A Spy Among Us Essay Research Paper

A Spy Among Us Essay, Research Paper In 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of passing information to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) concerning the construction of nuclear

A Spy Among Us Essay, Research Paper

In 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of

passing information to the Union of Soviet Socialist

Republics (USSR) concerning the construction of nuclear

weapons. In 1953, the United States Government executed

them. Some say, the Rosenbergs received their just

punishment. Many historians feel that the trial was unfair,

and that international claims for clemency were wrongly

ignored. These historians claim that the Rosenbergs were

assassinated by the US government. This report will be an

analysis of the trial, the events which led up to it, and its

aftermath. What Led to the Arrest? The first clue America

had that a Russian spy ring existed in the US was the

discovery of a KGB codebook on the Finnish battlefield

during World War II. When compared with Germany’s

machine-scrambled codes, the code appeared to be

relatively primitive; a certain set of numbers corresponded

to a word, letter, or essential phrase. There was a little

catch though; the codebook was to be read with a

corresponding page that every KGB officer was given.

Because the American ciphers did not have the

corresponding page, there were an infinite number of

possibilities that could have corresponded to the book,

making deciphering it impossible. (Milton 7) Klaus Fuchs

In 1944, the FBI raided the New York offices of the

Soviet Government Purchasing Commission, a known front

for the KGB industrial espionage operations. When the

FBI began to go through what they had taken, they found

that many KGB officers did not adhere to their orders

diligently. They were told to dispose of all their

“corresponding sheets.” Many memos and other letters

were carelessly stored away, instead of being destroyed

after their use. After much studying of all the confiscated

letters of the KGB, including the new sheets, the ciphers

were now able to elucidate some of the codebook they had

found earlier. In 1949, a report by Klaus Fuchs was

deciphered. This was America’s first solid evidence that

there was a spy ring operating within the US. borders. The

American authorities had some doubts, however. It was

possible that Fuchs was not a spy and somehow the KGB

had obtained his report. After much investigation, the FBI

arrested Fuchs. Along with other evidence, a letter

deciphered by the FBI had a reference to a British atomic

spy, whose sister was attending an American University.

Fuchs sister, Kristel, had been a student at Swarthmore

College at that time. The FBI appointed James Skardon to

confront Fuchs. Skardon was a renowned spy-catcher,

who had obtained confessions from many, including the

traitor William Joyce. On December 21 1949, Skardon

went to talk with Fuchs in his laboratory at the Harwell

Atomic Research Establishment. To Skardon’s surprise,

Fuchs was eager to talk. Apparently, Fuchs wanted to talk

because he was very upset with the Soviet Union’s postwar

policy in Eastern Europe. He did not say everything, but it

was a start. After many meetings, Skardon was able to get

Fuchs to disclose even more. Fuchs thought that if he

owned up to his past, it would be forgotten, or at least

forgiven. He was wrong. Fuchs said, “At first I thought that

all I would do was inform the Russian authorities that work

on the atomic bomb was going on? I did what I consider

the worst that I could have done, namely to give

information about the principle of the design of the

plutonium bomb.” The FBI later found out from Fuchs that

his contact was “Raymond.” They had only met a handful of

times and Fuchs did not know much about him. On March

1, 1950, Fuchs was put on trial. After a trial that lasted

only an hour and a half, he was convicted of four accounts

of espionage and sentenced to 14 years in jail. The reason

he was not killed was that he gave secrets to an ally. If he

had given the same information to an enemy, he would have

been condemned to death. (This contrasts with the current

US treatment of Jonathan Pollard – another spy on behalf

of a US ally, Israel.) The FBI now had the first link in the

chain; the next step was finding Raymond. (Eisenhower

223) Fuchs, in 1945, had been transferred to the

theoretical division of the main Manhattan Project

installation at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Fuchs then left,

without telling his Soviet control that he was leaving. After

Fuchs missed two meetings, Raymond grew very troubled,

so he went to his Soviet chief, Anatoli Yakovlev, at the

Soviet consulate staff in New York. Yakovlev went

through Fuchs’ portfolio and found his sister’s address. He

then told Raymond to go visit Fuchs sister, Kristal, in

Cambridge, Massachusetts. Raymond acting as an old

friend of Fuchs inquired as to his well being. Upon her

telling him that he had moved “somewhere down south,” he

left his telephone number. When Fuchs came home for a

vacation with his sister, she called Raymond. Raymond

immediately resumed their secret meetings. When the FBI

was searching for “Raymond”, they asked Fuchs and

Kristal for descriptions. The FBI, with their two

descriptions from the Fuchs, researched into their own files

and produced a suspect: Joseph Arnold Robbins, a

left-wing chemical engineer who graduated from CCNY in

1941. After a background search on him, the FBI rejected

him as a witness. After more intense investigation, two

other suspects were suggested, Abraham Brothmon and

Harry Gold. The FBI thought Gold was a stronger suspect

for multiple reasons, so, on May 9, Hoover ordered a

manhunt to find Gold. On May 23 1950, Gold was

arrested in Philadelphia. The importance the FBI attached

to the capture of Fuch’s accomplice was indicated by J.

