Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation

December 2011

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation December 12-13, 2011


    Committee Members
  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • Laura Belmonte
  • Trudy Peterson
  • Katherine Sibley
  • Thomas Zeiler

    Office of the Historian
  • Edward Brynn, Acting Historian
  • Kristin Ahlberg
  • Carl Ashley
  • Sara Berndt
  • Josh Botts
  • Myra Burton
  • Tiffany Cabrera
  • Mandy Chalou
  • Erin Cozens
  • Evan Dawley
  • Evan Duncan
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • David Herschler
  • Adam Howard
  • Lindsay Krasnoff
  • Aaron Marrs
  • Bill McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Chris Morrison
  • Mircea Munteanu
  • Paul Pitman
  • Alexander Poster
  • Stephen Randolph
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Seth Rotramel
  • Avi Rubin
  • Daniel Rubin
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Chris Tudda
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alex Wieland
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

    Bureau of Administration
  • David Adamson
  • William Combes
  • Harmon Kirby
  • Marvin Russell
  • Susan Weetman

    National Archives and Records Administration
  • David Langbart, Textual Archives Services Division
  • Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center
  • John Powers, Information Security Oversight Office

    Department of Defense
  • Patricia Skinner
  • Mark Langerman

    Central Intelligence Agency
  • Peter N.
  • Michelle G.

Open Session, December 12

Approval of the Record of the September 2011 Meeting

Committee Chair Richard Immerman called the meeting to order. Thomas Zeiler then moved to approve the minutes from the September 2011 meeting. Katherine Sibley seconded the motion and the minutes were approved. Immerman then stated it was necessary to elect a chair for the Advisory Committee. Sibley moved to re-elect Immerman, Peterson seconded the motion, and Immerman was re-elected by unanimous vote.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Brynn congratulated Immerman and stated that David Herschler, the Deputy Historian, would not be present for the meeting—his first absence since 1985. Brynn then began to speak about staff changes, mentioning that the office had finally completed a lengthy two-year rebuilding process. Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Hammer then entered the room and began a brief series of remarks. Hammer detailed the changes occurring within the Bureau of Public Affairs, emphasizing that the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy had been created and Ms. Victoria Esser had been hired to fill the role. After Hammer departed, Brynn discussed staffing in PA/HO. He mentioned that Stephen Randolph had been appointed as the new General Editor of the Foreign Relations (FRUS) series at the beginning of September. Brynn stated that Erin Cozens had commenced her work as a technical editor in the declassification division in early October. Michael McCoyer, a FRUS compiler already employed by the Office, had been selected as the new Joint Historian in November and would be assuming his duties in mid-December. Seth Rotramel, a contract historian, had been selected to take Michael McCoyer's previous position in the Global Issues division as a permanent hire. Lastly, Laura Kolar had been hired to fill a vacancy in the Africa and Americas division. Brynn remarked that the office was now at full complement for the first time in years and that management had been successful in securing an SES hiring line for the future office director.

Brynn proceeded to discuss the proposed new quarters for the Historian's Office. He stressed that the new location was larger than the previously-proposed space at SA-44, and that work on design had already begun.

Brynn then listed recent accomplishments, beginning with the FRUS sesquicentennial activities. He reported that Aaron Marrs gave a well-attended presentation at the Lincoln Cottage, and that Peter Cozzens and Josh Botts had continued their work on the history of FRUS. Bill McAllister then spoke, stating that some of the sesquicentennial information was already posted on the website and he was in the process of seeking a print publisher for some of the material. Brynn added that four staff members (Botts, Herschler, Adam Howard, and Joe Wicentowski, and Botts) had presented at the 11th International Conference of Editors of Diplomatic Documents, held in Jerusalem in September. Brynn reported that the United States had emerged as a clear leader in the standards of documentary editing, and Wicentowski remarked that delegations from 25 different countries attended the conference. Brynn then turned the conversation to Susan Holly's "Documents in Diplomacy" project. Brynn said that Holly's project furthered dialogue between the Historian's Office and K-12 educators by providing CDs of primary documents. Brynn stated that Holly organized a successful workshop for the project, and that a great number of teachers lined up the end of her presentation to receive the CDs. Brynn then ended his remarks, and Immerman prompted Randolph to proceed.

