Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, March 6-7, 2006
Open Session, March 6
Approval of the Record of the December 2005 Meeting
Chairman Louis called the meeting to order at 1:40 p.m. and asked all members of the committee to introduce themselves. The minutes of the December 2005 meeting were then approved by general consent.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Marc Susser welcomed the newest members of the committee, Katharine Sibley and Thomas Zeiler. Susser announced that Todd Bennett had been named Chief of the European and General Division. He then discussed several office projects, including the joint documentary publication between the office and its Chinese counterparts; the debut in May of six United States postal stamps featuring U.S. diplomats--an event coordinated by the Bureau of Public Affairs and involving Secretary of State Rice; the usability of new computer software technology in preparing Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volumes and updating the office's web page; and the production of the media and diplomacy video, slated for release in November 2006.
Susser then commented on the issues related to the reclassification of documents at the National Archives and Records Administration. Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein had made a public statement concerning this development. If this reclassification extended to printed FRUS documents, the Government Printing Office (GPO) would inform the office.
Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and the General Editor
David Herschler outlined recent staffing developments. The goal of achieving the full complement of 40 staff historians had been reached in 2005, aided by the Bureau of Public Affairs' support. Since then, four historians have left the office, prompting an employee search that culmniated in interviews at the American Historical Association (AHA) meeting in Philadelphia. The meeting netted five historians, with the expectation that at least three additional historians would be hired. Herschler touched upon the difficulties associated with hiring personnel, especially the length of time required to process and obtain appropriate clearances. He predicted that the office would be at its full complement by the end of August.
Herschler then turned to budgetary and publishing matters. Reiterating Susser's previous comments, he noted that the influx of money directed toward software upgrades was related to Paul Claussen's skill at justifying the importance of the office's work. While the office had not released any volumes since the December 2005 meeting, several volumes were in the final stages of the declassification process. Up to three volumes could be released before the June meeting. Delays in volume production were attributable to the absence of qualified outside proofreaders. The proofreaders employed by the office during the last 10 years were no longer available, necessitating the hiring of two proofreaders with considerable prior FRUS editing experience.
Herschler concluded his remarks with a description of the office's recent professional outreach activities. In this instance, the office had taken a leading role in the Society for History in the Federal Government (SHFG), demonstrated by the election of John Carland and Kristin Ahlberg to the SHFG executive council. Edward Keefer, Peter Kraemer, Herschler, and Ahlberg presented a session at the SHFG annual meeting the previous week that focused on the office's new initiatives, including cultural diplomacy, FRUS electronic-only publications, educational videos, and scholarly research. These types of initiatives help to bridge the chasm between public and academic historians, and between public historians and the larger community.
Keefer began his report by stating that although the office had not released any FRUS volumes since the December meeting, this dearth did not indicate a setback for the series. He anticipated that 11-12 volumes would be released in 2006. Several volumes had been typeset and were in page proofs, while a few volumes had several documents requiring declassification. He stressed that the technical editing of a volume was exacting and time-consuming, based on extensive annotation and page counts. Although electronic-only volumes are also laborious, they can be prepared and posted to the website in a shorter period of time. They incur fewer costs and allow for greater coverage of topics than in a traditional print volume. Describing the Nixon-Ford and Carter series, Keefer noted that 15 of 56 Nixon-Ford and 8 of 24 Carter administration volumes would exist in electronic form. These volumes had greatly expanded the reach of the series, as evidenced by the amount of e-mail Keefer had received from international readers.
Keefer also mentioned that NARA had permitted historians to use the Remote Archival Capture (RAC) system locally in conducting research in Carter-era classified files. He commented that technological advances have both helped and hindered the research process. The Central File ceased to contain paper documents, beginning in 1973. All records must be accessed electronically. While the RAC can be a valuable tool, particularly when looking for specific documents, it can make general research more difficult. Historians must rely more on materials from the Presidential Libraries, and the Department's office, lot, and embassy files to access these records. Keefer held to his 2-year old prediction that by 2010 the office will have reached the 30 year line.
