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Where Alger Is Innocent

Pity the poor undergraduate who learns about the Cold War from New York University [1]’s website. Here is their take on the most famous spy/operative case of the 1940s—that of former Communist Whitaker Chambers and his accusations against active agent Alger Hiss: “He [Hiss] continued to assert his innocence, and over the years evidence surfaced to back his claim, including some 40,000 pages of FBI documents released to him in the 1970s.”

An influential State Department official during World War II, Hiss was convicted of perjury and served a sentence for the crime in the 1950s. The web site goes on to claim: “Alger Hiss was frequently accused of secretly having secretly forged a pro-Soviet policy [sic] at Yalta. In fact, Hiss argued for a tough anti-Soviet stance, as this story based on Hiss’s notes from the conference indicates. Click here [2] to read the article, as it appeared in The New York Times when the notes were released in 1955.” Hiss accompanied the U. S. delegation to the Superpower conference at Yalta on the Crimea with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin.

Actually, John Earl Haynes [3] and Harvey Klehr wrote in an article which appeared on the History News Network website that “ In 1992, John Lowenthal, Hiss’s long-time lawyer and a film-maker, prevailed upon Dmitri Volkogonov, a respected Russian general, military historian, and adviser to Russian President Yeltsin on archival policy, to help establish Hiss’s innocence once and for all on humanitarian grounds.”

“In late October Volkogonov did issue a statement, asserting that Hiss was not registered in KGB documents as a recruited agent. Lowenthal promptly claimed this was tantamount to exoneration for his long-suffering client. But within a matter of weeks, Volkogonov felt compelled to issue a retraction. The general volunteered that his inquiry had not encompassed the GRU, the intelligence arm of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, and it was the GRU, not KGB, that ran Hiss.”

“If we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Alger Hiss, Julius Rosenberg, and scores of other American Communists were spying for the Soviet Union, it is in large part thanks to John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr,” Stephan G. Marks [4] wrote in Commentary magazine in 2003. “Their research in Soviet KGB and Comintern archives and the Venona files of the U.S. National Security Agency has resolved many previously open questions about the nature of the American Communist party (CPUSA). In a series of books recently published by Yale, Klehr and Haynes brought to light a mass of documents proving that the CPUSA was, from start to finish, subordinate to Moscow, and that its most consequential activity from the 1930′s through the 1950′s was a number of espionage operations that significantly compromised the security of the United States.”

Actually, Hiss was rather suspect even before Chambers went public with his accusations in 1948. “From the start, the case was a compound of ironies,” the late Ralph de Toledano wrote in his foreword to Odyssey Of A Friend: Whittaker Chambers’ Letters to William F. Buckley, Jr. 1954-1961. “To begin with, Alger Hiss’s involvement in the Communist espionage conspiracy was no secret to official Washington.”

“Nine years earlier, Premier Daladier had informed the American ambassador in Paris, William Bullitt, that according to French Intelligence reports Alger and Donald Hiss were Soviet agents.” As a young reporter in Washington, de Toledano had covered the congressional hearings that resulted from Chambers’ allegations.

“So well were the Hiss activities and sympathies known that the Christian Science Monitor could write in 1946: ‘More than one Congresssman, whenever the subject of leftist activity in the State Department is mentioned, pulled out a list of suspects that was invariably headed by Mr. Hiss.’”

Indeed, such assertions may be off the mark only in specifying the type of covert activity Hiss was engaged in on behalf of a foreign enemy government. “Whether or not Alger is still useful to the Apparatus is not the point—useful that is, as pilferer,” Chambers himself wrote in a letter to Buckley in 1957. “His chief use was never this, but as shaper of policy and mover of personnel.”

For example, “The official State Department compilation of papers relating to the Yalta conference says the issue of unity between the anti-Communist Chaing Kai Shek and the Communists of China ‘was raised’ in discussions between U.S. and British officials, but doesn’t say who raised it,” M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein write in Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government. “The papers of Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius Jr. show that the person who raised it was Alger Hiss—contrary to his later sworn statement that he had no involvement with or interest in China policy at the time of Yalta.”


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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