Skip to comments.Alger Hiss: Why He Chose Treason
Posted on 07/28/2012 2:35:15 AM PDT by iowamark
Frontpage Interviews guest today is Christina Shelton, a retired US intelligence analyst; she spent the major part of her thirty-two year career (twenty two years) working as a Soviet analyst and a Counterintelligence Branch Chief at the Defense Intelligence Agency. She is the author of the new book, Alger Hiss: Why He Chose Treason.
FP: Christina Shelton, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Shelton: Thank you, Mr. Glazov.
FP: Lets begin with you telling us what inspired you to write this book.
Shelton: I have always had an abiding interest in both the Soviet Union and the intriguing world of espionage. For the first major paper I wrote in high school a very long time ago, I chose the subject: Stalins Forced Labor Camps. My interest continued at George Washington University where I studied at the Sino-Soviet Institute. This led to a career in the Intelligence Community that covered counterintelligence in general and Soviet military and intelligence services in particular. For a couple of years before I retired from the government in 2009, I thought about writing a book, despite the fact that I had spent thirty-two years writing intelligence assessments. And the subject of Hiss came to me in a very natural way. Except for the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss is probably the most famous American spy of the 20th century. The case has all the trappings of a great storya struggle between two titans (Hiss and Whittaker Chambers), a fallen idol, a divided nation over Hisss innocence or guilt, all occurring against the background of the important years in American history during the Great Depression and World War II. This story has drama unlike the current cases where an individual spies for money.
FP: Share with us some of the evidence that has surfaced over the recent years that confirms Hiss was a spy.
Shelton: The most important evidence in recent years on Hisss role as a Soviet spy was revealed in KGB files and Hungarian state security records. The KGB archival material represents a significant breakthrough in shedding light on the KGBs extensive penetration of the US government during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1993, former KGB official Alexander Vassiliev was given access to KGB files. After he defected, he had a friend send his notebooks of transcribed KGB documents to him. Based on this material, John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Vassiliev wrote Spies: the Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (2009). Even though the material was from KGB files, there was some information on the GRUs asset, Hiss. In some cables, Hisss cover name was used, in others his name was cited in clear text. (Hiss had several cover names, among them Jurist, Leonard, and Ales.) One of the most damning KGB cables included a March 1950 document that noted the trial of the GRU agent Leonard (Hiss) a division chief at the State Department and member of Karls group (Chambers), had ended in his conviction at the beginning of 1950. Hiss was convicted in January 1950. It doesnt get clearer than that!
Noel Field, a Communist, and former State Department colleague and friend of Hiss during the 1930s was arrested in Eastern Europe after the war and charged with being an American spy. Stalin had falsely accused him as part of his overall campaign to purge Eastern Europes Communist leaders. In 1992, Hungarian archivist, Maria Schmidt found the original transcripts of Fields interrogation by Soviet and Hungarian state security. In it, Field acknowledged that Hiss tried to recruit him in the 1930s in Washington DC. Field said he told Hiss in a moment of poor tradecraft that he already worked for the Soviets as part of a KGB network (run by Hede Massing). This story of the attempted recruitment of Field by Hiss was corroborated by Chambers, Massing, and was in the KGB archival material.
FP: What does your book do that no book has done before?
Shelton: Most other books on Hiss focus on the case. In this book, I attempt to provide a strategic perspective, unique in the body of Hiss literature, by examining the case in the context of ideology. To understand Hiss and his actions, they must be seen from the perspective of what motivated his behavior that is, his ideology. I also emphasize the historical significance of the story based on Hisss role in foreign policy, specifically his importance in the founding of the UN and at the Yalta Conference. Conventional wisdom is that Hiss was peripheral at Yalta; a low-level note taker. In fact, evidence points to the centrality of his role at Yalta, as manifested in Secretary of State Stettiniuss diaries and personal papers. In addition, I was able to portray the personal side and human dimension of Hiss with regard to his relationship with his first wife Priscilla and especially his son Tony. This caring, affectionate person is reflected in the hundreds of personal letters given to the NYU Tamiment Library by Tony Hiss. His father was an inveterate letter writer and the library folders contain hundreds of letters written in the 1930s and during his 44 months in Lewisburg Federal prison. As far as I know, this material, recently turned over to NYU, is not included in any other book on Hiss. And finally, although the most recent material from the KGB archives was covered in a book on overall espionage in the US in the 1930s and 1940s, for the first time all available evidence on Hiss is in a book specifically about Hiss. This book contains the recent KGB information with regard to Hiss as well as material from the Hungarian archives.