Louis inquired as to the status of access guides and retrospective volumes. Keefer responded that the retrospective volume on the the Intelligence Community soon would be declassified. Other volumes incorporating new CIA documentation were moving more slowly, due to declassification issues. Touching upon the question of access guides, Keefer noted that historians had prepared source guides to complement the South Asia Crisis, 1971 print volume and Documents on South Asia, 1969-1972 electronic-only volume. Both source guides are accessible from the office's website.
Thomas Schwartz asked if the office might publish various documents in advance of the 30-year line, in order to provide the public with declassified documents as declassification continued. Keefer replied that agreements between the office and the CIA precluded the early release of bound volumes, but that more flexibility might exist with regard to electronic publications.
Geoffrey Watson queried Keefer as to the delay in releasing FRUS print volumes. Herschler referenced his earlier remarks, noting that the absence of outside proofreaders, the departure of two editors, and glitches with a previous typesetter had slowed production. Declassification and Publishing personnel had assumed proofreading duties during the short term. With regards to declassification, the appeals process for documents possessing multiple equities also caused delay. Keefer pointed to the fact that the office would release a volume in April. Following this release, Keefer anticipated that, on average, one volume per month would be published.
Edward Rhodes complimented the staff on their many successes before turning to his concerns related to FRUS production. He wondered if it would be possible for the series to reach the 30-year line by 2010, observing that the pace seemed over-optimistic. Rhodes asked how the committee could be of assistance in speeding the process, speculating that adding historians would help to achieve this goal. Keefer responded that the compilation of 56 Nixon-Ford volumes posed major challenges, but that these volumes were of the highest quality and many were among the most important volumes in the series. He stressed that in order to reach the 2010 deadline, 3 volumes would need to be produced every 2 months. Both Herschler and Keefer indicated that many Nixon-Ford volumes had been or were reaching completion.
Louis inquired as to how it was possible to maintain high production levels in the absence of outside proofreaders. Keefer and Herschler expressed optimism that the situation would soon be resolved. Keefer commented, however, that the production schedule allowed little margin for error and that this development had strained already tight resources. Staff resources were stretched to the limit. He calculated that the production schedule would probably have to be maintained by the extant staffing level. Keefer responded to a question from Rhodes by indicating that technological enhancements would need to be utilized to speed certain aspects of work in order to reach the 30 year line. He also stated that difficult declassification decisions would need to be made, in terms of calculating the worth of fighting for release of a particular document. This situation highlights the fundamental tension between the two mandates for production of FRUS volumes: that they meet the 30 year line and that the volumes represent a comprehensive account of U.S. foreign policy decisions. He observed that those two goals are rarely compatible.
Zeiler asked if the office considered publishing all FRUS volumes in the electronic format. Symbolic and practical reasons exist, Keefer responded, for continued publication of print volumes. Many researchers still consult the bound volumes. Keefer alluded to the possibility that other organizations might put older FRUS volumes on the web but noted that continued production of printed volumes remained a valuable endeavor for the Department of State to pursue.
Status of Declassification of State Department Records
Louis introduced Paul Hilburn, a member of the Department's Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS). Hilburn stated that IPS was in the process of reviewing FRUS volumes on Vietnam, 1972 and the Arab-Israeli war, 1973 and had finished its review of Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976. He added that IPS has hours and budgetary limitations but that, nonetheless, FRUS will continue to receive top priority. Keefer stressed the congenial working relationship between IPS and the office and added that if other reviewing agencies were as good as IPS, FRUS volumes would meet targeted deadlines. He held up IPS as a model, while also noting the effectiveness and timeliness of the National Security Council (NSC) in reviewing FRUS documents.
Rather than proceed with the agenda item, Louis announced that further discussion on the matter would be postponed until the next morning. The reclassification issue required this change in schedule, as the Archivist had convened a meeting at the National Archives on this matter, which involved the NARA personnel scheduled to brief the committee on declassification of State Department records.
