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A Rosenberg Co-Conspirator Reveals More About His Role

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A Rosenberg Co-Conspirator Reveals More About His Role

The New York Times

March 20, 2011


Morton Sobell, who was convicted with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1951 in an espionage conspiracy case and finally admitted nearly six decades later that he had been a Soviet spy, now says he helped copy hundreds of pages of secret Air Force documents stolen from a Columbia University professor’s safe in 1948.

According to an article by two cold war historians, Ronald Radosh and Steven T. Usdin, in The Weekly Standard, Mr. Sobell, who is 93, said in an interview last December that he, Julius Rosenberg, William Perl and an unidentified fourth man spent a weekend, probably Independence Day, frantically copying the classified documents in a Greenwich Village apartment before they were missed.

That Monday, Mr. Sobell is quoted as saying, he and Mr. Rosenberg filled a box with canisters of 35-millimeter film and delivered it to Soviet agents on a Long Island Rail Road platform.

In addition to elaborating on Mr. Sobell’s admission in a 2008 interview with The New York Times that he had stolen military radar and artillery secrets, the December interview appears to stoke the smoldering embers of the case on several other counts.

Mr. Sobell’s comments, according to the authors, identify Mr. Perl not as an innocent aeronautical engineer who was entitled to inspect the secret papers and was implicated in the espionage conspiracy only by circumstantial evidence, but as a conspirator against his mentor, Theodore von Karman.

Mr. Perl, a fellow student with Mr. Sobell and Mr. Rosenberg at City College, worked with Professor von Karman for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics at Langley Army Air Base in Virginia during World War II. Testifying before the Rosenberg grand jury, Mr. Perl denied any relationship with Mr. Rosenberg or Mr. Sobell. He was convicted of perjury in 1953.

Mr. Sobell’s latest comments also validate an account of the photocopying of the secret papers conveyed to federal investigators by Jerome Tartakow, a jailhouse informer often discredited by supporters of the Rosenbergs, who said he learned of the photocopying from Julius Rosenberg himself.

Finally, Mr. Sobell’s comments, as quoted by the authors, shed more light on his motive.

“I did it for the Soviet Union,” he said, leading Mr. Radosh and Mr. Usdin to conclude that Mr. Rosenberg and his fellow American Communists “were motivated by loyalty to the Soviet Union, not opposition to fascism as their defenders claim.”

The Rosenbergs, who were accused of conspiracy to steal atomic bomb secrets from the United States, were sentenced to death and executed in 1953. Mr. Sobell served 18 years for nonatomic spying. He was released in 1969 and, until the Times interview, maintained his innocence and insisted that he had been framed by the government.

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