Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, September 8-9, 2008
Open Session, September 8
Retirement of General Editor Edward Keefer
Chairman Roger Louis opened the meeting by noting the retirement of Edward C. Keefer as General Editor of the Foreign Relations (FRUS) series. Louis said that Keefer had contributed substantially to making FRUS a documentary record acknowledged throughout the world as an accurate record of the Foreign Relations of the United States. Under Keefer's tenure as editor, Louis added, the nature of the series was transformed into the thematic record that it is today. Robert McMahon added that Keefer was much of the reason for the success of FRUS, and guessed that he had produced more pages for FRUS than anyone else in its history. Edward Rhodes noted (and he emphasized that this was a compliment) that Keefer was decidedly not a political scientist, but that while FRUS was not a work of political science, he continued to encourage his students to use it. Thomas Schwartz emphasized the creativity that Keefer brought to volumes like the one on détente. Thomas Zeiler mentioned that he and Robert Schulzinger never had to doubt the quality of FRUS when they had it reviewed for Diplomatic History. Margaret Hedstrom added that Keefer oversaw a period of real innovations in the series, such as electronic-only publications, and that he could do great impressions of Nixon and Kissinger. Katherine Sibley mentioned that Keefer had made the access guide finally happen. Peter Spiro said that he had enjoyed the nostalgia of undergraduate days as he perused old volumes of FRUS that Keefer had produced.
Approval of the Record of the September 2008 Meeting
Roger Louis wrapped up the tribute and called for the approval of the record of the minutes of the last meeting. They were approved.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Marc Susser indicated that the summer had been very busy, even though not many volumes had been released since the last meeting. So far in 2008, five volumes had been published, and Dr. Susser expressed the hope that it might be possible to get three to five more out by the end of the calendar year. However, this is heavily dependent upon the vagaries of the declassification process and the other agencies involved in the declassification process.
Susser then spoke about a trip that he and Joseph Wicentowski made to China in August, for the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing. They distributed the office's new book on the history of U.S.-Chinese relations, and Susser met with Chinese journalists. They also met with members of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to discuss the planned joint documentary volume, and had a productive discussion. Another meeting is planned for September when a delegation from the MFA will be in Washington.
Rhodes asked to be walked through all of the compilers in the office, and which volume each one is currently working on in terms of their personal production (first, second, etc.). David Herschler provided a run down, based upon information in the packet, and with confirmation from each compiler. Most compilers were working on their second or third volumes.
Schwartz asked if there were plans for a conference this year. Susser responded that the office hopes to put together another conference soon but has no fixed plans. Schwartz asked about the possibility of this October, which Susser said was not possible. Amy Garrett reaffirmed that a conference could not be organized and held in one month.
Louis raised the issue of replacing the recently retired General Editor. Susser replied that, for the time being, he would serve as the acting General Editor, with significant assistance from the Deputy Historian and the Division Chiefs. Given the complexities of hiring within the Department, under Office of Personnel Management (OPM) procedures, however, it is unlikely that the position will be filled before early 2009. Susser reassured the committee that FRUS rolls on and will continue.
Sibley asked about the Joint Historian's position. The Historian answered that this was one area where there had been real progress. All wrinkles had been ironed out and Tom Pearcy, Professor of History at Slippery Rock University, will join the Office in mid-December.
Louis asked if there were any further questions, and William Burr from the National Security Archive asked if the planned number of volumes covering the Reagan administration have shifted at all. Susser replied that they have not yet, but that soon there should be a trip out to the Reagan library to check its holdings, after which there may be some changes. Burr said that 38 seemed like a low number, and Susser replied that the office has discussed this thoroughly, but that there are several factors (30-year line, number of compilers and their clearances and experience, etc.) that limit the number of Reagan volumes the office could do.
Status Report by the Deputy Historian
Herschler reported that the office had welcomed three new historians to the staff since the June meeting, and an office historian had accepted a job in the Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
Herschler then announced for the record that after a distinguished career spanning 35 years of service in the Office of the Historian, General Editor Edward Keefer had retired at the end of August.
