Legacy of Alger Hiss

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After decades of acrimonious debate, most scholars today regard the matter of Alger Hiss's guilt as resolved. As the Britannica Online Encyclopedia states, Venona "provided strong evidence of Hiss's guilt." The Oxford Essential Dictionary of the U.S. Military dubs this evidence "compelling." Venona convinced "most observers that he had been guilty," says The Columbia Encyclopedia. R.F. Holznagel and Paul Hehn's Who2 Biographies agrees, "The consensus has shifted to accepting that Hiss was a spy for the Soviet Union."

Mainstream opinion on Hiss

"[T]oday all but a few diehards agree that new historical evidence has vindicated Chambers," according to the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC: "Alger Hiss really was a Soviet spy." American History magazine reports that "the preponderance of evidence does weigh heavily against Hiss." The Federal Bar News & Journal adds, "Whittaker Chambers ... proved that Alger Hiss ... was a communist spy in the 1930s."[1]

"Nowadays, few doubt Alger Hiss (1904–1996) was a Soviet spy," agrees Publishers' Weekly. Kirkus Reviews summarizes:

Hiss, a committed New Dealer, as many communists were, met [Whittaker] Chambers when he was recruited during the mid ’30s into the so-called Ware Group, a communist cell in Washington, D.C. As a high-placed government lawyer, Hiss had access to classified information and passed it to Chambers, who had the documents copied then delivered to his Soviet superior.

Psychology Today online concludes, "Sadly for the many honest Americans who supported them, it now seems clear that Alger Hiss, Julius Rosenberg, and Harry Dexter White really did what they were accused of."


American Diplomacy reports that "most interested people were finally persuaded that justice had been done by Allen Weinstein’s painstakingly researched book, Perjury, published in 1978." Library Journal agrees, "beginning with Allen Weinstein's Perjury, the scholarly consensus has been that Hiss was guilty."[2] American Heritage magazine editor Geoffrey C. Ward, (author of Ken Burns' PBS miniseries The Civil War) concurs: "I believe the most dispassionate, step-by-step account of the Hiss case is still Allen Weinstein’s Perjury."[3] Weinstein, a former Archivist of the United States, started his research convinced that Chambers "had falsely accused Hiss of Communist ties and espionage."[4] With Hiss's cooperation and access to his attorneys' files, Weinstein set out "intending to prove Hiss's innocence," writes the former chief of Soviet bloc counterintelligence at the CIA.[5] "But he was an honest man and the facts he found convinced him (as they do any reader of his book) that Hiss was guilty." On the basis of information he found in the files of Hiss's own attorneys, Weinstein concluded:

the body of available evidence proves that Hiss perjured himself when describing his secret dealings with Chambers, so that the jury in his second trial made no mistake in finding Alger Hiss guilty as charged.[6]

U.S. Government

Twenty years after Weinstein's book was published, the bipartisan Moynihan commission (which had access to previously-classified Venona decrypts unavailable to Weinstein) went further—not just on perjury, but on espionage—the commission's unanimous Final Report finding, "The complicity of Alger Hiss of the State Department [in Soviet espionage] seems settled."[7] The commission's chairman, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a liberal Democrat, wrote, "Hiss was indeed a Soviet agent and appears to have been regarded by Moscow as its most important."[8] "Alger Hiss was eventually convicted of perjury rather than espionage," concurs Michael J. Sulick, former chief of CIA counterintelligence and former director of the National Clandestine Service, "but the declassified VENONA decrypts and documents from the Soviet archives eventually proved without a doubt that Hiss had been a spy."[9] A comprehensive Department of Defense review concludes that Hiss was among the "well-placed Americans" who "gradually drifted into service as Soviet agents," thus beginning "careers as spies for the Soviets."[10]

The Moynihan commission added that the Soviet agent "Ales" (pronounced "Alles") "could only be Alger Hiss."[11] The FBI had come to the same conclusion 47 years earlier: "It would appear likely that this individual [Ales] is Alger Hiss..."[12] "Venona cables confirmed that Alger Hiss (Ales) of the State Department was a GRU agent," agrees Hayden Peake, curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection.[13] Analysts at the National Security Agency have also gone on record that Ales could only have been Alger Hiss. John R. Schindler, professor of strategy at the Naval War College and himself a former NSA analyst, agrees, calling this identification "exceptionally solid" and the evidence "compelling." The late U.S. Air Force historian Eduard Mark called this conclusion "eminently reasonable," concurring that the evidence showed that "ALES was very probably Hiss."[14] John Ehrman of the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence concludes, "it is clear that Hiss alone remains the best candidate to be ALES."

Academic opinions

"[T]he material we now have from the Soviet Union," says Oxford Professor Vernon Bogdanor, shows that Hiss "was indeed a Soviet agent." "Part of Hiss's KGB file has come out that proves the obvious point he was guilty as charged," agrees Cambridge University's Christopher Andrew, the dean of British historians of Soviet espionage. "[C]orroborative evidence now available," according to Andrew and ex-KGB agent Vasili Mitrokhin, puts the identification of the Soviet agent "Ales" as Hiss "beyond reasonable doubt."[15] "Numerous KGB/NKVD documents... contain extensive references to Hiss," concurs Mark Kramer, director of the Project for Cold War Studies at Harvard University, "either by name or through the codename Ales, which seems to fit only Hiss." According to Harvard historian Serhii Plokhii, "New evidence from the Soviet archives supports the thesis that Hiss was a Soviet spy at the time of the Yalta Conference."[16] Jonathan Brent, executive editor of Yale University Press's "Annals of Communism" (and—ironically—holder of the "Alger Hiss" chair at Bard College), comments, "We're 99 percent certain that Hiss was a spy."

