The Ambassador in France ( Bullitt ) to the Secretary of State

No. 5448

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s telegram No. 1429 of November 22, 1939, 4 p.m., concerning despatches Nos. 828 and 829 of October 23 and 24, 1939, from Consul General Hurley at Marseille, reporting the interference by the French authorities with official consular mail.

Pursuant to the instructions of the Department, the question has been taken up with the Foreign Office and the reply, dated December 5, 1939, in translation, is as follows:

“By its note No. 2371 of November 29, 1939, the Embassy of the United States of America informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [Page 539] of the opening of correspondence addressed to the American Consul at Marseille by the French military censors. The Embassy advised that letters addressed by the American Consul at Marseille to his colleague in Vienna and posted at Marseille on August 25 and 26 were only returned to the sender on October 23.

“The Embassy expressed the desire that measures be taken to prevent the recurrence of such instances and to exempt from censorship correspondence exchanged between American consular officers.

“In reply to this communication which has had its full attention, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the honor to advise the American Embassy that instructions have recently been addressed by the Minister of National Defense and War to the various censoring commissions reminding them that correspondence emanating from or destined to the heads of foreign countries, foreign governments and chiefs of foreign diplomatic missions, was not to be opened by the military censors.

“It results therefrom that correspondence exchanged between the Department of State, Washington, the American Embassy and American consular officers in France does not come within the limits of action of the censoring commissions. On the other hand, a similar derogation from the existing rules as a result of the war cannot apply to correspondence exchanged between the American Consuls in France or in foreign countries.

“With regard to the delay in the return to the American Consul at Marseille of letters addressed by him to his colleague in Vienna, the forwarding of which to their destination was impossible due to the declaration of war, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not failed to draw the attention of the competent French service to this unfortunate delay, which is evidently due to an error.”

It should be added that the cases of interference with consular mail have decreased to practically nothing during recent weeks. In some cases, letters addressed by private individuals, particularly those in camps, to the various offices, are being opened, but no recent instances of interference with mail exchanged between offices of the American Foreign Service in France have been reported.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Maynard B. Barnes

First Secretary of Embassy