JFK Urged Release of Most Diplomatic Records After 15 Years

07.20.09 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The latest volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the official record of U.S. foreign policy, reflects events that took place from 1969 to 1972, or nearly forty years ago.  This represents a continuing violation of a 1991 statute which requires the Secretary of State to publish FRUS “not more than 30 years after the events recorded.”  But even that seemingly unachievable goal is insufficiently ambitious, according to a 1961 directive issued by President John F. Kennedy.

“It has long been a point of pride of our government that we have made the historical record of our diplomacy available more promptly than any other nation in the world,” President Kennedy wrote.

“In recent years the publication of the ‘Foreign Relations’ series has fallen farther and farther behind currency,” he wrote back then.  “The lag has now reached approximately twenty years.  I regard this as unfortunate and undesirable.  It is the policy of this Administration to unfold the historical record as fast and as fully as is consistent with national security and with friendly relations with foreign nations.”

“In my view, any official should have a clear and precise case involving the national interest before seeking to withhold from publication documents or papers fifteen or more years old,” President Kennedy concluded.  See National Security Action Memorandum No. 91, “Expediting Publication of ‘Foreign Relations’,” September 6, 1961.