Louis opened the session for public comment. Bruce Craig of the National Coalition for History (NCH) asked: 1) if the committee was aware of the extent of the reclassification problem; 2) if so, to what extent was the office and the committee part of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with NARA on reclassification; and 3) is the committee prepared to go on record supporting an audit of the reclassification process? Louis responded that as chair of the committee, he supported the Archivist. The committee did not know of the antecedents of the program, except for the reclassification efforts performed under the Kyl-Lott amendment, but that reclassification is a separate issue.
Herschler stated that the office's responsibility is to deal with declassification of FRUS documents, but that the other program, while within the committee's domain, is not the office's responsibility. The office would not sign an MOU on reclassification and would only be aware of reclassification as it came up in the committee's discussions of Kyl-Lott.
Robert McMahon stated that the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) Executive Council is on record in unanimous opposition to the reclassification initiative, based on the information contained within The New York Times article. As an individual, his concern was also based on articles printed in The New York Times and the Washington Post. These articles left the public with an impression that there was a sinister and political motive behind reclassification efforts. He was particularly struck by the withdrawal of the 1950 intelligence report that had incorrectly predicted the Chinese would not intervene in the Korean war. He stated that it was inconceivable to him that the report was removed from the public record and added that it was preposterous that previously published FRUS documents had been reclassified on the pretext of having been declassified improperly, since he knew that the office followed rigorous declassification guidelines.
McMahon, Rhodes, Sibley, Schwartz, and Margaret Hedstrom voiced their concern over the implications of the reclassification initiative. Hedstrom stated her interest in fundamental reforms of the declassification system, stating that no procedure existed for the tracking of document equities. Watson added that the president had the right to reclassify any document as part of his of executive power.
Bill Burr of the National Security Archive suggested that the committee ask the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) for a briefing on the issue and noted that ISOO could establish a formal process of appeal. The situation offered a timely opportunity to revisit the work of the Moynihan Commission and the declassification of documents. He argued that the agencies engaged in reclassification were unmoved by arguments that the documents were already in the public domain. Craig asked if the committee would publicly support the Archivist; he felt such support would carry a lot of weight.
Louis responded that the committee had not yet formed an opinion as a body but would closely monitor the issue. Susser added that the office has rigorous and careful declassification procedures; all documents in FRUS have been properly declassified.
Herschler noted that there are two different declassification processes: the systematic declassification under E.O. 12958 and FRUS declassification. The two processes only overlap when a FRUS document has been declassified through the executive order. Thus, there is one general and one specific declassification system.
McMahon stated that the only argument to be made for removing a document from the open shelves and reclassifying it would be that it was improperly declassified the first time, and that the agency with equity argued that it had never seen the document. But if the issue is a Department of State document without equities from other agencies, then no other agency could claim the right to reclassify it.
Closed Session, March 6
Report by the Subcommittee on Electronic Records
Louis reconvened the afternoon session at 3:30.
Hedstrom indicated that David Kepley had demonstrated a prototype of the Access to Archival Databases (AAD), focusing on the 1973 and 1974 Department of State cable files, during the subcommittee's morning session. Hedstrom acknowledged the exacting work the Archives staff had performed in launching the database and noted that two subsets of cables would not be accessible from AAD: still-classified cables and cables of questionable historical interest.
Kepley, in turn, thanked Hedstrom for her support of this initiative, which had been proposed in July 1998. The development of the AAD system involved collaboration among six divisions at NARA, which he termed a rare occurrence. He expressed gratitude to the Department of State, specifically to those office historians who tested the system, and to Hedstrom, her staff at the University of Michigan, and her students for their guidance. NARA had received the Department's electronic records for 1975, and archivists were presently reviewing the records for privacy concerns. Kepley then staged a demonstration of the AAD for the committee.
