Bringing Alger Hiss to Justice
By Stephen W. Salant

Executive Summary

For sixty years it has been widely assumed that no government agency except the Department of Justice and its investigative arm, the FBI, was involved in the pursuit and conviction of Alger Hiss. But there is now mounting evidence that the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) was also involved. This raises the possibility that misconduct previously attributed to the more visible FBI was instead the work of “America’s Secret Army” of spy-catchers.

Army spy-catchers became involved whenever a foreign government was suspected of stealing classified information from the Army. Such CIC involvement is well known to historians with unrestricted access to CIC domestic surveillance records as well as to the CIC participants themselves. Lacking access to these records, however, scholars of Cold War spy cases have incorrectly assumed that the Army left the investigation of civilian spies not employed by the Army but involved in stealing its secrets exclusively to the FBI—as the delimitation agreements then in force required. These scholars, therefore, have not recognized CIC involvement in Cold War spy cases.

This essay is the first contribution in the vast literature on the Hiss case to focus on the role of the Counter Intelligence Corps. It is also the first to document that the Chief Investigator hired by the Hiss defense, Horace Schmahl, was in fact an elite Army spy-catcher working under cover. Previously he was thought by some to be an ordinary private detective and by others to be an FBI informant.

Given the presence of an elite spy catcher at the heart of the Hiss defense, it seems appropriate to review the compelling evidence assembled by Hiss in his motion for a new trial that crucial trial exhibits had been forged. In 1952, a judge denied Hiss’s motion, saying that Hiss’s accuser, Whittaker Chambers, lacked the resources and technical skill to commit sophisticated forgery and, in addition, lacked the knowledge to position the forgery where the Hiss defense would find it. In 1982, a different judge—quoting his predecessor on these same points—denied Hiss’s final attempt at vindication (his Coram Nobis petition). Neither judge knew of the involvement of Military Intelligence with its substantial resources, its vast experience forging documents to protect agents behind enemy lines during the War, and its operative equipped with the perfect cover story to position forgeries undetected.

Why would the Army have resorted to such unscrupulous tactics? By the second half of 1945, U.S. counterintelligence had become convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Alger Hiss was providing classified military information to Soviet Military Intelligence. This conclusion could not have been based on Whittaker Chambers’s disclosures since he had parted company with Hiss in 1937–8 and consistently maintained until mid-November, 1948 that Hiss was never one of his espionage sources although he was a Communist.

U.S. counterintelligence authorities faced a dilemma. They had independent evidence that Hiss was a spy but they were unwilling to present their evidence in court since it would have compromised their ability to detect other spies. They were equally unwilling, however, to let Hiss continue to circulate among the highest echelons of the foreign policy establishment once they became convinced that he was a Soviet espionage agent. The Army resolved this dilemma by forging evidence to convince the jury that Hiss had been one of Chambers’s espionage sources.

One lesson for the future can be drawn from this tangled affair. Spy suspects, like the suspected terrorists of today, are apprehended in covert counterintelligence operations but may be tried before civilian juries. Because counterintelligence authorities cannot always disclose their findings and jurors are inevitably unaware of counterintelligence practices, there is both a temptation and an opportunity for grave manipulation of the judicial process.

I. Army Surveillance of Civilian Spy Suspects

“As for Army security and Hiss, neither Allen Weinstein nor Sam Tanenhaus (nor any other student of the Hiss case I’m familiar with) came across significant military security participation in the case. Perhaps there was and we don’t know about it, but it would be a surprise at this point”– John Earl Haynes (author of In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage, personal correspondence, 1 March 2004)

“There is a good reason why most historians and other researchers have not researched the files of military intelligence re the Hiss case. Under delimitation agreements of 1940 and 1942, military (and Naval) intelligence were excluded from a domestic surveillance role. They had responsibility only for base security and military personnel–and otherwise had to rely on the FBI …. While this does not mean that military intelligence agents did not monitor non-military citizens and movements, this would have been exceptional.” – Athan Theoharis (author of Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed in Counterintelligence but Promoted the Politics of McCarthyism in the Cold War Years, personal correspondence, January 2005)

“You are right about one thing. In the First Service Command (New England)…, we poached freely in FBI territory with [our commander’s] approval.”–Isadore Zack (Special Agent in Charge of the Counter Intelligence Group/Subversive Squad, First Service Command, Boston, CIC; personal correspondence)

