131. Action Memorandum from the Deputy Coordinator for Security Assistance (Vest) and the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Saunders) to Secretary of State Kissinger1 2

Space Policy - Declassification of the “Fact of” US Satellite Reconnaissance

Late in May, in response to Mr. Sisco’s recommendation in favor of declassifying the “fact of” satellite reconnaissance, you indicated your willingness to meet with the Under Secretary and ourselves to discuss the question further. Two developments in the near future make it urgent that we have your guidance on this matter:

  • -The Space Policy Committee must soon submit a paper on this question to the President;
  • -The DCI will shortly request our views on a draft memorandum to the President requesting authorization to downgrade the “fact of” satellite reconnaissance from Secret to Confidential at once and further to give the DCI authority to declassify the “fact of” after consultation with all interested parties.

The issue is subject to strongly differing views among the interested agencies:

  • -State is the only agency continuing to reserve its position.
  • -DOD and Force Commanders prefer a downgrading to Confidential to facilitate operational use of the reconnaissance product. The NRO would prefer to keep the “fact of” Secret, presumably to protect the programs.
  • -CIA is divided.
  • -NASA and ACDA favor continued classification at the Secret level.
  • -OMB, AID, Interior and NOAA favor complete declassification.

This dispersion of views was revealed in the Under Secretaries Standing Committee on Space Policy consideration of a draft study on Remote Earth Imagery. This study treats at some length the issues presented in our memorandum to you dated April 22, 1976.

Because the Space Policy Committee must soon submit its report, we would like to meet with you to discuss further the issue of declassification of the “fact of” U.S. satellite reconnaissance.


That you agree to meet with us soon to discuss this issue. If you so agree we will prepare an issues paper for your consideration.

Approve [HK initialed]
Disapprove _______
Date & Time of Meeting 8/16

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P760125–0140. Secret. Drafted on July 22 by James J. Hitchcock (INR/DDC) and Assistant Deputy Director Emerson M. Brown. Sent through Habib. Notations in an unknown hand indicated Kissinger read the memo on August 8, and agreed to a meeting on August 16 at 3:30, but that the date and time of the meeting were “very tentative.”
  2. The memorandum updated Kissinger on agency positions concerning declassification of “fact of” U.S. satellite reconnaissance.