During the demonstration, Zeiler asked Kepley as to the appropriate form of citation for these electronic records. Kepley indicated, on the screen, where the provenance was located and added that the site possessed a "Getting Started Guide" to answer other questions. In response to Keefer's question about citing web-based documents, Kepley suggested that historians cite Central Files material as Record Group (RG) 59, Central Foreign Policy File, date, year, city, and document number. Craig Daigle inquired if the withdrawal cards had been incorporated in the database. Kepley responded affirmatively and noted that researchers could submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Hedstrom again praised Kepley and other NARA archivists for their efforts. McMahon, wanting to circulate the news of AAD's launch within the academic community, asked Kepley if NARA would prepare an announcement for the SHAFR newsletter that also included citation guidelines. Kepley agreed. Hedstrom also emphasized the importance of user feedback, to which Kepley added that NARA was committed to keeping AAD "user-friendly." Hedstrom then revisited the issue of accessing recently declassified records. At the December committee meeting, she had reported that, due to staffing shortages, many recently declassified, formerly withdrawn documents had not been replaced in their respective collections, nor had withdrawal cards been removed from the 1940s open files. Researchers had to inquire as to whether a particular formerly withdrawn document was currently accessible. In response to this situation, the Archives provided researchers with a "frequently asked questions" sheet, explaining that researchers can obtain these records within 24 hours. Archivists were reviewing the 1945-49 State decimal file for withdrawal cards and attempting to return declassified materials to the files. Hedstrom, terming it "very good news," indicated that NARA intended to apprise researchers of these developments via a notice printed in the SHAFR newsletter. Perhaps, she surmised, this proved less of a problem at the presidential libraries, due to the libraries' staffing loads. John Powers interjected that, based on his lack of staff, he could reach the opposite conclusion.
Foreign Relations Research in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter Materials
Louis asked Herschler to update the committee on work in the Presidential Libraries materials.
Herschler briefly discussed the office's conclusion of a memorandum of understanding with NARA for access to the scanned classified Carter Presidential material and said that matters were progressing.
Powers outlined several issues for the committee. In reference to the previous session's focus on recently declassified documents, Powers indicated that the Nixon Project staff would refile these withdrawn documents. This referred to cases in which researchers could inquire about the whereabouts of a document after discovering a newly placed withdrawal sheet at NARA.
Turning to personnel issues, Powers announced that over the last 13 months, 11 staff members had departed. Three had recently left the project, two permanently and one by detail. He anticipated that staffing problems would persist throughout the transition period, thus affecting the amount of FRUS work the Nixon Project could complete. He had discussed with NARA's human resources office the possibility of hiring temporary workers, particularly university students.
Powers also updated the committee on the future trajectory of the Nixon Project. The Nixon Presidential Library had formally agreed to become part of NARA's Presidential Library system, and that agreement was now before Congress. Approval and implementation of the agreement would take place in July. The Yorba Linda facility will have a budget of $3.7 million for staffing and $6.9 million for building renovations and additions, which included retrofitting the infrastructure for handling classified materials, and artifacts, during the 2007 calendar year (CY). The three-part move would commence in July 2006 and conclude in September with the receipt of 4,000 cubic feet of textual records, including open records. Researchers will likely be interested in looking at the materials before they leave. Powers reassured the committee that no materials necessary for FRUS compilation would be moved during this process.
Powers then apprised the committee concerning Nixon Project staff activities. Marc Fischer, Bridget Crowley and Janis Wiggins continued to work on FRUS matters. He appreciated the "pause" in research visits to the SCIF, which enabled the duplication of the 5th Chron tape conversations. Due to the Nixon Project staff deficit, office historians needed to give 48 hours notice prior to research. Powers added that he could not guarantee that unclassified records would be delivered to a researcher within one hour. He noted that clearances for 21 historians still needed to be passed to the Nixon Project. Historians should plan to receive a briefing from Fisher on the NSC files, including document use, preservation, and research techniques, as these materials needed to be preserved for the RAC project. No manuscripts were in the process of being reviewed.
