What the FBI Knew
“What the FBI Knew And Hid,” by John Lowenthal (The Nation, June 26, 1976)
From an FBI telegram:
WASHINGTON 7, NY 2, AND CHICAGO 1 FROM PHILA. 5-17-49 DIRECTOR AND SACS URGENT …CONCERNING WOODSTOCK TYPEWRITER SERIAL FIVE N TWO THREE NAUGHT NAUGHT NINE NINE, ALLEGEDLY THE TYPEWRITER FORMERLY OWNED BY THE HISS FAMILY, IT IS DESIRED TO POINT OUT… THAT THE DEFINITE POSSIBILITY EXISTS THIS TYPEWRITER IS NOT THE ONE RECEIVED BY PRISCILLA HISS FROM HER FATHER THOMAS FANSLER…
The Woodstock typewriter has been the focus of doubts about the Hiss case ever since the trials in 1949-50. The second jury convicted Hiss on the premise that his wife had typed copies of State Department documents at home on the Hiss family Woodstock. Everyone appeared to think that Woodstock model 5N serial number 230099, the typewriter on exhibit in the courtroom, was that same typewriter. But soon after the verdict, evidence that the typewriter was suspect — that it was not the Hisses’ machine, and was possibly even a machine planted or fabricated to frame Hiss — began to surface.
The FBI has just disclosed that it had evidence, even before the Hiss perjury trials began, that Woodstock No. 230099 was not the Hiss family typewriter. Had this evidence been disclosed before the trials, it might well have severed a vital link in the Government’s case against Hiss, by discrediting the opinion of “expert” document examiners that the incriminating papers had been typed on the same machine used for typing some old Hiss family letters.
FBI flies are now being obtained under the amended Freedom of Information Act. The files released to date are voluminous but incomplete, and litigation to obtain withheld and deleted material is continuing. Nevertheless, what is already available about the typewriter is sufficiently clear, and its prior withholding by the FBI is significant enough to warrant this preliminary assessment.
The importance of the typewriter in the case can be briefly sketched. In August 1948, an ex-Communist named Whittaker Chambers appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and accused Alger Hiss, a former State Department employee, and other former Government employees, of having been Communists who tried to influence Government policy in the 1930s, but not of having engaged in espionage. Hiss sued Chambers for libel. On November 17, 1948, during pretrial depositions of Chambers in the libel suit in Baltimore, Chambers produced typewritten copies of various State Department papers bearing dates in the first four months of 1938.
Chambers claimed that Hiss’s wife, Priscilla, had typed the copies at home from State Department papers brought home overnight by Hiss. Chambers stated that he collected the typed copies at the Hisses’ house and delivered them to a photographer to be microfilmed, and that he then delivered the microfilms to a Russian agent. Chambers said variously that he had previously refrained from mentioning espionage in order to shield his erstwhile friend Hiss; that he had forgotten the papers, forgotten he had put them by, thought he had destroyed them, did not believe they still existed or were of much importance; and that, if he produced no tangible evidence, he saw that he might well lose the libel suit and be indicted for perjury.
Hiss and his libel-suit lawyers immediately requested that the typewritten copies produced by Chambers (referred to as “Baltimore Documents”) be turned over to the Department of Justice for an investigation to determine Chambers’ true source for the underlying State Department papers of which the Baltimore Documents were copies, summaries, and extracts. Hiss and his lawyers retained only photostats of the Baltimore Documents.
During the next few weeks, a grand jury that was investigating possible espionage resumed hearing testimony from Hiss, Chambers, and others. On December 15, 1948, the grand jury indicted Hiss for perjury in denying that he had turned over State Department documents, or copies thereof, to Chambers in early 1938. (Prosecution for espionage was barred by the Statute of Limitations.)
The crux of the evidence against Hiss was Chambers’s testimony and the typewritten Baltimore Documents. Whatever typewriter the Hisses had owned in early 1938, they no longer had in 1948. However, letters typed in the Hiss household during the period from January 1933 to May 1937 (the “Hiss Standards”) were found. Document examiners at the FBI and also for the defense expressed their opinions that the Hiss Standards and all but one of the Baltimore Documents had been typed on the same machine, which they recognized from the typeface style to be an old Woodstock.
