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 intentionally kept at a
minimum. Gertrude Brown Fry, 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 materials 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 include 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; documents 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 the 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 materials 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 nonsensitive 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.
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.
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