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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Suspected Spy Alger Hiss Dead at 92

LOS ANGELES -- Alger Hiss, the Harvard-trained lawyer-diplomat whose conviction in 1950 for denying under oath that he turned State Department papers over to a Soviet agent shattered his promising career and clouded the U.S. political climate for a decade, died Friday. He was 92.


Hiss, who died in Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, spent nearly half a century trying futilely to clear his name but remained known as the Benedict Arnold of the 20th century.


Hiss, a traitor to his accusers but a martyr to his defenders, denounced and denied espionage charges leveled against him by Whittaker Chambers, a confessed former Soviet agent, at two dramatic trials.


Found guilty of perjury and imprisoned for 44 months, Hiss declared himself a victim of "forgery by typewriter." But even as a nonagenarian, he never became bitter about what he always considered a miscarriage of justice.


"I've had a life of rare friendships and great support," he said in 1992, "probably more than if my life had gone on without interruption." He outlived his tormentor, Chambers, by 35 years.


Hiss was convicted primarily on the evidence of copied official documents that Chambers swore he received from Hiss before World War II and then concealed for a decade. Much of the material was transcribed on an old typewriter Hiss once owned, experts testified. Impoverished by his costly defense and disbarred as a lawyer following his conviction, Hiss rebuilt his life while working as a salesman and occasional lecturer. In 1975 he was readmitted to the Massachusetts bar.


As the case intensified public awareness and suspicion of Soviet methods and motives, it revived Red-baiting as a political weapon and cleared the track for demagogues such as Senator Joseph McCarthy. As a first-term Republican congressman from California, Richard Nixon helped Chambers develop his charges, then made the guilty verdict a stepping-stone to the White House.