Priscilla Hiss had been given an old Woodstock by her father, but had disposed of it, probably in 1937 or 1938. The exact date of disposition was important. If Priscilla Hiss had still possessed the typewriter throughout the dates on the Baltimore Documents (January 5 through April 1, 1938), then it was at least possible for the Baltimore Documents to have been typed by her at home, as Chambers claimed. (It would not have proved Chambers’ story, since he or someone else could have “borrowed” the typewriter during that period to type the Baltimore Documents, or could have obtained the machine for that purpose at some later date, after Priscilla Hiss had disposed of it — or, as we shall see, could have forged the Baltimore Documents on another machine.) But if she had disposed of the typewriter before the dates on the Baltimore Documents and never again had the machine in her possession, then those documents could not possibly have been typed on it in the Hiss home, as Chambers claimed.
If the Hiss Woodstock could be traced, the exact date of its disposition might be pinned down. The FBI, HUAC, and the defense all tried to find the old machine. What the FBI found in December 1948 is now revealed, at least in part in FBI reports made that month in Philadelphia (December 17 and 23), Milwaukee (December 21), and Chicago (December 23):
The Woodstock given to Priscilla Hiss by her father, Thomas Fansler, had been bought when Fansler formed an insurance business partnership in Philadelphia with Harry Martin in the spring or summer of 1927. The FBI interviewed Martin, who remembered buying a new Woodstock at the inception of the partnership from Thomas Grady, a Woodstock salesman in Philadelphia. The FBI found Grady, who recalled selling a Woodstock to Martin about 1927, at the inception of the partnership. Grady ceased to work for the Woodstock Typewriter Company on December 3, 1927. Secretaries who worked for the partnership were also interviewed, and their recollections, while somewhat confused and uncertain, tended to confirm that the Fansler-Martin partnership had a Woodstock in 1927. No one recalled any subsequent trade-in of the Woodstock or that there was more than one Woodstock in the Fansler-Martin office.
The FBI then obtained, from the Woodstock company, a factory record listing the approximate serial numbers used at the beginning of each year 1925 through 1931, as follows:
A trade-in manual for use by typewriter dealers listed approximately the same data, with minor changes such as commencing the year 1928 with the serial number 177,000 instead of 177,100.
The FBI thus concluded in December 1948 as follows:
In view of the fact that THOMAS GRADY, the salesman who sold the new Woodstock typewriter to the FANSLER-MARTIN partnership, resigned on December 3, 1927, it would appear, therefore, that the serial number of the typewriter sold to FANSLER-MARTIN would be less than 177,000.
Armed with the list of serial numbers by years, more than ninety FBI agents combed the country for old Woodstocks. Whenever they found one in or near the pertinent serial range, they also tried to ascertain the date of its purchase, since they had a date – December 3, 1927 – on or before which the Fansler-Martin machine must have been purchased. What they found shows a time gap of at least half a year from date of manufacture to date of purchase. Thus, Woodstock No. 169,653, manufactured in 1927, according to Woodstock records, was purchased In July 1928. Woodstock No. 188,729E, manufactured in 1928, was purchased “probably in the Summer of 1929”; and, the FBI agent added in his report, “Inasmuch as the machine appears to have been manufactured subsequent to January 1, 1928, no further investigation was conducted concerning this machine.” A considerably longer gap appears for Woodstock No. 210,524, manufactured in 1929 and “purchased approximately in 1932” (to which the FBI agent added, “Inasmuch as the serial number of this machine indicates manufacture subsequent to 1927, no further inquiry was made concerning it”).
Even photographs of the pertinent model, which was unchanged throughout the three years 1926, 1927, and 1928, were sought by the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover himself specified serial numbers for those years in a memorandum he sent to SAC [Special Agent in Charge], Washington Field Office dated February 17, 1949, the first sentence of which reads:
You are requested to obtain a photograph of a Woodstock typewriter which comes within the pertinent serial range, that is, 145,000 – 204,500 which was manufactured around the time that the Hiss Woodstock machine was made and show this photograph to the maids, baby sitters and other persons who have admitted seeing an upright machine in the Hiss residence.
