Are the US President's phone calls recorded?

  • Apparently the official phone calls of the US President are recorded and transcripts are made. This process has apparently resulted in multiple phone conversations being revealed to the public by persons unknown.

    What is the procedure for recording the phone calls of the President? Can the President make calls that are not recorded and who has access to the transcripts of calls? Who makes the transcripts?

    This is an interesting question. Obviously classified information would never be recorded and released to the public domain for security reasons.

    @SJuan76 That does not answer my question or having anything to do with espionage or leaking of phone call transcripts. Please remove that tag from my question.

    Since Nixon the White House records and keep the record of all meetings and call. Also, in popular culture, the famous Red Phone (line between Moscow and Washington) wasn't a public call.

    @nelruk Does the red phone still exist? It would be interesting to see Putin and Trump exchange 140 char msgs over twitter on Ukraine and Syria files :p Ha life is getting more interesting with new technology and spreading messages around the world over the internet in mere seconds instead of 90 days with overseas snail-mail (horse-rider to ship, ship across ocean, ship to horse-rider).

    Likely yes, by several other nations ;) . They won't tell anyone they do so, though.

    would this question be better suited for Skeptics.SE?

    Not an answer and just a lowdown on the UK process: Yes, everything is recorded for the Official Record and is marked into (mostly) 3 categories: Top Secret, Official Sensitive and Official. There is a records facility that keeps copies depending on need. So a low level Official Sensitive file about council funding may be kept in storage for a few years, but the Top Secret stuff for much longer. That's why we're hearing new information about World War One (e.g. Edith Cavell) nowadays!

    Seeing as how POTUS goes off the rails pretty easily, I'd guess his calls are both fairly tightly scripted and monitored, in person, aside from any actual recording.

    @WinEunuuchs2Unix The "red phone" was never a phone. It was a teletype, then a fax, and now e-mail.

    The German chancellors phone calls were illegally recorded. So you might add "legally" to your question.

    Adding a bounty as this question becomes highly relevant these days.

  • Fizz

    Fizz Correct answer

    2 years ago

    The BBC has covered this recently with respect to the procedures for the official calls, although the details will not answer all the sub-questions raised by the OP. Particularly not much is said about his private calls.

    Traditionally, officials from the US national security council (NSC) brief the president before a call with a foreign leader. Then the briefers sit in the Oval Office with the president while he speaks on the phone with the foreign leader. "At least two members of the NSC are usually present," according to USA Today.

    There will also be officials sitting in a secure room in another part of the White House, listening to the president's call and taking notes. Their notes are known as a "memorandum of telephone conversation", and like many things in Washington it has an abbreviation: "memcon".

    The president's calls with foreign leaders are also transcribed by computers. Afterwards, as former White House officials explain, the human note takers compare their impressions with an electronic version of the call. The notes from the officials and from the computerised transcriptions are combined into one document. This transcript may not be perfect, but it is done as carefully as time and resources allow.


    Officials who work in the executive secretary's office of the US national security council decide on the level of classification for the transcript of a call, explain former White House officials.

    If the transcript contains information that could put national security or lives of individuals at risk, the transcript is classified as top secret and is kept in a protected area.

    As former officials explain, these transcripts are shared through a system known by an acronym, Jwics, which stands for Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, a network that is used by people who work in the intelligence services.

    Frequently, though, the transcripts are stored in areas that are secret but not guarded with this extraordinary level of security.

    Classifying a transcript as secret - but not top secret - means that officials can discuss the contents of the presidents' calls more easily with others who work in the government.

    So, in summary, there are both machine and human listeners and a composite "memcon" transcript is produced. The classification level of this memcon is either secret or top secret. It seems that any memcon that is judged to affect national security or risk US lives is classified as top secret; the rest are just secret.

    And as a reminder, simply having the clearance level doesn't entitle one to access such information. One also needs to prove "need to know" when making the request. There are more compartments basically based on "pre-proved" need to know in various areas, but the BBC doesn't say how the memcons are compartmentalized (as opposed to just classified).

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM