Robert W. Grow Court-Martial: 1952

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Robert W. Grow Court-Martial: 1952

Defendant: Robert W. Grow
Crimes Charged: The compromising of classified security information by failing to provide adequate security for the protection of a personal diary
Chief Defense Lawyer: Robert E. Joseph
Presiding Officer: John S. Dwinell
Court: Hubert D. Hoover and seven other court members
Place: Washington, D.C.
Date of Trial: July 23-29, 1952
Verdict: Guilty on five counts

SIGNIFICANCE: The Robert Grow trial was the first high-profile court-martial under the new Uniform Code of Military Justice and demonstrated that despite attempts to eliminate it, command influence still affected court-martial proceedings.

Major General Robert W. Grow was a veteran army officer who had commanded an armored division in World War II and had been instrumental in implementing early Cold War containment policy in Iran. In 1950 he became senior U.S. military attache to Moscow. In 1952 he made a mistake that resulted in his court-martial, and became an international cause celebre. East German agents photographed Grow's personal diary while he was in West Germany attending a conference. While in Frankfurt he stayed at a U.S. Army guest house that employed German personnel, and which was later found to have woefully lax security. Grow was charged with displaying poor judgment by keeping a diary that contained classified information without taking proper precautions to secure it.

Parts of Diary Published

The public learned of the problem in a highly embarrassing way. A British defector, Richard Squires, reproduced photographs of parts of the diary in a book published in East Germany called On the War Path. Squires claimed that these photographs proved Grow was calling for immediate war against the Soviet Union. Squires highlighted such phrases as, "It seems to me the time is ripe for a blow this year," and the United States should "hit below the belt," to prove that Grow was part of an international conspiracy to unleash another world war.

American newspapers paid great attention to the story of the warmongering general, to the army's great embarrassment. The Pentagon, rather than dismissing the allegations as propaganda, added fuel to the fire when the army chief of information confirmed the diary's authenticity and declared it had been photographed in "an inside job." He did not reveal, and possibly did not know, that some of the excerpts were total fabrications, and that Squires had twisted others to give a false impression of Grow's views. After consulting the State Department, Lieutenant General Maxwell D. Taylor, deputy chief of staff for operations and administration, and Major General Alexander Bolling, assistant chief of staff for intelligence, decided to investigate. Eventually the army gave Grow the option of voluntary retirement or facing a court-martial. Grow, who did not believe that his diary contained any classified information, chose court-martial. He argued that the Soviets' publication of the extracts proved that the diary had no intelligence value. To Grow's way of thinking there was nothing in his diary not already well-known to Soviet State Security. Instead, he believed that publication was a ploy to get him out of Moscow because of his success as an intelligence observer.

Grow Is Charged

The army chose not to challenge the truth of Squires's account. The chief of staff had ordered Grow not to make any public statements, so there was no official contradiction of Squires's accusations. The lack of any rebuttal led to public and congressional pressure to remove Grow from the army. In April, despite the opposition of the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Grow was charged under Army Regulation 380-5. The case against Grow was classified as "secret," which allowed the army to exclude the press from the trial. The army publicly stated that it had charged Grow with improperly recording classified information in private records and failing to safeguard that information.

Grow selected a Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps attorney, Colonel Robert E. Joseph, to defend him, even though the recently enacted Uniform Code of Military Justice allowed him to have a civilian attorney. Joseph immediately ran into trouble in mounting a defense. His request to declassify the charge sheet without deletion or alteration so he could prepare for trial was denied, as were his repeated requests to be temporarily transferred to Europe to interview potential witnesses. During the pretrial investigationa form of preliminary hearingJoseph attacked the army's case on two points. He alleged that the inspector general had improperly taken the diary from Grow in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, and that the officer who signed the charge sheet, Colonel C. Robert Bard, was not Grow's actual accuser. When Joseph asked Bard who had told him to sign the charge sheet, Bard replied that Ernest Brannon, the judge advocate general, had ordered him to do it, but Brannon refused to say who had ordered him to proceed against Grow, claiming this information was covered by attorney-client privilege. Joseph insisted that Grow had the right to know the identity of his real accuser, but this argument got him nowhere. Other shadows arose. When Joseph questioned Bard about the specifications he had prepared concerning the classification of military information, Bard quickly admitted he was not a security expert and that he was an "Indian" and not a "Chief," which further suggested improper command influence over the proceedings.

Joseph faced other roadblocks, although the pretrial investigation was supposed to be a "thorough and impartial investigation of all matters." Joseph was unable to view all the pertinent documents, and several of his requests for copies were denied. He moved, unsuccessfully, to suppress and return the diary, pointing out that Generals Dwight Eisenhower, Mark Clark, and Omar Bradley had all keptand publishedpersonal journals. He also questioned General Bolling about his or General Taylor's influence over the proceedings. Bolling refused to answer any questions about his conversations with Taylor, and Taylor was equally uncooperative.

After the pretrial investigation, the army filed an additional charge against Grow, saying his recording of reported plans of the Soviet Far Eastern Revolutionary Committee for a large offensive in Korea in April 1951 by the Chinese Army was a violation of Article 134 of the UCMJ. On May 31, 1952, Colonel Frederick Matthews, the pretrial investigating officer, recommended a general court-martial. Like the pretrial hearing, the court-martial was closed to the public.

During the trial, Joseph was unable to call General Bolling, who was said to be "unavailable," and he only received a prepared stipulation from General Taylor. The trial proceeded along the same lines as the pretrial investigation. Grow's counsel moved to dismiss all charges and specifications for lack of jurisdiction, claiming that the convening authority, General Brooks of the Second Army, was inferior in rank and command to the actual accuser, (Bolling, Taylor, or the Secretary of the Army). The law officer, General Hubert Hoover, denied both motions. During the trial, Grow's counsel again objected to the diary's being entered into evidence. The prosecutor maintained that Grow had surrendered it voluntarily, so that there had been no unlawful seizure. The law officer agreed that the diary was admissible.

Debate on the Classification of the Diary

From this point on, argument about the security classification of the diary dominated the proceedings. Prosecution witnesses maintained the contents were "secret" and defense witnesses claimed they were common knowledge in Moscow diplomatic circles. On July 29, Grow himself took the stand, swearing that he had not recorded anything that was not widely known. "I treated the diary in about the same manner as you would treat a personal letter," he commented. "I did not treat it in the sense of a military document, but rather in the sense of a personal classified document." But this statement, coupled with his January 18, 1952, remark that the diary had been photographed "in Germany when my security was lax," counted against him. With deliberations of less than an hour, the court convicted him of two counts of dereliction of duty and two counts of security infractions. He was reprimanded and suspended from command for six months. Only after the trial did the public discover that many of the sentiments that Squires attributed to Grow were forgeries. The case was appealed and ultimately came before President Eisenhower in 1957, who approved the findings but remitted the sentence.

Grow's trial took place during the Korean War and the Red Scare. It displayed the army's lack of finesse in dealing with the effects of Soviet espionage and propaganda, and its desire to be seen to act severely against security breeches. It also demonstrated the persistence of command influence over military proceedings.

Carol Willcox Melton

Suggestions for Further Reading

Aycock, William B., and Seymour W. Wurfel. Military Law, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1955.

Generous, William T., Jr. Sword and Scales: The Development of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1973.

Hofmann, George F. Cold War Casualty: The Court-Martial of Major General Robert W. Grow. Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1993.