Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation September 14-15, 2009
Office of the Historian
Bureau of Administration
National Archives and Records Administration
Central Intelligence Agency
Open Session, September 14
Approval of the Record of the March 2009 Meeting
The chair called the meeting to order at 1:35 p.m. The minutes were approved with one correction and one addition. The chair then called on Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley.
Crowley welcomed the committee back to the Department of State and noted that this was his second meeting with the Historical Advisory Committee. He thanked them for their outstanding report and said that the Bureau was continuing along the “outlined path” recommended by the Inspector General. The next task was to establish new leadership for the office including a new General Editor and Historian. Crowley said that he liked the concept of career Ambassadors and Foreign Service Officers as a source to fill the latter position. He said that would ensure new leadership periodically and would better integrate the office into the Department. The current “game plan” was to select new leadership within the next six months.
Crowley then noted that he had passed his 100th day in the Department was confident that the office was on the right path, although rebuilding might take a decade.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Ambassador Brynn thanked Assistant Sec. of State Crawley and PA for the support received over the past six month, stating that it made the challenges easier to bear. He paid tribute to Ambassador Campbell who concluded his service with the Office of the Historian on August 21, 2009, and noted that during Amb. Campbell’s brief but memorable tenure the office had restored morale, engaged with PA, raised the office’s profile, and worked towards fulfilling the OIG report recommendations. Amb. Brynn also thanked the members of the committee as well as PA Executive Director Hattie Jones.
Brynn spoke of several management issues: that there will be an advertisement put out for a General Editor of FRUS; the office recently hired Margaret Morrissey for administrative work; and the three FRUS division chief positions had been filled. There remains the position of Historian. Campbell recommended that this position be recast for a senior foreign service officer. Presently someone is soliciting bids for a senior Foreign Service Officer with a PhD, preferably in history, and that a half dozen were identified. The Director General hopes to fill the position of Historian sometime next summer. Until then, Brynn will remain on as Acting Historian.
Since Brynn took over, the office has responded to the OIG although some resource-related issues remain outstanding. The working groups inaugurated under Amb. Campbell, the July 17th movement, are still working, but some have been consolidated or retired. The groups have addressed a variety of issues and have reinforced the line of communication and morale. Yet, some challenges remain, such as “nesting” issues – the office’s work environment and the need for more space and greater privacy. Brynn has offered for all of the office to relocate to the family farm in Vermont to satisfy this last challenge. He noted that both space and security are big ticket items, as is the need to reduce contractors and to clear the backlog of work that has accumulated. Brynn stated that he remains committed to do all of this and maintains the need for the various non-FRUS office divisions.
The HAC has a formal role and has sustained fruitful interpersonal relations in the joint endeavor to get the office on its feet.
Status Report by the Deputy Historian
David Herschler began with the status of declassification of the FRUS series. Since the last meeting, two volumes had been verified, the final step in the declassification process. The office anticipated verification of at least two more volumes before the end of calendar year 2009.
Turning to the comings and goings of office staff since the March meeting, Herschler reported that Acting Historian, Ambassador John Campbell, departed to begin a previous commitment with the Council on Foreign Relations. Ambassador Edward Brynn had assumed the position of Acting Historian. David Geyer was appointed Chief of the newly constituted Europe and Americas Division; Kathy Rasmussen was appointed Chief of the newly constituted Asia and General Division; and Adam Howard was appointed Chief of the newly constituted Middle East and Africa Division. Margaret Morrissey joined the office as a Senior Administrative Assistant working on a one-year contract. Paul Hibbeln left the office to take a position as Historian for the U.S. Air Force 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam Air Force Base. Joint Historian Tom Pearcy resigned his position to return to his professorship at Slippery Rock University. The position of General Editor had been posted and so the process for completing the penultimate component of the Office management team was underway.
The process of rebuilding the professional staff would take time, however, Herschler stated. There were currently six vacancies in FRUS compiling divisions, plus the Joint Historian position. Many, if not all, of the potential candidates to fill these positions would likely come from outside the Federal government and from an academic location which would require obtaining the requisite security clearances, as well as require them to complete their academic commitments for the year before joining the staff. The office, in conjunction with the PA Bureau, was doing everything within its power to expedite the hiring process.
With respect to outreach, a delegation made up of seven senior officers from the People’s Army of Vietnam had visited the Historian’s Office. Five came from the Military Publishing House, Ministry of Defense, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, in Hanoi, and two from the Defense Attaché Office, Vietnamese Embassy, in Washington. During its time in Washington the delegation also visited the Historical Office, Department of Defense; the US Army Center of Military History; the National Defense University; and the Marine Corps University History Division. Their primary purpose was to learn about U.S. federal historical publishing programs.
