Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation

February 2007

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, February 26-27, 2007


    Committee Members
  • Wm. Roger Louis, Chairman,
  • Carol Anderson,
  • Robert McMahon,
  • Thomas Schwartz,
  • Katherine Sibley,
  • Thomas Zeiler

    Office of the Historian:
  • Marc Susser, Historian,
  • Kristin Ahlberg,
  • Carl Ashley,
  • Monica Belmonte,
  • Todd Bennett,
  • Myra Burton,
  • John Carland,
  • Paul Claussen,
  • Bradley Coleman,
  • Craig Daigle,
  • Evan Dawley,
  • Evan Duncan,
  • Steve Galpern,
  • Amy Garrett,
  • David Geyer,
  • Renée Goings,
  • David Herschler,
  • Paul Hibbeln,
  • Susan Holly,
  • Adam Howard,
  • Hal Jones,
  • Edward Keefer,
  • Peter Kraemer,
  • Doug Kraft,
  • Madelina Lee,
  • Keri Lewis,
  • Erin Mahan,
  • Aaron Marrs,
  • Bill McAllister,
  • Chris Morrison,
  • Linda Qaimmaqami,
  • Kathleen Rasmussen,
  • Jim Siekmeier,
  • Melissa Jane Taylor,
  • Chris Tudda,
  • Susan Kovalik Tully,
  • Dean Weatherhead,
  • Susan Weetman,
  • Alex Wieland

    Bureau of Administration
  • Julie Wilhelm, A/RPS/IPS

    National Archives and Records Administration:
  • Michael Carlson, Electronic and Special Media Records Services Division;
  • William Fischer, Life Cycle Management Division;
  • David Langbart, Life Cycle Management Division;
  • Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division;
  • Lisa Roberson, Life Cycle Management Division;
  • Marvin Russell, Civilian Records Staff;
  • Nancy Smith, Office of Presidential Libraries

    Central Intelligence Agency
  • John C.,
  • Suzanne F.,
  • Karen O.

Open Session, February 26

Approval of the Record of the December 2006 Meeting

Chairman Wm. Roger Louis opened the meeting at 1:35 pm. He then discussed the positives and negatives of inviting press reporters, and indicated that he would like to see representatives of historical and other interested societies at committee meetings in the future. Louis then called for approval of the record of the December 2006 minutes, which was approved by unanimous consent.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Marc Susser began his report with a discussion of the office's recent activities in the public arena. He first noted a recent article in the Washington Post that cited the office's report to the Secretary on the history of Middle East negotiations. He then noted that the office's videos, Sports and Diplomacy in the Global Arena and Today in Washington: The Media and Diplomacy, had enjoyed such success that Sports was sold out and Media soon would be. Moreover, the project on the history of the United States and Hungary which the office completed for the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, was on its way to press, most likely in March 2007.

The joint Russian-American project was also steadily progressing. Both the Russian and the U.S. versions of the volume were moving towards publication. A conference on the volume has been scheduled for October 22-23, 2007, at the new George C. Marshall Conference Center, which should allow easier public access. Susser expected to connect with his Russian counterpart at the upcoming International Conference for Editors of Diplomatic Documents in Dublin.

He noted that Office historians will soon begin teaching their third round of the module on U.S. diplomatic history to the incoming Foreign Service Officers in the A-100 course in March.

Finally, the office interviewed several candidates at the January 2007 annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta, Georgia, and others in Washington. From those interviews, he said, five new people have been hired--Bonnie Kim will join the Asia, General, and Africa Division; Nathanial Smith, Louise Woodroofe, and Joe Wicentowski will join the Policy Studies Division; and Stephanie Hurter will join the Declassification and Publishing Division.

