Scholars Restudy Alger Hiss Spy Case
Thursday, April 5, 2007; 8:58 PM
NEW YORK -- Scholars probing anew into the Cold War's most famous espionage case suggested Thursday that another U.S. diplomat, not Alger Hiss, was the Soviet agent code-named Ales.
Meanwhile, a stepson of Hiss said his chief accuser invented the spy allegations after his sexual advances were rejected.
The two claims, presented at the daylong symposium "Alger Hiss & History" at New York University, provided startling new information that, if true, could point toward a posthumous vindication of Hiss, who was accused of feeding U.S. secrets to Moscow and spent nearly five years in prison for perjury before his death in 1996 at age 92.
Kai Bird, an author who has done new research on the 60-year-old case, said that although Hiss was accused of feeding secrets to the Soviet military intelligence agency GRU under the code name Ales, there was new evidence to suggest the real spy was another U.S. official named Wilder Foote.
Bird said that he and co-researcher Svetlana A. Chervonnaya had identified nine possible suspects among U.S. State Department officials present at the U.S.-Soviet Yalta conference in 1945. A process of elimination based on their subsequent travels to Moscow and Mexico City excluded eight of them, including Hiss, he said.
"It left only one man standing: Wilder Foote," Bird said.
Foote, a member of a well-known Boston family, died in 1974 after a career as a diplomat and owner of a string of newspapers. During World War II he was involved with U.S. lend-lease operations supplying the Soviets.
The key, according to Bird, was that Ales' contact at the Soviet embassy in Washington would have known that Hiss, a top-tier diplomat who later played a key role in founding the United Nations, had returned from Mexico City, whereas Ales was known to have remained there.
That information was in a secret Soviet cable that was intercepted and decoded by U.S. intelligence agencies and is now part of the so-called Venona Papers, a collection of such documents made public several years ago.
In a telephone interview, Bird said that more research would be required to prove that Foote was Ales but that "he fits the itinerary in every way, and Hiss simply does not."
Telephone and e-mail queries by The Associated Press to Foote's son and grandson were not immediately returned Thursday. The grandson, a commercial pilot who lives in Belleville, Mich., was flying, according to his wife.
Bird quoted the elder Foote as saying earlier, "I am confident that the actions of my father will ultimately be proven to be above reproach."