I. Whittaker Chambers on secreting and disclosing the Baltimore Documents
From Testimony of 26 January 1949:
A … probably in the spring of 1938, I took these documents and the film and the handwriting of Alger Hiss and White and put them in an envelope and gave them to my nephew, Nathan Levine, who was in Brooklyn. I asked him to hide them somewhere – I didn’t know where – and if anything should happen to me, to make them public in some way, and I wasn’t very clear about that either.
Q. They wouldn’t have been any help to anybody unless there had been some explanation from you, would they?
A. No. But, of course, they would have been quite curious documents and some story might develop.
Q. Well, there wouldn’t be any disclosures, would there, without your assistance?
A. Possibly not.
Q. Well, I just would like to know what passed through your mind, what possible plans you may have made. You began saving these documents, you say, over a period of several months.
A. That’s right.
Q. Are you just completely vague now as to why you did it?
A. No, I’m not vague. I think that “plans” is too definite a word. I was in a state of considerable turmoil, as you might imagine. This was the kind of evidence whose purpose was not too clear to me; nevertheless, I saved it.
Q. It would have been evidence, would it not, against the Hisses particularly?
A. It would.
Q. And White? Principally, against White and the Hisses?
Q. Now, did you have in mind at that time, well, using them as possible future evidence against Hiss?
A. I had no definite plan, as I said, and certainly my animus was not specifically against Hiss. These papers happened to be available. If there had been any from Wadleigh or Pigman, I probably would have saved those too.
Q. And over the whole period of several months there were none available?
A. No, sir. This was the only operation at this time.
Q. But it did pass through your mind. You say – I may have misunderstood you – it did pass through your mind that in some future difficulty that you might have with the Hisses these papers would be of value to you.
A. No, … I didn’t think of future differences with the Hisses. I was thinking of evidence about the operation, and this happened to be available.
Q. They were just protection to yourself.
A. Some kind of possible protection.
Q. I don’t quite see what protection they would be. Will you explain that to us?
A. Possibly, if I ever were called upon to testify about this story or had to make it clear, they would have been some kind of evidence if this went on.
A JUROR: … was that possibly you yourself, personally, might make such a disclosure,
and you were keeping the documents for that purpose?
THE WITNESS: I think it has never been out of my mind that at some time the full story
would have to be told.
From Testimony of December 8, 1948:
BY MR. WHEARTY:
Q Were all of the documents that you got in this envelope from Mr. Levine, on the 14th of November, procured by you solely from Alger Hiss?
A All of the typed documents were from the Hisses; that is, from Priscilla and Alger Hiss.
Q That is Mr. and Mrs. Hiss?
A That’s right. May I just say, Alger Hiss.
Q Did Mrs. Hiss at any time get any material for you?
A No, but Mrs. Hiss typed most of the documents, as I recall.
Q Did she at any time hand you any of the documents or copies that she had typed for you?
A I can’t say categorically yes, but my impression is that she did. However, my memory is not vivid enough on that point.
BY MR. DONEGAN:
Q Did she ever tell you that she had typed them?
A Again my impression is that she did, but I can’t be too sure.
BY MR. WHEARTY:
Q Did you ever see the typewriter in their home?
A I had no recollection of it, but I have now heard what the make of the machine was.
Q But you didn’t get any of those documents from any of the others you mentioned, such as Wadleigh or Pigman -
A No, the typed documents definitely come from Alger Hiss; and the four handwritten chits, the little slips, are from Alger Hiss.
From Testimony of December 9, 1948:
BY MR. WHEARTY:
Q Mr. Chambers, one thing that has puzzled this Grand Jury and us, too, very greatly, has been the real reason why you held out these documents and failed to disclose their existence prior to the times you did; that is, on November 17 as to the typewritten matter and the Hiss notes, and December 2 or 3 when you gave the films to the Committee under subpoena. Now, won’t you develop that for us and clear it up? We want the real reason; because, I’ll say to you frankly that it’s a little difficult to understand the theoretical motives for withholding them, and that’s what your explanation has been up to now. Now, will you develop that for us, please?
