Russian isn't sure of Hiss' innocence

December 17, 1992|By New York Times News Service

MOSCOW -- The Russian official who was reported to have cleared Alger Hiss of spying for the Soviet Union says that he was "not properly understood," and that he meant to say only that he had found no evidence of the charges in the KGB documents to which he had access.

The official, Gen. Dmitry A. Volkogonov, a historian, said that at Mr. Hiss' request he had searched through KGB files for the 1930s and 1940s and found only one mention of Mr. Hiss, in a list of diplomats at the United Nations.

On Oct. 14, answering a query from Mr. Hiss, General Volkogonov wrote: "Not a single document, and a great amount of materials have been studied, substantiates the allegation [that Hiss was a spy]."

General Volkogonov's acknowledgment that he was in no position to clear Mr. Hiss, and that perhaps no one ever can, confirmed the cautions of many U.S. historians who had warned that a vindication was dubious, given the volume, complexity and incompleteness of archives.

John Lowenthal, a historian who was an intermediary, indicated surprise at the general's remarks. He produced a fax from General Volkogonov, dated Sept. 25, saying that he had information from the intelligence services, and that "on the basis of a most careful analysis of the data, I can report to you that Alger Hiss was never an agent of the intelligence services of the Soviet Union."

Mr. Lowenthal said the general repeated this during a visit to Washington last month.

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