"[R]ecently released evidence in U.S. and Soviet archives, taken together with some previously available testimony of persons connected with Soviet intelligence in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s," writes University of Virginia Law School Professor G. Edward White (son-in-law of Hiss's attorney John F. Davis), "supports Chambers's charges against Hiss." Soviet espionage expert Stephen Koch agrees, "I for one have been brought close to certainty, on the basis of archival information, that Chambers was telling the truth."[17] "We now know," states intelligence expert Nigel West, "that Alger Hiss was a spy."[18] "The broad sweep of Chambers' allegations are now beyond doubt," according to Richard Aldrich of the University of London and David McKnight of the University of New South Wales.[19] Hiss not only "had been a communist," concludes historian Michael Kimmage, but committed "espionage for Stalin's Soviet Union."[20]

Scholarly consensus

Today, reports Oxford University's Oxonian Review, "the Hiss case is one issue upon which consensus transcends ideological divides." After decades of debate, "no serious scholar of the subject any longer dismisses the voluminous and explicit claims by Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley," writes Cold War specialist Thomas Powers. By 2006, "most historians had come to the conclusion that Hiss was probably guilty," agrees Aldrich. "Those who have studied the Hiss case by and large believe that he was guilty of perjury and quite likely also guilty of espionage, that is, of passing government documents to the Soviets," concur Gilbert Geis of the University of California, Irvine and Leigh B. Bienen of Northwestern.[21] Rutgers historian David Greenberg refers to "the dwindling band of those who believe in Hiss"; "the majority of modern American historians today and particularly those specializing in domestic Cold War," concludes liberal historian David Oshinsky, "see evidence pointing overwhelmingly to Hiss being guilty as charged.”[22]

"In the end, the publication of the Venona intercepts settled the matter," observes Stanley Kutler of the University of Wisconsin Law School. "[T]o all but the truest of believers, 'Ales' could only be Alger Hiss." The Soviet agent "Ales" is assumed by "most scholars to be Alger Hiss," agrees Douglas O. Linder of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. "For the majority of scholars, the critical ALES transmission puts to rest any doubt about Hiss’s complicity in the Soviet underground," concurs R. Bruce Craig, a specialist in Cold War history and author of a forthcoming Hiss biography.

"Since the publication in 1978 of Allen Weinstein’s definitive Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, only partisans of the far left have continued to insist that Alger Hiss was innocent,"[23] writes Ronald Radosh, emeritus professor of history at City University of New York, a former leader of the Communist Party youth group.[24] Historians John Earl Haynes of the Library of Congress and Harvey Klehr of Emory University sum up:

Any reasonable person will conclude that the new documentation of Hiss’s assistance to Soviet espionage, along with the massive weight of prior accumulated evidence, closes the case. Given the fervour exhibited by his loyalists, it is unlikely that anything will convince the remaining diehards. But to serious students of history, continued claims for Hiss’s innocence are akin to a terminal form of ideological blindness.

Robert J. Goldstein, professor emeritus of Political Science at Michigan's Oakland University, admits that his "political views" are "at odds with" Klehr's, but concedes that Klehr and Haynes "quite reasonably" conclude that Hiss was "unquestionably" an espionage agent. The Hiss case "is a controversy that should have died 30 years ago and hasn't only because of the efforts of a small, vocal group that is absolutely convinced that Hiss was an innocent victim," agrees Steven T. Usdin, author of Yale University Press' Engineering Communism. Yeshiva University Professor Ellen Schrecker defends American Communist spies as demurring from "traditional forms of patriotism"[25] (though critics object that their patriotism was entirely traditional—toward the Soviet Union);[26] but even she concedes, "There is now too much evidence from too many different sources for anyone but the most die-hard loyalists to argue convincingly for the innocence of Hiss." Hiss is "among those whose long-suspected involvement in such Soviet espionage seems to be confirmed by the Venona cables," writes Hamilton College history professor Maurice Isserman, probably the best regarded of the left-wing scholars of Communism. "Let's face it," concludes Isserman, "the debate just ended."

"No amount of documentation, including the fact that documents Vassiliev copied unambiguously identify him as a Soviet agent, can persuade these true believers otherwise." Boston University professor Andrew J. Bacevich concurs, "Diehards will still contend that Hiss was innocent." But, he adds:

At some point, the accumulation of evidence permits us to dismiss such people as crackpots. We are now well past that point with regard to the most controversial spy cases of the 1940s and 1950s."

Hiss in the mass media

So broad is this consensus that it has begun to penetrate even the popular press: By the time he died in 1996, "the front-page obits... in such supposed bastions of the liberal establishment as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe were striking in their dispassionate acceptance of Hiss's guilt," observed Northeastern University Journalism Professor Dan Kennedy. Indeed, "no serious cold war historian," reports the liberal[27] Times, now questions "that Hiss lied"; “most students of the Hiss case, including many erstwhile defenders, consider him guilty,” agrees the similarly liberal[28] Washington Post,[29] adding that "the scholarly consensus" is "that Hiss was almost certainly guilty of both perjury and espionage"; the Globe concludes that Hiss's guilt is a "near-certainty." Even Hiss's hometown newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, where his older brother Bosley had been a reporter, admitted: "Most historians are convinced of his guilt."

