WaPo chastised for ignoring Venona Papers in obit for Allen Weinstein

Historians in the News
tags: Alger Hiss

Letter from Joseph E. diGenova, Washington

The obituary of Allen Weinstein did not mention the Venona Project, which secretly intercepted Soviet communications after World War II and was kept a national secret until the 1980s. Of all the things to leave out of an obituary of Weinstein, this is the worst. It is all but settled: The Venona papers prove Alger Hiss was a spy. Has The Post no sense of history? 

Letter from Jeff Kisseloff, Portland, Ore.

Allen Weinstein, as noted in his June 19 obituary, “Provocative historian researched Alger Hiss case, was U.S. archivist,” claimed there “has yet to appear, however, from any source, a coherent body of evidence that seriously undermines the credibility of the evidence against Alger Hiss,” who was accused of being a Soviet spy. It’s no fault of Hiss’s. He pursued the release of all government documents on the case until his 1996 death. It’s because the FBI has kept its activities on the case close to the vest for more than 75 years. 

In the more than 35 years since Weinstein’s “Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case” was published, as new information emerges from the FBI, other government agencies and other sources, a more complete picture can be assembled and it is diametrically opposed to Weinstein’s, which has been influential since its arrival. 

When “Perjury” was published, Weinstein claimed that it wasn’t the release of FBI files under the Freedom of Information Act that re-convicted Hiss, but his own defense files. At the time, I had the unique opportunity to check on his story as those files were then sitting in a couple of file cabinets about six feet from my desk where I was sorting through FBI files for the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee in New York. Invariably, when pulling out a document I would find that it didn’t say what Weinstein said it did, or it needed context. Biographer Matthew Josephson put it perfectly in a letter shortly before his death in 1978: “Weinstein has no sense of values as a biographer or historian to lead him through all this chaotic mass of stuff, but adopts the standards of [the House Un-American Activities Committee], the FBI, Nixon even.”  And, William A. Reuben, who spent more than 50 years researching the case, once said to me about “Perjury,” “Weinstein is very convincing unless you know the trial record.” The more material that emerges, the more one finds that to be true. 

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