• SNITCHING: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice
  • U.S. Attorney General's Guidelines on the FBI's Use of Confidential Human Sources
  • Sarah Stillman, The Throwaways, The New Yorker (2012) (article on the use of juvenile informants)

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg: punished for not snitching?

In this month's edition of the Monthly Review, Staughton Lynd offers this meditation on the famous Rosenbergs: Is There Anything More to Say about the Rosenberg Case? Lynd, himself a well-known anti-Vietnam War activist, quaker, historian, and attorney, argues that the Rosenbergs were executed in 1953 not so much for being part of a Russian spy ring, but because they--unlike other members of the ring--refused to give information to the govenment. From the article:
We should ask, "Why were the Rosenbergs punished so much more severely than others whose activities were comparable to theirs?" I believe Haynes and Klehr provide the answer. Each individual who "confessed" was required to do one thing more. He or she was also asked to identify ("finger") other individuals engaged in espionage. Thus, "Fuchs' confession in Britain led the FBI to Harry Gold in the United States. Gold's confession in turn...quickly led the FBI to Sgt. David Greenglass. Greenglass confessed to espionage and also implicated his wife, Ruth, and his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg." But, at this point, the FBI inquiry hit a snag, or what Haynes and Klehr call "stonewalling" by the Rosenbergs and Morton Sobell. That is to say, these three persons refused to snitch. ...
I offer the opinion that the Rosenbergs' execution was really all about their refusal to snitch. On the basis of a fifteen-year acquaintance with death row prisoners in Ohio, I can state that the refusal to snitch is one of the highest values of long-term prisoners. It is the essence of the "convict code." Refusal to snitch earns a prisoner recognition as a "solid convict." In contrast, the government wanted an unbroken chain of informants who would inform against their colleagues. When confronted by individuals who refused to confess or "deal," the government decided to send a message to all other potential informants by killing the Rosenbergs.