Judith Coplon

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This article is part of the
Venona
series.

Secret apparatus
U.S. Department of Justice

Judith Coplon was the first major figure tried for spying as a result of the Venona project (although, for reasons of security, the Venona information was not revealed at her trial). Her disclosures to the Soviet intelligence agencies were the first information to alert them to the size of the U.S. counter-intelligence operation against them.

She worked in Foreign Agents Registration section of the Department of Justice, where she had access to counter-intelligence information during World War II. She was first brought to the attention of the FBI as a result of a Venona message (she was known in both Soviet intelligence and the Venona files as "SIMA"). An extensive counter-intelligence operation then investigated her, and planted secret documents for her to purloin.

FBI agents detained Coplon in March 1949 as she met with Valentin Gubitchev, a KGB official employed by the United Nations, carrying secret U.S. government documents in her purse. In her trial, FBI Special Agent Robert Lamphere testified that suspicion had fallen on Coplon because of information from a reliable "confidential informant" that was not a wiretap. She was convicted in two separate trials, one for espionage (by herself), and in another for conspiracy (along with Gubithchev).

Her conviction was later over-turned on a technicality relating to the arrest (which been on probable cause, as she was observed meeting her Soviet contact, not as a result of a warrant). Her complicity in espionage was further corroborated by information found within the KGB archives in the 1990s.

Further reading

  • The Spy Who Seduced America: Lies and Betrayal in the Heat of the Cold War - The Judith Coplon Story Marcia Mitchell, Thomas Mitchell, (Invisible Cities Press, Montpelier, 2002)
  • Robert J. Lamphere, Tom Shachtman, The FBI-KGB War: A Special Agent's Story (Random House, New York, 1986)
  • John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999) pp. 157-160
  • Alexander Vassiliev, Allen Weinstein, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America - The Stalin Era (Random House, New York, 1999) pp. 277-279, 298

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