“It is not too much to say that the information acquired by CIC from May 1941 to September 1945 regarding communism and its adherents played a major part in keeping communism under control in the United States ever since.” –The History of the Counter Intelligence Corps, 1959  2

Who is right—distinguished Cold War historians spanning the political spectrum or the historians of the Counter Intelligence Corps  3 (CIC) who prepared the 30-volume official history of what has been dubbed “America’s Secret Army”? Did the official Army historians completely misread the record of this elite counterintelligence unit during the 1940s or, alternatively, did they have more complete access to Army files? 4 After all, when a Cold War historian examines the Army’s investigative file on Alger Hiss at the National Archives he finds only newspaper clippings—quite a contrast to the thousands of pages of investigative files on Alger Hiss which the FBI has disclosed.

Alger Hiss, it will be recalled, was a State department official whose career as a civil servant peaked in 1945 and crashed in full public view a few years later. At its zenith, Hiss accompanied President Roosevelt to Yalta, served as Secretary General of the U.N. organizing conference in San Francisco, and then transported a copy of the new U.N. charter home to President Truman—all during the first half of 1945. He was mentioned as a future secretary of state or an interim or permanent secretary general of the U.N. Less than four years later, however, he stood before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, accused of being a Communist by a self-confessed ex-courier of Soviet Military Intelligence, Whittaker Chambers. Hiss at first denied even knowing Chambers, then acknowledged knowing him under a different name, but steadfastly denied that he had ever been a Communist.

After Hiss sued for libel, Chambers added a more serious accusation: espionage. For nearly a decade, Chambers had consistently denied 5 that Hiss had been one of his espionage sources. Indeed he had done so as recently as October 15, 1948, before a grand jury and November 5 in a sworn deposition. All that changed on November 17, when Chambers surrendered typed spy documents to support his new charge of espionage. In Chambers’s revised account, Hiss used to take documents home from his State Department office and, after having his wife type summaries of them on the family typewriter, used to give the typed summaries to Chambers for transmittal to Soviet Military Intelligence. As for why he happened to retain any of this evidence, Chambers went on to explain that he had set aside one batch from Hiss as a “life preserver” to protect against reprisals after his break with the Soviets.

Hiss strenuously denied that he had ever given Chambers classified information and, in an effort to clear his name, began to search for his old typewriter, which the Hiss family had long since given away. At the same time, scores of FBI agents—recognizing the importance of the typewriter in persuading a jury of Hiss’s guilt—began to search for the battered machine. An article in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin 6 (December, 14, 1948) announced the start of the race with the headline “Sleuth ‘Hired by Hiss’ Touched Off Hunt for Typewriter Here,” a reference to the Hiss defense’s ever resourceful Chief Investigator, Horace Schmahl.

Unaccountably, 7 it was the Hiss defense—with far less manpower and resources—which won that race. It located and surrendered the typewriter that became the defense exhibit just as the first trial was about to begin. The public watched—confused, mesmerized, not knowing who or what to believe. The first jury was hopelessly deadlocked, but the jury in the second perjury trial voted to convict. The decisive factor, jurors later reported, was expert testimony that the spy documents had been typed on Hiss’s family typewriter.

Hiss went to prison. But after his release, he spent the remainder of his life attempting to establish that he had been a victim of “forgery by typewriter.” Like Watergate in the 1970s or the Kennedy Assassination in the 1960s, the controversies surrounding the hearings, legal proceedings, and conviction of Alger Hiss dominated the news in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The case reverberates to this day. President Nixon can be heard ruminating about the Hiss case in the Watergate tapes. President Reagan awarded the Medal of Freedom to Whittaker Chambers posthumously. President George W. Bush awarded the historian whose minutely detailed account of the case persuaded the public that Hiss was guilty as charged the position of Archivist of the United States.

Is it plausible that the Army’s elite unit of “spy-catchers,” as they called themselves, generated not one page of records pertaining to the pursuit and ultimate conviction of such a highly-placed spy? According to the first-hand account 8 of one of the CIC veterans [Golden Sphinx, Winter 2004-5, p. 16] who attended the U.N. conference over which Alger Hiss presided, it was riddled with more than 100 undercover Army spy-catchers, some captured in the snapshots he took. Where are the historical records of Counter Intelligence Corps involvement in that event?