Edgar Hoover, “In all the history of the FBI there never

was a more important problem than this one, never another

case where we felt under such pressure. The unknown man

simply had to be found.” The pressure that Hoover was

referring to is unknown, but months just prior to Gold’s

arrest the FBI was criticized for allegedly bungling

investigations in the Redin, Amerasia, Eisler, and Coplon

cases. (Milton 38) Harry Gold In 1915, Tom Black, an old

friend, offered Gold a job in the Manufacturing Company in

New Jersey. Gold immediately took the job. After working

there for a little while, Black began to take Gold to

Communist meetings. Gradually, Gold became a committed

Soviet and when Black asked him (in 1935) to help the

Soviets and give them some information, Gold eagerly

agreed. Although, Gold was not pro-Communist, he was

pro-Soviet. The reason Gold liked the Soviets so much

was because he thought they were benevolent towards the

Jews. Sam Semenov, Gold’s Soviet contact, suggested that

he make his own contacts that had access to more

information than he did. After working for the Soviets for

eight years, Semenov told Gold to break all ties with his

former contacts. Gold was given new contacts, “a group of

American scientists in New York.” This was considered a

promotion, for Gold was assigned a contact who had

access to a lot more information. This new person was

Klaus Fuchs. After four years of working with Fuchs, Gold

stopped working for the Soviets and began to lead a

normal life, cutting all ties he had with his contacts and the

Soviets. A couple of months later, one of Gold’s contacts,

Abraham Brothmon called Gold franticly saying the FBI

questioned him and they were onto them. Days later, the

FBI interrogated Gold. At first, Gold claimed the same

story as Brothmon, but after extremely long interrogations

Gold was worn down, and accidentally slipped, and the

FBI began to catch the inconsistencies in Gold’s story. The

next week, they searched his house. In the middle of the

search, Gold admitted to being the man to whom Klaus

Fuchs passed the information on atomic energy. Despite

Gold’s attempts, after an exhausting week of interrogation,

Gold slipped and mentioned old contact’s and friend’s

names, including his friend Tom Black and David

Greenglass. (Allen 41) David & Ethel Greenglass David

Greenglass was an American solider assigned as a

technician at Los Alamos. For $500 he gave Gold sketches

of the system used to focus high explosive pressure waves

that drove together packets of uranium and produced the

chain the chain reaction of nuclear fission-the explosion of

the atomic bomb. David Greenglass’ sister was Ethel

Greenglass, later to be Ethel Rosenberg. The Greenglass’s

grew up in New York’s Lower East Side, in a small

cramped apartment. Ethel was brilliant. She graduated at

age 15 from Seward Park High School. Even in the poor

economy of that period, when there was an extreme

demand for jobs, she was able to find work within a month

of receiving her diploma, at age 15. She was fired four

years later when she organized a strike of 150 women who

lay down in the street blocking all the company’s delivery

trucks. Ethel then filed a complaint with the National Labor

Relations Board, which she won. She succeeded at finding

a better job, for twice the pay of her previous one. Ethel

was known as a “go-getter”; she did not stop until she was

satisfied. With some training, Ethel started to sing in choirs

and act in plays in the evenings. One evening, before Ethel

went on stage, she met the one and only love of her life,

Julius Rosenberg. (Milton 50) Julius Rosenberg Julius’

background was similar to Ehtel’s; he grew up on New

York’s East Side. He went to the same schools as Ethel,

Talmud Torah for middle school, and Seward Park for high

school. Julius never had to worry about money, and his

father wanted him to further his religious leanings and

become a rabbi. In Julius’ senior year, he grew more

interested in politics and less interested in religion. After

Julius graduated from Seward, he went to the City College

of New York, where he majored in electrical engineering.

This major was favored by politically aware students

because it entitled them to membership in the Federation of

Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians (FAECT),

a militant union for white collar professionals with a

pro-Communist leadership. Julius soon became a member

in the Steinmentz Club, a branch of the Young Communist

League, or YCL. Soon Julius became so involved in

politics that his graduation was in jeopardy. At this time,

Julius and Ethel were becoming very serious about each

other and Ethel made Julius come over to her house to

study so that he would eventually receive his diploma.

