Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation September 9–10, 2013
Open Session, September 9
Approval of the Record of the June 2013 Meeting
Richard Immerman called the meeting to order at 11:05 a.m. and welcomed visitors. Immerman then suggested the approval of the minutes of the June meeting, which the committee approved unanimously.
Comments by the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Immerman introduced Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Valerie Fowler. Fowler welcomed the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) on behalf of the entire Bureau of Public Affairs (PA) and especially the new Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Douglas Frantz. Immerman expressed appreciation for the Bureau’s support of both the Office and the Committee.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Stephen Randolph also extended his thanks to the Committee, noting that their meetings prompted the Office to take stock. Randolph especially thanked the representatives of the Office’s partners throughout the government, including the Department of State’s Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), for attending the meeting. Randolph stated that the present time constituted a historic moment for the Office, having just published two Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volumes in one week, and that the Office had reached a FRUS production rate that for the first time was moving closer to the 30-year publication line. He expressed his belief that the Office would enter into a period of sustained, high-level production. Randolph then recognized PA for its leadership, support and resources, and the Office’s other partners for making this success possible. He noted that, despite budgetary challenges, the Office had been able to so far weather sequestration and maintain its operations, in part by filling the administrative officer position and hiring a contractor as a full-time employee (FTE). The Office would also augment its staffing with a combination of Franklin Fellows and Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) on Y-Tours. The Navy Hill relocation was on track with the move scheduled for July 2014.
Randolph described the Office’s timely policy support to current foreign policy initiatives in policy studies and special projects. Fowler commented that the Office was providing information for the 7th floor and White House taskings, in addition to FRUS, and that its work was being recognized across Washington. She added that the Committee’s role is critical in encouraging and applauding these efforts and reiterated Randoloph’s thanks to the Committee for the care and attention it pays to the Office’s work. Randolph announced that the Office planned to hold a conference on March 4, 2014, to mark the publication of the Congo volume.
In closing, Randolph mentioned that the outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Michael Hammer, was the Ambassador-designate to Chile. Immerman noted that the Committee would like to congratulate Hammer on his appointment as Ambassador and thank him for his steadfast support for both the Committee and the Office, adding that Hammer had given talks at many of their universities.
Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and General Editor
Deputy Historian David Herschler expanded on Randolph’s remarks regarding the current and future budgetary constraints facing the Office, expressing appreciation to the PA Bureau for funding resources that were available and commenting that planning was underway for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget. Herschler noted that the Office has reduced its spending on outside contracts, notably by hiring employees who had been working on contract as FTE employees. On outreach activities, Herschler noted that a number of historians had made presentations at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) conference, held in Crystal City, Virginia in June. Several Office-sponsored sessions were very well attended.
General Editor Adam Howard reported on the status of the FRUS series production. He noted that since June 2013 the Office published two more FRUS volumes, on SALT II and Human Rights, for a total of three volumes in 2013. All three volumes had been published at the 33-year line. Howard anticipated that three more volumes would be published by the end of 2013. He reported that 10 volumes would be verified this year, concluding declassification. In addition, Howard noted that one volume was submitted to the Declassification division, and four more volumes would be submitted for declassification by the end of the year.
Report on Office of the Historian Technology Initiatives
Joe Wicentowski and Mandy Chalou presented the Office’s recent technology initiatives, noting that traffic on the Office’s website had decreased from the previous quarter, but that this was normal for summer and that the summer’s traffic was twice as high as last summer’s. The Office’s traffic from Twitter, Facebook and Reddit had increased. The Office had seen a spike in social media interest from China, probably related to one particular document in the China, 1973–1976 FRUS volume. Wicentowski noted that the Milestones section of the website attracted 60 percent of visitors to the site. The interest in the Milestones essays prompted the Office to review the content and choose additional topics. Chalou commented that since the last meeting, the Office had revamped the homepage to highlight the Twitter and Tumblr feeds. Currently, the Office has 2600 followers on Twitter. During the summer, Lindsay Krasnoff engineered two Twitter campaigns to drive traffic to the site. Chalou indicated that the Office utilized the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) intern program to assist with its digital agenda; three interns are currently working on social media efforts and additional interns are assisting with other forms of web content. Wicentowski added that 30 FRUS volumes from the 1952–1954 Eisenhower-Truman triennial subseries had been posted to the website; most post-Truman administration volumes are now available. He noted that the Office had completed its contribution to the Obama administration’s Digital Government Strategy by creating a FRUS ebook catalog that software developers could embed in their websites and applications; he noted that one Apple iOS ebook reader application had already embedded the FRUS catalog. Lastly, Wicentowski and Chalou commented that 10 historians had received training in XQuery. The Office was currently acquiring more software licenses to improve capabilities and to contribute to digital initiatives.
