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Vindication for the Rosenbergs?

By imrdkl in Culture
Sat Feb 02, 2002 at 10:41:37 PM EST
Tags: Security (all tags)

Who really stole the secret of the atomic bomb?

In what was widely referred to as one of the trials of the twentieth century, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were tried, convicted and executed in 1951, for the crime of espionage. Their crime was found to be the theft and transmission of secrets to the Soviets which alledgedly gave the Soviets the knowledge needed to construct their own A-bomb. The sons of the Rosenbergs, and many, many others, have always maintained their innocence, as many will already know and some will concur.

Now, on Feb. 5, NOVA is going to broadcast startling new evidence that the master spy behind the theft of these atomic secrets got away clean, and, indeed, that the Rosenbergs were at best only bit players in the Soviet infiltration into the Manhattan Project. Check out the excellent NOVA companion website for full details on the broadcast. Popular Science also has an exclusive interview with Jonathan Reenes, the producer of the NOVA show, who delivers an interesting 4 page article which summarizes the content in the upcoming show.

These new revelations are based on the study of a large number of documents related to The VENONA Project, a counter-espionage effort "limited insofar as possible to aliens" conducted during the years 1940-1957 by the United States. The project was one of the first successful crypto-cracks, and broke the Soviet code for cable transmissions to their embassy.

The release of the VENONA documents in 1995 via FOIA has caused the American intelligence community to reevaluate the entire history of the cold war, according to Reenes.


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The Rosenbergs were
o guilty 41%
o not guilty 8%
o a little bit guilty 16%
o just good friendly folk 13%
o a travesty of justice 19%

Votes: 36
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o trials of the twentieth century
o maintained their innocence
o Manhattan Project
o NOVA companion website
o exclusive interview
o The VENONA Project
o "limited insofar as possible to aliens"
o Also by imrdkl

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Vindication for the Rosenbergs? | 17 comments (11 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Julius Rosenberg was not innocent. (4.60 / 5) (#2)
by demi on Sat Feb 02, 2002 at 01:07:18 PM EST

In fact, even his own son acknowledges this (quoted from the Popular Science article):

Michael and Robert Meerepol's parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were electrocuted for conspiracy to commit espionage and accused of stealing the secret of the atomic bomb. Soviet espionage cables reveal that Julius was a busy KGB spy but suggest that Ethel was only a minor figure. Michael and Robert remain incensed at the way the government handled the case. As Michael explained, "They arrested a small fry spy ... took his wife as a hostage, put a gun to her head and told him, "Talk or we'll not only kill you, we'll kill her.' And when he wouldn't talk, they murdered her in cold blood."

Only after their interviews did I realize that this was the first time either brother had ever admitted in public that their father, Julius, was a Soviet spy.

Even though their trial may have been a sham, it is certain the Julius was working with the KGB, and although there is no proof to back it up, it was likely done with the full knowledge of Ethel. Just because they let Theodore Hall get away with greater crimes does not exonerate the Rosenbergs.

Was heard to say (none / 0) (#7)
by truth versus death on Sat Feb 02, 2002 at 06:19:06 PM EST

One statement during an interview by a relative of the deceased does not make the deceased any more or less guilty of anything. Your certainty is based on hearsay.

But if you are going to believe the statements of the son (as reported by interviewer), how do you exonerate the government?

"any erection implies consent"-fae
[ Trim your Bush ]
[ Parent ]
No. (none / 0) (#9)
by demi on Sat Feb 02, 2002 at 09:21:17 PM EST

Julius Rosenberg, known in the VENONA documents as ANTENNA, was indeed working for the KGB. Nobody denies this now. What is disputed is to what extent he divulged secrets (he may not have conducted atomic weapons espionage but he was engaged in industrial espionage), and whether or not his wife was involved. Ethel was not specifically working with the KGB but it is reasonable to suspect that she aided Julius.

The significance of the quote is that even his kids now acknowledge that Rosenberg was working for the Soviets. The US government didn't handle the case very well, but there was an incredible atmosphere of anti-Communist paranoia at the time. The USSR was invading countries left and right, and all of a sudden they were a nuclear power. That doesn't mean it was okay to execute the Rosenbergs but it goes a long way to explain what happened.

[ Parent ]

The VENONA documents (none / 0) (#10)
by Kalani on Sat Feb 02, 2002 at 11:54:42 PM EST

For those of you who aren't familiar with these documents (as I was not until I read demi's post -- this isn't exactly a topic that I've studied before, aside from the 2-page entry in my High School "history" textbook), you might want to check out this website under PBS's NOVA program:


The documents shown on that website (a Sept 21, 1944 cable) actually refer to Julius as "LIBERAL," not "ANTENNA." In any case, it's an interesting read. Thanks for pointing that out demi.

