Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 15, No. 3
other curious thing about the Hiss case is the psychology
of believing that Hiss was a spy, which requires abandoning
much of what we know about rational thought.
Molly Ivins, columnist (1996)
Hiss case blazed into public life in 1948 and promptly became
an icon of the Cold War in America. It catapulted Richard
Nixon all the way to the presidency, two decades later. It
sundered the nation along fault lines of ideology, politics,
The power and reach of its political consequences have outlived
the Cold War: half a century after it erupted before a congressional
committee, the case contributed to sinking one of President
Clinton's major appointments when a key senator declared,
"I would find it very difficult to support a nominee
for Director of the CIA who did not believe that Alger Hiss
was a spy."
The case is still hotly disputed in America and England, where
the release in 1996 of "Venona" messages - Soviet
cablegrams covertly monitored by the U.S. Army during World
War II - have added fuel to the fire. A widely-circulated
but erroneous view is that Venona confirms Hiss's guilt because
a 1945 Soviet cablegram describes an espionage agent covernamed
"Ales" whom the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI) tentatively identified as Alger Hiss.
all the spate of recent publications on Hiss and Venona, few
readers have been able to go behind conclusory statements
in the secondary literature to assess the Venona documents
directly. This article will do that, after an introduction
to the Hiss case and the Venona project. By
comparing the cablegram description of Ales with undisputed
facts about Hiss and the U.S. government's case against him,
this article will demonstrate that the FBI was mistaken and
that Ales cannot have been Hiss. Likewise, KGB documents recently
claimed to confirm the Venona identification of Ales as Hiss
are shown not to do so.
Ales was not Hiss does not necessarily answer the question
of whether Hiss was a spy. Many books have addressed that
question, still more are in process, and a short article cannot
do it full justice. Nevertheless, it is significant that Venona
does not support the case against Hiss. On the contrary, a
1943 Venona cablegram appears to be exculpatory rather than
incriminating, because it refers openly to Hiss when Soviet
practice was to mention spies only by their covernames.
Hiss is not the only person whom Venona has been said to incriminate.
But the Venona team's manifest errors regarding Hiss, and
U.S. intelligence agencies' selective use of Venona material
for public relations, contribute to doubts about the accuracy
and reliability of at least some Venona products that putatively
implicate other people.
In August 1948, Time magazine editor and ex-Communist
Whittaker Chambers testified before the House Un-American
Activities Committee that Alger Hiss, president of the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace and former State Department
official, had been a fellow-Communist in the 1930s but that
they had not engaged in espionage.
Hiss denied that he had ever been a Communist or known anyone
by the name of Whittaker Chambers. He recognized Chambers,
however, as the freelance journalist George
Crosley (one of Chambers's aliases), whom Hiss had
helped out in Washington in the mid-1930s Depression years
and eventually dismissed as a deadbeat.
Chambers' accusation did not fit the Alger Hiss known to his
many friends and colleagues as personally straight-arrow and
politically conventional. When Hiss was convicted, in effect,
of having been an espionage agent for the Soviet Union, a
Washington journalist reported that everyone he talked with
who had worked with Hiss in the government believed him innocent:
"The general impression is that Hiss was never much of
a radical.... I know no one who ever thought him a militant
liberal, much less a Red."
Hiss was certainly an unreconstructed New-Deal liberal, but
he had never hesitated to recommend policies at odds with
the Soviet Union. In the State Department after the Nazi-Soviet
non-aggression pact (August 1939), Hiss argued that giving
aid to the Allies would not violate international law, and
he urged revision of the Neutrality Act to remove its barriers
to such aid. At
the Yalta conference, which he attended as a member of the
US delegation, Hiss opposed
the Soviet demand for three votes in the United Nations-to-be
(but was overruled by President Roosevelt).
As a private citizen after he left the State Department, Hiss
was a prime mover of the Marshall Plan of aid to war-ravaged
Europe, the centerpiece of the Truman Doctrine and its strategy
of "containment" of the Soviet Union.
leaders denounced the Marshall Plan as creating a hostile
encirclement of the Soviet Union, and the political Left in
the United States denounced it as a war-breeding, anti-Soviet
"Martial Plan." But Hiss organized a committee of
bankers, lawyers, and business executives to support enabling
legislation for the plan, and he wrote an article for The
New York Times Magazine warning of the consequences if
the plan were not adopted:
Strategically, our abandonment of Europe would expose
270 million people and the world's second greatest industrial
complex to absorption in the vast area already dominated by
Communist ideology and by Soviet interests.
Four months later (March 1948), Congress adopted the Marshall
Five months after that, Chambers publicly charged that "Alger
Hiss was a Communist and may be now."
sued Chambers for libel, whereupon Chambers repudiated his
many denials of espionage and produced excerpts and copies
of State Department documents, dated in 1938, which he said
Hiss's wife, Priscilla, had copied on the family typewriter
from original documents brought home overnight by Hiss. Chambers
said he picked up the retyped copies at the Hisses' home every
week or ten days and took them to Baltimore to be photographed
for delivery to a Soviet agent.
"If Chambers actually used such a procedure to relay
documents from their source to the collector," observed
a writer on espionage practices, "he not only employed
the most primitive and precarious method, but he also violated
a very important rule in the Soviet spy book" requiring
transfers of documents to take place outdoors or in a public
venue and not more often than once a month from the same source.
No doubt there were Soviet agents who did not always follow
the rules, but if Chambers was one of them, the carelessness
he also attributed to Hiss did not square with the latter's
reputation as a man of prudence and discipline, punctilious
about rules of procedure. A former British secret service
Chambers' story is wildly improbable - a defiance of strict
basic safety rules imposed by the Soviet Secret Service
on its agents....
If Hiss were guilty... it is impossible to understand why
a man of such high intelligence, and in a position where
a hint of treachery could - and, in fact, did - hit the
headlines overnight, omitted the most elementary precautions
to protect himself. Why, if he knew that Chambers was a
Soviet agent, did he let him call so regularly at his home,
possibly watched by nosy neighbors from behind their window
curtains? Why did he let Priscilla copy borrowed secret
documents on her own identifiable typewriter? Why, after
Chambers said he had photographed the typescripts, did Hiss
not demand them back so that he could be sure of their destruction
by burning them himself? Why, after Chambers defected and
the possibility of betrayal arose, was the identifiable
Hiss machine casually given away to a traceable witness
instead of being irrecoverably dumped in the Potomac River?
Hiss was not, after all, a novice in elementary security
Nor was the content of the papers sensational or sensitive:
most of the typed pages were copied from a report on economic
conditions in Manchuria, and all them were soon displayed
with the original documents in open court.
Chambers' story reads more like a crude frame-up than real
espionage, but, in those credulous days of the Cold War, it
carried the day.
also led House committee investigators to a pumpkin patch
on his Maryland farm, where they pulled three rolls and two
strips of 35-millimeter film from a hollowed-out pumpkin in
which he had put them a few hours earlier. The film contained
photographs of miscellaneous government documents, which Chambers
also said Hiss had given him for espionage.
Nixon testified secretly
that the "Pumpkin Papers"
were worthless, were not classified even as confidential,
and had been widely distributed; but he nonetheless found
them useful in persuading a grand jury to indict Hiss instead
For the press and newsreel cameras, Nixon announced, "I
am holding in my hand a microfilm of the most confidential,
highly secret State Department documents" conclusively
establishing "one of the most serious, if not the most
serious series of treasonable activities which has been launched
against the Government in the history of America."
The next day, with Nixon's charge on the front pages of major
newspapers, the grand jury indicted Hiss. "I played it
in the press like a master," Nixon boasted 25 years later.
"We won the Hiss case in the papers.... I leaked out
the [Pumpkin] papers.... I had Hiss convicted before he ever
got to the grand jury."
Hiss was indicted for perjury for testifying to the grand
jury on December 15, 1948, that he had not given copies of
State Department documents to Chambers in 1938, or ever. The
statute of limitations barred a prosecution for espionage
allegedly committed more than three years previously, so Hiss
was accused of lying in asserting his innocence of the ancient
There were two trials, the first ending in a hung jury, the
second in conviction. Hiss was sentenced to five years' imprisonment,
the maximum term for perjury. Two weeks later, Senator Joseph
McCarthy launched his eponymous era with a speech invoking
Alger Hiss as representative of a State Department still "thoroughly
infested with Communists."
Republicans adopted "Twenty Years of Treason" as
their campaign slogan.
"The problem of communism," warned the historian
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "bears down fast upon us, black
and menacing, threatening to blot our sun and whirl down our
civilization.... How did Alger Hiss get that way?"
The case wrecked Alger Hiss's public career - he earned his
living eventually as a stationery salesman in New York City
- but not his private life, which remained, as he put it,
"rich in love and friendships." (I declare my interest
as one of his friends.) His public life prior to the case
was also, he wrote, "deeply rewarding. In the New Deal,
in the wartime State Department, for the nascent United Nations,
I did what I could toward the common goal of a better world....
I have no cause for bitterness or regret, nor have I ever
After his release from prison, Hiss gave university lectures
in the U.S. and England on the New Deal; the Yalta conference;
the United Nations, which he had helped to plan; Supreme Court
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, for whom he had clerked; the
McCarthy era; and the American press. His audiences often
asked about his case, and he always answered their questions.
He died in 1996, aged 92.
The Venona Project
Venona was the final codename for a project begun in 1943
by U.S. Army intelligence analysts, joined by the British
in 1948, to decrypt, decode, translate, and interpret cable
traffic between Soviet diplomatic installations and Moscow,
which the Army covertly monitored during World War II. The
war was over and the monitoring called off before any of the
Soviet messages could be deciphered (the first breakthrough
came in 1946), but they turned out to include espionage as
well as diplomatic and personal matters, so the deciphering
efforts continued into the Cold War. By 1980, everyone mentioned
in the cablegrams was either dead or presumably retired, so
the Venona project was terminated. Only a tiny fraction of
all the monitored messages had been deciphered.
Covernames used in the messages were sometimes found listed
with the real names they represented, as in Venona document
1579 (Figure 2). In other cases, the identity of the
person referred to by a covername was obvious from the context:
"Captain" was President Roosevelt, "Boar"
was Winston Churchill. Often, however, the Army found itself
unable to identify the person behind a covername, so in 1948
it turned to the FBI for help. For the next seven years, all
the Venona covername-identification work was done by FBI Special
Agent Robert J. Lamphere.
Also in 1948, the Soviets learned that Venona had begun to
crack their wartime codes, and from then on, the Soviets were
able to monitor the FBI's efforts to unravel the Soviet spy
FBI and the Army, however, still had a reason to keep the
Venona project secret: they were determined not to share their
Venona information with other U.S. intelligence agencies competing
with them for turf, even though the other agencies were admittedly
entitled to the information.
The Army and the FBI each separately told the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) that only the other could release Venona information,
a classic runaround personally endorsed by FBI Director J.
Edgar Hoover, who was known to order his agents to burn their
files rather than turn them over to the CIA.
But the CIA believed itself to be the one department of government
uniquely designed to fight the Cold War, so it persisted until,
by 1952, it managed to convert the Army-FBI Venona marriage
into a ménage à trois.
The Navy, Air Force, and State Department intelligence services,
however, were still shut out.