Cold War historians justify their conclusion that the Army played no role by pointing out that in theory Army counterintelligence was barred from pursuing suspected communist spies like Hiss within the continental U.S. Under a “delimitation agreement” with the FBI, the task of ferreting out civilian spies on the home front during the 1940s fell exclusively to the FBI. But what should have happened in theory is irrelevant. All that matters is what happened in practice.

In practice the Counter Intelligence Corps routinely violated the delimitation agreement according to the leading historian of Army surveillance [Joan Jensen, 9 Army Surveillance in America: 1775-1980, p. 219], according to the 30-volume official history of the Corps, and according to the agents themselves 10 [Leonard Gorin monitoring Russians in California, Edward See monitoring members of the German-American Bund in New York City, Isadore Zack monitoring a wide variety of civilian groups in New England and Duval Edwards working a case involving a civilian in Alabama]. We do not have to rely on secondary sources to confirm this point. It is amply confirmed in the extensive work product of Isadore Zack, which is publicly available at the University of New Hampshire and online.

Two years after the CIC was established, President Roosevelt banned it from further domestic investigations and threw most CIC agents out of the country. 11 The Corps defied parts of his order and resumed activities the moment Roosevelt died. The official history attributed 12 Roosevelt’s order to “someone—possibly communists who still held key positions in government—determined to halt CIC investigative activities in the United States.” Even if that explanation was altogether mistaken, it does imply that the Corps was actively pursuing communists in key positions in the government at the time of its expulsion, another violation of the delimitation agreement.

The Corps did not regard its pursuit of civilian spy suspects within the United States as a violation of its agreement with the FBI. First, the FBI had a huge case load and “unless CIC worked the case it would only add to the FBI burden.” Second, the CIC was solely responsible under the agreement for pursuing spies in the Army and this often led to investigation of their civilian confederates. According to Volume 7 of the official History of the Counter Intelligence Corps, “Espionage and sabotage, being enemy directed, involved more than one person. Usually there were a number in the chain extending from the agent in the United States back through cutouts and couriers to the enemy country. This inevitably involved civilians with military suspects and the case became connected with the FBI. The military aspect became minor, and major investigative effort was in the civilian community to locate the higher-ups who presumably were controlling more than one agent.”

In short, if the Corps suspected Alger Hiss (or anyone else) of acquiring classified information on Army weapons for transmission to Soviet Military Intelligence, it would have investigated him even though he was a civilian. There are at least four known episodes that might have triggered an investigation of Alger Hiss.

  1. Colonel Dean Ivan Lamb, 13 whom Hiss acknowledged meeting in the mid-1930s, told the FBI that he had reported Alger Hiss to a Colonel Thiele (G2) around March, 1934 because Lamb believed that Hiss was trying to recruit him as a source of weapons information for the Soviets. The Army would surely have been justified in following up on this complaint rather than turning the entire matter over to the FBI—had there been a delimitation agreement in effect at the time.
  2. Alternatively, Military Intelligence could have opened its file on Alger Hiss three and a half years later in response to its investigation of Franklin Reno. Reno began working as a civilian at the Ballistics Research Laboratory of the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in the summer of 1937. Soon after, he began providing Whittaker Chambers with classified information concerning Army weapons and sketches of a bombsight. Reno later admitted meeting Chambers on as many as seven occasions before the spring of 1938, sometimes in Washington or Philadelphia. It turns out that during this entire period (from August, 1937 14 onward), Military Intelligence was monitoring Reno’s activities. Whether Military Intelligence noticed that when Reno left the base he passed classified information to Chambers cannot be determined since Reno’s file 15 is incomplete. But if the agents monitoring Reno had detected this espionage, standard procedure would have dictated an investigation of all of Chambers’s other contacts (among them Alger Hiss) to determine if they were also involved.
  3. Or Military Intelligence could have opened its file on Alger Hiss in response to the message of March 30, 1945 from the Soviet’s Washington station chief to Moscow mentioning a top Soviet spy, code-named Ales, 16 who had long been a source of military information to Soviet Military Intelligence. The Army would have been justified in trying to identify Ales in order to prevent further theft of its secrets. U.S. counterintelligence did read this message as part of the super secret Venona project and suspected that the top spy with code name Ales was “probably Alger Hiss.” It remains unclear, 17 however, when this message was first decrypted. It is also unknown whether an unencrypted version had been acquired earlier during one of the many government break-ins 18 of the era.
  4. Finally, Military Intelligence could have opened its file on Alger Hiss after Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk for Soviet Military Intelligence working in Canada, defected in September, 1945. Gouzenko described an extensive Soviet espionage network active during World War II not only in Canada but also in the United States. Gouzenko provided evidence that Soviet agents had penetrated the Manhattan Project, which the Counter Intelligence Corps had been given responsibility to secure. He also reported that another Soviet agent working in the U.S. was “an assistant to [Secretary of State Edward] Stettinius.” Alger Hiss was one of Stettinius’s six assistants. 19 This information persuaded J. Edgar Hoover, among others in the intelligence community, that Alger Hiss was an active spy.

