Alger Hiss and the Volkogonov Affair

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After the fall of Soviet Communism in 1991, former President Nixon and the director of his presidential library, John H. Taylor, petitioned the new Russian President Boris Yeltsin to open the Soviet archives relating to the Hiss-Chambers case. Meanwhile Alger Hiss and his lawyer,[1] John Lowenthal, appealed to retired Soviet Army General Dmitri Volkogonov and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) for confirmation that Lowenthal's "client, Alger Hiss," had never been "an agent of the NKVD."[2] (This despite the fact that the evidence implicates Hiss as an agent of the GRU, not the NKVD.)[3] Volkoganov said Hiss wanted to prove that he was never a "paid, contracted" spy.[4] (As critics observed, Hiss was never accused of being a paid, contracted spy,[5] but an ideologically-motivated one.)[6]

Contents

About Volkogonov

As apparatchik in charge of Soviet military history under the Communists,[7] Volkogonov had written with official blessing[8] a 1988 biography of Stalin in which he defended Stalin's claim that a majority in the Baltics favored incorporation into the Soviet Union in August 1940, described Stalin's invasion of Poland as "largely justified," blamed the West for the Cold War,[9] and accepted the claim that Stalin's purges were provoked by Trotskyist and Nazi agents.[10] Leading Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent 12 years in Soviet gulags, prisons and "psychiatric" prisons, identifies Volkogonov as a "stalinist."

"Exoneration"

At a 1992 press conference, Lowenthal released to the media a statement from Volkogonov claiming that "Alger Hiss was never an agent of the intelligence services of the Soviet Union." Hiss dubbed this a "final verdict," adding, "I can't imagine a more authoritative source than the files of the old Soviet Union." Lowenthal said Volkogonov was apparently "willing to stake his reputation as a general, historian and politician" on this statement.[11]

Lowenthal's press conference elicited "an extraordinary, emotional reaction from the world's press," according to one account. "Some reporters gulped back tears."[12] The CBS Morning News reported that Hiss was "apparently exonerated."[13] On NBC's Today, co-host Scott Simon said, "This week's revelations about Alger Hiss may help us remember how vulnerable something as real as a reputation may be... So Mr. Hiss may have lived long enough to feel vindicated, but no one lives so long that they have years to give away to suspicions and mistakes."[14] CNN's Gary Tuchman asked why "Hiss's own government has not exonerated him." The New Yorker ran a seven-page essay by Tony Hiss on "My Father's Honor."[15]

Retraction

But when questioned Volkogonov admitted that he spent only two days in the Foreign Intelligence Archive,[16] and that he had not actually examined any archives. Instead, according to the former director of the U.S. Information Agency's Office to Counter Soviet Disinformation and Active Measures,[17] he asked Yevgeny Primakov,[18] head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SRV, formerly the KGB) to provide him with the information.[19] Primakov had previously instructed SVR archivists to provide researchers "only selected files."[20] Volkogonov said that Primakov said that employees of the foreign intelligence archive said that "A. Hiss was not registered in the documents as a recruited agent."[21]

According to the Director of Cold War Studies at Harvard University, Volkogonov admitted that he had "not seen anything from the GRU archive" and that without going through the files there, there was "no basis for saying anything that would shed greater light on the question of Hiss.”[22] “I looked only through what the KGB had,” said Volkogonov. “The Ministry of Defense also has an intelligence service, which is totally different,” admitted Volkogonov. "There's no guarantee... that it was not in other channels….”[23]

Asked if he had examined the files of the Comintern, Volkogonov admitted, “I have not had the opportunity to see these documents.”[24] In addition, even in the KGB archive, “many documents have been destroyed,” admitted Volkogonov. “There's no guarantee that [Hiss’ file] was not destroyed.”[25]