Immerman asked if the Office could use social media to publicize the Congo conference and Chalou responded affirmatively. Tom Zeiler asked whether the Office could use social media to connect current events to relevant content on the Office website. Wicentowski added that this was possible, and that once the Office completed the review of the Milestones essays the Office could then link relevant FRUS documents to the individual essays. Trudy Peterson asked if these new tools would assist with FRUS research. James Wilson responded that they would. Wilson had been involved with the scanning and preparation of Reagan administration related materials for this purpose to enable historians to have access to a common set of documents. Susan Perdue lauded the Office’s efforts in making XML information publically available.
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Bill Combes reported on the status of Department of State declassified records. The team’s progress regarding electronic records is as follows: State Archiving System (SAS) 1988 classified electronic cables will be completed by the end of the year; classified and Limited Official Use (LOU) e-records are completed for 1987; P-reel indices are completed through 1988.
As for paper records, Jeff Charlston’s team is working on the 1986–1990 block. As of August 30, the team has completed 1.7 of 6 million total pages.
Immerman asked about the total number of pages. Combes answered that there were 15 million, plus 1.5 million pages for Kyl-Lott review at the National Declassification Center (NDC), and 42,000 paper referrals. Also, transfer to NARA of SAS electronic documents from the 1970s is complete and planning for transfer of 1980s e-records is underway. As for new projects, the N- and P-reels from the 1980s are currently being converted to electronic format. These consist of 184 reels, totaling 140,000 documents.
Katherine Sibley inquired if IPS had started to see more emails and fewer telegrams. Combes responded that he could not speak authoritatively on this but could only imagine that the number of emails will explode at some point. At least through 1989, he said, there is no drop in cable traffic. He speculated that by the late 1990s this will begin to change. Immerman asked if there was a strategy in place to deal with the overall issue of classification as it relates to emails. Combes responded that this was more a records management issue and suggested that IPS could discuss the aspects of the State Messaging and Archival Retrieval Toolset (SMART) system at the December meeting. The challenge posed by emails is really at the heart of a major initiative to create a new classification strategy. Peterson mentioned a newly-issued NARA directive, outlining guidelines for managing federal record emails and preserving emails for archival purposes. Immerman asked for periodic updates on the Department’s efforts to preserve record emails.
Combes closed his report by noting that a fine reviewer and expert in Soviet and Russian affairs—Phil Valdes— had recently passed away. He was 92.
Discussion of National Archives and Record Administration Policy Regarding the Department of State’s Central Foreign Policy File
Immerman stated that the current policy, which the Committee had endorsed previously, was to not transfer files of particular years until the entire set of files was reviewed. Support for this policy was based on the assumption that it would be difficult for a historian to conduct research on a particular topic without access to all component parts. He noted that there have been some suggestions that the policy needed to be reviewed because of the asymmetry regarding the review, transfer, processing and release of Department of State records. Immerman noted that the Committee members had raised this issue with their constituent groups. Although some historians expressed ambivalence, many registered their concerns over the delays, suggesting that the Committee revisit the topic. William Burr said that since so much cable traffic from the 1980s was already reviewed, it seemed counter-productive to hold it back because other files (i.e. paper Top Secret [TS] files) were still being reviewed.
