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Morton Sobell

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Title: Morton Sobell  
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Subject: Helen Levitov Sobell, William A. Reuben, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Irving H. Saypol, Jerome Frank
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Morton Sobell

Morton Sobell
Morton Sobell (left) at a visit in East Germany in 1976
Born (1917-04-11) April 11, 1917
New York City, New York, United States
Occupation Electrical engineer
Criminal charge
Conspiracy to commit espionage
Criminal penalty
30 years imprisonment
Criminal status Released after 18 years
Spouse(s) Helen Levitov (1945–1980)
Children Mark Sobell
Sydney Gurewitz Clemens, stepdaughter

Morton Sobell (born April 11, 1917) was an American engineer with General Electric and Reeves Electronics who worked on military and government contracts, and who was subsequently found guilty of spying for the Soviets as a part of a ring that included Julius Rosenberg and others. Sobell was tried and convicted of espionage in 1951, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was released in 1969 after spending 17 years and 9 months in Alcatraz and other high security prisons.

After proclaiming his innocence for over half a century, Sobell admitted to spying for the Soviets in an interview with The New York Times published on September 11, 2008, where he implicated Rosenberg.[1]


Morton Sobell was born into a Jewish family in New York City. He attended Stuyvesant High School[2] and the City College of New York where he received a degree in engineering[3] and later married Helen Levitov (1918–2002).[4] He worked in Washington, D.C., for the Navy Bureau of Ordnance and in Schenectady, New York, for the General Electric Company.

According to NKVD agent, Alexander Feklissov, Sobell was recruited as a spy in the summer of 1944. "Sobell... was deferred from active military service because he was a top specialist in his field... When I asked him if he could microfilm his own documents, he replied it was not a problem since he knew photography quite well. At our next meeting I brought him a camera with the necessary accessories and a small stock of film."[5]

In June 1944 Max Elitcher claimed he was phoned by Julius Rosenberg, whom he had known slightly at college and had not seen in six years. Elitcher later recalled: "I remembered the name, I recalled who it was, and he said he would like to see me. He came over after supper, and my wife was there and we had a casual conversation. After that he asked if my wife would leave the room, that he wanted to speak to me in private." Rosenberg allegedly said that many people were aiding the Soviet Union "by providing classified information about military equipment". Rosenberg said that Morton Sobell was "also helping in this".[6]

At the beginning of September 1944, Elitcher and his wife went on holiday with Sobell and his fiancée. Elitcher told his friend of Rosenberg's visit and his disclosure that "you, Sobell, were also helping in this." According to Elitcher, Sobell "became very angry and said "he should not have mentioned my name. He should not have told you that." Elitcher claimed that Rosenberg tried to recruit him again in September 1945. Rosenberg told Elitcher "that even though the war was over there was a continuing need for new military information for Russia."[7]

After being accused of espionage, he and his family fled to Mexico on June 22, 1950. He fled with his wife Helen, infant son Mark Sobell, and Helen's daughter from her previous marriage, Sydney. Sobell tried to travel to Europe, but without proper papers he was not able to leave. On August 16, 1950, Sobell and his family were abducted by armed men, taken to the United States border and turned over to the FBI.[4] The FBI arrested him for conspiring with Julius Rosenberg to violate espionage laws. He was found guilty along with the Rosenbergs, and sentenced to 30 years. He was initially sent to Alcatraz, until the prison closed in 1963. He was released in 1969 after serving 17 years and 9 months.[8]

Sobell as a political cause

Sobell's supposed innocence became a cause among [9][10][11] In 1978 the Corporation for Public Broadcasting produced a television special maintaining Sobell's innocence.[12] The Monthly Review maintained that the government had presented "absolutely no proof" of Sobell's guilt, but had tried him merely "to give the impression that an extensive spy ring had been in operation."[13] Bertrand Russell campaigned to overturn Sobell's conviction saying that his prison sentence was a grave miscarriage of justice against an innocent man.[14][15]

In 1974 Sobell published a book, On Doing Time in which he maintained that he was innocent and that his conviction was a case of justice being subverted to serve political goals.[16][17] After his release from prison, Sobell went on the speaker circuit, regaling audiences with his account of being falsely prosecuted and convicted by the federal government.[18]

In a letter to the editor of The Nation in 2001, Sobell referred to himself as a "bona fide convicted spy".[19] In 2008, at age 91, he told The New York Times that he did turn over military secrets to the Soviets during World War II, though he describes Greenglass's contributions as "junk" and says they were of no value to the Soviet Union. This was the first time he publicly admitted guilt.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Roberts, Sam (September 11, 2008). "For First Time, Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits Spying for Soviets".  
  2. ^
  3. ^ Morton Sobell article - University of Missouri-K. C. School of Law
  4. ^ a b Saxon, Wolfgang (April 27, 2002). "Helen L. Sobell, 84, Leader Of Effort to Spare Rosenbergs".  
  5. ^ Alexander Feklissov, The Man Behind the Rosenbergs (1999) page 132
  6. ^ Max Elitcher, testimony at the trial of Julius Rosenberg and Morton Sobell (March, 1951)
  7. ^
  8. ^ Ranzal, Edward (January 15, 1969). "Morton Sobell Free As Spy Term Ends".  
  9. ^ William M. Kunstler: The Most Hated Lawyer in America, by David J. Langum, 1999, p. 383
  10. ^ New Questions On Rosenberg Case, Sidney E. Zion, New York Times, August 28, 1966
  11. ^ Did Morton Sobell Get a Bum Deal? Hartford Courant, Jun 3, 1968
  12. ^ TV: 'Rosenberg-Sobell Revisited' Offers New Thinking on Spy Case, John J. O'Conner, New York Times, June 19, 1978
  13. ^ Refusing to Cooperate, by Lawrence Kaplan, Monthly Review,
  14. ^ A Bibliography of Bertrand Russell, by Bertrand Russell, Kenneth Blackwell, Harry Ruja, 1994, p. 504
  15. ^ Bertrand Russell's America, by Barry Feinberg, Bertrand Russell, Ronald Kasrils, 1974, p. 199
  16. ^ Sobell, Morton, On doing Time, 2001
  17. ^ Refusing to Cooperate, by Lawrence Kaplan, Monthly Review,
  18. ^ Reflections on Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment, by George Anastaplo, 2007, p. 253
  19. ^ "Letters", The Nation, April 2, 2001.
  20. ^ Roberts, Sam, "Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits to Soviet Spying", The New York Times, September 11, 2008

External links

  • An Interactive Rosenberg Espionage Ring Timeline and Archive
  • Morton Sobell de-classified FBI records
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