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This post was written by Chris Naylor, Director of the Textual Records Division.

The devastating Germanwings plane crash on March 24, 2015 has reinvigorated the dialogue surrounding airplane cockpit doors, an issue of paramount concern both in 1970 as well as in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. I recently wrote a blog post about President Nixon’s announcement of a program to deal with airplane hijackings on September 11, 1970. During this same period, members of Congress and concerned citizens were writing to the White House and federal agencies to express their views on the issue of hijacking as well as to offer suggestions on various means of dealing with this issue in the future. For one, the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) was very concerned for the safety of crew and passengers aboard airplanes.

By 1970, there had been several incidents that revealed the vulnerability of access to the cockpit from the passenger cabin. On May 5, 1964, a deranged passenger shot both pilots aboard Pacific Air Lines Flight 773 resulting in the death of all forty-four people aboard. This was not the first attempted murder-suicide aboard a commercial airplane, nor would it be the last. In recognition of this threat, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began requiring the locking of the door separating passenger and flight crew compartments on large commercial airplanes in August 1964. However, the FAA understood the limitations of this rule due to the fact that the flight crew required access to the passenger cabin several times during flight which provides opportunities for an unauthorized person to enter the cockpit as well as the potential to gain access through threat of violence to passengers or crew.

During another incident on March 17, 1970 an armed passenger entered the cockpit of Eastern Airlines Flight 1302 en route from Newark, New Jersey to Boston,Massachusetts and ordered the pilot to fly the plane out to sea. When the captain attempted to turn the flight back to the mainland, the hijacker, John J. Divivo, shot the pilot and copilot. Although mortally wounded, the copilot disarmed Divivo and shot him twice. The pilot, who had been shot in both arms, fought off another attack by Divivo, then landed the plane at the original destination. Had it not been for the heroism of the pilot, Captain Robert Wilbur Jr., and the copilot, James Hartley, this flight would have ended in disaster.

Following the Eastern Airlines incident, the ALPA began a concerted effort to push for a secure cockpit concept with the FAA. The FAA files from 1970 contain numerous documents relating to ALPA inquiries relating to the strengthening of cockpit doors.

On September 5, 1970, Dr. Constantin Paul Lent wrote a letter to Vice President Spiro Agnew regarding how to prevent hijackings. Dr. Lent was a mechanical engineer who can be viewed as a visionary and “outside the box” thinker for his prolific writing on rocketry and space travel beginning as early as the 1930s as well as his filing of numerous patents relating to these subjects. Dr. Lent offered the following proposal: “A simple way to prevent highjackers for passing their orders to the aviator is to build a solid wall across the entry door leading from the passenger cabin to the cockpit so as to separate the two and not permit passage.” He included an article he had written for the Summer 1970 issue of his journal Rocket-Jet Flying, which explained how hijackings could be discouraged by using this approach. The article provided the following solution: Provide the pilot’s cabin with its own lavatory facilities and a food compartment. In this manner, there would be no need for physical contact between the flight crew and passenger cabin during the flight, which would eliminate the possibility of hijackers gaining access to the cockpit.


Dr. Lent concluded his letter to the Vice President with the following:

Please communicate this plan to the heads of the various aviation firms and airlines to take effect immediately so as to prevent future highjacking of aircraft. This practice of highjacking could cause huge financial defisits [sic] and may also become in time the cause for another World War.

Sohmer Letter-res

Letter from Arthur Sohmer to Dr. Constantin Lent, Sept 25, 1970

Dr. Lent’s letter was forwarded to the FAA for their consideration and was docketed as comments for the FAA advance notice of proposed rule making (Notice 70-28, 23 July 1970, Docket #10460) which solicited comments concerning bulletproof bulkheads and other cockpit arrangements to enhance security on large passenger carrying airplanes.

On October 21, 1970, the acting FAA administrator provided the Secretary of Transportation with a requested summary of the comments received for the FAA advance notice of proposed rule making.  In general, the airline industry comments were against the proposals.  On the other hand, non-professional comments were overwhelmingly in support of bulletproofing the cockpit, with particular mention of the argument for complete isolation between the flight deck and passenger cabin. It was noted, however, that the responses did not appear to be very helpful.

The implementation of mandatory passenger screening in 1973 lessened the sense of urgency regarding cockpit security.  In time the aviation industry adopted the FAA-approved Common Strategy approach to accommodate the demands of hijackers aboard a plane in order to try to get the plane to land safely, rather than any strategy to counter hijackings mid-flight.  The Common Strategy was based on decades of experience that hijackings could best be resolved once the plane had landed, but would be ineffective in any situation where the hijackers had no intention to land the plane.

