Briefly: Judith Coplon

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Judith Coplon, who died on 26 February at the age of 89, was a Justice Department employee from Brooklyn who was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union in an early Cold War trial. She had been caught with secret documents at a meeting with a Russian agent on a Manhattan street. Coplon claimed she was meeting him because she loved him, but she was found guilty at two trials in New York and Washington.

The convictions were overturned and the cases were eventually dropped. Coplon married one of her lawyers, raised four children in Brooklyn and became an educator and supporter of literacy.

Americans had just begun hearing about Alger Hiss and Russian espionage when the FBI intercepted Soviet cables between KGB stations in Moscow and New York that made them believe that an agent code-named "Sima" was Coplon, who had won a citizenship award in high school. "She had a job right there in the Justice Department, so it became a high priority for the FBI because this was someone in their own shop," the Cold War historian John Earl Haynes said. "This was a time when there was something of a drought in terms of KGB sources, and it turned out she was one of their most productive agents."

The FBI arranged for a fake but important-looking document to be fed to her. "She immediately said she had to leave Washington to see her family in New York, and about two dozen FBI men followed her," said Haynes.

The FBI tracked Coplon to a meeting with the Russian agent Valentin Gubitchev and found she had the fake document – and some real ones.

Haynes said Coplon's real motive was ideological, adding that she had been a member of the Young Communists while at Barnard College – as assertion her family disputes. Emily Socolov said her mother was "completely operating on principle, purely her idealism for peace and justice. She was never self-serving."