Because Julius spent so much time in Ethel’s house, David

(Ethel’s brother) became very friendly with Julius. Julius

kindled David’s interest in politics, convincing him to join

the YCL. (Allen 45) Julius and Ethel were married in 1939.

After struggling for a few years with no substantial job,

Julius was hired as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army

Signal Corps in the fall of 1942. In 1942, David married

Ruth Printz. In 1943, the Greenglasses joined the YCL,

and the Rosenbergs were full members of the Communist

Party. Julius was chairperson of Branch 16B of the Party

Industrial Division and often held meetings in his house.

Party members were encouraging everybody to do

everything they could to support the wartime effort. When

David was admitted to the American army, he looked

forward to helping the Communist cause in any way he

could. Julius, however, was physically unfit for the army, so

he looked for other ways to help his party. (Milton 70)

According to Ruth Greenglass’ testimony, Julius and Ethel

dropped out of the Communist party in 1943 to take their

own “initiative” in helping their party. She claims that Julius

told her that he began to form contacts to help him enter a

new kind of activity. David later claimed that Julius

approached him about the subject of espionage. Even

without David Greenglass’ testimony, one can understand

why the Rosenbergs dropped out of the party. Ethel had

her first child in early 1943, and Julius was working for the

government, so he was afraid he would lose his job if his

Communist affiliations were discovered. (Eisenhower 224)

In the beginning of 1945, Julius was dismissed from his job.

Sometime before this, the FBI had sent to the U.S. Army

Intelligence a copy of a Communist Party membership card

showing that in 1939, Julius had been involved in the Party.

The Army felt this was not sufficient evidence to dismiss

Julius because there was no reason for them to assume it

was the same Julius Rosenberg who was their Signal Corps

employee. In the fall of 1944, the FBI sent the Army more

information on Rosenberg, including his address. This time

the evidence sufficed and Julius was dismissed. (Milton 83)

On July 17, 1950, David told the FBI that Julius was

talking freely about his “secret work” in order to make

David more comfortable helping him. Julius confided in

David that the first move he made in espionage was while

he was working as a signal corps inspector. Julius told

David that he knew that soviet radios and electronics were

floundering (David realized that Julius was talking about

their radar technology) and had tried to help the Soviets by

picking up copies of tube manuals. David said that Julius

bragged to him many times about the network of contacts

he had built in Cleveland, Ohio, and upstate New York,

and about information about certain top secret weapons.

(Milton 84) On July 16, 1950, two uniformed police

officers, William Norton and John Harrington, came to

Julius’ apartment and took him down for questioning. Julius

remained very calm while being interrogated but refused to

allow his apartment to be checked without a warrant.

When Julius was taken to the base, Harrington asked him,

“What would you say if we told you that your

brother-in-law said you asked him to supply information to

the Russians?” Julius responded sharply, “Bring him here,

and I will call him a liar to his face.” (Sharlitt 3) Soon after

being taken to the station, Julius asked to call his lawyer.

When Victor Rabinowitz answered the telephone, his first

question was, was he under arrest. When they told Julius

that he had not been arrested, he immediately stood up and

walked out of the station. When Julius left the station, he

saw the newspapers screaming that Greenglass had been

arrested that day and was being held on $100,000 bond.

From the station, Julius went straight to Rabinowitz.

Rosenberg wanted the FAECT counsel to represent him,

but because Rabinowitz had recently defended the alleged

spy Judith Coplon, he felt his involvement would be

detrimental for Rosenberg’s case, so he gave Rosenberg

another lawyer, Emanuel Hirsch Bloch. Bloch was a very

eminent lawyer; he was a member in National Lawyer’s

Guild and the Civil Rights Congress. He served on the

defense team of Willie McGee and was also serving as one

of the three CRC attorneys assigned to the case of the

Trenton Six. Bloch was also well known for his

representation of Steve Nelson, a leader of the Communist

Party in Pittsburgh. The real reason though, that Rabinowitz

appointed Bloch, was that Bloch was a good friend of O.

