Rosenbergs Convicted of Espionage as Stalinist Spies


Communist Couple Caught in Conspiracy

“Uncle” Joe Stalin was a revolutionary in many ways.  One of the more significant revolutions was the change he fostered in foreign espionage.  His regime was prolific and knew no bounds in its search for data to give the Communist regime an advantage.  As World War 2 began he had spies in countries on all sides of the conflict.  

No secret was safe from Stalin.  He was told of the Nazi regime’s treacherous invasion of the Soviet Union weeks before it happened by moles high in the German government.  The paranoid dictator just didn’t believe it much to his later regret.  Stalin’s spies were able to confirm that Japan would not attack the Soviet Union as the Germans approached Moscow, allowing the Soviet troops in east rush to defend the city.  The Red Czar may even have known of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor weeks before December 7, 1941.  NKVD (precursor to the KGB) spies were everywhere.

Stalin’s capabilities were no less robust in the United States.  Agents were at all levels of government.  The United States was not prepared for this type of incursion.  Henry Stimpson, the US Secretary of War at the time had famously said, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail”, as he shut down the US Cipher Bureau.  The United States scrambled to create a workable counterintelligence system.

One of the first major successes of US counterintelligence was the capture of an unassuming married couple from Manhattan, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  The pair had met in the 1930s at a meeting of the Young Communists League USA (a clue).  In 1942 Julius was approached by the Soviet NKVD to gather information for his fellow travelers.  He readily agreed and began gathering information from his job at the US Army Signal Corps Engineering Lab.  Julius was able to recruit other like-minded Communists to join his ring.  

Rosenberg and his wife recruited Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, who was working on the Manhattan Project (atomic bomb development).  All told they were able to recruit at least a half dozen importantly placed sources that supplied them with critical information that the Rosenbergs then gave over to the NKVD.  Intel on jet propulsion, atomic weapons, cyphers, and other critical national secrets.  

In 1949 a British MI5 operation led to the arrest of Klaus Fuchs, who had worked on the Manhattan Project.  In a collaborative investigation, several sources were flipped that eventually lead to the Rosenbergs.  Both Julius and Ethel were arrested in the Southern District of New York.  The evidence against Ethel was weak, but the US Attorney convinced her brother, David Greenglass to testify against her.

That was the nail in the coffin for the Rosenbergs. Literally.  On March 29th, 1951, both were found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death.  Together till the end, they were jolted out of existence on June 13, 1953, at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York.  Martyrs for the cause of a dysfunctional, dictatorial, and dystopian system of government.  


Christopher Flanagan


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