The Russian Witnesses

Richard M. Nixon was the first American to contact a post-glasnost Russian general – Colonel General Dmitri Volkogonov, a special advisor to Boris Yeltsin – requesting Soviet files on the Hiss case. Volkogonov instructed his staff to search the archives thoroughly; he also asked Yevgeny Primakov, director of the Russian Intelligence Service, to instruct his staff to find all materials on the Hiss case.i

Nixon’s request went through official channels, but the response he received is unknown.ii

Professor John Lowenthal was the second American. He approached the same Russian general and received this reply: “Mr. A. Hiss had never and nowhere been recruited as an agent of the intelligence services of the USSR.”iii

Prof. Lowenthal pressed the point: “In your opinion, if Alger Hiss had been a spy, would you have found some documents saying that?” The general replied: “Positively.” ivThe General also said that he found “no traces” of Hiss in the archives of Military Intelligence. v

N. Kobyakov, the Major General in charge of the research undertaken on Hiss’s behalf reported that he had inquired into “Every reference to Mr. A.Hiss in the SVR (NKVD/KGB) archives” as well as their “sister services” (meaning military intelligence) and “found in the SVR archives positive hard evidence that Alger Hiss had not had any “relationship with the SVR or its predecessors.”vi

Lieutenant General Vitaly G. Pavlov, deputy head of foreign counter-intelligence from 1961-1966, concluded “On all lines, including operational, I was told clearly: he has nothing to do with foreign intelligence.” vii

Lieutenant General Vladimir Fedorov, Chief of the Main International Relations Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation in 2002, reported: “Please be informed that the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation possesses no material on Alger Hiss’s involvement of any nature in the activities of the Soviet military intelligence…This conclusion was made after a thorough examination of all archival materials.” viii

Moscow University professors Nikolai Sivachyov and Evgeny Yazkov, experts in American history following World War I, concluded that “The case of Alger Hiss… was an obvious fabrication.” ix

British spy Kim Philby wrote that the volume of paperwork connected to any agent in any country is “monstrous.” Had Alger Hiss been a spy, there would have been so much paperwork that nobody could avoid seeing it.x


iIn 1991 Nixon with the help of John H. Taylor, director of the Nixon presidential library, wrote to Colonel General Dmitri Volkogonov requesting Soviet files on the Hiss case. The letter was delivered personally to him by Nixon’s representative, Dmitri K. Simes. [telephone conferences. Kai Bird with Simes, March 25, 1993, Lowenthal with Taylor, April 14, 1994. Confirmed by Kai Bird in an email to the author dated March 30, 2016.] Volkogonov was the natural choice for Nixon to approach. The Russian parliamentary Commission for Declassification of Documents and its fellow Commission for Creating a List of Documents Kept in the Russian Federation Presidential Archives (Stalin’s former personal archive) had just released 78 million documents to public access. The general was a member of both commissions and had personally reviewed many of the newly declassified state and party papers, allowing historians to go back to the early formation of the Soviet Union. The general’s reply to Nixon is unknown.


iiiColonel General Volkogonov’s letter to Prof. Lowenthal in 1992:

ivMarvine Howe, “Keep Looking, Hiss Says,” New York Times, December 17, 1992

vVolkogonov did not search the archives personally; he was too important a man for that. He asked Yevgeny Primakov, director of Russian Intelligence, to instruct his staff to do the job. But he clearly reviewed their findings.

vi The person who conducted the search on Volkogonov’s behalf was Major General Julius N. Kobyakov. See: Julius N. Kobyakov, “Alger Hiss” (October 10, 2003),

vii Lieutenant General Vitaly Grigorievich Pavlov, who joined Foreign Intelligence in 1938, was deputy head of the American division from February 1939 to April 1941, and a legal rezident in Canada from 1942 through 1945, in an interview with Dr. Svetlana Chervonnaya, Russian historian and archivist, on May 23, 2002: Quoted by Matthew Stevenson, Remembering the Twentieth Century Limited (New Hampshire: Odysseus Books, 2009), p. 114.

viii Vladimir Fedorov, Chief of the Main International Relations Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, in a letter to Tony Hiss dated November 6, 2002: Quoted by Matthew Stevenson, op. cit., p. 114.

ix Professors Nikolai Sivachyov and Evgeny Yazkov of Moscow University, History of the U.S.A. since World War I, translated by A. B. Eklof (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), pp. 237-238,

x Ben McIntyre, A Spy among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, audible edition.