Thirty-one years after the ALPA demanded immediate action and Dr. Lent provided his proposal on securing the cockpit to thwart hijacking attempts, access to the flight deck continued to remain a vulnerability on commercial airplanes.  Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the security of flight deck doors became a major concern as a result of the relative ease with which the hijackers on the four planes were able to enter the cockpits and take control of the planes.  In fact, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 passed shortly following the 9/11 attacks included requirements for the strengthening of flight deck doors as well as the locking of the doors while the aircraft is in flight except when necessary to permit access and egress by authorized persons.

To this day, aviation security experts continue to assess options for improving cockpit security.  Dr. Lent may not have realized it at the time, but his vision of a secure cockpit with a lavatory and food compartment would not only protect from hijackers in the passenger cabin, but would also avoid the necessity of a pilot leaving the cockpit, as occurred on the Germanwings flight as well as other known instances of pilot murder-suicide aboard commercial airplanes.



by on June 18, 2015

June 18, 2015.  The bicentennial of the battle of Waterloo, one of the most important events in early nineteenth century European history.  At that battle, an Anglo-Allied army commanded by the Duke of Wellington combined with a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard Blucher and defeated the French army commanded by Napoleon.  The battle put an end to the so-called “Hundred Days” marking the period between Napoleon’s return from exile on Elba to the restoration of King Louis XVIII on the throne of France.  It also marked the end of twenty years of European conflict in which the United States was both directly and indirectly involved.

Earlier this year I worked with Dr. Stephen Randolph, The Historian of the Department of State, to locate American diplomatic reporting about that event.  One of the documents we located in the series, Despatches from Diplomatic Officers, 1789-1906 (NAID 603720) is the July 25, 1815, despatch by U.S. Minister to Great Britain John Quincy Adams (this document can be found on roll 15 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M30).  Adams had only recently presented his credentials as the new U.S. diplomatic representative in Great Britain when the United States and Great Britain renewed diplomatic relations after the War of 1812.

Among other things, the report, in Adams’s distinctive handwriting, includes brief mentions of the defeat and the battle, notice of Napoleon’s surrender, a comment on the powers performed by Louis XVIII, and reaction of the French people to the restoration:

  • ”The external combination against Napoleon has again overpowered him, probably as before with the assistance of internal treachery.”
  • “After having been defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, he abdicated again the Imperial dignity, and finding it impossible to escape, surrendered himself by going on board the British Ship of War Bellerophon, Captain Maitland.”
  • ”Louis 18th has again been restored, or rather permitted by the Allies to issue Proclamations and Ordinances as king of France – In other respects the allies treat France as a conquered country – levying contributions; taking possession of public property; and appointing Governors in the Provinces overrun by their arms.”
  • ”No act of any sort, expressive of the consent of the French People to be ruled by the Bourbon family has appeared. On the contrary manifestations of the strongest repugnancy against them are daily occurring under the half a million of foreign bayonets by which they have been restored.”

Despatch No. 6 from American Legation Great Britain to Department of State, July 25, 1815



The newspaper clippings mentioned are not among the Department of State records preserved in the National Archives.

Unlike present-day reporting, which is almost immediate, Adams’s despatch did not arrive in the Department of State until September 10, 1815, making for a period of 47 days in transit.

Scholars and others use the series Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), the official documentary publication of American foreign policy, and other printed primary sources, as sources of easily-accessible documentation.  Strict reliance upon published documents, however, can lead one astray if the point you are trying to draw is not the same as that intended by the compilers of the publication.  Thus, it can be important to go back to the original sources.

A case in point relates to the timing of the U.S. public statement on the Japanese bombing of Chinese cities in 1937.  Japan’s indiscriminate bombing of Chinese cities in 1937 shocked the world.  The United States, through its embassy in Tokyo, made a government-to-government protest and subsequently made a public statement.  The League of Nations publicly condemned Japanese actions, too.

Following the documentation published in the special FRUS-like volumes on U.S.-Japan relations for the period 1931 to 1941 published in 1943, some writers have left out the government-to-government contact and set the chronology as follows:  a League of Nations committee publicly adopts a condemnatory resolution on September 27 and the next day, the United States, through the Department of State, publicly supports the League.  Former Secretary of State Cordell Hull (Secretary of State at the time of the events in question) followed this line in his 1948 book The Memoirs of Cordell Hull.  After noting the September 27 League adoption he wrote “In a statement the following day we at the State Department supported this finding . . . ” (p. 559).  John Dower, in his seminal book War Without Mercy, put it this way: “On September 28, 1937, one day after a resolution on the subject was unanimously adopted by an advisory committee to the League, the Department of State denounced Japan . . . ” (p. 38).

