A Stone for Willy Fisher


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(5) It is possible that in the foreseeable future an American of equivalent rank will be captured by Soviet Russia or an ally; at such time an exchange of prisoners through diplomatic channels could be considered to be in the best interest of the United States.
Donovan also argued with respect to a term of imprisonment that, in similar circumstances dating from the 1920s, France had imposed an average sentence of three years. He pointed out that in Britain, prosecution under the Official Secrets Act (the sole statute dealing with such matters) the maximum sentence was 14 years. He closed his argument by saying, "The defendant Abel is a man 55 years old. He has faithfully served his country. Whether right or wrong, it is his country, and I ask only that the court consider that we are legally at peace with that country. I ask that the judgment of the court be based on logic, and justice tempered with mercy."
The court sentenced Abel to 30, 10, and 5 years on the respective counts as well as fines totaling $3,000. Thus, Abel was to serve 30 years, less time off for good behavior. Donovan appealed the case. The appeals were unsuccessful and Abel was sent to the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta to serve his term.5
On 1 May 1960 Francis Gary Powers, piloting a U-2 aircraft over the Soviet Union, was shot down near Sverdlovsk. Powers was subsequently tried and convicted. After protracted and involved negotiations, Donovan arranged an exchange of Abel for Powers, and on 10 February 1962 at the Glienicker Bridge in Berlin, Abel was turned over to the Soviets and Powers accompanied Donovan back to freedom.
About the Man
William August Fisher, alias Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, survived a lengthy career in a clandestine service, successfully for the major part, largely because he left no footprints where he walked. Willy Fisher was impatient with his first boss, Alexander Orlov, because Fisher believed that Orlov was too careless and indifferent to basic tradecraft. The dissolute Hayhanen must have driven Fisher to distraction. James Donovan, his court-appointed (and unpaid) attorney, said, "For the Colonel's court-assigned lawyer, the long hours were more than compensated by the fascination of the case. Part of this was the nature of the legal issues and their challenge, but most of it was the man Abel." Many of the insights into the character of Fisher are found in the detailed diary Donovan kept. For example, his disciplined character is illustrated by detailed instructions for appeal given to his attorney. Donovan remarked, "Rudolf, I concluded, must have been a hard man to please when on the job." To have been a second lieutenant under Colonel Abel in his heyday must have required self-discipline and meticulous attention to every detail. Hayhanen had never made the grade.
5Abel was aggravated at the severity of his sentence because Master Sergeant Roy Adair Rhodes, USA, who had testified against him on a collateral matter, had received a sentence of only three years on a conviction of multiple counts of espionage. Rhodes had been compromised by the KGB while serving with the US Embassy in Moscow and later provided the Soviets with data from NSA and other sources in return for considerable sums of money.

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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 03:03 PM