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“Ales” is Still Hiss:

The Wilder Foote Red Herring

2007 Symposium on Cryptologic History

19 October 2007

The Center for Cryptologic History

 by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr


There are at present two documentary sources on information about the GRU agent “Ales.”  First, Venona 1822, Vadim [Anatoly Gorsky] KGB Washington to KGB Moscow, 30 March 1945, that became public in 1996 when the National Security Agency (NSA) released a set of the deciphered Venona messages.  Second, Alexander Vassiliev’s handwritten notes and quoted text of a cipher telegram from Anatoly Gorsky, 5 March 1945, entered into the record in the 2002 British legal case of Alexander Vassiliev and Frank Cass & Co Ltd.[1]  We will look at them in turn. 

First, the text[2] of Venona 1822 reads:

Addendum to our telegram no.28 as a result of a conversation of “Pya” with Ales, it turns out:

1. Ales has been continuously working with the neighbors since 1935.

2. For a few years now he has been the director of a small group of probationers of the neighbors, for the most part drawn from his relatives.

3. The group and Ales himself are working on obtaining only military information, materials about “the Bank” – the neighbors allegedly are not very interested and he doesn’t pass it regularly.

4. In recent years, Ales has been working with Pol repeat Pol who also meets with other members of the group on occasion.

5. Recently Ales and his whole group were awarded Soviet medals.

6. After the Yalta conference, back in Moscow, one very high-ranking Soviet worker allegedly had contact with Ales (Ales implied that it was Comrade Vyshinsky) and at the request of the military neighbors he conveyed to him their thanks, etc.



Who was Ales? 

The NSA/FBI annotation of Venona 1822 said that “Ales” was “probably Alger Hiss.”   If “Ales”   were not Hiss, then identifying him would be a significant historical achievement because it would reveal a hitherto unknown Soviet source high up in the U.S. State Department. If “Ales” was Hiss it adds an interesting and significant codicil to the Hiss-Chambers case.  The evidence at his trials and that which has appeared subsequently firmly establishes Hiss's espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union in the 1930s.  More contested was whether Hiss's spying continued.  Some Americans cooperated with Soviet espionage until disillusioned by the Purge trials and the Terror; one example being Whittaker Chambers.  Others dropped out after the Nazi-Soviet Pact in the fall of 1939.  Much of Venona 1822’s historical significance stems from its 1945 date, since it indicates that if Hiss was “Ales” he continued to spy through the Yalta meetings.

But, was the NSA right when it concluded that “Ales” was probably Alger Hiss?  Although most scholars and journalists accepted that assertion after the Venona documents were made public, a small but vocal group of Hiss defenders has continued to challenge the identification.  Last spring they garnered considerable publicity at a university-sponsored conference and this fall The American Scholar, published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society, published a lengthy expose claiming to have unearthed the real “Ales.”

The first effort to save Alger Hiss from the obvious conclusions of Venona 1822 came from John Lowenthal, one of Hiss’s lawyers.  Lowenthal argued that grammatical ambiguities in the original NSA translation of Venona 1822 could be read to mean that Vyshinsky, but not Ales, went from Yalta to Moscow while “Ales” returned directly to the United States. He then asserted this vindicated Hiss who had, after all, gone to Moscow after Yalta.  Already substantially discredited by Eduard Mark in 2003, this tortured reading did not survive John Schindler’s publication of the original Russian text in a paper given at this conference in 2005, that demonstrated that the original Russian text unambiguously stated that “Ales” had gone to Moscow from Yalta.[3]  The bulk of the American delegation at Yalta did not stop by Moscow but left for the U.S. via the Middle East.  A contingent from the American embassy in Moscow returned to Moscow, but stayed there and did not go on to the U.S.  Only a small party led by Secretary of State Edward Stettinius went from Yalta to Moscow (to finish a few details of the conference) and then traveled on to the U.S. by March.  Aside from support staff (and “Ales” was not plausibly someone in that category), the Stettinius party had only four DOS personnel who could possibly have been Ales: Edward Stettinius himself (U.S. Secretary of State), H. Freeman Matthews (senior diplomat and advisor on European affairs), Alger Hiss (senior official and advisor on plans for founding the United Nations), and Wilder Foote (a journalist brought into DOS as Stettinius’s speech writer and press aide).[4] 


The Characteristic of “Ales” in Venona 1822

Compared to Foote, Stettinius, Matthew, and Hiss

Venona 1822, the 30 March cable, makes six observations about the characteristics of “Ales” that can be compared to the attributes of the four candidates. 

Item 1

Item 1. “Ales has been continuously working with the neighbors since 1935.”  (“Neighbors,” KGB terminology for the GRU, Soviet Military Intelligence.)

Foote and item 1.  In the 1930s, indeed until 1941, Wilder Foote lived in Vermont editing and publishing local newspapers.  There is no evidence whatsoever that GRU (“neighbors” was KGB terminology for the GRU, Soviet Military Intelligence) had any operations in rural Vermont in the 1930s.  Nor is there even a plausible target for Soviet military intelligence in the state at that time. That GRU would recruit an American source and send him to the intelligence desert of Vermont or keep him there from 1935 to 1941 simply defies plausibility.[5]   Nor is there any evidence of Foote having any contact with GRU in the 1930s (or anytime for that matter).

Stettinius and item 1.  In the 1930s Edward Stettinius was a vice-president of General Motors, briefly a National Recovery Administration official working on unemployment problems, and then a senior administrator of U.S. Steel.  GRU conducted significant industrial espionage in the 1930s, and theoretically Stettinius would have been a person of interest to them, but there is not an iota of evidence of any contact between the successful businessman-capitalist Stettinius and GRU.

Matthews and item 1.  Freeman Matthews spend most of the 1930s abroad on a variety of diplomatic assignments and theoretically could have been of GRU interest, but there is no evidence of any contact between GRU and Matthews.