Louis called for the Reports of the Deputy Historian and the General Editor

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and the General Editor

David Herschler reported that the office has been given a sizable grant from the Information Technology Board to fund a multi-year project designed to update the office's website. The office has recruited three part-time Historians to assist in this project by expanding the history timeline, and writing and posting substantial amounts of new material. There are several projects underway, both new and ongoing, that will be added to the website, which will include redesign of the website. The project is so extensive that most of the five contract historians who have been hired full-time will be working on this project beginning in June, if not before. Kristin Ahlberg is transferring from the Declassification and Publishing Division to the Europe and Global Issues Division and Brad Coleman left the office to become The Command Historian of the U.S. Navy Southern Command in Florida.

As the Department of State had received its budget for the year, Herschler was optimistic that the office's funding would, at least, match the previous year's.

There were a number of historians from the office who attended the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) events at the American Historical Association's (AHA) annual meeting in Atlanta. Some of those present remained in Atlanta following the end of the meeting to conduct research at the Carter Presidential Library.

Herschler noted that the A-100 course was evolving in its content from iteration to iteration. It is possible that a longer diplomatic history course for the more seasoned foreign policy community employees would be developed. Bill McAllister has attended several meetings with FSI to coordinate these efforts.

Herschler concluded with a brief discussion of the office's role in outreach. Two representatives from the AHA had spoken to members of the committee at lunch during the December 2006 meeting about reinvigorating the historical profession from both diplomatic and public history angles. The office is well-suited to cover both fronts because many historians within the office and committee members have a presence in the governance of professional historical organizations.

Katharine Sibley requested additional information about the Dublin meetings. Susser replied that it is an international meeting of documentary editors who lead offices similar to the Historian's Office. Herschler added that the meetings focus mostly on publication strategies.

Edward Keefer reported that no volumes had been published since the previous committee meeting. He instead discussed the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, noting the achievements, changes, and improvements to FRUS over the past 35 years. Last year, 2006, was a banner year for the office, with 10 volumes out for the first time since 1996. Out of 57 volumes scheduled for the Nixon/Ford administrations, the office complied with the 30-year deadline three times. All of the manuscripts for the Nixon/Ford volumes are in the final stages, as all but nine have been either released, are in final editing, or are in final declassification.

Historians in the office are now fully engaged in researching and compiling 7 of the 24 projected Carter volumes, and 2 of the 7 are almost fully compiled. The production of the FRUS volumes for the Carter years is projected to be smoother than that of previous administrations. Agencies have become more expedient in the declassification of material. The office's relationship with the GPO has steadily improved, which has reduced the amount of time between the final declassification and publication. Moreover, the office has received approval from the Department of State's webmaster to upgrade future e-volumes. These upgrades will include a feature to improve searchability and appearance.

Keefer then highlighted the positive changes made in FRUS over the past 35 years. The most significant change--the shift from single year volumes to topical administration volumes--had proved to be very beneficial.

By 2011, the office hopes to meet the 30-year line requirements of the 1991 law; all retrospective volumes on covert operations between 1947-1960s will be completed, using documents not previously available; e-volumes will be downloadable for printing on demand; print volumes will move toward multi-media (with maps, photographs, and maybe even audio/video with accompanying DVDs or links to websites); a retrospective print volume underway on the projection of U.S. culture abroad from 1917 to the first Nixon administration will be undertaken.

Keefer concluded that President Lincoln and Secretary Seward would be proud of us.

Louis opened the discussion by inquiring whether, with the increase in documents in future administrations, the office would have enough resources to meet deadlines. Keefer responded that in hindsight, perhaps the 57 volumes for the Nixon/Ford administrations was an overly ambitious total; however, in the future, the office will be more conservative, as evidenced by the already downsized number of volumes for the Carter administration.

Louis then requested information on the ways in which the office intended to use maps, pictures, and other images in conjunction with textual records in a manner that would still ensure the clarity of the volumes. Keefer replied that, as these documents were crucial to the formulation of U.S. foreign policy, the absence of them would be more acute, as the textual documentation is often unclear without them. Thomas Schwartz inquired whether it was possible to link to news reports or other media footage. Keefer responded that it was possible, particularly in the cultural volumes, but expressed some concerns over going too far in that direction and over-commercializing the series.

