David Greenglass

David Greenglass
Mugshot of David Greenglass.

David Greenglass (b. March 3, 1922(1922-03-03) in New York City) was an atomic spy for the Soviet Union who worked in the Manhattan project. He was the brother of Ethel Rosenberg.



David Greenglass was recruited into Soviet espionage by his wife, Ruth Greenglass, at the behest of his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg.[1] The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953 after being convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage with regard to American atomic secrets. Greenglass reportedly shared an interest in Communism with the Rosenbergs. Greenglass would later claim that he lied at the Rosenberg trial in order "to protect himself and his wife, Ruth, and that he was encouraged by the prosecution to do so."[2]

Born on March 2, 1922, Greenglass married Ruth (née Printz) in 1942, when she was 18 years old. The two joined the Young Communist League shortly before Greenglass entered the U.S. Army in 1943. A machinist at the Army base in Jackson, Mississippi, Greenglass was promoted to sergeant and assigned to the secret Manhattan Project, the wartime project to develop the first atomic weapons. He was first stationed at the massive uranium enrichment facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and later worked at the Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico. Greenglass humorously related how he slept through the first test of the atomic bomb and made artificial diamonds at the Los Alamos machine shop where he worked.

After Julius Rosenberg recommended Ruth to his KGB superiors for the use of her apartment as a safe house for photography, the KGB realized that David was working on the Manhattan Project to produce the first atomic bomb. After Julius Rosenberg was relieved of his duties by the KGB because they feared discovery (he had been fired from his job with the United States Signal Corps because they had discovered his membership in the Communist Party), David began to pass nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union via the Soviet courier Harry Gold and more directly with a Soviet official in New York City. Greenglass was a spy for about two years, from November 1944 until he left the military in 1946. According to the Venona project intercepts decrypted by the NSA between 1944 and sometime in the 1970s, both David and his wife Ruth were given code names. David was codenamed "KALIBR" and Ruth "OSA".[1] Greenglass defended himself in court by stating that when he began his work, the Soviet Union was still an ally of the United States. After the war Greenglass, his brother Bernie, and Julius Rosenberg ran a small machine shop which had failed by 1947. Their shop was located in Manhattan in New York City.

According to KGB materials published in the book THE HAUNTED WOOD, David continued his contacts with the Soviets after World War II independent of Julius Rosenberg. [FN: See FINAL VERDICT by Walter Schneir -- p. 145]

In 1950, UK and US intelligence agencies discovered that a Los Alamos theoretical physicist, Klaus Fuchs, had also been a spy for the USSR during the war. Through Fuchs' confession, they found that one of his American contacts had been a man named Harry Gold from Brooklyn, New York. Gold had passed Fuchs' information on to a Soviet agent, performing the role of courier, and Anatoli Yakovlev would then pass the information on to his "controllers" in the USSR. Through Gold, the FBI's trail led to Greenglass and the Rosenbergs, who had allegedly also used Gold as a courier. When Fuchs was first captured, Julius allegedly gave the Greenglasses $5,000 to finance an escape to Mexico. Instead, they went to the Catskills and used the money to seek legal advice.

David Greenglass was arrested by the FBI for espionage in June 1950 and quickly implicated the Rosenbergs. He had explicitly denied his sister Ethel Rosenberg's involvement in his Grand Jury testimony in February 1950, but by August of the same year he changed his testimony to claim that Ethel had typed up his notes. He testified against his sister and her husband in court in 1951 as part of an immunity agreement. In exchange for that testimony, the government allowed Ruth to stay with their two children. She was named a co-conspirator, but was never arrested, indicted or prosecuted. David told the court, "I had a kind of hero worship there with Julius Rosenberg and I did not want my hero to fail..." [3]

Greenglass's sketch of an implosion-type nuclear weapon design, illustrating what he gave the Rosenbergs to pass on to the Soviet Union.

During subsequent testimony in 1951, Greenglass related in detail the secrets he passed on to the Soviet Union. He falsely attributed passing the cross-section drawing of the Atom Bomb to the Soviets through Julius and he also acknowledged passing other sketches through Gold. He described his work on the implosion lenses used for the "Trinity" test and the bomb used on Nagasaki, "Fat Man." At first this was a matter of difficulty for the prosecution, who wanted Greenglass to testify in open court about the secrets he had given—something which would by definition make them no longer "secret." The Atomic Energy Commission decided that the "implosion" concept could be declassified for the trial, and limited all discussion to the weapons used in World War II (fearing that Greenglass may have seen prototypes for future weapons while at Los Alamos). As a result of a surprise defense motion that all testimony about the alleged "secret of the atomic bomb" be impounded, Federal Judge Irving Kaufman at first made all spectators and news reporters leave the room when Greenglass began testifying about his "secrets".[3]

Because we now know that the testimony Greenglass gave about passing the information to Julius Rosenberg in September, 1945 to have been false [See Schneir, FINAL VERDICT, pp. 131-144] the defense's strategy begins to make sense. Julius Rosenberg had no knowledge of any of this and so his attorney's effort to demonstrate the defendant's "concern" for national security appeared a gamble worth taking.