Returning to the tape conversations, Powers reported that the office and the Nixon Project had drafted and agreed to a final listing of remaining conversations for inclusion in FRUS. Twenty-nine conversations had been duplicated during the past quarter, according to their priority level. Crowley continued to work 1 day per week on the tape recordings. Powers did not anticipate changing this commitment unless the RAC project fell behind schedule, which he did not anticipate, since a new employee would begin work on the RAC in April, thus freeing Crowley to concentrate on the tapes. Powers highlighted the effective meetings with Erin Mahan and Keefer on this matter, noting that these discussions had removed many impediments to work on the 5th Chron. Lastly, he concluded that the transition would be dramatic.
Keefer expressed his hope and confidence that the tapes in the 5th Chron would be completed by the transition. Schwartz inquired as to whether the Nixon Project staff had any budgetary concerns, to which Powers responded no. Hedstrom asked as to the possibility and duration of parallel administration of the Nixon Project from Yorba Linda and College Park. Powers responded that the College Park facility would retain the core collections until the 5th Chron was completely processed. The Nixon Foundation intended to donate the purely political materials to the U.S. Government. Review of this material, he hoped, would occur at College Park. In response to McMahon's question as to whether there would be a thematic division of records between College Park and Yorba Linda, Powers responded that all records would be housed in California with copies to remain at NARA.
The Foreign Relations Series: Declassification Issues
Susan Weetman and Mark Langerman briefed the committee on the status of FRUS declassification reviews currently underway at the Department of Defense.
Closed Session, March 7
Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business
David Nickles discussed the research for his volume with the committee.
The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series
The CIA summarized the position of various FRUS volumes in the review process and estimated that the office could expect to receive responses for at least one volume by the end of the spring.
James Van Hook described to the new committee members his role as joint historian, explaining that his job has three major functions: 1) to facilitate the CIA research of the historians; 2) to compile FRUS volumes that contain the most CIA-related material; and 3) to monitor declassification issues.
Rhodes wanted to ensure that, when the currently reviewed volumes are published, the volumes would contain a full and complete historical record. The CIA said that they believed that the committee would be satisfied with the reviews. Rhodes remarked that the public perception of the historical accuracy of high profile volumes would make or break the reputation of both the series and the committee. McMahon added that the U.S. Government's reputation for openness was at stake as well.
Louis asked Van Hook about liaising with the British on the Iran retrospective volume. Van Hook replied that the documents that illustrate the British role are Department of State documents. His research in British archives also had revealed some previously released material that documents the British role. McMahon asked if contemporary political concerns could affect the release of a volume and if this conformed to the executive order. The CIA replied that once it finishes its review that CIA will have a say on release timing, although not if a volume will be released. McMahon asked if NSC approval was the last stage in the clearance process. Herschler responded that the Department's Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs determines the timing for the final release of volumes, after consulting with other agencies. He also explained that occasionally a regional bureau will request a delay.
Rhodes asked Louis if the committee could include in the agenda for the next quarterly meeting a subcommittee meeting with Van Hook to discuss in more detail the status of volumes under CIA review. Rhodes was concerned that the committee was too pressed for time during the full committee sessions to cover all the issues thoroughly. Louis agreed to the subcommittee meeting and said that the CIA was invited.
Louis ended the session.
Reclassification of State and Other Foreign Policy Records at NARA
Louis reconvened the meeting at 10:35 and asked Michael Kurtz to comment on the current state of play surrounding the reclassification matter, which had figured prominently in American reportage during recent weeks. Specifically, Louis asked Kurtz to provide additional information regarding a March 6 meeting convened by the Archivist. Kurtz commented that the meeting was constructive, and that various agency representatives had expressed their support for Weinstein and his decision to institute a moratorium on further reclassification of records at the National Archives. The Archivist had requested an internal audit by ISOO of the reclassification matter, which was scheduled for completion by the third week of April. In the future, the National Archives, in concert with the agencies, would need to institute clear declassification protocols, perhaps in conjunction with a National Declassification Center and ISOO. Kurtz cautioned, however, that finite resources for declassification existed.
