Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation

December 2010

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, December 13-14, 2010


    Committee Members
  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • James McAllister
  • Robert McMahon
  • Trudy Peterson
  • Peter Spiro
  • Katherine Sibley
  • Thomas Zeiler

    Office of the Historian
  • Edward Brynn, Acting Historian
  • Kristin Ahlberg
  • Carl Ashley
  • Myra Burton
  • John Carland
  • John Collinge
  • Evan Duncan
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • Tiffany Hamelin
  • David Herschler
  • Stephanie Hurter
  • Aaron Marrs
  • Bill McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Kelly McFarland
  • Chris Morrison
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Susan Weetman
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alex Wieland
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

    Bureau of Administration
  • David Adamson
  • Harmon Kirby
  • Nick Murphy
  • Marvin Russell
  • Steve Worrell
  • William Coombs

    National Archives and Records Administration
  • Michael Carlson, Special Media Archives Services Division
  • Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for Washington Programs
  • John Powers, Information Security Oversight Office
  • Sheryl Shenberger, Director of the National Archives National Declassification Center

    Central Intelligence Agency
  • Peter N.
  • Perry C.
  • Robin T.

Open Session, December 13

Approval of the Record of the September Meeting

Chairman McMahon called the meeting to order at 11:04 a.m. Richard Immerman moved to postpone approval of the June minutes. Katherine Sibley nominated Immerman as the next chairman, McMahon seconded the motion, and the nomination was approved by acclamation.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Ambassador Brynn congratulated Immerman and thanked McMahon for his leadership of the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) during a tumultuous time in the Office of the Historian (HO). He also thanked Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley for the Bureau of Public Affairs’ support. Brynn then outlined progress made by HO since the September HAC meeting, including planning for the move to SA-44, staff additions, the publication of 3 FRUS volumes, and the success of the Vietnam conference in September. He introduced Carl Ashley as the new chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division. He thanked Susan Weetman and David Herschler for their day-to-day management of the office and the staff for their personal support as he has confronted a family crisis.

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and General Editor

Herschler echoed Brynn's appreciation of McMahon's leadership of the HAC and then reported on progress on the declassification front of the FRUS process. He noted that three volumes had been declassified since the September meeting and anticipated another three would be verified before the next meeting. He introduced 3 new staff members: Alexander Poster and Sara Berndt in the Europe and Americas Division; and Paul Pitman in the Asia and General Division. He expressed optimism that more vacancies would be filled soon. Herschler then explained that the Declassification and Publishing Division's responsibilities were growing as HO expanded its engagement with technology. Herschler continued by noting that Mark Hove, Stephanie Hurter, and Kristin Ahlberg had completed their details and returned to HO while Kelly McFarland was on a short-term detail.

Next, Herschler updated the committee on the office move. He noted that the process was going smoothly, with a space plan completed and individual offices selected. He thanked the Infrastructure Working Group for their hard work. Herschler also reported that HO had rolled out its 6th educational video and curriculum guide, entitled "When the Border Vanishes," and noted Susan Holly's participation at an educational conference in Denver. He asserted that these educational outreach initiatives were vital to meeting the Department's responsibility to engage younger audiences. Finally, Herschler noted the professional activities of members of the HO staff.

Susan Weetman described progress made in FRUS publication since September. She repeated that 3 Nixon/Ford volumes had been published since the last meeting. This brought the total for 2010 to six. She also reported that three more volumes had been compiled for the Carter series, namely those for Foreign Economic Policy, an Arab-Israeli volume, and the volume on China. Four more volumes were in process of editorial review. Immerman commented that the HAC was encouraged by these developments.

John Carland reported on the Vietnam conference held in late September 2010. He described four elements of the meaning of the conference: First, it was an apt celebration of the South East Asia subseries covering the period between 1946 and 1975; second, the conference made the Department of State a focal point for international consideration of the historical and contemporary significance of U.S. involvement in Vietnam; third, the conference demonstrated that HO had turned a corner after a difficult period; and finally, the conference served as a personal capstone for Carland's career as he announced that he would retire in 2011. Katie Sibley inquired about Internet publication of the conference proceedings. Carland replied that this was in progress and Lindsay Krasnoff reported that HO was gradually receiving transcripts of the scholarly panels to post online. Immerman asked about using H-Diplo as a way to sustain public attention to the conference. McMahon urged that HO leverage the conference to improve its outreach and publicity efforts, perhaps by submitting an account of the conference to Passport. Immerman offered that this could strengthen bonds between HO and SHAFR. Amy Garrett noted that HO had made these efforts in the past.

Bill McAllister reported on FRUS sesquicentennial research and publicity initiatives. He described a panel contributed to by HO at an October meeting of the Association of Documentary Editors and then outlined plans for future panels and conferences. HO has 2 panels related to FRUS at the AHA in January and has planned three mini-conferences for 2011 to bring together compilers, participants, and scholars to discuss volumes several months after their release. The first of these conferences, covering the 73-76 Foreign Economic Policy volume, is scheduled for March at George Mason University. Another, focusing on the SALT volume, is scheduled for May or June at the Wilson Center. And the third, featuring the 69-72 National Security Policy volume, will be held at Williams College in September. McAllister also briefly described a research project on the history of FRUS being conducted by Aaron Marrs, Peter Cozzens, and Josh Botts. He noted that this research would be presented at two panels proposed for the 2011 SHAFR conference and a series of public talks. McAllister, Brynn, and Cozzens described some of the preliminary conclusions that had been reached through the FRUS research and McAllister expressed hope that examining the evolution of the series would help illuminate post-Reagan conceptual challenges. Immerman inquired how HO planned to publish the FRUS research and proposed a special issue of Diplomatic History.

