Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, June 7-8, 2010
Open Session, June 7
Approval of the Record of the March 2010 Meeting
Committee Chairman Robert McMahon introduced a motion to approve the minutes of the March meeting. Trudy Peterson had editorial comments to be included with the minutes. After no further questions, the minutes were approved as amended.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Margaret Morrissey read into the record comments by Ambassador Edward Brynn, Acting Historian and Executive Secretary. The statement began by mentioning the recent death of historian Peter Kraemer. He would be greatly missed, and oral history was one of his interests. There had been many far-reaching changes in the office. Thanks to Assistant Secretary Crowley and Executive Director Hattie Jones, the office will be leaving SA-1 for more spacious quarters at SA-44 at 4th and D Streets, SW. The new location promised more amenities, more personal office space, and better facilities for securing classified documents. Seven new historians were being selected and were expected to be on duty by the end of summer. Meanwhile all contractors had become full-time employees. The search for a new General Editor had finally ended with Susan Weetman's acceptance of the position. Ms. Morrissey thanked Bill McAllister for his service as Acting General Editor.
There were several initiatives to announce that were outside the purview of the HAC. Seminars and panels were planned to commemorate the 150th anniversary of FRUS. A conference would be held concerning the Vietnam volumes of the Foreign Relations series (FRUS). A member of the office had been tasked to conduct a study of the State Department's role in the conflict in Iraq. Amy Garrett had been supportive of a future oral history program. A new chief of the Declassification Division will be sought to replace Susan Weetman. John Collinge had become Acting Joint Historian and was in charge of liaison with the CIA. Accommodations were being sought with other agencies holding FRUS-related documents, and there were plans for outreach and networking with other agencies. Ambassador Brynn's statement concluded by thanking David Herschler for his role in expanding HO personnel and arranging the move to SA-44, Margaret Morrissey for her administrative support, and Forrest Barnum's contributions to office operations.
Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and Acting General Editor
Deputy Historian David Herschler reported on major developments in the PA Bureau following the PA OIG report. This included a reorganization wherein the Office of the Historian will report directly to Asst. Secretary Crowley. Herschler went on to say that the FY 2011 and 2012 budgets did not look very promising; it is important to continue initiatives as well continue to be creative with the funding the Historian's Office (HO) does receive, Herschler said. On personnel, Herschler reported that there were seven vacancies for which HO was currently interviewing, and selections would have to be made by the end of the following week. By late summer through the fall, he hoped HO would have a full complement of professional staff.
Herschler then reported on the OIG-recommended details to other bureaus within the Department. Since the March meeting, two historians had begun details in other bureaus. Herschler also commented on the death of Dr. Peter Kraemer and the personal and professional loss to HO. He thanked Bill McAllister for his service as Acting General Editor, noting that his task had been “Herculean,” and he was owed a debt of gratitude for having served at such a critical juncture. He said that Bill was back as the Division Chief of Special Projects. He also recognized Amy Garrett for having taken over the Division Chief duties of Special Projects during this time, noting that the divisions had “functioned seamlessly.” Herschler called the selection of Susan Weetman to serve as General Editor one that comes at a critical moment for HO and the FRUS. He said he had worked with Weetman for nearly 15 years and there was no one better suited for the task. He asked that everyone support her in meeting the difficult challenges facing the FRUS series.
Acting General Editor Susan Weetman reported on the status of the FRUS Series. She said that the most pressing challenge was how to meet the 30-year deadline. Initiatives underway include: the hiring of 7 additional staff, new space with better security, and John Collinge as the joint HO-CIA historian. She said that she was troubleshooting with the Declassification and Publishing Division to discern bottlenecks in the process. She noted that the Korea 1969-72 volume had been published, the Vietnam volumes would be out before the conference in the fall, and one more volume would be published in the coming months.
John Carland then reported on the upcoming Vietnam Conference, calling it a full-scale reexamination. He noted that Ambassador Richard Holbrooke would be a keynote speaker. He also said that historians from Hanoi planned to attend, as well scholar George Herring and John Negroponte.
