US army engineer who was executed, with his wife Ethel (1915–53), for passing military secrets to Soviet intelligence agents.
Rosenberg, a committed communist since his youth, was disillusioned with American society and what he saw as its glaring injustices. He graduated in electrical engineering in 1939 and in 1940 joined the US army signal corps as an engineer. Motivated by their ideological principles, the Rosenbergs started to convey military secrets via their contact, Harry Gold, to the Soviet vice-consul in New York. Rosenberg's brother-in-law, David Greenglass, was working for the army at the Los Alamos atom bomb test site, and he supplied the Rosenbergs with valuable information concerning the Anglo-US weapons programme.
The Rosenbergs were arrested on 23 May 1950, ostensibly as a result of incriminating testimony provided by the spy Klaus Fuchs, arrested by the British in 1949. It is probable, however, that the Rosenbergs were already implicated by Soviet intelligence messages that US cipher experts had decoded in 1949. Gold, Greenglass, and another associate, Morton Sobell, were also arrested, tried, and sentenced to long jail terms. The Rosenbergs were sentenced to death and, in spite of international appeals for mercy on their behalf, were sent to the electric chair on 19 June 1953. With their trial held at the height of the anticommunist hysteria orchestrated by senator Joseph McCarthy, the Rosenbergs became the first US civilians to be executed for espionage.
Subjects: Warfare and Defence.