Thomas Zeiler inquired as to how the office will approach the research process as historians are confronted by the abundance of electronic-mail. Herschler noted that Nancy Smith would be available to discuss this topic later in the meeting. David Langbart replied that while there is an enormous quantity of e-mails in forthcoming administrations, the Archives has had some experience searching them. He suggested that data-mining is the key. Paul Claussen added that Office historians had also had some experience with this and noted that the key was in looking at the To/From lines in traffic of high-ranking personnel. Zeiler and Louis requested information about the effect that this might have on e-volumes and print volumes, specifically inquiring if it would result in larger volumes. Keefer responded that there would most likely be a higher ratio of electronic to print volumes and more combinations of print volumes with supplemental documentation and multimedia materials published on the Web. He did not anticipate that the print volumes would change considerably.

Langbart noted that most agencies, including the Department of State, still operate under a print-and-file policy for e-mail. Doug Kraft responded that, while print and file may be the policy, it was not necessarily the practice and then likened searching e-mail to putting one's "mouth around the firehose" given the enormous quantity of material. Langbart acknowledged that many people do not practice the print-file method, but noted that the Department's new State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Tool (SMART) was designed to preserve that type of record. Zeiler inquired as to whether the increase in e-mail traffic had reduced the number of memoranda of conversations. Kraft and Herschler both responded affirmatively. Louis noted the long-term nature of these problems and said that any discussion on the topic was only speculation at this point.

Louis then asked for the committee members' views on the addition of photographs and maps to the volumes. Schwartz commented that he liked the inclusion of maps, but thought it best to restrict the use of photographs, with the exception of key images. Keefer noted that the cost of printing photographs was no longer prohibitive. Based on the joint U.S.-Russia project, future volumes will have pictures of key figures and then a few others. Claussen added that maps are often integral parts of the documents themselves. Keefer concluded with his assurances that the office would do its best to include maps and photos in future volumes.

Status of Declassification of State Department Records

Julie Wilhelm reported that her staff was currently reviewing classified documents from 1982, which they hoped to complete by year's end. To date, 50 percent of electronic and 12 percent of paper records have been reviewed. Keefer asked about the availability on line of electronic records recently transferred to NARA, and was answered by NARA staff that 1975 records should be available at the end of March. Herschler asked about the status of 1977-1981 records. Willhelm responded that the classified records have been reviewed. However, all records for a calendar year are transferred at the same time, so the records for a particular year will not be available until all records from that year have been reviewed.

Closed Session, February 26

Report by the Subcommittee on Electronic Records

Louis took up the question of the reclassification of records at NARA. As Margaret Hedstrom was not present, it would be a shorter session and the issue would be deferred for serious discussion until she was present to pursue it in detail. Langbart interjected to correct his earlier comment about the number of emails expected from the records of the George W. Bush administration. According to his colleague, the collection would be considerably larger than previously indicated. McMahon noted that during the morning session, Michael Kurtz had given a briefing in which he announced that 65 percent of the documents in the reclassification effort had been declassified in full. Another 10 percent of the documents originally reclassified or improperly declassified were now partially available for refiling. McIlwain observed that the Archives hoped to finish refiling most of the records by June. On the National Declassification Initiative (NDI), McMahon said that it was positive to have a centralized organization that was equipped to deal with problems that arose instead of relying on each agency to shepherd documents through the review.

McMahon reported that the 1976 State cables were delivered to the Archives in early February. McIlwain was uncertain when they would be available to researchers. Carlson indicated that the 1975 State cables would be available in AAD by mid-March. Staffing and budgeting issues were predicted to slow progress considerably, e.g., there was no prospect in the near future for extended hours at NARA, as there had been in the past. Indeed, McMahon noted, Kurtz had been very frank about the difficulty of processing records given budgetary restraints.

Part of the NDI standard operating procedures will be a risk matrix in draft, shared with all the other agencies, so there will be one centralized declassification center. McIlwain noted that risk management would be used as a means of getting material to the open shelf quickly. Louis wondered if the NDI had a physical home or office, to which McIlwain replied that the Declassification division had space for the liaison group to meet. Once it was reconfigured, there would be room for the group to meet weekly, where its members could do quality control analysis. They had done four pilot projects so far, to determine which defects were acceptable, and which require further agency analysis. The goal would be to eliminate re-review.

