The Special Files Unit was created in September 1972 to provide a central storage location for sensitive material. Early in
1970, John R. Brown III, Special Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary, conducted a review of the handling procedures
for all Presidential papers. His report was contained in a memorandum to H.R. Haldeman, dated March 25, 1970. In it, Brown
recommended the immediate establishment of a special files unit to handle the storage of all sensitive material, material
of a personal nature, and material containing the President's handwriting. The consolidation of these files into a central
location would, according to his recommendation, tighten up the procedures for handling Presidential papers. Two years later
the Nixon administration acted on the recommendations by establishing a special files unit within the White House complex
that was completely independent of the White House Central Files unit.
To ensure the utmost security, the number of individuals who worked in the Special Files Unit was kept at a minimum. Gertrude
Brown Fry, who was Staff Assistant for Security, was appointed to supervise the new White House unit. Her assistant was Hazel
F. Fulton, who had been a confidential assistant to Peter M. Flanigan, Assistant to the President.
Prior to the establishment of Special Files, much of the sensitive material generated by the White House staff was not forwarded
to the White House Central Files for general storage, but it was dispersed throughout the White House complex and held by
individual staff members in their own offices. Following the decision to set up Special Files, John W. Dean III, Counsel to
the President, instructed Fry and Fulton to receive, index, and file all sensitive White House staff materials. They were
also provided criteria to use in making determinations about items to included in Special Files.
Under the criteria there were twelve groups of files that warranted special care and handling: investigative reports on individuals;
applications and recommendations for positions; document that contained derogatory remarks concerning the character, loyalty,
integrity, or ability of individuals; documents relating to personal, family, or financial affairs of individuals; documents
that contained information which could be used to harass living persons or relatives of recently deceased persons; information
prejudicial to the national security; information prejudicial to foreign relations; communications addressed to the President
in confidence, the immediate publication of which would result in discouraging confidential communications to a President
in the future; documents that pertained to the President's personal, family, business, and financial affairs; security classified
information; documents specifically restricted by the President; and politically sensitive information or documents. With
these instructions Fry proceeded to set up, organize, and manage the Special Files.
The first materials received by the new White House unit were the President's handwriting files and the files of the Staff
Secretary. Fry and Fulton also began to review the Confidential Files in the White House Central Files, including the subject
files and retired files of White House staff members, to determine which documents should be removed and placed in the Special
Files. Furthermore, it was decided to continue the same arrangement scheme used by the White House Central Files Unit rather
than to devise a new filing system for Special Files materials. A cross-reference card was prepared for use by the White House
Central Files unit to indicate the new location of withdrawn items in Special Files. This practice, however, was not always
done as time passed.
It was the intention of the Special Files Unit that each senior White House staff member would send sensitive materials to
Special Files for storage and exclusive retrieval by the staff member. In practice, however, Special Files did not receive
sensitive material from many top staff members. When staff members did resign their appointment or left the White House staff,
the Special Files Unit received all their files and reviewed them for items that met the specified criteria for sensitivity
and inclusion in Special Files. All nonsensitve materials were subsequently forwarded to the White House Central Files for
general storage. If the Special Files Unit did not receive a large quantity of sensitive materials from a particular staff
member, but only a few folders, these folders were placed in the file group known as Special Staff Files.
On February 13, 1975, William Casselman, President Ford's White House Counsel's Office, asked Gertrude Fry to become custodian
of the historic tapes which were stored in Safe Zone 128, Old Executive Office Building. Jerry Jones, Staff Secretary, had
been the custodian of the tapes, and this activity was consuming all of his time. The Watergate Special Prosecutor and the
law firm representing Richard Nixon were notified that this transfer of authority was going to take place and approved it.
Hazel Fulton was not included in this authorization. With assistance of the Secret Service, which was charged with the physical
security of the tapes, Fry provided access and pulled tapes on request from April 3, 1975, until August 8, 1977, when the
tapes were turned over to the National Archives.
In May 1973 the Special Files received the files of H.R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman, and John W. Dean III. The FBI seized
these files after the resignation of Haldeman and Ehrlichman and the firing of Dean. Fry did not integrate these files into
the Special Files, she was only the custodian of them. They were placed in the Special Files because it was perceived as the
most secure filing unit.
After the resignation of the President other file groups were placed in the custody of the Special Files for security such
as the files of Rose Mary Woods, J. Fred Buzhardt, James St. Clair, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives-Daily Diary,
and the Gift Unit.
Although Special Files was a development of the Nixon administration, it did not immediately end with the resignation of President
Nixon on August 9, 1974. The Special Files Unit continued to operate for an additional eleven months by serving the needs
of the Ford White House staff. On June 23, 1975, the Ford administration abolished Special Files, and all sensitive materials
in its custody were transferred to the Confidential Files of the White House Central Files.