Bill McAllister reported on the FRUS sesquicentennial and a number of session proposals out to various organizations and conferences.
The committee then responded to the previous reports made by HO staff. Trudy Peterson referenced Ambassador Brynn’s report and asked about the proposed Iraq study by Seth Center in the Special Projects Division. Bill McAllister responded that in essence it was to be a history of Department of State involvement in Iraq and that there was quite a bit of interest in the Department for this type of study. Tom Zeiler asked about the FRUS sesquicentennial and the possibility of a panel on empire. McAllister responded that it would be considered. Richard Immerman inquired about the proposed years of the Iraq Study, to which McAllister responded it would be very recent (2003). Katie Sibley inquired about the proposed Oral History program. Herschler responded that Amy Garrett had conducted a great deal of preliminary research into a program and that HO was still in the “thinking process.”
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Marvin Russell stated that the mid-year financial review provided the Office of Information Programs and Services’ Systematic Review Program (SRP) with more funding. This increase enabled SRP to fund more reviewer hours and thus increase the volume of records reviewed. Work is going well – SRP is now hopeful of meeting its goals for calendar year 2010 in paper and electronic review. The classified electronic record reviews for 1985 are at somewhat over 60% completion while the paper review of 25-year records is at 40% completion. Trudy Peterson asked how the National Declassification Center would affect the Office of Information Programs and Services. Marvin responded that the NDC would facilitate work planning but would also substantially increase the need for State reviewer resources at College Park. State has a high share of the equities identified for referral at the NDC.
William Burr asked if there were any change with the Department of Energy declassification process. Marvin responded that serious problems remained in terms of DOE review of other agencies’ materials, including that of State. The Chairman directed, with support from several speakers, that DOE again be called to send a representative to the next HAC meeting (in September).
Burr then asked whether HO was still pursuing plans to work in tandem with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release documents on the normalization of relations. Herschler responded that there was an agreement and that it is still a living document. However, HO is waiting for the Chinese materials to be declassified. Burr then inquired whether there was any incentive given to the Chinese by HO to do so. Herschler replied that they were in the same declassification predicament that HO finds itself, i.e., relying on other agencies to declassify their equities in the FRUS documents. Burr asked whether the Chinese were aware of this plan for the project. Both McAllister and Herschler responded that yes, they were. Burr also asked about HO’s plan for the Reagan Administration volumes. McAllister responded that HO had developed a draft and general outline for the Reagan volumes, but that he did not feel that it was appropriate for him to decide upon it while he was Acting General Editor. But, McAllister underlined, there is a road map. Herschler added that since the last major discussion on the Reagan plan, there is the general sense that the office will do more volumes than originally called for.
Closed Session, March 1
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives
McMahon opened the session by noting that since Weetman had been promoted to General Editor, Renée Goings is now the Acting Division Chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division.
Russell discussed with the committee the difficulty of getting systematic declassification review responses from DOE.
John Powers discussed with the committee the new E.O. on declassification and an upcoming meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board on Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) material.
Langbart gave a report on Central Foreign Policy File (CFPF) accessibility. This file has nine elements: Electronic telegrams, D-reel microfilm, P-reel index, P-reel microfilm, P-reel printouts, N-reel microfilm, N-reel printouts, oversize enclosures, and Top Secret telegrams. He distributed a handout showing the declassification status of each of these nine elements.
McMahon asked why the Top Secret material had not been declassified. Langbart said this was in the hands of the National Declassification Center (NDC) and he did not know where it fell in the priority list. McMahon asked how it was possible that there was no plan. Langbart said that there is a plan: they are on the list and in the queue.
Powers said that the NDC wants the public to weigh in on what should be prioritized. Immerman said that the committee was not in a position to make a good recommendation. Langbart said that the committee could say that it wants the CFPF to be first within RG 59 if that is in fact what the committee desired. McIlwain said that the NDC would like to know the priorities from within RG 59 that the HAC would like to see first. He asked that the committee use email or the NARA blog to let the NDC know their priorities. Peterson asked why—if the NDC's goal is to review 10,000 feet a month and State has 10,000 feet —the NDC did not just dedicate a month to State and complete those reviews. McIlwain pointed out that the NDC is multi-agency, and that other agencies do not trust each other to review their own equities. Therefore, the Army, DOD, etc. reviewers will need something to do; they can't all work on State material.