The foreign press on Hiss

Outside the U.S., where fewer people are invested the myth of Hiss's innocence, the press is less equivocal: "We know that Alger Hiss was guilty," reports the Times of London, adding that Hiss's guilt is "beyond doubt"; the Daily Telegraph agrees that the evidence that Hiss was a Soviet agent is now "beyond doubt." The Financial Times concurs that there is now "no doubt that [Hiss] was indeed a Soviet spy." Writing in London's "proudly liberal" Independent, self-proclaimed "social democrat" Johann Hari admits that "the left's old cause célèbre, Alger Hiss," is among those shown by Venona to have been "Soviet spies." Even the Guardian, Britain's leading left-wing newspaper[30] concedes that "the general view" is "that Hiss was guilty."

Newsweeklies on Hiss

Time magazine reports that Hiss's supporters are "dwindling" as "the weight of historical evidence indicates that Hiss was... a Soviet spy," adding that Venona "seems to remove reasonable doubt about Alger Hiss's guilt." "For... Alger Hiss," agrees Newsweek, we now have "irrefutable confirmation of guilt." U.S. News and World Report concurs: "Most scholars considered the case against Hiss firmly established by Allen Weinstein's Perjury, published in 1978,"[31] adding, "The material in the Vassiliev notebooks corroborates the suspicion that Hiss was a longtime agent of Soviet military intelligence. That echoes the findings of Venona Project analysts, who concluded years ago that the code name 'Ales' in the intercepted Soviet cables was 'probably Alger Hiss.'"[32]

Other magazines on Hiss

Pulitzer prize winning Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum writes in the left-leaning New Republic, "Alger Hiss... spied for the Soviet Union in the 1940s."[33] The similarly left-leaning New York Review of Books concludes, "The evidence now... is simply overwhelming.... Hiss was one of a number of... converts to communism hurrying about Washington in the 1930s recruiting others to serve 'real, existing Socialism' in the Soviet Union." The (likewise left-leaning) Washington Monthly calls the evidence against Hiss "quite devastating," dubbing the Venona decrypts "damning" and "rock-hard evidence" of Hiss's guilt.

Television on Hiss

Even television is starting to notice. ABC, where 2008 presidential campaign contributions went 98.6% for Obama, quotes a source saying that "newly-declassified U.S. and Soviet intelligence backs longtime allegations" that Hiss was a Soviet spy. Public Broadcasting is subsidized by taxpayers (more than a billion dollars in 2012)[34]—and was caught sharing PBS donor lists with Democratic Party fundraisers—but its educational program Nova identifies Hiss as one of "the foremost Americans spying for the Soviet Union," referring to him in its Teachers' Guide as one of "the last century's most notorious spies." Even TruTV (formerly Court TV)—owned by self-proclaimed "socialist" billionaire Ted Turner (who says "the KGB ... was an honorable place to work.... [I]t gave people ... an opportunity to do something important and worthwhile")—admits: "the bulk of evidence points to Hiss's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Online media on Hiss

Not even the online media are immune. Jacob Heilbrunn (a columnist at the "pugnatiously liberal" Huffington Post), writing at Truthdig.com ("A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion"), admits, "the evidence that Hiss was innocent of serving as a Soviet spy is sparse. It requires contortions to suggest that he was not and to explain away the evidence suggesting that he was." By the time Hiss died, "just about everyone conceded that he was guilty," reported Salon.com. Weinstein's Perjury "had convinced even pro-Hiss liberals" that he "had indeed been a Communist and a spy for the Soviet Union." The left-liberal "webzine" added that Venona "showed Hiss was almost certainly a Soviet agent.... Hiss's defenders have dwindled to a small handful of true believers." Slate.com (where more than 96% of staff and contributors supported Barack Obama) admits that "Today, most people who think about Hiss at all, even on the left, tend to think that Hiss was guilty," and refers to "the consensus in the reality-based community that—back in the '30s and '40s—one-time State Department luminary Hiss had probably been guilty of some collaboration with the Soviets." Elsewhere, it warns, "Heads up: Alger Hiss was guilty," (Italics in original) concluding, "if we paleo-libs continue in our ancient rancors, we'll start looking like those troglodytes who still plump for Alger Hiss's innocence."

Liberal/left-wing opinion on Hiss

Even on the left, few authorities disagree. By the late 1970s, even "most anti-Communist liberals became convinced that Hiss had lied to HUAC, and spied for the Soviet Union when he worked for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the State Department in the 1930s and ’40s," writes Cornell University professor (and Huffington Post contributor) Glenn C. Altschuler. "My own sense of things was that Hiss had been a [Communist] party member in the Thirties and did give Soviet agents documents," wrote the Harvard historian, Kennedy administration official and "unabashedly liberal partisan" Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.,[35] who concluded of Hiss, "I believe him to be guilty."[36] Schlesinger's Harvard colleague, the socialist[37] John Kenneth Galbraith, likewise blandly accepted "the fact that... Hiss purloined documents."[38] Thomas Reed, Secretary of the Air Force in the Carter administration, writes, "The Venona transcripts, released in 1997 and identifying Hiss via his code name Ales, and the postwar testimony of defecting Soviet code clerk Igor Gouzenko, remove any doubt about Hiss’s guilt."[39] Berkeley professor J. Bradford DeLong, a former Clinton administration official and professed "social democrat," writes, "Was Alger Hiss at some time a spy for the Soviet Union? Probably."[40] Another Clinton official, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake ("top foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama"), actually went so far as to retract a statement—made in the wake of Hiss's death—suggesting that the evidence against Hiss was less than conclusive. Even the prominent Democratic Socialist Irving Howe declared Hiss guilty. Professed atheist Obama supporter Susan Jacoby writes, "I believe Hiss was guilty of both perjury and spying."[41] Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Hiss's alma mater, Harvard Law School, Cass Sunstein, former Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration, agrees, "Most of those who have carefully studied the case, and who have explored evidence emerging long after the trial itself, have concluded that Chambers was telling the truth and that Hiss did indeed perjure himself." Even Obama supporter Charles Fried, another professor at Harvard Law School (and former Justice of the court that granted Hiss's petition for readmittance to the Massachusetts Bar), writes, "it is now clear to all but the most obdurate that Alger Hiss was a Soviet agent."

