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Profile: Office of Censorship
Office of Censorship was a participant or observer in the following events:
The National Security Resources Board (NSRB) adopts a national censorship plan designed to restrict the free flow of information to the public in the event of a national emergency or war. The government assumes the power to censor communications and suspend freedoms of the press. An NSRB document outlining the program says censorship may be activated in a “time of war or of national emergency proclaimed by the president and found by him to arise from the use or threat of force by a foreign power.” The new NSRB plan is an extension of a program established during World War II. Author Ted Galen Carpenter will later comment: “Although advocates of censorship habitually insisted that it would only by invoked during wartime, the guidelines contained no such limitation. A declaration of war was not required; merely a declaration of emergency arising from a perceived foreign menace.” [Carpenter, 1995, pp. 112-113]
Press reports and freedom of information advocates expose details regarding the government’s secret plans to censor public information in the event of a national emergency or war. In the event of a declared emergency, the Office of Censorship, led by a 26-member board of “executive reservists,” would be in charge of restricting virtually all public information. The unit was established in 1949 as a reincarnation of a censorship office created during World War II (see 1949). The board was apparently put in place to oversee the unit in 1958 (see 1958). The unit is currently being operated out of the Office of Emergency Preparedness. In an article published in the Prescott Courier, Sam Archibald, director of the Freedom of Information Center, writes, “The government has set up a ‘Stand-by Voluntary Censorship Code’ and has planned all the bureaucratic trappings necessary to enforce the code.” Archibald says the plan would “become effective either in wartime or in some undefined ‘national emergency.’” The plans, he writes, are ready to be applied in “all kinds of less than war situations.” In the event of a crisis, members of the standby censorship office would be dispatched throughout the country to monitor and censor all channels of communication, from private letters and telephone calls to public radio and television broadcasts. According to Archibald, only five of the 26 board members are working newsmen. “The rest are public relations men, businessmen, government employees, college professors, or are listed merely as ‘retired.’” CBS executive Theodore F. Koop, who served as deputy director of the Office of Censorship during World War II, is revealed as the head of board. Archibald reports that Koop took up the position in the mid-1960s. Later reports will suggest President Eisenhower appointed Koop to head the censorship board in 1958 (see 1958). [Prescott Courier, 10/1/1970; New York Times, 10/9/1970; St. Petersburg Times, 10/25/1970; Carpenter, 1995]
In the wake of reports exposing government plans to censor public information in the event of a crisis (see October 1970), the Nixon administration changes the title of the secretive Office of Censorship to the Wartime Information Security Program (WISP). The WISP agency is run out of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP), which is responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see October 21, 1968). The number of board members within the WISP unit, originally set at 26 (see 1958), is scaled down to just eight. The agency maintains the same basic objective of censoring public information in the event of a crisis. Author Ted Galen Carpenter will later report that “virtually nothing” changes in regards to the censorship plans. In the event of a national emergency, “press censorship would go into effect and several thousand ‘executive reservists’ would report to locations across the country to censor all mail, cables, telephone calls, and other communications (including press dispatches) entering or leaving the United States.” Under the WISP program, the government would not only censor information that may help an enemy, but also any data that “might adversely affect any policy of the United States.” Time magazine will later summarize, “Press reports in 1970 exposed the existence of a standby national censor and led to the formal dissolution of the censorship unit, but its duties were discreetly reassigned to yet another part of what an internal memo refers to as the ‘shadow’ government.” [Time, 8/10/1992; Carpenter, 1995, pp. 114]
The Reagan administration prepares a reserve emergency bill to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act. The legislation, which would be presented to Congress in the event of a crisis, would suspend the Constitution and give the president and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) unprecedented powers to combat a disaster. Nationally syndicated columnist Jack Anderson comments, “Since FEMA’s draft legislation is a standby proposal, it will not be offered to Congress ahead of time—when it could be thoroughly debated—but only in the event of a national emergency, when Congress would supposedly be panicked into voting for a dictatorship.” The bill covers a range of emergencies, including nuclear war, natural disasters, financial crises, and civil disturbances. It would grant the government the authority to ration goods and resources, take control of the nation’s manufacturing base, and require all citizens to work in “activities essential to the national health, safety, or interest.” The bill would outlaw striking by workers, and those refusing to work or caught lying about the availability of manpower would be heavily fined or thrown in jail. It would grant the government the authority to seize real estate and personal property considered “necessary for the national defense purpose.” Datamation magazine says the plans would lead to a military takeover of the computer industry. The bill would give the government “unlimited powers to seize computers and plants of high-technology industries and would establish an Office of Censorship to control telecommunications leaving the United States, making it a crime for companies to use secret codes.” [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 9/25/1984; Evening Independent, 10/17/1984]
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