Advisory Committee on Historical, Diplomatic Documentation, February 25-26, 2008
Open Session, February 25
Approval of the Record of the December 2007 Meeting: Chairman Wm. Roger Louis called the meeting to order at 1:30 p.m. and asked for the approval of the December 2007 minutes and the current agenda. The committee approved both.
Report by the Executive Secretary:
Marc Susser began his report noting that the office had published seven volumes since the last committee meeting. Three volumes--Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, 1969-76; Intelligence Community, 1950-55; and South Asia, 1973-76--were published in December 2007; and four volumes--European Security, 1969-76; Germany, 1969-72; Eastern Europe, Eastern Mediterranean, 1969-72; and China, 1973-76--had been published so far in 2008. These volumes had been well received and this is an impressive achievement given that so much of the publication process rests outside of the direct control of the office. At a recent meeting of intelligence historians, Susser distributed 15 copies of the 1950-55 Intelligence retrospective, which generated considerable praise.
The office is now planning volumes for the Reagan administration. As of January, Susser had approved a draft research plan that called for 40% of the volumes to be published as electronic-only volumes.
Susser then praised Richard Moss for his diligence in completing ahead of schedule the transcriptions for the remaining Nixon tapes to be included in future volumes.
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 there had been one change to the staff since the last committee meeting: Evan Dawley, a former contract historian, had accepted a full-time position in the Policy Studies Division.
Herschler then discussed the office's continuing commitment to education and outreach. The office website is undergoing a redesign to make it more user friendly and it is being enhanced to provide researchers and students alike with a more developed timeline. It is scheduled to launch in early 2009. In addition to this, the office also continues to receive good reviews for its participation in teaching the A-100 course for new Foreign Service officers. Finally, he discussed office historians' participation at the American Historical Association (AHA) and mentioned that Kristin Ahlberg and Peter Kraemer received prestigious committee positions.
Herschler then discussed the declassification process in detail. He noted that those volumes that did not have any high-level panel (HLP) issues were relatively easy to declassify; however, those with HLP issues often underwent a prolonged declassification process that included lengthy appeals. He was pleased to note that the office had reduced the overall declassification time of volumes since the implementation of the 1991 statute, but constant diligence was required to minimize the length of the protracted declassification process.
Herschler then asked Joe Wicentowski to talk about the project his division has been working on that involves the office website and web searches. Wicentowski reviewed the office's online FRUS initiatives to date and discussed the office's ongoing project to enrich the website with tools that, for example, provide biographical information and alert users to new volumes. Wicentowski then discussed an initiative to develop a single, federated, on-line search engine to assist historians in documentary research; such a search engine would make it possible for researchers to execute fine-grained searches of government documents that are currently hosted at disparate websites. For example, the search engine could search across documents on NARA's website, each agency's FOIA requests website, and FRUS.
Edward Keefer reported on the three most recently released FRUS volumes. He praised Susan Weetman's staff in the Declassification and Publishing Division for their considerable efforts in getting those volumes to press in an efficient and expeditious manner. Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, volume XVIII, China, 1973-1976, would likely receive the most publicity, Keefer predicted. Keefer noted that the volume covered the crucial period immediately after the U.S. opening to China and included key documentation on the significant efforts made to normalize relations during the domestic crises of the Watergate scandal and Nixon's resignation from office. In Foreign Relations , 1969-1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, the compiler, on the advice of the Committee, took a topical approach and covered subjects such as European defense, and the Helsinki Accords and related negotiations. Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969-1972, centers on the status of Berlin through both direct and back channel messages. Moreover, there is extensive annotation, along with numerous cross-references in the volume, including references to many German documents.
Keefer then outlined the office goals for 2008. The two primary goals are to release 10 (possibly 11) volumes and to focus on compiling volumes for the Carter administration. He noted that half of the Carter manuscripts have been assigned and that it is unlikely that all of them will be completed by the target date of 2010. Louis inquired as to whether there would be a model for the access guide. Keefer replied that the access guides were unique to each volume and, as such, would have to be constructed individually for each project, although a model could be created, the likelihood that it would prove genuinely useful was slim. Moreover, access guides need to go through the same declassification process as volumes, which takes time away from the declassification of volumes.