“What I saw gives no basis to claim a full clarification,” concluded Volkogonov. “[Hiss’] attorney, Lowenthal, pushed me hard to say things of which I was not fully convinced.”[26] Volkogonov added that he felt he had been "deceived" by Lowenthal.[27]

Finally, after almost a month, The New York Times, which had devoted half a page to Volkogonov's alleged "vindication" of Hiss, gave one column to his retraction.[28]

Venona, Hiss' Death and the Battle for History

In October 1996, the CIA and NSA released the Venona decrypts, including the "Ales" transmission of March 30, 1945.[29] The following month, on November 15, 1996, Alger Hiss died. His original Associated Press obituary said that Hiss proclaimed vindication "when a Russian general in charge of Soviet intelligence archives declared that Hiss had never been a spy, but rather a victim of Cold War hysteria and the McCarthy Red-hunting era."[30] That night, NBC's Tom Brokaw said, "Hiss considered vindication a declaration by a Russian General, who controlled the KGB archives, saying that Hiss had never been a spy."[31] ABC's Peter Jennings said Hiss "protested his innocence until the very end and last year we reported that the Russian President Boris Yeltsin said that KGB files had supported Mr. Hiss's claim."[32] MSNBC anchor Brigitte Quinn said, "In 1987 [sic], a Russian general declared that Hiss was never a spy, but a victim of Cold War hysteria." None of these stories mentioned Volkogonov's retraction. Three days passed before Brokaw corrected the record; four days for Jennings (who belatedly admitted that the source was not Yeltsin, but Volkogonov).[33]

Corroboration from Soviet archives

According to Library of Congress Cold War historian John Earl Haynes,[34] Alger Hiss’s known cryptonyms were "Jurist"[35] or "Lawyer"[36], "Ales"[37] in 1945, and "Leonard" in the "Gorsky memo."[38]

Julius Kobyakov

Meanwhile, Volkogonov had also died and retired KGB General Julius N. Kobyakov (whom Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes write "insists that Hiss was not a spy, while nostalgically applauding the greatness of the KGB and lamenting the fall of the USSR")[39] had claimed that it was not Volkogonov but he who had actually searched the Soviet files.[40]

Like Volkogonov, Kobyakov admitted that he had not even seen the GRU files ("No, I did not examine Soviet military archives"); instead, he took the GRU's word for their contents ("I wrote a letter to the GRU and received the relevant answer"). What was that answer? Kobyakov isn't telling: "That of course was, and, I believe, still is a classified correspondence." Why correspondence about 60- or 70-year-old files of a regime that no longer exists is classified, he didn't say—although he did mention that he strongly disapproved of the post-Communist government allowing researchers access to Soviet archives, adding, "fortunately they had no access to the files I worked with."[41]

Kobyakov also said that former KGB General-Lieutenant Vitaly Pavlov[42] claimed that Hiss never worked for the USSR as one of his agents.[43] That is hardly surprising, note scholars, since Pavlov ran Soviet intelligence work in North America in the late 1930s and early 1940s for the NKVD, while the evidence implicates Hiss as an agent of the GRU, not the NKVD.[44]

Mark Kramer, director of the Project for Cold War Studies at Harvard University, commented in 2009 that he did not "trust a word [Kobyakov] says."[45]

Closing of the Archives

After the Volkogonov fiasco, Russian officials stripped Soviet archives of all files regarding Hiss and Chambers, reported the editor of the New York Times Book Review.[46] In an interview with PBS Nova, aired in 2002, former KGB agent Alexander Vassiliev said, "The Rosenbergs, Theodore Hall and Alger Hiss did spy for the Soviets, and I saw their real names in the documents, their code names, a lot of documents about that. How you judge them is up to you. To me they're heroes."[47]

