On July 13th, 2022, the sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Michael and Robert Meeropol, filed a new Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) of the National Security Agency (NSA) demanding all materials in the NSA's possession related to Ethel Rosenberg. NSA material has already indicated that, unlike all KGB agents, Ethel was never given a code name and that she was not engaged in espionage work. However, the release was partial, and now the Meeropol brothers are asking for everything.
Stay tuned for further developments. To keep up to date with the latest, please join our email list. Read more about the 2016 campaign to Exonerate Ethel by visiting rfc.org/exonerate-ethel, and read the 2022 FOIA request letter in its entirety below.
National Security Agency
Attn: FOIA/PA Office
9800 Savage Road, Suite 6932
Fort George G. Meade, MD 20755-6932
Re: Freedom of Information Act Request
To Whom It May Concern:
This is a request to the National Security Agency (“NSA”) pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Department of Defense’s implementing regulations, 32 C.F.R. § 286.
The request is submitted on behalf of Robert Meeropol, a U.S. citizen and resident of Northampton, Massachusetts, and his brother Michael Meeropol, a U.S. citizen and resident of Cold Spring, New York (“Requesters”), by and through their undersigned counsel.
As explained below, Requesters seek certain records relating to their mother Ethel Rosenberg and the former secret program codenamed “VENONA.”
Requesters ask that you direct this request to all appropriate offices and components and/or departments within the NSA, including its predecessors such as the U.S. Army’s Signal Intelligence Agency, Signal Security Agency, and Army Security Agency.
Requesters are the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In what would become— and to this day remains—one of the most controversial and unresolved incidents arising from the Cold War era, the Rosenbergs were tried and convicted of conspiring to spy for the former Soviet Union in 1951. They were purportedly implicated by David Greenglass (“Greenglass”) and his wife Ruth. Greenglass worked on the development of the atomic bomb for the U.S. Army in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in the mid-1940s, and confessed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation his own involvement in spying for the Soviet Union and that of his wife Ruth in 1950. Greenglass, who was also the brother of Ethel Rosenberg, testified during the Rosenbergs’ trial that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had, through his wife Ruth, recruited him as a spy. He also testified that he later provided atomic secrets through Julius Rosenberg to the Soviet Union. As to his sister Ethel, Greenglass testified that she had typed up notes for her husband Julius to provide to Soviet agents. The Rosenbergs maintained their innocence and were executed in 1953. Their sons, Requesters, were orphaned as young children and later adopted by Abel and Anne Meeropol.
Requesters have since sought to obtain additional information about the killing of their parents nearly seventy years ago, including through extensive FOIA litigation against other U.S. government agencies. See, e.g., Meeropol v. Meese, 790 F.2d 942 (D.C. Cir. 1986). They have also advocated tirelessly for the release of all information about their parents’ case, including, in particular, for the exoneration of their mother Ethel. In 2016, for example, Requesters, together with the Rosenberg Fund for Children, a non profit organization that Requester Robert Meeropol founded in 1990 to assist children whose parents have suffered because of their progressive activism, launched a campaign to Exonerate Ethel, which called upon President Obama to issue a proclamation exonerating their mother, and which obtained widespread public support, including from several members of Congress.1 That campaign remains ongoing, and is hoped to relaunch in the coming months to call upon President Biden to issue a proclamation exonerating Requesters’ mother.
Records produced in response to the instant FOIA request will directly impact Requesters’ campaign to exonerate their mother. As explained in Part C below, in support of their request for a waiver or reduction of fees, this request is a matter of great importance not only to Requesters personally, but also serves the public interest by contributing significantly to the public’s understanding of the operations and activities of the federal government—specifically, whether the government understood that their mother Ethel Rosenberg was not a spy for the Soviet Union but instead manufactured a case against her to pressure Julius Rosenberg to cooperate with U.S. authorities, and, when that failed, executed her anyway at the height of the anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy Era.
Those concerns are not merely speculative or theoretical. Rather, there has been substantial public interest and concern for Ethel Rosenberg’s innocence since the time of her prosecution and execution. It was heightened in 2001, for example, when Greenglass admitted to CBS’s 60 Minutes II that he was pressured by federal prosecutor (and later, chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy) Roy Cohn to lie about Ethel’s involvement in spying, and, in fact, that he had no recollection of her typing up notes for her husband Julius.2 Likewise, in 2015, the National Security Archive obtained transcripts of Greenglass’s grand jury testimony, which contradicted his trial testimony by omitting any reference to his sister, and showed that he perjured himself when he testified against his sister, who was convicted and executed based largely, if not entirely, on that testimony.3
Moreover, in 1995, the U.S. government declassified and publicly acknowledged the former secret program codenamed “VENONA,” which was a project begun by the U.S. Army’s Signal Intelligence Agency in 1943 to “examine and exploit” Soviet diplomatic communications as well as Soviet espionage efforts, and which continued under the NSA until the program was purportedly cancelled in 1980.4 While translations of decrypted Soviet communications that were released after declassification of the program purported to confirm that Julius Rosenberg indeed spied for the Soviet Union and had also involved Greenglass and his wife Ruth in the alleged conspiracy, the disclosures raised substantial, unresolved questions about Ethel Rosenberg, casting further doubt on whether she had any knowledge of or involvement in her husband’s alleged activities— and, consequently, whether the U.S. government knew or perhaps suspected based on Soviet communications that it intercepted that she was innocent and yet executed her anyway.5 Indeed, while the NSA has released the VENONA transcriptions, it has not released the accompanying files or other records relating to the transcriptions.
Hence, this instant request for additional records related to Ethel Rosenberg and the VENONA project.
