The Hiss Case
In the News

One measure of the Hiss case's importance is that more than 50 years after his conviction, Alger Hiss continues to regularly make news. The list below will be updated with the latest citations of stories and commentaries about the Hiss case as they appear in the press. If you see or hear a mention of Alger Hiss in any news outlet, please email the editors of "The Alger Hiss Story" so we can include it in this space.

August 7, 2009 - Amy Knight reviewed "Spies" for the Times Literary Supplement. Its editors have just posted the review on its Web site, and it can be found here.

August 2, 2009 - There have been several prominent reviews of "Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America," the book by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev. These include reviews in The Nation, The American Prospect, The New Republic (article not available for non-subscribers) and The New Yorker (registration required; a letter by Jeff Kisseloff in response to Lemann's piece appears in the magazine's August 10 & August 17 issue). A review of "Spies" by Kisseloff for this Web site should be posted in a couple of weeks. Check back here to see when the review is up (or to receive an alert, follow Kisseloff on Twitter @jeffisme).

May 20-21, 2009 - The Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington D.C. holds a two-day conference on a new book, "Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America," by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev. Based on notes from Soviet documents Vassiliev reportedly took more than a decade ago, the book purports to tell the story of Soviet espionage in America. The authors claim the notes reaffirm the guilt of Alger Hiss. Check back on the site in the coming weeks for our in-depth review (or be alerted to the review by following jeffisme on Twitter). Jeff Kisseloff, who attended the conference, has posted his account of the proceedings at algerhissblog.com.

May 7, 2009 - The New York Times Sunday Book Review has published a brief (and mostly positive) review by Dorothy Gallagher of Susan Jacoby's book, "Alger Hiss and the Battle for History." The review can be accessed here (registration may be required).

January 22, 2009 - Two new books on the Hiss case have been announced for the first quarter of this year. Yale University Press is publishing "Alger Hiss and the Battle for History" by Susan Jacoby, the author of most recently "The Age of American Unreason," which The New Yorker called "a cogent defense of intellectualism." According to the Yale catalogue, in her new book on Hiss, Jacoby "positions the case in the politics of the post–World War II era and then explores the ways in which generations of liberals and conservatives have put Chambers and Hiss to their own ideological uses."

An article in The New York Times on Januay 17 by Sam Roberts announced that Yale is also publishing a new examination of the Hiss and other Cold War cases by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. Their latest effort, "Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America," is written with Allen Weinstein's former collaborator on “The Haunted Wood, Alexander Vassiliev. A description on the Amazon.com Web site calls the book "stunning" and says it is "based on KGB archives that have never come to light before." However, Vassiliev's participation would indicate the work is based on notes he had taken while working with Weinstein and later secreted out of Russia when he immigrated to Great Britain in 1996. Far from being unknown, the notes came to light during his libel suit against John Lowenthal, and aspects of them, including the controversial Gorsky list and Perlo list — both of which were said to implicate Hiss as a spy — are already discussed in detail on this site . It will be interesting to see to whom The New York Times Sunday Book Review section — edited by Sam Tanenhaus, the author of a favorable biography of Whittaker Chambers, assigns its review — if it decides to do so.

Last week, Web site managing editor, Jeff Kisseloff, wrote an article for The Nation's Web site suggesting that the new administration should reevaluate the current treatment of FOIA requests. News from Washington yesterday indicates that President Obama has ordered his departments to do just that.

September 24, 2008 - The popular Web site, howstuffworks.com, lists the Hiss Case as No. 3 on its list of most controversial cases in American history. The entire list can be accessed here: www.howstuffworks.com/ten-controversial-court-cases.htm

September 24, 2007 - An article by Jeff Kisseloff, the managing editor of this Web site, responding to Sam Tanenhaus's New Republic cover story, is picked up and published simultaneously by Alexander Cockburn's popular online journal of politics, CounterPunch.

August 2007 - Whittaker Chambers' son John announces that a library featuring the personal papers of his father will be created at the Chambers farm in Westminster, Md. John Chambers says he hopes the library will be ready to open by next spring.

