By Antoine Flandrin

Posted on February 19, 2021 at 6:01 a.m. – Updated on February 20, 2021 at 5:23 a.m.

That day, Maurice Vaïsse presented himself to the Historical Defense Service (SHD), based at the Château de Vincennes, near Paris, provided with a sesame, which, he thought, would allow him to access “classified” archival documents.

The professor emeritus of Sciences Po, editor of the French Diplomatic Documents, holds a letter of assignment signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He is charged, by the United Nations, to investigate a possible implication of the French services in the death of the Secretary-General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjöld, in a mysterious plane crash in present-day Zambia, in 1961. In this wing of the fortress, where more than 120 linear kilometers of documents produced since the 17th century are kepte century by military administrations, he hopes to find the “Smoking gun”, irrefutable proof.

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What is his surprise, when the head of the historical service announces to him that his mission letter does not give him access to all the documents classified as defense secret that he wishes to consult! The Law of July 2008, enshrined in the heritage code, nevertheless allows free consultation of the archives as soon as they relate to facts over fifty years old. The historical service is far from ignoring this liberal law, but it has received instructions from the Ministry of the Armed Forces to scrupulously enforce a 2011 circular: general interministerial instruction 1,300 or “IGI 1300”, a soft acronym forged in the bureaucratic scrub.

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This instruction is based on article 413-9 of the penal code : since 1994, all documents relating to national defense having “Is subject to classification measures intended to restrict their distribution or access” are protected by national defense secrecy. Maurice Vaïsse discovers with amazement, that by virtue of this IGI, he must submit to an administrative procedure known as “declassification” archives older than fifty years, bearing a “secret” stamp, which he wishes to consult.

The situation is all the more incomprehensible as he asks to see documents which he has already consulted a few years ago, and some of which have even been published.

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The researcher leaves the Château de Vincennes empty-handed, but has not said his last word. He reported the incident to the United Nations directorate and the archives directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which unblocked the situation: at the beginning of April 2019, Maurice Vaïsse was authorized to maintain secrecy.

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