In the mid-1990s, 15 years after Venona was terminated, U.S.
intelligence agencies found themselves out of favor and at
loose ends. The CIA had failed to foresee the demise of the
Soviet Union (1991), and other lapses, such as harboring the
mole Aldrich Ames in its midst, further damaged its reputation.
The National Security Agency (NSA), which had succeeded to
the Army's portion of the Venona project, was also robbed
by history of its favorite foreign enemy; but NSA was so secretive
that it had almost no public image of any kind, just when
it needed a good one to help fend off congressional budget
cutters. So Venona was officially disinterred for public relations
In 1995 and 1996, NSA released to the press and the public
some 2,900 Venona documents containing what NSA described
as its translations of decrypted and decoded Soviet wartime
messages, or fragments of them, accompanied by explanatory
footnotes written by unidentified Venona personnel.
NSA issued a press release featuring a Venona document with
a footnote naming Alger Hiss as "probably" a spy;
NSA mounted a special exhibit on that document and Hiss at
the National Cryptologic Museum; and the CIA joined with Hiss's
longtime detractor Allen Weinstein, as founder and president
of The Center for Democracy, to sponsor a Venona conference
at the National War College for the press and for selected
others by invitation only.
Why the FBI was not a co-sponsor of the conference was not
explained, but former FBI agent Robert Lamphere participated
as a panelist. The closing address was delivered by another
Hiss detractor, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, chairman
of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy
and a former member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
The two Venona documents to be examined in this article are
No. 1822, naming Alger
Hiss in a footnote, and No. 1579, in which the name "Hiss"
appears in a Soviet message itself.
The Soviet cablegram in Venona No. 1822 describes the functioning
of an espionage agent covernamed "Ales." Three preliminary
matters arise about the document before Ales is mentioned
in the cablegram.
(1) According to NSA, the Soviet message was dated March 30,
1945, and was sent from Washington to Moscow by an official
of the intelligence agency MGB, the ministry for state security.
The MGB, however, did not exist in 1945, having been first
created in March 1946, a year after the date of the message.
The MGB was one of several forerunner agencies of the KGB
(committee for state security), but the forerunner agency
in existence on the date of the message, and throughout the
year 1945, was the NKGB.
A CIA official at the Venona conference told me that the MGB-anachronism
in No. 1822 was probably an error by the Venona team in its
first draft version of No. 1822 carelessly carried over to
all later versions.
I asked NSA for all the versions and got three. The earliest
(1949) does not contain the MGB-error or any identification
at all of the sending agency. The next version (1954) does
contain the MGB-error. The last version (1969) is the same
one released by NSA to the press and public in 1996.
Similar MGB errors appear in other Venona documents and in
FBI documents. If those errors do not compromise the authenticity
of the documents, they do sound a cautionary note as to the
accuracy and reliability of the documents.
(2) The second preliminary matter about Venona No. 1822 concerns
the reference at the beginning of the cablegram to the sender's
telegram No. 283. That telegram could well be instructive,
but it is "Not available," according to NSA's footnote
(3) The third preliminary matter concerns the enigmatic phrase
in the first line of the Soviet message, "[D% of A.'s],"
"A." was the person whose chat with Ales provided
the content of the six numbered paragraphs of the message.
"A." was not identified by the FBI or NSA, and the
Venona cryptanalysts were not even confident that "A."
was a correct decryption: the term "D%" is their
warning that the decryption is most dubious, being at the
low end of their declining-confidence scale A through D.
we come to Ales and Hiss. According to footnote [ii], Ales
was "Probably" Alger Hiss. The source of that tentative
identification was FBI Special Agent Robert Lamphere. In a
memorandum dated May 15, 1950
(while Hiss's appeal from his conviction was in process),
written by Lamphere for his superior, Special Agent Belmont,
to send to Assistant FBI Director Ladd, Lamphere paraphrased
the Soviet message about Ales and then explained:
It would appear likely that this individual is Alger
Hiss in view of the fact that he was in the State Department
and the information from Chambers indicated that his wife,
Priscilla, was active in Soviet espionage and he also had
a brother, Donald, in the State Department, [sic] It also
is to be noted that Hiss did attend the Yalta conference as
a special adviser to President Roosevelt, and he would, of
course, have conferred with high officials of other nations
attending the conference. An attempt is being made by analysis
of the available information to verify this identification.
The identification never was verified, nor could it have been,
because the espionage agent Ales of the Soviet message could
not have been Hiss, even if we assume, for the sake of discussion,
that Hiss was the spy he was in effect convicted of having
been. Ales conducted espionage throughout the 11 years 1935-45
(message paragraph 1), whereas Hiss was accused, and in effect
convicted, of having conducted espionage only in the mid-1930s
and not later than 1938. Ales was the leader of a small group
of espionage agents (par. 2); Hiss was accused of having acted
alone, except for his wife as typist and Chambers as courier.
Ales was a GRU (military intelligence) agent who obtained
only military information and did not regularly produce State
Department materials (pars. 1 and 3), whereas Hiss was charged
with having obtained only nonmilitary information, and the
papers used to convict him were nonmilitary State Department
materials that he allegedly produced on a regular basis.
Even if Hiss was the spy that he was in effect convicted of
having been, he could not have continued being a spy after
1938, as Ales did, because in that year Hiss would have become
too great a risk for any Soviet intelligence agency to use.
It was in 1938 that Whittaker Chambers, according to his final
version of his story, said to a friend who was urging him
to break with the Communist Party, "You know that the
day I walk out of the Communist Party, I walk into a police
station." Also in 1938, Chambers continued, he obtained
the incriminating papers from Hiss and then immediately broke
with the Communist Party, meant to wreck it, went into hiding
from his Soviet spymasters, told his Communist Party colleagues
he would denounce them if they did not break, and begged Hiss
in vain to break from the Party with him.
Whatever the mix of fact and fancy in Chambers' story (one
of the "longest works of fiction of the year," according
to one of Nixon's Watergate defense
lawyers, who believed Hiss to be innocent), it is
a fact that Chambers did denounce Hiss to the U.S. government
in 1939, and he continued to do so over the next dozen years.
Thus the GRU, and Hiss himself, would have been reckless beyond
belief to continue for seven years after 1938 the alleged
espionage activities that the penitent Chambers could be expected
Nor is it believable that Soviet officials would have agreed
in 1945, as they did agree, to the appointment of Hiss as
secretary-general of the United Nations organizing conference
in San Francisco if he was then one of their spies, given
the diplomatic costs to the Soviet Union if he were to have
been unmasked. Nevertheless, ever since FBI agent Lamphere's
May 1950 memorandum linking Hiss to Ales, the FBI and other
commentators claiming that Hiss was Ales have added those
seven years 1939-45 to the earlier period for which Hiss was
accused (and in effect convicted) of having conducted espionage.
In reality, the FBI began investigating Hiss in 1941 and kept
at it for half a century, with years of wiretaps, mail interception,
and physical surveillance of both his official life and his
private life. FBI agents generated literally thousands of
pages of surveillance logs without ever finding what they
were looking for: anything connecting Hiss or his family to
Soviet espionage or Communist activities. All they ever obtained
against Hiss were variable stories from the self-confessed
multiple perjurer Whittaker Chambers and his followers.
FBI agent Lamphere in his May 1950 memorandum specified two
supposed parallels to account for his tentative identification
of Ales as Hiss. First, noting in his paraphrase that Ales's
"little group" of GRU agents "was composed
mainly of Ales' relatives," Lamphere implied that Hiss's
wife and brother Donald were those relatives because, Lamphere
wrote, "Chambers indicated" that Priscilla was active
in Soviet espionage and Alger had a brother, Donald, in the
State Department. Priscilla, however, was not accused of espionage
by anyone except Chambers. As for Donald, who was indeed in
the State Department, Chambers himself had told the FBI, twice
in the preceding two years, that Donald never committed espionage,
as far as he knew.
Nevertheless, Lamphere's contrary suggestion has found recent
favor: ever since NSA's release in 1996 of Venona No. 1822,
writers who claim that Hiss was Ales have averred, as one
of their reasons, that Priscilla and Donald were members of
Alger's spy group.
Lamphere's second parallel derived from his reading of the
Soviet cablegram as having Ales at the Yalta conference, which
Hiss had attended. A more sensible reading of the cablegram,
however, is that it says nothing about Ales being at Yalta,
but it does say that about Comrade Vyshinski. Precisely, the
person referred to in paragraph 6 as having been at Yalta
and gone on to Moscow is not Ales but "a Soviet personage
in a very responsible position," Comrade Vyshinski, the
deputy foreign minister. Vyshinski in fact was at Yalta and
did go on to Moscow.
(So did Alger Hiss, for a day with Secretary of State Stettinius.)
There is no independent evidence that Ales even attended the
Yalta conference. Moreover, the whole point of paragraph 6,
that the GRU asked Vyshinski to get in touch with Ales to
convey the GRU's gratitude to Ales, would have been mooted
if Ales had been in Moscow, because the GRU could then have
contacted Ales in Moscow on its own, without needing Vyshinski
as an intermediary. But with Ales in the U.S. rather than
in Moscow, the GRU would have had good reason to ask the itinerant
Vyshinski to get in touch with him to deliver its gratitude.
NSA's translation of paragraph 6 is not without syntactical
ambiguity. To clear it up, I asked NSA for the Russian-language
versions from which the translation had been made. NSA replied,
"Normally there were no written out Russian texts. Translations
were produced from looking directly at worksheets or, if the
Russian text was ever written out it was written out in 'scratch'
form and destroyed long ago."
Finding that barely credible, I appealed and thereby learned
that there are at least "partial Russian texts"
still in existence; but NSA would not let me see them, because,
said NSA, they are part of the cryptanalytic methodology that
NSA would not release - although the Venona project had been
terminated 20 years previously, and its cryptanalytic methodology
had already been widely published.
The Venona team might have learned something about translation
and secrecy from America's experience with its "Magic"
intercepts of Japanese diplomatic messages leading up to Pearl
Harbor. Magic translations, often sloppy and sometimes the
opposite of the Japanese texts, evidently were "slanted
in one direction because that was what the translators and
their readers expected the Japanese to say"; the mistakes
in Magic translations led to significant misunderstandings;
and the mistakes were covered up for many years.
Paragraph 6 of Venona No. 1822 may well have been sloppily
translated and then (mis)construed by NSA and the FBI as having
Ales at Yalta and going on to Moscow because that misconception
suited the agencies' prescription that Ales was Hiss.
Best of all for verifying a translation, of course, would
be to have the original foreign-language plain-text message
(which would have the added advantage of filling in gaps in
the decryption). In fact, US intelligence agencies do have
Russian-language plain-texts of some Venona messages, which
the FBI procured in a "black-bag" burglary job on
Soviet operations in New York in 1944 and which Special Agent
Lamphere supplied to NSA's cryptanalyst Meredith Knox Gardner.
But those Russian-language plain texts have not been released.