The Nation

The lone holdout has been The Nation, a magazine that "identified itself as solidly pro-Hiss in the 1950s."[42] The late Eric Breindel tagged it "America's leading forum for Alger Hiss apologia";[43] William F. Buckley commented in 1978 that the magazine "has been clinging to the notion of Hiss's innocence over the years with the forlorn adamance of the last survivors of the Flat Earth Society." The Nation "embraced a prejudiced view of the Hiss-Chambers affair in 1948," writes Princeton Emeritus Professor John V. Fleming, "and has been unable to wriggle free even yet."[44] Today, according to Slate.com, it is "pretty much the last general-interest magazine in America that remains committed to the idea of Hiss's innocence." Nowadays, outside "the ranks of Nation readers and a dwindling coterie of academic leftists, there are few people still willing to claim that Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White were not Soviet agents," writes Klehr. Radosh agrees, "Except for a dwindling group—mostly Nation magazine readers and editors …. the consensus has solidified: Hiss was undoubtedly a Soviet spy."

George Soros/The Nation Institute

While The Nation itself has managed to avoid substantive discussion of recent evidence concerning the Hiss case in print, the closely-linked "Nation Institute" (funded by billionaire Obama-booster George Soros)[45] has funded two new Web sites dedicated to fighting a rear-guard disinformation campaign against the new evidence.

Tony Hiss

The first, called "The Alger Hiss Story: Search for the Truth" was created in 2001 "with grants from... the Nation Institute." The site was started by Hiss's son Tony, a visiting scholar at New York University. "The basic question—whether Alger Hiss was a spy for the Soviet Union during the 1930s and 1940s—was finally settled during the 1990s," writes Ehrman. "Today, only a small band of true believers, headed by Hiss’s son, still tries to argue his innocence." Pulitzer Prize–winning author Ted Morgan concurs: "One example of a dupe is Tony Hiss, who has made a career out of filial piety and continues to proclaim the innocence of his father in the face of irrefutable evidence."[46]

After Hiss fils originally set up this site on an NYU server, the university requested that he move it elsewhere "to designate it more clearly as a personal site rather than an academic one." The Web site is run out of the home of "Web master" Jeff Kisseloff, former aide to Alger Hiss and archivist of The Nation.

Although the site is blazoned "Search for the Truth," buried within is the admission that its real purpose is to present only "the case for the defense," not both sides. Linder warns that "the site maintains a decidedly sympathetic view of Hiss." Cornell Law Library agrees, "The site has a noticeable editorial bias in favor of Hiss." New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus concurs, "It's a blatantly pro-Hiss operation whose agenda is to advocate his innocence." Greenberg concludes, "I don't think anyone is going to treat this site as the repository of truth, except for those who have already made up their minds that Hiss was innocent." Under the snarky headline “FLAT EARTH WATCH,” Obama-booster Andrew Sullivan says the site is dedicated to “the greatest fantasy on the web”—“the proposition that Alger Hiss was innocent.”

The site devotes its resources to projects such as hyping the “long-awaited” book, The Crimes of Alger Hiss (formerly known as Richard Nixon and the Frameup of Alger Hiss), by the late William Reuben, a professional Hiss partisan who once admitted that “if he had heard that on his deathbed Hiss had confessed to being a Communist and Soviet agent, he ‘wouldn’t believe it.’”[47] Reuben previously wrote a book called The Atom Spy Hoax, similarly arguing that the Rosenbergs were framed.[48]

Svetlana Chervonnaya

The second is called “Documents Talk: A Non-Definitive History.” Funding for this project was provided ("perhaps entirely") "by The Nation Institute.” The site was started in 2009 by Svetlana Chervonnaya, who calls herself a “Freelance historian” operating on a “Research grant from The Nation Institute” since 2005.

