Chambers, Jay Vivian (Whittaker)

   One of the most controversial “witnesses” of the Cold War, “Whittaker” Chambers, author, journalist, and self-confessed Soviet spy, set off one of the most important trials in 20th-century American history. Chambers, an ardent communist, was recruited by the OGPU in the early 1930s and made part of an illegal cell responsible for espionage. In this communist underground in Washington and New York, Chambers met Alger Hiss, a rising public servant in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal administration. In the late 1930s, Chambers, after much soul searching, left the OGPU and the party and began a new life as a journalist.
   In 1939 Chambers gave a senior State Department official an affidavit naming 13 American communists in high government positions. Chambers also confessed his treachery to a number of American friends in the early 1940s. But no use was made of this information for almost a decade. In August 1948, Chambers testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee and then before several federal grand juries about the scope of Soviet intelligence in the United States. In his testimony, he identified Hiss and others as Soviet agents. Hiss denied the charges before the same committee and was later tried and convicted of perjury.
   In the last 25 years of his life, Chambers wrote in detail about his life as a Soviet agent and a communist. To many on the left, he was seen as a false witness and a despicable person who had sent an innocent man to jail. Soviet archives and intercepted NKVD intelligence messages suggest that Chambers was an accurate witness, and that his portrayal of Hiss and Soviet subversion in Washington in the 1930s and 1940s was accurate. His autobiography is now seen as one of the best books on American society and politics in the 1930s.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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