of convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg admits to
lying under oath
By RICHARD PYLE
NEW YORK (December 5, 2001 08:16 a.m.
EST) - Nearly 50 years after convicted
Soviet spy Ethel Rosenberg was
executed, her brother has admitted that he
lied under oath to save himself. He says
he is unconcerned that his perjury may
have sent his sister and her husband to
the electric chair.
"As a spy who turned his family in ...
I don't care," David Greenglass
says in a television interview to be
broadcast Wednesday. "I sleep very
The admission may shed new light on the
Rosenberg case, one of the most infamous
events of the Cold War. Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg were executed in Sing Sing
prison in June 1953, two years after a
sensational trial on charges of conspiring
to steal U.S. atomic secrets for the
They were the only people ever executed
in the United States for Cold War
espionage, and their conviction helped
give fuel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy's
Greenglass, now 79, makes the
disclosure of false testimony in "The
Brother," a new book by veteran New York
Times editor Sam Roberts, and in a
taped interview to be broadcast Wednesday
on the CBS program "60 Minutes II."
Ethel's younger brother, admits in the
book that he, too, was a spy who gave
the Soviets information about atomic
research and a detonator invented by
When the Rosenbergs came to trial,
Greenglass also was under indictment and
worried that he and his wife, Ruth,
would be convicted. He says Roy
Cohn, an assistant prosecutor and
later aide to McCarthy, encouraged him to
In court, Greenglass delivered what
would be the most incriminating testimony
against Ethel Rosenberg: that she
transcribed his spy notes destined for
Moscow on a portable Remington typewriter.
His wife corroborated his testimony.
But now, Greenglass tells author
Roberts that he based his account entirely
on his wife's recollection, not on his
own. In the TV interview, he says, "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."
Roberts writes in his book,
"Handwritten or typed, the notes contained
little or nothing that was new. But from
the prosecution's perspective, the
Remington was as good as a smoking gun in
Ethel Rosenberg's hands."
In the TV interview, Greenglass is
asked why the Rosenbergs went to their
deaths rather than admit espionage.
"One word - stupidity," Greenglass
replies. Asked whether that makes Ethel
responsible for her own death, he says,
admits he is sometimes haunted by the
Rosenberg case, but adds, "My wife
says, 'Look, we're still
Should he ever encounter the pair's two
sons, Greenglass says, he would tell them
he was "sorry that your parents are dead,"
but would not apologize for his part in
"I had no idea they would give them the
death sentence," he tells "60 Minutes
In the book, subtitled "The Untold
Story of Atomic Spy David Greenglass and
How He Sent His Sister Ethel Rosenberg to
the Electric Chair," Greenglass admits to
further perjury in court and before a
congressional committee - all aimed at
gaining leniency for himself and keeping
his wife out of prison.
Sentenced to 15 years, Greenglass was
released in 1960. He lives in the New York
area under an assumed name.
The Rosenberg case became a political
cause celebre with anti-Semitic overtones.
While some historians say evidence against
Ethel Rosenberg was weak compared with
that against her husband, the pair's
refusal to admit spying for Moscow added
to public fears of a nuclear showdown with
"This was a time when people were
terrified," Roberts said in an interview
with The Associated Press. "There was no
way the Russians could have obtained the
atomic bomb without stealing it from
Roberts said the late William
Rogers, a deputy U.S. attorney general
in 1951 and later President Nixon's
secretary of state, told him the
government had expected Ethel Rosenberg to
save herself by providing incriminating
evidence against Julius.
But in the end, "she called our bluff,"
Some tidbits of Cold War espionage lore
related by Roberts are almost comic.
According to Roberts, Greenglass admitted
sleeping through the first A-bomb test,
using atomic implosion technology to make
artificial diamonds, and being picked up
while hitchhiking by Lt. Gen. Leslie
Groves, head of the top-secret
Manhattan Project that developed the