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David Greenglass’ False Grand Jury Testimony Against his Sister Ethel Rosenberg “The Smoking Gun” in Espionage Case, Still Classified

October 16, 2014
Police photos of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Source: Exhibits from the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Case File, 03/13/1951 - 03/27/1951)

Police photos of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Source: Exhibits from the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Case File, 03/13/1951 – 03/27/1951)

On the condition that he be paid for his story, David Greenglass agreed to give New York Times reporter Sam Roberts an interview for what would become Roberts’ 2001 book, “The Brother: The Untold Story of Atomic Spy David Greenglass and How He Sent His Sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the Electric Chair.” During the course of their sessions, Greenglass admitted to Roberts “he had lied on the witness stand about the single most incriminating evidence against his sister — that she typed his handwritten notes for delivery to the Soviets. Without that testimony, Ethel Rosenberg might well have never been convicted, much less executed.”

Greenglass, who justified providing false testimony against his sister in order to protect his wife Ruth for her minor role in the conspiracy, died earlier this week at the age of 92.

Page from Ethel Rosenbergs August 7, 1950, testimony.

Page from Ethel Rosenberg’s August 7, 1950, testimony.

In 2008, the National Security Archive – represented by David Vladeck who was then with Public Citizen and is now at Georgetown Law School – and a coalition of historians brought legal action against the federal government to obtain copies of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg grand jury transcripts. The action won the release of most of the transcripts, which “cast significant doubt on the key prosecution charge used to convict Ethel Rosenberg at the trial and sentence her to death.”

FBI records support the case for doubt, and show David and Ruth Greenglass waited until just ten days before to trial to report that Ethel typed up the information David obtained from his job at the Los Alamos for passing to Julius Rosenberg.  This omission raised questions as to why Greenglass did not report Ethel’s treasonous behavior earlier.

ethelarrestDavid Greenglass’ testimony, which was described as “the smoking gun” in his sister’s conviction, was withheld from the 2008 release and is still secret.

For more information on the Rosenberg spy case and the Archive’s work to release the case’s grand just testimonies, see the Archive’s postings, Rosenberg Grand Jury Files Released and More Cold War Espionage Transcripts Unsealed.

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