Tenet Redux

Your article "Advance Man" (July 2) is a speculative non-story full of baseless allegations. The author, Patrick Tyler, suggests that "the Bushes" might have pressured me into delaying publication of my memoir. This "guess" is sourced to former Saudi Ambassador Bandar, who admits to having no firsthand knowledge of such a thing. Tyler ran with this wild theory despite the fact that both Bush 41 and I told him, on the record, that it is false.

The only conversation I had with Bush 43 about my memoir was just before I left office in 2004. The president asked what I was going to do after I left government. I told him I was considering writing a book. He said, "Good, you should."

Beyond that, I never discussed my intention to write a book with any member of the Bush family or their staff. Producing At the Center of the Storm was a complex process involving many months of hard work, scores of interviews, the review of thousands of pages of classified documents, and a complicated clearance process by the CIA's Publications Review Board. The book was not delayed at the request of any outside party. It was published when it was done.

George J. Tenet
Washington, D.C.


Boo, Hiss

Once upon a time in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union, still in the twilight of fear, people from all walks of life would rise and say, "I have not read Pasternak, but I condemn him." As a longtime Russian "U.S. Studies" historian, I've trusted The New Republic's thorough pursuit of truth beyond received wisdom since the late 1960s. I never dreamed of seeing in your pages the equivalent of post-Stalinist recitation of cant in defiance of fact in post cold-war America.

The destination of Sam Tanenhaus's "The End of the Journey" (July 2) is a place without hope of dethroning the autocracy of cold war historical scholarship on the matter of Alger Hiss. This hope twinkled briefly in the early 1990s with the partial opening of Soviet archives to certain Western and Russian historians. Research in records of a totalitarian society is a painstaking process. Making such inquiry while wearing blinders results, at best, in comprehending history only halfway; at worst it produces a willful misreading by the guardians of the McCarthyite flame.

To overthrow the regime, I teamed with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Kai Bird to amass and analyze the body of records on both sides of the cold war regarding the agent codenamed "Ales" in the intercepted Soviet intelligence cable known as VENONA No. 1822. We spent thousands of hours pouring over records, as well as penetrating archives others never entered before, and we presented our major conclusion at the "Alger Hiss and History" conference at New York University on April 5: The belief that VENONA No. 1822 proves Hiss spied for the Soviet Union is unfounded.

Readers may judge our scholarship for themselves in the current American Scholar cover story "The Mystery of Ales" (an annotated version is available here) and see if it has really merited the series of ad hominem attacks preceding its publication.

On April 11, just one week after the NYU conference, John Haynes and Harvey Klehr, two historians not in attendance and writing without benefit of the transcript, rushed a blind rebuttal ominously titled "The New McCarthyism" into cyber-print. Later, Haynes added a solo variation on the theme, "Ales: Hiss, Foote, Stettinius?", to his website. On April 16 the duo piled on again with "Hiss Was Guilty" on the History News Network.

For their prosecutorial posturing alone (which has no legitimate place in historical scholarship) these pieces, and Tanenhaus's besides, would not merit comment, if not for the self-validating and ultimately pathetic pattern of hyperbole deployed in making their arguments. In their preemptive strikes, Haynes and Klehr said we established "new standards of proof in which the absence of evidence is as good as proof," and accused us of "recklessly slandering" a long deceased figure of interest in this history to do it.

Midway through "The End of the Journey," Tanenhaus detours to devote four paragraphs to the same attack. He dismisses our argument as "flimsy" and a "tiny filament" to which latter day defenders of New Deal-progressivism cling. And what proof does he cite? Haynes and Klehr's blind pre-rebuttals to our American Scholar piece!

I find it deplorable to see our multi-dimensional line of argumentation dismissed as "flimsy," and our heavy documentation pronounced a "tiny filament." Tanenhaus served up the blind interpretations of Haynes and Klehr, in the best and most tenacious Soviet "I have not read Pasternak, but..." tradition that Chambers purportedly opposed.

Dr. Svetlana A. Chervonnaya
Moscow-based independent historian and TV documentary producer


Kudos to The New Republic for its decision to feature fiction so prominently in its latest issue. Sadly, the story I am referring to is Sam Tanenhaus's dissection of the Hiss-Chambers case in which (aside from the numerous factual errors) he serves up many of the old myths (and a few of the most recent ones) promulgated by longtime Hiss's opponents in order to insure that Hiss remains convicted more than 50 years after the jury rendered its verdict in 1950.

There are the myths about Hiss himself, including: that he grew up in shabby gentility (a term cribbed by Tanenhaus without credit from Murray Kempton); that he was an admirer of Stalin; that he denied knowing any communists in Washington; and that he was evasive in his testimony before HUAC. The veracity of the latter claim can and should be checked by anyone interested in reading the testimony.

Then there are the myths about Chambers, the most prominent regarding Hiss being that he protected Hiss for years until he only reluctantly testified against him.

Tanenhaus also seems to be serving up a few myths about his own beliefs that are designed to mislead readers into believing he takes an evenhanded approach to the case. Still, it's hard to believe that Tanenhaus is as appalled by McCarthyism as he claims to be, since he buys into the most basic tenet from the McCarthy 101 textbook: guilt by association, implying that Hiss must have been a communist because he associated with them in the early days of the New Deal.

These very serious allegations merit serious attention. In the coming weeks, a more detailed study of Tanenhaus's statements on these and other issues raised in his article will be posted on the website www.algerhiss.com.

Jeff Kisseloff
Managing Editor, algerhiss.com

By NO BYLINE