FP: What damage did Hiss do to America?
Shelton: Alger Hiss spied for the GRU (Soviet military intelligence). Because GRU operational files never have been made available, the extent of Hisss damage is difficult to measure. A damage assessment can be made directly only on a very small body of documentary evidence documents of confidential military, State Department, and Navy cables Hiss gave to Chambers in the early months of 1938 (i.e. the so-called Pumpkin papers). These included, among others, summaries of cables by Ambassador Bullitt detailing pre-war events in Europe; activities of members of the anti-Comintern Pact, particularly in Asia, and detailed developments in China. Therefore, because only a small amount of the many documents Hiss passed during several years are available a damage assessment also must be based on deductive reasoning. We know Hiss was a spy and we know he had access to highly classified material. He had means, motive, and opportunity. From his post at the State Department, Hiss had access to classified material on many issues, including US-China policy. One specific example of deductive reasoning involves a State Department document relevant at the Yalta Conference. Secretary of State Stettinius placed Hiss in charge of the black books all the position papers for FDR on US strategy on issues to be discussed at Yalta. All this State Department material was to go directly to Hiss. One position paper noted that the State Department strongly opposed turning over to the USSR the southern Kurile and Sakhalin islands. This memo never made it into the Yalta briefing books; Roosevelt thus was not aware of it, and therefore of States position. Roosevelt conceded these territorial demands by Stalin. But Stalin knew this position from his spy networks; a copy of this State Department memo was found in the Russian archives after the fall of the USSR. So it was not only what Hiss gave to Moscow, but in this instance what he withheld from the US side that allowed him to influence plans and policy.
From Moscows assessment of Hiss, one could also deduce his value as an asset and the significance of the information he turned over to the Soviets. The GRU considered Hiss to be one of Moscows most important spies; evidence indicates he presumably was among the 5 GRU assets from the Washington DC apparatus that, according to Red Star, received Soviet decorations following the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Moreover, following GRU defections and Stalins purges in his intelligence services in the late 1930s, GRU networks were in chaos and spies were being transferred to the KGB. But not Hiss. Indeed, a Soviet official in the KGB archives noted that if the KGB had Jurist (Hiss) no one else would really be needed. Clearly, the GRU wanted to retain their high value asset. This judgment of Hiss would have been based on the quality of his information and his ability to influence US policy toward Moscow from his post at the State Department.
Moreover, it was of great value to Moscow that it was able to use the documents Hiss had turned over to his GRU contact to break the State Department codes and tap into American diplomatic traffic. This access, alone, to State Department plans and intentions prior to the onset of war would be invaluable to the Soviets. Sumner Welles, undersecretary of State (1937-1943) testified that the documents Hiss turned over to Chambers were critical to US security and specifically valuable to Moscows efforts to break US diplomatic codes.
FP: Your thoughts on the Lefts continuing denial? And why does the silence surrounding Hisss guilt continue?
Shelton: The Hiss case was a high profile espionage case representing two distinct ideological perspectives. Battle lines were drawn when the case broke in 1948 with two opposing views and little middle ground. The right championed Chambers; he had a lasting influence on the fledging conservative movement of the 1950s that was launched by William F. Buckley. For its part, the left viewed any attack on Hiss as an attack on the New Deal, Roosevelt, Yalta, and the UN. However, as the evidence unfolded and became more compelling and cumulative, some on the left (Leslie Fiedler, I.F. Stone, Sidney Hook, Lionel Trilling, Arthur Schlesinger, Murray Kempton, and later John Kenneth Galbraith and Daniel Patrick Moynihan) started deserting Hiss. And today, especially after the release of the KGB files, Hisss band of supporters has greatly diminished. Yet those few, with their blind spots, who hold on to their version of reality, continue to deny Hisss guilt because they still believe his guilt would cast a dark shadow on the New Deal and Roosevelt. The Hiss case became the touchstone for many intellectuals on the left. Rather than assimilate the body of evidence against Hiss, they focused on what he stood for his message and advocacy of collectivism and the need for government control over society and not his actions committing espionage.
