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In August 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), charged that Alger Hiss, was a Communist spy. Chambers claimed that he and Hiss had belonged to the same espionage group and that Hiss had given him secret State Department documents. This group was a network of American spies recruited by the Soviet Union to collect useful information for Moscow. Alger Hiss was a Harvard-educated lawyer and a distinguished Washington figure. He had been responsible affairs for the State Department and had played a significant role in the planning for and development of the United Nations. Hiss's accuser seemed to be his opposite Whittaker Chambers came from an unconventional middle-class WASP family.
His father went during a difficult marriage to live with a man, and his alcoholic brother killed himself at 22. He attended Columbia in the early 1920 s, winning a reputation as a brilliant writer. Whittaker Chambers, a senior editor of Time magazine and an ex-Communist, appeared as a witness before HUAC. Chambers testified that in the 1930 's he had been attached as a messenger to a Communist organization formed in Washington, D.
C. The group had been organized by Harold Ware, a well-known Communist, and its members included eight government officials. Chambers confessed that espionage had been one of the Ware Group's "eventual objectives" and identified its members. One of them was Alger Hiss, a former Assistant Secretary of State. His also had control over the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945 and in February 1947 had left the government to assume the presidency of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Alger Hiss emphatically denied the allegations of Chambers's.
From that moment forward, the Hiss defense has rested on the argument that Hiss was a far more credible witness. Hiss also referred to Chambers as a "psychopathic liar. " A Federal grand jury summoned both Chambers and Hiss in September 1948. Hiss sued Chambers for slander. In November, Chambers handed over 65 typed pages of State Department documents, four pages of word-for-word copies of its cables in Hiss' handwriting, plus two strips of developed and three cylinders of undeveloped microfilm. The HUAC then accused Hiss of perjury in denying that he had conveyed documents to Chambers.
The statute of limitations had expired on charging Hiss of spying. In the first trial, Hiss lawyer got a hung jury by attacking Chambers personally and presenting his client as a symbol of the New Deal. In this trial, only Chambers and his wife testified against Hiss. In the second trial, Hiss' new lawyer based his strategy on unsupported claims that the documents had been stolen by Chambers or by Julian Wadleigh, another member of the Ware Group. However, Chambers's had another witness, Here Massing, a former Soviet espionage controller.
The judge at the earlier trial had barred her from testifying because she had no firsthand knowledge of the Hiss-Chambers connection. The second judge let her tell the court that in 1935 she and Hiss had argued over whether Noel Field, a spy at the State Department, would work for her spying organization or his. In addition, the typewriting of the documents would prove to be important to the case. The Hisses had owned a Woodstock, a brand of typewriter. In a comparison of copies of letters typed in the 1930 s by the Hisses on their Woodstock, the Department of State indicated that the documents came from the same machine. Alger Hiss was convicted, serving 40 months of a five-year sentence.
From archives in the Czech Republic, previously unavailable documents that further confirm that Alger 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 Department prior to World War II. Noel Field and his wife were friends of Alger and his wife Priscilla. The two families had a friendly relationship with one another. Noel made little secret of his pro-Soviet alignment after leaving Washington for a League of Nations post in 1936. After the war, he fled to Eastern Europe.
During Stalin's purge trials, Field was arrested in 1949. He was transported from Czechoslovakia to Hungary being accused of having been a spy for the U. S. During his 1949 questioning, Field named Hiss as a Soviet agent.
In a summary of the 1949 interrogation which was classified after Field's release from prison, it says that both the Hungarians and the Czechs had come to accept that Field and Hiss had both been Soviet agents. In his testimony, Noel Field asserted that he was on friendly terms with Hiss when he worked in the Department of State, and that Hiss did intelligence work on behalf of the USSR. He also claimed to know this based on conversations with him and that Hiss also attempted to recruit him. However, at that time Noel Field was already working for Soviet intelligence. The following is an actual statement by Field while being questioned in prison.
We [Field and his wife] made friends with Alger Hiss -- an official of the "New Deal" brought about by Roosevelt -- and his wife. After a couple of meetings we mutually realized we were Communists. Around the summer of 1935 Alger Hiss tried to induce me to do service for the Soviets. I was indiscreet enough to tell him he had come too late. Naturally I did not say a word about the Massing's. The Hungarian classified index also includes letters to Field from Hiss.
