Harry S. Truman photo

Memorandum on the Executive Order Prescribing Regulations for Classifying and Protecting Security Information.

September 25, 1951

To Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies :

I have today signed an Executive Order prescribing minimum standards for the classification, transmission and handling of official information relating to the security of the Nation.

This order will apply to all Departments and agencies in the Executive Branch of the Government and, therefore, it is of the highest importance that the responsible officials of all agencies familiarize themselves with its requirements and understand its purposes. In this connection I want to emphasize particularly several aspects of this Executive Order.

In the past relatively few agencies, such as the Departments of State and Defense, have had a need to classify information for security purposes. Now, however, with the broad ramifications of our national security effort, many additional agencies are required to handle classified security information. This, in turn, has made it necessary to prescribe these minimum standards for application throughout the Executive Branch of the Government.

However, I want it clearly understood in all agencies, defense and non-defense, that these regulations are to be used exclusively to safeguard the security of the Nation and are not to be used, under any circumstances, for any other purpose. It is my hope that the practical effect of these regulations will be to make more, rather than less, information about the Government available to the people. This should result from the segregation of security information from nonsecurity information. To put the matter bluntly, these regulations are designed to keep security information away from potential enemies and must not be used to withhold non-security information or to cover up mistakes made by any official or employee of the Government. In order to prevent any misunderstanding about this, these regulations prohibit the use of security classifications on non-security information even when the disclosure of such non-security information is forbidden by law (as in the case of census and income tax information). This policy is spelled out in paragraph 3 of Part I of the Regulation.

Your attention is directed specifically to the fact that paragraph 25(b) Of Part IV requires that security information "shall be assigned the lowest security classification consistent with its proper protection" and that paragraph 28(c) of Part IV directs that "It shall be the responsibility and obligation of every Government official to keep classified security information in his custody constantly under review, and to initiate action toward downgrading or declassification as soon as conditions warrant." Strict adherence to these provisions is absolutely essential for, otherwise, overclassification or failure to downgrade or declassify in timely fashion will defeat the very purpose of these regulations.

In order to further the above objectives of protecting that information upon which the security of the Nation depends, of limiting classification to purely security matters, of using the lowest appropriate classification, and of downgrading or declassifying information as rapidly as conditions permit, I have directed the National Security Council through its Interdepartmental Committee on Internal Security to furnish advice and assistance to the Departments and agencies in connection with these regulations and to maintain a continuing review of the classification activities in every department or agency to insure uniform and proper application of these regulations, including declassification whenever possible.

I wish to urge upon every Department and agency head conscientious adherence to the spirit and letter of these regulations in the interest of safeguarding the national security on the one hand, and the protection of the public's right to information on the other hand. In the latter connection, I expect each Department head or his designated subordinate to investigate promptly and carefully any alleged instance of unjustified use of security classifications. In considering such instances and indeed in original determinations on classification, it should be borne in mind that improper application of the classification powers is repulsive to our democratic form of Government and burdens Government procedures with unnecessary and expensive restrictions.


Note: See also Items 233, 247 [1], 248, 302.

Harry S Truman, Memorandum on the Executive Order Prescribing Regulations for Classifying and Protecting Security Information. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230837

Simple Search of Our Archives