Hiss and item 1.  Whittaker Chambers testified in 1948 that Hiss entered the CPUSA underground in Washington in 1934, and that J. Peters, chief of the CPUSA covert arm, eager to connect some of the well-placed members of his apparatus with Soviet intelligence in early 1936  when Chambers and Hiss became part of a GRU-linked espionage apparatus.[6]  Chambers said that Hiss delivered DOS material to him, either copied by Hiss or originals that were photographed, until the Spring of 1938 when Chambers dropped out of Soviet intelligence.  In support of his testimony, Chambers produced summaries of sensitive State Department documents from 1938 in Alger Hiss’s own handwriting or typed on the Hiss family typewriter as well as microfilm of DOS documents with Hiss’s office stamp and handwritten initials on them.  Hede Massing, a former GRU agent who had transferred to KGB, also testified that she knew Hiss as a GRU source in 1936. The two most thorough books on the Hiss-Chambers case, Allen Weinstein’s Perjury and Sam Tanenhaus’s Whittaker Chambers, pile up the evidence supporting the veracity of Chambers’ and Massings’ accounts.  A well-documented article by the Hungarian historian Maria Schmidt discusses material in Hungarian Communist security service archives that corroborates Massing’s testimony about Hiss in which Hiss is identified by name as a GRU intelligence source by Noel Field, a former State Department official and secret Communist who defected to Communist Hungary.[7] 

Evaluation of item 1.  There is convincing evidence linking Hiss to GRU in the mid-1930s.  There is no evidence linking Wilder Foote, Edward Stettinius, or Freeman Matthews to GRU in the 1930s. 

Item 2

Item 2.  “ For a few years now he has been the director of a small group of probationers[8] of the neighbors, for the most part drawn from his relatives.”

Foote and item 2.  There is no evidence linking any of Wilder Foote’s family to Soviet espionage. 

Stettinius and item 2.  There is no evidence linking any of Edward Stettinius’ family to Soviet espionage.

Matthews and item 2.  There is no evidence linking any of Freeman Matthews’ family to Soviet espionage.

Hiss and item 2.  According to Chambers, Priscilla Hiss, Alger’s wife, typed many of the documents her husband stole from the State Department.  In 1948 Chambers produced typed and handwritten material he had hidden in 1938 from his final months before he dropped out of Soviet espionage. The material summarized sixty-eight different State Department documents that went through Hiss's office.  Technical examination, by both prosecution and defense experts, established that most of the material was typed on the Hiss family typewriter of the mid-1930s.  Indeed, one of the typed document specialists hired by the Hiss defense went further than the prosecution, advising that on the basis of the strong and weak hits of the typing pattern, the documents had been typed by Priscilla and not Alger.[9]

Chambers said of Hiss’s brother: “Donald Hiss never at any time procured any documents. Nevertheless, he was a member of the apparatus which I headed.”[10]  Donald Hiss transferred to the State Department from the Department of Labor in November 1937, shortly before Chambers dropped out of Soviet espionage, and remained there until the end of WWII.  When Chambers met with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle in September 1939 and identified several dozen persons as active in the Communist party’s covert operations in Washington and implied possible espionage links, he included Donald and Priscilla along with Alger Hiss in the list. 

Evaluation of item 2.  There is evidence that Hiss’s relations (wife and brother), assisted his espionage but none for Foote, Matthews, or Stettinius.

Item 3

Item 3.  “The group and Ales himself are working on obtaining only military information, materials about “the Bank” – the neighbors allegedly are not very interested and he doesn’t pass it regularly.”

When the GRU dominated Soviet foreign intelligence operations in the 1920s and 1930s, its networks sought political and strategic information as well as more narrowly defined military intelligence.  But as the KGB established its supremacy in foreign intelligence in the late 1930s, the GRU’s jurisdiction was steadily narrowed. It had to get its agents to produce more strictly military information clearly within its jurisdiction or risk losing them to the KGB

Foote and item 3.  While Foote worked for the DOS (cover name “Bank”) as Stettinius’s press assistant, there is no evidence of his having any special interest in military information.

Matthews and item 3.  There is no evidence that Matthews had any special interest in military matters in his various diplomatic assignments. 

Stettinius and item 3.  While Stettinius was Under Secretary and then Secretary of State, there is no evidence of his having any special interest in military information.

Hiss and item 3.  Just six months after Venona 1822 was sent, Alger Hiss made an extraordinary proposal that the State Department create a new “special assistant for military affairs” linked to his Office of Special Political Affairs that handled U.N related matters.  Moreover, when security officers belatedly began to look closely at Hiss in 1946 they discovered that he had used his authority to obtain top secret reports “on atomic energy . . . and other matters relating to military intelligence” that were outside the scope of his Office of Special Political Affairs.[11]  Evaluation of item 3.  There is evidence that Hiss tried to extend his jurisdiction in DOS to include more than routine work-related access to military information.  There is no evidence that Wilder Foote, Freeman Matthews or Edward Stettinius attempted any similar unusual access.

Item 4

Item 4. “In recent years, Ales has been working with Pol repeat Pol who also meets with other members of the group on occasion.” 

“Pol” is a Cyrillic Russian variant for spelling the name “Paul” and Whittaker Chambers Chambers in his memoir Witness wrote that “Paul” was the cover name for Maxim Lieber.  Lieber, a literary agent, was a semi-secret member of the CPUSA and carried out various tasks for Chambers’ GRU-linked espionage network and had had contact with the Hiss family.  After Chambers’ defection, GRU sent Lieber to hunt for Chambers and and pick up the pieces of Chambers’ network.  When the Hiss-Chambers case emerged in 1948, Lieber refused to discuss his activities with FBI agents and invoked the Fifth Amendment in order to decline to answer questions about his relationship to Chambers and Alger Hiss when called before a U.S. grand jury in 1948.  The files of Hiss’s legal defense team demonstrate that at the time of Hiss trial, a Communist party contact met with Lieber and conveyed a message to Hiss’s lawyers that Lieber “does know Hiss but does not propose to admit it.”[12]   In 1950, the House Committee on Un-American Activities subjected Lieber to hostile examination in which he once again invoked the Fifth Amendment regarding Alger Hiss documents that tied him to Whittaker Chambers; and in 1951 Lieber hastily fled to Mexico.  With legal pressure on Soviet espionage increasing in the U.S., in 1954 he moved to Communist ruled, Poland.   He did not return to the United States until 1968.[13] 

Foote and item 4.  The is no evidence linking “Pol”/Lieber to Wilder Foote.

