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Morris Cohen (spy)

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Title: Morris Cohen (spy)  
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Subject: Portland Spy Ring, Sam Carr, Maria Wicher, Myra Soble, Jack Soble
Collection: 1910 Births, 1961 in Military History, 1961 in Politics, 1995 Deaths, American Defectors to the Soviet Union, American Military Personnel of World War II, American People Convicted of Spying for the Soviet Union, American People in the Venona Papers, American People of the Spanish Civil War, American Spies for the Soviet Union, Burials at Kuntsevo Cemetery, Columbia University Alumni, Heroes of the Russian Federation, Manhattan Project People, Portland Spy Ring, United States Army Soldiers, World War II Spies for the Soviet Union
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Morris Cohen (spy)

Morris Cohen on a Russian stamp

Morris Cohen, also known in Britain by his alias Peter Kroger, (July 2, 1910 – June 23, 1995) was an American convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union. His wife Lona was also an agent.


  • Birth and education 1
  • Marriage 2
  • Arrest 3
  • Prisoner exchange 4
  • Moscow 5
  • Death 6
  • Legacy 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Birth and education

He was born in New York City. His father was from an area near Kiev in present-day Ukraine, and his mother was born in Vilnius in present-day Lithuania. Cohen received an athletic scholarship as an outstanding rugby union player to attend Columbia University.

In 1937, Cohen joined the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion and fought as a foreign national volunteer in the Spanish Civil War with compatriot Amadeo Sabatini, veteran and career Soviet spy. Cohen was injured and in November 1938 returned to the United States where he began serving Soviet foreign intelligence.


The Cohens’ house in Ruislip was found to be full of transmitting equipment

In 1941, Cohen married Lona Cohen who was an activist in the Communist Party USA and a courier for Manhattan Project physicist Theodore Hall, part of a ring of atomic spies that was revealed later to have been far more damaging than the well-known Rosenberg ring.

In mid-1942, Cohen was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Europe. Cohen was demobilized from the Army in November 1945 and returned to the United States where he resumed his espionage work for the Soviet Union.

As Soviet spy networks were compromised in this period, connection with Soviet intelligence was temporarily ended, but resumed in 1948, when the Rezidentura ascertained that Cohen could be approached. Together with Lona Cohen, they ensured the continued secret connection with a number of the most valuable sources of the Rezidentura. They began working with Col. Rudolph Abel up to 1950, when they secretly left the United States and moved to the Soviet Union.

In 1954, the Cohens moved to 45 Cranley Drive in Ruislip, where they had numerous pieces of disguised spy equipment, and an antenna looping around their attic, used for their transmissions to Moscow. Their cover was as antiquarian book dealers under the names of Peter and Helen Kroger, and they worked with Gordon Lonsdale of Soviet intelligence. Morris became the British illegal resident.


British security officials arrested the Cohens on January 7, 1961, for their part in a Soviet espionage network known as the Portland Spy Ring that had penetrated the Royal Navy. Morris and Lona served eight years in prison, less than half of their sentences.

Prisoner exchange

In 1967, the Soviet Union admitted that the Cohens were spies, and, in July 1969, Britain exchanged them for Gerald Brooke, a British subject held in the Soviet Union.[1] Such exchanges had happened before. Notable examples included Soviet spy Rudolf Abel for U2 pilot Gary Powers and Gordon Lonsdale for Greville Wynne; but Harold Wilson's Labour Government was criticised by the opposition for agreeing to release dangerous Soviet agents like Peter and Helen Kroger (i.e., the Cohens) in exchange for Brooke, a mere propagandist. Opponents claimed that it set a dangerous precedent and was an example of blackmail rather than a fair exchange.


The Cohens returned to Wormwood Scrubs prison. The two agreed to stay in touch but were then told by the Soviet authorities to stay away from each other.{fact}}


After training Russian agents in Moscow for decades, he died there on June 23, 1995.[2]


The Cohens were awarded the Order of the Red Banner and the Order of Friendship of Nations for their espionage work. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, they also were given the title of Hero of the Russian Federation by the Yeltsin government. They lived out their lives on KGB pensions until their deaths — Lona in 1992 and Morris in 1995.

The Cohens are referenced in Venona decrypts 1239 KGB New York to Moscow, August 30, 1944; 50 KGB New York to Moscow, January 11, 1945, regarding an erroneous report Morris had been killed in Europe. The Cohens helped pass Manhattan Project secrets to the Soviet Union. His code name in Soviet intelligence and the Venona files is "Volunteer".

In 1983, the British playwright Hugh Whitemore dramatized the case as Pack of Lies, which was performed in London's West End theatre district starring Judi Dench and Michael Williams. It played on Broadway for 3½ months in 1985, for which Rosemary Harris won the best actress Tony award for her portrayal of the British neighbor of the Cohens/Krogers. It was made into a TV movie starring Ellen Burstyn, Alan Bates, Teri Garr and Daniel Benzali (as "Peter Schaefer," i.e., "Peter Kroger," i.e., Morris Cohen) which aired in the U.S. on CBS in 1987. The plot centered on the neighbors (and seeming friends) whose house was used as a base from which the security services could spy on the Cohens, and the way paranoia, suspicion and betrayal gradually destroyed their lives during that time.

The Cohens’ cover as antiquarian book dealers Peter and Helen Kroger is mentioned in Helene Hanff’s The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street because they were friends of London book dealer Frank Doel, recipient of the letters and book orders that inspired the bestseller 84 Charing Cross Road.

See also


  1. ^ BBC. "On This Day: 24 July 1969: Briton freed from Soviet prison". 
  2. ^ "Morris Cohen, 84, Soviet Spy Who Passed Atom Plans in 40's".  

Further reading

  • Albright, Joseph; Kunstel, Marcia (1997). Bombshell: The Secret Story of America's Unknown Atomic Spy Conspiracy. New York: Times Books. pp. 244–253. 
  • Russian Federal Foreign Intelligence Service (1995). Veterany vneshnei razvedki Rosii (Veterans of Russian foreign intelligence service). Moscow: Russian Federal Foreign Intelligence Service. 
  • Trahair, Richard C.S.; Miller, Robert (2009). Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations. New York: Enigma Books.  
  • West, Rebecca (1964). The New Meaning of Treason. New York: Viking. pp. 281–288. 

External links

  • BBC. "On This Day: 13 March 1961: Five Britons accused of spying for Moscow".  Includes a video news report on the Krogers/Cohens' return to the Soviet Union and an interview with former George Brown over the issues.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Subject: Morris and Lona Cohen, File Number: 100-406659". 
  • Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) (Russian)
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