Alger Hiss

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Alger Hiss (November 11, 1904 – November 15, 1996) was an American lawyer, civil servant, businessman, author, and lecturer. He was involved in the establishment of the United Nations both as a U.S. State Department and UN official. Hiss was accused of being a Soviet spy in 1948 and convicted of perjury in connection with this charge in 1950.

On August 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist Party member, testified under subpoena before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that Hiss had secretly been a communist while in federal service, despite the fact that Chambers had previously testified under oath that Hiss had never been a communist. Called before HUAC, Hiss categorically denied the charge. When Chambers repeated his claim in a radio interview, Hiss filed a defamation lawsuit against him.

During the pretrial discovery process, Chambers produced new evidence indicating that he and Hiss had been involved in espionage, although both men had denied this under oath to HUAC. A federal grand jury indicted Hiss on two counts of perjury; Chambers admitted to the same offense, but, as a cooperating government witness, he was never charged. Although Hiss's indictment stemmed from the alleged espionage, he could not be tried for that crime because the statute of limitations had expired. After a mistrial due to a hung jury, Hiss was tried a second time. In January 1950, he was found guilty on both counts of perjury and received two concurrent five-year sentences, of which he eventually served 44 months.

Arguments about the case and the validity of the verdict took center stage in broader debates about the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the extent of Soviet espionage in the United States.[1] Since his conviction, statements by involved parties and newly exposed evidence have added to the dispute. Although the New York Times has identified a "growing consensus that Hiss, indeed, had most likely been a Soviet agent,"[2] in 1993 historian David Halberstam wrote, "Many other important files remained closed, including Soviet records, and ironically—even though the House Un-American Activities committee is long defunct—HUAC’s own documents. These were sealed in 1976 for an additional fifty years. Until we have full access, the Hiss controversy will continue to be debated."[3]

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