Originally created 11/19/96

Alger Hiss



At the height of the Cold War, when Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was using Communist parties all over the world to subvert the free world, seeds of treason were planted even in the highest echelons of the United States government.

Alger Hiss, the patrician former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who died Friday at age 92, epitomizes such treachery.

A State Department memorandum once described the Harvard-educated lawyer's "Svengali-like influence" over the U.S. State Department when he was a top adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt.

But it was a Communist named Elizabeth Bentley who exposed Hiss as part of a post-war Soviet spy ring; the charge was corroborated by a senior Time editor and former Communist Party member, Whittaker Chambers.

The shock waves are still felt and, even to this day, some in the Liberal Establishment claim their golden boy was somehow framed. Chambers' 1948 testimony before a House committee was electrifying, and it was a young Rep. Richard Nixon, R-Calif., who led the charge to expose Hiss' theft of government secrets.

The statute of limitations on spying had run out, but Hiss was nevertheless convicted of perjury and ignominiously jailed.

Journalist Ralph de Toledano placed the entire case into proper perspective:

"This is more than the story of a famous trial. ... It is, in a broad way, the story of an era, an anatomy of that time in American history when Communism was a polite word and a fashionable avocation. ... The moral of the story is obvious - that under cover of the flummery of cocktail parties and fancy front organizations, the real Communists were systematically destroying the United States."

Hiss is America's modern-day Benedict Arnold - a glib, well-educated, well-dressed traitor who could boast of prominent friends in high places, including former Secretary of State Dean Acheson.

Yet Hiss' death still begs a question dogging the Liberal Establishment: Who is the more guilty, the man who passes documents to a Soviet spy ring or the man who, for whatever reason, sponsors the culprit?