The vision, McIlwain said, was a declassification center of one-stop shopping, with total Archives collaboration with the agencies. There had been progress on the managerial end and McIlwain expected progress on the working end as well. The building would be run by, and be under the control of, the Archives, which would serve both symbolically, and practically, by providing space for the NDI.

McMahon noted that the talk with Kurtz had been positive. The system was no longer operating on a zero tolerance basis, and the fact that some classified documents could fall through the net was acceptable. If people in the declassification community could agree, it would augur well for the future. Moving from a zero defect to risk management policy represented a positive change.

Progress on the appraisal of the SAS system using Subject TAGS is moving forward. Langbart noted that NARA had developed a position on which records are permanent, and which are not. This had been conveyed to the Department of State and now NARA was awaiting its comments and concerns about the proposal. It was hoped that this would be done by March or the beginning of April.

Foreign Relations Research at the Presidential Libraries

Louis asked Nancy Smith to brief the committee on the presidential libraries. Herschler clarified that Smith would focus on the materials held at the Reagan Library, identifying issues that might arise there in the course of research.

Smith reported that there would be challenges--for both NARA and the office--in arranging access to the records at the Reagan Library, the first presidential library to fall under the Presidential Records Act. According to Smith, some 8 million documents at the library were in the early stages of declassification. Due to the more recent date of these records and the limited funding for the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) project, the scanning of Reagan classified records has not yet started. If the RAC gets more funding, the RAC project plans on beginning the scanning of the classified records for Reagan's first term. This effort, however, may not track well with those volumes in the Foreign Relations series covering both terms of the Reagan administration. Smith added that, unlike the Kennedy and Johnson Libraries (and the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff), the Reagan Library does not have the benefit of a subvention from the Department of State for processing materials for FRUS research, and that this may need to be considered at the point State is ready to begin it FRUS research at the Reagan Library. The library staff, of course, would do the best it could under the circumstances.

Schwartz asked Smith if, in the interest of using the RAC, it would make any sense for the office to reconsider those volumes covering both terms of the Reagan administration. Although she thought this might be a good idea, Smith explained that NARA still faced the problem of whether it could scan the documents in time for FRUS research.

Keefer asked Smith to clarify the status of the RAC project at the Reagan Library. Smith replied that the library staff was starting to prepare, but that only the beginning of scanning can occur on these records with current RAC resources. The expectation is that there will be additional funding in the future.

Despite some problems with attachments, Keefer stated that the RAC was a very productive way of doing FRUS research, as it allows compilers to peruse and copy a large number of documents quickly. Although he did not think the problems raised were insuperable, Keefer added that the office could reconsider its planning for Reagan volumes if necessary.

Smith cautioned that any FRUS research there would also require financial assistance to process the classified records. Herschler said that the office would need some lead time before such arrangements could be made; thus it was useful to discuss possibilities now before research on those volumes began.

Carol Anderson asked Smith to explain the specifics of the Presidential Records Act. Smith reported that, except for special access in response to the requests of the current and former Presidents, courts orders and ongoing business of the Congress, Presidential records are unavailable for 5 years after an administration leaves office. Then restricted records, such as classified records, also fall into the special access category. Department of State historians receive access under the auspices of the current President to compile volumes of the Foreign Relations series 30 years after the fact. Smith noted that the current Executive Order on the subject also specifies notification of the former President, including a review, for instance, of privileged information.

Smith also mentioned that according to John Powers of the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff, there had been a delay in referring FRUS volumes for PRMPA review. Chris Tudda reported, however, that the office was up-to-date in its referrals. McMahon asked whether the records at the Reagan Library included many electronic records, including e-mail. Smith replied that there were a relatively small amount of Presidential electronic records for the Reagan Administration including classified e-mail. Smith said that, while on-line access is not available at this time, these records will probably be available at the point State begins in research into the Reagan time period. She said that the office will need to determine, given the volume of the Reagan holdings and that there will be some duplication of documentation, how much resources/time State wants to dedicate to these records.