Inasmuch as the espionage activities of Ales were patently
different from the espionage activities "proved"
against Hiss by his conviction, why would the FBI have promulgated
such a far-fetched identification, even tentatively, in May
1950? A possible answer is that the FBI had an urgent need
at that time for new evidence against Hiss. His pending appeal
charged the government with misconduct in its prosecution
of the case, and the appellate proceedings carried the possibility
of uncovering even more serious, but still hidden, transgressions
by the FBI in obtaining Hiss's conviction. The FBI had already
shot itself in the foot in the case of Judith Coplon, whose
conviction on espionage charges, obtained while Hiss's first
trial was in session, was thrown out on appeal because of
illegal conduct by the FBI. A similar debacle for the government
lurked in the Hiss case, because the FBI was concealing evidence
that would in all probability have cost the government its
In preparing the government's case against Hiss, before the
first trial began, the FBI had acquired evidence that the
typewriter supposedly used by Priscilla Hiss to type the incriminating
copies at home was in fact not the Hisses'
typewriter. As it happened, Hiss's appeal did not
uncover that evidence; Hiss was not to see it until 26 years
later, as a result of a lawsuit he brought under the newly-strengthened
Freedom of Information Act to compel the FBI to produce its
files on the case. When I showed the FBI's typewriter evidence
to Gussie Feinstein, a juror from the second trial, she said,
"Here's a man that might have been proven innocent and
not guilty, if the jury had known that the typewriter that
was presented to us in the courtroom actually wasn't the Hisses'
typewriter.... The jurors were hoodwinked." During the
presidential Watergate crisis, Nixon reportedly said to an
aide: "The typewriters are always the key. We built one
in the Hiss case." Ten
years after the FBI produced its long-concealed typewriter
evidence, the FBI issued a public statement about the typewriter
proclaiming (inaccurately): "The F.B.I. has nothing to
hide in the Hiss matter."
The FBI is still, as of this writing, withholding material
in its files on the Hiss case.
Also during Hiss's appeal in 1950, the FBI was concealing
pre-trial "confessions" by Whittaker Chambers of
his numerous homosexual activities
in Washington in the mid-1930s. The FBI agent who transcribed
them recommended to FBI Director Hoover that they "be
treated in a strictly confidential manner." When I showed
them to Vincent Shaw, one of the eight jurors who had voted
to convict Hiss at the first trial 29 years earlier, Shaw
said, "I believe if that would have come out at the time
of the trial there would have been no trial.... I don't think
they'd ever get a jury to believe someone like that on the
stand.... Maybe if those four for acquittal would'a' argued
their point we probably would have went to their side."
If the FBI's concealed evidence were to have come to light
during Hiss's appeal, the FBI might nevertheless have been
able to contain the damage and salvage the government's case
if it could display some new piece of evidence sufficiently
dramatic to overshadow the bureau's misconduct in suppressing
the exculpatory evidence. A Soviet spy-message construed as
incriminating Hiss might do, especially in the fearful climate
of rampant McCarthyism. And so, as Hiss's appeal wended its
way through the courts, Special Agent Lamphere and Assistant
Director Ladd assured Director Hoover that the Soviet message
about Ales "is being considered in connection with
our continued interest in Alger Hiss." 
One can imagine the FBI's institutional sigh of relief 12
days later when the Supreme Court declined to hear Hiss's
appeal. Ten days after that, Hiss went to prison.
It is noteworthy that the FBI, in dealing with Venona covernames
other than Ales, managed to change its tentative identifications.
A striking instance was "Antenna," a covername for
which Lamphere tentatively identified one Joseph Weichbrod
but then switched to "probably" Julius Rosenberg.
Lamphere's "probably" was converted to an institutional
"definitely," according to an FBI memorandum dated
the year after Lamphere left the bureau:
We made a tentative identification of "Antenna"
as Joseph Weichbrod since the background of Weichbrod corresponded
with the information known about "Antenna." Weichbrod
was about the right age, had a Communist background, lived
in NYC, attended Cooper Union in 1939, worked at the Signal
Corps, Ft. Monmouth, and his wife's name was Ethel. He was
a good suspect for "Antenna" until sometime later
when we definitely established through investigation that
"Antenna" was Julius Rosenberg.
Further along in the same memorandum, canvassing the disadvantages
of using Venona information for criminal prosecutions, the
The fragmentary nature of the messages themselves,
the assumptions made by the cryptographers in breaking the
messages, and the questionable interpretations and translations
involved, plus the extensive use of covernames for persons
and places, make the problem of positive identification extremely
Another instance of the FBI's changing an identification was
for the covername "Jurist." Lamphere tentatively
identified a suspect to be Judge Samuel I. Rosenman, President
Roosevelt's speechwriter and coiner of the term "New
Deal," but Lamphere attached a caveat to his own suggestion:
However, it might be noted that Rosenman is mentioned
by the MGB, according to [obliterated] by his real name on
one occasion and it has been noted that the MGB, once it designates
a man by a covername, thereafter uses the covername to the
exclusion of the individual's real name at all times.
months later, based on new information, Lamphere concluded
that Jurist was the deceased Treasury Department official
Harry Dexter White.
When it came to the covername "Ales," however, the
FBI reported no new information either to change or to verify
Lamphere's tentative identification of Ales as Hiss. Nevertheless,
Lamphere's less-than-positive phraseology ("it would
appear likely," "may be identical," "tentative
identification") was omitted from subsequent FBI reports
on Hiss, while the errors on which Lamphere had based his
tentative identification were carried forward and embellished.
In 1952, the FBI produced a Top Secret "SUMMARY ON PERSONS
INVOLVED IN SOVIET ESPIONAGE FOR MGB IN 1944-1945," which
included Hiss as one of those persons.
For the FBI to posit the MGB as up and running two years before
it came into existence was a trivial error compared to the
FBI's incoherent and self-contradictory Summary entry on Hiss.
The heading of the entry identifies Hiss unqualifiedly as
Ales: "ALGER HISS / SOVIET COVERNAME: 'ALES,'" with
no recognition by the FBI of the anomaly of including a GRU
agent, Ales, in its Summary of MGB agents.
(The MGB and the GRU were rival and competing intelligence
agencies.) The FBI then cites two grounds for cataloguing
Hiss as an MGB agent in 1944-1945: first, Whittaker Chambers's
testimony that "Hiss had been a member of a group working
in Washington for the Soviet Military Intelligence" -
the GRU, which again precludes the MGB; second, Hiss's conviction
of perjury for denying "that he had furnished State Department
documents to Whittaker Chambers in 1938" - which says
nothing about espionage in the Summary's years 1944-1945.
Secret" classifications notwithstanding, garbled versions
of Venona No. 1822 and Hiss-as-Ales began to appear in popular
books as early as 1980.
Thus by the time of its official release in 1996, Venona No.
1822 was mutton dressed as lamb. Even so, it inspired secondary
literature of a different kind: books that present the reader
with "quoted" versions of the Soviet cablegram but
with Ales's name deleted and replaced with Hiss's. Those versions
do not show the Venona document's footnote marks or the footnotes
themselves, or even alert the reader to their existence, nor
do the books mention any of the actual discrepancies between
Ales and Hiss. In their glossaries, the books list Hiss as
Ales, and Ales as Hiss, as unqualified facts, citing Venona
No. 1822 as the source but without mentioning its qualifying
word "Probably," a word also omitted from most of
the narrative discussions of Hiss as Ales.
Private-sector writers cope no better than the FBI with the
two Soviet intelligence agencies, calling Hiss variously a
KGB agent, a GRU agent, sometimes both at once, or a KGB agent
on one page and a GRU agent on another, and confounding the
two intelligence agencies by misusing the word "Neighbor,"
which each agency used in referring to the other.
(The term "KGB" is used here for convenience to
include KGB-forerunner agencies.)
writers claim to make covername identifications that the FBI
did not venture. Thus Ales's colleague "Pol," mentioned
in paragraph 4 of the Soviet cablegram as working with Ales
the last few years, is said to be a KGB (!) agent in Washington
named Nathan Gregory Silvermaster
whose covername was "Pal" - an identification that
contradicts the writers' own claim that Ales was Hiss, since
Hiss did not know Silvermaster.
Some writers also claim to identify "A." (mentioned
in the first line of the Venona message as having had a chat
with Ales) as a KGB agent named Akhmerov, who, the writers
assert, was the wartime handler for two KGB agents of such
great importance that they were run individually instead of
in a group: Alger Hiss and President Roosevelt's confidant
In identifying "A." as Akhmerov, those writers are
doubly contradicting their own claim that Ales was Hiss, since
it is virtually impossible for the same person to have been
both a KGB agent under Akhmerov and the GRU agent Ales, nor
could Hiss have been run individually by Akhmerov and at the
same time been the group-leader Ales.
Some of those writers have also used Venona to traduce the
New Deal economist Lauchlin Currie, for which they have been
taken to task in words that apply as well to their handling
of the Hiss case: "the disinterested historian has an
obligation to weigh the evidence from the perspective of the
defense as well as the prosecution, to get the facts right,
and to present all relevant facts. This some writers have
signally failed to do in evaluating Currie's case."
into perspective, indeed marginalizing, the confusion of the
FBI and private-sector commentators as to whether Hiss was
a KGB agent or a GRU agent, the archives of those two agencies
show that he was neither. Nixon in 1991 and Hiss in 1992 wrote
to General Dmitri Antonovich Volkogonov,
who was President Yeltsin's military adviser and overseer
of all the Soviet intelligence archives, requesting Soviet
files on the Hiss case.
Volkogonov "enjoyed unrestricted access to Russia's archives;"
he examined not only the KGB and Presidential archives but
also the GRU archives and reported that "there, too,
no traces of Alger Hiss have been found." (Volkogonov
meant no incriminating traces, since he did find records of
Hiss's normal diplomatic contacts with Soviet officials.)
Other Russian archivists and officials, private Russian researchers,
and even American researchers who maintain that Hiss was a
Communist spy searched the Soviet archives of the Foreign
Intelligence Service, Ministry of Security, Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Soviet Army, Central Party,
and Comintern (Communist International) including its records
of the Communist Party USA and found no evidence that Hiss
was ever a Communist or an agent for the KGB, the GRU, or
any other intelligence agency of the Soviet Union.
if he was spy," said Volkogonov, "I would have found
a reflection in various files."
Volkogonov and Yevgeni Primakov, then director of the Foreign
Intelligence Service and subsequently foreign minister and
prime minister, reached the firm conclusion that Hiss was
never an agent of the intelligence services of the Soviet
conclusion outraged diehard Cold Warriors in the United States,
who attacked the Russian messenger and re-demonized their
favorite domestic target, caricaturing the 89-year-old Alger
Hiss on the cover of National Review as Dracula, replete
with fangs, cape, and coffin.
The KGB Files
The historian Allen Weinstein and the journalist Alexander
Vassiliev claim in "The Haunted Wood" (note 63)
that files in the KGB archives at the Foreign Intelligence
Service in Moscow confirm Venona's tentative identification
of Ales as Hiss.
Those are the same KGB archives searched and analyzed in 1992
by Dmitri Volkogonov, by staff archivists of the Foreign Intelligence
Service, and by three FIS officials - Yevgeni Primakov, the
director; Yuri Kobaladze, head of the press bureau; and Boris
Labusov, press officer - whom Weinstein and Vassiliev would
later thank "for cooperating in this unprecedented opening
of materials in the KGB archives for this book."
Presumably the Russians saw the same KGB materials
that Weinstein and Vassiliev saw but, unlike the co-authors,
did not regard them as incriminating Hiss.
What the co-authors do in their book is "quote"
- it is not always clear from what documents - a discredited
tale from Hiss's second trial and a bizarre story, premised
on the same proposition it is supposed to be confirming (Ales-as-Hiss),
about State Department documents being whisked to New York
for nefarious purposes on Secretary of State Edward Stettinius's
watch. To involve Hiss in those scenarios, the co-authors
omit relevant facts and quote in a very curious way.
