December 8, 2010


Rosenbergs Redux: Why a last-ditch effort to redeem the couples’ name fails so completely. (Ronald Radosh, Steven Usdin, December 6, 2010, New Republic)

In Walter Schneir’s new book, he admits that he and his wife were wrong in Invitation and that Gold was telling the truth. Yet his intent is still to fudge the record in order to exonerate the Rosenbergs. Navasky, too, in his review of the book, has chosen to ignore decades of scholarship documenting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's espionage activities. In contrast to a number of extensively researched, lengthy books on the Rosenbergs, Final Verdict weighs in at 154 pages and has a whopping 21 footnotes. Yet Navasky wants Nation readers to believe that this book proves that David Greenglass acted alone. This, by the way, is a reversal of the Schneirs' earlier insistence in Invitation that Greenglass had never been a spy. Anything to excuse the Rosenbergs.

As proof of Greenglass’s enthusiasm for espionage, Navasky mentions the letters that Greenglass wrote from Los Alamos, which, Navasky says, are “made available for the first time by Schneir.” Evidently, he did not bother to check The Rosenberg File, where he would find that these same letters. (The Schneirs also ignored these letters in Invitation.) As stated in The Rosenberg File: “[T]he Greenglass correspondence directly contradicts Julius Rosenberg’s later assertion under oath that he knew nothing about the atomic-bomb project or his brother-in-law’s role until after the Hiroshima explosion at the earliest—and that he had no firm memory of discussing it until after the war ended.”

Most important of all, Navasky—like Walter Schneir in his new book—ignores the fact that Julius and Ethel recruited Greenglass after learning that he was stationed at the Manhattan Project. So, even if it was Greenglass who did the only real spying, he did so because Julius brought him into his already-existing network of spies. Navasky also ignores the fact that Julius Rosenberg recruited another major atomic spy, the previously unknown Russell McNutt, a revelation that appeared in the 2009 book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. Navasky and the Schneirs may not believe that this proves that Julius was an atomic spy, but the KGB did. A May 26, 1944 letter from the KGB, discussed in Spies, indicated that Rosenberg had been given a bonus for his “initiative in acquiring an agent [McNutt] to cultivate ‘Enormous,’ ” the KGB code name for the Manhattan Project. McNutt's employment provided access to secrets about processes for manufacturing weapons-grade uranium.

Navasky concludes with a plea for the release of more documents about the Rosenberg case. In fact, more documents have been released about the Rosenbergs than about any other espionage operation in history, and each release brings to light facts that make it ever more impossible to deny that Julius Rosenberg was an important Soviet spy. The documents—tens of thousands of pages of FBI files, the decrypted classified cables from Moscow to KGB agents in America in 1995, the KGB notebooks examined in Spies, declassified Czechoslovakian intelligence files, and the Rosenberg grand jury transcripts—are complemented by memoirs from and interviews with members of the Rosenberg espionage ring.

This mass of documentation shows that Julius Rosenberg began his espionage career before the German invasion of the Soviet Union (a time when Hitler and Stalin were allies) and that he continued for years after the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union's only potential opponent was the United States. This evidence also reveals that Julius was a more active atomic spy than the FBI, prosecutors, or his most ardent opponents ever suspected. The risks and sacrifices he took for the USSR surprised even hardened KGB officers. During a two-year period, from 1946 to 1948, when security concerns had caused the KGB to cut off communication, Rosenberg kept his ring together, stockpiled classified information in the hope that the KGB would get back in touch, and provided financial support to his agents.

As for Ethel Rosenberg’s role, the evidence is unequivocal. She recruited her brother as an atomic spy and provided logistical support to Julius's espionage activities. She knew at least two Soviet intelligence officers, and they considered her a loyal and trustworthy compatriot. The most frequently cited exculpatory evidence, a decrypted transcript of a KGB cable stating that Ethel "does not work" could be, and most likely is, a reference to the fact that she did not have a job, rather than confirmation that she did not work for the KGB.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 8, 2010 6:31 AM
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