Ongoing Discoveries

The Hiss case is one of those highly unusual criminal proceedings where, long after the fact, new evidence keeps coming to light – often unexpectedly – making possible new understandings and novel interpretations, many of which clarify or even flatly contradict earlier assumptions.

An unanticipated 2005 FBI release is the basis for the first of the two essays gathered here: the Bureau at that point posted on its website 354 pages from its files on Donald Hiss, Alger Hiss’s younger brother. Chambers accused both Hiss brothers of membership in the Communist Party and participation in the Communist underground. But Chambers only charged Alger Hiss with espionage, and as a result few people ever looked closely at the allegations against Donald Hiss, who became, in effect, the “forgotten Hiss case.” Using the posted FBI material as the basis for a re-examination of the case against Donald Hiss, Jeff Kisseloff shows that not only did the Bureau itself consider him innocent but that, seen in the light of this exoneration, Chambers’ unfounded charges about Donald Hiss provide a new way for weighing his general accuracy and value and reliability as a witness.

Using the released Hiss case grand jury minutes as his resource, Robert L. Weinberg, a respected Washington, D.C. trial attorney, wrote, in 2008, a meticulously detailed legal article for The Champion, the magazine of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, challenging the underlying perjury indictment against Alger Hiss as invalid, unlawful and unconstitutional. Simply as a matter of law, Weinberg maintains, the Hiss case thus requires a “revised verdict.”

In an original piece of research that is also the first 21st-century follow-up to Alger Hiss’s charge at his sentencing that he was the victim of “forgery by typewriter,” Stephen W. Salant, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, proposed in 2010 that, as he has written, “U.S. Army Military Intelligence used an undercover spy-catcher to penetrate Hiss’s defense and to plant evidence forged to secure his perjury conviction.”