Ten minutes later Judge Kaufman invited the news reporters back in, asking them to use their discretion in reporting on Greenglass's testimony. Defense attorney Bloch's effort to convince the jury that he and his clients were concerned about issues of national security failed. The Greenglass testimony, later seen to be crude and in the words of many scientists who examined it "worthless," remained sealed until 1966. Greenglass also testified that Rosenberg had stolen and given to the Russians a proximity fuze [3] and information about a speculative space platform which would sit between the Earth and the Moon.[citation needed]

During the trial, Bloch claimed Greenglass wanted revenge for the machine shop business failure. Bloch attempted to discredit the character of Greenglass and his testimony (a legal tactic which failed with the jury). Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison, served 10 years, and later successfully reunited with his wife.[citation needed]

After his release in 1960, the Greenglasses lived in New York City under an assumed name; for some years they lived at 130-73 228th Street in the Laurelton section of Queens. In 1996, Greenglass recanted his sworn testimony in an interview with New York Times reporter Sam Roberts, claiming that he had lied under oath about the extent of the involvement in the spying plot by his sister Ethel, in order to protect his wife, Ruth. At the trial, Greenglass had testified that Ethel Rosenberg typed his notes to give to the Russians, though he now intimated that it had been Ruth who did the typing. Greenglass explained, "Look, I had a wife and two children. I didn’t care so much what happened to me, but I cared what happened to them.” When Roberts asked Greenglass if he would have done anything differently, he replied, "Never." [4]

It is important in this context to recall that Ethel Rosenberg was never given a code name in the VENONA decryptions. Government officials candidly admitted that she was arrested to use as a lever against her husband.

Some former Soviet intelligence agents, including Morton Sobell, have claimed that they believed Ethel was not an active part of Julius' espionage ring, and Greenglass' crude drawings were not very useful to them since they already possessed Klaus Fuchs' superior information.[5] However, this has been disputed by other intelligence records and the statements of Nikita Khrushchev.[6] No explanation has yet been made as to why Soviet intelligence later secretly recommended the Rosenbergs for a Soviet medal for acts unrelated to espionage.[citation needed]

In 2008, when the government sought to release transcripts of the Rosenbergs' grand jury proceedings, Greenglass objected to the release of his testimony. As a result, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein declined to release the testimony of Greenglass and other witnesses who refused consent, or who could not be confirmed as dead, or located to obtain consent.[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b http://www.nsa.gov/venona/releases/14_Nov_1944_R1.gif
  2. ^ "False testimony clinched Rosenberg spy trial". BBC News. December 6, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1695240.stm. Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  3. ^ a b c David Greenglass, Witness for the Prosecution, Trial Transcript, March 1951
  4. ^ A Brother's Betrayal: Interview by Robert Siegel with Sam Roberts, NPR, Oct. 9, 2001
  5. ^ Roberts, Sam (September 12, 2008). "For First Time, Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits Spying for Soviets". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/12/nyregion/12spy.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss. Retrieved May 7, 2010. "Sobell, who served nearly 19 years in Alcatraz and other federal prisons, admitted for the first time that he had been a Soviet spy." 
  6. ^ McFadden, Robert (1990-09-25). "Khrushchev on Rosenbergs: Stoking Old Embers". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/09/25/world/khrushchev-on-rosenbergs-stoking-old-embers.html. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  7. ^ 58 years later, records unsealed in Rosenberg spy case, CNN, July 23, 2008

Further reading

  • Robert Lamphere and Tom Shachtman, The FBI-KGB War (New York: Random House, 1986)
  • Roberts, Sam (2003) [2001]. The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case (2003 Random House Trade Paperback edition ed.). New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 0-375-76124-1. 
  • Ehrman, John. Book Review of "The Brother" by Sam Roberts, Studies in Intelligence (Unclassified) 46:4 (2002). Retrieved April 4, 2006.
  • Richard C.S. Trahair and Robert Miller, Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations (New York: Enigma Books, 2009) ISBN 978-1-929631-75-9
  • Subject of Richard Greenberg play "Our Mother's Brief Affair"
  • Walter Schneir "FINAL VERDICT, What Really Happened in the Rosenberg Case?" NY: Melville House, 2010. (with a Preface and Afterword by Miriam Schneir) ISBN 978-I-935554-16-5

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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