Chervonnaya is a former "propagandist for the Soviet Union," according to G. Edward White.[49] Eduard Mark agrees that Chervonnaya was "one of the USSR's more prolific propagandists in the twilight years of the USSR."[50] John Earl Haynes concurs, identifying Chervonnaya as a "Moscow historian/propagandist."[51]

Chervonnaya is best known[52] as coauthor with Kai Bird (a contributing editor at The Nation) of “The Mystery of ‘Ales’,” in which the authors argue that "Ales" was not Hiss, but his colleague Wilder Foote—despite the fact that, as Eduard Mark shows,[53] Foote spent the 1930s toiling in obscurity as a newspaper editor in rural Vermont, when "Ales" was working with Harold Glasser in Whittaker Chambers' GRU group in Washington. Their argument assumes an all-knowing efficiency on the part of Gorsky, which, as Mark proved, he did not have. Craig calls Mark's critique "convincing," adding "I personally find Mark’s overarching conclusion [that “Alger Hiss was an agent of the GRU in the 1930s”] convincing." Moreover, Bird and Chervonnaya's article was based on a flawed and incomplete text of Anatoly Gorsky’s 5 March 1945 cable, even though the complete, accurate text was made available to them. In an attempt to clear Hiss, Bird and Chervonnaya accused Foote on the flimsiest of pretexts—precisely, commented Slate.com, "what they believe McCarthyites did to Hiss." Haynes and Klehr concur:

Once upon a time, it was called McCarthyism to charge people with being Communists or spies on the basis of slim or no evidence, shaky logic, or the word of one or two informers of dubious reliability. No longer. Bird and Chervonnaya established new standards of proof, in which the absence of evidence is as good as proof. Absolving Alger Hiss of being ALES is apparently that important, even if it means recklessly slandering a long-deceased, distinguished public servant.[54]

"I can only assume that Mr Bird has ulterior motives to besmirch my grandfather's name, possibly for Mr Bird's own celebrity," commented Foote's grandson. "Quite convenient for him that everyone involved is dead and cannot speak in their own defence."

Tellingly, even The Nation no longer even acknowledges this article. Haynes observes:

It is likely that THE NATION and Hiss defenders have assigned Chervonnaya, Bird, and their accusations against Wilder Foote to Orwell’s memory hole.
The left-wing echo chamber

These disinformation sites work together to create a "left-wing echo chamber," citing one another, repeating the same assertions until they make their way into the mainstream press. For example, in March 2005, Chervonna posted on the H-HOAC Web site an attempt to discredit the Gorsky memo as containing "nonsense" (a term she repeated four times). The following month, Kissiloff (citing Chervonnaya) posted on AlgerHiss.com a version of this piece—dropping the claims of "nonsense," but adding an assertion that the date on the document, "(Dec. '48)," was "An [sic] probable mistake in the dating (read: 1949), either Alexander Vassiliev's or Gorsky's." The next month, Chervonnaya posted on the HNN Web site a nearly verbatim copy of this version—but with "probable mistake" now upgraded to "Obvious mistake." She then (citing Kissiloff) repeated this claim ad nauseam on DocumentsTalk.com. In June 2009, this claim made its way from the Internet into print—naturally, in The Nation. By the following month it had found its way into the pages of London's venerable Times Literary Supplement, in a review by Amy Knight, who "approaches the politically charged Hiss-Chambers Case on the side of Alger Hiss" and "has never found a source on Soviet intelligence she trusts."[55] As Haynes and Klehr observe:

[Knight] insists that the former KGB officer Alexander Vassiliev misdated the memo and that it is part of a 1949 report. It isn’t. It is a stand-alone document signed by Gorsky and dated December 1948, as the notebooks show. There is no evidence that the dating is incorrect. But why would Knight have preferred it if the document had been dated 1949 rather than 1948? Because she could then put forth a fantasy to explain away the identification of Hiss. Gorsky, she claims without a shred of evidence, was making it up.... [W]hy would Gorsky have written a memo exaggerating the damage done to Soviet intelligence by adding to the lists of those exposed by defectors the names of people who were not Soviet sources? It is difficult enough to be the bearer of truthful bad news to one’s superiors, but to make up bad news is an act of bureaucratic near-suicide.

But there is more. Although Knight conceals it from TLS readers, two other senior KI officers, Piotr Fedotov and Konstantin Kukin, in a report (also dated December 1948) to the chairman of the KI, wrote about “our former agents who were betrayed by Chambers (A. Hiss, D. Hiss, Wadleigh, Pigman, Reno)”. Does anyone really believe that three senior Soviet intelligence officers in reports to their agency’s chief identified Soviet agents from American newspaper stories rather than agency records? Additionally, another KGB memo, one from 1950, noted that the Soviet GRU agent “Leonard”, identified as a senior State Department official, had just been convicted. The only senior American diplomat convicted of an espionage-related crime in 1950 was Alger Hiss.

Nation personnel

But even at The Nation, the ardor for Hiss would appear to be cooling. Bird and Chervonnaya, for example, write—in an article defending Hiss—"We do not propose to address the larger question of whether Hiss was guilty or innocent of espionage." Another recent defense of Hiss, by Nation contributor Robert L. Weinberg "deliberately takes no position" on the issue of whether "Alger Hiss was in fact guilty of spying."[56] Nation columnist Eric Alterman likewise writes regarding Hiss, "I take no position on guilt or innocence."[57]

Others connected with The Nation are more candid: Max Holland, a contributing editor at the Nation, writes that "Alger Hiss has been proven to be the 'Ales' code-named in the Venona intercepts."[58] Former Harvard Law professor and Nation contributor Susan Estrich (author of The Case for Hillary Clinton) admits that "liberal efforts over the years to champion the Rosenbergs, or Alger Hiss, as something other than Communists were misguided." Cold War scholars have now "nailed Alger Hiss," agrees Nation contributor Todd Gitlin "—a nailing long overdue on the left." Nation contributor Jim Sleeper, posting on the liberal Talking Points Memo blog, concurs, "it's obvious now that many leftists" defended Hiss "long beyond the point where it made political, moral, or even simple cognitive sense." "Vociferously atheistic," self-styled "radical" Christopher Hitchens—one of the "25 most influential liberals in the U.S. media" (and long-time columnist for The Nation)—calls the myth of Hiss's innocence "one of the most persistent (and repelling) myths of the fellow-traveling Left."[59]