A I will do my best. The first thing that an ex-Communist has to face is the question of whether he will inform against his former comrades and to what degree. I faced the problem at once, of course, and put it off until such time as the approach of the World War particularly the Moscow-Berlin pact, seemed to make it impossible for me to put it off any longer. As you know, I had been to Washington and talked with Mr. Berle. I mentioned to him the existence of conspiratorial Communists in the government, the names of Colonel Bykov, Rosenbleit, another Soviet agent, …
… and mentioned other names. I came back to New York supposing that an investigation would begin at once and that …
… I would be called to Washington very quickly and that the whole story would then be developed.
Q Now, in your conversation with Mr. Berle, as I understand it, you made no reference to having possession of any documents.
A That is quite true.
Now, why did you hold them out at that time?
A If we had gone further than a conversation, those documents would undoubtedly have been disclosed. I came back convinced that the new foothold which I had gained in life I must abandon at once and, as I say, that the investigation would be pushed.
BY THE JURY:
Q … When was this conversation with Mr. Berle?
A That was, I believe, about five days after the Moscow-Berlin pact was signed.
Q That was when?
A That would have been in September, 1939, September or August.
BY MR. WHEARTY:
Q It was in August, wasn’t it, the 21st of August?
A Yes. 1 Then I heard nothing more for something like two years. In that time the documents had dimmed in my mind, for one thing, and my old feeling that I did not want to involve human beings in such a tragic difficulty any more than necessary became paramount again.
Q … Now, we got up to 1941. Did anything further develop on your part, toward disclosure, prior to the time that you were first interviewed by the FBI?
Q And you were first interviewed by the FBI in — …
A … probably ‘41, perhaps ‘42.
Q ‘41 or ‘42?
Q Now, at that time you didn’t give the slightest inkling of the existence of these papers and films?
A That is true.
… I had disclosed the identity of a great many people in the apparatus, as you know, and it seemed to me that disclosure of the fact that they were Communists and operating in the government was itself sufficiently serious that some action might be taken.
BY MR. WHEARTY:
Q Well, now, there came a time somewhere where you felt that you ought to disclose those documents, and that was in November of this year?
A That’s right.
Q Now, how do you reconcile the disclosure of the documents with your scruples against hurting people?
A I did not disclose those documents lightly. In the first place, and what I expect no one in this room believes unless I mentioned it, I had forgotten the existence of those documents. When I went to Mr. Levine to get my things I had remembered handwriting speciments [sic], and I was staggered when I discovered what was in the envelope. There then rose the question of what to do. And when I finally mentioned the matter to Richard Cleveland, my attorney, he said he thought that I had no choice but to disclose the documents. … and I concluded that indeed I had no choice but the simple fact
that the libel suit of Alger Hiss against Whittaker Chambers has always seemed to be to me a libel suit of the Communist Party against Whittaker Chambers, a suit very important to the country and one which must not be lost, for that reason.
Q You didn’t remember specific documents?
A I did not remember specific documents.
BY MR. WHEARTY:
Q Well, did you have any particular purpose in preserving only those documents which you say you got from Hiss?
A No, I don’t think so. Those were the documents – or, those were the available documents.
Q Well, it would seem curious that you didn’t keep a sample of what Wadleigh gave you, for example.
A Wadleigh was not in the habit of typing his – copying his documents on the typewriter.
Q There is a little inconsistency there.
A What is the inconsistency. [sic - no question mark]
Q Here is an envelope and papers that are so unimportant in your mind that you completely forgot about their existence.
A I would put it exactly the other way: that it was so important that I forgot its existence.
MR. DONEGAN: I didn’t hear that. Well, I might be a little dense on that.
THE WITNESS: I’m sorry. A man who wishes to cut out of his mind a peculiarly ugly
Q Would normally destroy them, I would think.
A I don’t think, in the circumstances, they would ordinarily destroy them, But assuming he did not, he is capable of forgetting it. However, as I said -
BY THE JURY:
Q May I ask, by the same token, could there possibly
be some additional documents, film, et cetera, that you have completely forgotten at that stage of the game?
