Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation

March 2010

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, March 1-2, 2010


    Committee Members
  • Robert McMahon, Chairman
  • Carol Anderson
  • Laura Belmonte
  • Richard Immerman
  • Trudy Peterson
  • Katherine Sibley
  • Peter Spiro
  • Thomas Zeiler

    Office of the Historian
  • Edward Brynn, Acting Historian
  • Kristin Ahlberg
  • Carl Ashley
  • Myra Burton
  • John Carland
  • Mandy Chalou
  • Evan Dawley
  • Evan Duncan
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • Tiffany Hamelin
  • David Herschler
  • Susan Holly
  • Adam Howard
  • Stephanie Hurter
  • Peter Kraemer
  • Aaron Marrs
  • Bill McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Kelly McFarland
  • Chris Morrison
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Chris Tudda
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Susan Weetman
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alex Wieland
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

    Bureau of Administration
  • David Adamson
  • Harmon Kirby
  • Marvin Russell
  • William Coombs

    National Archives and Records Administration
  • William Bosanko, Information Security Oversight Office
  • Michael Carlson, Electronic and Special Media Archives Services Division
  • Margaret Hawkins, Life Cycle Management Division
  • David Langbart, Life Cycle Management Division
  • Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division
  • John Powers, Information Security Oversight Office
  • Lisa Roberson, Life Cycle Management Division
  • Emma Stelle, Life Cycle Management Division

    Central Intelligence Agency
  • Scott K.
  • Joe L.
  • Peter N.
  • Perry C.
  • Robin T.

Open Session, March 1

Approval of the Record of the December 2009 Meeting

The meeting began at 1:45 p.m. and the committee approved the record of the December 2009 meeting. The Chairman announced that Assistant Secretary Crowley was involved in the press briefing and would be unable to attend the committee session.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Ambassador Brynn began by thanking the Bureau of Public Affairs for its assistance with the “substantial changes” needed to move all Office of the Historian contract historians into Civil Service status. He explained that the office had 11 new FTEs. Six of the positions had been taken by the former contractors and the office would be actively recruiting five new historians and to that end several office managers had conducted informational interviews at the AHA annual meeting.

Brynn also reported that there had been two “near misses” in the search for a new General Editor and said that the office would be revisiting the hiring process. He provided an update on the process of “finding a new me”, i.e., hiring a new Historian. He said that on the list of available senior Foreign Service Officers there were about 20 names, three of which he thought would be fine.

Currently, he reported, several office historians were on details in the Department and one had been “kidnapped” to work for the Assistant Secretary. Brynn updated the committee on the Vietnam conference, scheduled for later this year. More than 60 proposals had been received and a media panel approved. It was also noted that Richard Holbrooke had agreed to give the keynote address.

The Ambassador complimented Bill McAllister for his work to move more Foreign Relations (FRUS) volumes through the editing and declassification process and said that seven had been “semi-completed.” In part, the delay was due to “lean” numbers of reviewers.

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and Acting General Editor

David Herschler beganwith an update on publication and declassification of the FRUS series. The Office published two volumes since the December 2009 meeting: Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–3, Global Issues, 1973–1976, and volume XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973–1976. The Office anticipated publishing three more volumes before the June meeting. Herschler went on to say that the Office had not completed the declassification of any additional volumes since the December meeting.

Herschler gave an update on the status of Office staffing since the December meeting. The Office completed the process of hiring all former contract historians serving “in lieu of FTE” as permanent government employee with existing and new FTE vacancies.

Herschler then gave an update on staff who were participating in a program of relatively short-term details, in compliance with one of the formal recommendations by the Office of the Inspector General in its May 2009 inspection of the Office. In addition to providing an outstanding professional development opportunity for Office historians, these details offer potential long-term benefits to the Office by familiarizing Department components with the work of the Office.

With respect to outreach activities, the Office exhibited its booth at the AHA annual meeting for the first time and attracted an impressive number of visitors in the book exhibit area. Members of the staff answered questions about the Office and distributed materials on our new website, while the office’s two teacher consultants worked directly with high school teachers.

