Rosenberg Transcripts Show Possible Perjury

WASHINGTON — Newly released U.S. grand jury transcripts add strong evidence to the argument that the conviction and execution of Ethel Rosenberg in the Cold War's biggest espionage case were based on perjured prosecution testimony.

In recent years, one of the two key witnesses against Rosenberg recanted his testimony. It now appears that the other witness made up her testimony too. The witnesses were Ethel's brother and sister-in-law, David and Ruth Greenglass.

Thanks to the work of a team of lawyers and historians, the government released the grand jury testimony that formed the basis for the charges against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

At the Rosenbergs' trial, the Greenglasses testified that Ethel Rosenberg had typed stolen atomic secrets from notes provided by David Greenglass. The testimony provided the direct involvement the jury needed to convict and that the judge in the case needed to sentence Ethel Rosenberg to death.

On Thursday, after spending several hours poring over the transcripts, the lawyers and historians spotted a major omission in Ruth Greenglass' testimony to the grand jury. Nowhere does Ruth Greenglass tell the story about seeing Ethel Rosenberg type up the secrets.

In fact, in her grand jury testimony, Ruth Greenglass says she herself wrote out the secrets in longhand. That testimony is consistent with subsequently decrypted Soviet cables from the time in which the Soviets describe material received from the Rosenbergs as being in longhand.

Also Thursday, a man who was convicted with the Rosenbergs on espionage charges in 1951 admitted for the first time that he spied for the Soviet Union.

Morton Sobell, 91, who was released from prison in 1969, told The New York Times that he turned over military secrets to the Soviets during World War II.

Sobell said he believed that Ethel Rosenberg was aware of espionage by her husband but did not actively participate. "What was she guilty of? Of being Julius' wife," he said.

"The Rosenberg case illustrates the excesses that can occur when we're afraid," said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel to the National Security Archive, a private group that fought in court to get the testimony released.