Although it seems likely that one (or more) of these four episodes led the Army to open an investigation of Alger Hiss, no one seems to have detected it. In contrast, when the FBI investigated Hiss, it was more obvious to Hiss and his colleagues. This reflects important differences in the way these two investigative organizations operated. Unlike the FBI, Army spy-catchers called no attention to themselves in their investigations of suspected spies. As the only full-length book 20 on the Corps notes, “In general, the CIC shunned publicity, and for most of the duration of the war remained an organization almost unknown to the American public… By contrast the existence and purposes of the FBI were widely publicized, their offices known, telephones listed, and public support and co-operation encouraged.” The Counter Intelligence Corps operated in absolute secrecy. On the rare occasions when they were suspected of working for the government under cover, they were mistaken for FBI agents. 21

When the FBI and the Counter Intelligence Corps worked together on an investigation, they used different but complementary tactics. Because the FBI operated more in public view, the Bureau was more law-abiding; because the Counter Intelligence Corps operated in secrecy, it did not hesitate to violate the law if the illegality promoted the success of the mission. 22

In his memoir of his days as an Army spy-catcher, Duval Edwards recalls (Spy-Catchers of the U.S. Army, p. 88) participating in one joint investigation while stationed in Anniston, Alabama. A civilian off the base was suspected (mistakenly, as it turned out) of receiving classified information from a soldier. The FBI wanted the civilian’s premises searched but was reluctant to violate the law: “entry meant forcing an illegal entrance, which of course the FBI would never do, at least on the evidence so far obtained. But the mission of the CIC was to prevent harm to our armed forces…” So the Counter Intelligence Corps agents broke illegally into her apartment and then provided the FBI agents with the information they sought.

Imagine how this event would have been described by historians convinced that only the FBI investigated civilian spy suspects and unaware that the Counter Intelligence Corps also participated in many such investigations. Having examined all the records of the FBI investigation, the historians would have concluded that no such illegal break-in had occurred.

And that is my concern about the literature on the Hiss case. It has been widely assumed for sixty years that no government agency except the FBI was involved. So any time Alger Hiss accused the government of misconduct—be it infiltrating his defense, planting an altered typewriter, or forging typed evidence—and it was established that the FBI had not done what he charged, it was concluded that his charges were groundless. But there is now mounting evidence that the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps also participated in the pursuit and conviction of Alger Hiss—albeit behind the scenes. The involvement of this secret and extremely capable organization raises the possibility that the misconduct that Hiss attributed to the FBI may instead have been the work of the Counter Intelligence Corps.

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II. Uncovering the Undercover Army Spy-Catcher in the Hiss Case

So what is the evidence of CIC involvement in the Hiss case? Since the Army continues to withhold its files on Hiss, I have had to consult other sources. 23

At the end of August, 1948 Whittaker Chambers stated on the radio edition of Meet the Press that “Alger Hiss was a Communist and may be one now.” Hiss sued for libel. In October, 24 1948 lawyers for Hiss hired someone (Steve Broady) to assist in preparing the libel case. Horace W. Schmahl immediately replaced 25 him. Schmahl, a multi-lingual 26 German, had studied law for three years in Europe before emigrating to the United States. As Chief Investigator helping to prepare the libel suit against Chambers, Schmahl investigated Chambers’s background. A month after Schmahl was hired, however, Whittaker Chambers changed the story he had been repeating for nearly a decade and accused Hiss of espionage. When Chambers surrendered the typed spy documents to support his new charge, Schmahl began to search for the typewriter that the Hiss family had long since given away. The Hiss defense discharged Schmahl in the spring of 1949 after its pre-trial investigations were completed. As FBI files subsequently disclosed, however, he repeatedly 27 met with the FBI and even the prosecutor until the end of 1950.