FP: Why do you think Hiss went to his grave denying what he had done?
Shelton: Well, since one cannot get inside Hisss head, the next best thing is to understand the mindset of a Communist. The former managing editor of the Communist Partys Daily Worker from 1940-1945, Louis Budenz, claimed Hisss defiance was a result of Party discipline. He claimed Communists needed to be steeled this was Communist morality derived from the interests of the class struggle. Budenz maintained that Communist morality means employment of illegal or illegitimate methods to conceal facts. He said the Communist is not a pathological liar, but, referring to Hiss, claimed he resorts to perjury and lies when on the witness stand in the interests of the Party; it is done under Party orders and for Party purposes. This is a cardinal feature of Communist morality. If Budenz is correct, and I think he is, then it is a measure of Hisss commitment that he pursued for a half century a persona of righteousness. From his perspective, he was supporting the side he believed to represent social justice and equality and therefore he was not guilty. He was truly a committed Communist, and maintaining his innocence was important to serving the cause.
FP: Will the files of Soviet military intelligence, the GRU, Hisss employer, ever be opened?
Shelton: I do not think they will be made available in the foreseeable future, especially as long as the current political situation in Russia exists. Even with the US promoting its policy of pressing the reset button, Moscow is still not cooperating with either the US or the UN with regard to Syria and Iran, for example. In the foreign policy article Russia and the Changing World, Putin accused the West in general and the US in particular of meddling in the internal affairs of states to induce regime change under the guise of promoting democracy, and of destabilizing the Middle East by supporting the so called Arab Spring. Putin opposes any additional sanctions on Iran or any sanctions against Syria. US interventionism is given as the main reason nations like Iran or North Korea may be seeking nuclear capabilities to essentially defend their sovereignty. The only true path to effective nonproliferation is, according to Putin, the containment of the US global threat (Moskovskiye Novosti, February 27).
This political mindset as well as the background of President-elect Putin (who takes office in May 2012) that of a former KGB official and product of that mindset would seem to mitigate a policy of any transparency regarding Soviet military intelligence files. The political environment in Russia, I think, would have to change dramatically for Moscow to ever reveal GRU files. The GRU is organizationally part of the General Staff of the Ministry of Defense and has its own record of accomplishment independent of the KGB/FSB/SVR. The Russian military is quite proud of the GRUs successes and is not about to break faith with its history and recruited assets, even if they are long dead like Hiss. Moreover, probably next to USSR Politburo files, military files are viewed as sacrosanct. Finally, it must be stressed that Russian intelligence operations (including those of the GRU) against the US and NATO, are at Cold War levels. Why would they start opening their operational files?
FP: What do you hope your book will help achieve?
Shelton: To return to my answer on why I think this book adds to the body of Hiss literature:
I would hope that the Hiss saga will be seen not just as a spy case but in a larger ideological and historical context that Hiss will be examined against the Communist ideology that determined his actions and behavior. Integral to this story is the fundamental fascist nature of the Soviet system and the historical realities of the crimes of that belief system. Despite Stalins mass murders, Moscow had seduced many Americans, including Hiss, to support the Soviet Union; to place internationalism above national loyalty. I would also hope that Hiss is seen as an important historical figure of the 20th century, and that his actual role at Yalta will become accepted. He wasnt an ordinary run of the mill spy. He was a top-level government official who from his position at the State Department was able to do more than steal classified material; he was able to function as an agent of influence to serve Moscows foreign policy objectives. Of course he wasnt operating alone in a vacuum to affect policy. Others, such as Harry Dexter White at Treasury and the pro-Mao lobby at State Department, as well as the many Soviet sympathizers throughout the Roosevelt administration, also were acting as agents of influence, whose operations were coordinated by GRU operatives and requirements. Taken together, this capability of influence operations to affect US policy has been an important adjunct to the conduct of Soviet foreign policy.
FP: Christina Shelton, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
With that negative view on McCarthy you shouldn’t be too ‘lonesome in Massachusetts’.
