Cold War KGB agent Judith Coplon dies in Manhattan

Judith Coplon

Judith Coplon

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Judith Coplon, an American Justice Department analyst who spied for the Soviet Union, and whose 1949 espionage trial became an international sensation, died last weekend in New York. When she was arrested by the FBI at age 27, Coplon worked as an analyst for the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Section, and was privy to counterintelligence reports issued daily by the Bureau. A few years prior to her March 1949 arrest, Coplon had begun an affair with Valentin A. Gubitchev, a married Soviet NKGB (forerunner of the KGB) officer stationed at the United Nations headquarters in New York. It is believed that Gubitchev recruited her and acted as her handler, meeting her regularly at various New York locations in order to obtain from her copies of Justice Department documents. In 1948, her role as an NKGB agent code-named ‘Sima’, was revealed through the National Security Agency’s VENONA project, which decoded wartime Soviet diplomatic cables that had been intercepted by US intelligence. But although she was convicted on espionage and conspiracy charges, her legal team later managed to overturn the convictions on a number of technicalities, and by challenging the FBI’s attempt to keep evidence in the case secret, on grounds of national security. During her trial, Coplon consistently maintained that she had never been a communist, and that her only crime was that she spoke Russian. But documents released from Soviet archives after the dissolution of the USSR confirmed her espionage activities. Following her release, Coplon married one of the lawyers in her defense team and assumed the name Socolov. She died on Saturday in Manhattan, at age 88.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

3 Responses to Cold War KGB agent Judith Coplon dies in Manhattan

  1. Chris Frazier says:

    In your story about the death of Judith Coplon (“Cold War KGB agent Judith Coplon dies in Manhattan”), your reporter, JOSEPH FITSANAKIS, wrote that Coplon’s “legal team later managed to overturn the convictions on a number of technicalities…” This is lazy journalism, and the reader deserves better. “Technicalities” usually means some law governing the case was disregarded, the judge and/or prosecutor behaved unethically, thereby prejudicing the jury, that one of more of Coplon’s constitutional rights was (were) violated (hardly a mere “technicality”), that the jury was given incorrect instructions to follow in deliberations, that illegally obtained evidence was introduced at trial, and so forth. By using the word “technicalities,” Fitzanakis makes it seem as though some minor, inconsequential act of pettifoggery caused a guilty person to be set free. But it’s a damned sight more serious than that as I’ve shown. The reader is left with a feeling that a “communist spy” was set free because of some caprice. So, in future stories about convictions that are reversed, ask, no DEMAND, that the reporter supply concrete and specific reasons for an appellate court’s decision to reverse. The word “technicalities” is banal, vague, meaningless, and lazy. Moreover, it is a disservice to the truth.

    Chris Frazier

  2. roman says:

    >Moreover, it is a disservice to the truth.

    And by truth, you of course mean that a communist spy was set free on a technicality. That’s what it’s called when something other than evidence causes a decision to be overturned. The nerve of some writers .. unbelievable.

    Yo Chris, communists are baaad mmmkay? And take a valium or something.

  3. intelNews says:

    Hi, Chris, and thanks for your comment. I’m not a reporter or a journalist, and I am certainly not lazy. But I take your point. The FBI seriously mangled the case, which involved unauthorized communications interception and absence of a warrant (unfortunately not rare in those days, especially when it came to counterintelligence investigations). Which is, of course, why Coplon’s conviction was overturned, and rightly so. On the other hand, there is no doubt that she was caught carrying a classified document, planted by the FBI, during a meeting with an NKGB officer. As far as I am aware, there is no debate among intelligence historians about the scope of Coplon’s activities, specifically since more information has become available through declassification. But if you have further knowledge of the case, please feel free to share it. I’m always open to new information. [JF]

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