Moreover, when they refer to excerpts of KGB documents from
which they have selectively replaced covernames with their
own notion of the real names, the reader can not even tell
what covernames have been deleted, because the co-authors
ascribe two or three different covernames to the same person,
for example, two for Hiss, "Lawyer" and "Ales,"
and three for US Treasury official Harry Dexter White, "Lawyer,"
"Richard," and "Reed."
The co-authors cite no authority or source for their assertion
that "Lawyer" was a covername for Hiss.
The co-authors' references and their own narrative statements
cannot be checked or verified by anyone else, because they
derive from excerpts "quoted" out of context from
KGB files closed to other researchers. The co-authors' publisher,
Random House, paid undisclosed sums (reportedly more than
a million dollars) to an association of retired KGB agents
for "exclusive" access to KGB files for Weinstein
Press officer Boris Labusov was still with the Foreign Intelligence
Service when "The Haunted Wood" was published (1999),
and I asked him what he thought of it. He said, "If you
want to be correct, don't rely much on 'The Haunted Wood'....
When they put this or that name in Venona documents in square
brackets, it's the mere guess of the co-authors. Whether they
are right or not, we do not comment. And it concerns all the
cases of square brackets in this book."
was expecting Labusov's "We do not comment," in
view of recent legislation in Russia tightening the restrictions
on discussion of such matters by government officials; but
I asked him anyway about Hiss's name appearing in brackets.
"As far as Hiss is concerned," Labusov replied,
"Our position has not changed since 1992." The co-authors,
said Labusov, "were wrong when they put the name of Alger
Hiss in the places where they tell about somebody who cooperated
with Soviet special services, yes? So we are quite right in
saying that we, the Russian intelligence service, have no
documents...proving that Alger Hiss cooperated with our service
somewhere or anywhere." "Mr. Vassiliev, while writing
or completing his work on this book together with Mr. Weinstein,
had no official copies of documents. He had only passages
from them, citations." "Mr. Vassiliev worked in
our press service just here in Moscow, but, if he's honest,
he will surely tell you that he never met the name of Alger
Hiss in the context of some cooperation with some special
services of the Soviet Union."
To date, no evidence has been adduced that any Soviet intelligence
agency ever assigned a covername to Alger Hiss.
He got the covername "Ales" from the FBI and NSA;
but the actual Soviet message in Venona No. 1822, when read
side-by-side with undisputed facts about Hiss and with the
government's case against him, demonstrates that Ales could
not have been Hiss. He got the covername "Lawyer"
from Weinstein and Vassiliev, but the KGB materials they publish
offer no credible support for the proposition that Hiss was
"Lawyer" or "Ales" or any other espionage
Venona No. 1579 contains fragments of a 1943 cablegram from
the GRU chief in New York to the GRU "direktor"
One fragment refers to "Hiss" in such a way as to
suggest that the GRU had never heard of him before.
cablegrams mention scores of Americans, ranging from presidents
and secretaries of state and their aides to scientists, journalists,
armed forces employees, and defense industry workers. One
of those Americans was "Hiss." A fragment of the
GRU message in Venona No. 1579 reads as follows, according
The NEIGHBOR [SOSED] [iii] has reported that [1 group
unrecovered] from the State Department by the name of
The term "Neighbor" ("Sosed" in Russian),
when used by the GRU as in this message, means the other intelligence
agency, the KGB. The phrase "[1 group unrecovered]"
means that one code group of digits had not been deciphered
by Venona cryptanalysts, although further efforts might yet
succeed. The phrase "[121 groups unrecoverable]"
means that 121 code groups can never be read, because the
prerequisite underlying data are irretrievably missing, perhaps
not having been monitored in the first place.
The resulting fragment is too truncated to convey a coherent
idea of the whole sentence or paragraph of which it is a part,
but it nevertheless yields information about Hiss.
First of all, the name "Hiss" was not translated
by the Venona cryptanalysts, because it appeared just that
way in the original: "Spelled out in the Latin alphabet,"
according to footnote [iv]. The obvious reason for the GRU
to switch from the Russian Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet,
just for a name, is for the sake of accuracy in rendering
an unfamiliar name in a non-Russian, Latin-alphabet language.
"Hiss" is named in the fragment without a first
name, so there is no way to tell whether the reference is
to Alger Hiss or to Donald Hiss, both of whom were in the
State Department in 1943. (No other Hiss is known to have
been in the State Department at that time.) The fact that
footnote [iv] mentions only Alger Hiss may reflect nothing
more than the FBI's greater preoccupation with Alger or that
the FBI agent who provided the footnoted information (it was
not Lamphere, who had left the FBI six years before any part
of the GRU message was deciphered) may not have thought of
Donald or not have remembered that Donald, too, was in the
For the GRU thus to name Hiss openly and directly, not by
a covername, strongly suggests that, whichever Hiss it was,
he was not a spy. Venona's top cryptanalyst observed in 1947
that Soviet intelligence agencies "are accustomed, for
reasons of security, to refer to persons that are furthering
these [conspiratorial] activities by covernames, and in particular
that this is done in encrypted messages sent between diplomatic
installations and Moscow."
Moreover, as FBI agent Lamphere noted in qualifying his own
tentative identification of "Jurist" as Judge Rosenman
(see text to note 56), once a covername was assigned, it was
used to the exclusion of the real name. Thus if Hiss had been
an espionage agent, he would have had a covername, and the
GRU message would have referred to him by his covername, not
by his real name.
Paragraph 1(c) of the GRU cablegram mentions five covernames
and their respective real names, either for the purpose of
assigning the covernames or to identify them for the "direktor."
If security mattered to the GRU concerning those names, coding
and encryption of the message would have provided some measure
of it. But security may not have been a major concern for
those names. Covernames, usually shorter and easier than real
names to encode, encrypt, transmit, decrypt, and decode, were
often assigned as a matter of convenience to people other
In any case, "Hiss" is the only one of the six real
names in the GRU message that appears without a first name
and without a covername. It would seem to be a first-time
reference to someone unknown to the GRU and not a spy.
For nearly half a century, Alger Hiss sought evidence in his
case from every source that he could tap. He made his complete
records and every piece of evidence within his command available
to anyone who wanted to see them. He would have been pleased
but not surprised to learn that Venona documents, released
in the year of his death but too late for his comprehension,
provide further confirmation of his innocence.
the Soviet messages as presented by Venona are to be believed,
their only reference to Hiss is by his real name, which virtually
rules him out as a spy. The Venona team nevertheless employed
false premises and flawed comparative logic to reach the desired
conclusion that Alger Hiss was the spy Ales, a conclusion
psychologically motivated and politically correct but factually
The Venona analysts' errors and methodological incompetence
in this case are reminiscent of those in Magic and prefigure
those in the Cuban missile crisis.
The fact that Venona's obvious mistakes about Hiss have gone
unrecognized and uncorrected, and the misidentification of
Ales as Hiss has been endorsed by the FBI, CIA, and NSA for
half a century, is a testament to the power of myth over empirical
reality. It is also a warning to view other Venona product
with caution and skepticism.
The lessons are not new. (1) The professional involvement
of intelligence agencies in deception and disinformation,
character assassination and murder, lies, forgeries, and burglaries
pervades their institutional culture and dictates their policies
of secrecy. (2) U.S. intelligence agencies are no better than
most bureaucracies at recognizing their own mistakes, let
alone learning from them. (3) Given the nature of intelligence
agencies, their mission in life, and their histories, it is
not reasonable to expect them to change their ways.
This article is drawn from a memoir-in-progress about Alger
Hiss and his case. For assistance of various kinds, I thank
Richard Beeston, Brian Clague, Bruce Craig, James W. Hamilton,
Agnese N. Haury, Patricia Lousada, Anne W. Lowenthal, David
and Mary Alice Lowenthal, Jane Nissen, William A. Reuben,
Ladislas Rice, Alexander Schouvaloff and Penelope Smail.
1. Molly Ivins, "Alger Hiss Case Tied
Justice in a Knot," The Salt Lake Tribune and
Creators Syndicate, Nov. 22, 1996, p. 1.
2. The late summer of that election year , already filled
with invective and recrimination, also saw the first act of
a drama of unique substantial and symbolic importance: the
case of Alger Hiss....
question of Hiss's actual guilt or innocence became obscured
by mythologies which soon grew up about the affair.... Alger
Hiss seemed so perfectly to represent the 1930s and the generation
of bright, sophisticated, socially conscious young men and
women who manned the New Deal bureaucracy. By this token,
he was also the perfect target, the very image of that dangerous
slippage to the left and even over the edge into treason which,
conservatives insisted, had permeated the New Deal. Hiss became
an icon in the hagiography and demonology of the time. The
impact of the Hiss case on the movement of anti-communism
to the center of the political stage can scarcely be exaggerated.
So many threads seemed to be woven together in this cause
célèbre. Communism and treason were now
linked and both tied to the New Deal to the immense gratification
of conservatives. Liberals were stunned and many, perhaps
feeling that "there but for the grace of God go I,"
went to great lengths to demonstrate their anti-communism,
to compensate for the shame of gullibility. "Confess,
Alger Hiss," implored cold war liberal Leslie Fiedler
while another remarked that "Alger Hiss went to jail
for our sins."
V. Compton, "Anti-Communism in American Life Since the
Second World War," Forums in History (St. Charles,
MO: Forum Press, 1973), pp. 8-9 (endnote omitted).
Senator Jon Kyl (Rep., AZ), hearing before the Select Committee
on Intelligence, U.S. Senate, 105th Congress, 1st Session,
on nomination of Anthony Lake to be Director of Central Intelligence
(Washington DC: U.S. GPO, 1998), March 12, 1997, p. 221.
4. Hearings before the Committee on Un-American Activities,
U.S. House of Representatives, 80th Congress, 2nd Session
(Washington: U.S. GPO, 1948) [hereinafter "HUAC"],
Aug. 3, 1948, pp. 565, 569, 572, 577, Aug. 7, 1948, pp. 662-4,
668-9, Aug. 25, 1948, p. 1180; The Trials of Alger Hiss,
documentary film produced and directed by John Lowenthal (1980)
(16mm print and transcript on deposit with Library of Congress,
Washington) (UK distribution by British Universities Film
& Video Council, London; U.S. distribution by Direct Cinema
Ltd., Santa Monica, CA; all television and other distribution
by the producer), transcript (approx. one page per minute
of film), pp. 35, 38, 62, 64, 71.
5. HUAC, Aug. 5, 1948, pp. 643, 646-8, Aug.
16, 1948, pp. 948-9, 955-7, 988, Aug. 25, 1948, p. 1078; Trials
(note 4), pp. 44, 45, 54, 64, 70. Chambers testified that
Hiss had known him only by his Communist Party name of Carl
and that he never wrote under the name of Crosley. In fact,
Chambers had submitted erotica under the name "George
Crosley" to the publisher Samuel
Roth, who saw media coverage of the HUAC hearings,
"realized that Chambers was lying," and told both
the FBI and Hiss's lawyers that he was prepared so to testify.
But Hiss's trial lawyers decided not to call Roth as a defense
witness, because he had been convicted of selling James Joyce's
"Ulysses" and other "obscene" literature.
