But the amount of American and allied blood on their hands and the hands of their communist spy ring go far beyond the widely known atomic espionage.
Note: for the sake of laziness, all soviet spy agencies will be called KGB here.
Ronald Radosh, co-author of The Rosenberg File, shed some light on the damage by the spy ring after one of it's members (finally) admitted that he was a spy.
The Sobell confession, made to journalist Sam Roberts of The New York Times, reveals that Sobell admitted to espionage, but “never thought of it as that in those terms, only as helping a wartime Soviet ally,” and that what he gave the Soviets were only “defensive” military weapons that did not harm his own countrymen. As for Rosenberg, Sobel claims, the so-called atomic information he obtained from his brother-in-law David Greenglass was only “junk.”
Sobell would not acknowledge that, in fact, the supposedly harmless data he and Rosenberg stole had caused the deaths of Americans in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Sobell in particular had handed over the SCR 584 radar that was used by the MIG planes to shoot down US aircraft. Moreover, the MIG design itself came from one of Rosenberg’s key agents, William Perl. And Rosenberg himself gave the his Soviet handler Alexander Feklisov the proximity fuse, which was used to track Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 plane and to shoot it down during the Eisenhower administration. The evidence that the Rosenberg ring did manifest serious harm to American national security is overwhelming.
In 2009, 1,115 pages of notes from the KGB archives taken by Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB officer, reveal more from a translated verbatim a copy of a 1947 KGB document dealing with Julius Rosenberg (codenamed "Liberal")
Liberal [Born in 1918 in NY. Became a Young Communist League member in 34 and a CP USA member in 39. Recruited by Sound in early 42.] “During the war a great many valuable materials for our national industry were received personally from “Liberal.” Since March 1945 alone detailed, complete sets of materials were received on the radars AN/APS-2,
AN/APS-12, SM, AN-CRT-4, AN/APS-1, AN/APN-12; on infrared communications equipment, and so forth. We should take special note of the materials given us by the agent
on the AN/CPQ-1 bomb fuze and a model of the fuze itself, which were given the highest marks by the Council on Radar. “Liberal’s” successful work in handling agents and in supplying us with valuable secret materials was repeatedly cited by the center, and it was rewarded with large monetary payments.
“Liberal” is definitely a person who is completely devoted to us and accumulated significant experience during the war years in illegal work. He views working with us as the main purpose of his life. The recent splits in the CP USA have not affected him in the least.”
These were publish in conjunction with a great book, Spies. A review of the book gives more detail on the Rosenberg ring's damage
The Vassiliev notebooks also shed light on the impact the Rosenberg ring had on the Korean war. Combined with declassified FBI files and other sources, the Vassiliev notebooks make it possible to construct a detailed timeline of Julius Rosenberg's espionage ring that reveals that it provided the USSR with detailed information about hundreds of weapons systems, including many that were developed too late for use in World War II that were used in anger for the first time in Korea.6 These weapons, such as land- and air-based radar, the proximity fuse, analog computers for aiming antiaircraft artillery, and jet airplanes, were the core military technologies of the early Cold War.
The Rosenberg espionage ring provided information that could have been used against American troops in Korea. The notebooks reveal that when Soviet intelligence officers contacted Rosenberg in July 1948 after a two-year hiatus, they were surprised to learn that he had kept his network intact and had continued to collect technical intelligence.7
The eleven agents in Rosenberg's network in the summer of 1948 included agents who had access to specifications about American aircraft and radar that were later deployed in Korea -- specifications that would have been invaluable to Soviet military planners and weapons designers. The fact that Soviet engineers had some success in Korea jamming American radar, a practice that endangered the lives of American pilots and ground troops, can almost certainly be attributed to information provided by members of the Rosenberg ring.
An earlier book on the topic by the same authers shed light on the topic as well
William Perl, a brilliant young government aeronautical scientist, provided the Soviets with the results of the highly secret tests and design experiments for American jet engines and jet aircraft. His betrayal assisted the Soviet Union in quickly overcoming the American technological lead in the development of jets. In the Korean War, U.S. military leaders expected the Air Force to dominate the skies, on the assumption that the Soviet aircraft used by North Korea and Communist China would be no match for American aircraft. They were shocked when Soviet MiG-15 jet fighters not only flew rings around U.S. propeller-driven aircraft but were conspicuously superior to the first generation of American jets as well. Only the hurried deployment of America's newest jet fighter, the F-86 Saber, allowed the United States to match the technological capabilities of the MiG-15. The Air Force prevailed, owing more to the skill of American pilots than to the design of American aircraft.
