View Full Version : The Rosenberg Case Resurrected

09-14-2008, 12:06 AM
Much ink has been spilled over the last 50+ years on two Cold War spy cases: Rosenberg and Hiss. Here is a new piece of "evidence" (hearsay, technically, since it is an out-of-court statement) in the Rosenberg case.

NY Times
Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits to Soviet Spying
Published: September 11, 2008
In 1951, Morton Sobell was tried and convicted with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on espionage charges. He served more than 18 years in Alcatraz and other federal prisons, traveled to Cuba and Vietnam after his release in 1969 and became an advocate for progressive causes. ... Through it all, he maintained his innocence. But on Thursday, Mr. Sobell, 91, dramatically reversed himself, shedding new light on a case that still fans smoldering political passions. In an interview, he admitted for the first time that he had been a Soviet spy. ....


While Sobell's interview answers some questions, it leads to other questions; and, in part, the interview is self-serving. A good read, from which you can draw your own conclusions.

The following statement (the "except to corroborate" part) is interesting.

same source
Echoing a consensus among scientists, Mr. Sobell also maintained that the sketches and other atomic bomb details that the government said were passed along to Julius Rosenberg by Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, were of little value to the Soviets, except to corroborate what they had already gleaned from other moles. ....

We are well aware of other moles (Klaus Fuchs, etc.; and the English Granny mole's activities also have been enhanced by recent "evidence"). However, there was some "evidence" (talk) of a broader US network.

Back in the mid-1950's, I was given a collection of Readers Digests from the 1930's and 1940's. An article ca. 1946-1948 quoted an Air Corps officer, stationed in Alaska, as to boxes of military and technical documents and blueprints which were being shipped to the Russians during the last days of WWII. He looked through the boxes - classified stuff in part; some of which he thought referenced atomic stuff. He wanted to stop the shipment; but since that was the Era of Good Feeling with Uncle Joe, the shipment was shipped.

Now, one cannot necessarily draw conclusions from RD articles. In another of that collection, was an article by some military analysts who concluded that the Japanese were incapable of mounting a major naval attack against our Pacific Fleet, that the Zero and Japanese pilots were equally incompetent; and that the ABCD powers would defeat any Japanese attacks in short order. Its publication date was December 6, 1941 !

Anyway, the Alaskan boxes went into a mental index card, which came out of its rusty file cabinet when I read the "other moles" statement. Back to some harder evidence.

The evidence available in the 1950's has been enhanced by later recovery of data from US and Russian archives - although much data is still probably buried (not necessarily intentionally). Moreover, much of this evidence is difficult. It does not state such things as "Alger Hiss is a GRU agent, who delivered A, B and C today." One has to cross-reference many things to come up with "probable cause" as to the identity of ALES, for example.

That topic (the VENONA intercepts, etc.) is well covered here - a collection of 14 articles; such as:

Go to: “Cover Name, Cryptonym, CPUSA Party Name, Pseudonym, and Real Name Index: A Research Historian’s Working Reference”
Go to: “Russian Archival Identification of Real Names Behind Cover Names in VENONA,” Center for Cryptologic History Symposium, 27 October 2005


The home page has many other links to Cold War "I spy stuff" and CPUSA stuff.

For those who are interesting in "analysing" an actual VENONA intercept (as opposed to what someone says 1822 says), go here:

Center for Cryptologic History Symposium, 27 October 2005
Hiss in VENONA: The Continuing Controversy
John R. Schindler

Of all the historical and political controversies unleashed by the release of the VENONA decrypts nearly a decade ago, none has proved as enduring or vexing as that surrounding Alger Hiss, the U.S. State Department official and reputed Soviet spy. The oft-cited message in question - 1822, Washington to Moscow, dated 30 March 1945 - refers to a well-placed American agent codenamed ALES. .......


Some Russian is helpful here (if you feel compelled to verify what Schindler says); but it is not necessary to understand the points he makes. VENONA intercepts I've seen (in the "finished" English - see Schindler for explanation) range from the very clear to the very muddy - many are available on-line with a bit of searching.

Fun stuff - it is interesting how sources and methods take a long time to come out of the woodwork. There is a reason that intelligence services protect (or try to protect) them for a long time.

09-15-2008, 08:14 PM
GWU's National Security Archive, 11 Sep 08: Rosenberg Grand Jury Files Released (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20080911/index.htm)

The Julius and Ethel Rosenberg grand jury transcripts released today as the result of legal action by the National Security Archive and a coalition of historians directly contradict the central charge against Ethel Rosenberg in the atomic espionage prosecution that J. Edgar Hoover called “the case of the century,” according to experts who analyzed the documents today.....

.....Today’s release includes 940 pages of the Rosenberg grand jury testimony, and 41 of the 45 witnesses who appeared before the grand jury between August 1950 and March 1951.

David Vladeck, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, remarked that today’s release was only the fourth time in history that historical grand jury testimony has been released to the public. Vladeck called the release the “first act in a two-act play,” referring to the still-withheld grand jury testimony from the Brothman-Moskowitz trial, which served as a “tuneup” for the Rosenberg trial.....

09-16-2008, 02:22 AM
which allows us to consider some Rosenberg evidence as it stands - not as someone says it stands.

There is a considerable amount of other evidence, as well: the trial evidence itself; but also that archived evidence which has come to light in the 50+ years since the trial.

As you say and remind us: "Knowledge is experience. Everything else is just information."