McIlwain said that TS is a high priority, but the NDC started with country files because they thought they could release more material (i.e., the TS release rate will be lower).
Following up on Peterson's questions, McMahon stated that the declassification review of 10,000 feet of "top priority" State records did not seem to be a herculean task (according to the information provided by NARA). Why, then, couldn't the older and less voluminous TS withdrawals from the central foreign policy file also be included as top priority documents to be reviewed? Langbart responded that if the committee would "chime in" on these kinds of issues, NARA could adjust their priorities accordingly. McMahon said, "We're chiming in."
There then ensued a lengthy discussion of how to prioritize State records at NARA for declassification review. The Advisory Committee generally recommended an approach wherein NARA would review older records (even if more difficult and time-consuming to declassify) before moving on to newer records, and wherein NARA would place highest priority on all the elements of the central foreign policy file for a given year, before moving on to other records. McIlwain explained that in the past, State reviewers had decided that reviewing decentralized ("Lot") files would provide "more bang for the buck" in terms of the volume of records that could be moved out to the open shelves in a short amount of time, so decentralized files had been reviewed prior to the central foreign policy file and other more highly classified materials. Langbart affirmed that the review of decentralized files typically results in a much higher release rate than the review of Nodis cables or TS documents from the central files. McMahon expressed concern with this kind of approach, stating that it would lead to some of the most important State documents not being reviewed in a timely manner. Expanding further, McMahon said that prioritizing records that are the easiest to release creates a problem, because it can distort the publicly available historical record.
McIlwain responded that NARA strives to strike a balance, but that if the committee would rather see a smaller amount of older Top Secret materials from the central files released than a larger amount of newer decentralized files released, that this could be accommodated. McMahon stated that this would be his preference, and asked how it made sense to review the central foreign policy file for 1974 and 1975 while leaving the 1973 TS withdrawals from the central foreign policy file untouched. McMahon expressed the opinion that most scholars would share this view. McIlwain said "Okay, this is the kind of thing we need to hear," with Langbart adding that they would take this information back to NARA.
Belmonte asked if NARA would coordinate the review of USIA and Department of State records, so that records from the same time span within both agencies could be reviewed and released together, explaining that this would be much more useful to scholars. McIlwain stated that they would in fact be reviewed together, since State now oversees the review of USIA records (which formerly was not the case, and led to some problems in this regard).
McIlwain and Langbart then asked to confirm their understanding of the committee’s recommendations concerning the prioritization of State records for declassification—namely, that all the elements of the central foreign policy file for a given year should be reviewed before any other State records, including decentralized files, etc. Members of the Committee affirmed this. McMahon added that this was the model for the release of other countries' diplomatic records, such as the British, and reiterated his concern that otherwise, there is a danger of scholars writing histories based on an incomplete documentary record. McIlwain stated that getting this perspective was "incredibly valuable." Peterson asked if McIlwain would like this recommendation in writing. McIlwain responded that this would be helpful but that it need not be formal; simply an e-mail to the NDC mailbox would suffice.
Immerman asked where the country desk files and bureau files are, and if they would also be subjected to the committee's recommendation that all records for a given year be reviewed first, before moving on to a later year's records. Langbart explained that these lot files are also included in Record Group 59, but that NARA does not receive these records in year-by-year chunks, as it does with the central foreign policy file.