Furthermore, evidence supports the claims of Hedda Massing, a Soviet intelligence officer in the 1930 s. In Alger Hiss's perjury trial, Massing testified that Hiss had tried to recruit Field into his own ring. Massing said she and Hiss had even got into a fist fight on one occasion over which of them would get Field. Massing told the jury that Hiss wanted Field in his own espionage organization.
However, Field was already working for Moscow under Massing's supervision. At his trial, Hiss denied the conversation, along with any memory of ever having met Massing. Hiss also denied knowing that Field, his friend, was a Communist. Another document that was found emphasizes the fear of returning to the U. S. Noel Field had.
This fear, according to the document, was triggered by concern that he himself would be called to testify in the Hiss trial, and that his name would be destroyed. In addition, he felt this would hurt his writing career. The evidence is a handwritten statement by Herman Field, Noel's brother. Herman Field prepared it during his 1949 interrogation by the Polish secret police. Other evidence includes Noels reaction to the testimony of Chambers. He said, "My first reaction was to explode with as audible a yell as I could produce from these distant lands...
I am only too aware of the fact that my publishing aims -- whether in periodicals or book form -- have hardly been advanced by the type of publicity my name has gotten. " A March 30, 1945, a NKVD message was intercepted by the U. S. government. The communication was between Soviet agents in America and Moscow. The US governments reported that the two agents were NKVD officers Ishkak Akhmerov and an agent code-named "Ales. "Ales" was described as having worked for Soviet military intelligence since 1935. Chambers, of course, testified that Hiss had served the GRU (military intelligence) beginning in 1935. "Ales, was also the leader of a small espionage group that included his family members.
Chambers had identified Hiss's wife and brother as members of Alger's organization. "Ales" according to others worked at the State Department, attended the Yalta conference and went on to Moscow from Yalta. Hiss, a member of the Yalta delegation, was one of just four State Department officials who traveled from Yalta to Moscow. Neither of the three others, ever had their loyalty to the U. S. questioned. All of this evidence seems to point out that "Ales" was indeed Alger Hiss.
There has been other evidence that there were government officials that tried to suppress evidence to avoid the Hiss scandal. Days after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Chambers, accompanied by journalist Isaac Don Levine, gave Assistant Secretary of State A. A. Berle a full account of the espionage group in Washington, which included Hiss. Berle had taken this information to Roosevelt, who told him to perform an investigation. In frustration, Berle passed on to the FBI his full notes, headed "Underground Espionage Agent. " However, when the great controversy about the Hiss case was raging, Berle testified under oath that Chambers merely had mentioned a "Marxist study group. " In addition, Berle has said privately that classified material that Hiss was handling was reaching the Russians.
This seems the most damaging piece of information against Hiss. Berle was not the only one to have knowledge of Hiss' participation in a Soviet spy ring. On May 17, 1935, U. S. Ambassador William C. Bullitt was in Warsaw to attend the funeral of Marshal Jose Pilsudski.
While there, he gave confidential assurances to the Polish government that the United States would support Poland if they resisted Nazi aggression to the point of war. Bullitt then formally reported to the State Department that he had made these assurances. At this time, Hiss was in the department. Hiss passed on this highly classified information to the NKVD. The Soviet secret police, which maintained relationship with German intelligence, transmitted the information to the Nazis. It was used by Joseph Goebbels of Germany to depict Roosevelt and the entire United States as supporter of war.
In 1938, as U. S. Ambassador to France, Bullitt was told by Premier Edward Daladier that Alger Hiss, a government official, was a Soviet agent. Later in 1940, Bullitt was on a call with Stanley Hornbeck, chief of the State Department's division of Far Eastern Affairs. Bullitt testified that Hornbeck was interrupted by Alger Hiss. He then informed Hornbeck of what Daladier had told him and urged an investigation.
There was no investigation, and Hornbeck swore on the witness stand during Hiss trial that he had never heard anything to challenge Hiss' reputation. Alger Hiss died on November 15, 1996, at the age of 92. Although Hiss insisted upon the fact that he was innocent, the majority of evidence does indeed confirm that Alger Hiss was guilty. Bibliography:
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