JOSEPH MCCARTHY - AMERICAN PATRIOT
Senator Joe McCarthy is one of the strongest pro-American figures in the history of the United States. Despite many attempts by socialists to demonize McCarthy and “McCarthyism” with revisionist history, McCarthy’s achievements shine through the propaganda. At a time when America was threatened by a murderous, backward, anti-freedom ideology of Soviet communism, Joseph McCarthy was a champion of capitalism and Democracy. Even when his career was threatened because of his vocal anti-communist speeches, McCarthy did not back down from the cause of freedom. For the courage Senator McCarthy showed in sticking to his American principles, he is today considered to be a hero by many.
Joseph McCarthy was born in 1908 in a small Wisconsin town. In 1935 he earned a law degree from Marquette University and was admitted to the state bar. After an unsuccessful district attorney campaign in 1936, McCarthy was elected to district judge in 1939, becoming the youngest judge in Wisconsin state history.
After America was attacked on December 7th, 1941, Joseph McCarthy enlisted in the Marine Corps. He served his country honorably, flying eleven missions and earning a Distinguished Flying Cross award. While on duty, McCarthy made a hasty attempt at a US Senate campaign in 1944 but was defeated by Alexander Wiley. Determined to reverse his fortune, McCarthy again ran for Senate in 1946. This time McCarthy’s campaign was much better planned and he found success, narrowly defeating the Republican incumbent candidate in the primary and going on to easily win the general election.
In the late 1940s, Russian spies infiltrated the deepest levels of the US government, including the Rosenbergs who had stolen the plans to the nuclear bomb. America was threatened by a ruthless enemy in Soviet Communism that would not stop until the world was enslaved. When Senator Joseph McCarthy learned of the Russian infiltration of Washington, DC, he was determined to take the evidence public to the American people.
In his famous speech on February 9th, 1950, McCarthy brought public a list of 57 known communists working for the state department. These revelations took the American public by storm. Out of all the Senators and public figures in Washington, only McCarthy had the courage to stand up against communist infiltration. It was a deed that McCarthy’s leftist critics would never forgive him for.
For the next four years, Senator Joseph McCarthy stood undeterred against the strong socialist influence in Washington, exposing literally hundreds of anti-American operatives working incognito for the US Government. The American people generally appreciated McCarthy’s brave efforts and he was well-liked all across America.
McCarthy’s enemies also followed his activities with a strong interest. Determined to stop McCarthy from spreading the truth about their communist agenda, many anti-American Hollywood insiders found willing accomplices in the budding liberal media. These propaganda-mongers added a new word to the dictionary, defining “McCarthyism” as a senseless political witch hunt. In fact, McCarthy had exposed scores of known communists in the capital without a single known false accusation. Joseph McCarthy’s critics were never interested in the truth however.
The leftist counter-offensive against McCarthy was beginning to take its toll in late 1953. Many Senators became fed up with McCarthy’s showmanship as the liberal media relentlessly launched baseless attacks against his character. On a dark day in American history in December 1954, American hero and patriot Joseph McCarthy was censured by the US Senate.
Following his censure, McCarthy sunk into alcoholism from which he never recovered. He died of hepatitis on May 2nd, 1957 at the age of 49.
Even after his death, McCarthy’s critics continued to crucify him posthumously. Not satisfied with merely ruining a man’s career and driving him to alcoholic suicide, the liberal media courageously dragged McCarthy’s name through the mud for the next fifty years, continuing to this day. Leftists have never forgiven McCarthy for his crime of exposing them for who they truly are, inventing phrases like “The Red Scare” to demean McCarthy’s anti-communist efforts.
The VENONA Project files, declassified in 1995, provided indisputable evidence that nearly all of those McCarthy accused were traitors to America. Not surprisingly, the media ignored these documents completely, instead choosing to run yet another round of anti-McCarthy propaganda. As if that wasn’t enough, in 2005 Hollywood released the greatest propaganda film since “Triumph of the Will”, an anti-McCarthy slander picture known as “Good Night and Good Luck”. Dead for fifty years, McCarthy’s body has now been tarred, feathered, crucified, cremated, and his ashes shot into space by a leftist media who cannot handle the truth of their own miserable existence. The anti-McCarthy media claims the Senator wrongly implicated many. Despite their accusations, no critic has ever brought forth a single documented case of someone being wrongly accused by McCarthy.
