Morton Sobell (born April 11 1917) is a self-confessed spy for the Soviet Union. Sobell was an American engineer working for General Electric and Reeves Electronics on military and government contracts. He was found guilty of spying for the Soviets (along with Julius Rosenberg at his 1951 espionage trial), 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 spying for the Soviets, and implicated Julius Rosenberg, in an interview with the New York Times published on September 11, 2008.
He was born in to a Jewish
family in New York City
and married Helen Levitov
(1918-2002). After being accused of espionage, he and his family fled to Mexico
on June 22
. 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
, Sobell and his family were abducted by armed men, taken to the United States border and turned over to the FBI. 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.
Sobell's purported innocence as a political cause
Sobell's supposed innocence became a cause among progressive
intellectuals who organized a Committee to Secure Justice for Morton Sobell
. In 1978 the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
produced a television special maintaining Sobell's innocence.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.Bertrand Russell
campaigned to overturn Sobell's conviction saying that his prison sentence was a grave miscarriage of justice against an innocent man.
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. 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.
In September 2008, at age 91, he told The New York Times that he did turn over (non-nuclear related) military secrets to the Soviets during World War II. This was the first time he strayed from maintaining his innocence.