July 2, 2007 - An article by Whittaker Chambers' biographer, Sam Tanenhaus, is the cover story of this week's New Republic. The article, entitled "The End of the Journey: From Whittaker Chambers to George W. Bush," is a 6,000-word essay attacking the research of Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya published in The American Scholar. (see entry below).

June 2007 -- The American Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa's quarterly magazine, has published "The Mystery of Ales" by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Kai Bird and Soviet scholar Dr. Svetlana Chervonnaya. The article — the product of years of research — demonstrates conclusively that Alger Hiss could not have been the Soviet spy codenamed "Ales" as alleged by the National Security Administration's Venona decryptions.

March 9, 2007 - Alger Hiss, his life and public career, and the Hiss case and its impact on post-war America will be the focus of "Alger Hiss and History," a scholarly conference at New York University on Thursday, April 5. This all-day event, free and open to the public, is the inaugural conference of NYU’s recently established Center for the United States and the Cold War, a research center jointly sponsored by NYU Library and the NYU Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Without striving for perfect pro and con symmetry on issues which are in fact many-sided and multi-dimensional, the conference sponsors have made it a point to invite leading scholars on various sides of the many issues to be discussed, and have guest-presenters coming from as far afield as the former Soviet Union. Among the day's 18 speakers will be Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus of The Nation; Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize winning co-author of "American Prometheus," a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer; and Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Unfortunately, a number of those invited - including Allen Weinstein, our National Archvist and author of "Perjury"; Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Sunday Book Review and author of "Whittaker Chambers"; and Harvey Klehr, professor of politics and history at Emory University and co-author of "The Secret World of American Communism" - declined the invitation to attend. But many others, including Timothy Naftali, director of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, and G. Edward White, professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law and author of "Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars, The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy," will be there. White's book comes squarely down on the side of Hiss's guilt.

Doubtless, some conspiracy theorists will nonetheless see a plot in the final conference line-up, but clearly NYU's only goal, in convening this first full-scale academic reexamination of Hiss's place in history in decades, is to have a wide-ranging and frank discussion of all the issues involved.

"Alger Hiss and History" will run from 9 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. and will be followed by a reception. The conference is co-sponsored by Harvard Law School and the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center and will be held at the King Juan Carlos Center, 53 Washington Square South. For more information, write to Michael.Nash@nyu.edu or Marilyn.Young@nyu.edu, or call (212) 998-2428.

May 8, 2005: It was reported that Nathaniel Weyl, a self-confessed ex-communist who testified against Alger Hiss in a 1952 Senate hearing died at the age of 94 on April 13. On February 19, 1952, Weyl told the Senate Internal Security Committee that he had been a member of the so-called "Ware Group" of secret Communist Party members in Washington D.C. along with Alger Hiss. His testimony caused a sensation inasmuch as it appeared to corroborate Whittaker Chambers' allegations about Hiss. Hiss's defenders, however, pointed out that Chambers, who claimed he was the group's courier, never once mentioned Weyl as a member of the group in all his interviews with the FBI. Also, in 1950 Weyl wrote "Treason," a book that recounted the history of treasonable activities in the United States. Although there is a chapter in the book on the Hiss case, Weyl says nothing about any firsthand information that Hiss had been in the Communist underground.

June 3, 2004 - William A. Reuben, a staunch defender of Alger Hiss, died of natural causes on Monday, May 31, 2004, in New York City, at the age of 88. He was once memorably (and accurately) described as “an encyclopedia on the Hiss Case who walks like a man.” Reuben had just completed "The Crimes of Alger Hiss," an authoritative - and encyclopedic - book on the case based on a 40-year-long investigation. The book will now be published posthumously. Reuben was a graduate of Columbia University and a World War II combat veteran. As an infantry lieutenant, he was wounded three times while fighting in Europe.

After the war Reuben began his career as an investigative journalist with a series of articles questioning the verdict in the Trenton Six Case, which had sent six African-Americans to death row for killing a shopkeeper. His articles ultimately helped save their lives. A series of articles for The Guardian in 1951 on the Rosenberg case was the first to raise doubts about their conviction and sparked worldwide protests on their behalf. His book on that case, “The Atom Spy Hoax,” was published by Action Books in 1954.