Susser inquired as to the number of withdrawn documents and the process used for withdrawal. Anderson also asked when the reclassification program had commenced. In responding to these queries, Kurtz noted that approximately 55,000 pages had been withdrawn since 2001-02. He also answered Louis's question as to whether the reclassification has been a concerted or individual effort, noting that individual agencies had expressed concerns about sensitive information contained within these documents. Herschler added that questions persisted as to whether the agencies had originally reviewed these documents prior to declassification under E.O. 12958.
McMahon asked Kurtz to provide greater clarification regarding the originating authority for reclassification. The framework and authority for reclassification are codified in E.O. 12958. Reclassification occurred as a result of agency concerns over "sloppy" or incomplete original reviews, the controversy engendered by the Wen Ho Lee case, and the provisions of the Kyl-Lott amendment that required a re-review of previously declassified documents. Hedstrom commented that in the interest of moving forward, a more coordinated declassification approach was necessary. Kurtz agreed, emphasizing the necessity of getting protocols in place.
The committee repeatedly expressed its deep concern over the reclassification issue, especially with regard to documents that were considered "improperly declassified." Rhodes asked if agencies requesting that a document be withdrawn from the open shelves needed to provide proof to NARA of improper declassification. Kurtz responded that there was a "dialogue" between NARA and agencies on such requests, but that the ultimate authority to withdraw a record lay with the agency holding equity in the document and not with NARA. Kurtz went on to say that this dialogue had not been codified and there was a need to have a formal procedure for such things. McMahon said that there was no excuse to withdraw documents published in FRUS from the open shelves, because those documents had gone through a rigorous review process.
Nancy Smith said that if an agency asked the presidential libraries to pull a document from the open files, they would be told to speak with the head of ISOO. Regarding FRUS, Smith said that there were instances when agencies had requested that documents published in FRUS be pulled from the open shelves, but that the libraries would not comply with such a request. Instead, the agency would be directed to the Office of the Historian at the Department of State. If, however, a document published in FRUS had not yet been put on the open shelves, the library would not do so.
In response to a question from Hedstrom, Kurtz noted the need for a centralized database of declassified documents. He said that the original Executive Order 12958 had called for such a database, but that the amended order did not.
Carol Anderson said that this presents a loophole for agencies to withdraw documents from the open shelves without legitimate cause--if there is no record of whether or not an agency had seen a particular document, how can they assert authoritatively that it was improperly declassified? McMahon agreed that if this were the case agencies were acting on dubious grounds. Smith said that some agencies had given NARA "delegated authority" to declassify their records. For such records, NARA has case records tracking all the declassification actions taken on a document, including which agencies have seen it.
In response to a question from the committee about who has the final authority to say definitively which agencies' equities are in a document, Kurtz responded that that needed to be formally settled. He added that more information would emerge from the ISOO audit. Hedstrom said that there needed to be a formal mechanism for determining equities because there was undoubtedly "equity creep" occurring.
In response to a question from an office staff member, Smith said that the delegated authority guidance that NARA received was not always clear cut and easily applied.
McMahon said that the committee's mandate covered this area of reclassification and therefore, the committee should have been informed about these reclassification efforts earlier. Smith said that she and Jeanne Schauble, according to the committee's published minutes, had indeed discussed this with the committee several years earlier when discussing Kyl-Lott.
The Foreign Relations Series: Withheld Documentation From Recently Declassified Manuscripts and Other Clearance Issues
Rhodes gave a brief report on the meeting of the subcommittee on the Foreign Relations series. He stressed the importance of the committee's role in reviewing documentation withheld from volumes. He said that while he did not want to micromanage the office's declassification procedures, he did feel that it was important to ensure that important covert actions were included in the volumes.
The committee unanimously passed the following resolution for the record:
The Historical Advisory Committee of the Department of State supports the commitment of the Archivist of the United States to maintain a balanced approach to the release of public records and upholds the public interest in having archival records available while recognizing the importance of protecting national security. The Committee endorses the Archivist's request for a moratorium on withdrawal of records from the open shelves at the National Archives and Records Administration.