The FBI was unsuccessful in its search for the old Woodstock, as far as can be determined from the files released to date.(1)
The defense had relatively meager resources to devote to the search. However, in April 1949, just six weeks before the first trial began, defense attorneys found Woodstock No. 230,099. They believed it to be the Hiss family Woodstock because it appeared to be traceable all the way back, through many hands, to the family of a maid who had worked for the Hisses in the 1930s and to whose sons the Hisses had given their Woodstock.
If the finding of Woodstock No. 230,099 by the defense attorneys was entirely a surprise to the FBI, that the investigative bureau had been upstaged by a few rank amateurs. Moreover, a crucial detail was cause for adding consternation to chagrin: The serial number of the newly found machine was too high for the Woodstock the FBI had been looking for– a machine purchased by the Fansler-Martin partnership even before No. 230,099 was manufactured, according to the FBI’s evidence.
It must have been a bureaucrat’s nightmare. On the one hand, if Woodstock No. 230,099 were the Hiss family machine, the FBI had muffed its investigation. The Bureau would lose face, and someone would have to take the blame. On the other hand, if the FBI’s investigation and evidence were correct, then the defense attorneys had somehow been led into error in identifying Woodstock No. 230,099 as the Hiss family machine. Worse, any document examiner who might give an opinion that Woodstock No. 230,099 was the same machine that the Hiss Standards had been typed on would be discredited if the fact that it was not the Hiss machine were to come to light.
From the FBI files recently released, we see the FBI diligently rechecking its evidence for accuracy. The files also suggest maneuvering by FBI agents to escape blame. First is an FBI agent’s 3-page defense addressed to his chief, justifying in detail why the agent had looked for typewriters only with serial numbers substantially lower than 230,099. This is the teletype excerpted at the beginning of this article. It was sent by FBI agent Boardman of the Philadelphia office to J. Edgar Hoover on May 17, 1949, just two weeks before the first trial began. Boardman reminds Hoover that THE INVESTIGATION TO DATE HAS ESTABLISHED THAT THE FANSLER-MARTIN PARTNERSHIP PURCHASED A WOODSTOCK TYPEWRITER IN NINETEEN TWENTY-SEVEN. Boardman then carefully recites the substantiating interviews with Martin and Woodstock salesman Grady and the factory serial-number list WHICH MAKES IT APPARENT THAT TWO THREE NAUGHT NAUGHT NINE NINE WOULD HAVE BEEN MANUFACTURED IN TWENTY-NINE. It therefore could not have been the Woodstock purchased by Fansler-Martin in 1927, and therefore could not have been the Hiss family machine.
After making his own defense, Boardman then tries shifting the onus to the FBI laboratory in Washington:
BULAB REPORT DATED DEC. THIRTY, FORTY-EIGHT SETS OUT THAT CONSIDERATION SHOULD BE GIVEN TO OBTAINING SPECIMENS FROM MACHINES HAVING SERIAL NUMBERS LOWER THAN TWO HUNDRED FOUR THOUSAND.
Next, Boardman raises the possibility that the FBI had been led astray by wrong figures supplied by the Chicago office of the FBI:
IF WOODSTOCK NUMBER TWO THREE NAUGHT NAUGHT NINE NINE SHOULD ACTUALLY DEVELOP TO BE THE FORMER FANSLER-MARTIN TYPEWRITER, THEN RECORDS OF FACTORY AND TRADE MANUAL WOULD APPEAR TO BE INACCURATE. CHICAGO OFFICE SHOULD IMMEDIATELY ATTEMPT TO DETERMINE DEGREE OF ACCURACY WHICH CAN BE ATTRIBUTED TO INFO SET FORTH IN RE REP SA ANDERSON CONCERNING QUOTE APPROXIMATE SERIAL NUMBERS UNQUOTE AND WHAT OFFICIAL OF WOODSTOCK CAN TESTIFY TO THIS DEGREE OF ACCURACY….
