Reed Irvine - Editor
|November B , 1992||XXI - 22|
MEDIA BITE ON HISS HOAX
Die-hard supporters are making another attempt at clearing the name of Alger Hiss, perhaps our most notorious traitor since Benedict Arnold. The former State Department official was convicted of perjury January 20, 1951 for lying about his Soviet espionage activities. Despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Hiss remains an icon to an aging generation of American leftists and fuzzy-thinkers who consider him a victim of "Cold War McCarthyism." The latest attempt to rewrite history was made in late October by Dimitri A. Volkogonov, a Russian general and historian who oversees the Russian government's military intelligence archives.
On October 29, the New York Times ran a long article headlined, "After 40 Years, A Postscript On Hiss: Russian Official Calls Him Innocent." The article reported Volkogonov's claim that "a review of newly opened archives clears Alger Hiss of accusations that he ever spied for the Soviet Union." It quoted a statement dated October 14, which Volkogonov had given in Moscow to John Lowenthal, whom the Times identified as a "historian and filmmaker who has long studied the Hiss case."
Lowenthal went to Moscow at the end of August under the auspices of The Nation Institute, a research adjunct of the far-left magazine The Nation, which has been a zealous advocate of Hiss's innocence for more than four decades. The Times did not mention that Lowenthal once worked as a lawyer for Hiss and that his film was an ill-disguised propaganda work arguing for Hiss's innocence--facts that would have alerted readers to his lack of objectivity.
According to the Times, Lowenthal met with Volkogonov for half an hour and persuaded him to go through Russian intelligence files and see what, if anything, could be found concerning Hiss and Whittaker Chambers, the self- acknowledged former Soviet spy who handled Alger Hiss. Volkogonov, in turn, contacted General Yevgeny Primakov, director of the Russian Intelligence Service (RIS), successor agency to the KGB, who ordered a review of the files. On September 25, Volkogonov told Lowenthal his work was finished, and he gave Lowenthal both a written and a videotaped statement a few weeks later.
Volkogonov said: "Not a single document--and a great amount of materials have been studied--substantiates the allegation that Mr. A. Hiss collaborated with the intelligence services of the Soviet Union." He said the espionage charges were "completely groundless." He said Hiss was "a victim of the Cold War," and "the fact that he was convicted in the '50s was a result of either false information or judicial error." He told Lowenthal, "You can tell Alger Hiss that the heavy weight should be lifted from his heart."
CNN picked up the story the same day as the Times, repeatedly airing this report: ANCHOR: Revelations from Moscow continue to rewrite history. The latest offers a new twist in the Alger Hiss case. A Russian general said the celebrated convict of the Red scare era was never a Soviet spy. CNN's Gary Tuchman has more. TUCHMAN: He is now a feeble 87-year old man who has been waiting for decades for some type of redemption, and Alger Hiss now believes he has received it. HISS: The information that has just been presented to you is a source of great elation, happiness and joy. TUCHMAN: The information came in the form of a statement by a high-ranking Russian official who says the former State Department lawyer was never a spy for the Soviet Union. VOLKOGONOV: They sent him to jail for nothing, He wasn't a spy. I think it was either a mistake or a frame-up. TUCHMAN: Hiss spent four years in jail. He was convicted of lying to the McCarthy-era House Un- American Activities Committee about being a spy. A young Congressman named Richard Nixon was brought to national prominence by siding against Alger Hiss. Hiss, who had a distinguished career of public service, was accused of spying by a man who been a member of the American Communist Party in the 1930s.
Whittaker Chambers, who died three decades ago, presented evidence, including a pumpkin, in which incriminating evidence was said to be found. HISS: I have believed all along that the only explanation for his attacking me was some kind of psychiatric explanation. TUCHMAN: That may or may not be true, but what some people are more concerned about is the state of the old Soviet Union's archives. The author of a book on Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers says the Soviet general's word should not be the last word. ALLEN WEINSTEIN: We have to look at whatever new evidence is produced, but he has not produced any new evidence. He has made a categorical assertion and has in effect said to the entire world, "Trust me." TUCHMAN: The Russian general says his archive examination was complete and that the trustworthiness of others should be further examined. VOLKOGONOV: The man who accused him was lying. The American court did not have enough evidence to convict Alger Hiss. HISS: I can have confidence that the historical record will be something that my son, my grandchildren, will have no reason to be upset about. TUCHMAN: Alger Hiss says that his faith has never wavered that the facts would eventually clear up. But despite the words of a military leader in Russia, the fact remains that Hiss's own government has not exonerated him and as of now there are no wheels in motion to do just that.
