Seventy years after the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, their sons, Michael and Robert Meeropol, have renewed their efforts to clear their mother’s name. Just ten and six years old when their parents were executed for federal charges of conspiracy to commit espionage, both men grew up believing in their parents’ innocence. The Rosenbergs remain the only individuals put to death for peacetime espionage in American history.  

There have always been serious questions about Ethel’s guilt in particular.  The key testimony against her (by her brother) was a lie, as he later admitted. The government also used the prosecution of Ethel to force Julius to confess. In July 2022, the Meeropols filed two additional FOIA requests with the NSA and National Archives, requesting the release of all documents relating to their mother.

In the post-Watergate era, both men advocated for greater governmental transparency, ultimately bolstering the 1975 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a tool to request files regarding their parents’ case. The documents received from the initial requests supported the idea that the Rosenbergs were framed, indicating “that the trial Judge, Irving R. Kaufman, secretly communicated with the prosecution team, including the infamous late Ray Cohn, an assistant U.S. attorney who helped prosecute [their] parents and played a crucial role in convicting [their] mother by orchestrating what may have been perjurious testimony.” While this information supported their parents’ innocence, subsequent information from the National Security Agency’s (NSA) 1995 VENONA transcripts shows “that [their] father engaged in military-industrial espionage for the Soviet Union in the 1940s.” At the time of their initial FOIA request, the Meeropols did not know the NSA has been involved in their parents’ case and it took more than twenty years after the VENONA release to discover that the NSA may not have released all their files related to “secret Soviet communications.”

As of December 2022, the National Archives notified the brothers that there are possibly “500,000 pages in more than 200 classified boxes” that may pertain to their most recent request for information, in addition to several boxes from the NSA. 

Michael and Robert Meeropol are now calling on Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to release the records related to their mother’s case, per an executive order from President Obama. The brothers write that “just as justice delayed is justice denied, so information delayed is information denied. We are now 80 and 76, and we would like to know the full truth about our mother’s case before we die… Let the chips fall where they may.”


Michael Meeropol and Robert Meeropol, A Historic Cold War Execution on Espionage Charges: Information Delayed is Information Denied, Just Security, June 162023

James Dorman, How Ethel Rosenberg Offered Her Own Life as a Sacrifice, The New York Times, June 82021