The Chicago office responded with a memorandum to the DIRECTOR, FBI, dated May 20, 1949, confirming and elaborating as follows on the evidence previously gathered by the Chicago office:
Mr. Joseph Schmitt, Vice President In Charge of Production, Woodstock Typewriter Company, Woodstock, Illinois, has furnished a list indicating the various serial numbers being used at the times technical changes were made in Woodstock typewriters. Mr. Schmitt stated that this list is accurate and that Traffic Manager Harold Kroull could testify as to its accuracy. The list is as follows:
|5HN||131,000||Dec., 1924||1/2″ ribbon|
|5N-8J-8K-8L||141,000||March, 1925||1/2″ ribbon on Long Carriages|
|5N-8J-8K-8L||220,000||March, 1929||New Style Action|
|5N-8J-8K-8L||265,000||Aug., 1930||Die Cast Base|
|5N-8J-8K-8L||300,000||July, 1931||Die Cast Topplate|
|5N-8J-8K-8L||325,000||June, 1932||Nickel Carriage Ends|
Schmitt’s new list was consistent with the factory record and trade-in manual that the FBI had obtained before Woodstock No. 230,099 burst upon the scene. From Schmitt’s list, it appears that Woodstock No. 230,099 would have been manufactured between March 1929, when serial number 220,000 was used, and August 1930, when serial number 265,000 was used.
The Milwaukee office of the FBI reinterviewed Woodstock salesman Grady “concerning the Woodstock typewriter he sold to HARRY MARTIN and his partner FANSLER in Philadelphia in the year 1927.” The Milwaukee office reported to J. Edgar Hoover on June 7, 1949:
It was pointed out to him [Grady] that the typewriter produced by Hiss [No. 230099], according to company records, was manufactured in the year 1929 and was a Model 5N. He stated that he could not have sold this typewriter as he sold no typewriters subsequent to leaving the employ of Woodstock in December 1927.
The FBI did more than just reinvestigate its previous evidence pointing to a 1927 Woodstock. The emergence of Woodstock No. 230,099 furnished a new clue in the specific serial number, which, if it could be traced through sales records, might lead to the name of the purchaser and the date of purchase. The FBI searched, and this is what it says it found:
No record of the sale of a typewriter bearing serial 230,099 has ever been located; however, sale of a machine with serial 230,098, one digit lower than the machine in question, has been located, it occurring in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 21, 1932.
If the machine in question was also sold in 1932, it was sold to someone other than Fansler-Martin, since that partnership was terminated in 1930 and Fansler retired then or in early 1931.
The FBI’s finding quoted above, concerning the machine one digit lower, appears in a 9-page memorandum dated June 8, 1949, setting forth “an analysis of the information developed since December 10, 1948, which concerns the Woodstock Typewriter.” The memorandum marshals the information in a bid to show that perhaps the Fansler-Martin partnership did not buy its Woodstock until 1929, thus opening up the possibility that the machine it bought was No. 230,099, after all. Three paragraphs dealing with various typing specimens are wrapped up in this final sentence:
While this is not by any means conclusive, there are at least indications that the Woodstock typewriter in question was purchased on or shortly before July 8, 1929.
But even that date would not encompass Woodstock No. 230,099. Joseph Schmitt, the Woodstock factory manager, was later to say that No. 230,099 would have been manufactured in August or September of 1929. Thus it was not even in existence to have been purchased by the Fansler-Martin partnership on July 8, 1929.
When the defense attorneys had found Woodstock No. 230,099, they had retained a document examiner to compare specimens of its typing with the Hiss Standards. He expressed the opinion that Woodstock No. 230,099 was the machine on which the Hiss Standards had been typed.
We now learn that FBI document examiners did likewise. On October 21, 1949, in the period between the two trials, Special Agent John S. McCool took twenty-one specimens from Woodstock No. 230,099. An FBI laboratory report dated October 27, 1949, on those specimens (“K746 Twenty-one pages of typewritten specimens obtained from a Woodstock Typewriter, Serial #N230099”) gives the RESULTS OF EXAMINATION:
It was concluded that the typewriter with Serial #N230,099, which was used to type the specimens designated above as K746, was the typewriter that was used to type the evidence listed below: [The. evidence listed is the Hiss Standards and Baltimore Documents.]