I have been able to document for the first time 28 that Schmahl served in the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps. In 1941, Schmahl worked for Military Intelligence as a translator. He then served as a personal investigator for William Donovan, then Coordinator of Information and later head of OSS (the two predecessors of the CIA). In 1943 Schmahl joined the OSS 29 and trained in early 1944 for its Secret Intelligence branch. Schmahl then migrated to the Army and was given additional training at the Military Intelligence Training Camp (Camp Ritchie), graduating in the 21st class 30 in September 1944. His St. Louis personnel record 31 confirms that he became an elite Special Agent in the Counter Intelligence Corps. According to his St. Louis record, Schmahl was discharged from the Army in December, 1945 as over age. However, there are many reasons to suspect that he continued to work under cover for Military Intelligence after his “discharge.” To name seven of the most compelling reasons:

First, at the time of his discharge as “over age” he was only 38 years old. The age limit 32 for special agents in the Counter Intelligence Corps at that time was 44 years old. In December 1945 the War was over and many were eager to get discharged and return to civilian life. Exceptions to discharge policies were never made for someone with Schmahl’s brief service, especially since none of it was overseas. What then can explain the premature discharge of a man still in his prime years? Whenever a soldier went undercover posing as a civilian, a bogus reason for separation from the military had to be concocted—over age or ill health or suspected disloyalty were commonly used for this purpose. 33 Going under cover would explain why Schmahl, although he did not qualify, appears to have been separated from the military as “over age.”

A second reason to suspect that Schmahl was working undercover is the change in his area of specialization as an investigator. Until 1946 and once again after 1951, Schmahl specialized in insurance frauds. But during the period February 1946 to May 1951 his letterhead proclaimed a different area of expertise: “Investigations—Trial Preparation.” 34 This cover story nicely followed the advice in Counter Intelligence Corps Investigator, a CIC textbook. 35 In the section entitled “Penetration and Undercover,” in the paragraph headed “Contacting the Target,” the manual advises: “as a general rule, the undercover agent should create a situation where the subject or subjects become interested in him in his assumed identity.” Defendants needing help with their legal cases would have sought Schmahl out. A year after adopting this cover story, Schmahl offered to help the FBI with its pursuit of communists. 36 And the following year, the Hiss lawyers hired Schmahl to help prepare the libel suit against Chambers. Almost as soon 37 as Hiss was imprisoned in the spring of 1951, however, Schmahl ceased claiming any expertise in trial preparation and reverted to his previous specialty. Testifying 38 as an investigator in May 1951 in the case of a railroad brakeman who claimed to have been injured on the job, Schmahl was asked about his background and credentials as an investigator: “My occupation is that of an investigator…I investigate suspected insurance frauds…and personal injury accidents, railroad accidents.” He made no mention of “trial preparation” and no mention of his work on the celebrated case of Alger Hiss. I know of no other client whom Schmahl ever helped prepare for trial.

A third reason to suspect that Schmahl was working undercover is that another 39 investigator who worked in Steve Broady’s office with Schmahl when he was first hired by the Hiss defense came forward a decade after Hiss’s conviction and reported that Schmahl had been a double agent. A decade after this tip, the first government files were released and they corroborated such a role.

