Rosenberg, Julius

(1918–1953); Rosenberg, Ethel (1915–1953)
   The most divisive espionage case of the Cold War involved a husband and wife who were either deeply engaged in Soviet intelligence or innocent martyrs of a monstrous Red Scare. Julius Rosenberg approached the NKVD for the first time in 1942 through Jacob Golos, a Soviet illegal responsible for much of the NKVD’s espionage on American soil. Over the next five years, Rosenberg managed 10 agents, most of whom were engineers. All willingly provided the Soviets with information about classified weapons programs. Rosenberg also recruited David Greenglass, his wife’s brother, a U.S. Army machinist at Los Alamos. Greenglass later provided information on the high explosive lens, a piece of the atomic bomb puzzle. In deciphered Soviet intelligence traffic, Rosenberg had the code names “Antenna” and “Liberal,” while Greenglass had the code name “Caliber.”
   Ethel Rosenberg played a less important role than her husband, according to many studies of the case. She was knowledgeable about his espionage, helped and encouraged his work, and served as a lookout during meetings with Soviet intelligence officers. Her name was not encrypted in Soviet intelligence cables, signifying that the NKVD did not consider her an enrolled agent like her husband. NKVD officers did, however, recognize her as a member of a ring of communists and communist sympathizers who were spying for the Soviet cause.
   Material from a variety of reliable sources now conclusively shows that the Rosenbergs were the center of a ring of agents that provided the Soviet Union with technical and military information, including some information on the nuclear program. They were not, however, as important to the Soviet covert intelligence attack on the nuclear weapons program as either Klaus Fuchs or Ted Hall. The Rosenbergs were Stalinists who believed they were serving an international movement while betraying the interests of their own country. Other members of the ring, as well as Morris and Lona Cohen, who supported their espionage, fled to the Soviet Union. It was the fate of the Rosenbergs to wait too long before fleeing the United States, and they were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in June 1950. Their trial became an international cause celebre, as many liberals and leftists believed the trials were politically motivated. The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of David Greenglass, while refusing to use evidence from top secret intercepts of Soviet intelligence messages in open court. This decision subsequently raised questions about the trial and the subsequent verdict. The jury’s verdict of guilt and the judge’s death sentence created an international movement for clemency, which the Soviet intelligence services exploited to discredit the United States. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953.
   The Rosenberg case revolves around three distinct issues: Were they Soviet spies? Did they receive a fair trial? Was the death sentence justified? Almost all the documentary evidence indicates they were committed spies. Information on the trial and sentencing procedure suggests there were considerable irregularities, in part the result of an overzealous prosecution, in part due to an incompetent defense. The sentence reflected both the tenor of the times and the desire of the judge and the prosecution team to use the trial to send a political message.
   See also Enormoz; Feklisov, Aleksandr.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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