The Foreign Relations Series: Withheld Documentation From Recently Declassified Manuscripts and Other Clearance Issues

The Committee discussed with the General Editor documentation that had been withheld from FRUS volumes and other clearance issues.

Processing and Opening of Declassified Records at NARA

Louis asked the staff if it had any problems with NARA that the Committee should know about. Keefer said that now that the issue of obtaining the Nixon tapes had been resolved, which he described as the first big crisis that the office faced regarding archival material, it could expect that the next big crisis would be that of e-mail.

Closed Session, February 27

Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business

Adam Howard of the Middle East and Americas Division, his Division Chief, Doug Kraft, and Keefer discussed the progress of the Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974-76 volume with the comittee.

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

Herschler welcomed the new Information Review Officer (IRO) for the National Clandestine Service at CIA.

Herschler reported that the CIA continues to review the non-High Level Panel (HLP) volumes in a timely fashion and has recently completed its review of three volumes. Volumes with HLP issues, however, continue to slow the review process. Herschler concluded, however, that if one measures the length of time it takes to review a volume with an HLP statement against the amount of information released, the results are positive. Herschler noted that one of his concerns for the coming year was to find ways to move the HLP process forward more quickly.

In addition to the HLP volumes currently under appeal, there are a number of other volumes also under appeal with CIA. Additionally the office is pursuing appeals with other agencies. The National Security Council is currently reviewing three volumes. The office is concerned that a cutback in the number of NSC reviewers might slow the review process there, which traditionally has been done in a very timely manner.

The CIA representatives stated that the Director of Central Intelligence had instituted new guidelines for decision-making at the CIA. The CIA representatives believed that these new guidelines would facilitate the resolution of low-level bureaucratic conflicts before they were submitted to higher levels. The new guidelines, along with the physical centralization of all IROs for the FRUS review process at IP, should facilitate the process of review of FRUS.

The CIA representatives discussed on-going reviews of volumes and expressed satisfaction with the smoothness of the review and appeal process and the expectation that future reviews of FRUS volumes would also go smoothly. The committee then discussed declassification issues related to specific volumes with the CIA representatives.

At this point, the new IRO discussed philosophical aspects of declassification with the committee members and answered questions relating to their concern regarding specific declassification issues.

Susser then asked whether the Historical Review Panel (HRP) and the committee could meet jointly this coming year. After some discussion, it was agreed that a December meeting might be possible.

Keefer stated that he found all this information encouraging. He noted that over twenty published volumes have acknowledged covert activities and he praised the CIA representatives for their systematic and organized disclosure. Keefer also mentioned that the United States is the leader in this kind of transparency.

Zeiler asked if there was a firm timetable for the hiring of, and a projected starting date for, a Joint State-CIA Historian. Herschler replied that once the interview process is complete, the Department clearance process would take at least 3-4 months before CIA could begin its clearance process. The CIA representatives added that it was uncertain how long their clearance of the candidate would take.

McMahon asked if the absence of a Joint Historian was having a negative effect on the volumes under research. Herschler indicated that there had been no serious problems. Qaimmaqami and Daigle confirmed that CIA staff had been very helpful in assisting research. Mahan added that many compilers had done their research before the previous Joint Historian had left the post. Sibley asked for a clarification of the role of the Joint Historian. Keefer explained that the Joint Historian served as a liaison between State and the CIA in order to help facilitate research. He added that the Joint Historian had previously been helpful in the compilation of retrospective volumes. Herschler added that the Joint Historian also helped work out tricky declassification issues. Bennett reaffirmed Mahan's point, but added concern that continued absence of a Joint Historian could overtax current ad hoc research arrangements with CIA staff, despite their efforts to meet the office's research agenda.

Louis thanked the CIA representatives for participating and ended the session.

Committee Review of Recently Published volume, Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969-October 1970

The committee members discussed their impressions of the volume with Erin Mahan, the editor of the volume.