Regarding the status of declassification of the FRUS series, since the last meeting, two volumes had been verified, the final step in the declassification process. One newly completed manuscript had been referred for declassification since the June meeting. There were now a total of 28 volumes in the declassification process. All but two of the volumes cover the Nixon/Ford administrations; the others are retrospectives. The next volumes to be submitted for declassification would cover the Carter administration.
Herschler went on to report that the office continued to make significant progress on both the redesign and substantive enhancements to its website. Many of the technological enhancements will, among other things, revolutionize the way in which FRUS is used online.
On the professional outreach front, office historians continued to be actively engaged in the larger historical profession since the last meeting, as a total of 18 different historians-nearly half the professional staff of the office-engaged in professional and outreach activities since the June meeting of the Committee. In particular, June was an especially busy and productive month, as 11 historians traveled to Columbus, Ohio to participate in various panels and roundtable discussions at the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). Six office historians also served as judges for the National History Day competition at the University of Maryland at College Park on June 6th and 7th. Several Office historians have published articles and/or essays in professional journals.
Finally, two office historians were selected to serve in major capacities for professional organizations. Peter Kraemer was reelected Treasurer of the Society for Historians in the Federal Government. Kristin Ahlberg was appointed to the 2009 SHAFR Local Arrangements Committee and was designated as the 2010 OAH Program Committee representative to the 2010 OAH Local Resources Committee.
Status of Declassification of the Department of State Records
Marvin Russell reported to the committee that the systematic review of Department of State electronic documents (telegrams) continued on schedule, and the Department was on target to meet the Executive Order deadline. Classified electronic cable review for 1983 is completed, including both Secret and Confidential cables. Review had begun on the 1983 Limited Official Use telegrams. Unclassified electronic cable review is now about ninety-eight per cent complete for 1981, eighty-two per cent for 1982, and sixty-two per cent for 1983.
The 1977 electronic records will be transferred to the National Archives (NARA) once technical preparatory work, including application of disposition by TAGS, has been accomplished. Electronic cables from 1978 and 1979 were sent to other agencies for equity review in March 2008. Russell hoped to have agency responses by the end of the month, but he recognized that would be a challenge as State sent a greater number of records to the agencies than ever before.
Paper documents are also on schedule in the review process. 59% of the CY2008 goal was completed by the end of August. That goal was one quarter of all paper documents from the 1982 to 1985 period. Regarding a previous question about USIA Record Group 306, the review of 99% of all 1982-85 records were completed. 48,000 pages have still not been delivered to the review facility at Newington.
Rhodes asked whether there was any bad news to report, and Russell responded that there were no problems although everything could change when the Department receives its FY 2009 budget.
Closed Session, September 8
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives
Margaret Hedstrom reported on the trip that committee members took to the National Archives at College Park. They met with representatives from the CIA, NARA, and the Department of State (DOS). There were three principal topics at the meeting: the current status of the interagency referral process, general information on processing Department of State records, and learning more about the National Declassification Initiative and the National Declassification Center.
Hedstrom spoke first about interagency referral process. There are approximately 100 staffers working on interagency referral at NARA. The process began in March 2007 and has the advantage of getting different agencies to work simultaneously or in short sequence. The process is voluntary and reviewers can pass documents along to other reviewers at their agency if they feel it would be necessary. There are, however, some existing problems. The Department of Energy (DOE) has final review on RD/FRD material, and has a backlog of this material. The CIA and the DOE reviewers often find missed equities, which leads documents to be put back into the review process. Finally, DOS reviewers are overwhelmed by material improperly referred to them (e.g., the mere mention of a foreign government does not require DOS review).
Hedstrom then turned to the National Declassification Center. This Center was recommended by the President's Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB). The idea is to develop a classified records center in the Washington, DC region that would store all classified records. Participation would be mandatory, which would require a new executive order or other legislation. It would replace the current dispersed archives holding classified material, and would meet security guidelines as well as environmental guidelines established by NARA. The center would do all interagency referral work, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reviews, Remote Archive Capture program (RAC) reviews for presidential libraries, and 25-year reviews under the executive order. It would provide a single point of contact for classified records and be governed by NARA. A contractor is currently working on a proposal which would outline the size and cost of such a facility, and the report is due in two to three weeks.