Report by the Assistant Secretary

Assistant Secretary Crowley thanked McMahon for his leadership of the HAC and wished Immerman luck as he took on that role. He explained that 2010 had been a good year for HO as it continued to deal with the findings of the OIG report. Crowley noted the impending office relocation and the September conference as evidence that HO was recovering. He acknowledged the role played by HO historians in reviving office morale and productivity and thanked Brynn for his leadership.

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

David Adamson reported that IPS was in good shape in terms of declassification review in the Systematic Review Program. On the electronic side, they had met their goals: they had completed the review of the classified 25-year old e-records in late November and had begun reviewing the 1986 classified records. On the paper side, they had accomplished 94% of their goal of completing the final quarter of the 1982-1985 record block and they expected to complete 100 %, or close thereto, of the record block this calendar year. Looking to the future, the biggest challenge is to continue to adequately staff the Department’s contingent of declassification reviewers at the National Declassification Center.

The National Declassification Center

Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for Washington Programs, opened the session by remembering Jean Schauble, who was a longtime director of declassification at NARA, and who set a high standard for government service.

Kurtz noted that the National Declassification Center (NDC) was created by President Obama under Executive Order 13526 of December 29, 2009, in order to more efficiently review and settle the backlog of records to be declassified which, at the time, numbered 400-420 million pages of documents. These documents need to be declassified and released by the end of December 2013. Working with other partner agencies within the Department of Defense, the NDC has created a more streamlined declassification program. Sheryl Shenberger was hired as the first Director of the NDC, and has brought her experiences to the table.

Sheryl Shenberger, Director of the NDC, said that it is important to realize that special systematic review programs have had successes, but nothing ever before on the scale of the NDC. The NDC has undertaken a huge effort, and needs the continued cooperation and communications of all government agencies in order to get through the 417-million page backlog of documents to be declassified. All agencies with equities in documents with national security information work together to establish new processes, and all agencies with equity are taking part in the process. Shenberger noted that the Department of State has been a consistent supporter of the NDC and its work, and has provided subject experts and reviewers. She also noted that the Department of State has been very forward leaning, with an open mind to new measures. Since June 2010, Shenberger reported that the NDC has:

  • Improved processing time;
  • Sped up sampling, noting that a scientific sampling of each box was in use (and is able to be used as the material has already previously been extensively reviewed in the past);
  • Implemented processes to gauge how much time this sampling takes in order to focus upon efficiency;
  • At the 30 million page mark, the NDC has completed the first Quality Assurance step for referral processing. Between 19 July (when the new process was initiated) and 31 October, the NDC was able to determine with some confidence that 85% of the collections were originally reviewed for equity referral with minimal discrepancies, and 15% will require quality assurance review and possible return to their original reviewing agencies for rework. That has translated as of 10 December into 29.4 million pages having successfully passed the first interagency evaluation step.
  • Shenberger said that there are parallel efforts underway to review special collections, such as those for the Pentagon Papers (much of what will be released will be of interest to the public) and the construction of the Berlin Wall - both of which have anniversaries in 2011. Efforts are also being made to discuss how to declassify U.S. Government documents with NATO equities in them.

    The NDC is a product of openness in government and takes input from the public on what areas they might consider focusing upon. Going forward in the future, the NDC hopes to build upon the 2010 activities and progress with increased confidence.

    The committee recessed for lunch.

    Closed Session, December 13

    The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

    The session began at 1:58. Herschler said the last three months had been particularly constructive; HO had had productive meetings with the CIA in October and November. Herschler said that HO and the Agency should make a habit of having these meetings, particularly before launching into the lengthy appeals process. In November a meeting was held about HLP negotiating, with an eye toward unifying the review process. Herschler then gave updates on specific declassification issues on certain volumes.

    The CIA representative agreed with David Herschler's assessment that the previous three months had been a productive period for the CIA and HO regarding the declassification of FRUS volumes. The CIA representative hoped that this would serve as a model for continued good relations in the future.

    The committee discussed the status of the Iran retrospective volume. The committee then discussed several specific declassification points with the office and the Agency.

    Geyer noted that we need a permanent Joint Historian. Immerman agreed.

    Discussion ensued regarding declassification and potential reclassification of documents and how that would relate to specific volumes within the FRUS series. John Powers encouraged the committee, if they were frustrated with the reclassification process as it related to FRUS.

    Immermann asked Weetman and Collinge if they had any comments to add; neither did.

    Petersen raised the issue of sending notices to readers regarding release of additional documentation that could not initially be included in FRUS volumes. Weetman responded that there were plans to send notices in these cases, but that logistics needed to be worked out.

    Immermann thanked the CIA representatives for coming and adjourned the session at 2:45 p.m.

    Efforts to meet the 30-Year Line

    Kristin Ahlberg and David Nickles discussed their work on volumes on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs and China, respectively, with the committee.

    Closed Session, December 14

    Committee Review of Department of State Declassification Guidelines

    Harmon Kirby, Nick Murphy, and Steve Worrell discussed the Department of State declassification guidelines with the committee. The discussion touched on issues relating to ISCAP, the role of the National Declassification Center, coordination with foreign governments and international agencies, mandatory review, and automatic release.

    The committee then went into Executive Session.