With regard to historical outreach, office historians continued to be actively engaged in outreach activities in the larger historical profession. Several Office historians participated in SHAFR’s annual conference: Kristin Ahlberg served on the local arrangements committee for SHAFR; John Carland presented a paper, “Edward C. Keefer, Vietnam, and the Foreign Relations of the United States series”; Kelly McFarland gave a paper entitled “The Truman Administration and Revolution in Egypt: the Language of Stability and Middle East Defense”; David Nickles chaired a panel on “Major Aspects of U.S.-Japan Relations: Comparing the Interwar Period and the 1970s” and presented a paper, “The Bombardment of Copenhagen and the Coming of the War of 1812”; Chris Tudda presented a paper entitled “The Vietnam Card: The Nixon Administration, Zhou En-lai, and the Search for an ‘Honorable Withdrawal’ from Vietnam, 1969–1972,” and Bill Mcallister, Louise Woodroofe and Seth Center all presented papers in a session entitled “That 70s Show: Continuity and Change in Perceptions of U.S. Global Interest.” In addition, Hal Jones delivered a presentation on Mexico and the Cold War to the Yale-Georgetown Summer Institute for Educators in New Haven in July.
Finally, several recent publications featured pieces by members of the staff: David Nickles’s essay, “Submarine Cables and Diplomatic Culture” was published in Communications Under the Seas: The Evolving Cable Network and Its Implications, edited by Bernard Finn and Daqing Yang (MIT Press, 2009); and Hal Jones, Aaron Marrs, and Chris Tudda all published book reviews.
Report by the Acting General Editor
Bill McAllister gave a rundown on the activities undertaken in the office over the past 3 months to facilitate the FRUS compiling process, with emphasis on three points. First, he talked about efforts to build capacity within the office for first and second review of compilations. In this regard, he noted the completion of the Carter Style Guide, which would be promulgated to staff in the coming week; the successful training of a FRUS reviewing team (this took place in three parts: the hiring from within of three permanent Division Chiefs; the creation of a bullpen of reviewers, made up of the senior compilers from each of the three FRUS divisions, to aid in review as necessary; and bringing in former General Editor Edward Keefer to provide a briefing/training session for all those who would be reviewing manuscripts). With the capacity for review now in place, McAllister proclaimed his confidence that the Office is ready to deal with existing and future volumes.
Second, he discussed the effort to assess and address the elements necessary to move the FRUS series forward. So far, the status of each volume in the pipeline has been assessed and each one has been assigned to a reviewer. He pointed out that a number of volumes were in need of front matter, and stated that: “No volume will go through to declassification until the front matter is done.” The office now has a sense of which volumes will be ready for review over the next 6–9 months, and has begun to assign compilers to new and future volumes.
Third, McAllister discussed efforts to support and train FRUS compilers. Here he emphasized the long-standing Box Training Exercise; all-compilers’ meetings that will be scheduled with some regularity in the future in order to check in on the series and share expertise; and the fact that the reinvigorated Speaker’s Series has already and will continue to include former office staff members in order to pass on institutional memory. McAllister also mentioned that a strategy has been developed for filling vacancies in the office, but that it has not yet been implemented.
Finally, McAllister closed by talking about the future of FRUS. He mentioned that the Reagan Plan was still in formation, and a visit the Reagan Library would be necessary soon. He closed with a nautical metaphor regarding the progress of FRUS in 2009: the series had been “in irons,” and had had to turn back in order to catch the wind, but has done so and is now moving forward again.
Some discussion followed McAllister’s presentation. Peterson asked a question regarding a prior comment that the office had received approval for three new FTE positions (a statement confirmed by Herschler). She wondered if the office would lose budget money for contract positions if those three positions were filled by current contractors. Herschler responded that the office hoped it would be able to either redirect that money to other expenses, or perhaps could use it to hire dedicated, short-term contractors. Brynn commented that he had learned that the budget process was independent of the personnel process, and that the number of authorized positions was often separate from the amount budgeted for the office. Peterson pursued the issue, asking if the former contractor positions would be filled with new contractors; if not, what is the gain to the office by hiring contractors as FTEs? Brynn said that he hoped that the office would have success in getting additional positions authorized for the office, and that since the office had the wind of the IG report at its back, he thought the chances for success were good. Herschler explained further that the Office had an approved staffing level but had never been allocated sufficient FTE positions, and had gotten around that shortfall in the past by hiring contractors. Once the office was able to reach that authorized level with FTE positions, he hoped that it would be able to expand beyond that level, either through more FTEs or temporary contractors.
