Monday, February 20, 2012

Leaving No Doubt About Alger Hiss

From: Real Clear History

If Army Intelligence and the OSS and FBI targeted Hiss, they would have hardly used Schmahl as their operative. Despite being offered his services as a member of the Hiss Defense team in January and February 1949, the FBI rejected Schmahl on the grounds that “the defense attorneys could charge us with unethical tactics” and that “he has nothing of value.” A year after the case, Schmahl was judged not CIA material, when he tried to join the agency. He failed an interview with W.G. Weymen, because in Weyman’s words Schmahl “talked too much.” Schmahl was thus hardly the stuff of an effective spy. As a private operative, Schmahl comes across as clumsy, one who leaves his fingerprints all over his dealings and not one who quietly and seamlessly pulls strings from behind the scenes. He would be implicated in a very public wiretapping scandal in the late 1950s and would be taken to court along with the head of his detective agency, Steve Broady. In an attempted coup orchestrated by the U.S. government and Howard Hughes in the Dominican Republic, Schmahl would leave his name as evidence in the notebooks of one of Hughes’ operatives.

Schmahl’s behavior in 1948 was not that of a mole in the Hiss Defense team, but instead reflects the lengths to which the team would go. Pretending to be interested in purchasing antiques from Chambers’ mother, Schmahl took the opportunity to nab some typewritten specimens in the home and examine the typewriter there. Schmahl was urged by the team to investigate rumors of Chambers’ homosexuality.

If Schmahl was “run” by anyone, it was the Hiss defense team. They volunteered Schmahl to the FBI to assist them in locating the typewriter. It was the Hiss defense team who proposed building a typewriter to see if it could be done and who visited the Adam Kunze typewriter shop, the dark setting where Hiss conspiracy proponents argued that the “building” had been undertaken, to rent a typewriter for experimentation purposes.
The more one scratches at Schmahl, the more damning it becomes for Hiss. Schmahl's relatively short tenure (October 1948-February 1949) was not because he was outed as a mole by the Hiss defense team or because his OSS handlers had advised him to pull out, but because of Hiss's lies; according to a source interviewed by Schmahl, the private eye expressed "some doubts in his mind as to Hiss's innocence since ... Hiss's story concerning the typewriter and other points have been found to be inaccurat.e ... Schmahl stated that if Hiss were proved wrong on one more thing his firm would withdraw from the case.”

But Salant is correct in one sense. In the Hiss case, there was an operative who pulled strings in a conspiracy, a mole who leaked information to the other side. His name was Alger Hiss.

During his tenure as a lawyer with the Nye Committee investigating the munitions’ industry machinations in getting the U.S. involved in World War II, Hiss tried so hard to obtain secret information that the head of the committee, Senator Gerald Nye, believed to his dying day that Hiss had been a Soviet spy. While at the State Department, Hiss attempted so passionate a recruiting of potential Soviet recruits at cocktail parties, that his Moscow-based handlers had to reprimand him. Posing as a representative of American interests at Yalta, Hiss took the opportunity to meet in secret with his Soviet controllers and receive the Order of Lenin medal.

In his final days at State, Hiss tried to obtain secret atomic information that was not within the purview of his office.

Subterfuge, covers, conspiracies, secret meetings — features not associated with Horace Schmahl, but with the machinations of his supposed target, Alger Hiss.

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