Edited by Gerald Boerner
Following the end of World War II, attention was focused on the Nuremburg War Crime Trials and the rebuilding of Europe. The clouds of the Cold War fell upon Eastern Europe with the establishment of the so-called “Iron Curtain.” In this country, this was associated with the search for communist spies embedded in the governmental bureaucracy; this created a fear of espionage by these spies forwarding our defense plans to our Cold War opponents, the U.S.S.R.
Within Congress, two separate investigative bodies emerged to study espionage within the Executive Branch. The Senate established the Senate Committee on Government Operations under the leadership of Joseph McCarthy, His vigorous search for communists was branded “McCarthyism”. In the House, on the other hand, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) which was much less over-zealous. HUAC would continue into the 1960s.
Alger Hiss was a featured case that was held out as an example of a spy within the State Department. The investigation lasted so long that the Statute of Limitations had run out and Hiss was finally convicted on perjury charges. After he served his sentence in prison, evidence was found defining possible governmental misconduct in the case.
The exploration is again afoot; let’s proceed with our adventure… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 3995 Words ]
Quotations Related to ESPIONAGE:
“McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.”
— Joseph R. McCarthy
“I’m sort of fascinated by the whole espionage crime thing.”
— Aaron Eckhart
“I am amazed; until the day I die I shall wonder how Whittaker Chambers got into my house to use my typewriter.”
— Alger Hiss
“In the future the way that Whittaker Chambers was able to carry out forgery by typewriter will be disclosed.”
— Alger Hiss
“I found that our Soviet espionage efforts had virtually never, or had very seldom, produced any worthwhile political or economic intelligence on the Soviet Union.”
— Aldrich Ames
“My name is E. Howard Hunt. I’m currently retired from more than 22 years in the profession of espionage.”
— E. Howard Hunt
“Let’s say a Soviet exchange student back in the ’70s would go back and tell the KGB about people and places and things that he’d seen and done and been involved with. This is not really espionage; there’s no betrayal of trust.”
— Aldrich Ames
“It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used.”
— Sun Tzu
Alger Hiss: HUAC Seeks Spies in the State Department
Alger Hiss (1904 – 1996) was an American lawyer, government official, author, and lecturer. He was involved in the establishment of the United Nations both as a U.S. State Department and UN official. Hiss was accused of being a Soviet spy in 1948 and convicted of perjury in connection with this charge in 1950.
On August 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist Party member, testified under subpoena before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that Hiss had secretly been a communist while in federal service, contradicting his prior testimony under oath that Hiss had never been a communist. Called before HUAC, Hiss categorically denied the charge. When Chambers repeated his claim on nationwide radio, Hiss filed a defamation lawsuit against him.
During the pretrial discovery process, Chambers produced new evidence indicating that he and Hiss had been involved in espionage, although both men had previously denied this under oath to HUAC. A federal grand jury indicted Hiss on two counts of perjury; Chambers admitted to the same offense, but, as a cooperating government witness, was never charged. Although Hiss’s indictment stemmed from the alleged espionage, he could not be tried for that crime because the statute of limitations had expired. After a mistrial due to a hung jury, Hiss was tried a second time. In January 1950, he was found guilty on both counts of perjury and received two concurrent five-year sentences, of which he eventually served 44 months.
Arguments about the case and the validity of the verdict took center stage in broader debates about the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the extent of Soviet espionage in the United States. Since his conviction, statements by involved parties and newly exposed evidence have added to the dispute. Although the New York Times identified a "growing consensus that Hiss, indeed, had most likely been a Soviet agent," in 1993 historian David Halberstam wrote, "Many other important files remained closed, including Soviet records, and ironically—even though the House Un-American Activities committee is long defunct—HUAC’s own documents. These were sealed in 1976 for an additional fifty years. Until we have full access, the Hiss controversy will continue to be debated."
Early Career of Alger Hiss
In 1933, Hiss became an attorney for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, first briefly on the staff of the Justice Department and then as a temporary assistant on the Nye Committee, investigating cost overruns and alleged profiteering by military contractors during World War I. During this period, Hiss was also a member of the liberal legal team headed by Jerome Frank that defended the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) against challenges to its legitimacy. Because of intense opposition from agribusiness in Arkansas, Frank and his left-wing assistants, who included future labor lawyer Lee Pressman, were in fired 1935 in what came to be known as "the purge of liberals". Hiss was not fired. Allegations that during this period Hiss was connected with radicals on the Department of Agriculture’s legal team were to be the source of Hiss’s future misfortunes.
In 1936, Alger Hiss and his younger brother Donald Hiss began working under Cordell Hull in the United States Department of State. Alger was an assistant to Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Sayre (son-in-law of Woodrow Wilson) and then special assistant to the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs. In 1944, as Special Assistant to the Director of the OSPA (Office of Special Political Affairs), a policy-making entity devoted to planning for post-war international organizations, Hiss served as Executive Secretary of the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, which drew up plans for the future United Nations. In November 1944, Hull, whose project the United Nations largely was, retired as Secretary of State due to poor health and was succeeded by Undersecretary of State Edward Stettinius.