Status Report by the General Editor

Randolph stated that he had begun his work as general editor of the FRUS series two months ago, and thanked the Advisory Committee and the office staff for an easy transition. Randolph also emphasized the importance of the conference in Jerusalem, saying that the conference helped to establish the United States as the "gold standard" in documentary editing. He remarked that the process of creating a FRUS volume was more complex than meets the eye, and discussed the processes of compilation, declassification, editing, and publishing. He added that the Historian's Office also was doing a great job in its outreach efforts, singling out Holly's "Documents in Diplomacy" project and Lindsay Krasnoff’s ambassadorial briefings. He said that the sesquicentennial research had an added benefit—it provided data on how to manage the FRUS series in the future. Randolph then praised the declassification division for its efforts in building better working relationships with other agencies. He remarked that the office was fully staffed for the first time in a long time and that he was looking at ways to better track the progress of volumes being currently compiled. He mentioned it might take some time before his planned changes would begin to show results, simply because of the nature of compiling and editing. He stated that the declassification division had completed the declassification of ten volumes in 2011, and added that seven volumes had been published. Randolph then thanked the FRUS staff and the Advisory Committee and concluded his remarks.

Report on Special Projects

Immerman asked William McAllister to provide a brief introduction to the Ambassadorial Historical Briefings (AHB) project. McAllister commented that while the Office had briefed outgoing ambassadors, DCMs, and chargés sporadically in the past, the AHB project had regularized and expanded this initiative. Owing to leadership support for such an initiative, McAllister noted that the Office was now better poised to provide targeted and relevant historical context in a systematic fashion. He praised the efforts of Lindsay Krasnoff in devising and maintaining the program, and for Evan Dawley’s subsequent efforts to expand offerings to other geographic bureaus. Krasnoff provided a more detailed description of the initiative, explaining the nature of the AHB, alluding to some of the more recent briefings, and suggesting areas for growth. Krasnoff further noted that that other members of the staff had volunteered their expertise and had also participated in briefings, and McAllister highlighted how HAC members could contribute by recommending outstanding graduate students to participate in the Virtual Student Foreign Service program, which had provided a valuable addition to HO resources.

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Susan Weetman began with two pieces of positive news from her office. First, IPS recently hired a new Director, Sheryl Walter. Walter previously worked at the Department of Justice National Security Division, the U.S. Senate, and the National Security Archive. Second, following completion of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) FY 2011 assessment of automatic declassification review programs, IPS received a perfect score, making the Department one of only eight agencies to achieve that distinction.

Weetman then went on to provide the status of electronic and paper file review. She distributed to the committee a chart displaying the current status of review and transfer. Weetman noted that IPS has completed its review of State Archiving System (SAS) classified electronic cables through 1986. IPS completed its review for 1986 classified cables and 1986 Limited Official Use (LOU) cables in August 2011 and September 2011, respectively. Reviewers are now focused on 1987 classified cables. IPS transferred the 1977 electronic cables to NARA on June 23, 2009 and the 1978 electronic cables on June 30, 2011. The remainder of 1977-1978 material from the Central Foreign Policy File will be ready for transfer to NARA in January 2012. All elements of the 1979 Central Foreign Policy File should be ready for transfer in March 2012.

Turning to the paper records review, Weetman noted that IPS has completed the review of the Department's paper records through 1985, and is currently reviewing the 1986-1990 record block. To date, nearly 2 million pages of the 1986-1990 record block have been reviewed. IPS has completed its review of P-reel paper printouts through 1979 and is awaiting printouts of 1980-1981 for review. To date, 208,000 pages have been reviewed. N-reel printouts through 1978 have been reviewed. The review of 1979 N-reel printouts should be completed by January 2012.

Closed Session, December 12

Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives

John Fitzpatrick, the new ISOO Director, introduced himself and provided details of his background at various agencies safeguarding protected information for the federal government. Immerman asked whether Fitzpatrick had previously interacted with the National Declassification Center. Fitzpatrick responded in the affirmative.

Peterson asked Fitzpatrick to elaborate on the category of documents that are unclassified but restricted. Fitzpatrick responded that "Controlled Unclassified Information" (CUI) resulted from an executive order signed by President Obama that placed said material under NARA's jurisdiction. Fitzpatrick outlined the process for releasing CUI material. He explained that ISOO has completed categorizing CUI and this information is available on a registry on NARA's website. Fitzpatrick cited personal tax records as one example of CUI. Now that CUI has been divided into categories, ISOO is creating rules for marking and safeguarding the material for dissemination.

