SPY CASES - UNITED STATES

Atomic Bomb Spies

Rosenbergs

 

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are regarded as the leaders of the Soviet Union's "Atomic Spy Ring" during World War II and the early 1950s, although recently released documents suggest that Ethel may have been less of a leader in the Ring than has been supposed. They were convicted of espionage during wartime, sentenced to death, and executed on 19 June 1953. Although a river of ink has been used in their defense, it is clear at this date that they were indeed engaged in espionage against the United States. Allen and Polmar, Merchants of Treason (1988), treat the Rosenbergs as the last of the big-time ideological spies in the United States.

The FBI's Electronic Reading Room provides a summary, written in 1953, of the Rosenberg case at http://vault.fbi.gov/rosenberg-case/rosenberg-case-summary.

Alavi, Atossa M. "The Government Against Two: Ethel and Julius Rosenberg's Trial." Case Western Reserve Law Review 53 (2003): 1057-1090.

Busch, Francis Xavier. Enemies of the State: An Account of the Trials of the Mary Surratt Case, the Teapot Dome Cases, the Al Capone Case, the Rosenberg Case. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1954.

Carmichael, Virginia. Framing History: The Rosenberg Story and the Cold War. Vol. 6, American Culture Series. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

Cogan, Charles G. "Review Article: In the Shadow of Venona." Intelligence and National Security 12, no. 3 (Jul. 1997): 190-195.

In a review of John F. Neville, The Press, the Rosenbergs, and the Cold War (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 1995), and John E. Haynes, Red Scare or Red Menace (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996), Cogan draws the following conclusion about the impact of the release of the Venona materials on the Rosenberg debate: "it is a useless and sterile exercise, post Venona, to keep insisting that the accusations against the Rosenbergs were 'political'.... Julius Rosenberg was a spy and a principal agent of the Soviets, targeted on the United States' atomic secrets."

De Toledano, Ralph. The Greatest Plot in History. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1963. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1977.

Dobbs, Michael. "Julius Rosenberg, Spy: But His KGB Handler Says His Role in Stealing Atom Bomb Secrets Was Minor." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 24 Mar. 1997, 6-7.

Feklisov, Alexandre. Confession d'un Agent Soviétique. Paris: Éditions du Rocher, 1999. Feklisov, Alexander, and Sergei Kostin. Intro, Ronald Radosh. Tr., Catherine Dop. The Man Behind the Rosenbergs: Memoirs of the KGB Spymaster Who Also Controlled Klaus Fuchs and Helped Resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Enigma, 2001.

Feklisov died on 26 October 2007. Martin Weil, "Alexander Feklisov, 93; Key Soviet Spy in U.S.," Washington Post, 3 Nov. 2007.

Commenting on the French-language edition, Kiracofe, AFIO WIN 24-99 (18 Jun. 1999) and Intelligencer 10.2, notes that Feklisov served as the case officer for both Julius Rosenberg (1943-1946) and Klaus Fuchs (1947-1949). The author "reveals significant details concerning his long career in Soviet intelligence, including a definitive presentation of the Rosenberg case.... There are also accounts of the successful exfiltration to the Soviet Union of Rosenberg colleagues Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant." Feklisov "includes much interesting commentary" about the Fuchs case. According to the reviewer, the author's "comments on his behind-the-scenes contacts, via John Scali, with the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis are particularly interesting."

Haynes, I&NS 17.3, finds that, with regard to the Rosenbergs, Feklisov "corroborates, fills in gaps, or fleshes out the story told in Radosh and Milton's The Rosenberg File." Feklisov is, however, "detailed and candid only in regard to Julius Rosenberg and the impressively large network of Communist engineers that Rosenberg brought into espionage. He describes other sources and agents, but in vague terms." For Unsinger, IJI&C16.3, Radosh's introduction is "an interesting critique of Feklisov's revelations." However, Radosh "gives the impression that the entire book was about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, but it is about far more than them alone."

