosecutor, and the director of the FBI. As a result, the Endowment president spent forty-four months in jail and became a cause célèbre the magazine editor resigned and died a decade later, still obsessed with the case the prosecutor became a federal judge the director of the FBI lived to guard the republic against real or imagined enemies for another twenty-five years and the young congressman left obscurity behind to become the thirty-seventh president of the United States.

When the Hiss-Chambers case broke open, its main characters and events seemed more appropriate to spy fiction than to the realities of American life in the late 1940s. And although more than a half-century has passed since the jury at Alger Hiss&rsquos second trial pronounced him guilty of perjury, the case remains controversial and the verdict leaves questions unanswered. Did Hiss become an undercover Communist while serving as a New Deal official? Did he turn over classified State Department files to Whittaker Chambers, a self-confessed former underground agent for the Communist Party? Or did Chambers, for obscure and malevolent reasons, deliberately set out to frame and destroy a respected public official?

Public debate over the case has resumed over the past several decades. Alger Hiss&rsquos late-1970s appeal for a new hear­ing based upon allegations of unfair prosecution tactics at his original trials was denied in July 1982.* Hiss&rsquos accuser, Whittaker Chambers, died in 1961, but Alger Hiss continued to profess his complete innocence of Chambers&rsquos allegations until his death in 1996. Richard Nixon&rsquos return to prominence as a policy advocate during the 1980s brought periodic reminders in the American and global media of Nixon&rsquos initial fame as Hiss&rsquos main pursuer in the televised 1948 House com­mittee hearings.

Memoirs by two leading Soviet intelligence chieftains, published in the past decade, both asserted Hiss&rsquos complicity as an agent. Another former Soviet official-turned-historian, urged on by an appeal from a longtime Hiss supporter, at first announced in 1992 that his review of KGB files had turned up nothing on Hiss. Reminded that Chambers had accused Hiss of working not for the KGB&rsquos &ldquocivilian&rdquo espionage predecessor agency but for Soviet military intelligence and amid widespread international focus on his assertion, the official (possibly after reviewing military intelligence files) recanted his earlier statement and claimed to have been pressured by Hiss&rsquos advocate to issue it.

A Hungarian historian, after reviewing interrogations of a friend and col­league of Hiss&rsquos during the 1930s, Noel Field (opened in Budapest for her inspec­tion in 1993), announced that Field had not only admitted his own role in Soviet espionage but had implicated Alger Hiss as a confederate. Most recently, in 1996, release of the National Security Agency&rsquos &ldquoVENONA&rdquo intercepts of cables sent by Soviet spymasters from Washington and New York to Moscow during World War II tagged one agent&mdashreferred to only by his alias &ldquoALES&rdquo&mdashas &ldquoprobably Alger Hiss.&rdquo Hiss had been identified years earlier in the memoirs of defecting Soviet agent Oleg Gordievsky using the same alias, and my research in Soviet KGB archives also turned up major new evidence on Alger Hiss&rsquos and Whittaker Chambers&rsquos involvement in Soviet espionage, which I describe in the new edition of my book Perjury.

Thus has &ldquothe case&rdquo continued to make headlines and attract considerable media attention in the years since my book was first published. My new edi­tion incorporates evidence available only in the past two decades and brings the essential public story of the episode up to the present.

The Hiss-Chambers case caused widespread political damage and much human suffering. Although nothing written at a distance of more than five decades can undo its effects, perhaps this analysis can explain the passion that the case still arouses. Few Americans in that earlier period failed to react: Repub­licans invoked Hiss&rsquos presumed treachery to accuse the Democrats of condoning Communism-in-government during the New Deal&ndashFair Deal era. Moreover, in the decades that followed Alger Hiss&rsquos trials, Whittaker Chambers&rsquos life and ideas&mdashwidely publicized in his best-selling memoir (Witness) and in other writings&mdash shaped and reinvigorated the conservative movement in the United States.

Many liberals, in turn, viewed the assault on Hiss as the spearhead of a right-wing attempt to discredit the Roosevelt-Truman domestic and foreign policies. &ldquoWithout the Alger Hiss case,&rdquo Earl Latham noted in a study of the Washing­ton spy probes, &ldquothe six-year controversy that followed might have been a much tamer affair, and the Communist issue somewhat more tractable.&rdquo But the Hiss case &ldquorevolutionized public opinion&rdquo and left in its wake the legacy of McCarthyism.

Within a month of Hiss&rsquos conviction, the British atomic spy Klaus Fuchs had been arrested and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy had delivered his first Communism-in-government speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, an event that launched his political career. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted at their New York trial in March 1951, further reinforcing public anger at real and alleged internal security lapses during the previous decade. Richard Nixon&rsquos leadership in the HUAC probe of Hiss-Chambers restored the committee&rsquos prestige and gave Nixon the reputation of a successful spy hunter, helping him gain a Senate seat in 1950 and the vice presidential nomination two years later.