Stettinius and item 4.  The is no evidence linking “Pol”/Lieber to Eduard Stettinius.

Matthews and item 4.  The is no evidence linking “Pol”/Lieber to Freeman Matthews.

Hiss and item 4.  Whittaker Chambers links “Pol”/Lieber to Alger Hiss.


Item 5

Item 5.  “Recently Ales and his whole group were awarded Soviet medals.”  

Foote and item 5.  There is nothing linking Foote to awarding of Soviet medals.

Matthews and item 5.  There is nothing linking Matthews to awarding of Soviet medals.

Stettinius and item 5.  There is nothing linking Stettinius to awarding of Soviet medals.

Hiss and item 5.  In the 1997 edition of Perjury Allen Weinstein quoted a KGB document relevant to this issue, an April 1945 memo from Pavel Fitin, head of KGB’s foreign intelligence, to Vsevolod Merkulov, head of the KGB.  Fitin noted that one of the KGB’s American sources, the U.S. Treasury Department official Harold Glasser (cover name “Ruble”),  had worked for Soviet intelligence since May 1937, at various time for the KGB and on other occasions for GRU and that “the group of agents of the ‘military’ neighbors whose member “Ruble” had been earlier, was recently decorated with USSR orders.  About this fact, “Ruble” learned from his friend Ales, who is the leader of the mentioned group.”[14] 

This information that Ales’s GRU group had been decorated matches up with the deciphered Venona cable about “Ales”  but does not in itself link “Ales” to Hiss via Glasser/“Ruble”.  This link, however, was provided by Elizabeth Bentley in 1945.  In her lengthy deposition to the FBI in November 1945 Bentley discussed the membership of one of the KGB-linked espionage networks, the Perlo group, to which she was courier.  In her description of its membership she had this to say of Glasser:

Referring again to Harold Glasser, I recall that after his return from his assignment in Europe, probably in Italy, for the United States Treasury Department, Victor Perlo told me that Glasser had asked him if he would be able to get back in with the Perlo group.  I asked Perlo how Glasser happened to leave the group and he explained that Glasser and one or two others had been taken sometime before by some American in some governmental agency in Washington, and that this unidentified American turned Glasser and the others over to some Russian.  Perlo declared he did not know the identity of this American, and said that Charley Kramer, so far as he knew, was the only person who had this information.  Sometime later I was talking with Kramer in New York City, and brought up this matter to him.  At this time Kramer told me that the person who had originally taken Glasser away from Perlo’s group was named Hiss and that he was in the U.S. State Department.[15]

Bentley’s statement that Glasser had been on loan to a espionage network headed by Hiss at the State Department fits with Fitin’s memo that “Ruble”/Glasser had been working with Ales’s GRU group and the latter had been decorated It, thus, links Hiss to item 5.

While less conclusive than Bentley’s evidence, at article published in the Russian military journal, Red Star, in 2006 by Vladimir Lota is also suggestive.  Lota discusses the successes of the Soviet military intelligence station in Washington during World War II.  Asserting that many of its agents have still not been identified, he not only did not provide any real names, he also changed their cover names and avoided any explicit identifying information.  The articles focuses on the success of a GRU apparatus that Lota calls “Omega” whose chief source was “Doctor,” someone with access to high-level information about American foreign policy.  So successful was Omega, says Lota, that in February 1945, “Doctor” and four other members of the Omega group received Soviet decorations.  Given the information in the Venona 1822 (March 1945) that “Ales” and his GRU group recently received decorations and the April 1945 KGB memo in The Haunted Wood that “Ales” and his group had recently received decorations, there is reason to think that “Ales” and “Doctor” most likely the same person.  Moreover, Also relevant here is that Lota writes that “Doctor” had been a 1930s’ GRU source with whom contact had been “reestablished” in mid-1941.  After Chambers defected in the spring of 1938, Hiss and other GRU sources linked to Chambers were deactivated for a time, “put on ice” in Soviet intelligence jargon.   Not only does Hiss look like a likely candidate for “Doctor” in the Lota article, Wilder Foote is not a plausible candidate for “Doctor.”  Foote had spent all of the 1930s, 1940, and most of 1941 in Vermont managing several small newspapers.  He did not arrive in Washington until November 1941 to take a job as a mid-level information officer in the Office of Emergency Management, an industrial mobilization agency.  Since  “Doctor” had been in Washington and providing high level strategic information to GRU by August, 1941, that eliminates Foote as a candidate for the role.[16] 

Evaluation of item 5.  There is evidence linking Hiss to having received Soviet decorations but none linking Foote, Matthews, or Stettinius.

Item 6

Item 6.  “After the Yalta conference, back in Moscow, one very high-ranking Soviet worker allegedly had contact with Ales (Ales implied that it was Comrade Vyshinskii) and at the request of the military neighbors he conveyed to him their thanks, etc.” 

In-as-much as all four candidates traveled from Yalta to Moscow and all attended events at which Vyshinskii and other high ranking Soviet officials were present, this item provides no basis for focusing on any of the candidates in particular.


A Summary: Venona 1822: Who was Ales?

Of the six characteristic of “Ales” provided in Venona 1822, one (item 6) provide no basis for differentiating the four candidates.  But with the remaining five items, there is no positive evidence linking Foote, Matthews, or Stettinius to any of Ales’s characteristics.  Hiss, however, is linked by positive evidence to items 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.  The case for Hiss and “Ales” in Venona 1822 was and is a convincing one. 


 Anatoly Gorsky’s 5 March 1945 Cable

Venona 1822, however, was not the last word on “Ales.”  Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev quoted from several KGB documents that referred to the GRU agent “Ales” in the 1997 edition of Perjury and in The Haunted Wood (1999).  In both books “Ales” was identified as Alger Hiss.  Just as they had refused to accept “Ales” as Hiss in Venona 1822, Hiss defenders refused to accept the identification of “Ales” as Hiss in these books, justifying their refusal on the grounds that they mistrusted Vassiliev, who had had access to KGB archival material, and they could not review the underlying material from which Weinstein and Vassiliev quoted.