See also, Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel, "Retired KGB Spymaster Lifts Veil on Rosenbergs," Washington Times, 19 Mar. 1997, A1, A6.

Fineberg, S. Andhill. The Rosenberg Case: Fact and Fiction. New York: Oceana, 1953.

Hatch, David A. "VENONA: An Overview." American Intelligence Journal 17, no. 1/2 (1996): 71-77.

This is an excellent overview of the Venona project, in terms of the nature of the activity and what was obtained from it and what was not. The author includes a brief but lucid section on the relation of the materials to the Rosenberg espionage case. For individuals coming to a discussion of the Venona decrypts without some background in the project, this is a good place to start.

Olmsted, Kathryn S. "Blond Queens, Red Spiders and Neurotic Old Maids: Gender and Espionage in the Early Cold War." Intelligence and National Security 19, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 78-94.

Elizabeth Bentley, Judith Coplon, Priscilla Hiss, and Ethel Rosenberg "received the most media coverage of any female Communist spies, and their cases best illustrate the gender constructions used to interpret them."

Radosh, Ronald, and Joyce Milton. The Rosenberg File: A Search for Truth. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1983. 2d ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

Reuben, William A. The Atom Spy Hoax. New York: Action Books, 1955.

Roberts, Sam. The Brother: The Untold Story of Atomic Spy David Greenglass and How He Sent His Sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the Electric Chair. New York: Random House, 2001.

David Greenglass died in July 2014 at the age of 92. See Sam Roberts, "David Greeenglass: Spied for Soviets," Time, 27 Oct. 2014: 16.

Haynes, I&NS 17.3, calls this book "a well-written melodrama with the ethics of the grade school playground. Espionage against the United States in the service of Stalin is a mere piffle compared [to] the monstrous crime of snitching on your sister.... The Brother is written for a popular audience, scholarly apparatus is minimal, and the sources of much information are unclear or not given." For Ehrman, Studies 46.4 (2002), this "book is a notable addition to the literature on the case.... More than anyone else, [Roberts] has told us about the human beings in the story, and shown that they were not admirable people."

Roberts, Sam. "Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits to Soviet Spying." New York Times, 12 Sep. 2008. [http://www.nytimes.com]

On 11 September 2008, Morton Sobell in an interview with the New York Times "admitted for the first time that he had been a Soviet spy. And he implicated his fellow defendant Julius Rosenberg, in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb.... Sobell also concurred in what has become a consensus among historians: that Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed with her husband, was aware of Julius's espionage, but did not actively participate.

Schneir, Walter. Final Verdict: What Really Happened in the Rosenberg Case. With Preface and Afterword by Miriam Schneir. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2010.

Moynihan, Wall Street Journal, 20 Oct. 2010, notes that the author "does grudgingly admit that Julius Rosenberg was a Stalinist agent (Ethel remains, in the Schneirs' view, an innocent bystander). But "Final Verdict" ... makes no serious attempt at reaching historical truth, instead offering a selective and ultimately unconvincing attempt at personal vindication." For Peake, Studies 55.2 (Jun. 2011), Schneir's "conjectures are only supported by imaginative analysis and speculation.... Nothing the Schneirs present changes the substance of the case."

Schneir, Walter, and Miriam Schneir. "Cryptic Answers." Nation, 21 Aug. 1995, 152-153.

Usdin, Steven T. "The Rosenberg Ring's Continued Impact." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 23, no. 4 (Winter 2010-2011): 663-679.

"Aside from the obvious consequences of atomic espionage that accelerated the Soviet atom bomb program by at least two years,... the access to American nonatomic technology, including the thousands of pages of detailed information about advanced weapons copied by the Rosenberg ring, helped the USSR tactically and strategically as it was developing the weapons and policies that made the Cold War possible."

Return to A-Bomb Spies Table of Contents

Return to Spy Cases Table of Contents