In response to:

The Strange Trial of the Rosenbergs from the February 3, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

Professor Packer’s review of the Schneir book Invitation to an Inquest in your February 3 issue contains certain inferences about me and erroneous statements which I had not intended to answer, since I have survived for thirty years the barbs of uninformed persons who like to feel in causes célèbres that forensic experts are biased, partial or “bought up.” However, after a few irate letters and calls I have decided to reply.

Professor Packer states that he would have liked to know, in evaluating my opinion as to whether or not the Harry Gold hotel registration cards were genuine, if the “expert examiner” was forwarned. I will quote from my first letter from Walter Schneir of May 4, 1961.

My wife and I are currently working on a book in which we are attempting to get at the truth about the Rosenberg case. By the “truth” I mean just that—we have not tried to impose any preconceived views about the case on our material.

What we want to know…is whether or not the cards are authentic ones prepared in the normal course of business at the Hilton Albuquerque in June and September 1945.

There is a footnote to this review which states “Elizabeth McCarthy provided the basis for the ‘forgery by typewriter’ theory…to exonerate Alger Hiss.”

Nothing could be farther from the fact. The experiment by investigators and a typewriter engineer seeking to built a typewriter which would produce copy similar to the Hiss machine had been going on for months before I ever was in the case. This was stated clearly in the seventh paragraph of my January 1952 affidavit in the Hiss appeal. Also it might interest Professor Packer to know that farther along in my affidavit I state:

I am not prepared to say that the duplication…is even yet complete to the highest degree of accuracy…so that…I should myself find it possible to distinguish between the products of the two machines. However, it is my opinion…that the duplication has progressed to such a degree that an expert in the field, however highly qualified, would find it difficult if not impossible to distinguish between samples from the two machines.

Up to date no such expert, government or otherwise, has done so.

Elizabeth McCarthy


Herbert Packer replies:

It is interesting that a footnote reference to the Hiss case in my review of Invitation to an Inquest has provoked this response. Wounds incurred in that battle apparently are not easily healed, and no wonder. I have the highest admiration, as I have elsewhere made clear, for the late Chester Lane’s vigorous espousal of Hiss’s cause. For a lawyer to risk his professional career in support of that cause in that shameful era took courage and idealism. The same is true of Miss McCarthy and the other experts who helped test the “forgery by typewriter” theory, in support of Hiss’s motion for new trial. But admiration for their spirit does not compel concurrence in their conclusions. I undertook, in Ex-Communist Witnesses, to make as careful an analysis as I could of the claim that “forgery by typewriter” had been committed. Interested readers may want to examine pp. 25-41 of my book; the claim cannot be understood, much less evaluated, in shorter compass.

Margaret Burton has triumphantly produced a passage from the motion papers that one unacquainted with the Hiss case might suppose has been secreted from general view. On the contrary, “easy access” to p. 402 of Alger Hiss’s In the Court of Public Opinion (1957) is all that is required. My point was and is simply that Mrs. Ehrlich knew all about the Tytell experiment. It would have been more persuasive if she, or someone else not acquainted with the experiment, had been asked to examine the samples.

As for Miss McCarthy, “it might interest Professor Packer to know that farther along in [her] affadavit” she made the statement quoted at the end of her letter more than it does in fact interest me if I had not quoted and discussed that very statement on page 28 of my book.

So much for the old wheat that these ladies have insisted on threshing. Two points about Miss McCarthy’s unresponsive reply to my question as to her opinion in the affair of the registration cards:

  1. Miss McCarthy complains about “certain inferences” but does not say what they are. My point was simply that an unforewarned expert provides a more solid basis for judgment than does one who is alerted to the suspicion that a particular member of a set is thought not to belong to the set.

  2. I wrote: “Nor do they tell us whether their expert examiner was forewarned as to which card was suspected to be a forgery…” Miss McCarthy’s quotation from her first letter from Walter Schneir does not supply an answer, nor does she do so otherwise. Either she does not understand the significance of the point or she chooses deliberately to ignore it. Was she or was she not informed at any time before rendering her opinion that it was the June registration card that was suspected to be a forgery?

This Issue

April 28, 1966