The Atom Spy Case	
 
 

The Government of the Soviet Union, as it was then known, publicly announced the detonation of an atomic bomb. Past experience taught Americans to treat Moscow pronouncements lightly. However, the White House, in a solemn statement in September, 1949, related the disheartening news which startled and shocked the nation.

The Kremlin had finally come to understand the secrets of the atom. Russian ingenuity in the scientific field probably contributed considerably to this discovery. But what of the part played by American traitors Julius and Ethel Rosenberg? This is their story.

In the summer of 1949, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) learned that the secret of the construction of the atom bomb had been stolen and turned over to a foreign power. An immediate investigation was undertaken which resulted in the identification of Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs, a German-born British atomic scientist. British intelligence authorities were advised, and Fuchs was arrested by British authorities on February 2, 1950. He admitted his involvement in Soviet atomic espionage, but he did not know the identity of his American contact.

This contact was subsequently identified through FBI investigation as Harry Gold, a Philadelphia chemist. On May 22, 1950, Gold confessed his espionage activity to the FBI.

Investigation of Harry Gold's admissions led to the identification of David Greenglass, a U.S. Army enlisted man, and Soviet Agent, who had been assigned by the Army to Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1944 and 1945. Gold stated that he had picked up espionage material from Greenglass during June, 1945, on instructions of "John," his Soviet principal. "John" was subsequently identified as Anatoli Yakovlev, former Soviet vice-consul in New York City, who left the United States in December, 1946. Interrogation of Greenglass and his wife, Ruth, resulted in admissions of espionage activity under the instructions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, brother-in -law and sister, respectively, of David Greenglass. Max Elitcher, a Naval Ordnance engineer and an admitted Communist, was interviewed. He disclosed that Morton Sobell, radar engineer and former classmate of Elitcher and Rosenberg at a college in New York City, was also involved in the Rosenberg espionage network.

Background of Principal Subjects

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Julius Rosenberg was born on May 12, 1918, in New York City, the son of immigrants, both of whom were born in Russia. He had one brother and three sisters.

Ethel Rosenberg, nee Greenglass, was born September 28, 1915, in New York City, the daughter of immigrants. Her father was born in Russia and her mother was born in Austria. Other members of her family included David, Bernard, and a half brother.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were married June 18, 1939, in New York City and had two sons, Micahel Allen, born March 10, 1943, and Robert Harry, born May 14, 1947.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg lived in the lower east side of Manhattan most of their lives and both attended the same high school, Ethel graduating in 1931 and Julius graduating in 1934. Julius Rosenberg attended the school of engineering at a New York college from September, 1934, until February, 1939, when he graduated with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He also took various courses at other New York Universities.

At the time of his apprehension he was operating a machine shop in New York City manufacturing all types of parts for various manufacturing concerns.

Investigation revealed that Julius Rosenberg began associating with Ethel Greenglass around 1932. Julius was disliked by Ethel's parents and was not allowed to visit her parents' home from about 1932 until 1935. During that period Ethel and her two younger brothers, Bernard and David, occupied an apartment on a floor above the home of their parents. Julius Rosenberg would visit Ethel frequently at this upstairs apartment, which was littered with copies of Communist Party literature and the "Daily Worker." Julius and Ethel became devoted Communists between 1932 and 1935, after which they maintained that nothing was more important than the Communist cause.

Information obtained in March, 1944, reflected that Julius Rosenberg was a member of the Communist Party. This information was furnished to the Security and Intelligence Division, Second Service Command, Governors Island, New York, in view of Rosenberg's employment by the War Department at that time. This investigation also established that his wife, Ethel, had signed a Communist Party petition. Rosenberg's position with the United States Government was terminated in December, 1945.

A search of the Rosenberg apartment at the time of the arrest of Julius Rosenberg disclosed that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were members of the International Workers Order.

In May, 1940, the FBI's New York Office learned, after Ethel Rosenberg received an appointment as an employee of the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C., that she was a devout communist. Further, Ethel Rosenberg and another woman, alleged to have been Communist sympathizers, had distributed Communist literature and and signed nominating petitions of the Communist Party. Ethel Rosenberg had also signed a Communist Party nominating petition, dated August 13, 1939, in New York City.

Investigation reflected that Julius Rosenberg claimed to have joined the Young Communist League when he was 14 years of age. Also, he was secretary of the Young Communist League while in college.

David Greenglass

David Greenglass, younger brother of Ethel Rosenberg, was born on March 3, 1922, in New York, where he attended public schools. After graduating from high school in 1940, he began attending college for a short period, studying mechanical engineering. He attended another school for a short period in 1948, studying mechanical designing. While he was young, he worked in his father's shop.