In February 1945, as a member of the U.S. delegation and assistant to Stettinius, Hiss attended the Yalta Conference, where the Big Three, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill met to coordinate strategy to defeat Hitler and consolidate their alliance to forestall any possibility, now that the Soviets had entered German territory, of any of them making a separate peace with Nazi Germany. Negotiations addressed the postwar division of Europe and configuration of its borders; reparations and de-Nazification; and the still unfinished plans, carried over from Dumbarton Oaks, for the United Nations. Hiss, whose work at Yalta was limited to the United Nations, drafted a memorandum arguing against Stalin’s proposal (made at Dumbarton Oaks) to give one vote to each of the 16 Soviet Republics in the UN General Assembly. Fearing isolation, Stalin hoped thus to counterbalance the votes of the many countries of the British Empire, whom he anticipated would vote with Britain, and those of Latin America, who could be expected to vote in lockstep with the United States. In the final compromise offered by Roosevelt and Stettinius and accepted by Stalin the Soviets obtained three votes: one each for the Soviet Union itself, the Ukrainian SSR, and the Byelorussian SSR.
Hiss served as Secretary-General of the San Francisco United Nations Conference on International Organization (the United Nations Charter Conference), which began on April 25, 1945, and then he became the full Director of the OSPA. The following year, he left government service to become president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, serving until May 5, 1949, when forced to step down.
Accusation of Espionage
On August 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist Party member who had become fervently anti-Communist, appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to denounce Alger Hiss. A Senior Editor at Time magazine who had written editorials scathingly critical of the Yalta agreements. Chambers asserted that he had known Hiss as a member of a "Marxist discussion group" that he said was "an underground organization of the United States Communist Party" in the 1930s. The group, which Chambers called the "Ware Group", had been run by the late agriculturalist Harold Ware, an American Communist intent on organizing black and white tenant farmers in the American South against exploitation and debt peonage by the cotton industry (Ware had died in 1935). According to Chambers, the aim of the group had been the promotion of unspecified communistic policies in the U.S. government. In this initial testimony, Chambers made no mention of espionage.
Chambers gave varying dates for his own break with Communism; this was to prove an important point in his subsequent accusations against Hiss. For nine years, between September 1, 1939, and November 17, 1948, he claimed to have quit the Party in 1937. The 1938 Party-leaving date only emerged on November 17, 1948, when Chambers produced copies of State Department documents that he claimed Hiss had given him; the documents were dated 1938. Rumors had circulated about Hiss since 1939, when Chambers went to Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle, Jr. and accused Hiss of having formerly belonged to an underground Communist cell at the Department of Agriculture. In 1942, Chambers repeated this allegation to the FBI. In 1945 two other sources appeared to implicate Hiss: Elizabeth Bentley, an American woman who said she had been a courier between Communist groups, told the FBI that a State Department employee, whom she identified as "Eugene Hiss", had belonged to an underground Communist group. The same year, a Belorussian code clerk named Igor Gouzenko defected from the Soviet Union to Canada. Gouzenko reported that an unnamed assistant (or more precisely an "assistant to an assistant") to U.S. Secretary of State Stettinius was a Soviet agent. In both cases, the FBI decided that Alger Hiss was the likely match.
In response to Chambers’s accusations, Hiss protested his innocence and insisted on appearing before HUAC to clear himself. Testifying on August 5, 1948, he denied having ever been a Communist or having personally met Chambers. Under fire from President Truman and the press, the Committee was reluctant to proceed with its investigation against so eminent a man. Committee member, Richard Nixon, however, a Congressman from California, professed to find Hiss’s demeanor "condescending" and "insulting in the extreme" and wanted to press on. Nixon had received secret information about the FBI’s suspicions from John Francis Cronin, a Roman Catholic priest who had infiltrated labor unions in Baltimore during WW II to report on Communist activities and had been given access to FBI files. With some reluctance, the Committee voted to make Nixon chair of a subcommittee that would seek to determine who was lying, Hiss or Chambers, at least on the question of whether they knew one another.
Shown a photograph of Chambers, Hiss conceded that the face "might look familiar" and asked to see Chambers in person. Confronted with him in person in a hotel elevator with HUAC representatives present, Hiss admitted that he had indeed known Chambers, but under the name "George Crosley", a man who represented himself as a freelance writer. Hiss said that in the mid-1930s he had sublet his apartment to this "Crosley" and had given him an old car. Chambers, for his part, denied ever having used the alias Crosley, though it later came out that he had published poetry under that name. When Hiss and Chambers both appeared before a HUAC subcommittee on August 17, 1948, they had the following exchange:
HISS. Did you ever go under the name of George Crosley?