Mandy Chalou, Joe Wicentowski, and Stephanie Williams presented a panel entitled "Open Government Comes to the Department of State: The Office of the Historian’s Digital Publishing Revolution" at the 2010 O'Reilly Tools of Change conference in New York in late February.

Since the last meeting, several Office historians participated in conferences. The Office had an impressive contingent participating in the AHA annual meeting. Bill McAllister presented a paper and co-chaired a panel with Hal Jones; Kristin Ahlberg co-chaired the AHA Professional Division’s Open Forum on Public History with committee member Peterson; Peter Kraemer spoke on “Federal History Careers Inside and Outside the Beltway”; Aaron Marrs chaired a panel; and Chris Tudda commented on a panel.

In other conference presentations, Bill McAllister gave the keynote address and presented a paper at the Fourth Culture in International History Conference in Köln, Germany in December, Evan Dawley presented a paper at the East Asian Dialogues Conference, held at the University of South Carolina in late February; and David Zierler is delivering a paper at the European University Institute’s conference on Superpower Rivalry and Third Way(s) in the Mediterranean in Florence in March.

In other notable professional news, Kathy Rasmussen did the Introduction for a recently published H-Diplo Roundtable Review on Pearson’s Peacekeepers: Canada and the United Nations Emergency Force, 1956–1967 by Michael Carroll; Myra Burton wrote an article published in the AHA Annual Meeting Supplement, entitled “Hiding in Plain Sight: San Diego’s African American Heritage;" John Carland published a review of Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945–1975, by John Prados in the January 2010 issue of The Journal of Military History; and Kristin Ahlberg's book, Transplanting the Great Society: Lyndon Johnson and Food for Peace, won the Society for History in the Federal Government’s George Pendleton Prize for the best book on a federal history topic.

Finally, several Office historians are teaching during the spring 2010 semester at George Washington University, including Evan Dawley, Peter Kraemer, Lindsay Krasnoff, Kathy Rasmussen, and Chris Tudda.

Acting General EditorMcAllister began by indicating that the three Foreign Relations division chiefs had been reviewing manuscripts in earnest. They and McAllister had devised a plan to complete volume reviews by the end of the calendar year. He added that the division chiefs had addressed the problem of volumes missing necessary front matter, tasking themselves and compilers to complete front matter for several volumes. He highlighted several initiatives in the area of professional development and explained how these initiatives could coexist and, presumably, not impede Foreign Relations production. He assured the Committee that rotational assignments to other offices in the Department would not adversely impact production of the series, as such assignments had to be weighed against a historian's current work assignments and schedule for completion. Turning to the preparations to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Foreign Relations series, McAllister commented that he and several Office historians had submitted a number of annual meeting session proposals to the American Historical Association (AHA), Organization of American Historians (OAH), and Association for Documentary Editing (ADE), for consideration. He then returned to the issue of Foreign Relations production, adding that the process, at the initial compiling stage, would "gear up" once the Office added several new historians to its complement.

Zeiler, referencing Brynn and McAllister's earlier discussion of the informational interviews conducted at AHA, inquired if the Office had to conduct second-round interviews prior to making final offers of employment to qualified candidates. Herschler responded by outlining the process involved in hiring full time equivalent (FTE) historians: the Office would receive a list of the top-ranked qualified applicants, thus enabling the management to contact those on the list to arrange for additional interviews. Herschler expressed optimism that the Office could hire historians by the end of the spring semester, enabling them to join the Office during the summer or fall months. Brynn interjected that the clearance process might take some time, to which Tudda responded that the clearance process for FTEs, as opposed to contractors, is usually much shorter. McAllister stressed that the interviews conducted in San Diego were "informational" in nature, adding that once the Department posted the FTE position opening on the USAJOBS website, the jobs would remain open for one month. Once the Office received the list of qualified applicants, it then had 45 days in which to contact prospective employees, conduct interviews, and make final selections. Immerman asked if this timetable allowed the Office to conduct interviews at the upcoming OAH meeting in Washington, April 7–10. After Office members expressed some doubts regarding this prospect, McAllister noted that the Department had to undertake several additional steps prior to advertising the openings on the USAJOBS website. As a follow-up to Immerman's earlier query, McMahon asked as to the earliest date the Office could hope to make an offer; Herschler responded that he felt it would be sometime during the Spring. McMahon, cognizant of earlier comments regarding the clearances, responded that in reality, it might take longer to employ prospective historians because of the vagaries of the clearance process. McAllister commented that clearing someone for employment would be a moot point if one of the candidates was internal to the Department.