A similar story was aired on ABC's World News Tonight. CBS and NBC only mentioned that the Russian general had exonerated Hiss, giving no details.
The New York Times added Harvard Sovietologist Richard Pipes' comment that although Volkogonov might have given an "honest report on what he saw.... there are archives within archives within archives. To say there is no evidence in any of the archives is not very responsible on his part." It also quoted Allen Weinstein, author of Perjury, the definitive book on the Hiss case, who said. "We can't take Volkogonov's word alone. We really have to see all the documents on Soviet espionage." The Times showed some doubts about the story by burying it deep in the local news section.
The next day both USA Today and the Los Angeles Times ran the story with a photo at the top of page one. USA Today headlined its story "Russian Files: Hiss Never Spied," and said Weinstein called Volkogonov's statement "step one" toward closing the Hiss-Chambers case. The Los Angeles Times headline read "Russian Says Alger Hiss Was Not Soviet Spy." It noted that scholars (unidentified) had suggested that Volkogonov may not have had time to examine all the files. The Washington Post played the story prominently at the top of page A3, exhibiting some skepticism and quoting both Weinstein and William F. Buckley, Jr. as expressing doubts about Volkogonov's research. The Washington Times also put the story on page 3, but it included more critical comment than any of the other papers. The Communist People's Weekly World reacted with glee. declaring that Hiss was the "target of a monstrous frame-up" along with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
Volkogonov is the Russian chairman of the U.S.-Russian commission on POWs. At a recent POW/MIA conference, Mark Sauter, co-author of the new book Soldiers of Misfortune, pointed out that in 1990 Volkogonov had said, "that his extensive archive research has not produced any evidence regarding the internment of American POWs in Siberia." The Russian government now admits that many American World War II POWs were sent to Siberia. Ambassador Malcolm Toon, the U.S. representative on the commission, defended Volkogonov, saying: "He has admitted to me that he has lied several times in the past. But I deal with Volkogonov on the basis of what I know about him today." Toon observed that Volkogonov has two doctorates and claims they are more important than his general's rank. A Russian scholar in the audience pointed out that when Volkogonov got his doctorates, it helped to be a general. Noting that Volkogonov formerly had the job of indoctrinating "millions of young Russian soldiers with the idea that Americans are the ultimate enemy," this critic recommended treating his statements with skepticism.
When General Volkogonov was in Washington on November 11 to testify before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, we questioned him about his research on the Hiss case. We found that his knowledge was very limited. When asked what reading he had done about the massive evidence that resulted in Hiss's conviction, he had no answer. It was clear from this and his public statements that he had no idea of the strength of the case against Hiss. Since many of our younger readers may know no more than Volkogonov, here is a brief summary.
Hiss was convicted of perjury in January 1951 for having lied to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in denying that he had passed classified government documents to Whittaker Chambers, a confessed Soviet espionage agent. He was tried for perjury because the statute of limitations barred charging him with espionage since Chambers provided evidence only up to 1938, when he broke with the Soviets. He tried to persuade Hiss to join him in renouncing communism, but Hiss refused. Hiss had left government service to head the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace when, in 1948, Chambers named him first as a Communist Party member and later as a Soviet spy.
The charges shocked the nation. Hiss had been a protégé of Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Felix Frankfurter. He had been at Franklin D. Roosevelt's elbow when he met with Stalin and Churchill at Yalta in 1944. He had served as secretary general of the 1945 conference in San Francisco that gave birth to the United Nations. His accuser, who had become a senior editor at Time magazine, was viciously attacked by those who either couldn't believe his charges or who didn't want to see the successful Communist penetration of the U.S. government exposed.
The dramatic story of Hiss's two perjury trials, the first of which ended in a mistrial (with two jurors holding out against conviction), has been told in Chambers' auto- biography, Witness, and Allen Weinstein's book, Perjury. Weinstein, then a history professor at Smith College, began his research thinking that he would be able to prove that Hiss was innocent, but as he dug into the evidence. he became convinced of Hiss's guilt. His 674-page book. published in 1978, left no room for doubt in the minds of any except the most die-hard Hiss loyalists.