Tom Zeiler then asked for a clarification about which three positions were vacant. Peterson clarified that she meant the three authorized new FTEs. McMahon closed the session by postponing further discussion of staffing for the next day’s executive session, although he added that, while it is favorable to bring in the current contractors as FTEs, he wondered how the office would be able to get additional positions in the future.
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Marvin Russell provided a status report on 25-year reviews of electronic and paper records indicating that IPS/SRP is on schedule to complete the high priority annual targets, despite a flat budget and the growth of annual record year-sets. With respect to the electronic cable records, the 1984 classified cables were on target for completion soon and the Limited Official Use cables for completion by about the turn of the year; work remained to be done at some stage on the 1982-84 unclassified cables. Russell reported that the 1977 e-cables had been transferred to NARA on June 23, 2009. Chairman McMahon inquired about the delay between transfer of the cables to NARA and their availability online. NARA representative David Langbart stated NARA needs to do approximately 6 months of work before release. Members of the committee then inquired about the need for this second review, about which a range of views was expressed.
Closed Session, September 14
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives
McMahon opened the session by noting that the discussion would further address many of the issues and questions raised during Russell’s presentation about the processing and declassification of State Department cables. McMahon then introduced McIlwain, who reiterated that his presentation was in many ways a follow-on to Russell’s.
McIlwain explained that the problem with the 1976 cables was that they needed to be re-reviewed for classified NATO information. The 1975 cables had gone all the way through the declassification process and were released without catching this classified NATO material. NATO Central Registry had complained about the release of this information, so now NARA has to reassess the 1976 cables. McIlwain reported that Michael Carlson at NARA had e-mailed him saying that they were working on how to handle these NATO equities. McIlwain commented that this was a new issue that NARA staff had not previously encountered, and that they were learning.
McIlwain then relayed further information he had received via e-mail from Michael Carlson on the status of State Department P-reels and cables at NARA. Carlson’s e-mail stated that on June 23rd NARA received from State the cd’s for the 1977 “permanent” cables (“permanent” meaning that this set of electronic cables had been screened by Subject TAGS to weed out non-permanent cables according to the State Department’s records schedule). Carlson’s e-mail also noted that he had sent a draft plan to Herschler on the re-processing of the 1973-1975 cables (these cables will be reprocessed to insure that all permanent cables are included in NARA’s AAD system).
McIlwain also reported that since the last Advisory Committee meeting, NARA had completed the processing of 123 cubic feet of records from 12 records series in record groups 59 and 84, and that 187 of the 190 boxes of 1975 P-reel printouts have now been opened. The three remaining boxes of 1975 P-reel printouts are “stuck” with DOE awaiting Kyl-Lott review. All 207 boxes of the 1976 P-reel printouts are also in the “DOE queue,” awaiting Kyl-Lott review.
McIlwain reported that the establishment of a National Declassification Center has been preserved in the new EO on Classified National Security Information that will be released by the White House. NARA staff has accordingly begun a conversation on how to get an NDC up and running, so that NARA can be prepared when the new EO comes out. Michael Kurtz at NARA has been heading this effort. McIlwain then asked for questions.
Sibley expressed concern about the 1975 and 1976 P-reel printouts that are awaiting Kyl-Lott review by DOE, and asked if it would be possible to get DOE representatives to appear before the Advisory Committee. McIlwain stated that he could forward the names of his DOE contacts to Herschler.
Sibley then asked if NARA’s National Declassification Initiative might provide the basis for a brick-and-mortar NDC. McIlwain responded that the NDI will morph into the NDC, but the details are not worked out yet. McIlwain said it was his feeling that a new physical structure would be needed.
Zeiler asked if the schedule for the establishment of an NDC was open-ended. McIlwain said that Michael Kurtz had told him that an NDC will be established with the issuance of the new EO, but McIlwain was not aware of any timeline for a brick-and-mortar structure or other matters.
Powers commented that the Interagency Referral Center at NARA is already like a mini-NDC.
Sibley asked if there would be an effort to prioritize more important collections for declassification before less important ones. McIlwain answered that the NDC will certainly have to look at prioritization, and they want outside groups to provide input.