Right-wingers turned Hiss into a symbol of the supposed treason that lay behind New Deal policies, particularly in the State Department. Those, like the 1952 Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai E. Stevenson, who had believed in Alger Hiss prior to his conviction, found themselves on the defensive. &ldquoA native American, a man groomed for national leadership,&rdquo in the words of Joseph Goulden, had been &ldquoshown to be susceptible to subversion for a foreign power.&rdquo That someone of Hiss&rsquos background would become a Soviet agent seemed as improbable to many Americans as Harold &ldquoKim&rdquo Philby&rsquos exposure as a veteran Russian operative would later appear to many in Great Britain.

The symbolic lines were sharply drawn. For some, Alger Hiss&rsquos close associa­tion with New Deal radicals and with the wartime policy of Soviet-American entente corroborated his guilt. For others, Hiss&rsquos activities confirmed his inno­cence. But the clash of symbols did little to encourage efforts to analyze the evidence closely. Rather, it tended to confirm preconceptions. This attitude of partisan exhortation has characterized almost every early book written on the case, with the notable exception of Alistair Cooke&rsquos.

Those politically and temperamentally disposed to support Hiss generally relied on a welter of conspiracy theories, which shared an underlying theme: that Whittaker Chambers perjured himself. Beyond that, the scripts invariably alternated between named and nameless plotters.

For over two decades after his release from prison, Alger Hiss tried to renew interest in the case. His efforts proved unsuccessful until, thanks to the Water­gate crisis and the downfall of his former nemesis, Richard Nixon, Hiss regained public prominence. This time a new generation of Americans, unfamiliar with the complex facts of the case, responding both to the renewed publicity and to a post-Watergate penchant for conspiracies, hearkened to the claims of inno­cence expressed by Hiss in lectures, press conferences, and radio and television appearances.

Even before, many of the active left-liberals growing up in the Silent Fifties were well disposed to believe Hiss&rsquos version of events. His innocence was a matter of faith, if only because Chambers, Nixon, Hoover, and others on the anti-Communist right were his political enemies. Hiss&rsquos fate symbolized for young liberals the quintessence of McCarthyism, its paranoid fear of any public figure to the left of Dwight Eisenhower.

Editor's note: The essay above is an excerpt of Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (Hoover Press, 2013).


What was the Hiss Chambers case?

Chambers had accused Hiss of being an undercover agent for the Kremlin. Committee investigators subsequently turned up additional evidence against Hiss, and a federal grand jury indicted him on two counts of perjury. In 1950, a trial jury convicted Hiss and he was sentenced to five years in prison.

Also, how did Alger Hiss die? Emphysema

Also, what was the significance of the Alger Hiss case?

Alger Hiss (November 11, 1904 &ndash November 15, 1996) was an American government official who was accused of spying for the Soviet Union in 1948, but statutes of limitations had expired for espionage. He was convicted of perjury in connection with this charge in 1950.

What did Whittaker Chambers accuse Alger Hiss of doing quizlet?

He tried to catch Alger Hiss who was accused of being a communist agent in the 1930's. This brought Nixon to the attention of the American public. In 1956 he was Eisenhower's Vice-President. Anti-communist leader of South Korea during the Korean War.


Perjury: Revisiting The Hiss-Chambers Case

Once upon a time, when the Cold War was young, a senior editor of Time accused the president of the Carnegie Endowment of having been a Soviet agent. The Time editor made his charge stick, aided by an obscure young congressman from the House Un-American Activities Committee, a tough federal prosecutor, and the director of the FBI. As a result, the Endowment president spent forty-four months in jail and became a cause célèbre the magazine editor resigned and died a decade later, still obsessed with the case the prosecutor became a federal judge the director of the FBI lived to guard the republic against real or imagined enemies for another twenty-five years and the young congressman left obscurity behind to become the thirty-seventh president of the United States.

When the Hiss-Chambers case broke open, its main characters and events seemed more appropriate to spy fiction than to the realities of American life in the late 1940s. And although more than a half-century has passed since the jury at Alger Hiss’s second trial pronounced him guilty of perjury, the case remains controversial and the verdict leaves questions unanswered. Did Hiss become an undercover Communist while serving as a New Deal official? Did he turn over classified State Department files to Whittaker Chambers, a self-confessed former underground agent for the Communist Party? Or did Chambers, for obscure and malevolent reasons, deliberately set out to frame and destroy a respected public official?


