41. National Security Action Memorandum No. 911


  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • The Secretary of the Treasury
  • The Administrator, General Services Administration


  • Expediting Publication of “Foreign Relations”

The effectiveness of democracy as a form of government depends on an informed and intelligent citizenry. Nowhere is the making of choices more important than in foreign affairs; nowhere does government have a more imperative duty to make available as swiftly as possible all the facts required for intelligent decision.

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As many of these facts as possible should be made public on a current basis. But, because of the inherent need for security in the current conduct of foreign affairs, it is obviously not possible to make full immediate disclosure of diplomatic papers. However, delay in such disclosure must be kept to a minimum.

It has long been a pride of our government that we have made the historical record of our diplomacy available more promptly than any other nation in the world. The Department of State has the responsibility within the Executive Branch for putting out this permanent record in the series “Foreign Relations of the United States.” The discharge of this responsibility requires the active collaboration of all departments and agencies of our Government in the submission and clearance of papers necessary for the completeness of this record.

In recent years the publication of the “Foreign Relations” series has fallen farther and farther behind currency. The lag has now reached approximately twenty years. I regard this as unfortunate and undesirable. It is the policy of this Administration to unfold the historical record as fast and as fully as is consistent with national security and with friendly relations with foreign nations.

Accordingly I herewith request all departments, agencies and libraries of the Government to collaborate actively and fully with the Department of State in its efforts to prepare and publish the record of our diplomacy. In my view, any official should have a clear and precise case involving the national interest before seeking to withhold from publication documents or papers fifteen or more years old.2

John F. Kennedy 3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S–NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAM No. 91. No classification marking. In a February 23 memorandum to Bowles, Secretary Rusk had asked the Under Secretary to look into policy with respect to publication of the Department’s official historical documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States. Rusk suggested that volumes be published in a regular and predictable chronological sequence to avoid overtones of politics or propaganda. He cited the previous administration’s interest in publishing records on China for the period 1942–1949. Rusk felt that publishing basic papers after a 15-year interval might be suitable, “although there would be those who would argue that this is too short.” (Ibid., Rusk Papers: Lot 72 D 192, Chron Files, February 1961)
  2. In a September 22 memorandum to President Kennedy, Acting Secretary Bowles expressed appreciation for the action taken in NSAM No. 91 requesting the collaboration of all departments, agencies, and libraries of the Government. Bowles noted that an official of the Treasury Department had already provided assurances of cooperation. (Ibid., S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAM 91)
  3. Printed from a copy that indicates the President signed the original.