 After Lowenthal’s tortured reading of Venona 1822 was discredited, Hiss defenders were left with no positive evidence vindicating Hiss, only their negative refusal to accept the evidence implicating Hiss.  They then turned to Alexander Vassiliev’s notes on the text of a ciphered cable sent by Anatoly Gorsky on 5 March 1945.  Given their strident doubts of Vassiliev’s reliability at the time of the publication of The Haunted Wood this is somewhat surprising, but consistency has never been a characteristic of Hiss defenders.  Vassiliev’s notes on the cable became public during his 2002 legal action in the United Kingdom against the journal Intelligence and National Security for publishing attacks on his character made by John Lowenthal.  Very little attention was given to these notes until 2006 when David Lowenthal, brother of the by then deceased John Lowenthal, provided a photocopy of Vassiliev’s notes (handwritten in Russian) on the 5 March cable to interested researchers.  On the basis of this photocopy, in June 2007 Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya published a article “The Mystery of Ales” asserting that the cable proved that “Ales” was not Hiss and identifying Wilder Foote as the likely candidate for the GRU spy “Ales.”[17] 

Their argument was deeply flawed.  Additionally, the text of the 5 March cable used by Bird and Chervonnaya was itself flawed.  Vassiliev’s notes on the cable begin on one page of a notebook and continue onto the next page.  The photocopy provided by David Lowenthal to researchers cut off the top line on the second page.  We have no reason to think that this was other than an innocent, albeit careless, error by whoever made the copy.  And it is not clear if the error was made by Alexander Vassiliev when he supplied a copy as part of the evidence in his suit or if the error was made when a subsequent copy was made for David Lowethal after the court case ended.  But that there might be some garble with the text of the 5 March cable was clear from the time it was first made available because there was a grammatical disconnect between the text on the bottom of the first page of Vassiliev’s notes and what appeared to be the top line on the second page. 

There was a simple solution to that problem: obtain a better photocopy.  We did so, and the missing line appeared.  And the missing line seriously undercuts Bird and Chervonnaya’s argument.  While we obtained the complete text, Bird and Chervonnaya did not.  They first made their analysis of the 4 March 1945 cable public at a conference held at New York University on 5 April 2007.  We were not present but quickly obtained a recording of its proceedings and realized at once that they were using the incomplete text.[18]  We made the complete text available on the web on 10 April and provided all researcher who asked with photocopies of the complete original so they could confirm what had happened.[19]  It was then surprising that when Bird and Chervonnaya published their paper on the web in June and in the summer issue of The American Scholar they continued to use the incomplete text.[20] 

Let us turn first, however, to the actual (and complete) text of Vassiliev’s notes on a cipher telegram from Vadim [Anatoly Gorsky] to Moscow Center, 5 March 1945.  The text that is missing from the Bird and Chervonnaya version is emphasized and in italic:

            He [Gorsky] wants to be included in the Sov. delegation to the conference in San Francisco.  However, he can’t leave his post to any of his collaborators.  He wants to leave it to “Son” (F.A. Garanin, transferred from Cuba to Washington as an attaché of the Soviet embassy).  After the conference, Vadim wants to come to Moscow to give a personal report.

            Particular attention – to “Ales.”  He was at the Yalta Conference, then went to Mexico City and hasn’t returned yet.  Our only key to him – “Ruble.”  “Ruble” is going on assignment himself (Italy). è  it is difficult to oversee “Ales”  through him.

            “We spoke with ‘Ruble’ several times about ‘Ales’.  As we have written already, ‘Ruble’ gives ‘Ales’ an exceptionally good political reference as a member of the Comparty.  ‘Ruble’ reports that ‘Ales’ is strong and strong-willed, with a firm and decisive nature, completely aware that he is Communist in an illegal position, with all the ensuing consequences.  Unfortunately, it seems that, like all local Communists, he has his own ideas about secrecy.  As we already reported to you, ‘Ales’ and ‘Ruble’ used to work in ‘Karl’s’ informational group, which was affiliated with the neighbors.  When the connection with ‘Karl’ was lost, ‘Ruble’ backed out, while ‘Ales’ entered into a connection with ‘Pol’.  He told ‘Ruble’ about this himself a year and a half ago, when he asked the latter to meet with ‘Pol’ in order to continue work.”

“Ruble” could talk to “Ales”  about recommencing work.  If the latter doesn’t want to work with “Ruble,” he could do it with us.

            There is an unclear situation: “About 6 months ago, ‘Ales’ told ‘Ruble’ that he had met a Russian (he didn’t give his name), who immediately asked him to write a brief report about a certain matter.  ‘Ales’ asked ‘Ruble’s’ opinion as to what he should do.  ‘Ruble’ evaded the question, saying that ‘Ales’ could do as he saw fit.

             ‘Ales’ should be approached by a Soviet representative.  Either an employee of Center, or ‘Sergey,” or me, ‘Vadim’.  The most convenient place - at the conference in San Francisco.

“After 2 or 3 meetings, depending on how ‘Ales’ conducts himself, we can get down to business, alluding either to the password, or to ‘Ruble’, or simply to ‘Ales’s’ progressive attitudes."

Bird and Chervonnaya focus on only one part of the cable.  The cable noted that “Ales” had been at Yalta, went briefly to Moscow, and from their went to Mexico City.   Stettinius, Hiss, Matthews, and Foote were all at Yalta, went briefly to Moscow, and then traveled on Mexico City for an inter-American conference of foreign ministers, known as the Chapultepec Conference (21 February - 8 March 1945).  But, and this is the key to Bird and Chervonnaya, Matthews and Hiss had returned early and were in Washington on 5 March.  Because Gorsky wrote that “Ales” was still in Mexico City, Bird and Chervonnaya insist that Alger Hiss could not possibly be “Ales.”

