Cover image for The spy who seduced America : lies and betrayal in the heat of the Cold War : the Judith Coplon story
The spy who seduced America : lies and betrayal in the heat of the Cold War : the Judith Coplon story
Mitchell, Marcia.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Montpelier, Vt. : Invisible Cities Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xvi, 359 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
UB271.R92 C675 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Judith Coplon was young and pretty, and possibly a spy for the Soviet Union when she was arrested in 1949 for espionage. Due to FBI bungling, Coplon was arrested twice, indicted twice, tried twice--and set free both times. J. Edgar Hoover never wanted to prosecute her, FBI agents perjured themselves on the stand, and Coplon's lawyer, who specialized in bankruptcy, created a circus out of the courtroom. Utilizing recently declassified material, personal interviews with Coplon's husband and numerous FBI and KGB contacts, and Thomas Mitchell's firsthand account of the case as an FBI agent, the two authors started off on opposite ends--one thinking she was innocent and the other believing she was guilty--before discovering the truth about America's Mata Hari in bobby socks.

Author Notes

Marcia Mitchell is the former secretary of labor for South Dakota and the associate director of the American Film Institute. She is the author of Cosmetics from the Kitchen, Raindance to Research, and Management Strategies for Women. Thomas Mitchell is a former FBI agent. During his 17-year tenure, he was directly involved in the Coplon case as well as a variety of anticommunist counterintelligence activities. They live in Hill City, South Dakota.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

On March 4, 1949, Justice Department staffer Judith Coplon and her Russian lover were arrested. The charge: spying for the Soviets. Coplon's trials and appeals would mesmerize the nation ("her fan mail rivaled that of Bette Davis," the authors report). But even after a partial vindication by the Supreme Court, there were still questions about her guilt. The husband-and-wife authors-he is a former FBI agent involved in the Coplon case-attempt to answer those questions once and for all. They painstakingly flesh out and dramatize court transcripts, especially those from Coplon's first trial, and analyze the results. It's an odd approach: imagine Court TV in print. Much weight is given to the histrionics of Coplon's lawyer; the shocking (for the time) allegations about Coplon's sex life; and the revelations about FBI perjury and illegal wiretapping. Yet the theatrical presentation fails to breathe life into the enigma that was Coplon. Perhaps most interesting is the Mitchells' ongoing dispute about key aspects of the case, especially whether or not Coplon was framed by the FBI. Regardless, it's clear now-based on declassified Venona documents and statements from former KGB officials-that she had been a Soviet spy since 1944. This is a useful addition to Cold War scholarship that will appeal to students of espionage and the Cold War era. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Oct.) Forecast: A six-city author tour and an unspecified event on the QE2 will bring attention to this. Review coverage may be aided by the release of Kathryn Olmsted's Red Spy Queen, a bio of notorious woman spy Elizabeth Bentley (Forecasts, Aug. 5), also in October. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

At the height of the Cold War in 1949, Judith Coplon was arrested and charged with spying for the Soviets. Despite having to endure two trials whose results were inconclusive, followed by two different appeals court rulings, and finally a decision by the Supreme Court in 1952 not to hear the case, Coplon remained under the shadow of further legal action until the government dropped its charges in 1967. This fascinating case, the first spying trial of the Cold War, is recounted in sprightly fashion by the husband-and-wife team of Marcia and Thomas Mitchell. At the outset, Marcia believed Coplon innocent, while her husband, who spent 17 years as an FBI agent, was equally certain of Coplon's guilt. The narrative records the day-to-day court proceedings as well as the general anti-Communist hysteria of the period. The FBI used questionable tactics, such as illegal wiretaps, to obtain its evidence, which ultimately led to difficulties in the courts. As it turns out, information that recently became available from the Venona Project (the National Security Agency's program to decrypt Soviet KGB and GRU messages) shows conclusively that Coplon was indeed a Soviet agent. Despite Coplon's guilt, her case revealed how the FBI exceeded its legal limitations in the search for spies. This is an important study that sheds light not only on Cold War spying but also on the FBI's counterespionage activities in the late 1940s. For most collections.DEd Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.