One of those was John Lowenthal, a former law professor at Rutgers University, and now the prime mover of the Volkogonov "exoneration" story. Lowenthal quit his job and raised $400,000 to produce a documentary challenging Hiss's guilt. It was released in December 1980 and was shown at the taxpayer-funded American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center in Washington, winning favorable reviews in the newspapers. In its story on Volkogonov, the New York Times transformed this pro-Hiss advocate into "a historian and filmmaker who has long studied the Hiss case." There was no mention in the Times of Lowenthal's bias, information the readers should have been given to enable them to judge the reliability of what they were being told.
Knowing little more about the Hiss case than what he had been told by Lowenthal, General Volkogonov set out to provide the requested exoneration. He did not undertake the work personally, since he was spending most of his time on the American POW/MIA issue, according to the Moscow Times of September 25. According to his statement, Volkogonov only directed what others did, and personally saw only materials given him by Yevgeny Primakov, the director of the RIS (the successor agency to the KGB). But by Chambers' account, his spy ring worked under two other Soviet intelligence services: the GRU and the Communist International, or Comintern, the apparatus through which Moscow controlled communist parties throughout the world.
When Volkogonov testified before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs on November 11, he was asked if he was getting the access he needed to GRU files. The general replied that at the beginning of his work earlier this year "we had serious problems with the GRU, serious obstacles." He said the main problem with the GRU was the disorganization of the files. He said, "You will never find a single file folder labeled 'Information about POWs.'" Instead, the material is scattered through such sections as "foreign affairs." requiring almost a folder-by- folder search. He said, "You must go through a number of documents page by page...literally hundreds of thousands of documents," requiring many weeks of work.
Obviously, Volkogonov had not made an exhaustive search of these poorly organized GRU files for information about Chambers and Hiss in the little time that he could devote to this case. When Joe Goulden of AIM and Herbert Romerstein, an expert on Soviet espionage and disinformation, interviewed Volkogonov after he completed his testimony, they asked him just what kind of search he had made.
Volkogonov repeated the thrust of his earlier statement: "I received special permission to examine all archives on foreign intelligence espionage for the '30s and '40s, which covered all agencies of Soviet intelligence. I did not find a single document telling the fact that Alger Hiss was a Soviet agent." Volkogonov also repeated an earlier statement that the archives contained information that Hiss gave the Soviets daring normal diplomatic contacts while with the State Department and detailed to the United Nations.
Goulden and Romerstein asked whether this material was in foreign ministry files or in KGB files on "foreign intelligence espionage." Volkogonov ignored the question, repeating his stock answer about not finding a "single document" attesting to espionage activities by Hiss. Nor would he respond to a direct question about the degree of access he had to GRU files. He would say only that he had seen "all files," which was patently impossible according to his description of the chaos at the GRU.
Romerstein pointed out that Chambers had testified and written repeatedly that he passed the material gathered by Hiss to Moscow via the Comintern. Given the importance of the Comintern in the Hiss case, he asked Volkogonov if he had sought out its archives as part of his search. "I have not seen these documents," Volkogonov admitted. "I have not had the opportunity to see these documents...only foreign intelligence archives in Russian which contained information on agents."
Volkogonov did not like being pressed for specifics on the extent of his search. Twice he tried to fend off questions by declaring that Hiss was a "victim of McCarthyism." Pressed further about the documented connection between Chambers and the Comintern, Volkogonov said, "I definitely will take a look at that."
Volkogonov should check the Comintern records of J. Peters, the man Whittaker Chambers identified as his Soviet "control" for his espionage activities from 1934 to 1938. Peters was a Hungarian-born Comintern agent assigned to work with the Communist Party, USA. His name crops up frequently in Soviet espionage literature. Peters' predecessor as Chambers' control was Alexander Ulanovski, whose wife Nadya Ulanovskaya, after surviving the Gulag and migrating to Israel, verified the accuracy of Chambers' account of his espionage activities from 1932 to 1934. If he learns nothing else, he will find that he was wrong in saying that there is evidence that Chambers was a Communist but none showing that he had any contact with Soviet intelligence.
Volkogonov should also check the KGB's Iskhak Abdulovich Akhmerov file. He was identified as "Hiss's wartime controller" by Oleg Gordievsky, a high-level KGB defector and co-author of the book KGB: The Inside Story. Gordievsky says in the book that he once attended a secret lecture at which Akhmerov "mentioned Hiss" in the context of discussing wartime agents in the U.S.