CHAMBERS. Not to my knowledge.
HISS. Did you ever sublet an apartment on Twenty-ninth Street from me?
CHAMBERS. No; I did not.
HISS. You did not?
HISS. Did you ever spend any time with your wife and child in an apartment on Twenty-ninth Street in Washington when I was not there because I and my family were living on P Street?
CHAMBERS. I most certainly did.
HISS. You did or did not?
CHAMBERS. I did.
HISS. Would you tell me how you reconcile your negative answers with this affirmative answer?
CHAMBERS. Very easily, Alger. I was a Communist and you were a Communist.
Chambers’s statements, made in a congressional hearing, were privileged against defamation suits, Hiss thereupon challenged him to repeat them without benefit of such protection. When, on the national radio program Meet the Press, Chambers publicly called Hiss a Communist, Hiss instituted a libel lawsuit against him.
Chambers retaliated by claiming Hiss was not merely a Communist but also a spy, a charge he had not made earlier; and, on November 17, 1948, he produced, to support his explosive allegations, physical evidence consisting of sixty-five pages of re-typed State Department documents, plus four in Hiss’s own handwriting of copied State Department cables. These became known as the "Baltimore Documents." He claimed Hiss had given them to him in 1938 and that Priscilla had retyped them on the Hiss’s Woodstock typewriter to pass along to the Soviets. In their previous testimony, both Chambers and Hiss had denied having committed espionage. By introducing the Baltimore documents, Chambers admitted he had previously lied, opening both Hiss and himself to perjury charges.
On December 2, 1948, Chambers produced the "pumpkin papers", five rolls of 35 mm film, two of which contained State Department documents. Chambers stated he had hidden the film in a hollowed-out pumpkin on his Maryland farm the previous day.
Perjury Trials and Conviction
The grand jury charged Hiss was charged with two counts of perjury—it did not indict him for espionage since the statute of limitations had run out. Chambers was never charged with a crime. Hiss went to trial twice. The first trial started on May 31, 1949, and ended in a hung jury on July 7. Chambers was forced to admit on the witness stand that he had previously committed perjury several times while he was under oath. Chambers also was forced to admit that he needed to change key dates when confronted with contradictions in his story. Hiss’s character witnesses at his first trial included such notables as future Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, and former Democratic presidential candidate John W. Davis. President Truman famously called the trial, "a red herring" The second trial, under a new judge, lasted from November 17, 1949, to January 21, 1950.
At both trials, a key to the prosecution case was testimony from expert witnesses stating that identifying characteristics of the typed Baltimore documents matched samples typed on a typewriter owned by the Hisses at the time of his alleged espionage work with Chambers. The prosecution also presented as evidence the typewriter itself. Given away years earlier; it had been located by defense investigators.
In the second trial, Hede Massing, an Austrian-born confessed Soviet spy who was being threatened with deportation, and whom the first judge had not permitted to testify, provided some slight corroboration of Chambers’s story. She recounted meeting Hiss at a party in 1935, and recalled that they had spoken obliquely about their Communist activities. This time the jury found Hiss guilty by an eight-to-four vote on both perjury counts. "That, according to one of Hiss’s friends and lawyers, Helen Buttenweiser, was the only time that she had ever seen Alger shocked – stunned by the fact that eight of his fellow citizens did not believe him." According to Anthony Summers, "Hiss spoke only two sentences in court after he had been found guilty. The first was to thank the judge. The second was to assert that one day in the future it would be disclosed how forgery by typewriter had been committed." On January 25, 1950, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment.
At a subsequent press conference, Secretary of State Dean Acheson reacted emotionally, affirming, "I do not intend to turn my back on Alger Hiss”; Acheson quoted Jesus in the Bible: “I was a Stranger and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick and ye visited me, I was in prison and ye came unto me." Acheson’s remarks enraged Nixon, who accused him of blasphemy." The verdict was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (case citation 185 F.2d 822) and the Supreme Court of the United States denied a writ of certiorari (340 U.S. 948). Hiss served 44 months at the Lewisburg Federal Prison and was released on November 27, 1954. While in prison, Hiss acted as a voluntary attorney, advisor, and tutor for many of his fellow inmates.
The case heightened public concern about Soviet espionage penetration of the U.S. government in the 1930s and 1940s. As a well-educated, and highly connected government official from an old American family, Alger Hiss did not fit the profile of a typical spy. Publicity surrounding the case thrust Richard M. Nixon into the public spotlight, helping him move from the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate in 1950, and to the vice presidency of the United States in 1952. Senator Joseph McCarthy made his famous Wheeling, West Virginia, speech two weeks after the Hiss verdict, launching his career as the nation’s most visible anti-communist.