David Greenglass reportedly had come under the influence of his sister when he was about 12 years old and when the 19-year-old Ethel was being courted by Julius Rosenberg. At first David opposed the efforts of Ethel and Julius to convert him to Communism and disliked Julius, but after Julius brought David a chemistry set, the two became very friendly and Julius was able to influence David considerably. Julius Rosenberg, until he married Ethel in 1939, continued to be a frequent visitor at David and Ethel's apartment. David became extremely fond of Julius. Having become fully converted to Communist ideals expounded by Ethel and Julius, David joined the Young Communist League at the age of 14.

David Greenglass had admitted that he was indoctrinated with Communist principles in his youth by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and was a member of the Young Communist League in New York from 1936 to 1938. He continued his belief in Communism, but never joined the Communist Party. He claimed to have become disillusioned with Communism when Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia was expelled from Cominform, the Communist Information Bureau created to share information among communist parties, for defying Soviet supremecy. This incident, he said, brought home to him that Communism was being used as a tool by the Soviet Union for the purpose of world conquest instead of a means of reaching a panacea.

Soon after her marriage to Julius Rosenberg, Ruth Greenglass claimed she was converted to the principles of Communism by her husband. A member of a branch of the Young Communist League for about one year in 1943 and president of that branch for about three weeks, she reportedly became disillusioned with communism following World War II, when it became apparent that Russia had embarked on a program of world conquest.

Morton Sobell

Morton Sobell was born the son of Russian-born immigrants on April 11, 1917, in New York City. He married Helen Levitov Gurewitz in Arlington, Virginia, on March 10, 1945.

A classmate of Julius Rosenberg and Max Elitcher, Sobell graduated from college in June, 1938, with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. In 1941 and 1942 he attended a graduate school at a university in Michigan, from which he received a master's degree in electrical engineering.

Sobell was employed during the summers of 1934 through 1938 as a maintenance man at Camp Unity, Wingdale, New York, reportedly a Communist-controlled camp. On January 27, 1939, he secured the position of junior electrical engineer with the Bureau of Naval Ordnance, Washington, D.C., and was promoted to the position of assistant electrical engineer. He resigned from this position in October, 1940, to further his studies. While employed at an electric company in New York State, he had access to classified material, including that on fire-control radar. After resigning from this company, he secured employment as an electrical engineer with an instrument company in New York City, where he had access to secret data. He remained in this position until June 16, 1950, when he failed to appear at work. On that date, Sobell and his family fled to Mexico. He was subsequently located in Mexico City. On August 18, 1950, after his deportation from Mexico by the Mexican authorities, he was taken into custody by FBI agents in Laredo, Texas.

Max Elitcher, an admitted Communist, said that in 1939, when he roomed with Morton Sobell in Washington, D.C., Sobell induced him to join the Communist Party.

Sobell was reported to have been active in the American Peace Mobilization and the American Youth Congress, both of which were cited by the Attorney General as coming within the purview of Executive Order 10450. Sobell also appeared on the active indices of the American Peace Mobilization and was listed in the indices of the American Youth Congress as a delegate to that body from the Washington Committee for Democratic Action.

A resident of an apartment building in Washington, D.C., reported that Sobell and Max Elitcher were among those who attended meetings in the apartment of one of the tenants during 1940 and 1941. This individual believed that these were Communist meetings.

The FBI's New York Office located a Communist Party nominating petition which was filed in the name of Morton Sobell. The signature on this petition was identified by the FBI Laboratory as being in Sobell's handwriting.

Contact with the instrument company where Sobell was employed showed that he failed to report for work after June 16, 1950. The company received a letter from Sobell on or about July 3, 1950, stating that he needed a rest and was going to take a few weeks off to recuperate. A neighborhood investigation by the FBI revealed that Sobell, his wife, and their two children were last seen at their home on June 22, 1950, and that they had left hurriedly without advising anyone of their intended departure.

Through an airlines company at La Guardia Field, it was determined that Sobell and his family had departed for Mexico City on June 22, 1950. Round-trip excursion tickets for transportation between New York City and Mexico had been purchased on June 21, 1950, in Sobell's name.

During Sobell's stay in Mexico, he communicated with relatives through the use of a certain man as a mail drop. This man was interviewed and reluctantly admitted receiving and forwarding letters to Sobell's relatives. This admission was made after he was advised that the FBI Laboratory had identified his handwriting on the envelopes used in forwarding letters to Sobell's relatives.

In August, 1950, the Mexico authorities took Sobell into custody and deported him as an undesirable alien. On the early morning of August 18, 1950, FBI Agents apprehended Sobell at the International Bridge in Laredo, Texas.

Armed with the information supplied by a man named Harry Gold, the FBI moved swiftly to bring to justice those responsible for stealing secrets of the U.S. Government. 

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