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Rosenberg Spy Case Files Ordered Unsealed

POSTED: 12:29 PM ET, 07/23/2008 by Derek Kravitz

A federal judge in New York has ruled that sealed grand jury testimony from the 1951 indictment of alleged Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg must be released, the latest twist in a decades-long quest to find out if the suspected spies were innocent.

The National Security Archive joined with the Rosenberg family, scholars and historians to petition for the release of all grand jury records related to the indictment, conviction and execution of the Rosenbergs in 1953.

U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein said he will order the release of the testimony of 36 witnesses, reserving ruling on three others that appear to be dead and four that could not be found, The Associated Press reports.

Hellerstein ruled that the testimony of Ethel Rosenberg's brother, David Greenglass, be left closed, saying he agreed with the government's stance that their privacy "overrides the public's need to know." He cited letters to the court from an attorney for Greenglass claiming the case still haunts his family.

Greenglass and his wife, Ruth Greenglass, after confessing to being part of a scheme to smuggle atomic secrets to the Soviets, agreed to testify against the Rosenbergs. During the 1951 trial, the couple linked Ethel Rosenberg to the plot by saying they saw her transcribing the stolen research data on a portable typewriter in her New York apartment.

In the past two decades, decoded Soviet cables have appeared to confirm that Julius Rosenberg was a spy, but doubts have remained about Ethel Rosenberg's involvement.

In 1947, an analyst working on the National Security Agency's Venona Project found among the cables a passage about an agent code-named LIBERAL with a 29-year-old wife named ETHEL. These turned out to be references to the Rosenbergs. The declassified information from the wartime project became public in 1994.

And former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, in more than 100 hours of tape recordings that fill in pieces missing from the earlier memoirs, also recalled that the Rosenbergs helped the Soviet Union "master the production of nuclear energy faster than we would have otherwise, and . . . helped us produce our first atom bomb."

In 1999, the same federal court cited historical interest as a reason to release such records pertaining to the case of Alger Hiss, who was convicted of perjury in 1950 for lying about passing secrets to a communist spy.

By Derek Kravitz |  July 23, 2008; 12:29 PM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

David Greenglass sent his own sister and her husband to the death chamber. Why does her rate privacy?

Shouldn't we want as citizens want to know what pressure the government put on the Greenglasses for them to do that?

Posted by: sandirs | July 24, 2008 10:32 AM

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