Hedstrom also noted that the new National Declassification Center (NDC) would incorporate Presidential materials placed in the RAC.
She concluded by saying that the NDC would hopefully be able to set priorities for what was to be declassified based on perceived constituent use-that is, it would seek to identify those records in demand by historians and other members of the public and to review those materials first; Hedstrom also noted that work at NARA was proceeding to process heretofore unprocessed records of the Department of State, some of them from the early 20th century.
McMahon asked Hedstrom to explain more about the unprocessed DOS records from the early 20th century. Hedstrom replied that these covered a great deal of material in RG 84 (Post files) that had been unprocessed. The material had always been open but did not appear in ARC, the NARA online central finding aid, and NARA had no descriptions of the material. Currently NARA was preparing descriptions for the ARC database.
Don McIlwain added that, in fact, no finding aids had existed for this material and that the NARA staff was trying to write box lists for the old post files in an effort to make them more "user friendly." Newer material was being accessioned and made available as it came in. Hedstrom added that NARA continued to do its page-by-page review of classified DOS materials.
Herschler asked if the subcommittee had had a chance to ask about DOS guidelines for declassification. Hedstrom replied that she had asked about declassification in general, but had the sense that much of the interagency referral process was moving very conservatively-that is, that agencies were referring documents to State that did not truly have State equities. Sibley commented that it often seemed that State was getting referrals if the name of another country showed up in the document. Hedstrom agreed.
Hedstrom added that, until approximately November 2002, the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State had a mutual agreement by which each agency mutually agreed to trust the other's judgment on declassification issues. Since that time, however, and without explanation, DOD had withdrawn from this agreement. State reviewers Hedstrom spoke to generally had agreed that this had been a good arrangement and had made inquiries at Defense about why this agreement was not being sustained. Defense, however, had not answered.
Zeiler said that he had high hopes for the National Declassification Center and that these high hopes were shared among many on the committee and in the scholarly community. He added that such a center would also provide a solution for the fate of electronic records. He felt that it would be ideal if all parties involved could expedite its construction. Sibley added that it would lead to much less wasted effort on the part of the disparate agencies involved. Roger Louis agreed.
McIlwain said that he would like to have a group (or all) of the committee visit NARA again at some point, because this visit had been a bit rushed due of the number of things on its agenda. He added that the NDC would serve as a single collection point for various types of media, such as one-inch digital tapes, which required expensive readers. With the NDC, only one organization would have to buy and maintain such equipment rather than various agencies. McIlwain added that NARA takes the idea of NDC very seriously and will be placing a narrative description of its functions and operational plan into its section of the briefing book for the President-elect.
Hedstrom added that another advantage of the NDC was that it would provide a single, centralized database to track individual documents and the classification decisions that had been made on them. Hedstrom said that this would hopefully end the problem of documents being reviewed or referred to a particular agency multiple times, by different reviewers. McIlwain commented that the Interagency Referral Center (IRC) had begun to standardize what it means to exempt or refer a document, and that the NDC will help further in standardizing these procedures.
McIlwain reported that he had received an e-mail update from Mike Carlson on the status of the 1976 cables. Carlson's e-mail stated that the Special Access Group, which deals mainly with privacy concerns, was reviewing the withdrawal cards from the 1976 cables. Turning to related records, McIlwain reported that the 1975 P-reel printouts were all under review by either DOE or the IRC. The IRC's review of the 1976 P-reel printouts was 44% complete, and referrals were being made.
In response to questions at the last committee meeting about the status of Record Group 306 (RG 306) records, McIlwain reported that State reviewers at NARA had completed Kyl-Lott reviews on approximately 1,900 cubic feet of RG 306 records. Approximately 600 cubic feet of these were determined to be "highly unlikely" to have RD / FRD, and will be moved to the open stacks for archival processing. Approximately 1,300 cubic feet have been referred to DOE for a quality assurance review. As DOE completes its review, these records will be moved to the open stacks. McIlwain added, however, that RG 306 is not likely to contain very much RD / FRD.
