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John Simkin

Alger Hiss

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It was not until 1965 that I first became aware of the Alger Hiss case. I came across it when I was reading about the origins of the Cold War.

In August 1948 Whittaker Chambers appeared before the House of Un-American Activities Committee and during his testimony claimed that Alger Hiss had been spying for the Soviet Union. In a federal grand jury investigation of the case, Hiss denied Chambers's accusations. However, as a result of this investigation, Hiss was charged with perjury. His first trial in 1949 ended in a hung jury but the following year, a second jury found Hiss guilty and sentenced him to five years imprisonment.

Hiss was released from prison in 1954. He spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name. In the 1970s Hiss unsuccessfully sued the U.S. government under the Freedom of Information Act in an attempt to gain access to FBI and State Department files about the case.

Telegraph cables between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Second World War were eventually released by the National Security Agency. One of the messages dated March 30, 1945, refers to an American with the code name Ales. According to the message, Ales was a Soviet agent working in the State Department, who accompanied President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the 1945 Yalta Conference and then flew to Moscow. As Hiss was with Roosevelt at Yalta it has been claimed that he was the Ales referred to in the cable.

With the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, attempts were made to obtain information on the case from the Soviet intelligence files. In 1992 Hiss wrote to the Russian historian Dimitry Antonovich Volkogonov, the overseer of the Soviet intelligence archives, to request the release of any files on the case. On 14th October 1992, Volkogonov published a report that stated that he had found no evidence that Hiss had ever been an agent for KGB, for the GRU or for any other intelligence agency of the Soviet Union.

Alger Hiss died on 15th November, 1996.

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