Al Sarant

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Secret apparatus
Fort Monmouth Army Signal Corps Laboratories
Venona decrypt #1600
KGB New York to Moscow
November 11, 1944

Alfred Epaminondas Sarant, also known as Filipp Georgievich Staros and Philip Georgievich Staros, was an engineer and a member of the Communist party in New York City in 1944. He was part of the Rosenberg spy ring that reported to Soviet intelligence. Sarant worked on secret military radar at the United States United States Army Signal Corps laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Aleksandr Feklisov, one of the KGB case officers who handled the Rosenberg spy apparatus described Sarant and Joel Barr as among the most productive members of the group.

The Venona project transcript of 14 November 1944 reported to Moscow that Rosenberg had safely carried through the contracting of Sarant. The transcript noted Sarant and Barr were roommates and good friends and proposed to pair them off and get them to photograph their own materials. Sarant was considered a good photographer and had a large darkroom in his home. Rosenberg was to pick up the film and deliver it to Soviet intelligence. Anatoli Yatskov was assigned to Sarant and used Harry Gold as his courier. Usually, the film was forwarded directly to Moscow. One transcript reports Sarant and Barr delivered 17 authentic drawings relating to the APQ-7, an advanced and secret airborne radar system developed jointly by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Western Electric for the United States military.

In 1946 Sarant moved to Ithaca, New York where he worked at Cornell University in the physics laboratories. Sarant's next door neighbor was Philip Morrison, a former Manhattan Project scientist and personal friend who joined the CPUSA in 1939.

Two days after Julius Rosenberg's arrest on 17 July 1950, the FBI interviewed Sarant but did not arrest him, being uncertain of his role. Three days later Sarant ran away with a neighbor's wife, both abandoning their children and spouses. The two crossed into Mexico and escaped FBI surveillance.

In Mexico, fearing further surveillance, Sarant contacted the Soviets through the Polish embassy. From there the two passed into Guatemala, and then flew to Poland. After six months in Warsaw they moved on to Moscow where Barr had already arrived. Sarant was assigned a new identity, Philip Georgievich Staros, claiming a Canadian (according to some sources — South African) background to explain his accent. From Moscow, Barr and Sarant were resettled in Czechoslovakia and put to work as electrical engineers. The woman who ran away with Sarant accompanied him.

In 1956 Sarant and Barr were transferred to Leningrad where they were placed in charge of a military electronics research institute, and enjoyed the benefits of the Communist Party Nomenklatura. They have been credited with being the founders of the Soviet microelectronics industry, mainly because Sarant was (until Nikita Khrushchev's forced retirement) a chief scientist at Zelenograd, the Soviet Union's Silicon Valley. In 1969 Sarant received a state honor for his contributions to Soviet science. In 1979 Sarant died of a heart attack, and the woman who fled with him returned to the United States in 1991.

It wasn't until 1983, thirty-three years after Sarant's flight to Mexico, that the full story of Sarant's life was told. A Russian émigré working at Harvard who had read The Rosenberg File linked Barr and Sarant to two prominent Soviet scientists, both native speakers of English.

Sarant's cover name in Soviet intelligence and in the Venona project is "Hughes".


Further reading

  • Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton, The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth, Henry Holt (1983), hardcover, ISBN 0030490367
  • Steven T. Usdin, Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin And Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley, Yale University Press (October 10, 2005), hardcover, ISBN 0300108745