The committee then discussed with the General Editor the office's ability to complete the Carter volumes by the 30-year congressionally-mandated deadline. Thomas Zeiler inquired if this was possible. Keefer replied that 12 volumes had been assigned to compilers and, of those, the research of 10 volumes had begun. If everything went well and there were no problems it would take 18 months for compilation, 1 year for declassification, 2 years for editing and publication, putting the earliest date of publication somewhere around 2012. As such, Keefer was not optimistic that the majority of the volumes would be completed by 2010, but thought "the stars will align by 2014." Katie Sibley asked when the other 12 Carter volumes would be assigned and Keefer replied that he hoped to assign them that week. He noted that the Nixon-Ford volumes were nearing completion and that all compilers would be working on Carter volumes by later this year.
Edward Rhodes then asked if the timeline was accurate, as the Nixon-Ford volumes took almost 24 months on average to compile. Keefer replied that 2 years sounded about right, but that he would prefer 20 months. Rhodes asked if Keefer thought the Carter administration volumes would be easier to compile. Keefer replied that the office had initially believed that the Remote Archival Capture program (RAC) would be greatly advantageous to researchers; unfortunately, this had not necessarily been the case. Compilers could never be sure that they had seen everything in a file and, as a result, they had not been able to move as quickly through the documentation as anticipated. Looking at the plans for the Carter and Reagan administrations, Rhodes noted that the office should reach the congressionally-mandated 30-year line by 2018 for the first Reagan administration.
Keefer stated that there were fewer volumes planned for future administrations, which should assist in completing them by the deadline. For the Carter administration, there are 25 volumes scheduled, with 38 projected for the Reagan administration, instead of the 57 for Nixon-Ford. Margaret Hedstrom voiced concern that the office would not complete the Carter volumes until 2018, and so asked if the office could afford to do 25 volumes. Keefer replied that it should be faster, since there are a greater number of e-volumes. Although it would be difficult, he felt, it could be done. Hedstrom expressed her disbelief that any Carter volume would be released by the 30-year line.
Robert McMahon then turned the discussion to the issue of the Nixon tapes. He said that some transcripts had been published with errors and asked how the office would address the issue. Keefer replied that the problem was not that they had been published with "errors," which suggests that the office somehow inadvertently let something slip, but that the issue was in the interpretation of what is heard on the tapes. Technology has improved considerably since earlier transcriptions were done, which has allowed historians to make more accurate interpretations. With this most recent series of transcriptions, the tapes are listened to multiple times, including an additional time after the volume is in pages. As a result, these recent transcriptions result in fewer unclear segments. If part of the transcript is published in an older volume and the transcriptions do not match, an explanation will appear in the front matter explaining the difference.
Status of Declassification of the Department of State Records:
Marvin Russell reported on the status of the declassification of Department of State records. There were currently no problems to report on the declassification effort. The electronic review staff was on schedule to meet the 25-year deadline. Having completed their review of classified telegrams from 1982, they were now reviewing classified telegrams from 1983, which they hoped to have finished by the end of the year. They were also reviewing unclassified telegrams from 1981. As for documents that had to be reviewed by other agencies, they were in the process of sending telegrams from 1978 and 1979 out for review. IPS review of paper records dating from 1982 to 1985 was proceeding smoothly. IPS reviewers had completed review of one quarter of these records in 2007 and were ahead of schedule to meet their goal of completing their review of another quarter by the end of this year. In short, Russell concluded, the Department of State declassification review process was on schedule.
Louis asked Harmon Kirby if he had anything to add; Kirby did not.
Keefer said that he was impressed by the quality of the IPS FRUS review process, which was both fast and thorough.
Closed Session, February 25
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives:
Louis called on Don McIlwain to speak about the status of Department of State records at NARA. McIlwain began by notifying the committee that all Department cables, P-reels, and P-reel prints from 1976 had been accessioned by NARA. He said that he wanted to address two issues: NARA's handling of the reclassification issue and the Interagency Declassification Center at NARA. McIlwain explained that, with regard to the reclassification issue, all agencies with referrals had been notified by NARA. He said that the Department of State and the Air Force had been reviewing their items and returning to the open shelves most records that had originally been open to the public. Chris Tudda asked if the reclassification issue involved records dating back to World War II. McIlwain said that the bulk of records involved did not date from earlier than the 1970s. Rhodes said that this all sounded positive, and wondered if there was any bad news to report. McIlwain said that there was not, although with regard to Department of State records, he wished that P-reel printouts could be reviewed faster. Louis and McIlwain both commented on the irony of making printouts from microfilm, which had been intended to reduce paper, and to facilitate the review and research process.
