The Spy Who Turned His Family In, Dies

An American spy who passed nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union in one of the most high-profile espionage scandals of the Cold War, has died.

David Greenglass, who was 92, stole atomic research data while working on the wartime Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

After being arrested he then lied on oath and gave evidence which sent his own sister to the electric chair.

Greenglass’s death was in July but it has only now been reported.

A native New Yorker, Greenglass secured a role on the Manhattan Project after being drafted into the army following the outbreak of World War Two.

The project was America’s top secret attempt to develop the world’s first nuclear weapon.

But Greenglass, a young convert to Communism, began passing highly classified information to his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg – a Soviet spy who was married to his sister Ethel.

After being arrested in 1950, Greenglass testified that during one meeting with Rosenberg he had seen Ethel typing up notes.

But speaking to a reporter years later he admitted that he had lied in order to save the life of his own wife Ruth, who had also been arrested after attending the same meeting.

Over the following years serious doubts began to emerge about Ethel’s execution.

“As a spy who turned his family in… I don’t care. I sleep well,” he told the journalist in 2001.

The Rosenbergs were both executed for treason. Greenglass, meanwhile, served 10 years of a 15-year sentence for espionage and was released in 1960.

After his release he lived with his family in anonymity as controversy over the Rosenberg case rose and ebbed over the decades.

Greenglass said that while history might blame him for the Rosenbergs’ deaths he hadn’t known that would be their fate — and that in any case his own family came first. He said he had been urged to lie by prosecutors, among them Roy Cohn, later a key aide to anti-communism crusader Joseph McCarthy.

To some he came to be seen as a symbol of betrayal. In the 1989 Woody Allen movie Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen’s character says of his smug and annoying brother-in-law: “I love him like a brother — David Greenglass.”

In a statement on Tuesday the Rosenbergs’ sons Michael and Robert said that David and Ruth Greenglass were the ones who passed atomic secrets on to the Soviets, then “pinned what they did on our parents — a calculated ploy to save themselves by fingering our parents as the scapegoats the government demanded”.

The Rosenberg sons cited the 2001 interview in which Greenglass said he expected to be remembered “as a spy who turned his family in”.

“He was right,” the sons said.

Greenglass remained estranged for the rest of his life from the Rosenbergs’ sons, who were six and 10 when their parents were executed. The brothers later took their adoptive parents’ surname, Meeropol.

He died in New York City on 1 July, according to the Rosenbergs’ sons.

The brothers were aware of the death earlier but but did not seek media attention.

Source Credits: BBC News and The Guardian

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