and the Russian Files
fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the rise in the early
1990s of non-Communist governments in Russia and Eastern
Europe has held out the bright promise that, as the Cold
War fades into memory, countries on both sides of the old
Iron Curtain might begin to open their Cold War-era files.
Release of long-secret information, many have hoped, could
illuminate or resolve still-controversial issues, such
as the Hiss case.
more than a decade later, at the dawn of the 21st Century,
that promise remains, for the most part, only a promise: Full
archival openness - both in Russia and the U.S. - continues
to be a goal rather than a reality. Some information has been
declassified, leading to a rush of recent books, some scholarly,
some popular and dramatic, about Cold War disputes. Many government
archives, however, after offering only glimpses into their
contents, have again been re-sealed.
scholars have already concluded that it may take another generation
or more before historians have anything close to free access
to the full range of Soviet, American, and other Cold War
files. The situation is unlikely to improve without sustained
public pressure in both the U.S. and Europe. (Click
here for information about how you can help move this
is the present state of Cold War scholarship? How much has
been learned, and how much remains murky? In particular, what,
if anything, has been discovered about Alger Hiss or Whittaker
Chambers or the Hiss case? In the early 1990s, Alger Hiss,
who in the 1970s had with partial success sued the U.S. government
under the Freedom of Information Act for access to FBI and
State Department files about his case, himself pressed the
post-Communist Russian authorities to release any information
they might have that would shed light on his situation.
Frustratingly, in both Russia and the U.S. only small amounts
of previously unknown information that may relate to Alger
Hiss - some of it tantalizing or ambiguous - have at this
point been made public. Several senior Russian officials or
former officials have, for instance, prepared statements or
issued written comments. The U.S. National Security Agency
has released two World War II-era cables that it thinks may
refer to Alger Hiss. The few scraps of newly available information
continue to be hotly debated. According to Hiss detractors,
the case against Hiss has been considerably tightened; they
suggest that it can now be shown that Hiss continued spying
for the Russians throughout World War II, years after Whittaker
Chambers had turned against the Communist Party. For others,
there are now new reasons for believing in Alger Hiss's innocence.
The search for the truth continues.
the Venona Documents and Information From the Russian
the height of the Cold War, the National Security
decoded Soviet intelligence messages transmitted by telegraphic
cable to and from Moscow during World War II. Those
for years have supported Whittaker Chambers' charges think
that one of the recently-released Venona cables proves
was indeed a Soviet spy code-named "ALES." Hiss
Case student, filmmaker, and former law professor John
examines this charge in light of what else is known about
the Hiss case. Click here
to read Lowenthal's article (or here
to download the pdf), which appeared in Intelligence
and National Security, a British scholarly quarterly.
Lowenthal and publisher Frank Cass & Co. were sued
for libel by Alexander Vassiliev, Allen Weinstein's co-author
Haunted Wood." To read about this suit (which ended
in a verdict favoring the defense), including a fascinating
summation by the judge of the questions
surrounding the naming of Hiss as "ALES," click
Venona analysts say the Venona transcripts indicate
that Alger Hiss as "Ales" received a commendation
for his espionage from the Soviet Union while visiting
Moscow during the Yalta conference. After examining
Hiss's schedule during the conference, historian Bruce
Craig writes that the charges against Hiss are
Navasky offers a critical analysis of both the Venona
releases and alleged Noel Field statements about Alger
here to read Navasky's article from The Nation.
and Walter Schneir explain the history behind the Venona
files. Click here for
1995 and 1996, the National Security Administration released
to the public English language translations of 2,900
decrypted intelligence cables between Moscow and its
outposts in the United States and other countries during
World War II. None of these released cables
was accompanied by the decrypted Russian language text
that NSA translators had worked from. Under the circumstances
- as historians were quick to note - it was impossible
for independent observers to verify the accuracy of any
of the released translations.
February 2004, Dr. Bruce Craig, director of the National Coalition
for History, a Washington, D.C. non-profit that serves as a
national voice for historians, filed a Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA) request to declassify the Russian language
text for one of the most controversial translations,
Venona Washington to Moscow No. 1822, a March 30, 1945
cable that discusses "ALES," a Russian agent
the NSA had in the mid-1990s announced was "probably" Alger
Hiss. The NSA denied Craig's request, saying that its Russian transcription
of 1822 was an integral part of a decoder's worksheet, release
of which would cause "exceptionally
grave damage to national security."
On October 27, 2005, however, at the biannual NSA-sponsored "Symposium
on Cryptologic History," a clean, typed copy of
the Russian text of Venona No. 1822 made from the decoder's
original worksheet (and omitting any annotations that
might have pointed to the actual decoding process) was
made public, as part of a speech by Dr. John Schindler,
a former NSA officer now at the Naval War College.
That Russian text is presented here,
along with a fresh, annotated translation of Venona No.
1822 by Dr. Svetlana Chervonnaya, a Moscow based Cold
War historian who is a long-time student of the Hiss case. To
see the retranslation, click here.
2002, Alexander Vassiliev, the co-author with Allen Weinstein
of "The Haunted Wood," sued John Lowenthal for
libel in London over an article Lowenthal had written for Intelligence
and National Security. The article accused the two
of shoddy research when they claimed that the Venona releases
proved that Alger Hiss was a spy.
make his case, Vassiliev brought to court a number of
KGB documents which were then called a "jury bundle."
After Lowenthal died in 2004, his brother, David, found
this jury bundle among his papers. One of the first documents
in the jury bundle to attract attention was a list put
together by Anatoly Gorsky, a Soviet official formerly
in the United States, of Americans he said had been Russian
agents between the years 1938 and 1945.
