Read Venona Intercepts The September 21, 1944 cable: The Rosenbergs and the Greenglasses Back to Intro
This cable documents the act that eventually led to the downfall of Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg and their execution in 1953—namely, the recruitment of Ruth
Greenglass, Ethel's sister-in-law. Ultimately, it was Ruth and David Greenglass
who implicated the Rosenbergs, who became the only persons put to death for
espionage in the U.S. during the Cold War.
The Greenglasses were ardent Communists. During the war, David was drafted and
became a skilled machinist in an Army ordnance unit. He was transferred to Los
Alamos in August 1944, the same month as Klaus Fuchs. There he joined a group
that designed models of high-tech bomb parts, including implosion detonators
for the plutonium bomb, the type eventually dropped on Nagasaki.
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg leave federal court following
their indictment on espionage charges, August 23, 1950.
Ruth Greenglass told Julius Rosenberg about her husband's work. By then, Julius
("Liberal" in this cable) was heading up a sizeable group of spies working for
the Soviets. As the cable suggests, Julius set about recruiting Ruth to join
his group, with an eye to eventually pulling in her husband (see also November
14, 1944 cable). In this cable, Ruth's name is in clear text, because she's
just being introduced to the Soviets; soon she would be given the cover name
Osa ("Wasp"). In November, David wrote a letter to his wife saying he
"most certainly will be glad to be part of the community that Julius and his
friends have in mind." And so he was, under the cover name Kalibr
Just as Klaus Fuchs' confession led the FBI to Harry Gold, so did Gold's
confession guide them straight to David Greenglass. Gold told the FBI that
while most of his trips to Los Alamos were to pick up goods from Fuchs, he once
received materials from someone he described, according to his FBI
interrogators, as "a soldier, non-commissioned, married, no children (name not
When the FBI confronted David Greenglass, he confessed. Not one to bear up
well, he also implicated not only Julius Rosenberg but also his own wife. Ruth,
when questioned, corroborated her husband's statements about Julius'
recruiting. Later, the Greenglasses also implicated Ethel, claiming she knew
all about Julius' spying activities and even typed up espionage-related
documents for him.
Left: David Greenglass on June 16, 1950, shortly
after his arrest by the FBI. Right: Ruth Greenglass testifying at the Rosenberg
trial on March 14, 1951.
David Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while his wife escaped
prosecution. The Rosenbergs were not so fortunate. Convicted of conspiracy to
provide atomic secrets to the USSR, they were sentenced to death. According to
John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, authors of Venona: Decoding Espionage in
America, U.S. authorities never expected to carry out the executions.
Rather, they thought the death sentence would force Julius to confess. He
didn't, and neither did Ethel, and both died in the electric chair on June 19,
In a December 5th, 2001, Associated Press story, David admitted he lied
under oath about his sister Ethel's involvement to reduce his own sentence and
keep his wife Ruth out of prison. In an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes II,"
David said simply, "As a spy who turned his family in ... I don't care." David
and Ruth Greenglass continue to live in the New York area under assumed
The September 21, 1944 cable
Note: Consult the footnotes at the end of the cable for identities of individuals and definitions of terms appearing in capital letters.