THE LAST NSAM STANDING – Deconstructing a Secrecy Blunder: A Study in Dysfunction

21 April, 2011 National Security Archive Update

For more information contact: John Prados – 202/994-7000

Washington, D.C., April 21, 2011 – The last remaining secret national security directive from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, a National Security Action Memorandum on Laos, has finally been declassified, nearly fifty years after it was first issued, and was posted today on the Web site of the National Security Archive.

Today’s posting is a case study of sorts–a selection of documents which are analyzed not so much for their historical value as for what the materials show about operation of the declassification system. This inquiry has its origins in a quest by Archive senior fellow Jeffrey T. Richelson to obtain the declassification of presidential national security directives issued since President Harry S. Truman. During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, the highest level directives that flowed from the White House were called National Security Action Memoranda (NSAMs). President John F. Kennedy issued 173 NSAMs during his time in office. Reaching the point where only NSAM-29, on Laos, dated March 9, 1961, remained secret, Richelson finally obtained the declassification of this directive on October 29, 2010, almost fifty years after it was issued.

As the “last NSAM standing,” NSAM 29 received significant attention inside the National Security Archive. But to the present author, the Archive’s project director on Vietnam war records, it immediately seemed familiar. A search for related records produced a number of other items (also posted today) which provide the context for discussion of NSAM-29’s release. More importantly, however, the search disclosed that the document, far from being the last NSAM standing, was already in the public domain, in multiple versions, some more than a decade old. Given present controversies over secrecy in America, the case of the last NSAM illuminates the enormous problems that are endemic in the declassification system.

Continue reading at the National Security Archive’s Web site:


THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.