The ring's KGB handler, Alexander Feklisov, provided more insight
Feklisov's account provided missing links about the extent of the damage done by the Rosenberg spy network. He testified about the major successes. The most important piece of information that the Rosenberg gave the Soviets was an actual proximity fuse detonator. The fuse allows a shell to explode at a short distance from an airborne target, guaranteeing a direct hit. It also corrects the path of an explosive charge toward a plane, a precursor of missile homing devices. The Soviets used one to shoot down Major Francis Gary Powers's U–2 plane in 1960, thereby derailing the Eisenhower-Khrushchev summit.
Other members of the ring, Joel Barr, Al Sarant and William Perl, provided equally important data such as the SCR584, a device that determines the speed and trajectory of V–2 rockets, that was part of some 600 pages of texts and drawing photographed by the ring members in one evening. Perl, a scientist working for NACA, the predecessor of NASA, gave Feklisov advanced aeronautical data about high-performance military jet aircraft. Through this material, the Soviets build the MIG fighter jets used against the Americans in the Korean War.
The Air Force Historian for the United States Air Force, Dr. Richard P. Hallion, provided more
NOVA: At the time of the X-1 program, were there concerns that other countries were spying on us?
HALLION: During the second World War, even as the war was going on, we were already seeing some of the hallmarks of the Cold War. Namely we were seeing espionage directed against the United States by the Soviet Union, and we were seeing a counter-intelligence effort by the United States to try to find out what the Soviets were up to in terms of what they were trying to learn about us. So during the second World War we had the beginnings of a program that had some tremendous significance. It was called Venona, and it began in February 1943. It was run by the U.S. Army's Signal Intelligence Service. That's a forerunner of the present day National Security Agency. The purpose of Venona was to examine and possibly exploit encrypted Soviet diplomatic communications. Many messages were accumulated by the Venona team, but because these were encrypted it was very, very difficult to translate them. And many of the wartime messages were in point of fact not translated until after the war. From our translation activities of Soviet communications we learned that there was a very active effort by the Soviets to collect information on the United States.
NOVA: So we didn't find out about the Soviet espionage until after the war?
HALLION: Because of the volume and the nature of the traffic, many of these messages were not able to be broken until after the second World War, simply because the process of breaking them was so difficult. They were all encrypted in a cipher system. We had to break the cipher systems, and we had to find the keys in order to break those. Now what was very interesting, as we found out later, was that there were a number of people in various key government organizations that were targeted by the Soviets to be sources of information or who in fact, were themselves Soviet agents. One of these was an individual working in the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. His name was William Perl. William Perl was part of a spy ring established by Julius Rosenberg. Now the Rosenberg spy ring has always been thought of primarily as an atomic espionage ring. But in point of fact in its early years it was targeting the aeronautical industry and the electronics industry. As early as 1943, Perl was passing information to the Soviets on jet engine design. Perl later joined the Louis Research Center of the NACA, now NASA, and while there was engaged in the design of supersonic wind tunnel facilities, consulting on engine development and also did a lot of work related to the atomic airplane program. So Perl was a very highly placed source of information for the Soviets and was transmitting a great deal of information to them.
NOVA: How did the Soviets benefit from this information?
HALLION: There's a technology transfer that you see very clearly. The Mig fighter family is the classic example to use. If you take a look at when the designs of the Mig 15 and 17 are actually fixed (and they're developed in the immediate post World War II era) I think that the Soviets were not able to get the information that they needed in time to make those aircraft what they could have been. Instead where we see this [espionage] material radically transform Soviet military aviation is in the next generation of Mig aircraft, the Mig 19. The Mig 19 is the first Soviet supersonic jet fighter. It appears contemporaneously with the first American supersonic jet fighter, the F-100. They both appear in 1953. They both have roughly the same performance capabilities. In fact, one could argue that the Mig 19 actually had a slightly higher performance. And so what this shows is the gap closed.
NOVA: What was Britain's relationship with the Soviet Union during and after the war?