References

  1. Dmitri Volkogonov, Letter to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 1992, quoted in John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003) ISBN 159403088X, p. 167
  2. Julius Kobyakov, Lowenthal and Alger Hiss, Diplomatic History (H-DIPLO) Discussion List, Humanities and Social Sciences Net Online (H-Net), October 10, 2003
  3. Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—the Stalin Era, (New York: Random House, 1999), ISBN 0375755365, p. 44; Robert L. Beisner, Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) ISBN 0195045785, p. 711, note 1; John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, "Hiss Was Guilty," History News Network (George Mason University), April 16, 2007; Jeffrey T. Richelson, A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press US, 1997) ISBN 019511390XG, p. 95; Tennent H. Bagley, Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007) ISBN 0300121989, p. 272; John R. Schindler, "Hiss in VENONA: The Continuing Controversy," Center for Cryptologic History Symposium, 27 October 2005; Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2001) ISBN 0895262258, p. 140; John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003) ISBN 159403088X, p. 150; G. Edward White, Alger Hiss's Looking-glass Wars: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) ISBN 0195182553, p. 167; Tom Post, "'He Was Never A Soviet Spy'," Newsweek, November 9, 1992
  4. Serge Schmemann, “Russian General Retreats on Hiss,” The New York Times, December 17, 1992
  5. Max Frankel, "Reading Alger Hiss's Mind," The New York Times, February 29, 2004; Matthew Richer, "The Ongoing Campaign of Alger Hiss: The Sins of the Father," Modern Age, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Fall 2004), p. 312 (PDF p. 6)
  6. Susan Jacoby, Alger Hiss and the Battle for History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009) ISBN 0300121334, p. 184
  7. Amos Perlmutter, "Western journalists slow to report General Dmitri Volkogonov's explanation of his exoneration of convicted spy Alger Hiss," National Review, January 18, 1993
  8. David Remnick, "The Stalin Tragedy Comes Home; With Official Blessings, a Soviet Historian Works on a Biography," The Washington Post, June 30, 1988, p. B1
  9. Steven M. Miner, "The Incubus of Despotism," The Washington Post, September 15, 1991
  10. Walter Laqueur, The Long Road to Freedom: Russia and Glasnost (New York: C. Scribner's, 1989) ISBN 0684190303, p. 68
  11. David Margolick, "After 40 Years, a Postscript on Hiss: Russian Official Calls Him Innocent," The New York Times, October 29, 1992
  12. Alex Kershaw, "Framed: The Rehabilitation of Alger Hiss," The Guardian, January 9, 1993, pp.6-10
  13. George F. Will, "'Exoneration' Of Alger Hiss," Newsweek, February 26, 2008
  14. "Sticking Up for Hiss," MediaWatch (Media Research Center), December 1992
  15. George F. Will, "'Exoneration' Of Alger Hiss," Newsweek, February 26, 2008; cf. G. Edward White, Alger Hiss's Looking-glass Wars: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) ISBN 0195182553, pp. 214-216
  16. Serge Schmemann, “Russian General Retreats on Hiss,” The New York Times, December 17, 1992
  17. J. Michael Waller, Fighting the War of Ideas Like a Real War: Messages to Defeat the Terrorists (Morrisville, N.C.: Lulu.com, 2007) ISBN 0615144632, p. 45, n. 36
  18. Ion Mihai Pacepa, "A Terrorist State in the G8?," Human Events, December 3, 2007
  19. Herbert Romerstein, Human Events, November 28, 1992
  20. Andrew J. Bacevich, "Old Ghosts," First Things 93 (May 1999), pp. 53-57
  21. Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2001) ISBN 0895262258, p. 140
  22. Mark Kramer, "The Hiss Case and General Volkogonov: A Comment on Victor Navasky's Article," The Nation, April 17, 2007. Cf. History News Network (George Mason University)
  23. Serge Schmemann, “Russian General Retreats on Hiss,” The New York Times, December 17, 1992
  24. Reed Irvine, Ed., “Media Bites on Hiss Hoax,” AIM Report, November B 1992
