on the Hiss Case
1992, Russian historian General Dmitry A. Volkogonov searched
a full range of official Russian government repositories with
information about Soviet intelligence operations, including
KGB files, military intelligence - or GRU - files, and files
at the Presidential Archives, for any possible references
to Alger Hiss. This examination was conducted at Hiss's request.
Volkogonov reported, in a letter to Hiss's longtime associate,
John Lowenthal, that the files contained no information indicating
that Hiss had been a Soviet spy.
Volkogonov's statements brought angry protests from American
supporters of Whittaker Chambers and detractors of Hiss. In
response, Volkogonov acknowledged that he had not seen every
document in the archives he had reviewed, and could not guarantee
that every file was still intact. He said, however, that these
facts did not lead him to change his conclusions.
a subsequent (and previously unpublished) interview with Lowenthal
in Washington, D.C., Volkogonov reiterated his firm belief
that, had Hiss been a spy, he [Volkogonov] would have found
a reflection of that in the files he had studied.
Lowenthal: General, which archives did you examine on
the Alger Hiss case?
A. Volkogonov: When I was approached about the Alger Hiss
case, I tried to examine all the archives of the Foreign Intelligence
Department. This department used to be part of the KGB. I
was interested in the '30s and '40s, and with the kind permission
of the Chief of Russian Intelligence, Mr. Primakov [Yevgeny
Primakov was subsequently Prime Minister of Russia], I been
able to examine a large number of materials on intelligence
services in the '30s and '40s. I've had the assistance of
some of the staff of the Foreign Intelligence archive. And
as a result of this work, I have been able to determine that
Alger Hiss, according to those documents, had never been listed
as a paid or recruited agent for the Soviet Union.
And was he ever an unpaid agent?
I have been able to determine that Alger Hiss in his official
capacity did meet with Soviet officials, diplomats in New
York, at the United Nations and other places, but only in
his official capacity. In the files that I've seen, Alger
Hiss has never been listed as a paid agent of the intelligence
services of the Soviet Union.
But was he an unpaid agent? He was accused of being a volunteer
for ideology, not for money.
The Americans could think what they wanted about him, but
only could think what they wanted about him because he had
some contacts, but in the Soviet sources, the Soviet files
in the Soviet hierarchy, he wasn't listed as an agent, either
paid agent or an agent out of convictions.
Did you examine also the military intelligence GRU files?
Yes, we also asked to examine the military intelligence files
and there, too, no traces of Alger Hiss have been found. Sometimes
I'm told that I could look through not all of them, and naturally
I can't say that I've seen all existing documents, but the
intelligence documents pertaining to agents, personnel matters
I did see. And it is also possible that he had some regular
working information in the course of normal contacts he might
have said something, but it was not intelligence information.
It's like simply when two representatives of different states
meet and conduct normal business. You also had McCarthy times
and witch-hunt times, and I know that this could happen.
Did you see the Presidential archives?
Yes, I also work in the Presidential archive. I have looked
at many documents there. I have not finished yet, but I have
found no mention of Alger Hiss in those documents either.
In your opinion, if Alger Hiss had been a spy, would you have
found some documents saying that?
Positively, if he was a spy then I believe positively
I would have found a reflection in various files. I know this
from numerous documents and on many spies, many agents I have
been able to see documents.
What is the condition of the files from the 1930s? How do
we know nothing was destroyed or removed on Alger Hiss?
These documents are in the process of being opened to the
general public. And naturally I can not give a one hundred
percent guarantee that something wasn't destroyed, but as
far as I know during the putsch [the 1991 attempt by hard-line
communists to wrest power from Mikhail Gorbachev] these documents
were not touched.
When the case broke publicly in 1948, would the Soviets
have opened a file on the case, and did you find any from
1948, '49, and '50? [This question was misunderstood by the
interpreter and therefore mistranslated, to mean opening an
already existing file on the case, whereas the question was
intended to mean opening, in the sense of starting, a new
file. The interview was terminated before the matter could
be cleared up.]
No, these documents couldn't be opened. Even two years ago,
it only happened after the putsch after August 1991. Before
August 1991 there was no chance to look at those documents.
For example, when I was working on a book about Trotsky and
had to find documents from 1940 related to Trotsky's murder,
I had to exert fantastic efforts to obtain some documents
and, only thanks to my name, to the fact that many people
knew me, I managed to obtain something. But that required
Georgi Arbatov explained to me that the Soviets would not
have opened a file in 1948, he believes because the case was
of no interest to them but was risky for anybody to comment
during Stalin's years. The Soviets told me that in 1948 the
Soviets would not have opened the archives in any case because
it would have been risky in the Stalin times, not because
it was not useful but because it was risky in the Stalin times
to talk about it.
I believe that the person who would even raise the question
that he needs to not even open, but simply look at this document
in the archive, would be considered a spy, an enemy and he
would be shot. If he were even to think about trying and doing
it, it would cost him his life. In these times in our country,
a person could be imprisoned for having an accidental occasional
contact with an American. It was enough to be thrown into
the camp. Therefore I would say again in conclusion that Alger
Hiss was apparently a victim of the Cold War and may God help
us that those times never come back.
Thank you very much.
here to see Volkogonov's original letter to Lowenthal.
to Venona and the Russian Files