Evidence of Government Misconduct
Based on the documents released by the Justice Department in 1976, the Hiss defense filed a petition in federal court in July 1978 for a writ of coram nobis, asking that the guilty verdict be overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct.
The petition was denied by a federal judge in 1982, and in 1983 the U.S. Supreme court declined to hear the suit. In the writ, Hiss’s attorneys argued the following points:
- The FBI illegally withheld important evidence from the Hiss defense team, specifically that typewritten documents could be forged. Unknown to the defense, military intelligence operatives in World War II, a decade before the trials, "could reproduce faultlessly the imprint of any typewriter on earth."
- With regard to the Woodstock No. 230099 typewriter introduced as Exhibit #UUU by the defense at the trial, the FBI knew there was an inconsistency between its serial number and the manufacture date of Hiss’s machine but illegally withheld this information from Hiss.
- That the FBI had an informer on the Hiss defense team, a private detective named Horace W. Schmahl. Hired by the Hiss defense team, Schmahl reported on the Hiss defense strategy to the government.
- That the FBI had conducted illegal surveillance of Hiss before and during the trials, including phone taps and mail openings. Also that the prosecution had withheld from Hiss and his lawyers the records of this surveillance, none of which provided any evidence that Hiss was a spy or a Communist.
In 1982, Judge Owen denied Hiss’s coram nobis petition just as Judge Goddard had denied Hiss’s motion for a new trial thirty years earlier. In his ruling, Judge Owen quoted in full two points made earlier by Judge Goddard: (1) "…there is not a trace of any evidence that Chambers had the mechanical skills, tools, equipment or material for such a difficult task [as typewriter forgery]." In addition, (2) "If Chambers had constructed a duplicate machine how would he have known where to plant it so that it would be found by Hiss?"
According to Salant, who had been studying the Hiss case since the early 1960s and whose requests under the Freedom of Information act had made known to the public the contents of the "pumpkin papers", Schmahl was not an FBI plant as Hiss and his lawyers had believed, but a trained Army "spy-catcher" (as they called themselves) — a special agent in the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC). At the Military Intelligence Training Center, CIC students like Schmahl were taught the rudiments of forgery and its detection, the matching of typed samples to the typewriter that produced them, etc. During the 1940s, domestic surveillance of civilians like Hiss by the CIC was extensive but so covert that it usually escaped notice. Undercover CIC agents who were detected were often mistaken for FBI agents, since only the Bureau was authorized to investigate civilians. Domestic surveillance by the Army may be relevant to the case against Hiss. For example, Franklin Vincent Reno, employed as a civilian at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, passed Whittaker Chambers information about Army weapons shortly after Army counterintelligence began monitoring Reno as a suspected communist subversive. It is not known whether this led Army counterintelligence to monitor Chambers’ other associates, but by the time Hiss presided over the UN Charter Conference as its secretary general, more than a hundred undercover CIC agents were in attendance.
Unlike Whittaker Chambers (or the FBI), Army Military Intelligence had extensive experience in forging typed documents, since every agent behind enemy lines during World War II required phony documentation to support his cover story. Moreover, with its special agent initiating the search for Hiss’s typewriter while disguised as Chief Investigator for the Hiss defense, Military Intelligence was well positioned to plant forged evidence in the right location without arousing suspicion. Thus the two reasons given by the judges for disregarding the forensic evidence of forgery assembled in the motion for a new trial, while applicable to Chambers, certainly do not apply to Military Intelligence. In the future, some of the misconduct previously attributed to the FBI by Hiss and his defenders may turn out to have been the work of Army counterintelligence.
Please take time to further explore more about ALGER HISS, HOUSE
UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES COMMITTEE, JOSEPH MCCARTHY, and
the COLD WAR by accessing the Wikipedia
articles referenced below…
Other Events on this Day:
The first novel by an American writer published in America, The Power of Sympathy by William Hill Brown, is printed in Boston.
King Louis XVI of France is guillotined in the Place de la Révolution in Paris after being sentenced to death by the National Convention for high treason and crimes against the state.
Former State Department official Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury regarding allegations that he was a spy for the Soviet Union.
The first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, is launched at Groton, Connecticut.
On his second day in office, President Jimmy Carter pardons hundreds of thousands of Americans who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War by traveling abroad or not registering. Carter’s unconditional pardon fulfills a controversial campaign promise made to end the divisiveness in American society brought about by the war.
The Pittsburgh Steelers become the first NFL team to win three Super Bowls, beating the Dallas Cowboys 35-31 for the Super Bowl XIII victory at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw is named most valuable player.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Alger Hiss…
Wikipedia: House Un-American Activities Committee…
Wikipedia: Joseph McCarthy…
Wikipedia: Cold War…
Brainy Quote: ESPIONAGE Quotes…
Other Posts on related Topics:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Gen. Benedict Arnold — Betrays America During the Revolution…