Mr. WHEARTY: That are so important that you have forgotten them.
A No, I don’t believe so.
Q Well, you have forgotten these, so far. Could it be possible that you could have forgotten some more?
A This was the only material that I secreted.
Q Well, before this Grand Jury you indicated that you didn’t have any material. Now, I’ll give you the opportunity to think about it now and see if there is not some more that you have forgotten.
A I assure you that there is no more.
BY THE JURY:
Q Well, you assured us of that once before. Was Mr. Alger Hiss’ signature on those documents?
A Mr. Hiss’ is not on those documents.
Q It is?
A It is not.
Q When did you first get that material?
A The typed material?
Q When did it first come in your possession?
A It would be close to the dates, the earliest dates on the documents, and then from there down.
Q What year?
Q You haven’t forgotten – the time when you spoke to Mr. Berle you were aware of the material?
A That’s true.
BY MR. DONEGAN:
Q When did you again think of the material?
A I didn’t think of it at all. I found it in that envelope, the handwritten specimens.
Q You didn’t think of it before you came in contact with that envelope?
A No, I did not.
Q … just briefly how you happened to come in contact with that envelope that caused you to remember this material.
A I went there, to Mr. Levine’s in Brooklyn, to get some specimens of Alger Hiss’ handwriting which I recalled having put in the envelop that I gave to Mr. Levine. And I wasn’t even sure that after that lapse of years that Mr. Levine was still in possession of them. I was more staggered than I can convey to you when I found the contents.
Q And at that time that you appeared before this Grand Jury, which I believe was on October 14, 1948, you came to the decision that you would perjure yourself rather than reveal information and injure those people; is that correct?
A I wouldn’t say that I decided to perjure myself. I was still trying to shield them. If the result is technically perjury, I can only say that my mind is at peace.
BY THE JURY:
Q As a matter of fact, on October 14, if I followed your testimony, you didn’t even remembered of the existence of these documents.
A That is true.
Q Is that what you want us to believe?
December 7, 1948:
[Examined by U.S. Attorney Raymond Whearty]
BY Mr. WHEARTY:
A … I have of course turned over to Col. Bykov material which was given to me for that purpose, …
[By Mr. DONEGAN]
Q Did you ever deliver any material to anybody else with the exception of Colonel Bykov?
A No, I think not.
MR. WHEARTY: Did you keep any record of the times you made these deliveries to Bykov?
THE WITNESS: No records were kept.
Q Can you give this grand jury an approximation, to the best of your recollection, of how many times you delivered material?
A I delivered material to Bykov through 1937 and probably through the first months of 1938, certainly through the first months of 1938.
Q How frequently would you deliver them?
A About once a week.
Q Prior to 1937 when you say you turned over material to Col. Bykov, if my recollection is correct you say you turned over material to nobody else but Col. Bykov?
A I think that’s quite true.
Q You were engaged in Communist Party activities or what you term apparatus, is that correct?
Q In connection with your activities with the apparatus were there any efforts made to obtain – this is prior to Col. Bykov – to obtain information from any Government sources?
A No, I do not believe – in fact, I am sure that no one turned over information or material.
By Mr. WHEARTY:
Q No one or that you did not?
A No one.
Q What would be your practice, would you go to somebody who was a contact of yours and say, “I have to get some more information for Bykov by say – we’ll say April 1st?
A I would say that in general the thing was more or less automatic at about a week
or ten day intervals I met Bykov. The material which had been gathered up until that time with the meeting in mind was then ready to take to him.
Q So obtaining the information was independent of your meetings with Bykov?
A It would have been, yes.
Q You would have gotten the information in any event?
A We would have, but nevertheless we of course planned the procuring of information so I’d have it to take something to him.
By Mr. DONEGAN:
Q. Now, Mr. Chambers, in connection with your activities with Bykov, did you consider at that time that you were engaged in actual espionage activities?
Q. Were you engaged in espionage activities at any other time except 1937 and 1938 with Col. Bykov?
Q Will you identify the individuals for the grand jury who furnished you with this material or information that you turned over to Col. Bykov?
