The National Security Archive profiled by the WaPo Style Section

Historians in the News

Stoned on speed, Elvis Presley arrived at the White House wearing a purple velvet suit and bearing gifts for President Richard Nixon -- a Colt .45 pistol and some silver bullets.

It was Dec. 21, 1970, and Elvis had a mission: He wanted Nixon to give him a federal narcotics agent's badge so he could carry dope and guns wherever he went. Nixon didn't give Elvis the badge, but he did pose for pictures with the King of Rock-and-Roll.

Nineteen years later, newspapers reported that the Elvis-Nixon photos were the most requested pictures in the federal government's vast photo collection, and Tom Blanton responded the same way he responds to so many other interesting news stories: He filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

"When the president meets with anybody, there's a whole paper trail, so we filed a FOIA request and got the entire file released," says Blanton, who is the director of the National Security Archive, a private research group devoted to prying documents out of the federal government's files and making them public.

The fruits of Blanton's Elvis-Nixon FOIA turned out to be gloriously goofy: There was Elvis's handwritten letter to Nixon requesting a meeting and bragging that "I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse." And a White House staffer's memo suggesting that Nixon ask Elvis to "record an album with the theme 'Get High on Life.' " And the official notes of the historic meeting: "Presley immediately began showing the President his law enforcement paraphernalia, including badges from police departments . . . ."...
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