On the issue of re-classified documents, McIlwain reported that 11,308 documents had been reclassified, all of which have now been referred to the relevant agencies. A total of 417 documents still await DOE or Air Force decisions. Approximately 2,000 documents have been identified by the CIA as requiring redactions, and NARA is waiting to receive these redacted copies. McIlwain stated that NARA staff had requested the CIA to send these documents back as they are completed, rather than waiting for all of them to be completed.
At this point Louis asked for any questions; there were none. Louis then asked for any additional comments from Adamson and Langbart, who stated they had nothing to add.
Documentation Withheld from Recently Reviewed Foreign Relations Manuscripts
Rhodes reported on specific declassification issues discussed in the subcommittee meeting.
Louis introduced William Bosanko from NARA's Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO). Bosanko told the committee that he would like to be made aware of inconsistent declassification decisions with regard to FRUS. Declassification decisions must be made within the President's guidelines, he said. He recognized some documents are improperly declassified but this does not mean agencies could automatically either reclassify or redact information that had previously been released. He said the more ISOO is aware of inconsistencies in declassification decisions the better his office could respond.
ISOO, Bosanko added, can only become involved in the issue when there is a question concerning an agency's failure to comply with the President's guidelines. ISOO does not want production of FRUS volumes delayed by agency non-compliance.
McMahon asked about the issue of official vs. non-official release of information, specifically citing the Church and Pike Committee reports that were released by the Senate. The CIA, he said, did not view the reports as official releases since they were released by the Legislative Branch. The CIA, as part of the Executive Branch, they had argued, was not bound by those releases. When McMahon brought this up with the CIA during the June meeting, he felt that the CIA never followed up or engaged in real dialogue with the committee about this issue. He said that the CIA has no respect for precedence and prior release of documentation. He added that the CIA has no respect for information that is already in the public domain. If such information is not available for FRUS, the series will suffer from a lack of credibility.
Bosanko said that the terms "official" and "non-official" do not appear anywhere in the Executive Order. If information is released under the Executive Order then it's an official release. If an error was made, there is a process the agency must follow in order to reclassify information that has already been released. He advised the office to push back against any agency's attempt to do this.
Closed Session, September 9
Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business
John Carland discussed his ongoing research with the committee.
Committee Review of Recently Published volume, Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Germany, 1969-1972
The committee discussed the recently published volume on Germany with its editor, David Geyer.
The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series
The Chairman welcomed the CIA representatives to the meeting and invited the Deputy Historian to make his report. Herschler expressed regret that the Information Review Officer (IRO) from the National Clandestine Service could not be in attendance. Herschler said that while previous reports had largely been positive, a number of negative issues had emerged in recent months. He noted that since the last committee meeting, the CIA had verified one FRUS volume, making a total of five volumes reviewed in 2008. He expressed hope that a further four or five volumes would be verified by the end of the year. In addition, Herschler stated that eight FRUS volumes with High Level Panel (HLP) issues are at the Agency for initial review and that all eight (plus one other) had passed their 120-day review deadline. He requested that the Agency increase the pace of these initial reviews. Herschler also noted that appeals continue for two volumes and that the back and forth negotiations are ongoing.
Herschler stated that there are three areas of general concern regarding Agency reviews, in addition to the aforementioned delays on HLP issues. He stated that the Agency must make good on its promise to proceed with reviews of non-HLP documents contained within FRUS volumes with HLP issues. Second, he expressed very serious concern over Agency refusal to declassify aggregate budget information in FRUS volumes, stating that the Agency had backed off of its previous commitment to do so. On this, he expressed further regret that the IRO could not be present to address this concern. Third, Herschler stated concern over Agency withholding of information that had been previously released to the public, noting Agency reservations over information that it felt had been declassified improperly by others.
Herschler closed his report by noting that the new State-CIA joint historian would begin work in the office in mid-December.
