Breadcrumb

Letters Regarding Disclosure of Confidential Files on Employee Loyalty

March 28, 1950

Dear Senator Tydings:
This is in reply to your letter of March 22, 1950, in which you have asked for the production before your Subcommittee of the investigative files relating to Government employees who are or have been employed in the Department of State and against whom charges of disloyalty have been made before your Subcommittee by Senator McCarthy. The question raised by your request is one of grave concern, and I have given very careful consideration to the response contained herein.

In March of 1948, I issued a Directive to all officers and employees in the Executive Branch of the Government, directing that all reports, records, and files relating to the employee loyalty program be kept in strict confidence, even in instances where subpoenas were received. As you know, this Directive was dearly within the power of the President, and I issued it only after the most careful consideration, and after I had satisfied myself beyond any doubt that any other decision would have resulted in the collapse of the loyalty program.

At that time, I issued a release in which I pointed out the long-standing precedents regarding the production of confidential files and the reasons for my decision. I referred, among other things, to a letter from former Attorney General Robert H. Jackson, dated April 30, 1941, to the Chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs, declining to furnish that Committee with certain reports of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which letter was written with the approval and at the direction of President Roosevelt. That letter forcefully pointed out the serious consequences that would have resulted from compliance with the request of the House Naval Affairs Committee.

Among other things, Attorney General Jackson stated:

"Moreover, disclosure of the reports would be of serious prejudice to the future usefulness of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As you probably know, much of this information is given in confidence and can only be obtained upon pledge not to disclose its sources. A disclosure of the sources would embarrass informants--sometimes in their employment, sometimes in their social relations, and in extreme cases might even endanger their lives. We regard the keeping of faith with confidential informants as an indispensable condition of future efficiency.

"Disclosure of information contained in the reports might also be the grossest kind of injustice to innocent individuals. Investigative reports include leads and suspicions, and sometimes even the statements of malicious or misinformed people.

"Even though later and more complete reports exonerate the individuals, the use of particular or selected reports might constitute the grossest injustice, and we all know that a correction never catches up with an accusation."

These three elements--the serious prejudice to the effectiveness of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an investigative agency, the resulting embarrassment and danger to confidential informants, and injustice and unfairness to innocent individuals-led me to the inescapable conclusion that the single most important element in an effective and at the same time just and fair loyalty program was the preservation of all files in connection therewith in the strictest confidence. I cannot over-emphasize this point.

During the last month, I have been reexamining with utmost care this entire problem, and in this connection I have asked the Attorney General, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Mr. Seth Richardson, Chairman of the Loyalty Review Board, to give their careful consideration to this matter. They have unanimously advised me that disclosure of loyalty files would be contrary to the public interest, and would do much more harm than good. The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a report to the Attorney General has outlined the very serious consequences that would result from any such disclosure. The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation stated:

1. The public disclosure of F.B.I. reports will reveal investigative procedures and techniques. If publicized, criminals, foreign agents, subversives, and others would thus be forewarned and seek ways and means to carry out their activities, thus avoiding detection and hampering the efficiency of an investigative agency. The underground operations of criminals and subversives already are most difficult of detection, and I do not believe the security of the Nation would be furthered by applying any additional shackles to the F.B.I.

2. For the last 25 years, the F.B.I. has represented to the American public that the F.B.I. would maintain their confidences. To make public F.B.I. reports would be to break confidences, and persons interviewed in the future might be even more reluctant to furnish information. In recent months, on numerous occasions, some citizens, shirking their responsibilities, have refused to furnish information on the grounds that it might be misused, and have gone so far as to decline to furnish information, even in application investigations, claiming they would do so only if forced by a subpoena.

3. A public disclosure of F.B.I. reports would reveal the identity of sources of information, and in some cases, at least, would place in jeopardy the lives of confidential sources of information.

4. Disclosure of information contained in F.B.I. reports might result in an injustice to innocent individuals, who find themselves entwined in a web of suspicious circumstances, which can be explained only by further investigation, and disclosures might be made under circumstances which would deny the aggrieved the opportunity to publicly state their positions.

5. A public disclosure could warn persons whose names appear in F.B.I. reports of the investigation, and serve as an effective means of enabling them to avoid detection, to approach witnesses, to bring about the destruction of evidence, or permit them to flee the country.

