The Prosecution's Case
The first witness against the Rosenbergs was Max Elitcher, a 32-year-old electrical engineer employed by the Naval Bureau of Ordnance during the 1940s. Elitcher testified that in June 1944 Julius asked him to assist the Soviet Union by providing classified information about naval equipment. Over the next several years, Elitcher said, Julius had made other references to his central role in a Soviet espionage ring with members scattered across the United States. Nonetheless, Elitcher maintained that he had never disclosed any confidential information to the Rosenbergs.
Elitcher also provided the only testimony against Sobell. Elitcher told the jurors that on several occasions Sobell had attempted to entice him to commit espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Elitcher recalled one instance when he had accompanied Sobell on a drive to Knickerbocker Village, where the defendant had delivered a can of film to Julius Rosenberg. Although Elitcher was unable to tell the court what, if anything, had been inside the can, he did testify that Sobell had described the contents as "too valuable to be destroyed and too dangerous to keep around."
David Greenglass, the 29-year-old brother of Ethel Rosenberg, was the prosecution's second witness. Greenglass, a member of the American Communist Party, had enlisted in the army as a machinist in 1943. In July 1944, he had been assigned to the Manhattan Project, the top secret Allied program based in Los Alamos, New Mexico, for the development of the atomic bomb. As part of his job, Greenglass had performed research on high explosives.
Greenglass testified that he had learned about the nature of the Manhattan Project in November 1944, when his wife, Ruth, had visited him in Albuquerque. Before leaving for New Mexico, Ruth had been invited to the Rosenbergs' apartment in New York City, where Ethel had disclosed that Julius had been sharing classified information with the Soviets. During the same visit, Julius had informed Ruth that her husband had been working on a project to develop an atomic bomb and proposed that David help the Soviets by stealing secrets from Los Alamos. Upon learning of Julius's invitation
from Ruth, David testified that he had agreed to engage in atomic espionage for the Soviet Union.
In January 1945, David went home to New York City on furlough and met with the Rosenbergs. David testified that during one visit he had provided Julius with a verbal description of the atomic bomb, explaining that the Los Alamos scientists were designing a high-explosive lens mold. David had accompanied this description with a packet of sketches outlining the mold. He also had provided Julius with a list of the scientists who had been working on the Manhattan Project and an overview of the Los Alamos facilities. Because some of the written material had been illegible, David told the jury, Ethel had typed his notes.
A few days later, the Greenglasses had eaten dinner at the Rosenbergs', where they had designed a plan for David to exchange information in New Mexico with a courier whom Julius would send. To enable David to identify this courier, Julius had cut a Jell-O brand gelatin box into two irregularly shaped pieces, given one piece to David, and said the other piece would be given to the courier.
The next summer, Ruth had rented an apartment in Albuquerque, where David usually had spent the weekends. During the first weekend in June, a man had visited the Greenglass apartment, identifying himself as "Dave from Pittsburgh." The man had told the Greenglasses that he was a courier sent by "Julius." After the courier had produced the matching half of the Jell-O box, David had given him some additional sketches of the lens mold experiments.
In September 1945, David had returned to New York City on a second furlough. Meeting with Julius and Ethel at the Rosenbergs' apartment, David had drawn a cross section of the atomic bomb and had described the implosion principle underlying it. David testified that Ethel again had typed up the written material, correcting spelling and grammar where necessary. The prosecution asked David to draw a replica of the sketches that he had given to the Rosenbergs and the courier. The prosecution then called Walter Koski, a physical chemist, who testified that the sketches were "reasonably accurate" and revealed much of what the government had been attempting to keep secret at Los Alamos.
Ruth Greenglass, who testified next, corroborated the central elements of her husband's testimony. She testified that she had assisted David in procuring classified information from Los Alamos for the Rosenbergs. She also testified that the Rosenbergs had showed her a mahogany table that they had received from the Soviets as a token of their appreciation. A portion of the table was hollow, Ruth said, and a lamp had been inserted so that microfilm pictures could be taken.
As the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (FBI) had been closing in on the Greenglasses and the Rosenbergs, Ruth told the jurors, Julius had developed a plan for David and Ruth to elude law enforcement. The plan had called for David and Ruth to travel to Mexico, where a Soviet agent would be waiting with passports and cash. The agent would then escort the Greenglasses to Czechoslovakia or Russia. Although Julius had given the Greenglasses more than $4,000 to defect from the United States, Ruth testified that neither she nor David had ever left the country.
The primary corroborating witness for the Greenglasses' testimony was Harry Gold, a 40-year-old chemist who testified that he had been spying for the Soviet Union since 1935 and that he had been working with Anatoli Yakovlev, a Soviet agent, for a number of years. Gold said that Yakovlev had sent him on a vital mission to New Mexico during the first weekend of June 1945.
On Saturday, June 2, Yakovlev had instructed Gold to travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he would meet with Klaus Fuchs, a nuclear scientist from Great Britain, who had been working on the Manhattan Project. During their meeting, Fuchs had provided Gold with diagrams and had written descriptions of the atomic bomb. On a previous occasion, Fuchs had given Gold a complete set of his notes from Los Alamos. In February 1950, Fuchs was captured by British intelligence and confessed to his role in the atomic espionage conspiracy. Fuchs, who received a 14-year sentence, identified Gold as the Soviet liaison he had met in Santa Fe.
Gold also testified that the day after meeting with Fuchs, he had traveled to Albuquerque, where he was scheduled to meet a man whom Yakovlev had described only as "Greenglass." Yakovlev had given Gold the matching half of the Jell-O box and had told him to bring Green-glass greetings from "Julius." When Gold had arrived at the Greenglasses' apartment, a man whom Gold identified as David Greenglass had gave him an envelope of drawings and other materials in exchange for $400.
Gold testified that he had turned this envelope over to Yakovlev, who had immediately transmitted it to the Soviet Union. Gold said that Yakovlev had subsequently thanked him for obtaining such "excellent" and "valuable" data. The prosecution introduced two exhibits to bolster Gold's testimony, a receipt indicating that Ruth Greenglass had deposited $400 into her account at the Albuquerque National Bank on June 4, 1945, and a registration card from the Albuquerque Hilton Hotel, signed by Harry Gold on June 3, 1945.
The final witness for the prosecution was Elizabeth Bentley, a 44-year-old former Soviet spy who was known to the public as the "Red Spy Queen." Bentley bragged that as a top-ranking member of the Communist Party in the United States, she had been responsible for pilfering a wide variety of industrial, military, and political secrets. Bentley then had become a double agent for the FBI and had been assigned to infiltrate and expose domestic Communist espionage networks.
In addition to testifying at the Rosenbergs' trial, Bentley had testified in a number of cases involving the prosecution of her former comrades in the American Communist Party. In each case, Bentley's testimony had verged on the theatrical. At the Rosenbergs' trial, she testified that she had received a number of late-night, espionage-related phone calls from a man who had called himself "Julius." Bentley admitted that she had never met this man, however, and that she could not identify his voice.
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