Morton Sobell

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Morton Sobell
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R0419-028, Sobell, Perlin, Meeropol, Loeser.jpg
Morton Sobell (left) at a visit in East Germany in 1976
Born (1917-04-11) April 11, 1917 (age 97)
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 the City College of New York where he received a degree in engineering[2] and later married Helen Levitov (1918–2002).[3] He worked in Washington, D.C., for the Navy Bureau of Ordnance and in Schenectady, New York, for the General Electric Company.

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.[3] 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.[4]

Sobell as a political cause[edit]

Sobell's supposed innocence became a cause among progressive intellectuals who organized a Committee to Secure Justice for Morton Sobell.[5][6][7] In 1978 the Corporation for Public Broadcasting produced a television special maintaining Sobell's innocence.[8] 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."[9] Bertrand Russell campaigned to overturn Sobell's conviction saying that his prison sentence was a grave miscarriage of justice against an innocent man.[10][11]

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.[12][13] 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.[14]

In a letter to the editor of The Nation in 2001, Sobell referred to himself as a "bona fide convicted spy".[15] 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 them as "junk" and says they were of no value to the Soviet Union. This was the first time he publicly admitted guilt.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roberts, Sam (September 11, 2008). "For First Time, Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits Spying for Soviets". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-11. "In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Sobell, who served nearly 19 years in Alcatraz and other federal prisons, admitted for the first time that he had been a Soviet spy." 
  2. ^ Morton Sobell article - University of Missouri-K. C. School of Law
  3. ^ a b Saxon, Wolfgang (April 27, 2002). "Helen L. Sobell, 84, Leader Of Effort to Spare Rosenbergs". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-03. "Helen Levitov Sobell, a voice in the struggle to spare Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and free their co-defendant, Morton Sobell, her husband, died on April 15 in Redwood City, Calif. She was 84. She had long been in declining health, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, said her daughter, Sydney Gurewitz Clemens." 
  4. ^ Ranzal, Edward (January 15, 1969). "Morton Sobell Free As Spy Term Ends". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-07. "Morton Sobell, sentenced to 30 years for a wartime espionage conspiracy to deliver vital national secrets to the Soviet Union, was released from prison yesterday after serving 17 years and 9 months." 
  5. ^ William M. Kunstler: The Most Hated Lawyer in America, by David J. Langum, 1999, p. 383
  6. ^ New Questions On Rosenberg Case, Sidney E. Zion, New York Times, August 28, 1966
  7. ^ Did Morton Sobell Get a Bum Deal? Hartford Courant, Jun 3, 1968
  8. ^ TV: 'Rosenberg-Sobell Revisited' Offers New Thinking on Spy Case, John J. O'Conner, New York Times, June 19, 1978
  9. ^ Refusing to Cooperate, by Lawrence Kaplan, Monthly Review,
  10. ^ A Bibliography of Bertrand Russell, by Bertrand Russell, Kenneth Blackwell, Harry Ruja, 1994, p. 504
  11. ^ Bertrand Russell's America, by Barry Feinberg, Bertrand Russell, Ronald Kasrils, 1974, p. 199
  12. ^ Sobell, Morton, On doing Time, 2001
  13. ^ Refusing to Cooperate, by Lawrence Kaplan, Monthly Review,
  14. ^ Reflections on Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment, by George Anastaplo, 2007, p. 253
  15. ^ "Letters", The Nation, April 2, 2001.
  16. ^ Roberts, Sam, "Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits to Soviet Spying", The New York Times, September 11, 2008

External links[edit]