The Venona Cables

In 1996 the CIA and NSA published 2,900 documents called the Venona cables; these were decoded and annotated cable traffic from 1939 to 1957 between Moscow and its U.S. agents.

Venona 1822, decrypted five years after it was written and marked at the bottom of the scale of reliability, contains details of an unknown Soviet agent codenamed “Ales.” The sentencing phase of Hiss’s trial was making headlines at the time; an unknown FBI agent speculated that “Ales” was “likely” to be Alger Hiss. i

The FBI was unable to confirm the speculation despite years of attempting to do so. A cable subsequently decrypted put “Ales” in Mexico while Hiss was very visible in the U.S. organizing the United Nations. ii

Oleg Gordievsky, a Soviet ex-agent, claimed that he knew Hiss was a Soviet agent before Venona 1822 was made public.iii

The book in which Gordievsky made this claim cites as its source an article in The New York Review of Books by Thomas Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning intelligence expert.iv

Powers stated that his own source had been an unofficial, secret tipoff from a counterintelligence contact who had himself been shown Venona 1822 before its releasev

In short, as far as Gordievsky’s verifiable sources are concerned, Venona proves Venona.vi

Despite this complete lack of evidence, writers who insist Hiss guilty simply substitute the name Alger Hiss when quoting archival mentions of Ales.vii

Footnotes

i“It would appear likely…” Scanned copies of Venona cables 1822 and 1579 with their dates can be found at https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/venona/dated/1945/assets/files/30mar_kgb_interviews_gru_agent.pdf and at https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/venona/dated/1943/assets/files/28sep_gru_sources.pdf
There’s an overall description of the Venona Project at https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/venona/ and another at http://algerhiss.com/history/new-evidence-surfaces-1990s/the-venona-cables/


iiNew “ALES” Cable: An annotated translation by Svetlana Chervonnaya of Anatoly Gorsky’s March 5, 1945 cable to Moscow, with further information about “ALES” that does not appear in the Venona cables (see note 8); this cable appears only in Alexander Vassiliev’s Notebooks (See: http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/collection/86/vassiliev-notebooks) and is not part of the Venona releases: http://algerhiss.com/history/new-evidence-surfaces-1990s/interpreting-russian-files/alexander-vassiliev/the-vassiliev-notebooks/notes-on-gorskys-new-ales-cable/
See also “Venona and Alger Hiss” by John Lowenthal, from Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Autumn 2000), (note 42): http://algerhiss.com/history/new-evidence-surfaces-1990s/the-venona-cables/john-lowenthal-i/

Memorandum demonstrating that Alger Hiss left Mexico City for Washington D.C. long before March 5, 1945, the date of new Ales Cable cited at the start of this footnote. Office Memorandum on US Government stationery, dated Feb 24 1945 from Mr . Watson from SPA Mr Sandifer, Request for Miss Maylott to go to Mexico City. “Memo re. Alger Hiss in Mexico, February 1945” Reproduced at http://algerhiss.com/media/documents/hidden-documents/memo-re-alger-hiss-in-mexico-february-1945/

See Also: March 3 1945 letter from Hiss in Washington to Stettinius, still in Mexico, from State Dept. files. Reproduced at http://algerhiss.com/media/documents/hidden-documents/letter-hiss-stettinius-mar-1945/


iiiChristopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of its Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (New York, Harpercollins, 1991).

ivThomas Powers got a tipoff from a counterintelligence agent about a cable that carried a footnote saying an unidentified agent called Ales is “probably” Alger Hiss. Eric Alterman, “I Spy With One Little Eye” (The Nation, April 29, 1996) http://algerhiss.com/history/new-evidence-surfaces-1990s/the-venona-cables/eric-alterman/

vWhen I called Powers to ask him where he heard the original story, he named a counterintelligence agent who had told him about it after seeing the very same Venona document. Powers said there was ‘no question that the agent was referring to the same document that was just released.’” Eric Alterman, “I Spy With One Little Eye” (The Nation, April 29, 1996) http://algerhiss.com/history/new-evidence-surfaces-1990s/the-venona-cables/eric-alterman/