Reading the Rosenbergs after Venona

By Schrank, Bernice | Labour/Le Travail, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Reading the Rosenbergs after Venona


Schrank, Bernice, Labour/Le Travail


IN THE SUMMER OF 1950, first Julius and then Ethel Rosenberg were arrested on charges of conspiring to commit espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Morton Sobell, a former classmate of Julius', was also arrested and charged with being part of the Rosenberg spy network. Played out against the hysteria generated by the onset of the Korean War, and the Smith Act, and the prosecution of the leadership of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), the Rosenberg trial in March 1951 took a brief two weeks to complete and ended with the jury delivering a guilty verdict. (1) On 5 April 1951, the presiding judge, Irving Kaufman, sentenced Morton Sobell to thirty years, and Ethel and Julius to death. Their executions were delayed until 19 June 1953 as various appeals were pursued.

These barebones facts do not adequately convey the controversy surrounding the trial, sentencing, and execution of the Rosenbergs. From the time of their trial to the present, the Rosenbergs have been viewed by some as victims of the Cold War and by others as traitors to their country. The prevailing political climate of the US determines which of these interpretations is in the ascendant. During the repressive 1950s, popular and official views of the case coalesced: it was commonly believed that the Rosenbergs were Communist spies who deserved to die. In the more liberal 1960s and 1970s the Rosenbergs were seen as victims of Cold War hysteria, their trial and execution a miscarriage of justice. By the 1980s, in response to a right-wing shift in American politics, the Rosenberg case was once again subject to revisionist impulses. In the new conservative moment, it was argued that Julius Rosenberg was most assuredly guilty of some kind of espionage, even if Ethel was not. Buttressing this argument were the recently released Venona decrypts, messages between KGB operatives in America and Moscow that, assessed from within this conservative paradigm, confirmed their guilt. For many historians, the Rosenberg case is now closed. This paper argues that the Venona intercepts require far greater scrutiny than they have so far been afforded, that the Rosenbergs' guilt has not been established, and therefore, that the case is not closed.

What is Venona?

On 11 July 1995, the National Security Agency (NSA) announced that it had nearly 3,000 coded and encrypted documents from KGB agents relating to Soviet espionage in the US during the 1940s. These had been decoded, decrypted, translated, and rendered as English plain text (2) over the years by several security services of the United States government as part of an enterprise that was given the codename Venona. (3) The NSA indicated that the Venona documents were now being declassified and would be released in batches in ensuing months. The time lag between the public announcement that these documents existed and their declassification and release was necessitated, according to the Agency, by concerns regarding privacy. (4)

In the interim, to provide a sense of what the project had achieved, the NSA released 49 documents, including all the material related to the Rosenbergs, a cache of 19 decrypted and decoded messages.

In the next 16 months (between July 1995 and October 1996), the NSA released approximately 2,850 similar documents. In October 1996, to publicize the existence of these documents as well as to mark the official closing of the Venona project, the NSA together with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Center for Democracy (associated with the counter-revisionist historian Allen Weinstein) held a conference and media event at the National War College in Washington DC. An assortment of historians, government employees, members of the fourth estate, and other interested parties attended, including Morton Sobell, who had been tried and convicted with the Rosenbergs. (5)

Simultaneous with the conference, the NSA and the CIA jointly issued the Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner edited volume entitled Venona: Soviet Espionage and The American Response 1939-1957, a work intended as a handbook for scholars interested in the Venona project. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Reading the Rosenbergs after Venona
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.