John Rogge and shared an office building with him. Rogge

was Greenglass’ attorney and Rabinowitz wanted to stay

well informed of Greenglass’ situation, and if possible,

prevent him from becoming a government witness. (Sharlitt

6) The first time Bloch met Rosenberg he thought this

would be a simple open and shut case. He thought that if

Rosenberg would respond to all questions with the Fifth

Amendment, then the prosecution’s case would become a

lot weaker. He missed some obvious hints though, that

would have led him to think otherwise. For example,

Greenglass was nicknamed by the media as the

“atom-spy.” (Sharlitt 6) After being released, Julius

continued his normal routine while the FBI conducted what

they call a “discreet surveillance.” Agents Norton and

Harrington were permanently assigned to Rosenberg’s

case. Without David Greenglass expanding on his

accusations from June 15-16, they could not justify

arresting him. There are different theories as to why Julius

did not seize the chance to flee the FBI. One theory is that

he did not think that David would break down so far as to

mention even his own family. Another theory is that it

would have taken weeks to alert some of his contacts

without leading the FBI to them. (Meerpool 37) On July

12, Greenglass, with the urging of his lawyers, had his

second extradition hearing. This led the media to think that

Greenglass was leaning towards pleading guilty. According

to Ruth, David’s wife, Ethel visited her to find out what

David’s plans were and if he was going to indict her

husband, Julius. (Meerpool 42) The FBI, after Greenglass

made his statements, went to James McInerney of the

Justice Department, who agreed there was now enough

evidence to charge Julius Rosenberg with conspiracy to

commit espionage. When Richard Whelan, assistant special

agent in charge of the New York office, heard McInerney’s

ruling, he sent Norton to file a complaint before federal

judge John F. X. McGohey. Immediately after J. Edgar

Hoover heard that Whelan tried to delay the arrest, he

grew infuriated. He suspected the reason for the delay was

in order to tip off the press so that the story would be

covered in the next day’s papers. Hoover feared that when

the press found out, Rosenberg might be tipped-off and

flee at the last second. (Milton 92) On Tuesday, July 17,

1950, when Rosenberg was arrested, it was in full view of

his aghast family; his two sons standing agape, watching

their father dragged out by two officers. Julius and Ethel

until the bitter end maintained their innocence. They never

pleaded guilty nor even considered it. The FBI, after

searching Julius’ house, had evidence that the espionage

ring that Greenglass talked about was true. In order to

force Rosenberg to disclose names of other spies, Hoover

suggetsed that Ethel be arrested, and be used as leverage

to force Julius to talk. (Mitlon 93) Ethel Rosenberg On

August 11, Ethel Rosenberg was arrested and bail was set

at $100,000-the same huge amount as her husband. Ethel’s

lawyer was Bloch’s father, Alexander Bloch. The reason

for this was that when she was arrested, Manny Bloch was

not in the office, but his father was, so he rushed down to

the station to help Ethel and then later took her case. The

Rosenberg children were sent to Tessie Greenglass, who

very soon complained to the court she could not control

them and more importantly, could not afford them. The

court sent them to the Hebrew Children’s Home in the

Bronx. Most believe that the FBI arrested Ethel in order to

force her husband into confessing. Others disagree and say

that Greenglass’ accusations proved true, and it is possible

that Ethel was a full partner in her husband’s doings and she

was arrested purely on her misdeeds. (Sharlitt 42) The

Trial On March 6, 1951, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s trial

began. Their case attracted so much attention because this

was the most publicized spy hunt of all time. Another

reason this case received so much attention was that it

contained all the elements of a high drama trial. The case

had a family feud already familiar to the public, because the

Jewish Daily Forward had published a series of articles on

the Greenglasses. The trial also involved defendants who

firmly claimed their innocence, and the possibility of

eminent atomic scientists testifying. (Milton 98) US

Attorney Irving Saypool was prosecuting the case. Saypool

had made a very good reputation for himself when he

prosecuted Communists, including Alger Hiss and the

eleven Smith Act defendants. From the onset of the trial,

Saypool treated the defendants without the accustomed

court propriety. Irving R. Kaufman, the judge, chose the

jurors himself in a day and a half. Kaufman read a list of

many parties, organizations, and clubs and anybody

affiliated with any of them were excused. Then they were

asked if they were opposed to the death penalty, the use of

atomic-weapons in war, or felt that any information

concerning the development of atomic energy should be

revealed to any Russian satellite country. If they were, they

were excused. (Burkholz 73) In Saypool’s opening words,

he stated, “The loyalty and the allegiance of the Rosenbergs

were not to the country but to Communism, Communism in

this country and throughout the world.” Emanuel Bloch

immediately objected that Saypool’s allusion to communism

was irrelevant because communism was not on trial.