The logic of the Bird and Chervonnaya argument made Foote and Stettinius, the two remaining in Mexico City on 5 March, equally possible candidates for “Ales,” but the likelihood that no one would take seriously an argument at the American Secretary of State was a long time Soviet agent, led them to quietly put Stettinius aside, although the evidence in both cases was equally strong (i.e., equally weak).  Since the logic of Hiss defenders is that someone, anyone, other than Hiss must be “Ales,” Wilder Foote was thrown under the truck to save Hiss.  Actually, Vassiliev’s notes on the 5 March cable, increased the evidence that “Ales” was Hiss.

Let us first consider the central point of the Bird and Chervonnaya argument.  It is the case that Hiss had been with Stettinius at Mexico City but returned to Washington early, as did Matthews as well.  While on the surface this tends to exculpate Hiss, it is weak evidence.  What the statement says is that Anatoly Gorsky thought Hiss was still in Mexico City as part of the American delegation.  Looking at the totality of the evidence, the most sensible conclusion is that Gorsky simply did not know that Hiss had returned early. 

As Eduard Mark has pointed out, relevant here is an earlier cable from KGB headquarters in Moscow (Venona 195 Moscow to New York KGB).  Bird and Chervonnaya ignore this message.  On Saturday, March 3rd, the KGB New York station received a cable signed by the chief of foreign intelligence, General Fitin, an urgent order for the KGB’s chief illegal officer, Iskhak Akhmerov (“Albert”):

            At the forthcoming meeting with Albert, pass on to him on our behalf the following task.

Jointly with Robert, take all requisite steps to obtain in good time and pass on to us information about the composition of the delegation to the forthcoming conference which is in Babylon [five groups unrecovered] what tactics the delegation intends to adopt, whom it is counting on for support, what blocs have been prepared already and formed, how far there will be a united line for the representatives of the Anglo-Saxon world and so on.  As the information comes in pass on to the Center by telegraph without delay.

Babylon was the standard KGB cover name for San Francisco, so the upcoming U.N. conference was the subject.  Akhmerov was an “illegal” officer, meaning he and the agents he supervised were not part of a Soviet diplomatic office such as the embassy in Washington or the consulates in New York and San Francisco.  They operated under false identities and had no diplomatic protection if apprehended.  

KGB headquarters in Moscow did not directly communicate directly with illegal officers, thus the direction in the cable that the order was to be passed to “Albert”/Akhmerov at a “forthcoming meeting.”  The 3 March cable went to the “legal” KGB station at the Soviet consulate in New York.  From there a covert courier would have delivered it to Akhmerov at a regularly scheduled meeting where messages were passed between the “legal” station and Akhmerov’s “illegal” station.  Akhmerov was then working under the cover of a fashionable women’s clothing and fur shop in Baltimore.  And it is possible that the cable would have been forwarded first to the KGB station at the Soviet embassy in Washington and then by covert courier to near-by Baltimore.  In any event, it would be a few days at least, perhaps a week or more, for the cable to have reached Akhmerov by covert courier.  And here is where Gorsky’s 5 March cable comes in. 

Anatoly Gorsky was chief of the “legal” station where he and other KGB officers had diplomatic status and held cover posts at the Soviet embassy or other authorized Soviet government agencies.  Gorsky, for example, was a senior secretary at the Washington embassy.  In the 1930s and into the early 1940s the chief KGB station in the U.S. had been at the New York consulate.  But with American entrance into World War II and Washington’s growing importance as the center of U.S. decision making, KGB gradually shifted its assets from its station at the New York consulate to one operating out of the Washington embassy.  Gorsky was chief of the station in Washington and overall supervisor of U.S. KGB operations (including Akhmerov’s illegal station), and was often shuttling back and forth between Washington and New York.  His 5 March (Monday) cable to Moscow appears to have been a quick response to Moscow’s Saturday order, showing that the U.S. station was on top of the matter and had active leads to follow on the UN question, namely the GRU’s agent “Ales.”  Hiss’s Office of Special Political Affairs was supervising preparations for the UN conference, so he was in a perfect position to satisfy Moscow’s tasking.   But, given Akhmerov’s illegal status, not only would it have taken some days for Moscow’s urgent message to reach him , but there also would have been an equally long delay in a response via covert couriers.  Given the urgency Moscow had attached to the matter, Gorsky’s 5 March response was simply a quick acknowledgement and demonstration that his station’s attention to the urgent request. 

Gorsky told Moscow that he couldn’t follow up immediately because “Ales” was still in Mexico City, where Stettinius and his chief aides were meeting with Latin American foreign ministers.  As Bird and Chervonnaya stated, Hiss had already returned from Mexico City.  And it is true that Gorsky could have known that Hiss had returned.  Hiss had spoken on a public affairs radio program and two newspaper stories on the program mentioned him, although in neither case was he given headline treatment, there being more prominent diplomats than he speaking on the program.[21]  But that Gorsky could have known is simply to state a possibility and is not the same as his actually knowing.  Hiss was not at this time a prominent figure.  He was not Secretary of State, Under Secretary of State, or even one of the several Assistant Secretaries of State, he was not an ambassador nor did he even hold ambassadorial rank.  He was a senior DOS official at the third or fourth level of the hierarchy and as yet little known to the press or public.  Not until he presided over the opening sessions of the United Nations founding conference in San Francisco a few months later did he make an impression on the national media.  Nor, for that matter, was “Ales” a KGB agent whom the KGB would have reason to track.  He was a GRU source that KGB was aware of simply because one of its agents, Glasser/“Ruble,” had worked with “Ales.”  But, aside from “Ruble’s” association with “Ales,” Gorsky and KGB had had no contact, regular or otherwise, with “Ales.” 

For Gorsky to assume that Hiss was still in Mexico City would have been an easy mistake to make.  Hiss had been in Mexico City as a senior aide to Secretary of State Stettinius, Stettinius was still in Mexico City (that was well-covered in the press), ergo, Hiss was still there.  We do not know precisely when Gorsky saw Fitin’s 3 March cable (Venona 195) with its order that information on the upcoming UN conference be sent to Moscow “without delay,” but the earliest was Saturday with Sunday more likely (cables do have to be deciphered), and then Gorsky had to compose his reply and get it ciphered and on the way on Monday, 5 March.  Bird and Chervonnaya attribute an all-knowing efficiency to Gorsky that simply didn’t exist in the real world of a U.S. KGB station chief in wartime balancing the time demands of his cover job as a senior embassy diplomat with his other job directly overseeing the Washington KGB station and supervising the KGB stations in New York and San Francisco as well as the illegal station headed by Iskhak Akhmerov. 

