In August 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a formerCommunist appearing before the House Un-AmericanActivities Committee (HUAC), charged that AlgerHiss, was a Communist spy. Chambers claimed thathe and Hiss had belonged to the same espionagegroup and that Hiss had given him secret StateDepartment documents. This group was a network ofAmerican spies recruited by the Soviet Union tocollect useful information for Moscow. Alger Hisswas a Harvard-educated lawyer and a distinguishedWashington figure. He had been responsible affairsfor the State Department and had played asignificant role in the planning for anddevelopment of the United Nations.
Hiss’s accuserseemed to be his opposite Whittaker Chambers camefrom an unconventional middle-class WASP family.His father went during a difficult marriage tolive with a man, and his alcoholic brother killedhimself at 22.He attended Columbia in the early1920s, winning a reputation as a brilliant writer.Whittaker Chambers, a senior editor of Timemagazine and an ex-Communist, appeared as awitness before HUAC. Chambers testified that inthe 1930’s he had been attached as a messenger toa Communist organization formed in Washington,D.
C. The group had been organized by Harold Ware,a well-known Communist, and its members includedeight government officials. Chambers confessedthat espionage had been one of the Ware Group’s”eventual objectives” and identified its members.
One of them was Alger Hiss, a former AssistantSecretary of State. His also had control over thefounding conference of the United Nations in 1945and in February 1947 had left the government toassume the presidency of the Carnegie Endowmentfor International Peace. Alger Hiss emphaticallydenied the allegations of Chambers’s.From thatmoment forward, the Hiss defense has rested on theargument that Hiss was a far more crediblewitness. Hiss also referred to Chambers as a”psychopathic liar.” A Federal grand jury summonedboth Chambers and Hiss in September 1948. Hisssued Chambers for slander. In November, Chambershanded over 65 typed pages of State Departmentdocuments, four pages of word-for-word copies ofits cables in Hiss’ handwriting, plus two stripsof developed and three cylinders of undevelopedmicrofilm.
The HUAC then accused Hiss of perjuryin denying that he had conveyed documents toChambers. The statute of limitations had expiredon charging Hiss of spying.In the first trial,Hiss lawyer got a hung jury by attacking Chamberspersonally and presenting his client as a symbolof the New Deal. In this trial, only Chambers andhis wife testified against Hiss. In the secondtrial, Hiss’ new lawyer based his strategy onunsupported claims that the documents had beenstolen by Chambers or by Julian Wadleigh, anothermember of the Ware Group. However, Chambers’s hadanother witness, Hede Massing, a former Sovietespionage controller. The judge at the earliertrial had barred her from testifying because shehad no firsthand knowledge of the Hiss-Chambersconnection.
The second judge let her tell thecourt that in 1935 she and Hiss had argued overwhether Noel Field, a spy at the State Department,would work for her spying organization or his.Inaddition, the typewriting of the documents wouldprove to be important to the case. The Hisses hadowned a Woodstock, a brand of typewriter. In acomparison of copies of letters typed in the 1930sby the Hisses on their Woodstock, the Departmentof State indicated that the documents came fromthe same machine. Alger Hiss was convicted,serving 40 months of a five-year sentence. Fromarchives in the Czech Republic, previouslyunavailable documents that further confirm thatAlger Hiss was a Soviet agent have been secured.These files concern Noel Field, a NKVD (later KGB)agent who served with Hiss at the State Departmentprior to World War II. Noel Field and his wifewere friends of Alger and his wife Priscilla.
Thetwo families had a friendly relationship with oneanother. Noel made little secret of his pro-Sovietalignment after leaving Washington for a League ofNations post in 1936. After the war, he fled toEastern Europe. During Stalin’s purge trials,Field was arrested in 1949. He was transportedfrom Czechoslovakia to Hungary being accused ofhaving been a spy for the U.S. During his 1949questioning, Field named Hiss as a Soviet agent.In a summary of the 1949 interrogation which wasclassified after Field’s release from prison, itsays that both the Hungarians and the Czechs hadcome to accept that Field and Hiss had both beenSoviet agents.
In his testimony, Noel Fieldasserted that he was on friendly terms with Hisswhen he worked in the Department of State, andthat Hiss did intelligence work on behalf of theUSSR. He also claimed to know this based onconversations with him and that Hiss alsoattempted to recruit him. However, at that timeNoel Field was already working for Sovietintelligence. The following is an actual statementby Field while being questioned in prison. We[Field and his wife] made friends with AlgerHiss–an official of the “New Deal” brought aboutby Roosevelt–and his wife. After a couple ofmeetings we mutually realized we were Communists.Around the summer of 1935 Alger Hiss tried toinduce me to do service for the Soviets.