In reference to the 150th anniversary of the series, Zeiler commented that he would like to see the Committee involved in some way. McAllister responded affirmatively, adding that the initial planning was somewhat truncated due to the deadlines for session proposals to the various professional organizations combined with the snowstorms that paralyzed Washington, D.C. for a week. Certainly Committee members should be involved as planning goes forward. Peterson asserted that the anniversary presented an excellent opportunity to inform other federal agencies about the series, as it existed as a record of other agencies, not just the Department of State. Thus the anniversary might be used to educate the historical community and public, as well. McAllister responded that the Office had generated several ideas in an effort to overcome this knowledge gap. McMahon added that the Office and the Department should not allow the 150th anniversary of the Civil War to eclipse the series' anniversary, exhorting Office historians to craft opinion pieces for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, highlighting the anniversary and the importance of the series.

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Marvin Russell reported that in 2009 his office was able to meet the requirements for the declassification of records of the Department of State. Despite budget constraints which limited the number of hours WAEs can work on declassifying documents, the Systematic Review Program (SRP) was able to meet or exceed its core goals. The Office declassified 2,645,400 pages of paper records, representing 104% of their goal. For 2010, 10% of the paper records were reviewed by mid-February. Russell also reported on the declassification of electronic records, stating that his office had completed the 1984 Secret and Confidential documents on November 23, 2009 and the Limited Official Use (LOU) on January 13, 2010. He noted that in June 2009, the Office transferred 367,000 electronic cables from 1977 (permanent only) to NARA. Russell stated that SRP was waiting on a response from the Department of Energy (DOE) for the 1978 and 1979 electronic cables and noted that the Air Force and CIA had already responded regarding their equities in these documents; the 1978–1979 cable set had been sent to the three agencies for vetting on March 25, 2008.

McMahon thanked Russell for the report and asked if there was anything the Committee could do to prompt a response from DOE. Russell responded that perhaps the Committee could invite someone from DOE to attend the next Advisory Committee meeting and suggested they contact DOE’s Ken Stein. The Committee agreed to do this. Russell then expressed concerns about the impact of the National Declassification Center (NDC) on the pace of declassification in SRP. He said that the NDC has major resource implications for SRP. There are many documents with Department equities at NARA including both State Department records and State equities in other agencies’ records reviewers will have to go to the Center to do their work as required by the Executive Order and will not be available for other SRP reviews. Russell emphasized that the Department fully supports the NDC and recognizes that it is the best hope for dealing with the mountain of records requiring State review at NARA.

McMahon responded to a written question from Bill Burr about the Iran retrospective volume. McMahon said that he couldn't say much in the open session about the status of the volume, but did say that there were issues between what the Historian's Office and the Committee feel are documents that are essential to the integrity of the volume and what the CIA is willing to release. He emphasized that this volume, based on its history, must meet the toughest standards and that the Committee would rather put it “on the shelf” than publish a volume that does not meet those standards. McMahon expressed cautious optimism that the hurdles will be overcome.

Closed Session, March 1

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

Michael Carlson from NARA informed the Committee that the 1976 cables were currently available on AAD and that there were an additional 347,000 cables plus withdrawal cards and P-reel citations for a total of 555,000 new documents. There are a total of over 1.3 million documents on AAD. NARA is reviewing the 1973–1975 cables to identify those that were newly identified as permanent according to the Subject TAGS schedule. The review includes 277,000 cables and over 133,000 withdrawal cards. The review will take about 2–3 months.

