Eisenhower’s Declassification Instructions, 1947
Editor’s Note: In light of ongoing debates about the integrity of classified information, over-classification, leaks, Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Glenn “Sock Puppet” Greenwald, and all the rest, we are happy to publish a 1947 memorandum by General Dwight Eisenhower on the declassification and release of U.S. Army records on World War II. General Eisenhower wrote this at the end of a war and before it was widely understood that a Cold War had begun. Today, we are in the middle of a “war” of sorts against a series of non-state militant networks that has no clear ending. Still, General Eisenhower’s thoughts on the matter might inform the debate.
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
THE CHIEF OF STAFF
29 November 1947
MEMORANDUM FOR THE DIRECTORS OF ARMY GENERAL STAFF DIVISIONS;
THE CHIEFS OF ARMY SPECIAL STAFF DIVISIONS;
SUBJECT: Policy Concerning Release of Information from Historical Documents of the Army – With Special Reference to the Events of World War II.
In the following memorandum, standing verbal instructions, which have been fully approved by the Secretary of the Army, are repeated for the guidance of the staff:
The Army possesses no inherent right to conceal the history of its affairs behind a cloak of secrecy, nor is such conduct conducive to a sound and healthy approach to the day to day performance of its duties.
The historical record of the Army’s operations as well as the manner in which these were accomplished at public property, and except where the security of the Nation may be jeopardized, the right of the citizens to the full story is unquestioned. Beyond this, the major achievements with which the Army is credited are in fact the accomplishments of the entire nation. The American public therefore should find no unnecessary obstacle to its access to the written record. The history of the Army in World War II, now in preparation, must, without reservation, tell the complete story of the Army’s participation, fully documented with references to the records used. The preparation of this history does not, however, constitute any reason or excuse for denying to the public immediate access to facts and records, [should] they deal solely with the operations of the Army, and where the security of the Nation is not involved.
a. In light of the foregoing I consider it appropriate to set forth as a guide the following, which will govern the release to the public of information from documents pertaining exclusively to the Army:
b. Consistent with existing binding agreements with other agencies, and Governments, the maximum downgrading of all information on military subjects will be accomplished, except only when to do so would in fact endanger the security of the Nation.All appropriate members of the Army Staff are charged with facilitating the efforts of individuals who desire access to military information of historical character.
The foregoing directive will be interpreted in the most liberal sense with no reservations as to whether or not the evidence of history places the Army in a favorable light.