Among the people included in the list were Alger Hiss and
his brother, Donald.
version of Gorsky's List caused an uproar when it was
posted on the Internet in early 2005, with many claiming
it provides important new evidence against Hiss. On its
surface the list seemed devastating to Hiss’s claims
of innocence, but is the list all it is purported to be? A careful retranslation
and analysis of the list by Russian historian Dr. Svetlana Chervonnaya, an
expert in the history of espionage, raises many important questions about various
aspects of the list's accuracy and sourcing. At the very least, her examination
demonstrates that when it comes to Gorsky’s List there may be less than
meets the eye.
Dr. Chervonnaya has subsequently given the same careful
scrutiny to two other documents from the London jury
the so-called "Perlo List," a second, shorter, but again
problematical list of Americans said to have been Russian
agents (this list also mentions both Alger and Donald
Hiss and was compiled for Gorsky by Victor Perlo, a Marxist
economist and New Deal official); and
a previously unknown cable Gorsky sent to Moscow on March
5, 1945 that gives details about the Russian agent "Ales"
but is not part of the Venona archive of intercepted
Russian cables. The Gorsky cable was also posted on the
Internet in 2005 and has itself caused a furor, since
it offers new clues to "Ales"' identity.
("The Mystery of Ales," an essay co-authored by Kai Bird and Dr.
Chervonnaya that examines this cable in depth, has been published by The
American Scholar, and is available on-line at www.theamericanscholar.org)
three "jury bundle" documents were available
to Allen Weinstein when he was writing "The Haunted
Wood," but none of them received
a close examination or thorough presentation in that book,
even though on the surface they seemed to strengthen
the case against Alger Hiss. Click
here to begin reading "Anatoly Gorsky’s
Lessons, or In Search of a Path Through the Haunted Wood,"
overview of and introduction to our special three-part
presentation of the complete and annotated texts of these
three 1940s KGB documents that more than half a century
after they were written wound up as a jury bundle in
a London courtroom.
Say Hiss Was Not a Soviet Spy
1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the possibility
that the new, post-Communist Russian regime might open up
some of the Soviet intelligence files, former President Richard
M. Nixon and the director of his presidential library, John
H. Taylor, both wrote to the Russian historian General Dimitry
Antonovich Volkogonov, who had become President Yeltsin's
military advisor and the overseer of all the Soviet intelligence
archives, to request the release of any Soviet files on the
Hiss case. Nixon's and Taylor's letters to Volkogonov have
not been made available to researchers.
1992, Alger Hiss made a similar request to Volkogonov,
and also sent identical letters to several other Russian
In response to Hiss's request, Russian archivists and researchers
reviewed their files, and in the fall of 1992 reported back
- by letter, fax, or orally - that they had found no evidence
that Alger Hiss had ever been a member of the Communist
Party USA; and, similarly, that they had found no evidence
that he had ever been an agent for the KGB, for the GRU
(Soviet military intelligence), or for any other intelligence
agency of the Soviet Union.
letters and reports came from:
- the Archive of the Government of the Russian Federation
- the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (successor
agency to the KGB);
- the Russian Ministry of Security;
- the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
- the Russian Center for the for the Preservation and
Study of Documents of Modern History (which houses former
Central Party and Comintern archives);
- the Russian Ministry of Defense and State Military Archive.
read General Volkogonov's October 14, 1992 written report
about Alger Hiss, click here.
read a previously unpublished interview with Volkogonov about
Hiss, conducted in Washington, D.C. by John Lowenthal on November
11, 1992, after the written report had been issued click
high-ranking KGB veterans, including General Oleg Kalugin,
a former chief of the foreign intelligence department, have
also stated that Alger Hiss was not a Soviet spy. The published
memoirs, excerpted here, of General-Lieutenant
Vitaly Pavlov, who oversaw Soviet intelligence work
in North America in the late 1930s and early 1940s, include
comments about both Hiss and Harry Hopkins, one of President
Roosevelt's principal advisors.
State of Cold War Scholarship
and the FBI: A Look at the Originals
Alterman examines the level of scholarship of those who
say that Soviet files corroborate the espionage charges
leveled in the 1940s against Alger Hiss and others. Click
here to read his article from The Nation.
his appraisal of "The Secret World of American
Communism," journalist and Hiss case expert
William A. Reuben disputes claims that Soviet spies permeated
the American Communist Party. Click
here to read his review from Rights magazine.
Cold War historian, Amy Knight, argues that the new literature
on Soviet espionage is often less revealing than it appears.
Click here to read her
"The End of the Journey: From Whittaker Chambers
to George W. Bush," a 6,000-word essay that was
the cover story in the July 2, 2007 issue of The
New Republic, Sam Tanenhaus, the author of a well-received
biography of Whittaker Chambers, criticizes recent scholarship
indicating that Alger Hiss could not have been ALES.
In rebuttal, Jeff Kisseloff offers a detailed analysis
of the numerous innaccuracies in Tanenhaus's essay. Click
here to read Kisseloff's response.
see the Venona document that refers to "ALES,"
see the Venona document that refers to a State Department
official "by the name of Hiss," click
see a 1950 FBI report about Venona that may have been the
origin of the FBI's tentative identification of Alger Hiss
as "ALES," click here.
the FBI convinced that Alger Hiss was "ALES"?
To see a 1953 FBI investigative report indicating that the
Bureau was still searching for evidence, click
here. (This document was released to Alger Hiss
in the 1970s but did not make sense to researchers until
after the public release of the Venona papers.)
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