But if Woodstock No. 230,099 was not the Hiss family machine, as the FBI’s other evidence indicated it was not, then the Hiss Standards were not typed on it. Therefore, the document examiners were necessarily wrong, demonstrably unable to tell which papers were typed on what machine.(2)
Consistent with the FBI’s other evidence that Woodstock No. 230,099 was not the Hiss machine, is the fact that its operating condition when Special Agent McCool took the twenty-one specimens from it in 1949 was far better than seems credible for the Hiss family Woodstock in the normal course of events. When the Hisses disposed of their Woodstock about a dozen years earlier, it was then “in poor condition…pretty much of a wreck…. The keys stuck, hooked together, and the ribbon didn’t work properly.” Subsequent possessors testified that the keys stuck, the spacing was bad, the carriage or roller was broken, and the ribbon failed to move; that the typewriter was left outdoors in the rain; and finally that it was unusable and in such bad condition that it could not be repaired.
Special Agent McCool, however, found Woodstock No. 230,099 quite otherwise when he typed the twenty-one specimens on it in October 1949, shortly before the second trial began. According to an FBI report made at New York on November 4, 1949, and just recently released:
It was noted, in obtaining these specimens, that the typewriter itself was in very good condition. No difficulty was experienced in obtaining these specimens and none of the letters appeared to stick or to be impaired to any degree. It was noted, however, that the carriage return bar on this machine was loose which necessitated manually turning the platen in order to type from one line to the next.
At the second trial, Special Agent McCool demonstrated the good condition of Woodstock No. 230,099 by typing a copy of one of the Baltimore Documents on it in the presence of the jury.
When the defense attorneys found Woodstock No. 230,099, they knew too little about its operating condition over the years to be skeptical of it; they knew nothing of the FBI’s evidence that the serial number was too high for the Fansler-Martin (Hiss) machine; and they had no suspicion that professional document examiners might be wrong in attributing two sets of papers to the same typewriter. The defense attorneys brought Woodstock No. 230,099 into court as the Hiss family Woodstock. Several defense witnesses testified that they recognized the machine and that the Hisses had given it away in connection with a household move on December 29, 1937, before the dates on the Baltimore Documents. But the precise date of disposition still could not be established so long after the event.
The Government, knowing that the defense would introduce the machine as the Hiss Woodstock, faced the tactical problem of how to cope with it. The ingenious solution worked out by the prosecution was to walk the tightrope of appearing to accept the machine as the Hiss Woodstock, but without putting any witness on the stand to testify to that effect under oath.
In the courtroom, Woodstock No. 230,099 was used effectively by the prosecutor, Thomas Murphy, in his summation to the jury at the second trial. Pointing dramatically to the typewriter, he said: “They [the Baltimore Documents] were typed on that machine (Indicating). Our man said it was.”
In fact, their man said no such thing. Their man was Ramos C. Feehan, an FBI agent assigned to the FBI laboratory as a document examiner. Feehan testified only that, in his opinion, the Baltimore Documents and the Hiss Standards had been typed on the same machine. He did not identify Woodstock No. 230,099 as that machine. He never mentioned the FBI laboratory’s identification of Woodstock No. 230,099 as the machine on which both sets of papers had been typed.
Prosecutor Murphy’s misstatement to the jury at the second trial was, of course, only a lawyer’s argument, not testimony; nor was it made under oath. But the judge himself was apparently misled, for he charged the jury that identification of Woodstock No. 230,099 was part of the Government’s case:
It is the contention of the Government that this [Woodstock No. 230,0993] is the typewriter upon which Baltimore Exhibits 5 to 47 (with the exception of Exhibit 10) were typed. This is not contested by the defense, but the defense claims that this typewriter was given away when the Hisses moved to the Volta Place house at the end of December 1937.
Thus it was that the old Woodstock became “the key witness in the case”, as Nixon called it in Six Crises. That it was also a false witness, according to the FBI’s evidence, was not then suspected by the defense. There is no doubt that the old Woodstock in the courtroom did the defendant no good. On January 21, 1950, the jury at the second trial convicted Hiss in effect of having brought State Department documents home for his wife to copy on Woodstock No. 230,099.