A fourth reason to suspect that Schmahl was working undercover, admittedly more speculative, is that in an interview with the FBI Schmahl likened 40 his role in the prosecution of suspected communist spy, Alger Hiss, to his earlier role pursuing spies among members of the German-American Bund. 41 His target then was Adam Kunze, 42 a close friend of the leader of the Bund. Kunze was of concern to Army counterintelligence because he employed in his repair shop “only Nazi machinists who would be eligible for positions in national defense industries” and because he was reportedly organizing a group whose members “were going to be trained in the use of arms, bombs, etc. and were to have men in the National Guard, Army, and Navy.” In both episodes, Schmahl worked through the office of the same man, Armand Chankalian. In the Bund case, he worked with Chankalian in the “Naturalization Control Unit.” 43 In the Hiss case, Schmahl turned over the results of his investigation to Chankalian, who had by then become Administrative Assistant to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Chankalian served as an intermediary between Schmahl and Thomas Murphy, the chief prosecutor in the Hiss trials. In the case of both Kunze and of Hiss, Schmahl had direct contact while undercover with the target of the investigation. In the earlier case, he had contact with Kunze and later corresponded with him. In the latter case, he had contact with Hiss and his legal team. Ultimately, the Military Hearing Board ruled that the Kunze and his wife should be excluded from the Eastern military area as security risks; as for Hiss, jurors at the second trial found him guilty of perjury. In the Bund case, Schmahl later characterized 44 his role as helping in the “prosecution of disloyal German-Americans and Bund members.” Presumably he would have characterized his work in the Hiss case in similar terms.

A fifth reason to suspect that Schmahl was working undercover for the Army rather than helping the Hiss defense is his failure to mention to the Hiss defense what he knew about questioned documents examination based on his training at Camp Ritchie. CIC agents were routinely instructed 45 in the rudiments of questioned documents examination and how to identify which typewriter had produced a given document. They were also instructed in how to detect forgeries prepared by the enemy to protect its agents within the U.S. The defense would have benefited from this information, but Schmahl did not provide it.

A sixth reason to suspect that Schmahl was working undercover is the series of meetings 46 Schmahl had just weeks before Hiss went to prison. In March 1951, Schmahl met repeatedly with General “Wild Bill” Donovan. Donovan had been Coordinator of Information (OCI) and then director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the wartime predecessor of the CIA—and had long regarded 47 Hiss as a Soviet spy. Donovan had known Schmahl for more than a decade 48 and was later godfather to Schmahl’s first-born son, 49 who grew up to become an undercover agent himself. Donovan lived in New York City, where the Hiss trials took place, and surely knew of Schmahl’s involvement in the case. It seems inconceivable that Donovan would have helped Schmahl if his role had been to strengthen, rather than to subvert, the Hiss defense. Yet, Donovan strongly recommended Schmahl in March 1951 to the Assistant Director of Special Operations 50 at CIA.

A seventh and final reason to suspect that Schmahl was working undercover for Military Intelligence while being paid by the Hiss defense is that Schmahl said so himself. He informed the FBI 51 in December 1948 of his “present employment in the Military Intelligence.” The FBI seemed to take his claim seriously and so do I. The FBI responded that “any investigations conducted by the FBI were conducted individually of any other organization,” presumably a tense expression of displeasure at having to work alongside Military Intelligence.

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III. The Mission

By the second half of 1945, U.S. counterintelligence had become convinced that Alger Hiss was spying for the Soviets. J. Edgar Hoover requested a wiretap because Hiss “has been engaged in espionage for the Soviet Secret Intelligence (NKVD).” With a wiretap, Hoover hoped “to determine the extent of activities on behalf of the Soviets and for the additional purpose of identifying espionage agents.” As for William Donovan of OSS, in the fall of 1945 “when it seemed possible that Hiss might become the first secretary-general of the United Nations,” Donovan reportedly “warned the State Department that Hiss had been charged by OSS sources with being a traitor” [Anthony Summers, Arrogance of Power, p. 63]. 52

Nothing Chambers had said convinced the counterintelligence community that Hiss was a spy. To the contrary, until November 17, 1948 53 Chambers repeatedly insisted that Hiss had never been one of his espionage sources up through the time the two parted company in 1937-8.

U.S. counterintelligence authorities faced a dilemma. 54 They had independent evidence which they regarded as incriminating, but they were unwilling to present it in court since it would have compromised their ability to detect other spies. 55 They were equally unwilling, however, to let Hiss continue spying. The Bush administration faced a similar dilemma, albeit at a lower level, in handling Al Qaeda suspects: winning a conviction in court required disclosures that the administration was unwilling to make; but releasing suspected terrorists instead also seemed unacceptable. The Bush administration resolved the dilemma by holding these suspects indefinitely without trial. But this option was not available to the Truman administration since Hiss was an American citizen who counted among his many supporters a former First Lady (Eleanor Roosevelt), a future presidential candidate (Adlai Stevenson) and several Supreme Court justices (Justice Frankfurter and Justice Reed, both character witnesses at his first trial).