McIlwain moved on to discuss the Interagency Center and stated that NARA had hired three specialists to work with the various agencies to assist their declassification review work. Sibley asked him to explain the purpose of the center. He said that NARA was moving toward the implementation of the recommendations set forth in a pamphlet he had previously distributed to the committee. The center was aimed at improving the efficiency of the reviewing process for records that have multiple agency equities. Under this initiative, NARA was in possession of the records, which are reviewed by the primary agency and tagged for review by other agencies. An Interagency Quality Assurance Team then looks at the records to confirm that they had been reviewed properly, after which NARA puts the information into a database and then invites the secondary agencies to conduct a further review if needed. McIlwain said this was a much more efficient system, particularly because NARA brings the referral to the additional agencies instead of requiring them to search for them on their own.
McIlwain invited questions. Steven Galpern asked if the P-reels that McIlwain had mentioned were the same ones that the office staff sees when conducting research at the Department's records center. David Langbart said the ones that the office staff sees are exact copies of the ones accessioned to NARA. Galpern explained that he was a bit concerned about the handling of the reels the office staff sees and McIlwain said that those issues arise before the records arrive at NARA. Louis followed up to ask if there was a single master set for the P-reels. Langbart explained that the formal P-reel "records" that NARA accessions are the original silver-halide films, which are held at NARA in cool storage and not touched unless needed. Louis turned to Marvin Russell for any additional comment; he had nothing to add.
Disposition of the Records of the office of the Historian and the Historical Advisory Committee
Langbart reported that there are indeed records disposition schedules covering the records of the Historical Office. The primary schedule was approved approximately 12 years ago. Langbart mentioned that Herschler had a role in the development of this records disposition schedule. The records from the Historian's Office covered by the primary schedule are those relating to FRUS, the records of the committee, the Historical Policy Studies Files, including compilation of lists of current documentation (such as the principal officers' lists) the FRUS records, and other unique records of the office.
Records of the committee were split into 2 categories: 1) temporary administrative records, regarding the personnel-related dimensions of the committee's activities, which are destroyed after 5 years; 2) Substantive records of the committee, including charter documents, memoranda, etc.--are designated as permanent records under General Records Schedule 26 (Temporary Commissions, Boards, Councils and Committees) Item 2 (Records Created by Advisory Commissions, Committees, Councils, Boards and Other Groups Established under the Federal Advisory Committee Act), which has replaced the specific item covering committee records in the primary office schedule. This includes any subcommittees of the committee, and the Historian is responsible for the maintenance and retirement of these records.
Louis asked how long these records date back. Langbart replied that the records of the committee date back approximately to 1957, and that records from 1957 to 1983 (approx.) are currently at NARA and that other series in the National Archives include earlier documentation.
Langbart then mentioned the Historical Program Files, which was the corporate file for the office, including documentation relating to communications (external and internal), internal policies and memoranda, studies, and subjects such as declassification.
Records relating to the Foreign Relations series include the master file of all FRUS volumes, a master manuscripts file, and a clearance file, containing correspondence with other agencies, foreign governments, copies of excised documents, denied documents, and other internal documentation regarding the publication of the FRUS series and individual FRUS volumes.
Langbart also mentioned the Research Projects File, which contained records only to about 1954 at NARA, and the other unique records of the office.
Louis asked Langbart to comment on the completeness of records regarding FRUS. Langbart replied that the records were more detailed from 1957. Documentation on FRUS did exist back to the 1910s and 1920s, but it was not as complete. Langbart added that before the 1950s, there was no discussion of "declassification," but rather the office received "Permission to Print" memoranda from the equity-holding organizations (primarily the Department of State, but including other U.S. Government agencies and other governments).
Louis asked Langbart to comment on what a hypothetical historian researching the history of FRUS would find in these records. Langbart replied that the historian would find sparse documentation for the 19th century, better documentation in the 20th century (especially if one included records in the Department's Central Files), and the most complete records since the late 1950s.
Kate Sibley asked who denied the publication of records before the CIA. Langbart replied that this depended on the records themselves. He noted that, before the 1950s, there was evidence of extensive consultation with foreign governments, especially with allies such as Britain and France, and occasionally Germany as well. There was also extensive coordination within the Department of State and, when necessary, other U.S. Government agencies. Langbart reported evidence of denials at the Assistant Secretary level of regional and functional bureaus in the 1930s and 1940s and complaints in favor of publication on the part of the office.
Margaret Hedstrom asked for clarification about the clearance files of FRUS records and how an individual volume was captured in the records. Langbart replied that there was a master manuscript file for a volume that was ready for typesetting, a clearance file, and the working file for the volume, in addition to the finished volumes themselves. Susan Weetman added that her division is the one responsible for keeping these records today, including the status of withheld and denied documents, thereby reconstructing the paper trail of an individual FRUS volume.