HUAC, Aug. 7, 1948, p. 662, Aug. 25, 1948, pp. 1194, 1195;
affidavit of Samuel Roth, Sept. 3, 1948; letter from Roth
to Meyer A. Zeligs (copy to Hiss), Oct. 2, 1963; The New
York Times [hereinafter NYT], July 4, 1973, p.
22 (Roth obituary); Trials (note 4), p. 59.
I.F. Stone, The Daily Compass (NY), Jan. 23, 1950,
p. 3 (at 21). Venona has been used to calumniate Stone (1907-89)
posthumously, as recounted in Eric Alterman, "Redbaiting
Stone," The Nation, July 20, 1998, p. 7, and Walter
Schneir and Miriam Schneir, "Stone Miscast,"
The Nation, Nov. 4, 1996, p. 6.
7. 2nd Trial [U.S.A. vs. Alger Hiss, transcript of record
on appeal from the District Court of the U.S. for the Southern
District of N.Y. to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd
Circuit, 1950], pp. 1834-7.
8. Alger Hiss, "Arguments Against the Inclusion of Any
of the Soviet Republics Among the Initial Members [of the
UN]," U.S. State Dept. memo, Feb. 8, 1945; Charles E.
Bohlen, "Witness to History, 1929-1969" (NY: Norton,
1973), p. 194; Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., "Roosevelt
and the Russians: The Yalta Conference" (Garden City,
NY: Doubleday, 1949), pp. 196-7, 283; HUAC, Aug. 5, 1948,
9. John Lewis Gaddis, "We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War
History" (NY: Oxford UP, 1997), p. 38.
10. Alger Hiss, "Basic Questions in the Great Debate.
Here are the five most often asked about the Marshall Plan
- and an attempt to answer them," NYT Magazine,
Nov. 16, 1947, p. 7 (at 70), quoted at 2nd Trial, p. 2958;
Clark M. Eichelberger, 2nd Trial, pp. 2954-8. "Soviet
leaders": Scott D. Parrish, "The Turn Toward Confrontation:
The Soviet Reaction to the Marshall Plan, 1947" (Washington
DC: Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars, Working Paper No. 9, March
1994), pp. 15, 16, 30, 32; see also Larry I. Bland, "George
C. Marshall: The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan,"
in Eugene T. Rossides (ed.), "The Truman Doctrine of
Aid to Greece: A Fifty-Year Retrospective" (NY: The Academy
of Political Science, Washington DC: American Hellenic Inst.
Fdn. 1998), pp. 47, 50-3. "Martial Plan": Eric F.
Goldman, "The Crucial Decade - And After" (NY: Vintage/Knopf,
1960), p. 77. On the Marshall Plan in its Cold War context,
see Richard M. Freeland, "The Truman Doctrine and the
Origins of McCarthyism" (NY: Knopf, 1972), pp. 5, 9-12,
and Ch. VI, esp. p. 249.
11. Bernard A. Weisberger, "Cold War,
Cold Peace" (NY: American Heritage, 1985, distrib. By
Houghton Mifflin, Boston), pp. 81, 87.
12. Whittaker Chambers, Meet the Press (radio program),
Aug. 27, 1948, quoted in Alger Hiss, "In the Court of
Public Opinion" (NY: Knopf, 1957), p. 154.
13. 2nd Trial, p. 259; Whittaker Chambers, "Witness"
(NY: Random House, 1952), pp. 428-9.
14. Ladislas Farago, "War of Wits: The Anatomy of Espionage
and Intelligence" (NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1954), pp. 210-11,
15. Vernon Hinchley, "Spies Who Never Were" (London:
Harrap, 1965), pp. 200, 210. See also Christopher Felix, "The
Spy and His Masters: A Short Course in the Secret War"
(London: Secker, 1963), pp. 115-6 [North American ed. entitled
"A Short Course in the Secret War" (NY: Dutton;
Toronto and Vancouver: Clarke, Irwin), pp. 126-8].
16. Reproduced in 2nd Trial, Vol.7.
17. 2nd Trial, pp. 584-8, 594, 660-4; Chambers (note 13),
18. Richard M. Nixon, NY federal grand jury, Dec. 13, 1948,
pp. 4161, 4208-11; H.R. Haldeman, "The Haldeman Diaries:
Inside the Nixon White House" (NY: Putnam, 1994), p.
303 (the Hiss-case papers were "unimportant"); Benjamin
Weiser, "Nixon Lobbied Grand Jury to Indict Hiss in Espionage
Case, Transcripts Reveal," NYT, Oct. 12, 1999,
19. Trials (note 4), p. 95; Associated Press, Dec.
14, 1948, quoted in William A. Reuben, "The Honorable
Mr. Nixon" (NY: Action Books, 1958), p. 88.
20. Watergate tapes quoted in Stanley I. Kutler (ed.), "Abuse
of Power: The New Nixon Tapes" (NY: The Free Press/Simon
& Schuster, 1997), pp. 7, 9 (with the word "master"
replacing "mask," an apparent transcription error).
21. McCarthy speech, Wheeling, WV, Feb. 9, 1950. See David
Abrahamsen, "Nixon vs. Nixon: An Emotional Tragedy"
(NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976), p. 156; Goldman (note
10), pp. 141-2; Weinstein, "Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers
Case" (NY: Knopf, 1978), p. 507 [updated ed. (NY: Random
House, 1997), p. 451].
22. David Caute, "The Great Fear" (NY: Simon & Schuster,
1978), p. 45; Richard Nixon, "The Memoirs of Richard
Nixon" (NY: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1990), p. 149.
23. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "What Made
Them Turn RED," Look magazine, Aug. 1, 1950, p.
24. Alger Hiss, "Recollections of a Life" (NY: Seaver
Books/Henry Holt, 1988, paperback by Arcade/Little, Brown),
25. Ibid., pp. 198-9. On Hiss's personality and post-prison
life, see Meyer A. Zeligs, "Friendship and Fratricide:
An Analysis of Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss" (NY:
Viking Press, 1967); Brock Brower, "Other Loyalties:
A Politics of Personality" (NY: Atheneum, 1968), pp.
ix, 3-30 (reprinting "Hiss Without the Case," Esquire
magazine, Dec. 1960).
26. Robert Louis Benson, "Introductory History of VENONA
and Guide to the Translations," pp. 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, and
"VENONA Historical Monograph # 5" (Fort George G.
Meade, MD: Center for Cryptologic History, National Security
Administration [hereinafter "NSA"] n.d., distrib.
at the 1996 Venona conference), p. 15; William P. Crowell,
Deputy Director, NSA, "Remembrances of Venona,"
March 25, 1996, p. 2; John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, "Venona:
Decoding Soviet Espionage in America" (New Haven, CT
and London: Yale UP, 1999), p. 35; Michael Dobbs, "Venona
Project / Cryptologist Who Cracked Soviet Code / American
Counterspy Ends the Silence," Washington Post News Service,
International Herald Tribune [hereinafter IHT], Oct.
22, 1996, p. 2. See also John H. Hedley, "The Intelligence
Community: Is It Broken? How To Fix It?", Studies in
Intelligence 39/5 (1996) (Central Intelligence Agency [hereinafter
"CIA"] Annual Unclassified Edition), pp. 11, 12-13.
27. Robert Louis Benson, "VENONA Historical Monograph
# 4" (NSA n.d.), pp. 10-11; Robert J. Lamphere and Tom
Shachtman, "The FBI-KGB War: A Special Agent's Story"
(NY and Toronto: Random House, 1986; London: W. H. Allen,
1987 and 1988; Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 1995), esp. pp. 31, 78-86,
28. David C. Martin, "Wilderness of Mirrors" (NY:
Harper, 1980) pp. 43-4; Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky,
"KGB: The Inside Story of its Foreign Operations from
Lenin to Gorbachev" (London: Hodder, 1990), p. 308 [NY:
HarperCollins, pp. 373-4]; Robert Louis Benson [NSA] and Michael
Warner [CIA] (eds.) "VENONA - Soviet Espionage and the
American Response, 1939-1957" (Washington DC: NSA and
CIA, 1996; Internet http://www.odci.gov/csi), pp. xv, xxvii,
xxviii. The Soviets learned about Venona not in 1948 but in
1947, according to Christopher Andrew and Vasily Mitrokhin,
"The Mitrokhin Archive" (London: Allen Lane/Penguin,
1999), p. 189 [U.S. ed. entitled "The Sword and the Shield:
The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB"
(NY: Harper/Basic Books), p. 144].
29. FBI memo Belmont to Boardman, Feb. 1,
1956, attached summary p. 3 (Internet http://www.fbi.gov/foiapa/venona/venona/pdf
[hereinafter "pdf"] p. 65); Benson and Warner (note
28), p. xxx, n. 66. On U.S. intelligence inter-agency jealousies,
rivalries, and turf wars, see ibid., pp. xvi-xviii, xxiii.
30. FBI memo Belmont to Ladd, May 23, 1952, pdf 49-51, with
Lamphere's initials, RJL, as author on the first page; Martin
(note 28), p. 37. On the other hand, the CIA has probably
also withheld files and other information from the FBI. James
Risen and Ronald J. Ostrow, "A Secret Cold War: Did CIA
Keep Files From FBI?", IHT, Oct. 26, 1995, p.
31. Michael Thompson, "The Need for Integrity,"
Studies in Intelligence (note 26), p. 25 (at 26); FBI
memo Belmont to Boardman (note 29), pp. 2, 3, pdf 64, 65;
Benson and Warner (note 28), p. xxx, n. 66.
32. On recent shortcomings of U.S. intelligence agencies,
see, e.g., Seymour M. Hersh, "The Intelligence Gap,"
The New Yorker, Dec. 6, 1999, p. 58, esp. 58 and 62;
James Risen, "Don't Read This / If You Do, They May Have
to Kill You," NYT, Dec. 5, 1999, p. WK [Review
of the Week] 5; -, "Spy Agencies Are Fumbling Their Jobs,
Report Charges," IHT, May 19, 2000, p. 3; -, "FBI
Work in Lee Spy Case Was Slow and Sloppy, Report Finds,"
IHT, May 20-21, 2000, p. 4; -, "C.I.A. Counters
Critics of Its Cold War Work," NYT, Nov. 25, 1999,
p. A16; Philip Taubman, "Mr. Angleton and Mr. Ames: The
Mole Hunter and the Mole," NYT, Dec. 17, 1995,
Sec. 4, p. 12.
33. The released Venona documents may be seen at the Public
Record Office (Kew, Surrey); at many U.S. repositories; and
on the Internet at http://www.nsa.gov:8080/.
34. NSA press release, March 5, 1996; Robert Louis Benson,
"VENONA Historical Monograph #3" (NSA n.d.), pp.
8-9. Color photographs of the museum exhibit on Hiss and Venona
No. 1822 are available to the public on request to NSA. The
Center for Democracy is "a non-profit organization promoting
democratic movements" according to the organization by
telephone to the author, Dec. 29, 1999; "by invitation
only": registration form for Venona conference, Oct.
3-4, 1996, National War College, Fort McNair, Washington.
35. Senator Moynihan also attended the ceremony
celebrating the first Venona-document releases, where his
presence was said by CIA Director John Deutch to be "testimony
to the Intelligence Community's commitment to making as much
information as possible available to the public." NSA
press release, July 11, 1995. However, in view of the timing,
promotion, and tendentiously selective nature of the Venona
releases by NSA and the CIA, just as has been said with respect
to releases by UK intelligence agencies, "it would be
wise to conclude that this exercise also has more to do with
public relations than with accountability." Peter Gill,
"Reasserting Control: Recent Changes in the Oversight
of the UK Intelligence Community," Intelligence and
National Security 11/2 (April 1996), p. 327.