Victor Navasky

According to Ehrman, Victor Navasky, long-time publisher of The Nation, is "now virtually alone in his rejection of the case against Hiss." As editor, one thing Navasky "would not permit" in The Nation, writes Powers, was any "public admission that it was Whittaker Chambers who told the truth and Alger Hiss who lied." Morgan calls Navasky a "prime example of an opportunist," who "wrote that the Venona transcripts were forgeries. One of his friends described him as being 'frozen into false positions.'"[60]

"Hiss’s defenders stubbornly tried to rebut each revelation," recounts Ehrman, "but eventually they were overwhelmed." Nation contributor Nicholas von Hoffman,[61] a protégé of Saul Alinsky, is "anything but a right-winger," admits Navasky, but even he concedes, "The sum and substance of this growing body of material is that Alger Hiss, a darling of the establishment, was guilty."[62] "[E]ven many on the left—including younger historians such as Rick Perlstein"[63] have become convinced that "Hiss was guilty," observes Slate.com, "although old-school loyalists like Navasky remained skeptical."

But even Navasky (once dubbed "the cheerleader of the 'everybody was innocent' school") has now retreated, claiming "my point is not guilt or innocence." Today, "instead of forcefully arguing that Hiss wasn't guilty as he once did, Navasky," now chairman of the Columbia Journalism Review, "acknowledges that Hiss wasn't telling the truth when he testified that he didn't know Whittaker Chambers." Nevertheless, in reference to the activities of people "in US left circles.... many of whom were Marxists, some of whom were Communists, some of whom were critical of US government policy," during this era, argues Navasky, the word "espionage" is "out of context." He prefers to characterize their activities as "exchanges of information" that happened to be in "violation of the law." (As critics have noted, such "exchanges" only went one way.) Finally, Navasky asked, "Espionage, is it so bad?"[64]

The Nation on consensus

Such quibbling aside, even at the Nation, it is now acknowledged that the consensus is that Hiss was guilty. Nation contributor Athan Theoharis writes that the "conventional assessment" is that Hiss was "an unreconstructed Soviet spy." Even Bird and Chervonnaya admit, "Most historians have conceded the argument to Weinstein."[65] Speaking of the thesis that Hiss was guilty, Navasky himself conceded in 2007 that “for the last 10 years, that has been the consensus.”[66]