And, in any case, the 5 March cable has more to say of “Ales” than the single item that Gorsky thought he was still in Mexico City.  And it is these other attributes of “Ales” revealed in the 5 March cable that Bird and Chervonnaya pass over with silence or minimal attention because all of them point straight at Alger Hiss. 

The first point is that “Ales” was a GRU agent, not KGB, and at this point no KGB officer had had direct contact with “Ales.”  In the 5 March cable Anatoly Gorsky reminded Moscow:

Our only key to him [Ales] – “Ruble.”  “Ruble” is going on assignment himself (Italy). è  it is difficult to oversee “Ales”  through him. We spoke with ‘Ruble’ several times about ‘Ales’.

“Ruble” was Harold Glasser, a senior Treasury Department official in 1945 who had secretly joined the Communist Party in the early 1930s as a young economist and remained active in the underground Washington party organization of federal government employees.  In 1945 Elizabeth Bentley in 1945 identified Glasser as part of  the Perlo group of secret Communists who had provided information to the Soviets first via the CPUSA but then directly to the KGB.  Under the cover name “Ruble,” Glasser appears in eleven deciphered Venona messages as an active Soviet source and member of the Perlo group.

Regarding “Ruble”/Glasser and “Ales,” Gorsky in the 5 March cable went on to state in a passage that includes the phrase omitted from the Bird-Chervonnaya text:

As we already reported to you, ‘Ales’ and ‘Ruble’ used to work in ‘Karl’s’ informational group, which was affiliated with the neighbors.

“Ales” and “Ruble” are both unequivocally identified as members of “Karl’s” GRU apparatus.  “Ruble” is known to be Harold Glasser.  And “Karl” is known to be Whittaker Chambers.  In his autobiography, Chambers noted that his cover name in the underground in the 1930s was “Carl.”  (The English names Carl and Karl are spelled identically in Russian, and under all Russian Cyrillic to Latin English transliteration system, is transliterated as “Karl.”)  Another Gorsky document also explicitly identified “Karl” as Whittaker Chambers’ cover name.  This document, just like the 5 March cable under question, was made public in Vassiliev’s 2002 law suit and provided to researchers by David Lowenthal.  It was a December 1948 KGB memo written by Anatoly Gorsky summarizing damage done to Soviet intelligence operations by defectors, one of whom was Chambers:

Failures in the USA (1938-48)

                                                “Karl’s” group:

1. Karl – Whittaker Chambers, former editor in chief of “Time” magazine.  Traitor.

2. Jerome – Barna Bukov (Altman), our former cadre employee.  Currently in the USSR.

3. Leonard – Alger Hiss, former employee of the State Department.

4. Junior – Donald Hiss, former employee of the Department. of the Interior

5. 104th – Henry A. Wadleigh – former employee of the State Department.

6. 118th – F.V. Reno – former employee of the Aberdeen Proving Ground

7. 105th – Henry Collins, former employee of Department. of Agriculture, at pres., director of the American-Russian Institute in NY

8. 114th – William W. Pigman, former employee of the Bureau of Standards

9. “Storm” – Joseph Peters (a.k.a. Isadore Boorstein), former member of the Central Committee of the CP USA

10. “Vig” – Lee Pressman, former legal adviser of the Congress of Industrial Organizations

11. 116th – Harry Azizov, former employee of a steel-smelting company in Chicago

12. 101st – Peter MacLean, journalist and photoreporter, not used since ‘37

13. 103rd – David Carpenter, newspaper employee

14. 107th – Felix Inslerman, place of employment unknown

15. 113th – Harry Rosenthal, employee of an insurance company in Philadelphia

16. 115th – Lester Hutm, former employee of the Frankford Arsenal

17. “Ernst” – Noel Field, former employee of the State Dept.

18. “Rupert” – V.V. Sveshnikov, former employee of the War Dept.

19. “Richard” – Harry White, former assistant to Sec. of the Treasury Morgenthau, died in ‘48

20. “Aileron” – G. Silverman, former chief of the Planning and Statistics Division of the AAF

21. “Ruble” – Harold Glasser, former director of the Monetary Division of the Dept. of the Treasury . . .[22]

In Witness Chambers wrote that Harold Glasser had worked for his espionage network in the mid-1930s.[23]  Chambers dropped out of espionage in 1938 and, as the 5 March cable said, “the connection with ‘Karl’ was lost.”  While the evidence linking Glasser/“Ruble” to Chambers/“Karl” and Hiss/“Ales” in the mid-1930s in Washington is considerable, Wilder Foote was in Vermont in the 1930s and had no known or even suspected connection with Whittaker Chambers and his CPUSA/GRU espionage network in Washington, DC.  Edward Stettinius was briefly in Washington as a NRA administrator early in FDR’s first term, but for the period when Chambers’ apparatus was active, he had left the city for a senior administrative post with U.S. Steel.  He had had no known or suspected connection with Chambers and his CPUSA/GRU espionage network in Washington, DC.  Freeman Matthews was also largely absent from Washington during the time when Chambers’ apparatus was active and had no known or suspected connection with Chambers and his CPUSA/GRU espionage network in Washington.

The 5 March message noted:

 “When the connection with ‘Karl’ was lost, ‘Ruble’ backed out, while ‘Ales’ entered into a connection with ‘Pol’.”

As discussed above in connection with Venona 1822, “Pol” (or “Paul”) was Maxim Lieber who Chambers identified as part of his network and who was sent by GRU to find Chambers and, it would appear, pick up the pieces of Chambers’ network.  Given his refusing to testify about his relationship with Chambers and Hiss and fleeing the U.S. to Communist Poland, once more “Ales” is linked to Chambers’ network. 