NKGB (Narodny Kommissariat Gosudarstvennoye Bezopasnosti,
People's Commissariat for State Security): 1941, 1943-46;
MGB (Ministersvo Gosudarstvennoye Bezopasnosti, Ministry for
State Security): 1946-47, 1952-53; KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoye
Bezopasnosti, Committee for State Security): 1954-91. Benson
and Warner (note 28), pp. ix, n. 6, xxxv; Andrew and Gordievsky
(note 28), p.xii [ix]; Pavel Sudoplatov and Anatoli Sudoplatov
with Jerrold L. and Leona P. Schechter, "Special Tasks:
The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness - A Soviet Spymaster"
(London, Boston, NY: Little, Brown, 1994), p. xxiii.
37. Michael Warner, deputy chief, CIA history staff, conf.
with the author at the Venona conference, Oct. 4, 1996.
38. Tel. conf. the author with Venona cryptanalyst Meredith
Knox Gardner, Aug. 24, 1999. Further reservations by the Venona
cryptanalysts about the correctness of "A." are
expressed in Venona No. 1822, footnote [i].
39. FBI memo Belmont to Ladd, May 15, 1950, p. 8, pdf 12,
with Lamphere's initials as author on p. 1, pdf 4.
40. Chambers (note 13), pp. 26, 65, 67, 69, 70, 72.
41. Charles Alan Wright, "A
Long Work of Fiction" [essay-review of Chambers'
"Witness"], Saturday Review of Literature,
May 24, 1952, p. 11.
Richard Nixon, as Republican nominee for vice president, said
in a televised campaign speech featuring the Hiss case: "In
1939, '41, '43, '45 and '47 Chambers told the story again
to agencies of this government." CBS broadcast, Oct.
13, 1952; Trials (note 4), pp. 78, 88. The story that
Chambers told the government in those years 1939-47 was that
Hiss was a Communist but not a spy. In 1948, when Hiss sued
Chambers for libel and Chambers produced copies of State Department
documents dated in the first four months of 1938, Chambers
for the first time changed his story to espionage and pinpointed
his date of quitting the Communist Party to April 1938. Statements
in the secondary literature that Chambers prior to 1948 alleged
espionage by Hiss and others are incorrect, e.g., Benson,
"Introductory History of VENONA" (note 26), p. 3;
Andrew and Mitrokhin (note 28), pp. 141, 187 [107, 142].
42. Hiss-as-spy would have been "at particular
risk after Chambers's defection in 1938" explained Christopher
Andrew, considered by The Times (London) to be "Britain's
leading unofficial historian of intelligence." Andrew
and Gordievsky (note 28), p. 231 ; The Times as
quoted on the dust jackets. Soviet intelligence agencies were
highly risk-averse. Ales and his whole group of spies were
awarded Soviet decorations (Venona No. 1822, par. 5); the
FBI, still pursuing Hiss, interviewed former U.S. ambassadors
to Moscow Averell Harriman and George F. Kennan, who said
the security-minded Russians would never have taken such a
chance of exposing Hiss by giving him the slightest indication
of appreciation. FBI reports by Howard Fletcher, Jr., April
20, 1953, and Edgar C. Forest, May 25, 1953.
43. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's intense dislike of Hiss
may have originated in the mid-1930s with Hiss's recommendation
to President Roosevelt that he fire Hoover for subverting
New Deal programs in aid of destitute sharecroppers. Hiss,
"Recollections" (note 24), pp. 204-6.
preparing the perjury case against Hiss, "263 agents
at one time or another worked on the investigation in 45 of
the FBI's 52 field divisions." Don Whitehead, "The
FBI Story" (NY: Random House, 1956), p. 284. On Chambers'
followers, Hede Massing and Nathaniel Weyl, see note 76 and
the text to it; Hiss, "Public Opinion" (note 12),
pp. 307-11 and n. 6; Fred J. Cook, "The Unfinished Story
of Alger Hiss" (NY: Morrow, 1958), pp. 69-73, 75-81,
44. Whittaker Chambers interviews by FBI, Dec. 3, 1948 and
May 11, 1949, No. 3220, pp. 76, 77.
Haynes and Klehr (note 26), p. 171 ("Hiss's closest associates
in his espionage work were his wife...and his brother Donald");
Weinstein (note 21), p. , Sam Tanenhaus, "Whittaker
Chambers" (NY: Random House, 1997), p. 520, and Andrew
and Mitrokhin (note 28), n. 81 on pp. 792-3 [n. 81 on 599]
by innuendo or implication.
46. Arkady Vaksberg, "Stalin's Prosecutor: The Life of
Andrei Vyshinsky" (London: Weidenfeld, 1990; NY: Grove
Weidenfeld, 1991), p. 245.
Letter from Joann H. Grube, NSA Deputy Director of Policy,
to the author, Nov. 30, 1998, Serial No. J9755-96, p. 1.
Letter from Barbara A. McNamara, NSA Appeals Authority, to
the author, March 23, 1999, Serial No. J9755C-96, p. 2. For
Venona's cryptanalytic methodology, see, e.g., Benson and
Warner (note 28), p. xv; Lamphere and Shachtman (note 27),
pp. 80-1; Haynes and Klehr (note 26), pp. 25-35; Martin (note
28), pp. 39-40; Nigel West, "VENONA: The Greatest Secret
of the Cold War" (London: HarperCollins, 1999), pp. 12-22.
Keiichiro Komatsu, "Origins of the Pacific War and the
Importance of Magic" (Richmond, Surrey: Japan Library/Curzon
Press; NY: St Martin's Press, 1999), pp. xix (Introduction
by Ben-Ami Shillony), ix, xii.
U.S. Army did not share its Magic intercepts with either the
FBI or the Office of Strategic Services, just as it did not
share its Venona information with other U.S. Intelligence
agencies. Benson and Warner (note 28), p. xvi; text to notes
29 and 30. American officials learned soon after the end of
the Pacific War of mistakes in Magic decoding and translations,
but they concealed their knowledge for many years, and the
prosecutor at the Tokyo Trial of Japanese war leaders substituted
his own translations for Magic's mistranslations without telling
the court that he had done so. Komatsu, supra, pp. 253, 254,
260, 344, 405-7. The damage to the historical record and to
justice from such delays and cover-ups is incalculable, but
NSA, the FBI, and the CIA seem bent on the same course by
their tardy, selective, and restrictive release practices
50. Venona No. 1043, reproduced in Benson and Warner (note
28) pp. 303-4; Lamphere and Shachtman (note 27), p. 85; Harvey
Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov, "The
Secret World of American Communism" (New Haven,
CT and London: Yale UP, 1995), p. 237; John Costello, "Mask
of Treachery" (NY: Morrow, 1988), p. 522; West (note
48), pp. 23-5.
FBI also burgled the Japanese consulate in New York for Magic
in 1921 for the Japanese Navy codes. Komatsu (note 49), p.
51. The FBI had discovered that the serial number of the Hiss
family's Woodstock typewriter, purchased by Priscilla Hiss's
father in 1927, was between 145,000 and 204,500. The Woodstock
in the courtroom as the Hiss family machine was number 230,099,
manufactured in 1929. Suggestively, Newsweek's obituary
of Chambers, written "probably from stories" by
Chambers' journalist friend Ralph de Toledano, reported the
typewriter as "an aged Woodstock, No. 200,194."
Trials (note 4), pp. 142-50 (Toledano and Feinstein);
Newsweek magazine, July 24, 1961, p. 20. See John Lowenthal,
"Woodstock No. 230,099:
What the FBI Knew But Hid from Hiss and the Court,"
The Nation, June 26, 1976, p. 776. Government and defense
materials concerning the typewriter are reproduced in Edith
Tiger (ed.) "In Re Alger Hiss: Petition for a Writ of
Error Coram Nobis" (NY: Hill and Wang/Farrar Straus Giroux;
Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1979), pp. 289-388. Nixon "'We
built one'": John Dean, "Blind Ambition" (NY:
Simon and Schuster, 1976), p. 57. FBI "'nothing to hide'":
letter to the editor from William M. Blake, FBI Office of
Congressional and Public Affairs, NYT, Feb. 4, 1986,
p. A22. On FBI improprieties and illegal actions in the Hiss
case and other cases during the Cold War, see, e.g., Edward
Pessen, "Losing Our Souls: The American Experience in
the Cold War" (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993), p. 151.
52. FBI letter from Edward Scheidt, Special
Agent in Charge, to Director, att. Assist. Dir. D.M. Ladd,
Feb. 18, 1949, No. 2152 ("strictly confidential"
at p. 15); FBI letter to Director, att. Ladd, Feb. 16, 1949,
No. 2237, enclosing Chambers' handwritten
statement of homosexuality; FBI memo Fletcher to Ladd,
Feb. 18, 1949, No. 2238, attaching photocopy and typed copy
of Chambers' handwritten statement of homosexuality; FBI letter
to Attorney General and Director, March 1, 1949, No. 2152;
Trials (note 4), pp. 127-9 (Shaw). On Chambers' homosexuality,
including his homoerotic writings, see Zeligs (note 25), pp.
212-7; Sidney Blumenthal, "The Cold War and the Closet:
The true legacy of Whittaker Chambers" [essay-review
of Tanenhaus (note 45)], The New Yorker, March 17,
1997, p. 112.
53. FBI memo Ladd to Director, Feb. 28, 1951, p. 17, pdf 36,
Lamphere's initials on p. 1, pdf 19.
54. FBI memo Lamphere to [Meredith Knox] Gardner, June 27,
1950, "Study of Code Names in MGB Communications,"
p. 1, reproduced in Benson and Warner (note 28), p. 153.
3 and 4 of the same FBI memorandum (pages not reproduced in
Benson and Warner) carry an entry on Ales, where Lamphere
again paraphrases the message in Venona No. 1822 and concludes:
This closely approximates known information concerning
Alger Hiss and it is believed that Ales may be identical with
Hiss. If this tentative identification is correct the close
relationship between the code name Ales and his true name
Hiss, can readily be seen.
55. FBI memo Belmont to Boardman, Feb. 1, 1956, attached summary,
pp. 5, 7, pdf 67, 70.
56. FBI memo Belmont to Ladd, May 15, 1950, p. 7, pdf 11,
Lamphere's initials on p. 1, pdf 4; Katie Louchheim (ed.)
"The Making of the New Deal" (Cambridge, MA, and
London: Harvard UP, 1983), pp. 10-11, 347.
57. FBI memo Ladd to Director, Oct. 16, 1950, p. 1, pdf 17,
with Lamphere's initials. Further on Harry Dexter White, see
Bruce Craig, "A Matter of Espionage...", Intelligence
and National Security 15/2 (Summer 2000), p. 211.
58. Lamphere's qualifying phraseology is from the quotations
in the text to note 39 and in note 54. One such subsequent
FBI report includes Hiss without any qualification among the
206 persons "we have identified...involved in Soviet
espionage activities." FBI memo Belmont to Boardman,
Nov. 26, 1957, pdf 73-75.
FBI report, May 7, 1952.
60. Ibid., p. 33. GRU: Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie,
Chief Directorate for Intelligence, Red Army General Staff.
Benson and Warner (note 28), pp. ix n. 5, xxxv.