Sibley then asked about records before 1973 that remain unopened. McIlwain said this was an important question—should NARA go back and try to release the classified withdrawals from processed collections of 1950s and 1960s State records, before working on the mass of unprocessed and unopened records from the 1970s? Or, should NARA leave the withdrawn 1950s and 1960s records to be declassified mainly through the FOIA process, when individual researchers submit FOIA requests based on the detailed withdrawal notices in the open collections? McIlwain explained that FOIA requests for records in processed collections like the 1950s and 1960s records are much more successful in releasing records than FOIA requests on unprocessed collections like the unprocessed 1970s records, where researchers have to make blanket requests for large runs of boxes, rather than requests for specific, well-described documents. Committee members agreed that leaving the 1950s and 1960s withdrawals to the FOIA process made sense. Getting back to Immerman's question, Langbart stated that the committee should be aware that the cutoff dates of bureau and country desk lot files are often not very "clean." For example, NARA might receive a set of a bureau's records spanning from 1972 to 1978, and then a few years later receive a set of records from the same bureau spanning 1976 to 1984. Langbart explained that these conditions make it very difficult to adhere to a strict rule of reviewing all the records for a given year before moving on to the records of the next year. Acknowledging these "uncertainties," McIlwain asked to reaffirm the general principle which the committee was recommending: namely, a chronological, year-by-year review of all the elements of the central foreign policy file, followed by a review of lot file and other records for roughly the same period, before moving on to records from later dates. The committee affirmed this approach.
McMahon then asked if Michael Carlson had anything he wished to report. Carlson reported that NARA was nearing the completion of adding the additional 1973 to 1975 permanent Department of State cables onto AAD (NARA's Access to Archival Databases). Carlson estimated that these cables would all be added by July.
Foreign Relations and the Department of Energy
Weetman commented on the Department of Energy's continued failure to reply to FRUS requests for document review. She reported that DOE's delinquency as reported in the March HAC meeting was not completely accurate. Whereas DOE previously stated that they were in the process of reviewing FRUS documents, they have subsequently reported that they did not have the documents for review. The documents have now been re-sent to DOE for review; DOE has pledged that this will take top priority, (DOE currently is taking 170 days instead of the required 120 days for review). Moreover, Weetman reported, DOE turned down a suggested meeting between DOE and the HAC, suggesting instead a meeting in a year's time. Tudda briefly discussed DOE review practices, pointing out that it would often excise entire paragraphs even if it meant to excise only one phrase or word within that paragraph. Tudda stated that HO had requested a more "surgical" review of documents. Tudda also observed that DOE has promised to complete its current review in 120 days, but was reserving judgment as to whether this would indeed happen. In response to a question from Immerman regarding HO recourse vis-a-vis DOE's continued slowness, Weetman replied that given the fact that HO has had to re-send the documents for review (Tudda confirmed that this was done 2 weeks ago), DOE is not out of compliance. In response to a question from Peterson regarding action the HAC could take to remedy the DOE problem, various recommendations were discussed. Peterson suggested that Powers (ISOO) make HAC/HO concerns known in his upcoming meeting with DOE officials. McMahon added that the HAC could consider a letter to the Secretary of Energy regarding FRUS review if this meeting is unsuccessful, possibly in time for the next HAC meeting in September.
The Status and Future of FRUS
Powers said that ISOO was trying to make progress with DOD on the Arab-Israeli Dispute volume. He was collecting 10 documents to give back to DOD with other agencies' declassification notes to show that the documents in question were cleared by all other agencies. He also stated that a decision on the Japan volume will be coming in the future. Sibley asked about the status of several older volumes, including the 56–60 Intelligence volume and the Congo volume. Weetman, Goings, and Weatherhead related the complexity of excising Congo and stated that this volume would be going back to the CIA for a review of excisions before the volume is sent for typesetting. Peterson asked Powers about problems with receiving decisions from FBI and Justice. Weetman replied that a report on these two agencies would be ready by the next HAC. A general discussion regarding the problems with gaining decisions from these agencies followed, centered on issues with the DEA. Immerman discussed the status of the Chile volume, and announced that the volume is in good shape, with the exception of the coverage of three different issues. The final issue of the afternoon was a discussion of the Iran volume.
Closed Session, June 8
Meeting with the Historical Review Panel
The committee met with the CIA’s Historical Review Panel and discussed a wide range of topics on general and specific declassification issues regarding the FRUS series relevant to both agencies.