In August 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), charged that Alger Hiss, was a Communist spy. Chambers claimed that he and Hiss had belonged to the same espionage group and that Hiss had given him secret State Department documents. This group was a network of American spies recruited by the Soviet Union to collect useful information for Moscow.
Alger Hiss was a Harvard-educated lawyer and a distinguished Washington figure. He had been responsible affairs for the State Department and had played a significant role in the planning for and development of the United Nations. Hiss's accuser seemed to be his opposite.
Whittaker Chambers came from an unconventional middle-class "WASP" family. His father went during a difficult marriage to live with a man, and his alcoholic brother killed himself at 22. He attended Columbia in the early 1920s, winning a reputation as a brilliant writer. Whittaker Chambers, a senior editor of Time magazine and an ex-Communist, appeared as a witness before HUAC. Chambers testified that in the 1930's he had been attached as a messenger to a Communist organization formed in Washington, D.C. The group had been organized by Harold Ware, a well-known Communist, and its members included eight government officials. Chambers confessed that espionage had been one of the Ware Group's "eventual objectives" and identified its members. One of them was Alger Hiss, a former Assistant Secretary of State. His also had control over the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945 and in February 1947 had left the government to assume the presidency of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Alger Hiss emphatically denied the allegations of Chambers's. From that moment forward, the Hiss defense has rested on the argument that Hiss was a far more credible witness. Hiss also referred to Chambers as a "psychopathic liar.