At his sentencing. Hiss again denied the charges made against him and expressed confidence “that in the future the full facts of how Whittaker Chambers was able to carry out forgery by typewriter will be disclosed.” Hiss and his attorneys had surmised that Chambers, perhaps with the help of confederates, had somehow gotten hold of the old Hiss Woodstock and typed the Baltimore Documents on it, copying from State Department documents that Chambers had obtained from other State Department employees, such as Julian Wadleigh, who admitted supplying Chambers with such documents. Such forgery could have been done in 1938 (the Baltimore Documents were dated January 5 through April 1, 1938) or at any time thereafter up to November 17, 1948, when Chambers produced the Baltimore Documents in the libel suit. He could certainly have known of the old Woodstock, since he had been a house guest of the Hisses for several days in the mid-1930s, when the Hiss Standards had been typed on it (January 1933-May 1937).
Hiss was sentenced to five years in prison. While he was serving his sentence, his attorneys began to learn about other possibilities of “forgery by typewriter.”
Throughout the two trials, the defense had accepted its experts’ advice “that it would be absolutely impossible to make a typewriter that would duplicate the work of another so completely that no one could tell the difference between them.” The theory was endorsed by Nixon in Six Crises:
A typewriter has one characteristic in common with a fingerprint: every one is different, and it is impossible to make an exact duplicate unless the same machine is used.
That theory happens to be false. Unknown to the defense, military intelligence operatives in World War II, a decade before the trials, “could reproduce faultlessly the imprint of any typewriter on earth.” Forgers from the United States worked in Canada at a location “chosen in part because it could be reached easily by FBI agents”; J. Edgar Hoover himself visited the establishment. One job in which the FBI collaborated called for rebuilding “with all the imperfections . . . [a] typewriter that precisely duplicated the machine in Rome”; it produced “a letter so perfectly forged by matching the imperfections of typewriter keys… that it caused the removal of certain key pro-Nazis in South America.”(3)
The defense attorneys were entirely unaware that such typewriter forgeries could be, and had been, successfully performed. Nonetheless, convinced that some kind of forgery must have been perpetrated on their client, they decided on their own to see if a typewriter could be duplicated closely enough to fool the experts. The typewriter they chose to try to duplicate was Woodstock No. 230,099, since the question was whether an old Woodstock, not some other make, could be duplicated. In 1950, they sent a representative to the Woodstock factory to obtain type of the same style as was soldered to the type bars of Woodstock No. 230,099. But the factory manager, Joseph Schmitt, told the defense representative that the type style requested could not have been the original type for a machine with the serial number 230,099. The reason, said Schmitt, was that the type style requested had been discontinued at the end of 1928, whereas a typewriter bearing serial number 230,099 would have been manufactured in August or September of 1929. This would suggest, of course, that Woodstock No. 230,099 was a combination of pre-1929 type soldered into a 1929 body. Such a combination could have been fabricated to frame Hiss, or could conceivably have resulted from a legitimate repair or rebuilding job by a typewriter dealer.
A major difficulty in the defense experiment to fabricate a duplicative Woodstock typewriter was to find enough type of the same old style found on Woodstock No. 230,099. That was finally done, however, and the typewriter engineer retained by the defense was able to complete his assignment.
Defense investigators also obtained Woodstock serial number lists by years and some of the other evidence that the FBI had secured even before the first trial. As had the Bureau, the defense attorneys concluded that Woodstock No. 230,099 was manufactured too late to be the Fansler-Martin (Hiss) machine.
These post-conviction investigations by the defense apparently interested the FBI: The bureau took the trouble to keep them under close surveillance.
On January 24, 1952, Hiss’s attorneys filed a motion for a new trial based on their then newly discovered evidence. As part of their motion, they challenged the Government’s “expert” document examiners to distinguish specimens typed on Woodstock No. 230,099 from specimens “forged” on the defense’s experimental fabricated typewriter.
The Government did not accept the challenge – or, if it did, it kept the results to itself. The lawyer for the Government ridiculed the very idea of fabricating “a miraculous duplicate typewriter,” such as the one the defense had just fabricated. The FBI did not come forward with its World War II knowledge of such fabrications.
