Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.

Suspicions that the U.S. government was crawling with communist agents were inflamed when former party member Whittaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss, a high-ranking State Department official, and other government employees of being Soviet agents. The resulting uproar helped launch the careers of Red-baiter Joseph McCarthy and future president Richard Nixon.

Although Hiss was never tried as a spy because his alleged treason had occurred too far in the past, he was eventually convicted of perjury and served nearly four years in prison. While Hiss, who died in 1996, continued to maintain his innocence, documents released after the fall of the Soviet Union appear to confirm that he was indeed a spy. An excerpt from The Post of Aug. 4, 1948:

Charges that certain top policy making officials of the Roosevelt-Truman Administration were continuously under orders from a secret foreign agent of the Soviet Union rocked Capitol Hill yesterday.

The charges were made by Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist, now associate editor of Time magazine, who testified that he was a former courier for the Communist underground network.

Among those officials Chambers named Alger Hiss, former State Department official who became secretary-general of the San Francisco conference at which the United Nations was launched. Hiss has denied the charges. ...

The secret Russian agent who laid down the policies for the whole undercover ring to follow, Chambers said, is J.V. Peters, an alien, who was a member of the Soviet government in Hungary after World War II. This Government arrested Peters on May 3, 1942, and tried to deport him but no country would receive him. His present whereabouts is unknown, but his name has woven in and out of all exposes of communism for years. ...

Hiss and White as well as others named by Chambers have now left the Government service. ...

Chambers told the House Committee on Un-American Activities that he joined the Communist Party in 1924, served in its underground for many years, and finally in 1937 "at whatever risk to my life" decided to break away.

Two days after Hitler and Stalin signed their nonaggression pact on August 24, 1939, Chambers said he decided this Government must have the information about the underground ring of Communists in the Government.

On advice from the White House, he said, he reported his information to A.A. Berle, the Assistant Secretary of State, who acted for President Roosevelt on intelligence matters.

A great deal later, he said, he discovered that apparently nothing had been done about the matter. ...

After he decided to break with the Communist Party, Chambers testified, he tried to persuade Hiss to do likewise.

"I went to the Hiss home one evening at what I considered considerable risk to myself and found Mrs. Hiss at home. Mrs. Hiss is also a member of the Communist Party." ...

"Mrs. Hiss attempted while I was there to make a call which I can only presume was to other Communists, but I quickly went to the the telephone and she hung up and Mr. Hiss came in shortly afterward and we talked and I tried to break him away from the party.

"As a matter of fact, he cried when we separated, when I left him, but he absolutely refused to break." ...

From his New York office yesterday, where he heads the Carnegie Foundation for World Peace, Hiss denied even knowing Chambers.

This series is available at www.washingtonpost.com