Coplon, Judith

(1922– )
   Born into a middle-class Jewish family in New York and educated at Barnard College, Judith Coplon joined the U.S. Justice Department as a clerk in 1943. Her background investigation disclosed that she had been a member of several procommunist groups while a student, but this fact was ignored. Coplon, who had access to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) information about Soviet intelligence activities, was recruited by a Soviet intelligence officer under journalist cover. In a cable to Moscow, Vladimir Pravdin wrote that she was “a serious person who is politically welldeveloped.” She was rapidly promoted at Justice and was equally appreciated by the NKVD rezidentura, which assigned an experienced case officer, Valentin Gubitchev, to work with her. Coplon was identified through Venona intercepts and became the object of an intense FBI investigation. She was arrested in 1949 with Gubitchev, who was under cover as a United Nations employee and was permitted to return to Moscow.
   The trial of Coplon was one of the first espionage scandals of the Cold War. Filled with dramatic evidence of espionage and Coplon’s love life, it ended with her conviction and a 10-year sentence. The sentence was overturned on appeal, as was her second espionage conviction. Coplon never served a day in prison, though evidence of her espionage activities was devastating. The case demonstrated the problem that American authorities had in proving espionage in open courts, and it raised doubts about the FBI’s handling of spy cases.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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