Hiss, Alger (1904–1996)
US public servant who was allegedly part of a communist intelligence network operating in the USA during the 1930s.
Hiss graduated in political science from Johns Hopkins University in 1926 and then entered Harvard Law School (1926–29). After a spell in private legal practice, he joined the Department of Agriculture in 1933 and three years later moved to the State Department as assistant to Francis Sayre, assistant secretary of state. In 1944, Hiss joined the Office of Special Political Affairs, preparing policy and legal briefs for United Nations affairs. He attended the Yalta conference in February 1945, as one of President Roosevelt's advisers, and served as temporary acting secretary-general for the 1945 UN conference held in San Francisco. The following year he was elected president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
It was against this impeccable record that, on 3 August 1948, Whittaker Chambers – a senior editor at Time magazine and self-confessed former member of an underground communist network – denounced Hiss as an accomplice to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Chambers's assertions, upheld by congressman Richard M. Nixon, were that Hiss had copied and filmed State Department documents. Hiss's typewriter and also microfilm that Chambers claimed to have hidden inside a pumpkin – the so-called ‘pumpkin papers’ – were produced as evidence. Hiss's first trial in 1949 resulted in a hung jury, but the following January he was convicted of perjury and sentenced to jail. The case led to an upsurge of anticommunist feeling and the rise to prominence of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Hiss was released in 1954, and spent the rest of his life maintaining his innocence. In 1992, after the end of the Cold War, a Russian general in charge of KGB archives claimed to have found no evidence that Hiss had been a Soviet agent. In 1996, however, the US National Security Agency released papers suggesting that Hiss could have been a spy known as ‘Ales’.