A The individuals who gave me information to turn over to Col. Bykov were Ward Pigman of the Bureau of Standards, Alger Hiss of the State Department, Julian Wadleigh of the State Department, and Harry Dexter White
of the Treasury Department. I believe that’s the list of those who actually turned over information.
A … These individuals who did not furnish information were separated from all Communist activities and connections, at least in theory, and were connected directly with me with the idea that eventually they would be able to furnish information, or might be able to.
Q Did you have any conversations with these people?
A Yes, I saw them, I think not as regularly as those who were giving information, but I saw most of them quite frequently.
Q Now in order to keep our continuity, will you name each one of these individuals, and will you say from your recollection what conversation you had with them?
A Yes. These individuals were George Pigman, I am not quite sure of that first name but I believe it was George, the brother of Ward Pigman also of the Bureau of Standards. Now I don’t recollect the exact nature of any conversations I had with George Pigman whom I saw much less frequently than I did anyone else.
Q Did you ask George Pigman to furnish you with information?
A I certainly discussed the problem [of furnishing info] with him at least once.
Q. Did you tell George Pigman that you wanted that information to give to a Russian representative?
A. I don’t know that I said so in so many words.
Q You see, the problem that we have before the grand jury, and we want to get down as basic as we can, can you give the grand jury the substance of what you said to him?
A I would — I suppose that I said to him, and that his brother had already talked to him … that we were interested in, procuring information from the Bureau of Standards, and that it was going to Communist sources if not to Soviet sources.
Q On how many occasions did you have such conversations with George Pigman?
A I would think that I had such a conversation no more than once. …
Q Will you fix the approximate date that you had that conversation with George Pigman?
A That would be very difficult.
Q Would it be in 1937?
A It would certainly be all 1937.
Testimony of December 8, 1948:
(Presented by Messrs. Whearty, Strine and Donegan)
A … I have overlooked one other member of the group which furnished material. … That is a man named Reno. …he was a mathematician working in the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
Q And about how frequently did you receive documents from him?
A He gave a small amount of documents once or twice. … they had to do with the bombsight on which he was working. They were technical matters, and I don’t know anything about it.
Q You say to the best of your memory that only happened once or twice? … Can you specify the time?
A I think it must have been towards the end of 1937.
Q Do you associate these deliveries of material with the type of weather, or something like that?
A No, I don’t think so.
Q We take it as definite, then that nobody except yourself, in this particular group, received any of the material, documentary or otherwise, which was taken from government files?
… And photographed or copied?
A I think that is true.
Q When did the purpose [of apparatus] change [from placing people in government to espionage]?
A The purpose changed either right at the end of 1936 or early in 1937.
Q What required that change?
A The presence of Colonel Bikov. [here&after, sic in the original]
Q Was any material that you obtained ever handed to anybody except to Bikov, by you?
A No, I believe not.
Q Now, Mr. Chambers, do you know, and can you tell us, what Bikov’s relationship was to the Russian Government, outside of the fact that he was supposed to be connected with a section of their Intelligence service?
A No, that is all I know; and that information I had from
Q Do you know, except from what was told to you, whether or not Bikov was in fact a Colonel?
A No, I base that knowledge wholly and solely upon what Walter Krivitsky told me.
Q You at no time saw any credentials or any evidence that he was connected with the Russian government?
A None whatsoever.
BY MR. DONEGAN:
Q What did Colonel Bikov say to you, with reference to his position or what work he was doing?
A I don’t know that he ever said anything specific about it. It was implicit in the relationship.
Q Well, at any time would it appear that it would be natural for you to have some sort of a discussion, although you might not go into it in detail?
A We discussed the kind of material that Bikov wanted, but the purpose of the material I don’t think we discussed at all.
Q Did he ever tell you what he was doing with the material?
A No, he did not.
[BY MR. DONEGAN]
Q Did you ever use the title “Colonel” in speaking to him?
A I knew him under the pseudonym of “Peter.” I never knew he had the title “Colonel” at that time, and he never had a military appearance.
