Saturday, February 16, 2019

Death of a Stalinist Spy

From The Spectator:
Morton Sobell, whose obituary noting his 101 years appeared this week in the New York Times, spied for Stalinist Russia about 70 years ago. His life’s real misdeed came about a decade ago, when he admitted that, contrary to his earlier insistence and that of his many champions in academia and the media, he did, indeed, commit espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. 
“Now I know it was an illusion,” Sobell then reflected of his belief in Communism. “I was taken in.” 
Sydney Gurewitz Clemens lashed out at him in 2008 for how his admission “complicated history and the personal histories of the many millions of people, all over the world, who gave time, energy, money and heart to the struggle to support his claims of innocence.” The fact that he served the greater part of a 30-year sentence, and refused to turn on his former confederates, did not seem to mitigate this grievous sin against the narrative. 
Sydney Gurewitz Clemens, Sobell’s step-daughter, illustrated how in this case the ties that bind often referred to ideological rather than familial ones. David Greenglass, the brother of Sobell co-defendant Ethel Rosenberg, testified against his sister and brother-in-law. The Rosenbergs, despite questions about the level of Ethel’s involvement (Sobell confirmed her involvement in the spy ring), stuck to their line at the expense of orphaning their children. And for decades, progressives who championed the executed couple stuck to it, too.

Sobell, who suspiciously fled to Mexico where he used an alias (he characterized the trip as a family vacation) in the wake of the authorities closing in on the conspirators’ activities, played a massive role in perpetuating this mythology, particularly after his release from prison in the late 1960s after almost 18 years served. 
Sobell maintained his innocence in his memoir On Doing Time, and in 1978 PBS aired the WETA-produced Rosenberg-Sobell Revisited, which argued for the trio’s innocence. As late as 2001, Sobell lamented in the Nation that authors “take for granted that the National Security Agency has published a true decryption of the Soviet cables” in writing about the Venona intercepts clearly affirming Julius Rosenberg’s espionage. He adds, “Strangely, I, a bona fide convicted spy, could not be found anywhere among the hundreds of identified spies, but this was not for lack of their trying.” (Read more.)

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