Nor did the FBI even then divulge to the defense attorneys or the Judge that the FBI had itself found evidence, before the first trial, that Woodstock No. 230,099 was manufactured too late to be the Fansler-Martin (Hiss) machine. The defense attorneys had just discovered some of the same evidence and were seeking to develop it at a new trial. The Government lawyer belittled the defense motion as “frivolous… Supposedly based on newly discovered evidence, in reality it is predicated on sheer speculation.”
Just in case the judge might have been interested in the evidence about the typewriter, the Government also argued that it was irrelevant. The reason it was irrelevant, said the Government, was that the FBI document examiner at the trials had testified only that the Hiss Standards and the Baltimore Documents had been typed on the same machine, without identifying which machine it was or saying anything at all about Woodstock No. 230,099. The Government thus stated to the judge:
Hence, even assuming for purposes of argument that the trial exhibit [Woodstock No. 230,099] was a fabricated machine and not the Hiss machine, the soundness and completeness of the Government’s evidence [that the Hiss Standards and the Baltimore Documents had been typed on the same machine] is [sic] not affected one iota.
On the contrary, the soundness and completeness of the Government’s evidence are vitally affected if Woodstock No. 230,099 was not the Hiss machine, because the Government document examiners had concluded that it was the machine on which the Hiss Standards had been typed. But they could not have been typed on it if it was not the Hiss machine. That fact, by proving the document examiners wrong and the “unique typewriter” theory fallible, would by the same token have impeached the soundness of the Government document examiner’s testimony that the Hiss Standards and the Baltimore Documents had been typed on the same machine.
Were it not for the FBI’s suppression of its evidence that Woodstock No. 230,099 was not the Hiss machine, this vital point would have come out at the trials, if indeed it would not have prevented or aborted the indictment itself. Now that the defense had found some of the same evidence, the Government was urging the court not to consider it. The court denied the defense motion for a new trial.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the motion, and the defense petitioned the Supreme Court to take the case. This time, the Government conceded that “the Government accepted the typewriter in evidence [Woodstock No. 230,099] as the one which also produced the ‘Baltimore Documents.'” But then the Government again disclaimed the typewriter as irrelevant:
The Government rested its case upon the evidence that the Baltimore Documents and the Hiss Standards were typed on a single typewriter, without identifying the machine.
But it is precisely that crucial Government evidence that is vulnerable if Woodstock No. 230,099 was not the Hiss machine. Once again, however, the Government presented an erroneous conclusion, this time to the Supreme Court:
Thus, in order to have any value, petitioner’s [newly discovered] evidence had to show that the Baltimore Documents were forged, even if he could show that No. 230,099 was not his machine.
It is not true that Hiss’s new evidence, to have any value, must “show that the Baltimore Documents were forged.” The burden in these criminal trials was on the Government to pin the Baltimore Documents on the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, and Hiss’s new evidence (like the FBI’s then still withheld old evidence) could have raised that reasonable doubt by discrediting the Government document examiner’s opinion, thus presenting the possibility of forgery without necessarily going all the way to show it. And if Hiss “could show that No. 230,099 was not his machine,” that alone would have impeached the reliability of the Government document examiner’s testimony and raised the possibility of forgery.
Woodstock No. 230,099 would be irrelevant only if it were in fact the Hiss machine. In that case, it would add nothing (except drama) to FBI document examiner Feehan’s testimony that the Hiss Standards and the Baltimore Documents had been typed on the same machine. (Feehan’s testimony did not purport to prove who typed the Baltimore Documents or when they were typed. On those questions, the Government’s case depended solely on the word of Whittaker Chambers.) But because Woodstock No. 230,099 becomes highly relevant if it was not the Hiss machine, and since the defense found evidence to that effect after the conviction, the defense sought to reopen the case.
The Supreme Court declined to review the motion for a new trial.
The Hiss case, like a myth, provokes strong reactions based on emotional and political inclinations.
