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Letter to Secretary Acheson on Requests for Information on the Administration of the Loyalty-Security Program.

April 03, 1952

My dear Mr. Secretary:

On March 28 you sought my guidance regarding the response which the Department of State should make to the requests of members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for detailed information on administration of the Department's loyalty security program. I understand that many different questions have been raised by Subcommittee members, but that the information requested falls generally into four categories as follows:

1. The complete files in specified loyalty security cases, detailed information concerning the substance of investigative reports in certain additional cases, and the procedural steps and actions taken in the handling of various individual cases.

2. The names of all present and former State Department employees who have been investigated under the Federal Employees Loyalty Program or the Department's security program, together with the status or the disposition of their respective cases.

3. The names of all employees who resigned or retired from the Department while under investigation or during processing of their loyalty-security cases.

4. The names of State Department officers who sat as members of the Loyalty Security Board on a particular case, and the way each officer voted.

The information sought by the Appropriations Subcommittee cannot be considered solely from the standpoint of that Subcommittee or from the standpoint of the Department of State. If one Department is required or permitted to supply information of the character requested, all other agencies of the Government would have to respond to similar demands from other sources. If all Executive agencies were to release information of this nature, I am convinced that the over-all result would be to wreck the Federal Employees Loyalty Program. In the process, the reputations of hundreds of loyal Government employees would be pilloried and the entire civil service would be severely demoralized. Accordingly, I must advise you not to furnish the information requested by the Subcommittee, for to do so would be clearly contrary to the public interest.

Much of the information wanted by the Subcommittee falls within the letter or the spirit of my memoranda of March 13 and August 5, 1948, in which I stated that the efficient and just administration of the Employee Loyalty Program requires that reports, records, files and investigative data relative to the program be preserved in strict confidence. That is necessary in the interest of our national security, to preserve the confidential character and sources of information, to protect Government personnel against the dissemination of unfounded or disproved allegations, and to insure the fair and just disposition of loyalty cases. The need for these directives is just as compelling today as it was in 1948.

It would be a great mistake to release the names of State Department and other federal personnel who have been subjected to loyalty investigations, and to divulge the specific steps and actions taken in the processing of individual loyalty-security cases. The FBI, which checks all Government employees, institutes full field investigations upon the basis of derogatory allegations, whether or not true, and questionable affiliations or associations, however innocent in fact they may prove to be. In the overwhelming majority of loyalty cases, thorough FBI investigation and careful loyalty board inquiry establishes the employee's loyalty. To divulge the names of these loyal employees, and the specific steps taken in adjudicating their cases, would serve no useful purpose. In the hands of unscrupulous persons, however, this information could be distorted and used to subject the employees and their families to untold embarrassment and distress. My apprehension in this regard is not based upon idle fancy, as you well know.

Nor would the public interest be served by releasing the names of individuals determined to be security risks. Persons discharged as security risks are in a distinctly different category from persons discharged on loyalty grounds. They usually are employees who cannot be trusted with classified information because they have had questionable associates, talk too much, are careless, or may be unduly susceptible to outside influences. In enacting Public Law 733, 81st Congress, providing for suspension of employees in the interest of national security, the Congress clearly recognized that a security risk may be a useful and suitable employee in nonsensitive Government positions not involving access to classified information. Similarly, he may be an entirely loyal citizen who will render excellent service in private employment. The reputations of these persons should not be besmirched unnecessarily by making their names public.

Many Federal employees leave the service while under routine investigation or prior to the completion of their loyalty-security processing. In the case of the State Department, I understand that such employees have left for a variety of reasons, such as military service, pregnancy, poor health, and the acceptance of employment in private business. In many instances, Government employees leave the service without being aware of the fact they were under investigation. To protect the innocent from groundless accusations and unwarranted inferences, therefore, it is clear that these names should not be released in response to blanket requests. All of the names, of course, are flagged for attention in case the individuals should seek to reenter Government service.

There is no objection to making available the names of all members of an agency loyalty board, but it is entirely improper to divulge how individual board members voted in particular cases or to divulge the members who sat on particular cases. If this type of information were divulged freely, the danger of intimidation would be great, and the objectivity, fairness and impartiality of board members would be seriously prejudiced.

Hereafter, no information regarding individual loyalty or security cases shall be provided in response to inquiries from outside the Executive branch unless such inquiries are made in writing. Where proper inquiries are made in writing, replies will be confined to two categories of information as follows: (1) If an employee has been separated on loyalty grounds, advice to that effect may be given in response to a specific request for information concerning the particular individual; and (2) if an employee has been separated as a security risk, replies to requests for information about that individual may state only that he was separated for reasons relating to suitability for employment in the particular agency. No information shall be supplied as to any specific intermediate steps, proceedings, transcripts of hearings, or actions taken in processing an individual under loyalty or security programs.

No exceptions shall be made to the above stated policy unless the agency head determines that it would be clearly in the public interest to make specified information available, as in instances where the employee involved properly asks that such action be taken for his own protection. In all such cases, the requested information shall be released only after obtaining the approval of my office.

I am sending a copy of this letter to the Loyalty Review Board.

Very sincerely yours,


[Honorable Dean Acheson, The Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.]

Note: for the President's directive on the need for maintaining the confidential status of employee loyalty records, dated March 13, 1948, see 1948 volume, this series, Item 50. See also Item 60, this volume.

Harry S. Truman, Letter to Secretary Acheson on Requests for Information on the Administration of the Loyalty-Security Program. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231608

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