Researcher Adds to Alger Hiss Debate

The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 4, 2007; 10:09 PM

NEW YORK -- A Russian researcher, delving anew into once-secret Soviet files from the Cold War, says she has found no evidence that Alger Hiss spied or that Soviet intelligence had any particular interest in him.

In a speech to be delivered at a New York University symposium Thursday, Svetlana A. Chervonnaya says neither Hiss' name nor his alleged spy moniker, Ales, appears in any of dozens of documents from Soviet archives that she has reviewed since the early 1990s.

A copy of the speech was made available to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Calling her efforts "proving the negative," Chervonnaya says "a thorough combing of all the said archives combined has not produced a shred of evidence that Alger Hiss had ever been a member of the (American) Communist Party and was engaged in any behind-the-scenes interactions with the Soviets."

Hiss, a top State Department official who played a key role in founding the United Nations, was convicted of perjury in 1950 for lying about being a Soviet spy. He served nearly four years of a five-year federal prison sentence and died at age 92 in 1996.

Scholars and experts have debated for decades whether he was guilty or a victim of anti-communist fervor. The case was fraught with Cold War drama, involving a typewriter and a secret film cache in a Maryland pumpkin field.

Chervonnaya was one of several scholars, writers and historians scheduled to speak Thursday at a daylong symposium, "Alger Hiss and History," inaugurating New York University's new Center for the United States and the Cold War.

Others on the program included Hiss' son, Tony Hiss, and stepson, Timothy Hobson, who were expected to recall their family life with the man whose name became a synonym for Cold War espionage. Both have always maintained Hiss was innocent.

Soviet defectors, retired KGB agents and U.S. officials, some claiming to have documentary proof, have come down on both sides of what remains one of the Cold War's most enduring controversies.

In 1995-96, U.S. intelligence agencies released the Venona Files, a series of decoded Soviet diplomatic cables on espionage matters during World War II. They mentioned a U.S. contact called Ales, who already had been identified by a defecting Soviet agent as Hiss.

Tony Hiss, a New York-based writer, said he was encouraged by Chervonnaya's research.

"Her stating of the negative in all this is so strong that it almost becomes a positive," he said. "With her findings, plus new findings from FBI files, we envision reopening the whole field of investigation. After looking for so long like a played-out mine, it's now revealing new veins and whole new galleries of material, but it's far too soon to say this has reached any kind of positive conclusion."

Chervonnaya said her findings thus far echo those of a former Soviet general who in 1992 quoted KGB secret police files as saying Hiss was not a Soviet spy. But she said that was based on one document, whereas her research draws extensively on now publicly accessible files in which intensive cross-checking would be likely to turn up clues if any existed.

"I reasoned that, provided Alger Hiss had been such an important and long-term Soviet asset, we should logically expect his name to slip at some stage into some of the files," she said.

None of the documents implicated Hiss, although names of other people to whom he was linked or who also were accused of being Soviet sympathizers do appear, among them Whittaker Chambers, a one-time Time magazine editor who later became Hiss's chief accuser.

© 2007 The Associated Press