The Army resolved the dilemma by providing Chambers with evidence 56 forged to convince the jury that Hiss was one of his espionage sources. This solution was faithful to the exhortation in the field manual of the Counter Intelligence Corps to “resort to any means, methods, or stratagems necessary to accomplish the mission assigned.”

But while this plan neutralized Hiss without weakening the Army’s ability to pursue other spy suspects, it was not without costs. To name the most obvious, Hiss was never afforded the opportunity to establish his innocence by challenging the real evidence against him; sixty years later, we still don’t know what persuaded the counterintelligence community that Alger Hiss was spying in the mid-1940s. Many men identified as spies are really espionage agents. But it is worth remembering that innocent men are often mistaken for spies. It is, of course, only human to make mistakes; but in counterintelligence work, spy catchers are also sometimes deliberately misled by spies seeking to divert suspicion from themselves; Robert Hanssen, who at one time led the FBI’s search for the Soviet mole (himself), provides an apt example. Indeed, according to the leading American writer on espionage [David Wise’s Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI’s Robert Hanssen Betrayed America (Random House, 2002)], the search for spies within the CIA under James Angleton ended the careers of a score of men later shown to be innocent.

The Army’s neat resolution of its dilemma also left our electorate bitterly divided and mired in what Susan Jacoby has recently dubbed “the Battle for History.” The battle rages unabated. Conservatives focus on suggestive evidence that Hiss spied in the 1940s and jump to the conclusion that the trial evidence of his spying in the 1930s was genuine; liberals focus on evidence that trial exhibits were forged and jump to the conclusion that Hiss was innocent.

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IV. Forged Trial Exhibits

Two pieces of evidence suggest that trial exhibits were forged. The first, discovered by the FBI before the earlier of the two trials but concealed and then rediscovered 57 independently by the Hiss defense after his conviction, is evidence that the typewriter exhibited at the trials was not Hiss’s old machine. The man who sold the machine to Hiss’s father-in-law retired in December, 1927 and said he sold no typewriters after retiring. The salesman (Thomas Grady) recalled selling a typewriter to the partner (Harry Martin) of Hiss’s father-in-law and, for his part, Harry Martin remembered purchasing a typewriter from Thomas Grady. The evidence was sufficiently compelling that the FBI had limited its five-month intensive search to machines with serial numbers far below that of the typewriter which the Hiss defense located and surrendered as a trial exhibit. The manufacturer concluded from its serial number that the trial exhibit was manufactured after July 1928. It would have been purchased later. For example, the machine that rolled off the assembly line immediately before the trial exhibit was, according to sales records, not purchased until September 21, 1932.

Hence, the typewriter tracked down by the defense and exhibited at the trials could not have been Hiss’s 1927 machine. 58 But why then was it located where Hiss’s machine should have been? And why did experts on both sides mistakenly identify typing from the trial exhibit as having come from Hiss’s 1927 machine? Had this information been disclosed before Hiss was convicted, his attorney would have turned to the jurors and asked: “if these experts mistakenly thought that typing from the 1928 trial exhibit came from Hiss’s 1927 machine, how can you rely on their testimony that the spy documents came from that same 1927 machine?”

The demonstration that this trial exhibit had been deliberately altered to type like Hiss’s machine constitutes the second piece of evidence that the typed spy documents were fakes. In Hiss’s motion for a new trial, he enlisted the expertise of Dr. Daniel Norman of the New England Spectrochemical Laboratories. Dr. Norman, a Harvard Ph.D. who had studied spectroscopy at MIT, was the Director of Chemical Research at a company which had been frequently utilized by the U.S. Armed Forces because of its painstaking forensic analyses. Dr. Norman showed that the typewriter exhibited in court had been altered 59 to type like Hiss’s machine: unlike any of Norman’s sample of machines of the same brand and vintage, the trial exhibit alone had tool marks on some typefaces, bare metal in places, and solder the placement, thickness, and metallic content of which indicated extensive work outside the factory.

