History revisited.

Author:Wilson, Robert

Editor's Note


Most reasonable people threw in the towel on the Alger Hiss case years ago, even those who longed to believe that this well-educated, dignified man was the victim of a dark, hysterical time in the nation's history. Emerging information--in intercepted Soviet diplomatic and intelligence messages from the 1930s and '40s released by the National Security Agency in the 1990s--seemed to indicate that Hiss was a traitor. But the conclusions of history, even more than, say, the often-revised conclusions of science, have a way of yielding to new discoveries and new facts. Enter, stage left, Kai Bird, the co-author of a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer that won the Pulitzer Prize last year, and Svetlana Chervonnaya, a Russian historian with a gift for navigating archives on both sides of the Cold War. They have revisited what many people feel is the most damning part of the case against Hiss--the circumstantial evidence that he was the Soviet asset code-named "Ales" described in the decrypted NSA-released cables. After many months of work in archives in Moscow and Washington, Bird and Chervonnaya have determined that, at the very least, the case that Hiss was Ales is inconclusive and--given that real proof might exist in Soviet documents not yet released--premature. They believe, further, that the circumstantial case against Hiss as Ales has a major flaw and that a more convincing circumstantial case can be made against another man who served in the State Department when Hiss did.

Bird and...

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