"I [think] that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement; in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the checker board."
--Richard Feynman
[ Parent ]
Uh ... (none / 0) (#11)
by Kalani on Sun Feb 03, 2002 at 01:00:20 AM EST

... that's what I get for coming to this site without sleeping. I didn't even notice that the stuff I found over google was the same stuff referenced in the set of links for this story. :(

Sorry about that.

"I [think] that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement; in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the checker board."
--Richard Feynman
[ Parent ]
One little nit. (3.00 / 1) (#12)
by demi on Sun Feb 03, 2002 at 01:26:17 AM EST

Rosenberg was initially known as ANTENNA. He was later known as LIBERAL. The most authoratative source on VENONA transcripts IMO is maintained by the NSA. Here is one of their dossiers on the Rosenbergs.

[ Parent ]

Let us assume... (3.20 / 5) (#13)
by jd on Sun Feb 03, 2002 at 03:06:18 PM EST

...that the Rosenbergs were guilty of everything they were charged of. Hell, let's make them guilty of World War II, the Black Death, and those little bags of peanuts that can't be opened without spilling half.

Does that mean that executing them was reasonable? Did it achieve anything useful? Did it "punish" them in any way which caused them or others to behave better in future? Did it stop the USSR from building nuclear weapons?

The answer to all of these is no. It was not a reasonable act by a civilised country, it was the act of barbarians, acting out a mockery of justice. The death penalty is not, and can never be, justified, under ANY circumstance. The death penalty is either an act of revenge (which is mob rule, not rule by law), or as a means of preventing "future crimes" - ie: convicting and sentancing a person for an action yet to happen, which is blatenly in violation of every ethical, moral and legal code that exists in civilised parts of the world.

Did it achieve anything useful? No. Any damage that could have been commited had already occured. This is not so much a case as locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, but nailing the door shut and bricking up the doorway, after the horse has bolted, completed a four-year degree course ar Harvard, and become a leading scholar.

Was it an act of punishment? Well, since they were dead, it's pretty certain that they never learned to do anything different. And there have been spies since then, far more (in)famous than the Rosenbergs, suggesting that as a deterrent, it was an unmitigated failure.

Did it stop the USSR, or even slow them down? Nope. That, we already know. In fact, it's unlikely that it ever helped the USSR significantly. America was well behind Russia in rocketry, at that time, and most of the theory behind nuclear weaponry was already public knowledge. The Russians likely learned most of their secrets from captured Germans, the same as the Americans, as the Germans were way ahead of any other nation in nuclear technology, in the mid 1940's. The only reason they never produced a bomb was that the deuterium facility in the Netherlands was destroyed by resistance fighters.

In conclusion: The execution of the Rosenbergs was unjustified and unjustifiable, EVEN IF there was any crime to justify a punishment for.

America really needs to grow the f up and ban the Death Penalty, for Federal and State crimes. And, as a mark of respect for the crimes IT has commited against humanity BY executing people, there should be a formal pardon for ALL executed prisoners, whatever their crime and whatever the evidence.

You don't cure a disease by murdering the patient. And you don't prevent crime by slaughtering those who feel they have no alternative. You cure diseases AND crime by removing the cause.

Prisons are the largest cause of crime in the country. The police are the second, and the judicial system the third. Death Row is the fourth. The second and third are maybe salvagable. The first and fourth are inherently flawed and nothing can be done to remedy them. They need to be totally replaced.

Last, but by no means least, let's say that instead of keeping nuclear technolgy "secret", the American Government had chosen to release it under a licence similar to the GPL. By now, fission reactors would be actually profitable, and fusion would likely be starting to come online.

The truth is, secrets not only killed the Rosenbergs, but they also crippled America. The day when the American public realise that Closed Source is EVIL, whether it be in the form of computer software or technology, will be the day that aircraft stop suddenly & inexplicably falling from the skies, the day when nuclear reactors don't just blow themselves sky-high (3 Mile & Chernobyl), and the day that rocketry becomes a SAFE, rather than lethal, form of transport (Apollo 1, Challanger).

You cannot be pro-GPL and pro-death for secrets. You have to choose which camp you're in. There's no room for you in both.

I'm probably being reeled in, but... (none / 0) (#14)
by gilmae on Mon Feb 04, 2002 at 12:06:57 AM EST

Prisons are the largest cause of crime in the country. The police are the second, and the judicial system the third. Death Row is the fourth.
Could you please provide some reasoning behind this statement. It would be ever so enlightening.

You cannot be pro-GPL and pro-death for secrets. You have to choose which camp you're in. There's no room for you in both.
Oh I see. You're from slashdot. Nice to see some mindless bending of reality to fit a particular world view has made it over here.

[ Parent ]
Let us assume... (none / 0) (#15)
by dustymatthews on Mon Feb 04, 2002 at 01:01:34 AM EST

Wow, you had me until that GPL crap. You proved yourself to have as much credibility as a Scientologist with that stuff.

