A former FBI agent and his coauthor spouse revisit a bungled, long-forgotten spy case and turn up the smoking gun.
Judith Coplon was an all-American girl, a brilliant, vivacious scholar who worked in the Justice Department during the late 1940s. She was also a committed communist who, in the words of former KGB spymaster Oleg Kalugin, “was an ideological spy rather than a mercenary. She was in it for her beliefs, like the Rosenbergs.” Unlike the Rosenbergs, however, Coplon did not die for her commitment to the communist cause; though she was ferreted out and arrested in 1949, the federal government could never assemble an incontrovertible case against her. For the next 18 years, however, the FBI saw to it that Coplon was a virtual prisoner within her own home. The authors (he is now a Georgia-Pacific executive; she wrote Management Strategies for Women, not reviewed) dust off old files in the matter, questioning why the government failed in its mission to convict Coplon. There were two main problems, they conclude: the FBI never produced a credible witness and could not produce some of the most convincing evidence because it would have revealed that the Bureau had broken Soviet code. Federal prosecutors therefore relied on innuendo, unproven allegations, and outright lies so patent that the presiding judge commented, “If the government could not have presented an honest case, it should not have been in the courtroom.” The authors started their research with sharply divided views, the Mitchells write: Marcia believed Coplon was innocent, and Thomas was convinced she was a Soviet agent fully aware of her treason. At the end of their well-written account, they agree that Coplon was indeed a spy.
The discoveries that compelled their change of heart lend surprising twists to the narrative—one likely to be of great interest to students of Cold War history and true crime.