Public debate over the case has resumed over the past several decades. Alger Hiss’s late-1970s appeal for a new hear­ing based upon allegations of unfair prosecution tactics at his original trials was denied in July 1982.* Hiss’s accuser, Whittaker Chambers, died in 1961, but Alger Hiss continued to profess his complete innocence of Chambers’s allegations until his death in 1996. Richard Nixon’s return to prominence as a policy advocate during the 1980s brought periodic reminders in the American and global media of Nixon’s initial fame as Hiss’s main pursuer in the televised 1948 House com­mittee hearings.

Memoirs by two leading Soviet intelligence chieftains, published in the past decade, both asserted Hiss’s complicity as an agent. Another former Soviet official-turned-historian, urged on by an appeal from a longtime Hiss supporter, at first announced in 1992 that his review of KGB files had turned up nothing on Hiss. Reminded that Chambers had accused Hiss of working not for the KGB’s “civilian” espionage predecessor agency but for Soviet military intelligence and amid widespread international focus on his assertion, the official (possibly after reviewing military intelligence files) recanted his earlier statement and claimed to have been pressured by Hiss’s advocate to issue it.

A Hungarian historian, after reviewing interrogations of a friend and col­league of Hiss’s during the 1930s, Noel Field (opened in Budapest for her inspec­tion in 1993), announced that Field had not only admitted his own role in Soviet espionage but had implicated Alger Hiss as a confederate. Most recently, in 1996, release of the National Security Agency’s “VENONA” intercepts of cables sent by Soviet spymasters from Washington and New York to Moscow during World War II tagged one agent—referred to only by his alias “ALES”—as “probably Alger Hiss.” Hiss had been identified years earlier in the memoirs of defecting Soviet agent Oleg Gordievsky using the same alias, and my research in Soviet KGB archives also turned up major new evidence on Alger Hiss’s and Whittaker Chambers’s involvement in Soviet espionage, which I describe in the new edition of my book Perjury.

Thus has “the case” continued to make headlines and attract considerable media attention in the years since my book was first published. My new edi­tion incorporates evidence available only in the past two decades and brings the essential public story of the episode up to the present.

The Hiss-Chambers case caused widespread political damage and much human suffering. Although nothing written at a distance of more than five decades can undo its effects, perhaps this analysis can explain the passion that the case still arouses. Few Americans in that earlier period failed to react: Repub­licans invoked Hiss’s presumed treachery to accuse the Democrats of condoning Communism-in-government during the New Deal–Fair Deal era. Moreover, in the decades that followed Alger Hiss’s trials, Whittaker Chambers’s life and ideas—widely publicized in his best-selling memoir (Witness) and in other writings— shaped and reinvigorated the conservative movement in the United States.

Many liberals, in turn, viewed the assault on Hiss as the spearhead of a right-wing attempt to discredit the Roosevelt-Truman domestic and foreign policies. “Without the Alger Hiss case,” Earl Latham noted in a study of the Washing­ton spy probes, “the six-year controversy that followed might have been a much tamer affair, and the Communist issue somewhat more tractable.” But the Hiss case “revolutionized public opinion” and left in its wake the legacy of McCarthyism.

Within a month of Hiss’s conviction, the British atomic spy Klaus Fuchs had been arrested and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy had delivered his first Communism-in-government speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, an event that launched his political career. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted at their New York trial in March 1951, further reinforcing public anger at real and alleged internal security lapses during the previous decade. Richard Nixon’s leadership in the HUAC probe of Hiss-Chambers restored the committee’s prestige and gave Nixon the reputation of a successful spy hunter, helping him gain a Senate seat in 1950 and the vice presidential nomination two years later.

Right-wingers turned Hiss into a symbol of the supposed treason that lay behind New Deal policies, particularly in the State Department. Those, like the 1952 Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai E. Stevenson, who had believed in Alger Hiss prior to his conviction, found themselves on the defensive. “A native American, a man groomed for national leadership,” in the words of Joseph Goulden, had been “shown to be susceptible to subversion for a foreign power.” That someone of Hiss’s background would become a Soviet agent seemed as improbable to many Americans as Harold “Kim” Philby’s exposure as a veteran Russian operative would later appear to many in Great Britain.

The symbolic lines were sharply drawn. For some, Alger Hiss’s close associa­tion with New Deal radicals and with the wartime policy of Soviet-American entente corroborated his guilt. For others, Hiss’s activities confirmed his inno­cence. But the clash of symbols did little to encourage efforts to analyze the evidence closely. Rather, it tended to confirm preconceptions. This attitude of partisan exhortation has characterized almost every early book written on the case, with the notable exception of Alistair Cooke’s.

Those politically and temperamentally disposed to support Hiss generally relied on a welter of conspiracy theories, which shared an underlying theme: that Whittaker Chambers perjured himself. Beyond that, the scripts invariably alternated between named and nameless plotters.

