Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Spy Who Saved Himself

Julius Rosenberg was already passing information to the Soviets when his handler learned that his wife’s brother, David Greenglass, was working on the Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a machinist and sergeant in the U.S. Army. America did not share its atomic secrets with Russia either during nor after WWII. Russia wanted that information. Greenglass was able to pass info to Julius Rosenberg who in turn passed it to the Soviets about the atomic bomb at Los Alamos.
David Greenglass and his wife Ruth were the ones who told the U.S. government that his sister and her husband recruited him and that they had leaked information he provided to the Soviet contact agent Anatoli Yakovlev. This was enough to charge the Rosenbergs with espionage. It has in modern times come to light that the Greenglasses implicated Ethel to save themselves when there was no real evidence against her. Specifically, in 1995, the U.S. government finally released evidence showing that while Julius Rosenberg had engaged in espionage against the United States, there was no such decisive evidence against his wife Ethel who was also tried, convicted and executed of espionage. This evidence was a series of decoded Soviet cables, which showed Julius acted as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets. There was nothing about Ethel in the cables. David Greenglass recanted his testimony about Ethel typing espionage notes for Julius in 2001, "I don't know who typed it, frankly, and to this day I can't remember that the typing took place. I had no memory of that at all—none whatsoever.” He said he gave false testimony to protect his family. "I would not sacrifice my wife and my children for my sister." In 2008, another piece of evidence came in. Morton Sobell finally admitted he was a Soviet spy. He admitted working with Julius Rosenberg for the Soviets. However, he believed Ethel Rosenberg, while aware of her husband's deeds, took no part in them. Sobell was an engineer with General Electric and Reeves Electronics. In 1950, a federal grand jury was convened to hear indictments. These transcripts were made public in 2008 and show that on August 3, Ethel Rosenberg's sister-in-law, Ruth Greenglass, testified against both of them. Ruth said that in November 1944, Julius recruited Ethel and wanted her to recruit her brother David Greenglass (Ruth's husband) to help them pass information to the Soviet Union.
The grand jury indicted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on 11 overt acts of espionage. David Greenglass and Anatoli Yakovlev were both indicted too. Ethel Rosenberg was called to testify before the grand jury but she refused to answer all the questions. She was taken into custody by FBI agents. Unlike others who took deals with the government, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, when put under pressure to incriminate others involved in the spy ring, would not give any information. Neither Julius nor Ethel Rosenberg ever named anyone else during any legal proceeding. They each asserted their right under the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment to not incriminate themselves whenever asked about involvement in the Communist Party or with its members. But Ethel’s brother and his wife had been busy selling anyone else out in their bid to get a good deal from the government. David and Ruth Greenglass were reinterviewed and changed their original stories before the Rosenbergs’ trial. David previously had said that he'd passed the atomic data he'd collected to Julius on a New York street corner. The new version was that he'd given this information to Julius in the living room of the Rosenbergs' apartment. Ethel had taken notes and typed them up for her husband.
Ruth Greenglass added more saying, "Julius then took the info into the bathroom and read it and when he came out he called Ethel and told her she had to type this info immediately. Ethel then sat down at the typewriter, which she placed on a bridge table in the living room, and proceeded to type the info which David had given to Julius." All charges against Ruth were then dropped. David Greenglass served only nine and half years in prison after fully testifying against Julius and Ethel at their trial. Yet David was the one who actually gave away the secrets at Los Alamos. The prosecution was using Ethel Rosenberg. By indicting, convicting and possibly executing her, it planned to get Julius to name names of other spies. This did not work on Julius since he was a true believer. Ethel remained loyal to Julius and didn’t break either. The government ended up with everything it had asked for in bringing the Rosenbergs to trial but not really what it wanted, Julius betraying further spies so as to save Ethel.
Both Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and on April 5 were sentenced to death by Judge Irving Kaufman for transmitting or attempting to transmit to a foreign government information "relating to the national defense.” The Rosenbergs’ convictions helped fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. All of the people who named names to the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) subsequently just followed the David and Ruth Greenglass model of betrayal. The Rosenbergs were the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War.
If Ethel had had bad luck with men, both a husband and a brother who brought her to ruin, their sons, Michael and Robert, got the worst of it. They were orphaned and no one wanted them (including, of course, the Greenglasses).  They were eventually adopted by an artistic family, the Meeropols, and they took their name. When they were adults, they wrote their own book, wondering about their parents’ guilt or innocence. Although with the new evidence, which has now been released, we know that their father and their uncle were unquestionably guilty of espionage, that same evidence shows that their mother Ethel should not have been found guilty of espionage. There was not a credible case against her. One son became an economics professor and the other an attorney.

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