HALLION: Britain's relationship with the Soviets in the 1940s was a very interesting one. At the same time that we see Winston Churchill giving us the Iron Curtain metaphor, and we start seeing the emergence of the Cold War, we see the British government willy nilly selling high technology to the Soviets. And the classic example of what they sold were two high performance jet engines, the Rolls Royce Durwent and the Rolls Royce Nene. And the Nene engine, interestingly enough, in Korea, powered not only the Mig 15, but it also powered some of the American Airplanes (because it had been sold to the United States in license built form) that we were using against the Mig 15. For example, in Korea, in November, 1950, a U.S. Navy fighter airplane called the F 9 F Panther confronted the first production Soviet Mig 15's that were being flown in Korea—the two airplanes were flying using essentially the same engine. You could have interchanged the engines in these airplanes.
The CIA's website has more
Barr, Sarant, and Rosenberg held low-level positions during World War II helping to design manufacturing processes and performing quality assurance inspections. In contrast to more senior scientists and engineers, who typically were aware of the details of only a few specific projects and who were subject to intense security precautions, the Rosenberg group had jobs that provided unfettered access to a wide range of sensitive technologies.
Military security officials attempted to compartmentalize R&D—for example by assigning the design of the various components in a weapons system to teams at different institutions. At some point, however, all the pieces had to be assembled and tested by people who understood how they fit together and what they were supposed to do. As manufacturing engineers, Barr and Sarant were exactly at that point. In order to help design and optimize manufacturing processes, they had to comprehend the basic principles underlying a particular weapon and to have detailed knowledge of all of its components. Men assigned to figure out how to mass produce advanced technologies were in an excellent position to teach the Soviets how to do the same.
Because practical “how-to” experience from related projects was often relevant to their own work, manufacturing engineers were encouraged to study weapons systems that they were not specifically assigned to work on. Barr and the other engineers working in his department “had complete freedom of the plant and were permitted to go into any other sections,” one of his former supervisors at Western Electric later told the FBI.
Barr and Sarant worked on, or had access to, detailed specifications for most of the US air- and ground-based radars; the Norden bombsight; analog fire-control computers; friend-or-foe identification systems; and a variety of other technologies. Working from a makeshift microfilm studio in a Greenwich Village apartment, they copied and turned over to Soviet intelligence more than 9,000 pages of secret documents relating to more than 100 weapons programs during World War II, according to Alexander Feklisov, one of their case officers. In addition to Feklisov’s memoir, some details of the secrets Barr and Sarant stole are mentioned in the “Venona” decrypts, decoded diplomatic cable traffic between Moscow and Soviet intelligence officers in New York. For example, a December 1944 cable noted that Sarant had “handed over 17 authentic drawings” of the AN/APQ-7 radar.
According to Feklisov, Barr turned over blueprints for the SCR-584, a microwave radar system designed at MIT’s radiation lab that the army hailed as one of the most important technological breakthroughs of the war. He also passed plans for the M-9 gun director, an analog computer that predicted a moving object’s future position based on radar input and then automatically aimed and fired artillery.
While the Rosenberg group’s technology transfer probably did not have a decisive impact during World War II—the USSR had great difficulty keeping up with the demand for basic weapons systems and was in a poor position to absorb high technology—it was extraordinarily useful in the immediate postwar period when Russia quickly brought its armaments up to American levels of sophistication.
Much of the information Barr and Sarant borrowed from Western Electric’s filing cabinets ended up in the hands of Adm. Axel Berg, the man Stalin assigned during World War II to create a Soviet radar industry. Detailed information about American R&D helped Berg take Soviet radar production from zero in 1940 to a level in 1955 that equaled or exceeded the United States’ output in quantity and capabilities. Russian radar bore a striking resemblance to American designs, particularly the radar sets manufactured at Western Electric. In 1949, for example, the USSR started mass-producing replicas of the SCR-584, as well as clones of the AN/APQ-13 radar, a close cousin of the AN/APQ-7.
In conjunction with the technology of the US proximity fuse—which Rosenberg literally wrapped up and delivered to Feklisov as a Christmas present in 1944—upgraded Soviet versions of the SCR-584 and M-9 allowed Moscow to shoot down Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 plane over Sverdlovsk on May Day 1960.
In addition to data on radars, analog computers, and the proximity fuse, the Rosenberg group turned over a treasure trove of secret information about jet engine design and radio and computing technologies. The group’s total contribution amounted to over 20,000 pages of technical documents, plus the entire 12,000-page design manual for the first US jet fighter, the P-80 “Shooting Star.” In addition to designs for specific weapons systems, the data gave Soviet scientists and planners invaluable insights into America’s development strategies. In technology development, information about a rival’s mistakes and dead ends is almost as valuable as details of its accomplishments.
More to come, when I have time...