McCarthy’s achievements to America are undeniable to those that view history with an unbiased eye. At a time when America was being infiltrated by agents of the most murderous empire in human history, McCarthy was the lone voice who stood against tyranny. He exposed hundreds of agents determined to destroy America. Had McCarthy not had the courage to speak up, it seems possible that the USSR might still exist today. Hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans who once lived under the Soviet fist today owe their freedom to Senator McCarthy.
McCarthy’s patriotism cost him his job and eventually his life. For his determination in protecting American freedom, Joseph McCarthy is undoubtedly an American hero and patriot.
I view it from the conservative stand point. I feel McCarthy’s personal shortcomings resulted in more harm than good to the country. He made anti-communism disreputable.
Christina Shelton: The most important evidence in recent years on Hiss's role as a Soviet spy was revealed in KGB files and Hungarian state security records. The KGB archival material represents a significant breakthrough in shedding light on the KGB's extensive penetration of the US government during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1993, former KGB official Alexander Vassiliev was given access to KGB files. After he defected, he had a friend send his notebooks of transcribed KGB documents to him. Based on this material, John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Vassiliev wrote Spies: the Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (2009). Even though the material was from KGB files, there was some information on the GRU's asset, Hiss. In some cables, Hiss's cover name was used, in others his name was cited in clear text. (Hiss had several cover names, among them 'Jurist,' 'Leonard,' and 'Ales.') One of the most damning KGB cables included a March 1950 document that noted "the trial of the GRU agent 'Leonard' (Hiss) a division chief at the State Department and member of 'Karl's group' (Chambers), had ended in his conviction at the beginning of 1950." Hiss was convicted in January 1950. It doesn't get clearer than that!He should have gone to the gallows.
Poll- Seeing that she is about my age, I’m in my mid-60s I’d say yes. However Paul Kengor is doing good work with his book on Frank Marshall Davis.
On the whole McCarthys efforts were probably counter-productive. We would have been better served by someone whose *tone* was moderate, but who was persistent. McCarthy made reckless charges which he could not back up, even if they were true.
....HORSEHOCKEY.... you don’t know your history. Anyone would have been smeared like Joe for opposing the most valuable Soviet asset by the communist controlled media and fellow travellers. Everything Joe shared was true and factual and that’s WHY he was mercilessly attacked. Read M. Stanton Evan’s Blacklisted by History for the full facts from archives...you commentary is the pure liberal lie. Joe did more than anyone in the 50s to out spies. He deserves the credit even today.
McCarthy, IMNSVHO, was thrown many low=level communists as sacrificial lambs. The top level Communist agents, fellow travellers, agents of influence and infiltrators did not often carry party cards (as in card-carrying Communist) "Card-carrying Communists," were likely to be the dispensible stooges.
Because the communist infiltration was so successful ... and because the Venona Papers were still classified and not even generally known in the intelligence community, McCarthy never laid a glove on the top commies. Iron Commie Control of the MSM and the upper reaches of the Democrat Party certainly helped.
McCarthy, like James Jesus Angleton long after him, was stymied by successful Soviet counter-intelligence. So yes, McCarthy is a hero on a par with some of the Founding Fathers. And yes, his results were certainly not all they could have been.
Counterproductive? No. His efforts woke up the public. Betrayed ... by a compliant media and the Democrat Party Leadership. Most certainly.
Thanks for the ping. I like her explanation of Hiss as a true believer in the communist dream and their doctrine that any means to advance communism is justified. The same is no doubt true of Frank Marshall Davis and Bill Ayers and many other modern communists and covert communists.
The foundations appear to have been engaged in a project to merge the U.S. and the USSR.
However, I increasingly think it is a mistake to see American Communists as directed from Moscow. They were pursuing their own agenda. In some ways, they didn't see themselves as clients of Moscow. Rather, they saw Moscow as *their* client state.
Indeed, Marxism was a Western export to Russia.
New England Communism / Progressivism is a far more sophisticated variety than Soviet Communism.
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