Appalled by Josef Stalin's notorious political purges, Chambers defected from the Communist Party in April 1938. Like many apostates, he veered sharply to the Right; by the time he joined the staff of Time magazine twelve months later, he was an ardent anticommunist. In September 1939, he outlined to Adolf Berle, an assistant secretary of state, his allegations about communist espionage in Washington and implicated eight individuals, including Alger Hiss.
During the deepening Cold War and as anticommunist activity in America grew more intense, Chambers appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). On 3 August 1948, Chambers publicly identified Hiss as a communist. In a protracted, controversial, and highly publicized series of hearings and trials, Chambers leveled explicit charges of perjury and implicit charges of Soviet espionage against Hiss, who vehemently denied the allegations. Chambers appeared before HUAC and the various courts fourteen times, attempted suicide once, and lost his job at Time.
After the hearings were over and Hiss was convicted and imprisoned for perjury, Chambers drifted, became a Quaker, and wrote his compelling autobiography, Witness. Before his death on 9 July 1961 near Westminster, Maryland, Chambers worked for William Buckley's conservative National Review. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan, himself influenced by Witness, posthumously awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Tanenhaus, Sam. Whittaker Chambers: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1997.; Weinstein, Allen. Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case. New York: Knopf, 1978.