Don McIlwain from NARA spoke next and began by saying that the P-reel printouts from 1976 were almost done, but were being held up by DOE. These documents were indexed electronically but converted back to paper for declassification. There had been about 180 boxes and DOE had approximately 20 remaining. He hoped to announce at the June meeting that these boxes were completed. He also noted that it might be a good idea to invite someone from DOE to the HAC meeting, to which McMahon concurred. He also noted that 100 feet of RG 59, mostly pertaining to Africa posts had been released covering the 1969–1975, or so called "Brynn years." Don also spoke on Executive Order 13526, which directed NARA to establish a National Declassification Center. There was also an ongoing interagency process about how agencies do review and how it documents come to the National Archives. He told the group that they had established a website to update what was going on at the NDC, which could be found at

William Bosanko then gave a report to the Committee. He discussed three main documents that had been issued by the President. The first was an administrative order concerning original classification. The second was a Presidential memorandum that focused more on declassification. It provides that quality problems and referrals had to be resolved within a 400 million page backlog at NARA and declassified records made available to the public by December 31, 2013. Further referrals were limited to two categories of information: human sources and key design concepts of WMDs. Another key provision of the Presidential memorandum was direction to the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to provide support for the research to use cutting edge technology to address cross-agency challenges in declassification. The President also left the door open for more fundamental changes in the classification system in the future.

Bosanko discussed the main points contained within the new Executive Order regarding declassification. First it strengthened the standards for declassification by providing greater specificity of what can be exempted, including information on intelligence sources and methods and war plans. Second, it set specific deadlines for the declassification of materials that had been exempted from declassification at the 25 year limit; it said that except in extraordinary cases, records cannot continue to be classified after 75 years, and that the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) has to approve all decisions to extend classification beyond 25, 50, and 75 years. The third main issue in the new order had to do with third agency referrals, which had been the major choke point in the system of automatic declassification since 1995. In past, agencies had to respond to referral requests within three years, no matter where the documents were located. Now, the process would focus only on those materials that would be most likely to be declassified and that were located in publicly accessible locations (such as NARA or the Presidential Libraries). While referrals would now cover a smaller range of materials, agencies would have only up to one year to respond to such requests. Additionally, referral processing would be based on prioritization in conjunction with NARA, public figures, and the other agencies. This point marked a major shift in the process of third party referrals.

A fourth point was that agencies must now consider the decisions rendered by ISCAP when making their own decisions on declassification. The order also established guidance on the declassification of non-archival and non-record materials (which would be subject to the same standards as permanent records for purposes of review pursuant to an access demand). Bosanko said that the new Executive Order also narrowed integral file blocks, which allow review of a series of records based upon the age of the most recent materials in the series, rather than the age of each individual record. The new Order limited blocks to ten years. He also noted that information may not be excluded from declassification based solely upon the type of document in which it is contained; thus, agencies cannot simply declare a type of document exempt from declassification. Finally, he discussed file series exemptions. This had been a one time option in 1995, which was then expanded in 2003, whereby granting exemptions of file series was approved by the President. Under the new order all previously approved file series level exemptions have to be reapproved and the approval authority has shifted to the ISCAP.

Bosanko also mentioned that he had handed out a printout of PowerPoint slides to the attendees, and then opened the floor to questions.

McMahon asked about a 2009 Presidential memo, in which the reclassification of materials that had been declassified under "proper authority" had been prohibited. Bosanko responded that the standard in the Executive Order raises the question of what constitutes proper authority and that, as far as he was concerned, the regular agency programs and FOIA both constitute "proper authority". He then went on to say that it is possible to consider reclassification in extraordinary circumstances, and that the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) has to consider cases where incorrect reclassification has occurred in the past. He also said that it should be asked why there had been, as some agencies argued, so many cases in which incorrect declassification had occurred. He had found cases in which documents had been mistakenly declassified, but even in those cases he felt it should be asked if more harm would be done by reclassifying the documents than just leaving them out there.

Bosanko said that the number of mistakenly declassified documents must be reduced. At the same time, when such failures occur, they cannot be ignored if previously protected information is now part of the public record. In some cases, documents that might previously have remained classified may sometimes now be released without further damage.

Peterson asked about instances when FRUS documents are appropriately declassified and circulated as part of the publication process, but agencies then assert that they can change their declassification rulings, in some cases making such a decision just before the document is printed. Bosanko replied that cases such as this produce a declassification "revolving door," whereby agencies make redactions and then, much later in the process, indicate that a document requires further redactions, rather than doing a complete job when the document is originally received. This situation creates a number of difficulties. One is security. When a document is declassified, agencies stop working with it on the classified system, and this leads to problems if there is an attempt to reclassify it. There is a tendency for agencies to ignore the fact that a given document is no longer being treated as classified when they want to reclassify it, as though some of the rules of classification can be followed while others are disregarded.

