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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 1920s, 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, Hede 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 1930s 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
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