The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Alger Hiss was not a spy

After more than 40 years of researching the Alger Hiss case, I can say with authority that Mark Kramer was wrong in his March 18 Outlook essay, “Five Myths: Espionage,” when he stated Alger Hiss was a spy.

Mr. Kramer cited the Russian files as authoritative, but the Venona project, as an example, actually exonerated Hiss partly because it contradicted Whittaker Chambers’s testimony. I was the first civilian to see sections of the decrypts, 20 years before they were released. Files showed the FBI spending two fruitless years trying to tie the spy code-named ALES to Hiss. They gave up in 1953 because the decrypts didn’t jibe with what they learned about Yalta from George Kennan and others. Because they’re incomplete and out of context, the Soviet files, while important, are plainly not dispositive. And because I had direct access to files that Allen Weinstein claimed proved Hiss guilty, I saw firsthand that his work couldn’t be trusted. Better to rely on the facts and evidence, or the 140,000 pages of unredacted FBI files released to me, new scientific research, interviews and more. I also apply logic to the charges, as Kennan did in his FBI interview or when Hiss’s former neighbors told me they heard no typing through the thin walls but were driven to distraction when a sportswriter moved in. And if anyone actually reads the documents placed in evidence, then the whole case really makes no sense.

Jeff Kisseloff, Portland, Ore.