For over two decades after his release from prison, Alger Hiss tried to renew interest in the case. His efforts proved unsuccessful until, thanks to the Water­gate crisis and the downfall of his former nemesis, Richard Nixon, Hiss regained public prominence. This time a new generation of Americans, unfamiliar with the complex facts of the case, responding both to the renewed publicity and to a post-Watergate penchant for conspiracies, hearkened to the claims of inno­cence expressed by Hiss in lectures, press conferences, and radio and television appearances.

Even before, many of the active left-liberals growing up in the Silent Fifties were well disposed to believe Hiss’s version of events. His innocence was a matter of faith, if only because Chambers, Nixon, Hoover, and others on the anti-Communist right were his political enemies. Hiss’s fate symbolized for young liberals the quintessence of McCarthyism, its paranoid fear of any public figure to the left of Dwight Eisenhower.

Editor's note: The essay above is an excerpt of Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (Hoover Press, 2013).

Allen Weinstein served as archivist of the United States from 2005 to 2009. In 1985, he founded the Center for Democracy, a Washington-based nonprofit, and remained its president until 2003. Weinstein has held professorships at Smith College, Georgetown, and Boston University. Weinstein received the United Nations Peace Medal in 1986, the Council of Europe's Silver Medal twice, in 1990 and 1996, and the Edgar Allan Poe Special Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his original edition of Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case . His previous books include The Story of America , Freedom and Crisis: An American History , Prelude to Populism , and The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America--the Stalin Era .


More Comments:

John Paul Martin - 4/9/2009

I am very interested in the Alger Hiss Case and would like to question the integrity of Whitaker Chambers. This article starts by claiming that the Hiss Defense was not able to show Whitaker Chambers as a liar, homosexual and disturbed man when in fact, his own FBI testimony, his book Witness, every analysis of his background and testimony of fellow victims prove exactly that. I would like to hear an argument in his defense. Thank you

George Robert Gaston - 4/19/2007

I think there are two reasons some people cling to the proposition that Alger Hiss was innocent of betraying his country.

First, Hiss was one of them. He was one of those who made up the core of the new American welfare state liberalism, expressed by the New Deal. His treason called to question a number of the ideas that were fundamental to American “progressive” thinking. The main of which was internationalism, one of the mainstays of political thinking in the post war United States. Therefore, the political, journalistic, social and academic elite rushed to his defense because their defense of Hess was in effect, self-defense.

We need to remember that at this time Ezra Pound’s unrepentant defense of fascism was rightly condemned by this elite group, while they excused, if not applauded, Jean-Paul Sartre’s sustained defense of Stalin.
Second, the messenger was wrong. The Hiss case was intermixed with these same peoples’ loathing For Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. I have often thought if Richard Nixon had caught the GRU or KGB Washington station chief in the act of going through State Department files, the people who defended Hess would have rushed to their defense.

Louis Nelson Proyect - 4/18/2007

"They should admit the thrust of what Joe McCarthy was doing".

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 4/17/2007

Defenders of Hiss are now few and far between, thanks to the Venona transcripts, Weinstein and Tanenhaus, et al. That's obvious from the fact they aren't jumping into this comment board. They have probably admitted they were wrong about Hiss to themselves, but otherwise are trying not to think about it. Unfortunately, they need to think about it. They need to adjust their collateral thoughts about the whole period. They should admit HUAC was doing good work, and the Hollywood blacklistings were deserved. They should admit the thrust of what Joe McCarthy was doing was right and good for the country, even if he was an oaf personally. And the same about Richard Nixon. They should condemn Asst. Secretary of the Treasury Harry Dexter White. They should admit Roosevelt was taken advantage of by determined enemies of our country who were agents of Joe Stalin. (These people gave the Russians all our atomic secrets). They should change their attitude toward the memory of J. Edgar Hoover. Etc., etc. Liberals who have seen the light about Hiss cannot turn away after that and remain dishonest with themselves about all the rest. It's not easy for them, but they have smeared a lot of people who deserve apologies. They have preached many falsehoods in the classroom and need to make up for it.

Jason Blake Keuter - 4/16/2007

The main reason for denying Hiss was a Soviet Spy is ideological, or perhaps religious would be a better word. In fact, Hiss is emblematic of a larger, more important denial: the threat of communism.


Any left winger who begins admitting to Hiss being a spy, begins admitting that spying was actually done by the Soviets. This admission starts them down the perilous path towards confronting that socialism was not progressive but parasitic that there was no scientific or technological race between dynamic and free capitalism and moribund socialism that, instead, the US created and the Soviets stole. In fact, all of the so-called successes of communism have always been due to the west and capitalism. It's failures were all its own.


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