McMahon then introduced IPS/RA agency records officer Tasha Thian, who began by addressing a follow-up question from the previous Advisory Committee meeting about the disposition by TAGS of SAS. Thian re-confirmed Michael Carlson’s statement that the 1977 cables were screened to weed out non-permanent cables before transferring them to NARA. Thian said she was hesitant to delete the non-permanent cables from the live data at State at this time until she is confident that they are not needed because of litigation or other reasons. Thian said IPS will inform the Office of the Historian before any deletion of live SAS data begins.
Tasha Thian introduced the topic of the SADI (Secretarial Automated Data Indexing) system. She stated that she wished to reassure the Committee that records of this system would be available through the ordinary process for declassification and transfer to NARA. Several challenges exist for making early e-records available because of issues surrounding antiquated hardware, proprietary software system, and other issues. Many of these systems quickly became obsolete and the data became difficult to migrate. However, because of these concerns redundancy was built into the SADI process in the form of paper records, microfilm records, and electronic records. There has been no loss of these records. Thian noted that Herschler was the approval archivist for the system while he was at NARA.
Thian described SADI as the online document locator system and control database for S/S. The index of records was meant to show the status of records and memoranda that required action. Not all records are included in this system: TS records, Not For the System, and others. But it includes most briefing and actions items for 1977-1988, at which point it was replaced by the Secretary’s Tracking and Retrieval System (STARS), an imaging system. All SADI data from 1986-1988 was imported to STARS as well. Some of the SADI records are available on N- and P-reels.
SADI records should be retrievable through SAS, paper, and microfilm. All will be reviewed for declassification and made available as all other previous State records.
Thian then concluded her report and asked if there were questions from the Committee. Herschler asked for some clarification of how soon these records would be made available. David Langbart responded that it was important to note that a lot of the documentation in the SADI system was close-held and sensitive (NODIS). Those materials that could be downgraded and the NODIS tags removed were transferred to the Central Files. Others went to the Records Service Center. He noted that it will be a challenge for researchers to track down the full record—researchers will need to consult the Central Files, SADI, and the declassified office files (Lot Files). SADI, however, is very helpful to track decisions, and it can also help locate the documents.
McMahon then noted that cables were available in SAS, but he wanted to know what was unavailable . For example, were important memos available online? Langbart replied that they are not on line, but pointers are. McMahon asked about P-reels. Langbart replied that only the index for P-reels were available online. Researchers would have to obtain records at NARA. In addition to the Central Files, Langbart emphasized the necessity of consulting lot files—referring to them as “decentralized office files.” Research will be difficult and time-consuming; it will “not be researcher-friendly.”
McMahon repeated his previous question: what important records were still unavailable? Langbart responded that the records of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research were unavailable and had not even yet been accessioned. McMahon commented that NODIS cables also were still a problem. Trudy Peterson asked if State and NARA had collaborated to draft a reference information paper addressing the issue in doing research in Department of State’s convoluted records. Langbart responded that it is being worked on. When Peterson asked if there was a timetable for its completion, Langbart indicated there was not.
Sibley asked why re-microfilming records was necessary. Langbart responded that the redundancy was employed to catch all documents that migrated out of SADI and to the Central Files as they were downgraded to a less sensitive handling category. He mentioned that researchers will be thankful for the redundancy. Herschler asked about the system that housed the SADI index itself. Langbart responded that it was a very antiquated system. Herschler responded that the index was important to track decisions. Langbart responded that they were seeking a way to transfer the index to a usable form at NARA. No paper version existed as of yet.
McMahon called on Peter Sheils to comment. Sheils noted that research would be a challenge. Sheils talked about the problems associated with special media which is 25 years old or more. He stated that in order to review or research these materials, microfiche and microfilm have to be translated to paper. McMahon asked whether old microfiche machines would be made available to researchers. Sheils replied that everything for review and research would be on paper. Langbart noted that in the past, reviewers were not required to do a page by page review. As a result of a change in the declassification system, each document has to be reviewed line by line. He also said that the change prevents NARA from making P-reel microfilm available to the public.
Langbart then talked about STARS, a tracking imaging system, which tracks a document as it goes into the Secretariat and as it goes out, with all of the changes, marginalia, etc. In response to a question about the accuracy of Subject TAGS, Langbart noted that into the 1990s, the Department of State had an indexing staff to insure that TAGS were accurate. He said that the TAGS might differ from those listed by the creator of the document, but that metadata tagging is fairly accurate. David Geyer expressed reservations about the positive outlook.
