June 26, 2008
Federal Prosecutors Agree to Release of Some Rosenberg Grand Jury Records After Petition from Archive and Historical Groups
For more information contact:
Tom Blanton/Meredith Fuchs - 202/994-7000
David Vladeck - 202/662-9540
Washington D.C., June 26, 2008 - Responding to a petition filed in January by the National Security Archive and several leading U.S. historical associations for the release of grand jury records from the 1951 indictment of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, federal prosecutors in New York conceded that a substantial portion of the grand jury materials could be made public after more than 55 years.
In a court filing this week, the government said it would not oppose the release of transcripts and other materials for 35 of the 45 witnesses who testified before the grand jury that in 1951 indicted the Rosenbergs, who were accused of running an espionage ring that passed American atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, convicted of spying, and executed in 1953. The 35 witnesses are either deceased or consented to the disclosure. In its filing, the government agreed that the Rosenberg case is of “significant historical importance” and therefore the materials are covered by a special exception to the longstanding rule that grand jury records must remain secret indefinitely.
"The government’s decision to open the bulk of the Rosenberg transcripts marks an important historic turning point,” said Archive director Tom Blanton. “In every prior case, the government has steadfastly resisted release of any grand jury records, regardless of their importance.”
The government challenges the release of materials related to the other 10 witnesses, who could not be located or said they opposed disclosure. Among those who did not consent is David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, who allegedly passed nuclear secrets from the Los Alamos research facility to the Rosenbergs. The government also opposes the requested release of grand jury materials from the related Cold War spy case of Abraham Brothman and Miriam Moskowitz, asserting that the historical interest in that case is not significant enough to justify disclosure.
According to David C. Vladeck, lawyer for the petitioners, “While petitioners appreciate the government's decision not to object to releasing many of the grand jury transcripts, we do not believe that the government has gone far enough. Most, if not all, of the transcripts the government claims should remain secret also should be made public.” For example, David Greenglass has already told his story to Sam Roberts, who published Greenglass’ account in his book, The Brother. Similarly, there is no reason why the Brothman/Moskowitz grand jury testimony should not be made public; historians have long called it a ‘rehearsal’ for the Rosenberg trial, involving the same charges, the same witnesses, the same judge, and the same prosecutors.
The petitioners include the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and New York Times reporter Sam Roberts.