Bird and Chervonnaya pass over these passages linking “Ales” with “Ruble” and Karl in part because of their decision to use their incomplete text which is missing the key phrase “and ‘Ruble’ used to work in ‘Karl’s’ informational group."  It is clear, however, that Bird and Chervonnaya realized that the 5 March cable’s references to the relationship of “Ruble” with “Ales,” even ignoring the phrase they omit, devastated their effort to exonerate Hiss.  In desperation they suggest that “Ruble” was not Harold Glasser but some other mysterious unknown figure and therefore should be ignored.  But not only do eleven Venona messages identify “Ruble” as Glasser, “Ruble” is also identified as Glasser in the December 1948 KGB memo cited above, “Failures in the USA” written by Anatoly Gorsky. 

This, however, brings up a bizarre situation.  The Bird and Chervonnaya essay is built around one key item of evidence, Vassiliev’s hand-written notes on the 5 March Gorsky cable.  But Dr. Chervonnaya in 2005 dismissed Vassiliev’s notes, stating:

the allegedly hand-written Russian notes currently under discussion can only be treated as a third-hand source - of doubtful quality and authenticity - and for this reason can not be a subject of discussion by objective professional historians.[24]

What is the difference between her 2005 impeachment of Vassiliev’s notes as unworthy even of discussion by historians and her 2007 embrace of Vassiliev’s notes as the key to understanding the “Ales” matter?  The difference is that in 2005 she was denouncing Vassiliev’s notes on Gorsky’s 1948 memo that listed Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy compromised by Chambers’ defection while in 2007 she is using Vassiliev’s notes on Gorsky’s 1945 cable to exonerate Hiss and label Wilder Foote as the Soviet spy “Ales.”  In addition to entirely dismissing Vassiliev’s notes, in discussing Gorsky’s 1948 memo she has also treated Gorsky as a careless intelligence officer who used unreliable sources for his report.  In contrast, in her discussion of Gorsky’s 5 March 1945 cable she treats him as an efficient officer who could not possibly be mistaken about “Ales’s” whereabouts.  The standard in judging reliability and accuracy appears to be this: when Vassiliev and Gorsky report something that can be seen as exonerating Hiss, they should be relied upon, but when Vassiliev and Gorsky report something that implicates Hiss, then the two are unreliable.[25]  But they are the same sources in both cases.

In his 5 March cable Gorsky also discussed the close relationship between “Ruble”/Glasser and “Ales” and the latter’s commitment to communism:

 “We spoke with ‘Ruble’ several times about ‘Ales’.  As we have written already, ‘Ruble’ gives ‘Ales’ an exceptionally good political reference as a member of the Comparty.  ‘Ruble’ reports that ‘Ales’ is strong and strong-willed, with a firm and decisive nature, completely aware that he is Communist in an illegal position, with all the ensuing consequences.”

There is no credible evidence that Wilder Foote was a member of the Communist Party.  He does not show up in memoir literature of party veterans, in records of the party that are accessible in archives, or as a subject of interest of various congressional investigating committees.  The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in particular gave close scrutiny to Americans working for the United Nations in the late 1940s and early 1950s who had party backgrounds and subpoenaed them.  Most invoked the fifth amendment to avoid testifying and Secretary General Trygve Lie either fired them, forced their resignation, or failed to renew their contracts.  Wilder Foote was a very prominent American working for the UN (Lie’s chief press aide) and was never a subject of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee probe because he did not have a party background.  SISS’s information was based on FBI investigatory information made available to the committee on an informal basis. Although FBI had interviewed a hostile U.N. colleague of Foote’s who accused him of Communist sympathies (based largely on Foote’s good opinion of Alger Hiss!), it is a symptom of the lack of substance to the evidence that the bureau, in light of the overwhelmingly benign information it had gathered on Foote, treated this evidence as too thin to be pursed and dropped the matter.  Foote was never the object of SISS inquiry.[26] 

Nor did Foote have a known relationship with Harold Glasser.  Wilder Foote did not arrive in Washington from Vermont until November 1941.  There is no evidence of Glasser and Foote having any sustained interaction or even any interaction.  Moreover, while in Washington from the early 1930s until 1940, Glasser was on a two year Treasury assignment in Ecuador from 1940 to 1942, was back for some months then off to North Africa in 1943, and, after another return, on several trips back and forth to Europe in 1944 and 1945 assisting with Treasury work with American and Allied armed forces.  Even the opportunity was lacking for Glasser to develop the confidence to give “Ales,” if he were Foote, the strong endorsement that is in the 5 March 1945 cable. 

As for Matthew and Stettinius, there is no credible evidence that either was a member of the Communist Party in party records or congressional or FBI investigations.  Nor is there any known relationship of either man with Harold Glasser.

To sum up, Venona 1822 points at Alger Hiss as the real name behind “Ales.”  Vassiliev’s notes on Gorsky’s 5 March cable do say that “Ales” was in Mexico City when Hiss was in Washington, but likely this was simply a matter of Gorsky being unaware that Hiss had returned early from the Mexico City conference.  Everything else in the 5 March cable, particularly the crucial information on the relationship of “Ruble”/Glasser and Karl/Chambers with “Ales,” points at Alger Hiss.  With confidence, the view that “Ales” was Alger Hiss has been reaffirmed.


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[1]. High Court of Justice Queen's Bench Division.

[2]. The text used here is the John Schindler’s 2002 translation.  John R. Schindler, “Hiss in VENONA: The Continuing Controversy,” paper presented at 2005 Symposium on Cryptologic History (Laural, Maryland, 2005), < >.

[3]. John Lowenthal, “Venona and Alger Hiss,” Intelligence and National Security 15, no. 3 (Autumn 2000): 98–130; Eduard Mark, “Who Was ‘Venona’s ‘Ales’? Cryptanalysis and the Hiss Case,” Intelligence and National Security 18, no. 3 (Autumn 2003); Schindler, “Hiss in VENONA”; David Lowenthal and Roger Sandilands, “Eduard Mark on Venona’s ‘Ales’: A Note,” Intelligence and National Security 20, no. 3 (September 2005); Eduard Mark, “Letter from Eduard Mark,” Intelligence and National Security 21, no. 1 (February 2006).