Igor Gouzenko, the code clerk in the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, whose defection produced the evidence that blew the big atom spy ring in Canada in 1945, informed Canadian authorities that an assistant to Secretary of State Edward Stettinius was a Soviet agent. Professor James Burros of the University of Toronto wrote an article in 1977 demonstrating that Gouzenko's finger pointed straight at Alger Hiss, even though he did not identify him by name. Volkogonov should try to find the files that would reveal the identity of this high-level mole. Who was it if not Hiss?
When Human Events, The Washington Inquirer, the AIM Report and the New York Post reported last summer that a KGB source had identified the late I.F. Stone as a KGB agent, the New York Times and Washington Post ignored the story completely. They didn't tell their readers anything about the charges until mid-August when both papers ran editorials denouncing the messengers who brought this unwelcome news, Herbert Romerstein, who wrote the Human Events story, and Reed Irvine.
The New York Times described the "dilemma" it faced in dealing with this story, saying, "Replying means repeating a slander, giving it circulation. Yet silence means leaving it uncontested." It observed, "What's astonishing is that some conservatives should eagerly repeat defamatory charges made by shadowy former KGB officers. Messrs. Romerstein and Irvine are doing exactly what they once accused liberals of doing--becoming dupes of Moscow aparatchiks and swallowing what they thirst to believe." The Washington Post concluded its denunciation with this warning, "A new generic source is emerging--materials of the KGB--and a generic caution is in order. This agency's raw files and unexamined assertions, however titillating, are self-serving, mischievous and deeply suspect."
Both of these papers were quick to publicize General Volkogonov's implicit slander of Whittaker Chambers and all those involved in prosecuting Hiss. While their stories included quotes from some who doubted the completeness of Volkogonov's research, we have seen no sign of either paper asking any reporter to interview the general or making any other effort to find out if his search of the files was as exhaustive as he claimed. Both have published an Op-Ed article casting doubt on Volkogonov's research, but neither has run an editorial denouncing those in the media, including their own editors and reporters, who ran with a story based on a single dubious Russian source filtered through Hiss's loyal advocate, John Lowenthal.
Enclosed are three cards: #1 addressed to CNN, #2 written for either The New York Times or The Washington Post, and #3 written for either the Los Angeles Times or USA Today. Make your own choices. Here are the addresses for the newspapers: Max Frankel, Executive Editor, The New York Times, 229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036; Leonard Downie Jr., Executive Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20071; Peter S. Prichard, Editor, USA Today, 1000 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22229; Shelby Coffey III, Editor, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.
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IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF OUR NEWS MEDIA HAVE DISPLAYED AN AFFECTION FOR Alger Hiss that dates back 44 years, to the day he was first exposed as a member of the Communist Party by Whittaker Chambers. The Hiss partisans who covered the story as it unfolded are now mostly retired or dead, but they have passed their pro-Hiss prejudice to their successors. Hence the favorable reception the media gave the Hiss exoneration hoax cooked up by Hiss's long-time apologist, John Lowenthal, and his Russian accomplice, General Dmitri Volkogonov.
GEN. VOLKOGONOV WAS THE KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF THIS HOAX. HE WAS DESCRIBED by The New York Times as "a respected historian." Unnamed "scholars of Soviet affairs" were quoted as saying his views should be taken seriously. He has written (or has been given credit for writing) more than 20 books about Soviet military and political history, the most famous being a denunciatory biography of Stalin published in 1991. Volkogonov now claims to be a "reformed man" who recognized the evils of the Soviet system. But former KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky pointed out in a review of the Stalin biography in the London Review of Books in February 1991 that Volkogonov's trashing of Stalin as an "incredible monster" was effectively an attempt to "prove that nothing is wrong with Marxism-Leninism, communism or Lenin himself."
WE HAVE CONTRASTED THE MEDIA'S RAPID EMBRACE OF THE HISS HOAX WITH THEIR refusal to report the charge that I.F. Stone, a hero of leftist journalists, was a Soviet agent. Oleg Kalugin, a retired KGB general, who is also widely respected, made this charge. Kalugin disclosed this information to a group of about 20 people in Washington on May 15, 1992 and to a group of eight in Moscow shortly after that. I was in the Washington group and was the one who elicited the information. My friend Herb Romerstein was in the Moscow group. Herb wrote a story for Human Events and I wrote a story for the AIM Report, incorporating comments about some other journalists that Kalugin had made to Joe Goulden and two other people. I now feel free to identify Kalugin as the source, because I raised the question with him again at an on-the-record meeting at the American Enterprise Institute on Sept. 17 and he blew his own cover. This came about because he had departed from his practice of refusing to comment about Stone on the record and had changed his story, in effect denying his earlier description of Stone as an agent.