Louis stated that he presumed that the record should be comprehensive. Citing the 1950-1955 Intelligence volume, he asked about an editorial note that had been denied in full. He asked if such a denied editorial note would be found in the records. David Herschler noted that, by law, the office is required to note in the published volume the withholding of a document. Louis asked for further clarification if the editorial note would be found in the clearance file. Susan Weetman said that it would and explained that this procedure was followed from examples from JFK and LBJ era volumes. Hedstrom asked, if the documents were still classified, could a researcher have access to them. Langbart responded that a researcher would be able to see such documentation only if it had been subsequently declassified or requested and released as a result of the researcher filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Keefer reiterated that FRUS volumes still provide a citation for denied documents, which would expedite any FOIA request. Langbart added that the published CIA Job number of any denied or redacted documents could be used to request denied CIA documents through FOIA.
Hedstrom asked for an elaboration of the process by which Department of State records were accessioned at NARA, citing previous problems with P-reels. She then asked for an update on the State Messaging and Archival Retrieval Toolset (SMART) system. Louis said that such an update would be added to a future meeting agenda.
McMahon asked about the status of accessioning Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) records to NARA, since so much of the Department of State documentation for the Intelligence Retrospective 1950-1955 volume was based on INR historical files. Langbart noted that the INR historical files should have been transferred to NARA much earlier, but that these records had not been retired and transferred in a manner that would facilitate timely transfer. INR's in-house records date back to the 1940s.
Keefer noted that, in the past, the committee had been instrumental in getting the office access to INR's Intelligence Liaison (IL) records. Once made available to office researchers, these had been an invaluable resource. After the INR records were opened to office researchers, Keefer noted that the National Security Council (NSC) had also, as a result, opened its records to the office, thereby giving the office nearly comprehensive access. Langbart noted that once INR/IL scheduled its records, other parts of INR also opened up and began to schedule their records for retirement to NARA. McMahon asked if the committee should push for the current historical files to be retired by decade. Langbart replied that this would require much work and that offices are now handling the records properly. Louis asked about INR's delay in retiring records. Langbart responded that since taking its offices in State in the 1940s, INR had never been moved. This stability lessened the need to retire records periodically, which would have facilitated transfer to the National Archives.
Louis thanked Langbart for the report and the committee for a stimulating discussion into the history of the records of the Office of the Historian and the Historical Advisory Committee.
Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business:
William McAllister discussed his current research work with the committee.
Closed Session, February 26
Committee Review of Recently Published volume, Foreign Relations, 1950-1955, The Intelligence Community:
The committee discussed this recently published volume with the General Editor.
The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series:
Louis asked Herschler to deliver his report. Herschler welcomed the CIA representatives to the meeting, commenting that he looked forward to maintaining the same collaborative relationship with the new CIA personnel responsible for FRUS coordination as had existed with their predecessors. Herschler then summarized recent developments in declassification. Since the December 2007 Committee meeting, the office had verified two volumes with the Agency. The Agency had completed its declassification review of nine additional volumes and the office was awaiting final decisions from the National Security Council (NSC) and other agencies with equity. Herschler added that the Agency had not completed any initial declassification review of the seven volumes in its possession since the last meeting and was tardy on two volumes. Of the seven volumes, however, six volumes have High Level Panel (HLP) issues. Traditionally, the CIA has completed its declassification review of non-HLP volumes within the 120-day deadline and is "on target" to return one volume ahead of schedule. Herschler concluded his remarks by touching on the overall effectiveness of the HLP process in making the FRUS series more complete and accurate. As a final point, he underscored that the office needed to improve its record of placing completed FRUS manuscripts into the declassification process. During 2007, only eight volumes were submitted to the Declassification and Publishing staff; the office had fallen short of its anticipated goal of placing one volume per month into declassification.
Louis then asked the CIA representative to comment. The CIA indicated that although some reviews continued to be behind schedule, the Agency remained committed to getting these reviews completed expeditiously.
Louis inquired as to whether members of the committee had any questions for the CIA representative. Rhodes reiterated the committee's willingness to assist the Agency in terms of moving the declassification process forward. The CIA FRUS coordinator responded that while certain aspects of declassification fall outside the purview of the committee, the committee would certainly be informed if its assistance could prove to be necessary or helpful.
Subsequently, discussion focused on the declassification of specific Foreign Relations volumes.
Sibley then inquired as to the status of the joint State-CIA historian position with the CIA representative and the office.
With no other questions, Louis thanked the Agency representatives and called the session to a close.