61. FBI report (note 59), p.34.
62. Such leaks of Venona information may have been attempts
by the intelligence agencies to regain public favor after
they were criticized by the so-called Church Committee in
1975. Hearings before the Select Committee to Study Governmental
Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities, U.S. Senate,
94th Congress, 1st Session (Washington: GPO, 1976).
historians "[w]ith unmatched knowledge of American communism
and Soviet espionage in America" assert that Venona's
product "remained secret until 1995." Haynes and
Klehr (note 26), dust jacket (quoting Richard Gid Powers)
and p. 35. In 1980, however, Martin described the Venona program
in considerable detail and referred, in the case of Hiss,
to a Washington-to Moscow intercept that "revealed that
a Soviet agent had actually been aboard Ambassador Averell
Harriman's plane" returning to Moscow from the Yalta
conference. But Martin found the evidence against Hiss "short
of convincing.... Hiss had been aboard that plane," Martin
misstated, "but so had others, including, of course,
Harriman." Ibid., p. 43. Peter Wright, "Spycatcher:
The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer"
(NY: Viking, 1987), p. 182, promoted Hiss to "the best
suspect as the agent on Harriman's plane," although Wright
had the wrong plane flying not from Yalta to Moscow but from
Moscow to the U.S.A. Wright's version is cited in Costello
(note 50), p. 502, which contains lengthy passages on Venona
and Lamphere's Venona work.
documents helped to convince the CIA's Venona headman, James
Jesus Angleton, that Ambassador Harriman was a Soviet agent,
and a Venona cable "reported that Alger Hiss ('Ales'),
on a World War II trip with Harriman, had secretly been given
an award in Moscow," according to the garbled version
by Thomas Powers, "Spook of Spooks" [essay-review
of Edward Jay Epstein, "Deception: The Invisible War
Between the KGB and the CIA" (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1989)],
New York Review of Books, Aug. 17, 1989, p. 40 (at
42 and n. 4). Powers' uncited source was a counterintelligence
agent who claimed to have seen Venona No. 1822 and told Powers
its story. Eric Alterman, "I Spy With One Little Eye...,"
The Nation, April 29, 1996, p. 20 (at 23). Powers,
in turn, was cited by Andrew and Gordievsky (note 28), p.
231  and n. 49 as their source for identifying Hiss as
Ales. John Costello and Oleg Tsarev (described on the dust
jacket as consultant to the Press Department of the Russian
Intelligence Service), "Deadly Illusions" (NY: Crown,
1993), pp. 335, 336, 338, 359-60, refer to both Hiss and Venona
but do not link them or mention Ales.
Robert Lamphere's book (note 27) contains no mention of Ales
or Venona No. 1822, although Lamphere describes his other
Venona work at the FBI and refers to Hiss in non-Venona contexts.
At the Venona conference, I asked Lamphere about the omission.
He replied that the Soviet message about Ales in Venona No.
1822 had not been seen by the FBI when he was there working
on Venona identifications, nor did he himself ever hear of
Ales until after he had stopped working on Venona or left
the FBI, in 1955. In view of Lamphere's three 1950/51 FBI
memoranda on Ales as Hiss (notes 39, 53, 54), the FBI's 1952
Summary inclusion of Hiss as Ales (notes 59-61), and the publications
cited above in this note, I find Lamphere's reply as puzzling
as the omission itself.
63. Haynes and Klehr (note 26), p. 352; West
(note 48), p. 353; Tanenhaus (note 45), pp. 519-20; Daniel
Patrick Moynihan, "Secrecy" (New Haven, CT and London:
Yale UP, 1998), pp. 146-7; Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev,
"The Haunted Wood" (NY: Random House, 1999), pp.
xxiii, 5-10, 268-9 (which does, however, also reproduce Venona
No. 1822 in a centerfold photograph); Benson and Warner (note
28), pp.xxiv, xxvi. When I asked Benson why he had dropped
the qualifying "Probably" from his references to
Hiss and Ales, he replied, "No reason, no reason at all,"
adding that it was obvious anyway from the Soviet message
that Ales was Hiss. Conf. Benson with the author at the Venona
conference, Oct. 4, 1996.
64. Andrew and Gordievsky (note 28), p. 231 ; Andrew
and Mitrokhin (note 28), p. 177 and n. 82 at p. 793 [134 and
n. 82 at 599]; West (note 48), pp. xiv, 235; Weinstein (note
21), pp. [326, 512]. "Neighbor": Benson and Warner
(note 28), p. 192.
Weinstein (note 21), pp. [325, 326-7, 511]; Weinstein and
Vassiliev (note 63), pp. xxiv, 90-1, 153-71, 267-9; Hiss at
HUAC, Aug. 5, 1948, p. 655; Hiss to FBI, June 2, 1947, cited
in Weinstein (note 21), pp. 12-13 .
66. Tanenhaus (note 45), pp. 519-20 and n. 12; Andrew and
Gordievsky (note 28), pp. 231-3 [285-7] and n. 52; and see
Benson [NSA], Monograph # 3 (note 34), p. 9. Andrew's source
was Gordievsky, who said he had heard Akhmerov refer to Hiss
and Hopkins in a lecture. Andrew's later version of Gordievsky's
hearing Akhmerov's lecture mentions only Hiss, not Hopkins.
Andrew and Mitrokhin (note 28), n. 81 on pp. 792-3 [n. 81
Akhmerov story, including the notion of Hiss and Hopkins as
espionage agents, is "pure fabrication" according
to General Lieutenant Vitaliy Pavlov,
an agent with the American section of the KGB's foreign intelligence
department during the years 1938-47 who became its head in
1940 and worked closely with Akhmerov during the wartime years
1940 through 1945. Vitaliy Pavlov, "Operatsiya 'Sneg':
Polveka vo vneshnei razvedke KGB" ("Operation 'Snow':
Half a Century in KGB Foreign Intelligence") (Moscow:
TOO-Geya, 1996), typescript translation, pp. 15, 18, 31-3,
50. Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general, chief of the foreign
intelligence department, and one of its "two most brilliant
and level-headed analysts of British and American policy,"
is also on record stating that neither Hiss nor Hopkins was
an agent. Andrew and Gordievsky (note 28), p. 447 ; Los
Angeles World Affairs Council television program, C-Span 2,
Jan. 13, 1992. Kalugin is emphatic about covernames:
I do say again, all these pseudonyms or cryptonyms
of names, that does not mean a thing. And some, not-too-honest
KGB officers would gladly declare that "Hiss is my agent."
In fact, he is not. He doesn't even know that he is considered
an agent. Those things happened in my life and my lifetime.
of Kalugin by the author and Harvey Spear, Jan. 19, 1992.
67. Roger J. Sandilands, "Guilt by Association?
Lauchlin Currie's Alleged Involvement with Washington Economists
in Soviet Espionage," History of Political Economy
32/3 (Fall 2000). The writers are Haynes and Klehr (note 26),
Weinstein and Vassiliev (note 63), and West (note 48).
68. Letters from Nixon and John H. Taylor, director of the
Nixon presidential library, to Volkogonov in 1991, delivered
personally to Volkogonov by Nixon's representative Dimitri
K. Simes: tel. confs. Kai Bird with Simes, March 25, 1993,
the author with Taylor, April 14, 1994; letter from Hiss to
Volkogonov, Aug. 3, 1992 (note 72).
Richard Pipes, "A Concise History of the Russian Revolution"
(NY: Knopf, 1995), p. 338; interview of Volkogonov by the
author, Nov. 11, 1992, quoted in NYT, Dec. 17, 1992,
p. A17. Nonetheless, Weinstein asserts that "Volkogonov
had not even glanced" at the military intelligence files.
Weinstein (note 21), p. .
70. Letters and reports from Anatolii Stepanovich Prokopenko,
deputy to the chairman of the Committee on Archive Matters
to the Government of the Russian Federation (Roskomarchiv),
Dec. 21, 1992; A.P. Byelozerov, department chief, Foreign
Intelligence Service, Nov. 2, 1992; A.A. Zyubchenko, chief
of the Central Archive, Ministry of Security of the Russian
Federation, Oct. 22, 1992; Igor Vladimirovich Lebedev, director,
History and Records Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
of the Russian Federation, Sept. 2, 1992; Oleg V. Naumov,
deputy director, Russian Center for the Preservation and Study
of Documents of Modern History (former Central Party and Comintern
archives), Sept. 9, 1992; Sergei Zharlev, military archivist
(Ministry of Defense and Soviet army archives), as reported
by Alan Cullison; Yuri G. Kobaladze, chief of the press bureau
of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation,
Sept. 30, 1992; Klehr, Haynes, and Firsov (note 50), p. 321
("indeed, his name never occurs"); Harvey Klehr,
John Earl Haynes, and Kyrill M. Anderson, "The Soviet
World of American Communism" (New Haven, CT, and London:
Yale UP, 1998), pp. xv-xvi (CP USA records through 1944).
71. Interview of Volkogonov
(note 69), quoted in NYT, Dec. 17, 1992, p. A17.
72. Dmitri A. Volkogonov, Report, Oct. 14, 1992, reproduced
(in translation) with Hiss's letter to Volkgonov, Aug. 3,
1992, in Bulletin, Cold War International History Project,
No. 2 (Fall 1992), p.33; interview of Volkogonov by the author,
Oct. 15, 1992, shown at the end of Trials (note 4)
as currently distributed.
scholars writing before the demise of the Soviet Union treated
the Hiss case as a parochial American episode of the Cold
Anti-communist hysteria swept the country. The case of
Alger Hiss played a central role in promoting this hysteria....
The court [sic] proceedings began in August 1948 but initially
flopped because it was an obvious fabrication. President
Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson publicly ridiculed
the promoters of the case. But when a mass campaign was
launched to whip up fear of communism the case was taken
up anew. In 1950 Hiss was sentenced to prison. The case,
which lasted for a year and a half, caused a major sensation.
The anti-communist campaign was joined by all who could
find no explanation for the ongoing events in the world
about them.... Reactionary jingoist propaganda repeated
endlessly that if a typical representative of the East Coast
elite such as Alger Hiss had "sold himself" to
the Communists and had been a "Russian spy" for
many years then it was impossible to trust Dean Acheson,
Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson and all others who had covered
up for him and were of the same mold. This caused panic
among hundreds of thousands of citizens who now began to
see "communists" and "Russian spies"
around every corner.
N. Sivatchyov and E. Yazkov, "History of the U.S.A. since
World War I" (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), pp.
237-8; see also V.A. Nikonov, "The Republicans from Nixon
to Reagan" (Moscow: University Publishing House, 1988),
p. 26 ("fabricated accusations against him were proofless
to say the least"); I.G. Usachev, "John Foster Dulles"
(Moscow: Mysl, 1990), pp. 167-8 ("The Hiss Case was used
as a pretext to unfold in the country the persecution campaign
of progressive public men"). The last chief of the KGB
never heard of Hiss until asked about him by an American journalist
in 1996. David Remnick, "Resurrection: The Struggle for
a New Russia" (NY: Random House, 1997; London: Picador/Macmillan,
1998), p. 320.
73. National Review, Jan. 18, 1993.
Several of Hiss's detractors assert or imply, incorrectly,
that Volkogonov responded to his critics by retracting his
report exonerating Hiss, e.g., Jacob Cohen, "Innocent
After All?", ibid., p. 26; Amos Perlmutter, "Soviet
Historiography, Western Journalism," ibid., pp. 30, 31;
Weinstein (note 21), pp. [505-6]; Tanenhaus (note 45), p.