  25. Serge Schmemann, “Russian General Retreats on Hiss,” The New York Times, December 17, 1992
  26. Serge Schmemann, “Russian General Retreats on Hiss,” The New York Times, December 17, 1992
  27. Mark Kramer, "The Hiss Case and General Volkogonov: A Comment on Victor Navasky's Article," The Nation, April 17, 2007. Cf. History News Network (George Mason University)
  28. Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2001) ISBN 0895262258, p. 141
  29. John Ehrman, "A Half-Century of Controversy: The Alger Hiss Case," Studies in Intelligence (Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency), Winter-Spring 2001, No. 10, pp. 9-10
  30. L. Brent Bozell III, "Hiss Obituaries Prove Network Laziness," Creators Syndicate, November 21, 1996
  31. Wes Vernon, "Media Won’t Give Up on Red Spy Alger Hiss," AIM Report, July B (July 19, 2007)
  32. Brent Baker, CyberAlert (Media Research Center), Vol. One, No. 115 (November 18, 1996)
  33. Brent Baker, CyberAlert (Media Research Center), Vol. One, No. 116 (November 22, 1996)
  34. John Earl Haynes, Cover Name, Cryptonym, CPUSA Party Name, Pseudonym, and Real Name Index: A Research Historian’s Working Reference
  35. Harvey Klehr, John E. Haynes and Alexander Vassiliev, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) ISBN 0300123906, pp. 6-7; Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—the Stalin Era, (New York: Random House, 1999), ISBN 0375755365, p. 6
  36. Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—the Stalin Era, (New York: Random House, 1999), ISBN 0375755365, p. 43
  37. Venona decrypts (e.g., Venona 1822 Washington to Moscow 30 March 1945); Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—the Stalin Era (New York: Random House, 1999); Eduard Mark, "Who Was ‘Venona’s’ ‘Ales’? Cryptanalysis and the Hiss Case," Intelligence and National Security 18, no. 3 (Autumn 2003)
  38. KGB file 43173 vol. 2 (v) pp. 49-55
  39. Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, "Professors of Denial: Ignoring the truth about American Communists," The Weekly Standard, Volume 010, Issue 25, March 21, 2005
  40. Julius Kobyakov, Lowenthal and Alger Hiss, Diplomatic History (H-DIPLO) Discussion List, Humanities and Social Sciences Net Online (H-Net), October 10, 2003
  41. Julius N. Kobyakov, "Alger Hiss," H-DIPLO (Humanities and Social Sciences Net Online), October 16, 2003
  42. "Artist in Brooklyn," Time, August 19, 1957
  43. Julius N. Kobyakov, "Alger Hiss," Humanities and Social Sciences Net, October 16, 2003. According to the personal Web site of Hiss' son Tony, Pavlov denounced Soviet defectors Guzenko, Golitsyn, Levchenko and Gordievsky as "traitors," and their revelations as "fabrications."
  44. Robert L. Beisner, Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) ISBN 0195045785, p. 711, note 1; John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, "Hiss Was Guilty," History News Network (George Mason University), April 16, 2007; John R. Schindler, "Hiss in VENONA: The Continuing Controversy," Center for Cryptologic History Symposium, 27 October 2005; John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003) ISBN 159403088X, p. 150; Jeffrey T. Richelson, A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press US, 1997) ISBN 019511390XG, p. 95; Edward White, Alger Hiss's Looking-glass Wars: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) ISBN 0195182553, p. 167; Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2001) ISBN 0895262258, p. 140; Tom Post, "'He Was Never A Soviet Spy'," Newsweek, November 9, 1992
  45. Alexander Vassiliev's Notebooks and the Documentation of Soviet Intelligence Operations in the United States, 1930-1950. Video at 2:24:42. Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. May 20, 2009
  46. Sam Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1997) ISBN 0375751459, p. 600; cf. Rachel Donadio, "The Iron Archive," The New York Times, April 22, 2007
  47. "Secrets, Lies and Atomic Spies," Nova (PBS), February 5, 2002
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