My experience suggests that we are about to see a load of Bravo Sierra (to steal from Stan's parlance) dumped on us about this case.

I expect I will have comments - I love transcripts.

But, not tonite.

Expect I will download the 90+MB to my office computer and cut a CD - but not this week. Since this took almost 60 years to develop, we do not have to be in a hurry.

BTW: for those who are interested in how information and disinformation campaigns develop, this will be a good one to watch. From the comments at the webpage you cited, it has already started.

Thanks for the headsup.

09-16-2008, 02:52 AM
...speaking of original records. The case against Ethel Rosenberg was torn down pretty convincingly back in '99 by the authors of The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America-The Stalin Era (http://www.amazon.com/Haunted-Wood-Espionage-America-Paperbacks/dp/0375755365). Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev used both VENONA files and access to KGB records (during the brief open period they were made available to outside researchers) when putting the book together. The Rosenberg case is just one of several discussed.

09-16-2008, 05:38 AM
and one book review.

Draw your own conclusions.

from NSA-CSS
The VENONA Story
The Rosenberg/Atomic Bomb Espionage Messages

VENONA translations that had been identified as associated with atomic bomb espionage messages were released first. All but two of this group of forty-nine messages were KGB traffic - one is a GRU and one a Soviet diplomatic message.

These messages disclose some of the clandestine activities of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Harry Gold, Klaus Fuchs, David and Ruth Greenglass, and others such as the spy known by the covername MLAD (Theodore Hall) or the important, but still unidentified, PERS. The role played by the person covernamed VEKSEL remains uncertain but troubling. A number of other covernames of persons associated with atomic bomb espionage remain unidentified to this day.

VENONA messages show that KGB officer Leonid Kvasnikov, covername ANTON, headed atomic bomb espionage in the United States but that he, like the Rosenbergs, who came under his control, had many other high-tech espionage targets such as the U.S. jet aircraft program, developments in radar and rockets, etc.


from NSA-CSS
The VENONA Exhibit
The Rosenbergs became a controversial case, due in part to the accusation and conviction of Ethel Rosenberg. VENONA messages indicate that her husband, Julius, was heavily involved in providing information to his KGB handler. At least one message shows that Ethel may have known about her husband's activities. Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, was also involved, selling details about the atomic bomb project in Los Alamos where he worked. It was David's testimony against his sister and brother-in-law that led to the conviction of the Rosenbergs for conspiracy to commit espionage.


from NSA-CSS
VENONA Chronology
1948-1951 Exploitation of VENONA exposes major KGB espionage agents such as Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Theodore Hall, William Perl, the Rosenbergs, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, and Harry D. White.


from NSA-CSS
Remembrances of VENONA
Note: The following are the remarks made by Mr. William P. Crowell, Deputy Director of NSA when the declassification of the VENONA project was announced at CIA Headquarters on 11 July 1995. Mr. Crowell retired from NSA on 12 September 1997.


To the motherlode, index here

from NSA-CSS
The first of six public releases of translated VENONA messages was made in July 1995 and included 49 messages about the Soviet’s efforts to gain information on the U.S. atomic bomb research and the Manhattan Project. Over the course of five more releases, all of the approximately 3,000 VENONA translations were made public.


from NSA-CSS
The Venona Documents - Dated
These are the scanned images of the VENONA documents which have been declassified. They are arranged by specific dates. For each document, a one-line summary has been provided, which release it was contained in, as well as a link to a PostScript version for printing. To begin viewing the VENONA documents, please select a year and a month, then click on "Submit Year-Month".


from NSA-CSS
The Venona Documents - Undated
These are the scanned-in images of the VENONA documents which have been declassified up to this point and are not dated.


Please note that the foregoing url also indexes the "Cheka" cover names in rough alpha order, with associated messages cited. E,g., a set of refs to ANTENNA (Julius Rosenberg) is here - no search function, you have to search page by page from the relevant index page (city to city transmissions).


One more source - a secondary source, indeed; but from a man whose name is familiar here.

Books in Review
Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America and The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—The Stalin Era
Old Ghosts
Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. By John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. Yale University Press. 475 pp. $30.
The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—The Stalin Era. By Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev. Random House. 402 pp. $30.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Bacevich

.... [2nd para. from bottom]
....Ethel Rosenberg offers a case in point. That she was complicit in her husband’s spying is beyond dispute; her offenses did not justify execution, however.....


I happen to agree with the colonel-professor from Boston (Ethel guilty, but no death penalty). Judge Medina thought differently. He was there - neither Bacevich nor I were there.

Have fun reading, folks - I gotta hit the sack.

09-16-2008, 06:51 PM
but fortunately not fatally.

The Rosenberg judge was Irving R. Kaufman, whose bio is here:


and whose obit is here

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CEFD6113FF930A35751C0A9649582 60&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all

Harold R. Medina presided over the 1949 trial of 11 leaders of the CPUSA charged with advocating the violent overthrow of the government. The jury found all the defendants guilty and Medina sentenced them to prison (not death).

His bio is here.


09-16-2008, 07:09 PM
The links to the testimony of key witnesses at the trial (as opposed to the grand jury), and to the entire 2,563 page transcript, are here.


The home page has much more.


Of special interest are:

Diagram of Spy Ring


Judge Kaufman's Sentencing Statement


Four Appellate Court Decisions, linked at


Doug Linder's 2008 account of the trial is here


This is hyperlinked to the relevant testimony; so, it is a good way to go through the record.