B. Request for Production
Robert and Michael Meeropol request that the NSA promptly produce to them the following:
- All records relating to Ethel Rosenberg, including, for example, and without limitation, working files or notes of linguists and/or codebreakers such as Meredith Knox Gardner and others who worked on, had access to, or otherwise had knowledge of the VENONA project;
- All records relating to the VENONA project and the Soviet Union’s assignment of code names for anyone involved in espionage-related activities, including, but not limited to, memoranda or notes relating to the fact that Ethel Rosenberg was not assigned a code name; and/or
- Documents sufficient to show whether any records responsive to the foregoing requests have been or are currently being withheld on any basis, including, for example, and without limitation, by other U.S. government agencies or entities.
In this FOIA request, the “NSA” includes the National Security Agency and its predecessors, including but not limited to, the U.S. Army’s Signal Intelligence Agency, Signal Security Agency, and Army Security Agency.
“VENONA” is the program described in Part A above.
The term “record(s)” includes, but is not limited to, all records or communications preserved in electronic (including metadata) or written form, such as cables, transmissions, correspondence, emails, documents, data, videotapes, audio tapes, faxes, files, guidance, guidelines, evaluations, instructions, analyses, memoranda, agreements, notes, orders, policies, procedures, legal opinions, protocols, reports, rules, talking points, technical manuals, technical specifications, training manuals, studies, or any other record of any kind.
Please search for responsive records regardless of format, medium, or physical characteristics, and including electronic records.
We request the files in native format wherever possible, with separate files for each record wherever possible, preferably in PDF format. We also request that metadata is preserved, and, particularly with respect to emails, that “parent-child” relationships are preserved, meaning that Requesters can identify which attachments correspond to which emails or other records.
Please search for and produce records regardless of whether they are in English, Russian, or any other language.
C. Fee Waiver
Requesters are entitled to a waiver or reduction of fees pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552 (a)(4)(A)(iii), and 32 CFR § 286.12(l), on the ground that disclosure of the requested records “is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester[s].”
Requesters meet the requirements for a waiver or reduction of fees because they do not have a commercial interest that would be furthered by the requests. In addition, as explained in Part A above, the requested records relate clearly and directly to whether the U.S. government executed Ethel Rosenberg despite knowledge or suspicion of her actual innocence, which is indisputably a matter of significant public interest regarding the operations or activities of the U.S. government. Despite the fact that the Rosenberg case has generated—and continues to generate—extensive public attention and debate for more than half a century, and despite prior FOIA litigation requesting records from other government agencies concerning the Rosenberg case, this is the Requesters first formal FOIA request to the NSA, and their first request for records related to the VENONA project, which was declassified after final judgment was entered in the Meeropol FOIA litigation. In addition, as noted above, while the NSA has released the VENONA transcriptions, it has not released the accompanying documents such as those relating to the decryption and/or translation of Soviet communications relating to Ethel Rosenberg.
As described above, Requesters are individuals who have undertaken a broad public campaign to exonerate their mother, Ethel Rosenberg. They have done so in coordination with the Rosenberg Fund for Children, a non-profit organization founded by Requester Robert Meeropol, and with the support of several members of Congress and the public at large. They have a proven track-record of compiling and disseminating information and reports to the public about the government’s functions and activities in relation to the Rosenberg case. Requesters will also make any information that they receive as a result of this FOIA request available to the public, including the press, at no cost. Disclosure in this case therefore meets the statutory criteria for a fee waiver, which Congress intended to be liberally construed in favor of waivers for noncommercial requesters. See Judicial Watch Inc. v. Rossotti, 326 F.3d 1309 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (“Congress amended FOIA to ensure that it be ‘liberally construed in favor of waivers for noncommercial requesters.’”).
Indeed, FOIA fee waivers were previously granted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency after Requesters won a federal court order releasing records relating to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. As the Deputy Attorney General explained in support of that determination, “[t]he Rosenberg case is close to being unique in terms of both current public interest and historical significance,” and a fee waiver is “in the public interest in this particular case in as much as release of these records will benefit the general public far more than it will any individual requester.” See Federal Agencies Waive Fees For Release of Rosenberg Data, N.Y. Times, Dec. 2, 1975.
A fee waiver should be granted here accordingly. In the alternative, Requesters request a limitation of fees pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(ii). If no fee waiver is granted and the fees exceed $250.00, please contact Requesters via their undersigned counsel to obtain consent to incur additional fees.
D. Certification and Conclusion
Requesters certify that the above information is true and correct to the best of Requesters’ knowledge.
If this request is denied, in whole or in part, Requesters ask the NSA to provide notice of the denial, including notice of the withholding of any otherwise responsive records, regardless of the basis for withholding, and justify all withholdings or deletions by reference to specific FOIA exemptions.
Requesters expect the NSA to release all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material, and reserve the right to appeal a decision to withhold any records or to deny the fee waiver application.
Please furnish all applicable records as specified above to undersigned counsel.
If you have any questions regarding the processing of this request, please do not hesitate to contact undersigned counsel on behalf of the Requesters at (917) 617-3796.
Very truly yours,
J. Wells Dixon
DIXON KADIDAL LLP
43 W. 43rd St., Suite 105
New York, NY 10036
1 For more information about the campaign to Exonerate Ethel, visit
2 See Rebecca Leung, 60 Minutes II: The Traitor, CBS News, Dec. 5, 2001.
3 The grand jury materials are available on the National Security Archive’s website at
4 The NSA’s website provides additional information about the VENONA project here: https://www.nsa.gov/Helpful-Links/NSA-FOIA/Declassification-Transparency-
5 In 1997, a retired Russian intelligence officer also stated publicly that Ethel Rosenberg
had no role in her husband Julius’s alleged espionage activities. See supra note 2.