Evidence that Hiss was framed is often dismissed by one of three arguments: (1) Hiss was guilty, 60 (2) Chambers lacked the skill 61 to commit forgery by typewriter, and (3) Chambers would not have known where to position the fabricated typewriter so the defense would find it. 62 Indeed, Judge Goddard rejected Hiss’s motion for a new trial on the basis of these arguments. On the one hand, the judge knew nothing about the penetration of the defense camp by a Special Agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and nothing about the capabilities of that organization; on the other hand, his dismissal of the empirical evidence that forgery had been committed seems surprising. In fact, even if all three of these arguments are true, they do not constitute reasons to disregard evidence that Hiss was framed. 63 U.S. counterintelligence had a motive to frame Hiss even if it had compelling evidence of his guilt because disclosing this evidence would have compromised its ability to monitor other spy suspects. Even if Chambers lacked the skill to forge typed documents, Military Intelligence had vast experience during the War forging documents to bolster the cover stories of soldiers behind enemy lines. 64 As for removing Hiss’s rusty old machine and positioning the fabricated typewriter where the Hiss defense would find it, there was at least one Army spy catcher, hidden in plain sight, who knew where to place it. Indeed, at the end of December—four months before the Hiss defense located what became an exhibit in the trial that was about to begin—Schmahl confided to an official of the typewriter company that he had located Hiss’s machine. Although news that Hiss’s Chief Investigator had located it never reached the defense, word was immediately relayed to the FBI, which had independent grounds to suspect that Schmahl had located the machine. 65 The Bureau was never, however, able to confirm its suspicion.

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V. A Summing Up

Sixty years ago, the judges and jurors lacked this information. They did not realize that the typewriter in the court room was not Hiss’s but one cleverly altered to type like it and positioned where the Hiss defense would find it. They did not realize that the experts tracing the spy documents to Hiss’s personal typewriter had already discredited their expertise by tracing documents from some other machine to Hiss’s personal typewriter. The judges and jurors did not realize that Army Military Intelligence had become expert in forging documents (some typed) during the War and that one of the Army’s elite spy-catchers had been working under cover at the heart of the Hiss defense camp. 66 Nor did they have the information necessary to appreciate the Army’s precognitive feat 67 of inserting a spy-catcher in the Hiss camp a month before Chambers “remembered” for the first time that Hiss was one of his espionage sources. Finally, the judges and jurors did not have the opportunity to read in Chambers’s future memoir his account of opening the envelope he thought contained just “two or three scraps of Alger Hiss’s handwriting and perhaps something of Harry White’s” only to discover the additional 65 typed pages of spy documents:

“By a reflex of amazement, I pushed the papers back into the envelope. Then I held on to the edge of the table, for I had the feeling that the floor was swimming around me and that I was going to fall to it. That passed in an instant. But I continued to grasp the edge of the table in the kind of physical hush that a man feels to whom has appeared an act of God … How could I help but feel stunned? For I knew that the documents and the film meant much more than any part they might play in the libel suit. They challenged my life itself. They meant there had been given into my hands the power to prove the Communist conspiracy.” [My emphasis]

In all of this there is the unmistakable outline of a covert military operation to neutralize Alger Hiss. But it is only the barest outline, not a detailed picture. I can only speculate about how Alger Hiss first came to the attention of the Counter Intelligence Corps, what its elite spy-catcher did while under cover, and who else participated in the operation. If the Counter Intelligence Corps was merely monitoring Hiss and nothing more, how can one explain (1) Schmahl’s arrival before Chambers even recalled that Hiss had been one of his espionage sources and (2) the various inconsistencies in the typewritten evidence produced to support that accusation?

Over decades of research, I have obtained hundreds of documents from Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorneys Office (SDNY), Federal Bureau of Investigation (both the main office in Washington, D.C. and various field offices in NY and NJ), Office of Strategic Services, Strategic Services Unit, Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, the National Archives II, and the National Personnel Records Center (St. Louis). Only one organization has remained completely unhelpful. Army counterintelligence has disclosed to me virtually nothing. To the best of my knowledge, other scholars have fared no better. Ironically, scholars have had greater access to the files of the Soviet KGB.

Until files on this covert operation are disclosed, the public will never know when Alger Hiss first became an investigative target of Army counterintelligence, who participated in the decision to neutralize him, and how that mission was accomplished. This military operation has profoundly distorted our political discourse for sixty years. Americans deserve at long last a comprehensive account of exactly what transpired so they can put this divisive affair behind them.