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Spies: How times have changed
by David Farside
Jul 12, 2010 | 897 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week’s spy exchange between the United States and Russia reminded me of another publicized case of international espionage that took place in 1951. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, both Americans, were convicted of being foreign agents and forwarding secrets from the Manhattan Project to Russia. They were executed in the electric chair at Sing-Sing prison in 1953.

The Rosenbergs were found guilty of giving the communists top secret information about the atomic bomb and its high-implosion guidance lens. Handing down the death sentence, the judge blamed the same lens for causing 50,000 deaths during the Korean War.

Actually, the Rosenbergs never stole secret documents. Klaus Fuchs, a physicist working on the Manhattan Project, passed the schematics for the atomic bomb to Russian spy Harry Gold. Gold, in turn, used the Rosenbergs to send the information to Russia.

Supporters around the world demonstrated in protest of the execution. The world population complained the punishment didn’t fit the crime. They argued the United States was using the execution to set new boundaries in the Cold War with Russia. Some argued that Rosenbergs’ two sons would be losing both parents and that Ethel should be spared. Even the pope asked for clemency but to no avail. Ethel Rosenberg became the first woman to be executed in America since Mary Surratt, who was hanged for contributing to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

The punishment of execution wasn’t justified. The Rosenbergs were convicted for “conspiracy to commit espionage,” not for stealing the secrets of the atomic bomb. Fuchs, who actually supplied the information on the atomic bomb, was sentenced to only 15 years (10 years was served). He should have been the one executed, not the Rosenbergs. Gold, the Russian spy, was facing 30 years.

Ironically, another punishment that doesn’t fit the crime is drawing attention from around the world: the proposed stoning execution of an accused adulteress in Iran. She, too, has two children. No mention of the man who seduced her. How cruel and unjustified can that be?

But times were changing. Nine years later, in 1960, using the same guidance lens delivered by the Rosenbergs, the Russians shot down U-2 pilot Gary Powers, who was flying 70,000 feet above Pakistan. Powers admitted he was taking photos of Russia’s military outpost in Pakistan. Powers was sentenced to 10 years. Two years later he was exchanged for a master Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel.

Online columnist Doug Linder reminds us that following World War II, Russia was one of our strongest allies. After all, more than 1 million Russians died in combat defending our democracy and their communism against the tyranny of Adolf Hitler. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had nothing but praise for the military of the Russian communists. Gen. Douglas MacArthur also joined in on the accolades for the Kremlin’s sacrifices and the tenacity of its war machines. These public tributes inspired the movie world to produce motion pictures creating favorable impressions of Moscow and its people's way of life.

The Communist Party began opening offices across the United States in response to all the favorable publicity. Many young American liberals joined the new political party. Julius Rosenberg joined the communist league of our Russian allies when he was 16 years old, which made it even easier to convict him.

From the late 1940s to the mid-1950s, the Cold War between the United States and Russia was escalating. Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee began its witch hunt, searching for communists under political rocks. Presidents of large corporations, film producers in Hollywood and editors of newspapers were all targets of McCarthyism. Liberals were labeled as socialists and all socialists were branded as communist. McCarthy rode his spy conviction of Alger Hiss in 1950 into virtually every hidden corner of human privacy. The term McCarthyism was a symbol representing unsubstantiated accusations and character assassination. To demonstrate just how crazy he was, he even accused the U.S. State Department of having 200 communist agents on the payroll. The Rosenbergs were doomed for execution, regardless of their guilt or innocence.

The 10 celebrated modern-day Russian spies didn’t get executed or spend any time in prison. They spent only 10 days in jail, pleded guilty of being unregistered foreign agents and received a trip back to their fatherland. In return, three Americans and one British spy caught with their cameras on Russia’s military secrets were returned to the Western world.

If the 10 spies were Muslim, they would have been accused of being terrorists. The only plane ride they would be getting would be to Guantanamo Bay. How do we know the Russian spies didn’t gain important information? They are not going to admit anything and we don’t really know everything. They were secretly passing information to Russian contacts for years. How do we know it wasn’t secret information? In the old days, McCarthy would have imprisoned spies until they talked. Today we just send them back from where they came. How the world has changed — or has it?

David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at farsidian2001@yahoo.com. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.
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