Q Did Bikov or Peter comment to you as to the value, or commend you on material that was being delivered by you?
A I never remember any commendations.
Q Did he make any comments, outside of commendations?
A He frequently criticized the poor quality, from his standpoint, of the information obtained.
A JUROR: Mr. Chambers, I would like to know why, in your mind, you say you didn’t remember about this envelope but you – is it that you didn’t remember that there were documents in it?
THE WITNESS: That’s right. I remembered the specimens.
A JUROR: You remembered all those years that you had the specimens of handwriting in that envelope?
THE WITNESS: Yes, I remembered that I had secreted the specimens of handwriting.
BY MR. DONEGAN:
Q. What did you remember, Mr. Chambers, about
the nature of the specimens of the handwriting you had secreted?
A. Practically nothing.
Q. Did you remember the source of them?
A. Yes, I knew I had specimens of Mr. Hiss’ handwriting, and I thought I had Harry Dexter White’s.
Q Did you remember where you got them from?
A I got them from Mr. Hiss.
Q And did you remember the circumstances under which you had gotten them?
A I think perhaps I didn’t make myself clear.
Q I don’t want to go into how you got them, but at the time you remembered you had specimens, did you remember how you got them?
A You mean the occasion on which he gave them to me?
A. I seem to remember that they were given to me in the 30th Street house.
Q. And did you remember for what purpose they were given to you?
A. They were given to me for Colonel Bikov. [sic]
Q. And you remembered this at the time you
remembered that you had specimens?
A That is true.
Q And if you remembered Colonel Bikov you remembered that he was the Russian?
Q So, therefore, would it be unreasonable for us to say that you didn’t remember the nature of these documents, but that you remembered these handwriting specimens that you had in connection with Colonel Bikov?
A. No, I think it would be accurate, to say that I didn’t remember the exact contents of the documents, but I knew what their purpose had been.
Q So that, in order that we may clarify that point, you did not remember the exact contents of the documents that were over in Rochester Avenue?
A That’s right.
Q But you remembered that you had had specimens of the handwriting and you remembered their purpose?
Q. So that for all intents and purposes you remembered that you had something that had to do with espionage?
A. That’s right.
From the Testimony of January 18, 1949:
BY Mr. DONEGAN:
Q Do you know whether or not the micro-film that you turned over to Colonel Bykov was transmitted to Russia in the same way?
A It would have been too voluminous, I should think, for such a transmission.
Q Do you know what use was made of it?
A No, I don’t, but of course I could surmise.
Q What would be your surmise?
A My surmise would be that it was transmitted by one agency or another to Russia.
A No, I cannot. That is a kind of conversation I would not be likely to have.
Q Can you state, from what you know or were able to observe, that Colonel Bykov was a representative of the Russian Government?
A Yes, sir, I can. I suppose the most definite thing I can say is what Walter Krivitsky told me. Shall I go into that?
Mr. DONEGAN: No, I don’t think right now. That will be gone into at the regular order.
From the Testimony of January 26, 1949:
THE FOREMAN: You mentioned Walter Krivitsky – I think you might clarify his status, and so on.
THE WITNESS: Well, Walter Krivitsky was the former head of Soviet intelligence in Western Europe. He was a General in the Red Army.
THE FOREMAN: You mentioned him as identifying to you the man whom you had theretofore known as Peter?
THE WITNESS: Yes – that was Bykov.
THE FOREMAN: How did that identification come about?
THE WITNESS: In the course of conversation, when he discussed people he knew and I discussed
people I knew, and he identified Bykov …
A JUROR: Just about what time was it that you met Levine and Krivitsky in Washington?
THE WITNESS: … I should think it was probably toward the end of the year 1938.
A JUROR: Was it before or after you had gone to TIME MAGAZINE?
THE WITNESS: It was before.
THE FOREMAN: Might I interrupt your questions? What I am trying to establish here, … we are trying to develop the chronological sequence. …
- The “Moscow-Berlin pact”, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, was signed on August 23, 1939. Chambers visited Adolf Berle on September 2, 1939. ↩