The Freedom of Information Act
New Hiss-case evidence — meaning, in many cases, evidence that has existed for many years in various federal government files, but was for a long time withheld from both the defense and the general public — has slowly been coming to light over the past quarter century. The release of executive branch documents (from the FBI, the State Department, and other agencies) under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, began in the 1970s, and continues to this day. Releases from the other two branches of government have been far more recent: a federal judge made the Hiss case grand-jury testimony public in 1999, and in 2001 the House of Representatives released executive session testimony and investigators’ reports from the old House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), including 1948 material relating to Whittaker Chambers’ charges against Alger Hiss.
The tens of thousands of pages of the 1970s FOIA releases that came from FBI files were the basis for Alger Hiss’s 1978 coram nobis petition in federal court, asking that his conviction be overturned due to the prosecutorial misconduct disclosed in those files. Two articles in this section discuss the contents of those files:
- In a lengthy, candid 1978 interview with the Advocate, a newsletter of the Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Alger Hiss discussed his coram nobis petition, which had then just been filed, and other legal aspects of his case.
- In 1980, two years after filing the original coram nobis brief, Alger Hiss’s attorney filed a memorandum of law about further instances of governmental misconduct revealed in the released FBI files. Journalist Fred J. Cook, who first investigated the case in 1957, wrote in The Nation about this second brief which, as he said, contained “the most shocking revelations yet” about the government’s activities.