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David Greenglass

Birthplace: Manhattan, New York, New York County, New York, United States
Death: July 01, 2014 (92)
New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Barnet Greenglass and Theresa Greenglass
Husband of Ruth Greenglass
Brother of Ethel Rosenberg and Bernard Abraham Greenglass
Half brother of Sam Greenglass

Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
Last Updated:

About David Greenglass

David Greenglass (born March 2, 1922) was an atomic spy for the Soviet Union who worked on the Manhattan project. He provided testimony that helped convict his sister and brother-in-law Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were executed for their spying activity. Greenglass served nine and half years in prison. He later claimed that, at the urging of prosecutors, he lied at the Rosenbergs' trial to protect himself and his wife.

Contents [show] Early life and career[edit] Born in New York City, Greenglass married Ruth 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 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.[citation needed]

Julius Rosenberg became a Soviet agent working under Alexander Feklissov. [1] In September 1944, Rosenberg suggested to Feklissov that he should consider recruiting his brother-in-law, David Greenglass and his wife. Feklissov met the couple and on 21st September, he reported to Moscow: "They are young, intelligent, capable, and politically developed people, strongly believing in the cause of communism and wishing to do their best to help our country as much as possible. They are undoubtedly devoted to us (the Soviet Union)." [2] David wrote to his wife: "My darling, I most certainly will be glad to be part of the community project (espionage) that Julius and his friends (the Russians) have in mind." [3]

After Julius Rosenberg recommended his sister-in-law Ruth Greenglass to his NKVD superiors for the use of her apartment as a safe house for photography, the NKVD realized that David was working on the Manhattan Project. David Greenglass was then recruited into Soviet espionage by his wife at Rosenberg's behest.[4] Julius Rosenberg was relieved of his duties by the NKVD after government officials had discovered his membership in the Communist Party and fired him from the United States Signal Corps. 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".[4]

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. He continued his contacts with the Soviets after World War II independent of Julius Rosenberg.[5]

In 1950, UK and US intelligence agencies discovered that a Los Alamos theoretical physicist, Klaus Fuchs, had spied 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.[6]

Trial and aftermath[edit] David Greenglass was arrested by the FBI for espionage in June 1950 and quickly implicated Julius Rosenberg. He explicitly denied his sister Ethel's involvement when he testified before a grand jury testimony in August 1950. In February 1951, weeks before the trial, 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 indicted. Greenglass told the court, "I had a kind of hero worship there with Julius Rosenberg and I did not want my hero to fail..."[7]

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 molds into which were poured the elements of 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".[7] 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[7] and information about a speculative space platform which would sit between the Earth and the Moon.[citation needed] However, Aleksander Feklisov also claimed that Julius Rosenberg supplied him with a whole proximity fuze, which would corroborate at least this part of Greenglass' testimony.[8] During the trial, Bloch claimed Greenglass wanted revenge for the machine shop business failure. Bloch attempted to discredit Greenglass' character and testimony.

At Greenglass' sentencing hearing, his attorney O. John Rogge repeatedly told the court his client deserved "a pat on the back" for his testimony and argued that a light sentence, no more than five years, would encourage others to follow his example. Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison.[9] He was released after nine and a half years and reunited with his wife.[10]

In March 1953, three months before the Rosenbergs' executions, he wrote a letter for his attorney to deliver to President Eisenhower asking for their sentences to be commuted to prison terms so that they would have an opportunity to confess. He wrote: "if these two die, I shall live the rest of my life with a very dark shadow on my conscience". He described his own testimony as "an act of contrition for the wrong I had done my country, my family and myself" and explained how he now viewed its consequences: "Here I had to take the choice of hurting someone dear to me, and I took it deliberately. I could not believe that this would be the outcome. May God in His mercy change that awful sentence."[11] That same month he admitted he had stolen a few ounces of uranium 238 from a bomb laboratory at Los Alamos years before and had tossed it into the East River in 1950 after he first denied having stolen it.[11]

Later years[edit] After his release in 1960, Greenglass and his family 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 and claimed he had lied under oath about the extent of his sister Ethel's involvement in the spying plot in order to protect his wife. At the trial, Greenglass had testified that Ethel Rosenberg typed his notes to give to the Russians, though he now intimated that Ruth had done 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." [12] The role of Ethel Rosenberg in her husband's espionage ring remains a matter of dispute.[13][14]

In 2008, when a group of academic historians sought the release of the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings that indicted the Rosenbergs, Greenglass objected to the government's release of his testimony. U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein declined to order the release of the testimony of Greenglass and other surviving witnesses who withheld their consent or could not be located.[15]

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David Greenglass's Timeline

March 2, 1922
Manhattan, New York, New York County, New York, United States
July 1, 2014
Age 92
New York, United States