New Historian

Espionage Between Allies

Nuclear Explosion

<![CDATA[On the 9th December 1950 American scientist Harry Gold was sentenced to thirty years in prison for his part in the transfer of top secret US atomic bomb research to the Soviet Union. A complicated web of espionage and spies was as much a defining feature of the Cold War as the Space Race and Nuclear Proliferation. What is interesting about Gold's punishment, and the punishment of those he was associated with, is that although the trials were held during the Cold War, the alleged crimes actually took place at a time when the USA and USSR were allies. Harry Gold's life was a long way from the glamorous image of spies portrayed in Hollywood. Born in Bern, Switzerland, on 18th December 1910, both of his parents had fled from Russia, his mother to escape punishment for revolutionary activities, his father to avoid military service. The family moved to Philadelphia in the United States in 1913, where Gold's father found work as a cabinet maker, although some historians suggest that his wages were low and he spent long periods of time unemployed. After graduating from school, Gold worked at the Pennsylvania Sugar Company until losing his job in the Great Depression. He then studied for a degree in chemical engineering at the Drexel University, and upon graduation was able to return to work at the sugar company as the effects of the Depression started to lift. As unexpected as it may seem, it was here that he became introduced to the world of espionage, when he was recruited to steal information from the company by Jacob Galos in November 1935. Gold became an increasingly important figure in the Soviet Union's spy network in America. In 1943 he was tasked with the organisation of operation Sulpho, which aimed to acquire secrets related to US biological warfare research. He was also assigned to liaise with Klaus Fuchs, a scientist who was working on America's top secret Manhattan project. Gold would later admit that he had met Fuchs six times between February 1944 and September 1945, each time he worked as a courier, taking information delivered by Fuchs to his contact with the Soviet Union, Semyon Semyonov. It says a lot about the lack of trust between the United States and the Soviet Union that this level of spying was taking place even when they were officially allies during the Second World War. Gold would later state that his decision to begin spying was inspired by this complex relationship - he couldn't understand why the United States was continuing to keep such vital information away from its supposed ally. Fuchs and Gold were arrested as part of a massive FBI investigation into Soviet espionage in 1949, as the Cold War freeze between the two superpowers started to set in. Fuchs was the first to be caught, when he was arrested in Great Britain and charged with sharing secret information. He quickly accused Gold of being the middleman between him and the Soviet agents, leading to Gold's arrest shortly after. Gold's arrest in July 1950 saw him completely break down under interrogation. He had been caught as part of a long process, with several of his sources of information being interviewed, and him coming up each time as the go-between with the Soviet Union. Likewise, his confession implicated a host of other names involved in the Soviet spy network in the USA, and in particular; David Greenglass. The interrogation of Greenglass ultimately led to one of the most well known espionage trials in the Cold War period, that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were accused of actively spying for the Soviet Union throughout the Second World War, as well as having Communist sympathies. Unlike Fuchs, Greenglass and Gold, the Rosenbergs refused to disclose any other names connected with Soviet espionage, and refused to confess to the charges bought against them. To much public outrage over the severity of their punishment, both were sentenced to death. Spying between the Soviet Union and the United States would continue on both sides throughout the Cold War. The series of trials centred around Harry Gold are particularly interesting however, as the defendants had not sold secrets to an enemy, but an ally.]]>

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