The death penalty is wrong, yes. It is even more abhorrent in crimes of vein of warring societies. But there will always be the need for secrets in this world. You cannot simpy compare nuclear technology and a OS kernel source code and say they could exist under the same disclosure principles. There has not been an OS kernel that can destroy a civilization yet, and if there has been, I am glad it is closed source. :)


[ Parent ]
Death Penalty OK (none / 0) (#16)
by Robert Uhl on Mon Feb 04, 2002 at 12:41:31 PM EST

Yes, let's assume that they were, indeed, guilty of everything they were accused of. That is, they gave to the most inhumane and diabolic regime of the 20th century the weapon it needed to become a world power. They armed the single largest killer in mankind's history--Communism--with the tool to kill all mankind. Yes, death is a suitable punishment.

You see, punishment is not about `teaching them not to do it again.' It is about punishing. That is why we have punitive damages in courts--not to teach someone not to do something, but to punish him for his misbehaviour. And what misbehavior merits death more than murder, rape and treason?

You don't necessarily prevent crime by killing murderers (although the recidivism rate is remarkably low)--but you do punish murderers by killing them. Indeed, the uncivilised and barbaric act is to not kill them, to allow a man who kills & rapes to live out his years. Take a look at the State of Texas's death row page. Tell me that, e.g., Jason Massey, having killed a 14 yr. old boy and raped a 13 yr. old girl, then killed her, does not deserve to die. Not got to jail for life--die.

[ Parent ]

Deserving (none / 0) (#17)
by jd on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 01:24:03 PM EST

"I'm sure he does deserve to die. There are many who live who deserve to die. There are many who die, who deserve to live. Can you give them that, also? Then do not be so quick to judge!" (Gandalf, LOTR)

For myself, no, I don't believe he does deserve to die. How does it punish someone to kill them? The families of the victims will still be suffering, and the culprit is then feeling nothing at all. (Which, at worst, is no different from what they were feeling when they were alive.)

So, who, in truth, is being punished? Seems to me that the culprit isn't suffering, feeling remorse, repenting of their wrongdoing, or doing very much at all, once they're dead.

On the other hand, you're closing the door forever on the victims ever understanding their loss or grief. You're forever denying them any real closure, but inprisoning them in a fantasy world. You punish people, through Capital Punishment, alright. You punish the victims of crime, not the perpetrators.

Who else suffers from this? People rarely become dangerous or deadly, for no reason. There's often an environmental cause. "The Truman Show" and "The Prisoner" might not have been "real-life", but they reflect the way many people really do live. In closed-mouthed, closed-minded, deny-everything worldlets. Such environments created the Columnine kids. The abuse they lived through, the denial of reality they experienced, so twisted their minds that the only way they knew to get out was to destroy as much of that world as they could.

These people aren't "poor, innocent victims", but they had a LOT of help getting to where they went. You willing to execute those who taught them to become murderers, et al? Or are you willing to keep the cause in society? After all, keeping the cause around means you've a steady stream of business for Death Row.

If you want to punish, then don't discriminate. Punish ALL involved, EQUALLY. But you won't do that, will you? That would likely mean looking at yourself, seeing if YOU would deserve such punishment, and you're not going to take that risk. (Let's face it, who would? That's why the causes DON'T end up in jail, and why those they twisted do.)

If you want to get past the philosophical angle, though, then you punish every tax-payer, by having a Death Row. The security and all the other costs involved are significant. The inmate isn't going to be saddled with the bill. It's everyone else.

"But locking them up would cost more!" Says who? And since I'm opposed to incarceration in any form, since it DOES breed crime, such logic is fallacious to start with.

So, what would I suggest? I'd suggest some form of "prison commune", where each prisoner is alloted a certain amount of land, and sufficient resources (given the person's abilities) to make that a livable place. That's it. Anything beyond that, they have to make/do for themselves, or barter for with other prisoners.

You'd need relatively few guards, and most of those you'd want for air defence and air patrol. There would really be no need for anyone else.

"Escapees?" If your air patrols are any good, there wouldn't be any. Prisoners escape from prisons, not because of a lack of guards, but for the same reason anyone's attention lapses. Routines kill attention. Random, low-level flying is a good way to keep alert. Because if you don't, you're a pancake. And nobody weeps for pancakes.

"It would still have costs!" Not necessarily. If the commune idea were feasable, it would be as profitable as any original Settler community. Since America is hardly poor, it's pretty obvious that such communities could do pretty well. That "surplus" could pay for such a system, AND offer perpetual financial ammends to all victims of those inside.

The problem with such a system is that it would need people who were NOT corrupt themselves, to run it. "The Untouchables" of the penal system. And finding such people today, in ANY system, is difficult. Ours is a world that thrives on corruption and power-plays.

As for Texas, the State of G.W.B., the State eager to kill innocent Spaniards, I'm afraid there's no hope for it. The population there is too far gone to be helped. I'd wish God's mercy on you, but you're probably better off if God doesn't look too close. I doubt even one good man can be found there.

[ Parent ]

Vindication for the Rosenbergs? | 17 comments (11 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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