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1951: Rosenbergs guilty of espionage

An American electrical engineer and his wife have been found guilty by New York's Federal Court of passing atomic secrets to the Russians.

Julius Rosenberg, 33, and his 35-year-old wife, Ethel, were accused of stealing technical information from the atom research centre in Los Alamos and turning it over to the KGB.

A radar expert, Morton Sobell, has also been found guilty of the same charges.

The court heard the Rosenbergs, who have two young sons, were involved in a complicated spy ring, which also included Mrs Rosenberg's brother, David Greenglass, former Soviet vice-consul Arkadi Yakovlev, and Philadelphia chemist, Harry Gold.

Greenglass, a machinist at the Los Alamos research centre during World War II, said he had been asked by the Rosenbergs, both committed Communists and members of the Young Communist League, to obtain information about the atomic bomb.

Greenglass told the court he was unaware he was working on the atomic bomb project until his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg, told him.

The court heard the information was passed to Harry Gold, who turned it over to the Russians.

Gold, who is now serving a 30-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to espionage, had also worked as a go-between for British scientist Klaus Fuchs, it was revealed.

Fuchs was jailed for 14 years in 1950 after admitting that he had been passing atomic secrets to the Russians for many years.

Arkadi Yakovlev, also allegedly involved in the spy ring, escaped trial after fleeing to Russia before the American authorities could catch up with him.

In pronouncing guilty verdicts, Judge Kaufman, presiding over the trial, said: "That citizens should lend themselves to the destruction of their own country by the most destructive weapon known is so shocking that I cannot find words to describe the loathsome offence."

The couple, who have consistently denied any involvement in the spy ring, will be sentenced on 5 April.

In Context
The Rosenbergs were sentenced to death on 5 April 1951 and despite numerous appeals for clemency were executed by the electric chair at Sing-Sing Prison on 19 June 1953.

They were the only people in the United States ever executed for Cold War espionage, and their conviction fuelled US Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist crusade against "anti-American activities" by US citizens.

The couple's two sons, Robert and Michael, who were six and 10 when their parents were executed, were adopted by friends of their parents, the Meeropols, under new names.

They only revealed their true identities in the 1970s when the Freedom of Information Act enabled them to gain documents which they believed could prove their parents' innocence.

David Greenglass escaped the death penalty, and gained immunity for his wife, after agreeing to give evidence against his sister and brother-in-law. He served 10 years in jail.

Years later he admitted he had fabricated his story to save his own skin but had no regrets about what he had done.

However, records and testimony from intelligence sources in the US and Russia, suggests Julius Rosenberg had been involved in giving some sensitive information to Soviet contacts in support of the war effort against Hitler.


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