Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance has banned the secret monitoring of telephone conversations, a practice that entangled Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger in controversy as he left office.
In Kissinger's case, the argument, which continues is whether his voluminous calls stenographic transcripts of monitored calls are personal records, as he insists, or official documents.
Vance's order, without referring to that dispute, leapfrogs it. Vance, in his first official day in office on Monday, issued instructions to stop monitored telephone calls, unless all parties on the line know it happening, or Vance or his deputy grants an exception.
Having a secretary listen in on telephone calls is a practice used by senior officials in various departments, and also in some private businesses.
Vance's order appeared to take the rest of the government by surprise. One State Department official said the decision "comes out of a deeply held conviction" by Vance and his deputy, Warren M. Christopher, also a lawyer, that telephone eavesdropping "should not be done."
"This is the secretary's decision," said spokesman Frederick C. Brown, "and it was made at his initiative."
The Vance order states:
"No officer or employee of the State Department or the Foreign Service shall direct, arrange for, permit, or undertake the monitoring or mechanical or electronic recording of any conversation, including any telephone conversation, without the express consent on all persons involved in the conversation.
"Any devision from this rule must be approved in advance by me or my deputy."
The restrictions, it might be noted, apply equally to surreptitious recording of any conversation, such as the taping of discussions in the Nixon White House.
Vance Brown said "does not intend to have his calls monitored. Should he do so on occasion, he intends to inform the party."
The Vance order applies to all employees of the State Department, the Agency for International Development, the U.S. Information Agency, and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, here or abroad.
In the traditional message that a new Secretary of State sends to all posts. Vance said U.S. policy should be made "as openly as possible." American diplomacy, Vance said, should "reflect the traditional American values of morality, strength, steadfast friendship, progress and fairness."
The practice of having secretaries listen in on phone calls has been used in some offices at the State Department at least since the early 1950s. William P. Rogers, who preceded Kissinger, has said he had calls monitored only infrequently, and only after notifying the order party. Dean Rusk, who was Secretary of State from 1961 to 1969, has said he monitored calls only on substantive matters, estimating that about 10 per cent of conversations were monitored.
Kissinger maintained that his extensive and uncirculated records of monitored telephone conversations as Secretary fo State and presidential national security adviser were personal property.
He ended up depositing at least nine file drawers of the records in the Library of Congress, under tules that give Kissinger control of access to them. He left none of the transcripts in government files, although extracts of relevant material were ordered to be put into official records.
Kissinger rejected a request from U.S. Archivist James B. Rhoads that "qualified archivists" should be permitted to review the transcripts, Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) of the House Government Operations Committee said he agreed with an analysis that the telephone transcripts are government property.
Under rulings cited by the State Department in the Kissinger transcript controversy, the department itself said that monitoring of telephone calls was prohibited, expect to "permit a third party to listen to the telephone conversations of the senior principal officers of the department for purpose of taking notes or making appointments and to improve the general efficiency of operations." That "exception" was so broad, however, that there was little, if any, restriction.