Unfortunately, Hull, Dower, and others who follow the printed documentation, have the chronology wrong.  While the U.S. did issue a public statement on September 28, and that statement did include a censure of Japanese actions, that was not the first U.S. public issuance with such criticism.  On September 22, 1937, even before the League of Nations took action, the U.S., through the Department of State, issued the following press release reproducing the text of the government-to-government note delivered by Ambassador Joseph C. Grew to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that same day (from Press Releases, 1912-1990, NAID 602158).  (Grew’s report on the delivery of the note is published in the special volumes on Japan.)  The September 28 statement merely repeated one sentence from the earlier release.

Airplanes filled the sky over Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.  D-Day.  Some planes dropped bombs; some planes towed gliders; some planes dropped paratroopers; some planes dropped . . . paper.  Paper in the form of propaganda leaflets.  The propaganda was aimed both at the French and at the Germans.

Two days after D-Day, William Phillips, then working in the U.S. Embassy in London, sent his colleague James Clement Dunn, Director of the Office of European Affairs in the Department of State, copies of several of those leaflets (now found in file 811.20200/6-844 of the Central Decimal Files, 1940-1944, NAID 302021).  Two examples of the leaflets follow.

The first example, addressed to the “Citizens of France” by Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, informs them that “The day of deliverance is coming.”  Among other things, this leaflet states (translated from selected portions of the text):

-We will destroy the Nazi tyranny root and branch, so that the people of Europe are reborn in liberty.

-The courage and the immense sacrifice of millions who fought under the banner of the Resistance have already contributed to the success of our arms.

(Continuing translated text):

-The presence of the enemy among you has imposed the tragic necessity of aerial bombing and military and naval operations that have caused you so much loss and suffering. You have accepted these sacrifices with courage and in the heroic tradition of France, as it was the inevitable cost to which we all had to consent to achieve our goal: liberty.

-I am counting on your help for the definitive crushing of Hitlerite Germany and for the restoration of traditional French liberty.

-Once victory is won and France is liberated from the oppressor, the French people will be free to choose, as soon as possible under democratic methods, the government under which they want to live.

-The enemy will fight with the courage of despair. He will employ all means – no matter how cruel – to try to block our progress. But our cause is just, our arms powerful.  With our valorous Russian allies, we march towards certain victory.

The second example is aimed at German troops.  The front says “Four Front War” and illustrates the existence of the four fronts: the Eastern front (“Ostfront”), the Southern front (“Sudfront”), the Home front (“Heimatfront”), and the Western front (“Westfront”).  Note how the arrow showing the Cross-Channel attack points to Calais, not Normandy, apparently as part of the continuing misinformation campaign aimed at diverting German attention away from the primary landing area.


“Four Front War”



The second page says “East front . . . . Home front . . . . South front . . . . and now West front.”  The numbered paragraphs describe the reverses befalling Germany on the three fronts listed.  The leaflet closes with:







“Four Front War” reverse



Source and Notes:

William Phillips to James C. Dunn, June 8, 1944, file 811.20200/6-844, 1940-44 Central Decimal File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

I thank my colleagues Ashby Crowder and Sylvia Naylor who provided the translations of the documents used to prepare this post.

The Historical Office at the Department of State recently published a history of the documentary publication now referred to as Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS).  The book, entitled Toward “Thorough, Accurate, and Reliable:” A History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series, also is available online.  The history describes the origins and evolution of the series and includes information on the production of the volumes.

A recently found document provides a good illustration of the early 20th century production process.  The FRUS volume for 1908 included Despatch No. 265 from the U.S. Embassy in St. Petersburg, Russia.  In that despatch, Secretary of Embassy Montgomery Schuyler reported the signing of a convention relating to the preservation of peace in the Baltic region.  The image below is how the document appeared in its published form.  While marked as an extract, there is nothing to indicate how much of the document is not included:


The original document follows.  As you can see, it is marked for the typesetter.  The word “Extract” is penciled in at the top of the first page, and directions to omit the final four paragraphs are penciled in the left margin of each page.  Finally, the document is stamped to indicate that it was published in the 1908 FRUS.

From the perspective of over 100 years, it seems clear that the more interesting parts of the despatch, the Ambassador’s analysis, were omitted.  But given that the volume was issued less than 4 years after the date of the document, that information was considered too sensitive for public release and only the fact of the signing of the convention could be published.

Today, of course, the producers of FRUS in the Historical Office compile and produce a manuscript from copies of the documents, so the originals will not include publication markings.  More importantly, when excisions are made in documents, readers are informed of the amount of text (number of lines or pages) that is omitted.


Source: Despatch No. 265, from Embassy Russia, April 25, 1908, Numerical File 25818, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.  Also available on roll 1172 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M862.