Mcllwain provided an update on the National Declassification Center. There are 400 million pages in the backlog. The goal is to process all of them by December 2013. 255 million pages have been examined in some manner. 109 million have been cleared to go and are in NARA's hands. Of these, 24 million pages are done and available.

Sibley asked Mcllwain to speak to the matter of Formerly Restricted Data. Mcllwain gave a brief overview of the history of Restricted Data, reiterating that Formerly Restricted Data does not mean declassified.

Langbart noted that at the last meeting there was discussion of the transfer of the Central Foreign Policy File. NARA sent a letter on that issue to the Department and he provided the Committee with a copy. He noted that processing of materials in RG 59 and RG 84 was largely completed on records released by the NDC. Presently, the Textual Archives Services Division has projects focusing on records of USAID and USIA.

Langbart also reported that NARA is working on a briefing paper on the process for accessioning and processing foreign affairs-related records. The paper should be ready for distribution before the next meeting.

Immerman inquired as to the process of declassifying electronic records. Langbart responded that clarification will be provided in the forthcoming paper.

Peterson asked whether NARA had adequate staffing at present. Langbart responded that NARA has been understaffed for years. Sibley inquired whether virtual interns would help. Langbart responded that he did not think they would.

John Powers of ISOO speculated that electronic cables would perhaps be a good pilot project for employing new declassification technology. Immerman asked Powers to elaborate on what he had in mind. Powers responded by describing software that would detect and segregate obviously highly classified material, leaving humans to documentation in which there are shades of gray. Langbart described a process initiated by NARA whereby software identifies sensitive material such as social security numbers, but since the system can have false positives, the material still needs to be looked over by the human eye. Peterson asked whether CUI complicates the process by which agencies with equities in documents allow for release. Fitzpatrick responded that CUI has no "new right"; rather, it validates existing ones. The goal is to "pare guidance back to regulatory bones." Immerman asked Langbart to restate when the committee might expect the overview paper. Langbart estimated sometime shortly after the New Year. Weetman interjected that IPS had received the letter from NARA regarding the transfer of the Central Foreign Policy File and will respond to it once IPS's new director, Sheryl Walter, had a chance to examine it.

Foreign Relations Declassification Efforts at the Department of Defense

After a welcome from Carl Ashley, Mark Langerman and Patricia Skinner from the Office of Security Review (OSR), Department of Defense, discussed their efforts to expedite the review of documents for FRUS. Since 2007, they have provided a single point of contact (Ms. Skinner), and recently added two additional staff members. HO, the OSR, and policy-level DOD officials have also held 3 working level meetings regarding the review of various FRUS documents. Ashley agreed that the relationship between HO and the OSR had significantly improved.

Immerman then asked Langerman and Skinner to explain DOD's declassification review process. Skinner and Langerman explained that their office acts to coordinate the review of documents by desk officers and other officials who are otherwise concerned with present-day policy issues. They noted that the review process is periodically disrupted by managerial changes and the press of current events.

In response to a question from Immerman, Skinner also explained what happens when the outcome of a declassification request is appealed. The declassification process does not begin anew; instead, documents are simply referred back to reviewers.

Immerman thanked Langerman and Skinner for all their hard work and for attending the meeting.

The CIA and the Foreign Relations series

Ashley opened the session by introducing the CIA representatives. The CIA and HO had met twice since the last committee meeting, during which time good progress had been made on long-standing declassification issues. Also, verification had been completed on one volume. The CIA was also current on all referrals and appeals submitted by the office. Ashley said that cooperation with CIA had been very good. For example, CIA had just returned the declassification results of one volume two months early. The CIA representatives concurred with Ashley’s report and assessment.

Michael McCoyer, the new CIA Joint Historian, had not as yet formally started and therefore stated that he had nothing to report to the committee at this time.

A discussion of specific declassification issues in multiple volumes followed.

Closed Session, December 13

Efforts to Meet the 30-Year Line

Alexander Wieland discussed his current research with the committee.

Aaron Marrs discussed the new FRUS style guide with the committee.