During World War II and briefly after, Julius Rosenberg, Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant stole military secrets of the U.S. Signal Corps on behalf of the USSR. But by 1956, Rosenberg was dead, executed along with his wife Ethel for espionage, and Barr and Sarant had left the spy game far behind.
In 1956, having successfully survived the Stalin era while living in Czechoslovakia, Josef Berg (Joel Barr) and Filip Staros (Alfred Sarant) returned to Russia, where they established the “Nauchni Tsentr,” or “scientific center,” a new hub for the Soviet microelectronics and computer industry, located in a suburb of Moscow called Zelenograd, the USSR’s version of Silicon Valley. Staros/Sarant, despite his achievements, ultimately ran afoul of the bureaucracy and was demoted to a minor post in Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan in Siberia. On March 12, 1979, Sarant died in Moscow from a massive heart attack.
On September 19, 1983, The New York Times published a story about the discovery that Filip Georgiyevich Staros, recently deceased, was in fact one and the same person as Alfred E. Sarant, and that Josef V. Berg was Joel Barr. The former spies had evolved into prominent Russian technology industry leaders, and now the whole world knew their secret.
In October of 1990, Joel Barr returned to the United States, traveling as Joseph Berg on a Soviet passport. To his astonishment, neither the FBI nor any other government agency approached him or took any apparent interest. Barr was even more surprised when he returned a year later to receive a new U.S. passport and Social Security Administration benefits. He divided the remaining years of his life between Russia and the U.S. In April 1992, Barr voted in the New York presidential primary election, going for Jerry Brown. Four years later, using his Soviet name, he cast a ballot in Leningrad for Gennady Zhuganov, the Communist Party presidential candidate.
On August 1, 1998, Joel Barr died in a Moscow hospital of complications from a throat infection. Like Sarant and Rosenberg, Joel Barr remained an ardent communist his entire life. None of the three ever explicitly admitted to their espionage activities.
While employed at Fort Monmouth, and later its manufacturing contractors, Rosenberg, Barr, and Alfred Sarant worked on, or had access to, detailed specifications for most of the U.S. air- and ground-based radars; the Norden bombsight; analog fire-control computers; friend-or-foe identification systems; and a variety of other technologies. They copied and turned over to Soviet intelligence secret documents relating to more than 100 weapons programs during World War II. For example, a December 1944 cable noted that Sarant had “handed over 17 authentic drawings” of the AN/APQ-7 radar bombsight system. Barr turned over blueprints for the SCR-584, a ground-based microwave radar tracking system designed at MIT’s radiation lab that the army hailed as one of the most important technological breakthroughs of the war. Sarant also passed plans for the M-9 gun director, an analog computer that predicted a moving object’s future position based on radar input and then automatically aimed and fired artillery.
The technology of the proximity fuse, which Rosenberg had literally wrapped up and sent to the KGB as a Christmas present in 1944, enabled the Soviets to upgrade their defense systems such that they were able to shoot down Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane over Sverdlovsk on May Day 1960.
In addition to data on radars, analog computers, and the proximity fuse, the Rosenberg group turned over a treasure trove of secret information about jet engine design and radio and computing technologies. Including their espionage at defense contractors after leaving Fort Monmouth, the group’s total contribution amounted to over 20,000 pages of technical documents, plus the entire 12,000-page design manual for the first U.S. jet fighter, the P-80 “Shooting Star.” In addition to designs for specific weapons systems, the data gave Soviet scientists and planners invaluable insights into America’s development strategies. “In technology development, information about a rival’s mistakes and dead ends is almost as valuable as details of its accomplishments,” according to historian and author Steven Usdin.
“Controversy over the value of the atomic secrets that Rosenberg helped transmit to the USSR has obscured the tremendous value of the information about conventional weapons systems that he and his comrades stole,” said Usdin. “They provided detailed specifications for some of the most important military technologies developed during World War II and, in the process, helped the Soviet Union lay the foundation for a defense industry that maintained rough parity with the United States throughout the Cold War.”
Lax security in the early years leading up to World War II allowed Americans who sympathized with the Soviet Union to gain access to U.S. military secrets developed at Fort Monmouth. Accusations of espionage within the U.S. Signal Corps by people like Senator Joseph McCarthy (pictured above) continued through the Cold War, but ultimately, proved unfounded after the three members of the Rosenberg Signal Corps ring had moved on from Fort Monmouth.
You can visit Camp Evans and see the preserved buildings and laboratories that helped create the amazing systems that helped the Allies win the war, at the InfoAge Science & History Center at the site of Camp Evans in Wall Township, on Marconi Road. The mission at InfoAge is to preserve, teach, and honor scientific innovation and history in order to inspire new generations of thinkers, dreamers, and visionaries, and serve as a hub for hands-on education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
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Transcript of Special Senate investigation on charges and countercharges involving: Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens, John G. Adams, H. Struve Hensel and Senator Joe McCarthy, Roy M. Cohn, and Francis P. Carr. Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, United States Senate, Eighty-third Congress, second session. (1954). Available: https://archive.org/details/specialsenateinv20unit/page/n3.
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Weldon Bruce DAYTON, Appellant, v. John Foster DULLES. (1958). https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/357/144