Alger Hiss

by Candace RichComment — Updated August 3, 2023

Alger Hiss, a foreign policy coordinator for the U.S. Department of State, was accused of passing documents to the Soviets. His accuser was a TIME editor, Whitaker Chambers, who was a confessed Russian courier.

What made his case so intriguing was that his profile seemed at odds with the stereotypical idea of a dirty Red spy. Patrician in manner, he graduated with honors from Johns Hopkins University, and at Harvard Law School was befriended by Professor Felix Frankfurter, (later a Supreme Court Justice) who arranged for his protege to clerk for then Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. By 1945 he was an adviser to Franklin Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference.

As word circulated of his involvement with the Soviets, he was moved to less sensitive positions.

Accused by Chambers before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he gave a platform to the ambitious young Congressman Richard Nixon. Because the statute of limitations on espionage had run out, Hiss was charged with perjury. His first trial ended in a hung jury. Hiss was found guilty at a second exhausting trial, and eventually served 44 months at the federal prison.

In 1996, researchers digging through U.S. intelligence documents found intercepts of Soviet transmissions that suggested an American known as “Ales,” perhaps Hiss, had been spying on the U.S. during that era. Hiss died that same year at the age of 92, still maintaining his innocence.

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