The Case of Colonel Abel
Journal of National Security Law & Policy, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2011
39 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2010 Last revised: 16 Jun 2016
Date Written: September 16, 2010
In June 2010, journalists for the Associated Press reported the arrest of ten Russian spies, all suspected of being “deep-cover” illegal agents in the United States. Seeking to convey the magnitude of this event, the journalists wrote in the first paragraphs of their article that this “blockbuster series of arrests” might even be as significant as the FBI’s “famous capture of Soviet Col. Rudolf Abel in 1957 in New York.” Colonel Abel’s story of American justice at a time of acute anxiety about the nation’s security is one that continues to resonate today. The honor, and error, that is contained in that story offer lessons worth remembering as the American and Russian systems of justice struggle with a new common enemy, international terrorists.
This paper examines three topics: (1) the appointment of counsel for Abel, (2) the pretrial investigation and trial work conducted by his defense counsel, and (3) the defense’s motion to suppress evidence, a motion that led to two separate oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court. Comparisons are made between the American and Russian systems of criminal procedure. Similarities and differences are also explored between the treatment in the United States of a suspected Soviet spy in 1957 and suspected terrorists fifty years later.
Keywords: Rudolf Abel, Criminal Procedure, Comparative Law, Counterterrorism
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