Reuben's first book on the Hiss trials, “The Honorable Mr. Nixon,” published in 1956, focused on Nixon's manipulation of the case. Shortly after this, Reuben began his painstaking and exhaustive reexamination of the Hiss case evidence, a task that would occupy him for the rest of his life. In 1974, as part of this work, he filed perhaps the first Freedom of Information Act request for previously secret FBI documents. Their subsequent release, and the information they provided, enabled Alger Hiss to prepare a lawsuit to overturn his conviction based on a clear pattern of misconduct by the Bureau and the prosecutor, Thomas F. Murphy.

Although Hiss’s petition did not prevail, the information in the 40,000-plus documents released to Reuben offered an invaluable look at the politics and tactics of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI in the 1940s and 1950s. Reuben also wrote a 1983 monograph examining Judge Richard Owen's denial of Hiss's petition. This short book, "Footnote on an Historic Case: In Re Alger Hiss," recorded over 100 errors in the judge's opinion.

In 1968, Reuben made news of a different kind when he became the last holdout in a building on West 48th Street in New York that Rockefeller Center wanted to demolish to construct a large new office tower. Reuben stood firm for ten months until the Rockefellers and their wrecking company paid him over $22,000 to leave. Their first offer had been $250.

Two years ago, Reuben was back in the news and holding out again. At the age of 86, and confined to the top floor of a five-story walkup, he was the last tenant to leave a complex of brownstones that his landlord had sold. The rest of the complex had already been gutted. Reuben’s water had been shut off and his windows sealed. Still, declaring that he had seen worse conditions in the Army, he held firm until he received a substantial cash settlement, moving expenses, and a rent-free apartment just off Fifth Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He was living there when he died.
The loss to his family and friends and the cause of Alger Hiss is immense, but he will be survived by his forthcoming and definitive presentation of the Hiss case.
Two chapters from Reuben's long-awaited "The Crimes of Alger Hiss" are posted on the Web site. To read "Libel," click here. To read "The Baltimore Documents," click here.

September 9, 2003 - Longtime Hiss supporter John Lowenthal, an attorney and law professor who made the acclaimed documentary film, "The Trials of Alger Hiss," died in London on September 9 at the age of 78. For an appreciation of Lowenthal's life and his many contributions toward justice in the Hiss case (including links to his articles and work), click here. An obituary for Lowenthal appeared on September 21 in The New York Times. The Times of London published a lengthy obituary of Lowenthal on October 2.

April 4, 2003 - Fred J. Cook, an investigative journalist who conducted the first independent examination of the Hiss case in 1957, died on this day at his home in Interlaken, New Jersey. He was 92. An obituary for Cook can be found at the Web site of the Asbury Park Press. An obituary also appeared in The New York Times.

June 6, 2002 - Brian Lamb interviews Whittaker Chambers' biographer Sam Tanenhaus, historian Bruce Craig and Tony Hiss for a program on Chambers for C-Span's "American Writers" series. Tanenhaus's portion of the program is conducted at Chambers' farm in Westminster, Md. The farm was declared a National Historic Landmark by President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, Donald P. Hodel, in 1984.

February 5, 2002 - PBS airs "Secrets, Lies and Atomic Spies" an examination of several Cold War controversies, including the case of Alger Hiss. The documentary features a discussion about the Venona decrypts. Among those interviewed are Hiss's son Tony and Victor Navasky, publisher of The Nation.

August 20, 2001 - A New York Times (www.nytimes.com) op-ed article by Rick Pearlstein, entitled, "A Look at the Architects of America's Red Scare," discusses the release of the HUAC files and mentions Alger Hiss.

August 16, 2001 - The New York Times (www.nytimes.com) carried a full-length feature on "The Alger Hiss Story" Web site on the front page of its Circuits Section.

August 10, 2001 - ABC News and other outlets carried a story about the long-awaited release of files from the House Un-American Activities Committee. These files contain previously unreleased executive session testimony and investigative files on Alger Hiss and other Cold War figures. http://more.abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/

July 9, 2001 - On the 40th anniversary of his death, Whittaker Chambers' memory was honored at a private conference at the old Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. The event was organized by a White House aide and prominent Republicans and conservatives.









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