518. Volkogonov "made no retraction, as close as I could
tell," according to the NYT reporter who interviewed
Volkogonov about his report. James W. Hamilton, "Second
Takes on Hiss," Lies Of Our Times, Jan.-Feb. 1993,
p. 11 (at 12); see also Griffin Fariello, "Red Scare:
Memories of the American Inquisition" (NY and London:
Norton, 1995), pp. 151-2, n. 13; NYT, Dec. 17, 1992,
74. Weinstein and Vassiliev (note 63), caption to centerfold
photograph of Venona No. 1822.
75. Weinstein and Vassiliev (note 63), p. xii.76. Ibid., pp.
5-8, 80, 267-9.
76. For instance, in rehearsing the Hedda Gumperz (aka Hede
Massing) tale about Hiss trying to recruit Noel
Field as a spy (2nd Trial, pp. 1262-3), Weinstein
and Vassiliev omit any reference to Field's statements before
and after he was imprisoned and tortured in Hungary for five
years (1949-54) as a US spy, e.g.:
Speaking of perjury, it was, of course, not until
after I came out of jail that I learned of the part played
in your second trial by false testimony of a perjured witness
[Massing] with regard to a purported meeting and a conversation,
neither of which ever took place, either within or without
the confines of our Washington apartment. That my own imprisonment
prevented me from nailing this outrageous lie is not the least
part of the tragedy which befell me in 1949. My definite and
absolute personal knowledge of the complete untruth of this
particular bit of evidence is the clearest proof to me - aside
from my experience of your personality and outlook - of the
falsehood of the rest of the "evidence" on which
you were convicted.
Letter from Noel Field to Alger Hiss, July 21, 1957, p. 2;
and see letter from Field to Hiss, Nov. 2, 1948 (both letters
in the Harvard Law School Library Special Collections). See
also Hiss, "Public Opinion" (note 12), pp. 307-11;
Tony Hiss, letter to the editor, NYT, Nov. 2, 1993,
their story concerning Secretary of State Stettinius, Weinstein
and Vassiliev (pp. 267-8) claim to quote a KGB file excerpt
as stating that an FBI agent told Stettinius that State Department
documents were being surreptitiously brought to New York for
photographing, implicating "Ales" in the 18-month
operation (encompassing the period in 1945 when Hiss was abroad
at Yalta and elsewhere), and then having Stettinius discuss
the operation with "[Hiss]" (as Weinstein and Vassiliev
represent the KGB excerpt as saying) and tell him "'I
hope it is not you.'" In reality, Stettinius, who died
between the first and second trials of Hiss, stated for the
In my association with Mr. Hiss from Dumbarton Oaks
 to the first General Assembly of the United Nations
in London , I had confidence in him as a loyal, patriotic
American citizen with the welfare of his country uppermost
in his mind.... At no time during my service in the Department
[of State] was I advised, from inside or outside the Department,
of any question relative to Mr. Hiss's loyalty.
Statement of Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. regarding Alger Hiss,
May 20, 1949, defendant's Exh. Z, U.S. District Court, Southern
District of N.Y., June 27, 1949, pp. 1, 2. See also Stettinius
(note 8), p. 31 ("Hiss acted honorably and patriotically").
77. Weinstein and Vassiliev (note 63), pp.
xxiii, xxiv, 5-20, 267-9. "Ales" is not a translation
and has no meaning in Russian, but if it is a garble or corruption
of "alet'" which means to flush or redden, it may
account for a hearsay story about the red planet's name: "Hiss's
code name as a source of information was Mars, but he might
not have known that." Sudoplatov et al. (note 36), p.
78. The exclusive deal allowed only Vassiliev to see the KGB
files; Weinstein, however, wrote the book. Weinstein and Vassiliev
(note 63), pp. xi, xv, xvi; Christian Caryl, "A spy in
Congress," U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 18,
1999, p. 36; Jacob Weisberg, "Cold War Without End,"
NYT Magazine, Nov. 28, 1999, p. 116 (at 120). On "buying
access" to KGB files, see Patricia Kennedy Grimsted,
"Archives of Russia Seven Years After: 'Purveyors of
Sensation' or 'Shadows Cast to the Past?'," Cold War
International History Project, Working Paper No. 20, Part
I, Sept. 1998, pp. 13-14.
"The Haunted Wood"'s shortcomings, see reviews by
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NYT, Jan. 18, 1999, Sec.
E, p. 9, and Anna Kasten Nelson, Chronicle of Higher Education,
June 25, 1999 (essay review), and letters to the editor from
Michael Straight, Agnese N. Haury, William S. Weiss and William
A. Reuben, NYT Book Review, Jan. 24, 1999, pp. 4, 22,
and John L. Lee, ibid. Feb. 14, 1999, p. 4.
admirer of "The Haunted Wood" asserts, incorrectly,
that "no serious scholar any longer dismisses" the
claims of Whittaker Chambers against Alger Hiss. Thomas Powers,
"The Plot Thickens" [review-essay], The New York
Review of Books, May 11, 2000, p. 53 (at 54). Twelve serious
scholars who currently do not believe Chambers' claims against
Hiss are cited herein. Not long ago, George McGovern, Ph.D.
in history, a former U.S. senator from South Dakota, and the
1972 Democratic Party presidential nominee, published these
I've always believed that Hiss was a victim of the
"red scare" and of Nixon's political rapacity. It
is a national outrage that this essentially decent and patriotic
American went to prison as a consequence of the demagoguery
of Nixon and the ignominious House Committee on Un-American
George McGovern, "Nixon and Historical Memory: Two Reviews"
[of the motion picture by Oliver Stone], Perspectives
34/3 (March 1996) [Washington: American Historical Association],
p. 1 (at 4).
historian Dmitri Volkogonov, in searching the Soviet archives
on the Hiss case, found that Whittaker Chambers was a member
of the American Communist Party but not, Volkogonov thought,
a spy: Chambers "had party contacts but not intelligence
contacts ... and not any kind of secret or spy information."
Interview, Oct. 15, 1992 (note 72). Indeed, none of the hundreds
of U.S. government documents that Chambers said he collected
from Hiss and other people for espionage has turned up in
any Soviet archive, nor has any evidence been adduced, other
than Chambers' own word, that Chambers ever delivered any
document to a Soviet agent.
is, however, substantial evidence that Whittaker Chambers
was a fantasist, a twentieth-century Titus Oates who invented
his story of himself as an espionage agent or courier in order
to satisfy his penchant for self-dramatization, his craving
for self-importance, and his urge to destroy his victims,
notably his erstwhile friends. Hiss was not Chambers' only
victim, only the most prominent one; others included the State
Department "China hand" Oliver Edmund Clubb and
U.N. publications director David Zablodowsky
(a wrestling teammate of Chambers 30 years before), bot h
of whom lost their jobs to Chambers' false witness. Trials
(note 4), pp. 28-30, 82-7; O. Edmund
Clubb, "The Witness and I" (NY: Columbia
79. Tel. confs. the author with Boris Labusov,
July 21 and Dec. 8, 1999.
"The Haunted Wood" (note 63) draws extensively on
Weinstein's first book against Hiss, "Perjury" (note
21), for which Weinstein's source materials are also out-of-bounds
to other researchers. Ibid., p. ; Jon Wiener, "Compromised
Positions," Lingua Franca, Jan./Feb. 1993, p.
41. The KGB file excerpts that Weinstein "quotes"
in his updated edition of "Perjury" are doubly barred
to other researchers, first by Weinstein himself at p. 
and again by the exclusive deal on "The Haunted Wood"
(note 78). Weinstein has made his own research materials on
the Hiss case available, as far as I can determine, only to
Sam Tanenhaus and one other Chambers supporter, Terry Teachout.
William F. Buckley, Jr., "WindFall: The End of the Affair"
(NY: Random House, 1992), p. 166; Whittaker Chambers (Terry
Teachout ed.), "Ghosts on the Roof" (New Brunswick,
NJ and London: Transaction, 1996), p. xxiii.
Six of Weinstein's most important interviewees for "Perjury"
protested that they had been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented
in the book, and one of them sued for libel, demanding that
Weinstein produce the interview tapes he claimed to have.
Unwilling or unable to produce them, Weinstein paid a "substantial
five-figure sum" in damages and published a retraction
and apology. "Costly Error for Hiss Historian,"
New York magazine, May 21, 1979, p. 61; "Krieger
Victorious over Hiss Author," The Village Voice,
May 28, 1979, pp. 31, 77; "Allen Weinstein Statement,"
The New Republic, June 7 and 14, 1979, p.11.
Well-documented critiques of "Perjury" include Victor
Navasky, "Allen Weinstein's
"Perjury": The Case Not Proved Against Alger Hiss,"
The Nation, April 8, 1978, p. 393, finding Weinstein
"an embattled partisan, hopelessly mired in the perspective
of one side, his narrative obfuscatory, his interpretations
improbable, his omissions strategic, his vocabulary manipulative,
his standards double, his 'corroborations' circular and suspect....
The target of 'Perjury' is Alger Hiss and his claim of innocence,
but its temporary victim is historical truth" (at 394
and 401); essay-reviews by David Levin,
Virginia Quarterly Review 54 (1978), p. 725, reprinted
in David Levin, "Forms of Uncertainty: Essays in Historical
Criticism" (Charlottesville, VA, and London: UP of Virginia,
1992), p. 142, and Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, American Studies
13/1 (1979) [Cambridge UP] p. 115; Victor Navasky, "Weinstein,
Hiss, and the Transformation of Historical Ambiguity into
Cold War Verity" in Athan G. Theoharis (ed.), "Beyond
the Hiss Case: The FBI, Congress, and the Cold War" (Philadelphia:
Temple UP, 1982), p. 215.
80. Unless the story about "Mars" (note 77) be considered
81. Venona Nos. 927-8, reproduced in Benson
and Warner (note 28), p. 229 (at 230); Benson, "Monograph
# 4" (note 27), p. 6; West (note 48), p. 365.
Tel. conf. the author with Meredith Knox Gardner, Aug. 24,
83. The earliest draft of Venona No. 1579 obtained by the
author from NSA bears the issue date Jan. 20, 1961; Lamphere
had left the FBI in 1955.
84. Meredith Knox Gardner, "Covernames in Diplomatic
Traffic [obliterated]" Army Security Agency report, Aug.
30, 1947, p. 1, reproduced in Benson and Warner (note 28),
p. 93 (at 94). Gardner cites as his source a report dated
June 27, 1946 of a Royal Commission in Canada.
85. The Venona team and U.S. intelligence agencies have said
nothing publicly about the reference to Hiss in No. 1579.
I asked NSA's Louis Benson about it at the Venona conference
(Oct. 4, 1996), and he said that it was probably the GRU "playing
it straight" pretending not to know Hiss in order not
to tip its hand to its rival KGB that Hiss was a GRU agent.
But, Benson added, "We'll take another look at it and
try to recover more of the message." Nothing more has
yet been forthcoming.
86. Gil Merom, "The 1962 Cuban Intelligence Estimate:
A Methodological Perspective," Intelligence and National
Security 14/3 (Autumn 1999), pp. 52, 59, 60, 61, 71.
article was orginally published by Frank Cass Publishers,