I wasindiscreet enough to tell him he had come toolate. Naturally I did not say a word about theMassings. The Hungarian classified index alsoincludes letters to Field from Hiss.
Furthermore,evidence supports the claims of Hedda Massing, aSoviet intelligence officer in the 1930s. In AlgerHiss’s perjury trial, Massing testified that Hisshad tried to recruit Field into his own ring.Massing said she and Hiss had even got into a fistfight on one occasion over which of them would getField. Massing told the jury that Hiss wantedField in his own espionage organization.
However,Field was already working for Moscow underMassing’s supervision. At his trial, Hiss deniedthe conversation, along with any memory of everhaving met Massing. Hiss also denied knowing thatField, his friend, was a Communist.
Anotherdocument that was found emphasizes the fear ofreturning to the U.S. Noel Field had. This fear,according to the document, was triggered byconcern that he himself would be called to testifyin the Hiss trial, and that his name would bedestroyed.In addition, he felt this would hurthis writing career. The evidence is a handwrittenstatement by Herman Field, Noel’s brother.
HermanField prepared it during his 1949 interrogation bythe Polish secret police. Other evidence includesNoels reaction to the testimony of Chambers. Hesaid, “My first reaction was to explode with asaudible a yell as I could produce from thesedistant lands. .. .
I am only too aware of thefact that my publishing aims–whether inperiodicals or book form–have hardly beenadvanced by the type of publicity my name hasgotten.” A March 30, 1945, a NKVD message wasintercepted by the U.S. government. Thecommunication was between Soviet agents in Americaand Moscow.
The US governments reported that thetwo agents were NKVD officers Ishkak Akhmerov andan agent code-named “Ales.” “Ales” was describedas having worked for Soviet military intelligencesince 1935. Chambers, of course, testified thatHiss had served the GRU (military intelligence)beginning in 1935.”Ales, was also the leader of asmall espionage group that included his familymembers. Chambers had identified Hiss’s wife andbrother as members of Alger’s organization.
“Ales”according to others worked at the StateDepartment, attended the Yalta conference and wenton to Moscow from Yalta. Hiss, a member of theYalta delegation, was one of just four StateDepartment officials who traveled from Yalta toMoscow. Neither of the three others, ever hadtheir loyalty to the U.S. questioned.All of thisevidence seems to point out that “Ales” was indeedAlger Hiss.
There has been other evidence thatthere were government officials that tried tosuppress evidence to avoid the Hiss scandal. Daysafter the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact,Chambers, accompanied by journalist Isaac DonLevine, gave Assistant Secretary of State A.A.Berle a full account of the espionage group inWashington, which included Hiss. Berle had takenthis information to Roosevelt, who told him toperform an investigation. In frustration, Berlepassed on to the FBI his full notes, headed”Underground Espionage Agent.” However, when thegreat controversy about the Hiss case was raging,Berle testified under oath that Chambers merelyhad mentioned a “Marxist study group.” Inaddition, Berle has said privately that classifiedmaterial that Hiss was handling was reaching theRussians.
This seems the most damaging piece ofinformation against Hiss.Berle was not the onlyone to have knowledge of Hiss’ participation in aSoviet spy ring. On May 17, 1935, U.S. AmbassadorWilliam C. Bullitt was in Warsaw to attend thefuneral of Marshal Jozsef Pilsudski. While there,he gave confidential assurances to the Polishgovernment that the United States would supportPoland if they resisted Nazi aggression to thepoint of war. Bullitt then formally reported tothe State Department that he had made theseassurances.
At this time, Hiss was in thedepartment. Hiss passed on this highly classifiedinformation to the NKVD. The Soviet secret police,which maintained relationship with Germanintelligence, transmitted the information to theNazis. It was used by Joseph Goebbels of Germanyto depict Roosevelt and the entire United Statesas supporter of war. In 1938, as U.S. Ambassadorto France, Bullitt was told by Premier EdourdDaladier that Alger Hiss, a government official,was a Soviet agent.
Later in 1940, Bullitt was ona call with Stanley Hornbeck, chief of the StateDepartment’s division of Far Eastern Affairs.Bullitt testified that Hornbeck was interrupted byAlger Hiss. He then informed Hornbeck of whatDaladier had told him and urged an investigation.
There was no investigation, and Hornbeck swore onthe witness stand during Hiss trial that he hadnever heard anything to challenge Hiss’reputation. Alger Hiss died on November 15, 1996,at the age of 92. Although Hiss insisted upon thefact that he was innocent, the majority ofevidence does indeed confirm that Alger Hiss wasguilty.