6. Public disclosure of F.B.I. reports could contribute to blackmail of persons investigated, or could result in degrading persons who have made a mistake or fallen prey to false propaganda.

7. Disclosure might reveal highly restricted information vital to the national security and of considerable value to a foreign power.

8. F.B.I. reports set forth full details secured from a witness, and if disclosed, could be subject to misinterpretation, quoting out of context, or used to thwart truth, distort half-truths, and misrepresent facts.

It is my desire, however, that the charges of disloyalty made before your Subcommittee be given the most thorough and complete investigation, and it is my purpose to cooperate with your Subcommittee to the greatest extent possible, bearing in mind at all times my responsibility to take care that the investigative activities and efficiency of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other investigative agencies remain unimpaired, that innocent people--both those under investigation and those who have provided information--not be unnecessarily injured, and that the effectiveness of the employee loyalty program as a whole not be interfered with.

I am, therefore, asking Mr. Seth Richardson, Chairman of the Loyalty Review Board, to have the Board arrange for a complete and detailed review, as soon as possible, of the cases in which charges of disloyalty have been made before your Subcommittee (including cases heretofore reviewed by the Board), and am asking him to give me a full and complete report after review.

This review will include reports of loyalty investigation made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the files of the State Department and the Civil Service Commission relating to these cases, as well as all other evidence of disloyalty made available to the Loyalty Review Board, including, of course, any evidence produced before your Subcommittee.

Upon receipt of Mr. Richardson's report, I will advise your Subcommittee further.

For your information, I am attaching hereto a list of the Members of the Loyalty Review Board.
Sincerely yours,
HARRY S. TRUMAN

[Honorable Millard E. Tydings, United States Senate, Washington, D.C.]

Dear Mr. Richardson:

I am enclosing herewith a copy of a letter which I am sending to Senator Tydings, with reference to the investigation now being conducted by the Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations of Government employees who are or have been employed in the Department of State and against whom charges of disloyalty have been made. I believe the letter is self-explanatory.

In accordance with the letter, I would appreciate it if the Loyalty Review Board would arrange for a complete and detailed review, as soon as possible, of the cases in which charges of disloyalty have been made before Senator Tyding's Subcommittee. This review should include cases which have heretofore been reviewed by the Board, and should include a review of reports of loyalty investigations made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and files of the State Department and the Civil Service Commission relating to such cases, as well as a review of all other evidence of disloyalty made available to you, including of course any evidence produced before the Subcommittee.

Would you please furnish me with a full and complete report after completion of the Board's review ?
Sincerely yours,
HARRY S. TRUMAN

[Honorable Seth W. Richardson, Chairman, Loyalty Review Board, United States Civil Service Commission, Washington, D.C.]

NOTE: Senator Tydings, in his letter to the President
of March 22, requested that his committee be permitted to examine the files of the State Department, the Loyalty Board, and the FBI "as to what these files contain concerning nine persons named by
Senator McCarthy in opening hearings and eighty persons named by number against whom charges of one kind or another were made by Senator McCarthy in a speech on the Senate floor on February no, 1950."

For a further letter to Senator Tydings, dated April 3, again refusing to disclose confidential information on employee loyalty, see Item 82.

Senator Tydings' subcommittee report states that on May 4, "upon ascertaining that the cases with respect to the individuals named by Senator McCarthy were identical with individuals whose loyalty files had previously been reviewed by four committees of the Eightieth Congress, the President... agreed to make the loyalty files available for review by our subcommittee with respect to such individuals, on the theory that to do so would not establish a precedent for subsequent exceptions in violation of his March 13, 1948, directive" (Senate Report 2108, State Department Employee Loyalty Investigation, p. 9). The President's directive of March 13, 1948, is Item 50, 1948 volume, this series.

On April 5, 1950, Seth Richardson, Chairman of the Loyalty Review Board, stated before the Tydings' subcommittee that "not one single case or evidence directing towards a case of espionage has been disclosed in the record .... I say it is an extraordinary thing that not one single syllable of evidence has been found by the FBI, efficient as they are, indicating that a particular case involves a question of espionage'' (State Department Employee Loyalty Investigation, Hearings, subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Senate, 81st Cong., ad sess. pt. 1, p. 409).

The President's letters to Senator Tydings and Mr. Richardson were released at Key West, Fla.