from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
March 26, 2001


A particularly offensive form of official secrecy involves government employees who abscond with official records and then treat them as private property, sometimes even selling them back to the public in the form of lucrative, self-serving memoirs.

This longstanding problem is highlighted anew by a widely publicized article written by Richard V. Allen ("The Day Reagan Was Shot") and published in the April 2001 issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

Mr. Allen, who was President Reagan's first national security adviser, presents transcripts of the deliberations that took place in the White House Situation Room shortly after President Reagan was shot in 1981. The transcripts are derived from a tape recording "being made public for the first time, twenty years after the event."

The transcripts are certainly of great interest, considering the danger and drama of the moment. But they raise unanswered questions about Mr. Allen's possession of the recording and his authority to publish it (and presumably to profit from the publication).

"Why haven't we heard this tape before now?," Mr. Allen was asked last week on National Public Radio. "Why are you coming forward with it 20 years later?"

"Well, I think a 20-year interval is a perfectly respectable one," Mr. Allen replied evasively. He did not address the legality of his custody of the tape.

"Did you run this tape by FBI, CIA, have them listen to it?" asked NPR host Bob Edwards.

"No," said Mr. Allen. "In 20 years, I think we've long passed technologically any threats to national security."

Mr. Allen's casual dismissal of formal declassification requirements is quite ironic, noted Peter Raven-Hansen, professor of national security law at George Washington University, because it is sharply at odds with the classification policies of the Reagan Administration.

President Reagan's controversial National Security Decision Directive 84 established strict procedures to combat the unauthorized disclosure of classified information, including in some cases a requirement to submit proposed publications to prepublication review. The Reagan-era Standard Form 189 encompassed similar restrictions on "classifiable" information, i.e. information that was not classified but might have been by some conceivable standard.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Mr. Allen evidently could not be bothered to comply with the declassification review requirements of his own Administration -- requirements that continue to keep millions of other contemporaneous records unnecessarily classified.

(Portions of the newly published transcripts have been redacted without explanation, apparently by Mr. Allen himself. But he no longer has legitimate declassification authority.)

Not all records generated by government officials are necessarily government property. The law makes provision for "personal uncirculated records" (such as diaries) that do not have to be maintained as official documents, one official noted. But it seems clear that Mr. Allen's White House tape recording of deliberations conducted by senior agency officials was not a personal record, and thus ought to have been handled under the Presidential Records Act, which went into effect at the beginning of the Reagan Administration.

A spokesman for the National Archives and Records Administration told Secrecy News dispassionately that "NARA has an interest in these materials [i.e. the Allen tape] and we are looking into them on behalf of the Reagan Library."

Another official lamented the apparent misappropriation of public records by government employees such as Mr. Allen. "It happens every day, in every agency. We try to stop it, but it's hard."

Mr. Allen's Atlantic Monthly article is posted here:


The Human Rights Information Act, a bill to expedite the declassification of records relating to human rights abuses, was reintroduced on March 21 by Rep. Tom Lantos and 63 co-sponsors.

"Executive agencies are in possession of documents pertaining to gross human rights violations abroad that are needed by foreign authorities to document, investigate, and subsequently prosecute instances of continued and systematic gross human rights violations, including those directed against citizens of the United States," according to the bill.

"Only an expedited systematic [declassification] process can help ensure timely investigations of perpetrators of gross and systematic human rights violations...."

The text of the bill (H.R. 1152) is posted here:


The National Archives announced that it will open approximately 100,000 pages of documents from the Nixon Presidential Materials Project on Thursday, April 5. "The majority of the records scheduled to be released are National Security Council materials," according to a March 23 NARA press release:

National security agencies in the U.S. government have an urgent need for employees who are proficient in any of several dozen foreign languages, according to an official survey. The March 2001 National Security Education Program Analysis of Federal Language Needs is posted here:

Records concerning Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's considerable stock portfolio will eventually be released under the Freedom of Information Act, Rear Admiral Craig R. Quigley told a Pentagon press briefing on March 22. "It's outrageous, your Freedom of Information policies," objected one reporter in a testy exchange. "There's no freedom of information." "I disagree with your characterization," said Adm. Quigley. See:


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