Powers introduced Meredith Stewart as the new State/ISOO liaison. Powers said that ISOO, in response to the OIG report, is willing to help and work with the Office in several areas. First, ISOO is willing to facilitate a meeting regarding the handling of TS documents as S documents for purposes of storage and accessibility. Second, ISOO is also interested in working with State and other agencies regarding specific declassification concerns related to individual volumes. Powers noted that the Director of ISOO was very interested in these issues and he hoped a meeting could be arranged before the next Committee meeting.
Powers briefly mentioned the status of the proposed new Executive Order on Classified National Security Information. He noted the Public Interest Declassification Board's (PIDB) role in the this process as they were tasked by the National Security Advisor to solicit public input. Their declassification blog, which coincided with the debates at the Interagency Policy Committee, was a success. Powers thanked all those who participated in the blog and provided comments. He noted that the IPC had completed their work, but the recommendations had not yet been presented to the president. He said there was no timeline for submittal, but those involved in the process believe it will be before the end of the year. Powers also mentioned that the PIDB is interested in visiting the Reagan Library to see how the declassification process was working there.
McMahon invited members of the Public Interest Declassification Board to come to a future Committee meeting. Wicentowski asked if the declassification blog could serve as a model for others. Powers stated that NARA was initially somewhat non-committal toward the idea because of resource and policy constraints, but working with the Open Government Initiative in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the blog worked well. Wicentowski asked what prompted the Board to open a discussion. Powers stated that the Board values input from the public and have committed to hosting public meetings. Given the tight deadline, this seemed like the best way to invite participation.
The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series
Herschler reported that Joint Historian Tom Pearcy had resigned at the end of August to return to teaching at Slippery Rock University. The office had already begun taking steps to embark on an accelerated hiring process and expected to work very closely with the CIA throughout the entire hiring process.
The office had verified two more volumes with the CIA since the June meeting. A verification was scheduled for the Iran retrospective volume with both CIA and IPS during the first half of October.
The CIA had completed declassification review of two volumes since the June meeting. In addition, the office was reviewing the CIA’s declassification recommendation for two other volumes. The CIA had eight volumes undergoing initial review.
In a recent meeting, the CIA and the office had agreed to present the NSC with separate recommendations in order to move the High Level Panel (HLP) process forward. This method was used successfully in the past to break a deadlock at the working level.
In most HLP cases, until the HLP issues are resolved, the document declassification review for the entire volume could not begin. However, the CIA had agreed —and reconfirmed its commitment —to review portions of volumes that clearly did not relate to HLP issues. In the past and at last December’s joint meeting between the committee and the Agency’s Historical Review Panel, the office and the CIA agreed on a few steps to help move the process along, but such changes take time to implement and make a difference.
The office did not refer any new volumes to the CIA since the June meeting. This is largely due to the months-long absence of a General Editor and FRUS division chiefs, which has resulted in the multi-volume backlog of manuscripts to be reviewed in the office. The office anticipated referring one or perhaps two new volumes at most before the end of 2009 as reviewing of the manuscript backlog accelerates.
The CIA representative reported that the Agency was working to make incremental reviews of the parts of volumes that did not require issue statements, but that they must always be alert to the possibility of “spillover” between compilations. The CIA was generally on schedule regarding reviews but some volumes needed to be adjudicated by the National Security Council.
Sibley wondered whether the new procedures for hiring another Joint Historian had been created. McAllister responded that the office was preparing to address the necessary steps in the hiring process and that methods to get the new Joint Historian the support he or she would need were currently being examined.
A member of the office staff inquired whether the CIA had discovered a way to trace documents back to their original source in the database currently used by the Agency. The CIA representative replied that no specific information had been found. The representatives suggested a brown-bag meeting to discuss issues like this with compilers.
The committee then discussed specifics about the Iran retrospective volume with the Agency representatives, after which, the session was adjourned.
Closed Session, September 15
Documentation Withheld from Recently Reviewed Foreign Relations Manuscripts
Susan Weetman and Acting General Editor McAllister discussed specific declassification issues of several volumes with the committee.
The Future of the Foreign Relations Series
The office staff engaged in a wide-ranging and candid discussion with the committee about several issues regarding the future of the Foreign Relations series. The following topics were discussed: What constitutes a Foreign Relations volume? Is there a cost and/or time benefit to publishing electronic-only volumes instead of print? If so, should the ratio of electronic-only to print publications be increased? Should the editing process be identical for print and electronic-only volumes? To what extent would supplements be useful? Should electronic-only volumes include audio and video clips? No conclusions final conclusions were drawn, but the inter-office working groups looking into these issues received useful feedback from the committee.
The meeting was then adjourned and the committee went into Executive Session.