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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Cold War Anniversary

On this day in 1948, Whittaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss, a State Department official and co-founder of the United Nations, of conducting espionage on behalf of the Soviets. Court TV's has extensive background info.

One intriguing episode was Soviet general Dimitri Volkogonov's attempt to clear Hiss' name in 1992. He had searched KGB records, and claimed that "not a single document has been found that substantiates the allegation that Mr. A. Hiss collaborated with the intelligence services of the Soviet Union." (See Chapter 12 of the article - or click here). Accuracy in Media immediately published a response, chiding the general for refusing to give specifics about his research, and suggesting where in the KGB archives and elsewhere he should do some digging:

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.

The general admitted a few weeks later that his research had not been thorough.

(In other news, I have done a cursory examination of the employee records at the University of Tennessee, and not a single document has been found that substantiates the allegation that Mr. G. H. Reynolds is a professor at that university.)

In 1995, the government declassified the Venona documents - decrypts of Soviet diplomatic communications intercepted by the Signal Intelligence Service. One page of the decrypts in particular implicates Hiss in Soviet espionage. Such was the conclusion of the 1997 Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy (see Appendix 6 of the report):

It is not even clear how widely the VENONA revelations were shared within the United States Government. Thus, a Soviet cable of March 30, 1945 identified an agent, code-name ALES, as having attended the Yalta Conference of February 1945. He had then journeyed to Moscow where, according to the cable, he and his colleagues were "awarded Soviet decorations." This could only be Alger Hiss, Deputy Director of the State DepartmentÂ?s Office of Special Political Affairs; the other three State Department officials in the delegation from Yalta to Moscow are beyond suspicion. The party was met by Andrei Vyshinsky, the prosecutor in the Moscow trials of 1936-38. By no later than June 1950, the U.S. Army was persuaded that ALES was Hiss.

Drink a toast to Mr. Chambers today.

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