Kaufman said that communism would be allowed in the trial

because it established motive. Saypool also said that they

convinced David Greenglass to become a traitor to his

country, “a modern Benedict Arnorld.” After Saypool’s

very powerful opening statement, the public began to talk

about capital punishment. (Burkholz 75) It is nearly

impossible to convict someone of treason. It was such a

serious crime that the standards of proof are very strict. On

the other hand, it is easy to get a conviction for conspiracy;

it is even sometimes refereed to as the “prosecutor’s

friend.” Hearsay testimony is admissible in trial, and once

the existence of conspiracy is established every conspirator

may be held liable for the acts of the others, even if he does

not have any knowledge of them. In addition, in order to be

convicted, only the conspiracy had to be proven.

(Meerpool 176) The prosecution brought several very

damaging witnesses against the defense: Julius Rosenberg’s

brother-in-law, David Greenglass, and his wife Ruth Printz

Greenglass. Greenglass testified that he passed to his sister

and brother-in-law sketches of the implosion lens, a vital

component of the plutonium bomb. David Greenglass’s

story was corroborated by his wife and another spy, Harry

Gold. Gold testified that he received information from

David Greenglass, and that he passed them on to the

Rosenbergs. These testimonies showed clearly that there

was a plan to spy and to pass secrets. (Milton 103) Max

Elicher testified about a second spy ring which Julius

Rosenberg headed. The second ring was formed to

disclose to the Soviets naval secrets pertaining to

communications instruments. He testified that Julius

Rosenberg recruited him to spy. Nobody knew about the

two conspiracies except for Rosenberg; he was the only

connection between the two. Although Elicher did not say

what information he gave to Rosenberg, it connected Julius

Rosenberg to two spy rings. None of Elicher’s testimony

was refuted except by Rosenberg’s denials. (Milton 104)

After a fourteen day trial, there was no evidence proving

the Rosenberg’s innocence so the jury decided to believe

David Greenglass’, Harry Gold’s, and Max Elicher’s

testimonies. The prosecutors asked the Rosenbergs many

questions about their involvement in the Communist Party in

order to establish motive. They answered most of the

questions with the Fifth Amendment so that their answers

would not incriminate them. This led many people, including

the jurors, to feel very strongly about their guilt. Many

argue that the Rosenbergs were framed and that they were

the perfect people to be framed because of their

involvement in the Communist Party. There are a few

questions as to why Emanuel Bloch did certain things in the

trial. For example, he did not cross-examine Harry Gold.

(Sharlitt 17) For cooperating with the prosecution,

Greenglass’ sentence was for fifteen years of imprisonment,

Gold’s for thirty and Fuch’s for only fourteen. The

Rosenbergs pled not guilty. In March 1951, they became

the first Americans to be sentenced to death on a charge of

espionage in peacetime. (Milton 103) Doubts on the Trial

Some historians say that the government framed the

Rosenbergs, and was aiming for capital punishment. First,

they were not charged with espionage, rather they were

charged and convicted of conspiracy to spy. This was to

the government’s advantage because, as explained

previously, much less proof is necessary for a conviction

for conspiracy. A second reason that historians think that

the government was out to kill the Rosenbergs was

because Saypool, Lane, Cohn, and Kilsheimer were all

assigned to the case. This showed the government’s strong

and special interest in the case. In summary, the charge

against the Rosenbergs, the powerful prosecution, the

well-known anti-Communist prosecutors and the judge, all

support that the government’s objective was to kill the

Rosenbergs. (Sharlitt 23) The reason many people call the

Rosenberg’s executions a legal and fatal error is simple. On

June 19, 1953, the federal government executed the

Rosenbergs. The Rosenbergs were charged, tried, and

convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917. In 1946, the

Atomic Energy Act was passed. It required that spies who

passed atomic secrets be executed only after a jury’s

recommendations. From the day the Rosenbergs were

indicted to three days before their execution, this act was

ignored. Astonishingly, nobody realized, including the

prosecutors, defendants, or any judges, that this was being

ignored. A lawyer from the West Coast raised the issue

that suggested to somebody that the Rosenbergs were

being wrongly executed. Even after the issue was raised,

the Supreme Court ignored it and the Rosenbergs were

executed anyway. Still today, there is an ongoing and bitter

controversy as to why the Rosenbergs were put to death.

(Sharlitt 27) Bibliography Allen, Thomas, and Norman

Polmar. Merchants of Treason. New York: Delacorte

Press, 1988. Burkholz, Herbert, and Clifford Irving. Spy

The Story of Modern Espionage. New York: Macmillan

Publishing Company, 1969. Eisenhower, Dwight. Mandate

For Change. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc.,

1963. Milton, Joyce, and Ronald Rodash. The Rosenberg

File. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997. Meeropol,

Michael, and Robert Meeropol. We Are Your Sons.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975. Sharlitt,

Joseph. Fatal Error. New York: Macmillan Publishing

Company, 1989.