The CIA representatives provided a quick update on the status of the volumes that had been submitted most recently to the CIA.
Turning to the topic of aggregate budget numbers, the CIA representatives noted there would be internal discussions within the Agency to try to resolve this and other issues.
The CIA representatives then addressed the ongoing problem of delays in the declassification review process, and reassured committee members that progress was being made through the "chapter-by-chapter" review process. The CIA representatives insisted that this system hastened the review process and prevented backlog. The CIA representatives in this vein, continued that good results--as opposed to results alone--were the main objective of the HLP. The CIA representatives stressed that hastening the review process or HLP process was not as important as obtaining the best possible results by means of meaningful negotiation with the parties involved. The CIA representatives then opined that making a series of compromises was an ineffective means to get results.
The committee then discussed specifics of the Iran retrospective and Congo volumes with the committee.
Rhodes then thanked the Agency for its efforts in reviewing the volumes, referencing symbolic smoke coming out of his ears, and expressed his deep FRUStration over the glacial pace at which the volumes were being completed. Rhodes mentioned that many of the current issues were dealt with ages ago and expressed concern that the Agency, under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) had failed to deliver on its promises.
At this point, Rhodes and the committee had a lengthy discussion concerning the problematic nature of the HLP process.
The CIA representatives proposed having the HLP reconvene to reconfirm its decisions, because this would be most helpful in pushing the various reluctant members of the Agency to comply with the HLP guidelines. Rhodes, other members of the committee, and Susser expressed surprise that there would be any need to go through such an exercise when the HLP guidelines were clearly spelled out in authoritative documents. The CIA representatives asked what harm the committee or office fear would come from reconvening the HLP for such a purpose. He went on to suggest that there could be ongoing benefits from convening the HLP on a semi-regular basis.
Bill Leary joined the discussion to say that convening the HLP semi-regularly had proved virtually impossible when tried in the past. Moreover, from his perspective, things had generally been working well without regular meetings of the HLP. Leary proposed turning the CIA question around to ask why they thought it was necessary. Leary commended the CIA representatives for "fighting the good fight," and suggested an alternative approach would be to have them consult with the CIA HLP member to learn if he thinks the old decision was wrong. If he does not, then convey that response to the relevant parties within the Agency. The CIA acknowledged that might be a good way to move forward.
Herschler noted that the office was more than willing to meet with the CIA in advance of the HLP deliberative process in an effort to identify and address potential stumbling blocks. He also agreed with the CIA that its problems of personnel turnover caused institutional memory problems and said that the office would be happy to meet with, and to educate, new CIA staff, including new IROs or FRUS reviewers in the directorates, as necessary. Susser and the CIA representatives agreed that occasional meetings and perhaps even an off-site event could be productive for the working relationship.
McMahon asked about the eight volumes listed as being past the 120-day deadline for response from the CIA. A discussion ensued on how to determine the starting point for counting the 120 days and on how to deal with an entire volume's verification being held up by a single HLP document.
Rhodes stated that he appreciated the progress that the CIA had made and that everyone had to work together; however, the problems being confronted dealt with the implementation of things long since fought out and decided. He said this raised the question of the CIA's commitment to the spirit and letter of the MOU. The CIA representatives said that making things adversarial would not be helpful. Rhodes lamented the unexpected absence of the NCS IRO, whose presence would have been helpful.
Leary noted that the HLP really was one of the great "success stories" of U.S. declassification efforts. He personally had not expected in 1997 that so much would be accomplished. Perhaps most important, it was now fully bipartisan, with more covert operations having been acknowledged by the Bush administration than the Clinton administration. He encouraged everyone in the room to keep at it, and praised them for "doing the Lord's work."
Louis proposed that for the next meeting the 10th would be for the work of the committee and the 11th would be for a joint meeting with the CIA's Historical Review Panel. Finally, the CIA representatives returned to a point from the last meeting about the possibility of one of the committee members' academic institutions hosting a conference on declassification relating to an important historical event. Louis said they had discussed it and would continue to look at the possibilities.