The HUAC hearings and the two trials were sensational and passionate events, scarcely conducive to objective fact-finding. When the first trial ended in a hung jury, 8 to 4 for conviction, jurors who had voted to convict used the words “blockhead,” “dope,” and “Communist sympathizer” when speaking of jurors who had voted to acquit. The latter received anonymous threats of death and advice to “go to Russia.” HUAC’s most publicized member, Richard Nixon, who Chambers said “made the Hiss Case possible,” was reported to have “indicated” that members of the hung jury might be subpoenaed to appear before HUAC; and Nixon joined with other Congressmen in calling for an investigation looking to impeachment of the judge who had presided at the first trial. The two Supreme Court Justices, Frankfurter and Reed, who had testified as character witnesses for Hiss at the first trial, were vilified in the press and in Congress, where bills were introduced to prohibit Supreme Court Justices from being subpoenaed to testify as character witnesses.
The second trial was presided over by a different judge, and no Supreme Court Justices were called to testify.
Eight months after Hiss was convicted, Nixon put into the Congressional Record an article from The American Weekly entitled “How the FBI Trapped Hiss.” The article is based on material furnished by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and by prosecutor Thomas Murphy, and it recounts some of the super-sleuthing and clever trial tactics that brought down their quarry.
Now, twenty-six years later, there emerges a different version of how the FBI trapped Hiss: by suppressing the evidence vital to his defense.
1. Richard Nixon wrote in his Six Crises (Doubleday, 1962) that the FBI found the typewriter two days before Hiss was indicted:
On December 13  FBI agents found the typewriter.
On December 15 , the critical last day [of the Grand Jury’s term] and the day they indicted Hiss, an expert from the FBI typed exact copies on the old Woodstock machine and had them flown up to New York as exhibits for the members of the Grand Jury to see…. The evidence was unanswerable. (p. 60.)
When it was pointed out to Nixon that the defense, not the FBI, was supposed to have found the old Woodstock, Nixon promptly disavowed that part of his book as “a researcher’s error” and changed the passage in subsequent editions. Whether or not it was a researcher’s error, it and the other known assertions that the FBI or HUAC found the typewriter, and Newsweek‘s identification of the typewriter as “an aged Woodstock, No. 200,194 (July 24,1961, p. 20, col. 2) remain unexplained and provocative challenges to the authenticity of Woodstock No. 230,099 and the candor of the Government.
2. The FBI laboratory reports that I have seen are self-evidently incomplete: a few conclusions labeled “Results of Examination” without supporting data or methodology, and containing deletions and references to documents not furnished. Some pages are illegible and have been returned to the FBI with requests for clearer copies. An important example is an FBI laboratory report dated May 23, 1949 (one week before the beginning of the first trial), on typing specimen “K740 An Application for Federal Employment dated July 26, 1947 bearing the name [deleted].” The report refers to a Bureau wire and letter dated May 20, 1949, but not furnished. The report concludes, if I correctly read the unclear copy, “that the machine which was used to type [the Baltimore Documents] was the same machine which typed K740…” Fortunately, in this instance, FBI memorandums dated May 24, June 5, and November 3, 1949, confirm that reading and identify K740 was executed by a Mr. James McQueen, one of the many people to whom possession of Woodstock No. 230,099 was traced.
The complete FBI laboratory reports, if they resemble the defense’s pretrial document examiners’ report, would inspire little confidence. It requires no “expert” to see that the defense’s pretrial reports are seriously deficient in methodology, thoroughness, accuracy, and plain common sense. The FBI document examiner who testified at the trials presented even flimsier support for his opinion that the Hiss Standards and the Baltimore Documents had been typed on the same machine (see Werchen & Cook, “New Light on the Hiss Case,” The Nation, May 28, 1973, esp. pp. 683-84). There is also other evidence from type and typing specimens not dealt with in the reports available to date, that Woodstock No. 230,099 is not the machine on which the Baltimore Documents were typed.
These important matters warrant full investigation and analysis, particularly when (if ever) the withheld FBI material becomes available.
3. W. Stevenson, A Man Called Intrepid (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), pp. 187, 189, 190, 268, 269, eighteenth unnumbered photograph page following p. 230. The defense first learned of these typewriter forgeries with the publication of H. Montgomery Hyde, Room 3603 (Farrar, Straus, 1963).