  1. John W. Berresford, "Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss: The Courts Decide," Federal Bar News & Journal, Vol. 40 (February 1993), pp. 96-108
  2. Edward A. Goedeken, "Social Science" (Review: The View From Alger's Window by Tony Hiss), Library Journal, Vol. 124 (1999), p. 128
  3. Geoffrey C. Ward, American originals: the private worlds of some singular men and women (HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), ISBN 0060166940, p. 95
  4. Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), ISBN 0394495462, p. xvii
  5. Tennent H. Bagley, Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007) ISBN 0300121989, p. 273
  6. Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), ISBN 0394495462, p. 513
  7. Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, Secrecy (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1997), Appendix A - Secrecy: A Brief Account of the American Experience, p. A-37 (PDF p. 39)
  8. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998) ISBN 0300077564, p. 146
  9. Michael J. Sulick, Spying In America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War (Georgetown University Press, 2012), ISBN 162616066X, p. 167
  10. Katherine L. Herbig and Martin F. Wiskoff, "Espionage Against the United States by American Citizens," Defense Personnel Security Research Center (PERSEREC) Technical Report 02-5 (July 2002), p. 4 (PDF p. 25)
  11. Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, Secrecy (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1997), Appendix A - Secrecy: A Brief Account of the American Experience, p. A-34 (PDF p. 36)
  12. FBI memo: Belmont to Ladd, May 15, 1950 (FBI file: Venona), p. 8 (PDF p. 11); Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2001) ISBN 0895262258, p. 137
  13. Hayden B. Peake, "The Venona Progeny," Naval War College Review, Vol. 53, no. 3 (Summer 2000) (Archive)
  14. Eduard Mark, "Who was 'Venona's' 'Ales'? Cryptanalysis and the Hiss Case," Intelligence and National Security Vol. 18 Issue 3 (Autumn 2003), pp. 54–55, 57–88, 62, 64 (italics in original)
  15. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (London: Gardners Books, 2000) ISBN 0-14-028487-7, p. 599
  16. Serhii Plokhy, Yalta: The Price of Peace (Penguin, 2010) ISBN 0670021415, p. xxv
  17. Stephen Koch, Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals (New York: Free Press, 1994) ISBN 0-02-918730-3, p. 326
  18. Nigel West, "Venona and Cold War Counterintelligence Methodology," in Loch K. Johnson, Strategic Intelligence (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007) ISBN 0275989437, p. 15
  19. David McKnight and Richard J. Aldrich, Espionage and the Roots of the Cold War: The Conspiratorial Heritage (Oxford: Routledge, 2002) ISBN 071465163X, p. 128
  20. Michael Kimmage, The Conservative Turn: Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers, and the Lessons of Anti-Communism (Harvard University Press, 2009) ISBN 0674032586, pp. 202, 172, 219. Elsewhere Kimmage writes that Hiss "spied for the Soviet Union."
  21. Gilbert Geis and Leigh B. Bienen, Crimes of the Century: From Leopold and Loeb to O.J. Simpson (Lebanon, N.H.: UPNE, 1998), ISBN 1555533604, pp. 130-131
  22. David Oshinsky, "Alger Hiss and History" (Center for the United States and the Cold War, New York University), April 5, 2007, p. 4 (Archive)
  23. Ronald Radosh, "Guilty Man: Posterity ponders the Hiss case," The Weekly Standard, Vol. 17, No. 29 (April 9, 2012)
  24. Radosh was leader of the Madison, Wisconsin, chapter of the Labor Youth League, as the Young Communist League was then known. Ronald Radosh, Commies: a journey through the old left, the new left and the leftover left (Encounter Books, 2001) ISBN 1893554058, pp. 68-82
  25. Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1998), p. 188
  26. The Rosenbergs, for example, were "loyal unto death to the Soviet Union."
  27. As USA Today founder Al Neuharth observed in 2000, the Times had endorsed every Democrat for president for the previous 40 years (Update: Make that the past 52 years) (Update 2: 56 years).
  28. As USA Today publisher Al Neuharth observed in 2000, the Post endorses only Democrats for president (This pattern has since continued). Washington Post ombudsman Debra Howell writes, "the conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don't even want to be quoted by name in a memo."
  29. Chambers called the Post "the most implacable of the pro-Hiss newspapers." (Whittaker Chambers, Witness (Washington, DC: Regnery, 1987) ISBN 0895267896, p. 710) "The Post seemed to redouble its pro-Hiss efforts as his innocence became increasingly doubtful." Marvin Olasky, "The Chambers-Hiss case," World Magazine, July 26, 2008
  30. Guardian readers are often stereotyped as politically correct caricatures. The Guardian is so left-wing (by British standards) that its competitors sometimes refer to it as the British equivalent of the New York Times.
  31. Michael Barone, "Hiss and History," U.S. News and World Report, November 25, 1996
  32. Alex Kingsbury, "Declassified Documents Reveal KGB Spies in the U.S.," U.S. News and World Report, July 17, 2009
  33. Elsewhere, Applebaum writes that the Venona cables "provided direct evidence that... State Department officer Alger Hiss" was "among the Soviet Union's most valued agents." Anne Applebaum, "Soviet bear's American claw," The Australian, June 12, 2009
  34. $444 million via CPB, $60 million in direct federal grants and contracts, and $539 million from state and local taxes. Public Broadcasting Revenue, Fiscal Year 2012, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Table 1
  35. Schlesinger wrote in 1946 that "the faults and injustices in our present system" in the U.S. "make even freedom-loving Americans look wistfully at Russia." (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., "The United States Communist Party—Small But Tightly Disciplined, It Strives with Fanatic Zeal to Promote the Aims of Russia," Life, July 29, 1946, excerpted in Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Scope of Soviet Activity in the United States, Part 43 [Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1957], p. 3022 [PDF p. 26]) Fifty-four years later, Schlesinger, it was written, "equates capitalism with sexism and racism."
  36. Arthur Schlesinger, A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000) ISBN 0618219250, pp. 497-498
  37. "Galbraith called for a new socialism." Cf. chapter XXVII, "The Socialist Imperative," in John Kenneth Galbraith, Economics and the Public Purpose (New American Library, 1975), pp. 263-269
  38. John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash, 1929 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), ISBN 0547248164, p. 165
  39. Thomas Reed, At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War (New York: Random House, Inc., 2005) ISBN 0891418377, pp. 9-10
  40. DeLong elaborates: "I think that Hiss was guilty.... I think Hiss is more likely than not to be guilty of espionage. I even think that there is clear and convincing evidence that Hiss was guilty."
