Spy Who Seduced America: Lies and Betrayal in the Heat of the Cold War: The Judith Coplon Story

Overview

Judith Coplon was young and pretty, and possibly a spy for the Soviet Union when she was arrested in 1949 for espionage. Due to FBI bungling, Coplon was arrested twice, indicted twice, tried twice-and set free both times. J. Edgar Hoover never wanted to prosecute her, FBI agents perjured themselves on the stand, and Coplon's lawyer, who specialized in bankruptcy, created a circus out of the courtroom. Utilizing recently declassified material, personal interviews with Coplon's husband and numerous FBI and KGB ...
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Overview

Judith Coplon was young and pretty, and possibly a spy for the Soviet Union when she was arrested in 1949 for espionage. Due to FBI bungling, Coplon was arrested twice, indicted twice, tried twice-and set free both times. J. Edgar Hoover never wanted to prosecute her, FBI agents perjured themselves on the stand, and Coplon's lawyer, who specialized in bankruptcy, created a circus out of the courtroom. Utilizing recently declassified material, personal interviews with Coplon's husband and numerous FBI and KGB contacts, and Thomas Mitchell's firsthand account of the case as an FBI agent, the two authors started off on opposite ends--one thinking she was innocent and the other believing she was guilty--before discovering the truth about America's Mata Hari in bobby socks.

Author Biography: Marcia Mitchell is the former secretary of labor for South Dakota and the associate director of the American Film Institute. She is the author of Cosmetics from the Kitchen, Raindance to Research, and Management Strategies for Women. Thomas Mitchell is a former FBI agent. During his 17-year tenure, he was directly involved in the Coplon case as well as a variety of anticommunist counterintelligence activities. They live in Hill City, South Dakota.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Assigned to a remote outpost of the Asian subcontinent in the spring of 1987, Jonna Goeser, an expert in clandestine photography, disguise, and false documentation -- she can facilitate a "quick ethnic change" on demand -- finds herself entangled in some dangerous business. Spy Dust, the memoir she wrote with Antonio J. Mendez -- first her boss in Technical Operations, then her husband -- details the Russians' latest anti-espionage technologies, including a mysterious light-sensitive tracking powder, insect sex pheromones, and clairvoyants, and double agents like Robert Hanssen and Edward Lee Howard. (The Mendezes were helped by the true-crime writer Bruce Henderson.) Officially, Jonna's mission is a "smoking-bolt operation" designed to relieve the K.G.B. of an important communications device, but it's actually a ruse to distract attention from the agency's exfiltration of a K.G.B. officer about to be unmasked as a spy for the Americans. The book, which passed the C.I.A.'s publication-review board, makes a post-September-11th case for spooks -- reminding us that the most successful operations are the ones we never hear about. With her black beret, bright lipstick, and cum-laude Barnard-girl-next-door persona, Judith Coplon was a celebrity from the moment of her highly controversial arrest on espionage charges in 1949. Was she the next Mata Hari? If so, some reporters found her disappointingly unexotic: "about as sinister as Louisa May Alcott," one wrote. Or was she just an industrious Department of Justice employee working on a novel about her experiences? The Spy Who Seduced America, by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell, examines both the farcical and disturbing aspects of Coplon's case. (Dana Goodyear)
Publishers Weekly
On March 4, 1949, Justice Department staffer Judith Coplon and her Russian lover were arrested. The charge: spying for the Soviets. Coplon's trials and appeals would mesmerize the nation ("her fan mail rivaled that of Bette Davis," the authors report). But even after a partial vindication by the Supreme Court, there were still questions about her guilt. The husband-and-wife authors-he is a former FBI agent involved in the Coplon case-attempt to answer those questions once and for all. They painstakingly flesh out and dramatize court transcripts, especially those from Coplon's first trial, and analyze the results. It's an odd approach: imagine Court TV in print. Much weight is given to the histrionics of Coplon's lawyer; the shocking (for the time) allegations about Coplon's sex life; and the revelations about FBI perjury and illegal wiretapping. Yet the theatrical presentation fails to breathe life into the enigma that was Coplon. Perhaps most interesting is the Mitchells' ongoing dispute about key aspects of the case, especially whether or not Coplon was framed by the FBI. Regardless, it's clear now-based on declassified Venona documents and statements from former KGB officials-that she had been a Soviet spy since 1944. This is a useful addition to Cold War scholarship that will appeal to students of espionage and the Cold War era. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Oct.) Forecast: A six-city author tour and an unspecified event on the QE2 will bring attention to this. Review coverage may be aided by the release of Kathryn Olmsted's Red Spy Queen, a bio of notorious woman spy Elizabeth Bentley (Forecasts, Aug. 5), also in October. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
At the height of the Cold War in 1949, Judith Coplon was arrested and charged with spying for the Soviets. Despite having to endure two trials whose results were inconclusive, followed by two different appeals court rulings, and finally a decision by the Supreme Court in 1952 not to hear the case, Coplon remained under the shadow of further legal action until the government dropped its charges in 1967. This fascinating case, the first spying trial of the Cold War, is recounted in sprightly fashion by the husband-and-wife team of Marcia and Thomas Mitchell. At the outset, Marcia believed Coplon innocent, while her husband, who spent 17 years as an FBI agent, was equally certain of Coplon's guilt. The narrative records the day-to-day court proceedings as well as the general anti-Communist hysteria of the period. The FBI used questionable tactics, such as illegal wiretaps, to obtain its evidence, which ultimately led to difficulties in the courts. As it turns out, information that recently became available from the Venona Project (the National Security Agency's program to decrypt Soviet KGB and GRU messages) shows conclusively that Coplon was indeed a Soviet agent. Despite Coplon's guilt, her case revealed how the FBI exceeded its legal limitations in the search for spies. This is an important study that sheds light not only on Cold War spying but also on the FBI's counterespionage activities in the late 1940s. For most collections.DEd Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 aspy. 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781931229227
  • Publisher: Invisible Cities Press Llc
  • Publication date: 9/1/2002
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

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