LAST MARCH HE TOLD ANDREW BROWN OF THE INDEPENDENT (OF LONDON) THIS: "WE had an agent--a well-known American journalist--with a good reputation, who severed his ties with us after 1956. I myself convinced him to resume them. But in 1968, after the invasion of Czechoslovakia ...he said he would never again take any money from us." He told Romerstein, off the record, that this journalist was I.F. Stone. When Andrew Brown then asked him if he had been talking about Stone, he claimed that he hadn't really meant to say that Stone had ever taken money from the KGB or that he took direction from it. He merely meant that he was someone he had lunch with occasionally, and that when Stone said he wouldn't take any more money he meant only that he wouldn't let Kalugin buy him lunch.
I TRIED TO GET KALUGIN TO RECONCILE HIS STATEMENTS AT THE AEI MEETING ON Sept. 17, taping the Q & A, including some that took place after the meeting. This is edited. I: Gen. Kalugin, the last time we met I handed you a list of the names of about 20-- K: Suspected agents of influence-- I: I asked if you could identify any of them as being agents of influence, and you will recall that you said about a quarter of them. I think there were about 20 names on the list. You didn't care to identify any of them by name-- K: And I never will. I: --on the record. K: Correct. I: But you did off the record.
K: Well, when I don't go on the record, I don't remember. I: Well, the problem is, as you know, since you've seen these articles in The New York Review of Books and The Nation, that you are now being quoted as saying that it was "a malicious interpretation to say that I.F. Stone was an agent," and you apparently had a very, loose definition of "agent." I'm wondering--when you said of these 20 or so names that I handed you that there were agents of influence (among them)--precisely what did you mean by an "agent of influence." as distinct from other agents, as distinct from journalists that you merely had lunch with? K: I did not mean to say that they were agents. I simply told you that I knew these people in my time for one reason or another. I: I'm afraid it went beyond that. The question was, "Can you identify any of them as agents of influence?" I think that you probably met more than five of them from time to time.... you named two people, Wilfred Burchett and Stone... K: No. I said Burchett, just like Stone, was involved with the Soviets in the cause. They were fighting for the cause, but not as an agent. I: Oh, no. We were talking about agents. Burchett was a paid agent. You put them in the same category. [Burchett, a prominent Australian foreign correspondent, was on the KGB payroll according to Yuri Krotkov, a KGB defector.] K: No, I simply (said?, meant?) they were fellow travelers. [He said fellow travelers were "dupes who would support any Soviet action in the face of even obvious criminality."]
WAS KALUGIN LYING WHEN HE DESCRIBED STONE, WITHOUT NAMING HIM, AS AN AGENT who said in 1968 that he would never again take Soviet money? Or is he lying now when he says Stone was a "fellow traveler," "a dupe" who was "fighting for the cause, but not as an agent?" Since Russia has a law that prohibits the identification of intelligence agents, he has good reason to deny having identified Stone as an agent. And for the same reason, Volkogonov will probably continue to deny that Alger Hiss was an agent.
THESE CASES SHOW THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING OUR OWN PEOPLE RESEARCH THE Soviet archives. Herb Romerstein did some valuable exploration during a trip to Moscow and Kiev earlier this year, and he is willing to return in February to probe the Communist Party and Comintern files, which are open to researchers. Herb formerly served on the staff of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the House Intelligence Committee and in USIA, where he researched and exposed Soviet disinformation. He is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the communist movement in this country, and few people are as well qualified to mine the gold that lies hidden in those files. (Another highly qualified expert, Harvey Klehr, has recently discovered the proof that Harry Bridges, the late head of the Longshoremen's Union, was a party member. The government tried unsuccessfully to deport Bridges to Australia but failed to prove to the satisfaction of the courts that he was a Communist.) Herb will need $20,000 for his research and training some local helpers. I have promised that AIM will help fund the project. I am making a personal contribution of $1,000, and I hope that many of you will join me. Use the coupon below. This will be an AIM project and contributions will be tax-deductible.
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