  41. Susan Jacoby, Alger Hiss and the Battle for History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009) ISBN 0300121334, pp. 20-21. Jacoby, who calls herself "an unabashed liberal and proud of it," avers, however, that she is "only 98 or 99 percent convinced of Hiss's guilt." Her residual one to two percent doubt, suggests Whittaker Chambers' grandson, may be due to her refusal to read the new book, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. "According to Spies co-author Harvey Klehr," writes Chambers, "Yale's editor Jonathan Brent offered her access to the book's new findings. Apparently, Ms. Jacoby took a pass." As Jacoby admits, "It has always been difficult for liberals to look objectively at evidence pointing to Hiss's guilt."
  42. G. Edward White, Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy (Oxford University Press, 2005) ISBN 0195182553, p. 133.
  43. Eric Breindel, "Goodies from the Venona files: Hiss’ Guilt," The New Republic, April 15, 1996, reprinted in the Congressional Record, Vol. 142, No. 50 (Thursday, April 18, 1996), p. H3645
  44. The magazine's defense of Hiss has tended to ignore the facts and focus on questions of "taste" ("If one has any interest in our national taste it is impossible to refrain from asking how American jurors could be persuaded to give credence to such a man as Chambers in preference to such a man as Hiss").
  45. "receives funding from... the Open Society Institute" which is "the most prominent of the numerous foundations belonging to the international billionaire financier George Soros"
  46. Ted Morgan, Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Random House, Inc., 2004) ISBN 081297302X), p. 635, n. 199
  47. G. Edward White, Alger Hiss's Looking-glass Wars: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy (Oxford University Press, 2004) ISBN 0195182553, pp. 207-208
  48. According to Reuben, the Rosenberg case was "an out-and-out political frame-up" (Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton, The Rosenberg File (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997) ISBN 0300072058, p. 324), "a vast conspiratorial hoax.... [T]he accused spies...have all been 'framed'..." (Harold Green, "Books," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 8, No. 11 [October 1955], pp. 309-310) “Today, with the number of Rosenberg defenders steadily shrinking, let’s stipulate: Julius was a Soviet spy,” comments the New York Times. After more than half a century of denial, Rosenberg trial co-defendant Morton Sobell “dramatically reversed himself” in 2008, admitting “for the first time that he had been a Soviet spy.” He also implicated Rosenberg in a conspiracy to deliver classified information to the Soviets. Even the Rosenbergs' sons have now “admitted to a painful conclusion: that their father was a spy.” While conceding that Julius was a Soviet agent, some on the left claimed that Ethel was innocent. But Venona 1340 New York to Moscow 21 September 1944, made public in 1995, revealed that Ethel was, like Julius, guilty as charged, of conspiracy to commit espionage. This coded Soviet message recorded Ethel's active involvement in Soviet recruitment: “LIBERAL [Julius Rosenberg] recommended the wife of his wife's brother, Ruth GREENGLASS.... She is 21 years old, a TOWNSWOMAN [U.S. citizen], a GYMNAST [“Probably a member of the Young Communist League”] since 1942.... LIBERAL and his wife recommend her as an intelligent and clever girl. …. [Ruth] learned that her husband ... is now working at the ENORMOUS [Manhattan Project] plant in SANTA FE, New Mexico.” Ruth Greenglass's testimony, made public in 2008, corroborated Venona regarding Ethel's guilt. Greenglass testified that Julius urged her to recruit her husband (Ethel's brother), David Greenglass, into a conspiracy to pass atomic secrets to the Soviets, and that Ethel “said that I should at least relay the message, that she felt that David might be interested, he would want to do this.... [S]he urged me to talk to David. She felt that even if I was against it, I should at least discuss it with him and hear what he had to say.” (Testimony of Ruth Greenglass, U.S. v. Julius Rosenberg, et al., August 3, 1950, pp. 6-7)
  49. G. Edward White, "Alexander Vassiliev & Alger Hiss, Part II," The Green Bag, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Autumn 2009) p. 99 (PDF p. 15)
  50. In Re Alger Hiss: A Final Verdict from the Archives of the KGB Journal of Cold War Studies 11.3 (Summer 2009): 26-67
  51. Narcissistic Histrionics comment on History News Network July 29, 2009
  52. Chervonnaya also collaborated with David Lowenthal (brother of the late John Lowenthal, Alger Hiss's lawyer), on an online post seeking to discredit the Gorsky memo.
  53. Eduard Mark, “Who was ‘Venona’s’ ‘Ales’? Cryptanalysis and the Hiss Case,” Intelligence and National Security, 18 [Autumn 2003], pp. 54–55, 57–88, 62, 64
  54. 4-16-07 John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, "Hiss Was Guilty," History News Network (George Mason University), April 16, 2007
  55. Jamie Glazov, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, FrontPageMagazine.com, September 11, 2009
  56. Rather than deny that Hiss was a spy, Weinberg argues technicalities, such as "whether Hiss would have been 'not guilty' of the perjury charge in the indictment as a matter of law, even if he were found to have been a Soviet agent."
  57. Eric Alterman, "I Spy With One Little Eye," The Nation, April 29, 1996, pp. 20-24. A decade later, Alterman still found the evidence inconclusive, although he grudgingly admitted that it had titled "toward Chambers’ version of late and against Hiss."
  58. Max Holland, "I. F. Stone: Encounters with Soviet Intelligence," The Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 11, Issue 3 (Summer 2009) p. 164, fn. 61
  59. "Militant atheist" Hitchens writes of once quipping to the hostess of a dinner party he attended with Alger Hiss, "Why don't we secure the doors and say: 'Look, Alger, it's just us. Come on. You're among friends. Tell us why you really did it.'" (Christopher Hitchens, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere [London: Verso, 2000] ISBN 1859847862, pp. 105-106) Hitchens (who says he is considering writing a book called Guilty as Hell: A Short History of the American Left) suggests that the answer is, "because he thought he was onto a winner."
  60. Ted Morgan, Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Random House, Inc., 2004) ISBN 081297302X), p. 635, n. 199
  61. Von Hoffman wrote prophetically in 1995 of the need to "make liberalism respectable" to what he called "the impressionable, feckless, white-collar American masses" in order to "put a lefty in the White House."
  62. Nicholas Von Hoffman, "Was McCarthy right about the left?" The Washington Post, April 14, 1996, p. C1
  63. Perlstein, a Nation contributor, writes that Nixon had Hiss "nailed dead to rights," even before "Chambers produced clinching evidence" in the form of the pumpkin papers. Rick Perlstein, Introduction, in Rick Perlstein, ed., Richard Nixon: Speeches, Writings, Documents (Princeton University Press, 2008) ISBN 0691136998, pp. xxv-xxvi
  64. Joyce Milton, "The Old Left: Fort McNair Postcard," The New Republic, November 4, 1997
  65. Chervonnaya has since suggested that this consensus amounts to an orthodoxy, writing of her "hope of dethroning the autocracy of cold war historical scholarship on the matter of Alger Hiss," describing her motive as "to overthrow the regime."
  66. Victor Navasky, "Alger Hiss and History" (Center for the United States and the Cold War, New York University), April 5, 2007, p. 6 (Archive)