Rosenberg Spies

In 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of
passing information to the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics (USSR) concerning the construction of nuclear
weapons. In 1953, the United States Government executed
them. Some say, the Rosenbergs received their just
punishment. Many historians feel that the trial was unfair,
and that international claims for clemency were wrongly
ignored. These historians claim that the Rosenbergs were
assassinated by the US government. This report will be an
analysis of the trial, the events which led up to it, and its
aftermath. What Led to the Arrest? The first clue America
had that a Russian spy ring existed in the US was the
discovery of a KGB codebook on the Finnish battlefield
during World War II. When compared with Germany’s
machine-scrambled codes, the code appeared to be
relatively primitive; a certain set of numbers corresponded
to a word, letter, or essential phrase. There was a little
catch though; the codebook was to be read with a
corresponding page that every KGB officer was given.

Because the American ciphers did not have the
corresponding page, there were an infinite number of
possibilities that could have corresponded to the book,
making deciphering it impossible. (Milton 7) Klaus Fuchs
In 1944, the FBI raided the New York offices of the
Soviet Government Purchasing Commission, a known front
for the KGB industrial espionage operations. When the
FBI began to go through what they had taken, they found
that many KGB officers did not adhere to their orders
diligently. They were told to dispose of all their
“corresponding sheets.” Many memos and other letters
were carelessly stored away, instead of being destroyed
after their use. After much studying of all the confiscated
letters of the KGB, including the new sheets, the ciphers
were now able to elucidate some of the codebook they had
found earlier. In 1949, a report by Klaus Fuchs was
deciphered. This was America’s first solid evidence that
there was a spy ring operating within the US. borders. The
American authorities had some doubts, however. It was
possible that Fuchs was not a spy and somehow the KGB
had obtained his report. After much investigation, the FBI
arrested Fuchs. Along with other evidence, a letter
deciphered by the FBI had a reference to a British atomic
spy, whose sister was attending an American University.

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Fuchs sister, Kristel, had been a student at Swarthmore
College at that time. The FBI appointed James Skardon to
confront Fuchs. Skardon was a renowned spy-catcher,
who had obtained confessions from many, including the
traitor William Joyce. On December 21 1949, Skardon
went to talk with Fuchs in his laboratory at the Harwell
Atomic Research Establishment. To Skardon’s surprise,
Fuchs was eager to talk. Apparently, Fuchs wanted to talk
because he was very upset with the Soviet Union’s postwar
policy in Eastern Europe. He did not say everything, but it
was a start. After many meetings, Skardon was able to get
Fuchs to disclose even more. Fuchs thought that if he
owned up to his past, it would be forgotten, or at least
forgiven. He was wrong. Fuchs said, “At first I thought that
all I would do was inform the Russian authorities that work
on the atomic bomb was going on I did what I consider
the worst that I could have done, namely to give
information about the principle of the design of the
plutonium bomb.” The FBI later found out from Fuchs that
his contact was “Raymond.” They had only met a handful of
times and Fuchs did not know much about him. On March
1, 1950, Fuchs was put on trial. After a trial that lasted
only an hour and a half, he was convicted of four accounts
of espionage and sentenced to 14 years in jail. The reason
he was not killed was that he gave secrets to an ally. If he
had given the same information to an enemy, he would have
been condemned to death. (This contrasts with the current
US treatment of Jonathan Pollard – another spy on behalf
of a US ally, Israel.) The FBI now had the first link in the
chain; the next step was finding Raymond. (Eisenhower
223) Fuchs, in 1945, had been transferred to the
theoretical division of the main Manhattan Project
installation at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Fuchs then left,
without telling his Soviet control that he was leaving. After
Fuchs missed two meetings, Raymond grew very troubled,
so he went to his Soviet chief, Anatoli Yakovlev, at the
Soviet consulate staff in New York. Yakovlev went
through Fuchs’ portfolio and found his sister’s address. He
then told Raymond to go visit Fuchs sister, Kristal, in
Cambridge, Massachusetts. Raymond


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