Title

Trial of the Rosenbergs: An Account

Document Type

Article

Abstract

The Rosenberg Trial is the sum of many stories: a story of betrayal, a love story, a spy story, a story of a family torn apart, and a story of government overreaching. As is the case with many famous trials, it is also the story of a particular time: the early 1950's with its cold war tensions and headlines dominated by Senator Joseph McCarthy and his demagogic tactics.

The Manhattan Project was the name given to the top-secret effort of Allied scientists to develop an atomic bomb. One of the Manhattan Project scientists working in Los Alamos was a British physicist named Klaus Fuchs. Twice in 1945 Fuchs met with a Soviet agent named Raymond and provided notes on the working design for the atomic bomb.

In February 1950, less than two weeks after a jury convicted Alger Hiss of perjury for denying under oath that he had passed secret information to a Communist agent named Whittaker Chambers, Klaus Fuchs was arrested and confessed to disclosing to the Soviets information about the Manhattan Project. One week after Fuchs' arrest, Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin propelled himself into the headlines by charging that the State Department employed over 200 Communist agents. It was a bad time to be a suspected Communist; it was a terrible time to be a suspected spy.

Fuchs' arrest, which began the chain of investigations that led authorities to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, was made possible by American cryptanalysts who successfully deciphered intercepted cables (the Venona Cables) from the Soviet Consulate to the KGB. One cable was a report by Fuchs on the progress of the Manhattan Project. When confronted with evidence of his espionage, Klaus confessed and told authorities of his meetings with a spy he knew only as Raymond. Within three months, the FBI began to focus on a pudgy, middle-aged chemist, Harry Gold, as the Raymond to whom Fuchs had given information about the bomb. Within a week after the FBI first began to ask Gold questions such as "Were you ever west of the Mississippi?", Gold offered a voluntary confession.

By June 1, authorities knew of a soldier, stationed at Los Alamos, married with no children, who Gold paid $500 to in September of 1945 in Albuquerque in exchange for information about the implosion lens for the atomic bomb. Gold could not remember the soldier's name, but thought his wife may have been Ruth and that he was a New York City native. Within two days, Gold was shown a picture of a man meeting the description he had given. The man pictured was David Greenglass. Gold told investigators that Greenglass resembled the man he met in New Mexico.

On June 15, 1950, FBI officials questioned David Greenglass. In his first interview, Greenglass admitted that he was the machinist-soldier stationed in Los Alamos that had passed information to Gold. He also identified his wife, Ruth, and his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg, as participants in the Soviet spy ring.

Publication Date

2007

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