Feb 19

One of the many abiding mysteries of the Hiss Case was how Chambers got hold of the State Department documents, if he didn’t get them from Alger Hiss. During the trials, the prosecution had Francis Sayre’s secretary, Eunice Lincoln, testify that security around the office was tight, and that no one could have gone in unnoticed.

The defense countered that with the testimony of Charles Darlington, a State Department official in the Trade Agreements division (where some of the documents originated), who said he happened to see Julian Wadleigh — who admitted stealing documents for Chambers — sitting in his office going through his papers. He also said he had gone to Hiss’s office and hadn’t been prevented from entering by Eunice Lincoln.

But it was Chambers himself who inadvertently provided the best evidence about how documents could easily have been stolen from the Department. The story came via a 1969 conversation that Alger Hiss had with the radical journalist Ella Winter, who had met Chambers in the 1930s. Winter then sat with John Lowenthal for a longer interview, in which she told him about the encounter. The interview raises all sorts of questions about what Chambers was up to, but I’m posting a couple of pages here just to focus on explanation about how easy it was to sneak documents out Foggy Bottom. Here are three pages from Lowenthal’s interview notes:


One Response to “How Chambers Could Have Gotten The Documents”

  1. Lewis Hartshorn says:

    The New York Review of Books published Allen Weinstein’s review of John Chabot Smith’s book on the Hiss-Chambers case on April 1, 1976. Weinstein disagreed with Smith’s sympathetic portrayal of Hiss and with Smith’s view that Hiss was not a Soviet spy, a communist, or even a liar. Weinstein’s disparaging review triggered certainly the longest letter-to-the-editor exchanges (more than 30,000 words) in the Review’s history. All the letters were favorable to Hiss. The one below is from Harrison Salisbury, veteran journalist of the NY Times.

    May I offer a small footnote to Allen Weinstein’s article about Alger Hiss.
    At one point Mr. Weinstein says:

    “Smith would have us believe that Chambers was able to enter the [State] Department and to stroll, unnoticed through its corridors, by using a government identification card he had acquired while working as a minor clerk on the National Research Project housed several blocks away.”

    Mr. Weinstein is obviously skeptical. It is certainly true that in post-Nixon (and post-Johnson) Washington this seems an unlikely thing. All those uniformed guards, plastic identification cards, security checkpoints etc!
    But—in the 1930s when I was a reporter and often wandered about unnoticed through the corridors of the old State-War-Navy building where Cordell Hull’s State Department was housed (Foggy Bottom yet unthought, undreamed of) I recall no guards at the doors, no plastic identification cards, nothing to prevent myself, Chambers or anyone else from poking into just about any office he pleased (true, there were darkhued, silver-haired flunkies who lounged about reception offices, such as Mr. Hull’s and pleasant secretaries to direct you into inner offices). But in those pre-air-conditioned days for the most part one had only to open the great outer ventilation doors and march into an office. No one thought you might be up to any wrong.
    There was one pleasant policeman who stood inside the door to the Press entrance of the White House (which was also the entrance for all business guests). He knew everyone who went in and out and while we did have cards issued not by the White House. Secret Service or any Security organization but by the White House Correspondents Association we did not, of course, ever have to show them.
    Such a world seems impossible today and no doubt it was fearfully insecure. Yet, for all the opportunities for wandering Chambers perhaps the reality of security was more tangible.
    Harrison E. Salisbury
    The New York Times

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