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Kissinger returns telephone transcripts to National Archives

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Feb 13, 2002    

Kissinger returns telephone transcripts to National Archives

  • The former secretary of state has placed 20,000 pages of Nixon-era documents back into official hands more than 20 years after the Supreme Court determined that journalists and historians could not force the government to retrieve the records.

The National Archives and Records Administration this week announced that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger returned to it more than 20,000 pages of telephone transcripts, more than 20 years after the Supreme Court determined that journalists and historians could not force the government to retrieve the records.

“To look at these transcripts is to be in the room when he’s conducting all his telephone diplomacy — the secret opening to China, the secret trips to Paris on the Vietnam War negotiations, his backstage leaks to the press — you name it,” said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a public interest group which led the latest effort to have the transcripts returned to government custody.

“We congratulate the National Archives as well as the State Department for taking this historic action, and, in fact, Mr. Kissinger also deserves credit for doing the right thing at last,” Blanton added.

The history of the transcripts stretches back into Kissinger’s tenure under President Nixon, first as director of the National Security Council and then as secretary of state. During his time in office from 1969 through September 1973, Kissinger arranged to have all of his telephone conversations transcribed by government secretaries.

But when he left office, Kissinger claimed the transcripts as private property and arranged for the Library of Congress to seal them until five years after his death.

In 1977, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and several groups of journalists and historians made a freedom-of-information request for release of the transcripts. After the State Department refused, they sued.

Both a district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. (D.C. Circuit) ruled that the federal Freedom of Information Act applied in the case and ordered the department to secure Kissinger’s records.

But in 1980, with a 5-2 vote in Reporters Committee v. Kissinger, the Supreme Court determined that the plaintiffs did not have standing in the case. The FOI Act, the Court said, only guaranteed access to records in the possession of the agency and not to records that had been removed, even if illegally. The Court, too, said that only government has the right to demand the return of the records.

Three years ago, the National Security Archive persuaded the State Department and the National Archive to renew an effort to secure the records.

This time, they succeeded, getting access to the first batch of 10,000 records in August 2001. The National Archives on Feb. 11 confirmed that Kissinger has now returned all of the telephone records. They are not yet available for viewing at the National Archives.

PT


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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