[4]. Scholars are in debt to Eduard Mark for his pain-staking research into the itineraries and whereabouts in February and March of 1945 of the Americans at the Yalta conference. Mark, “Who Was ‘Venona’s ‘Ales’?”.

[5]. The question might be raised of “sleeper” agents.   GRU did have a few “sleeper” agents, but these were professional Soviet officers, illegal operatives sent to innocuous places to gain cover and credibility for their false identifies.   There is, for example the GRU illegal officer who adopted the identify of Canadian Ignacy Witczak and moved to California in 1938 and enrolled  in the University of Southern California and earned a B.A. and M.A. in political science and was admitted to a Ph.D. program. His presence was not know to American security until GRU cipher officer Igor Gouzenko’s defection in 1944 produced evidence of his GRU links.  Americans recruited as Soviet agents, however, had no need for such long term establishment of cover and identify and were steered as quickly as possible toward targets of Soviet intelligence interest.

[6]. Likely someone will make something of the difference between 1935 in Venona 1822 and 1936 in Chambers’ account, but minor discrepancies in remembered chronology (“Ales” remembering in 1945 when he entered into a GRU connection, Chambers remembering in 1948 when he and Hiss connected to GRU) are common, and most research historians know not to regard a date someone remembers ten or fifteen years after the fact as precise (close, probably, but not precise).

[7]. Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (New York: Random House, 1997); Sam Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1997); Mária Schmidt, “Noel Field -- The American Communist at the Center of Stalin’s East European Purge: From the Hungarian Archives,” American Communist History 3, no. 2 (December 2004).

[8]. “Probationers: KGB terminology for active sources and agents.

[9]. The defense experts had far more samples of Hiss family typed material to examine than did the prosecution experts.  For obvious reasons, the defense did not bring this up at the trial.

[10]. Weinstein, Perjury [1997], 154.

[11]. Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers, 519; Ibid., 321–22.

[12]. Weinstein, Perjury [1997], 99, 111–14, 111n, 130–31, 134, 138n, 171, 204, 273, 280–81, 286, 288, 339, 362, 381, 434, 466.

[13]. Testimony of Maxim Lieber, 13 June 1950, U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities, Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage (Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1951), 3599–3609.  In interviews with historian Allen Weinstein in 1975 Lieber confirmed that he had been a Communist, participated in the underground and assisted Chambers in the work of his apparatus, knew Josef Peters and Boris Bykov and had on their instructions attempted to locate Chambers after his defection. Weinstein, Perjury [1997], 99, 111–14, 130–31, 138n, 280–81.  After Perjury appeared Lieber partially repudiated his statements to Weinstein.

[14]. Weinstein, Perjury [1997], 326–27.  The document is also quoted in Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America--the Stalin Era (New York: Random House, 1999), 269.  In The Haunted Wood real names are substituted in brackets for the cover names Ruble and Ales.  Here the cover names are restored.

[15]. Elizabeth Bentley, “Elizabeth Bentley FBI Deposition, 30 November 1945, FBI File 65–14603,” 105.

[16]. Vladimir Lota, “Moris Makes Contact,” Krasnaya Zvezda [Red Star], 5 May 2006.  We thank John Fox, Dan Mulvenna, and David Murphy who all played a role in bringing this article to our attention. 

[17]. Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya, “The Mystery of Ales,” American Scholar, Summer 2007, Http://;  Bird was the co-author along with Martin J. Sherwin of  American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (New York: A.A. Knopf, 2005) that won a Pulitzer prize.  Dr. Chervonnaya was in Soviet days a researcher at the Soviet Institute of USA and Canada in Moscow and, among other duties, author of some particularly vicious anti-American propaganda: The Boomerang of Hatred: On Racism in the USA (Moscow, USSR: Novosti Press Agency Pub. House, 1987).  She is today an independent researcher who writes on Soviet espionage and has written and produced several television documentaries on the subject.

[18]. We thank NYU’s Tamiment Library for quickly supplying an audio recording of the proceedings of the conference. 

[19]. John Earl Haynes, “Ales: Hiss, Foote, Stettinius?” Johnearlhaynes.Org, 10 April 2007, Http://  The current version on the web is dated 7 June and incorporate a few minor corrections in the 10 April text.

[20]. Bird and Chervonnaya, “The Mystery of Ales.”

[21] “Grew Says World Must Bar Anarchy,” New York Times (4 March 1945);  “State Department Radio Show Gives ‘Oaks’ Plan in Plain Talk,” Washington Star (4 March 1945).


[22]. The complete text of this memo can be found at:  < >.

[23]. Whittaker Chambers, Witness (New York: Random House, 1952), 336, 430.

[24]. Svetlana Chervonnaya, “Gorsky Symposium: Gorsky Memo,” H-HOAC, 15 March 2005, Http://

[25]. Svetlana Chervonnaya, “Gorsky Symposium: Gorsky Memo”;  Svetlana Chervonnaya, “‘Anatoly Gorsky’s Lessons or In Search of a Path Through ‘The Haunted Wood’,” The Alger Hiss Story (2005), Http://; Svetlana Chervonnaya, ed. and trans., “‘Gorsky’s List’,” The Alger Hiss Story, October 2005, Http://; Svetlana Chervonnaya, “The Story Behind ‘Gorsky’s List’,” The Alger Hiss Story (2005), Http:// The motive for Gorsky, then a senior KGB official in Moscow, for falsely identifying Hiss as a compromised agent in an internal KGB document is not explained or why any Soviet intelligence officer would want to exaggerate his agency’s failures to his superiors.  Bearers of bad news are rarely appreciated in any bureaucracy but were particularly disliked in Soviet ones.  To be precise, when Gorsky wrote the memo in 1948 he was a senior officer of the Committee of Information (KI), a short-lived merger of KGB with GRU.   Since the missing phase with its devastating refrence to “‘Karl’s’ informational group” has now been made public, we would not be surprised that in desperation, in addition to claiming that “Ales” was not Hiss and “Ruble” was not Glasser, the claim will be advanced that “Karl” was not Chambers. 

[26]. We wish to thank Max Holland for making available a full copy of Wilder Foote’s FBI file (FBI file #105-14132) that he obtained through FOIA.