Peterson questioned whether a declassification center would result in a timely transfer of documents to NARA, noting the challenges faced in regards to DOD documents. Bosanko commented that efficient record management and timely transfer of documents to NARA can benefit agencies. NARA can alleviate a number of problems that occur when agencies hold on to documents too long, such as cost, storage space, and dealing with FOIA requests. Powers added that public interest in records becomes a factor.

Bosanko said that under the new EO, systematic declassification will now apply only to exempted materials. Agencies will have to be careful about the location of records within their record management systems.

McMahon brought the discussion to a close by noting that they would return to these topics when the committee met with representatives of the CIA.

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

McMahon invited a representative of the CIA to speak. The CIA representative explained how declassification authority worked in the agency. McMahon then called on Herschler for his status report.

Herschler recommended that, rather than going volume by volume through issues faced in the FRUSseries, that the discussion focus on broad and sometimes very specific issues. He referred to the previous meeting between the Committee and Agency’s Historical Review Panel in December 2008, from which "some issues still were to be resolved" as well as some new ones that had emerged. He noted that the position of the Joint Historian remained vacant and an issue of concern. The Office was revising the position description but some questions remained about the Joint Historian's place in the CIA organization. The Committee then discussed specifics of the position with the CIA representatives.

McMahon expressed the general concern of the Committee that, once a manuscript had undergone verification and been declassified, there had been instances where the CIA had reclassified certain material, or moved to halt release. McMahon noted that such actions contravened both the State-CIA Memorandum of Understanding and the new Executive Order.

The CIA representative asked if this was in reference to a specific document. The committee then discussed the specifics of the document and its declassification review with the CIA representative and Bosanko.

Herschler said that HO wants to engage CIA on a case-by-case, document-by-document basis.

Bosanko said that he was concerned about the revolving door of documents being endlessly reviewed, appealed, reviewed, etc. At some point we must move forward and make informed decisions on a case-by-case basis. This must get down to the working level.

The Committee then discussed specific declassification review principles with the CIA representative and Bosanko.

The Committee then discussed the CIA position on previously-leaked material with the CIA representatives.

The Committee then discussed specifics of the CIA review process with the CIA representatives.

Peterson noted that public access to declassified documents has two components: first, the legal process of declassification and, second, the creation of finding aids so that the public can locate the records. Peterson inquired about the current plans for the processing of the millions of records under discussion regarding the new National Declassification Center. Bosanko agreed that this was a crucial issue for the success of the new Executive Order.

The CIA representative asked if the committee would be interested in attending a CIA Historical Review Panel meeting. McMahon indicated a strong interest and the two agreed that the meeting could likely take place in June.

Closed Session, March 2

Documentation Withheld from Recently Reviewed Foreign Relations Manuscripts

The Committee discussed specific declassification issues with the Acting General Editor, the Chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division and the staff.

The Future of the Foreign Relations Series

Brynn described to the Committee what the Office was doing to further the professional development of the staff and how this helped further integrate the office into the mission of the Department as a whole. He went on to explain the beginnings of an oral history project by the office.

McAllister then reported on how Special Projects and Policy Studies work helps the overall office and furthers the mission of FRUS . He updated the Committee on the progress of reviewing FRUSvolumes, providing the members with a chart of volumes currently being reviewed. He listed some of the other issues, such as employee evaluations and work requirements, that management has been addressing.

Aaron Marrs spoke on his work to coordinate records access.

After McAllister completed his report, the committee and staff engaged in follow on discussions. Peterson commented on access issues regarding NSC records and offered thoughts about the Office’s plans to begin an oral history program. Sibley and McAllister discussed about plans to continue providing to the committee a production/review chart. McMahon asked about additional projections for volumes that could be released later this year and also asked if Office management was satisfied with the progress of compiling. Managers replied that several more volumes should come out and that they were satisfied with compiling progress. The session ended with Joe Wicentowski informing the committee about how the Department of State has used FRUS-related data to comply with the current administration's "Open Government" initiatives through