Immerman said that his concern was having the Department trying to make a splash with declassification of cables and neglecting other more problematic files. Bill Fischer noted that just because the cables were reviewed did not mean that the cables were now available for research. He reminded the Committee that the cables had to be sent to the agencies for an interagency quality review before they were released. He mentioned that the Department had referred the 1980–1981 cables to the agencies for this review, but that the process was likely to take a long time.
Immerman then inquired as to what happens to electronic cables once they arrive at NARA. David Langbart responded that once the Department transfers the cables to NARA, NARA must then review the cables for Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and for “otherwise restricted information.” Archivists must also perform the technical processing of records to enable them to go in the online platform. In addition, the archivists must remove the withdrawn documents.
Following Langbart’s explanation, Immerman stated that when the policy was envisioned, the Committee did not expect that the agency would be years ahead in some areas while lagging in others. Fischer added that the TS paper files were not that problematic. Microfilm was the problem and the reason for the delay. He commented that conversion from paper to digital format also takes time. He added that the Department believes it can have the 1980–1981 microfilm scanned and the 1980 review completed by late 2014, asserting that the Department is still playing “catch-up” with microfilm.
Peterson asked what was being sent to the other agencies as part of the quality control process. Fisher answered that the entire set of documents was sent. He later clarified that it included unclassified cables. Jeff Charlston mentioned that the new process for communicating review history decisions to NARA via the classified records checklist was so effective that processing time was cut by 2/3. Don McIlwain added that, during a visit to the Newington facility, he had viewed this new process in action, noting that its continued application meant that declassified records would be properly reviewed when they arrived at NARA. It would obviate surprises. Peterson suggested that the Committee also see how this process works.
Immerman concluded that the more the Committee members can familiarize themselves with the process involved in the review, transfer, processing and opening of records, the more they can think of recommendations for efficiencies. He noted that there was a growing impatience in the scholarly community concerning access to this documentation. Immerman stressed that the Committee should be better poised to explain these issues to the scholarly community. He said that while the Committee might not recommend a change in policy at this time, he would like to revisit the topic at a later time. He mentioned that SHAFR was planning a survey of its members’ experiences at NARA in order to gain additional situational awareness. Immerman noted that SHAFR would post the survey on its website within 3 weeks.
The Committee then adjourned for its luncheon.
Closed Session, September 9
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives
Immerman called the session to order at 1:30 p.m.
Herschler began the session by reminding members that this day’s session was paired with Tuesday’s follow-up session with NARA senior leadership.
Mcllwain reiterated the comments he had made to the Committee before lunch about his recent visit to the Newington facility and how positive it was. He described some of the things that he saw, and said that he had gained a better understanding of the process and that he hoped the visit represented the beginning of a dialogue between agencies about improving declassification procedures.
Mcllwain then commented on the backlog at NARA, noting the presidential expectation that this review be completed by the end of 2013. He highlighted the big push to review 63 million pages of material where issues with the quality of the initial declassification review had been identified. Most of those documents, he said, had not been reviewed for Kyl–Lott. Mcllwain stated that the goal is to have the quality assurance review of these pages finished by the end of this year so that indexing and processing can commence.
Immerman asked Mcllwain to clarify his understanding that by the end of this year all Kyl–Lott review on these documents will be finished. Mcllwain agreed, noting that the review “merry-go-round” had stopped. He added that NARA wanted all stakeholders satisfied before these records became available and emphasized the improvements being made in the quality of the review process.
Peterson asked if researchers arrived at NARA on January 2 to conduct research, would they have to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to see the documents reviewed in advance of the December 31 deadline. Mcllwain replied that these documents will be available through “indexing on demand.” December 31 is the end date for documents traveling through the quality assurance process. McIlwain, in explaining “indexing by demand,” commented that NARA did not have the resources to index all of the documents by the December 31 deadline.
Laura Belmonte inquired as to how NARA will communicate this information to the public. Mcllwain responded that the NDC uses its blog to post information about new releases, adding “If it’s on the release list, it is available” to the public. Discussion then ensued about how much assistance is available to researchers at NARA. Langbart made the point that NARA tried to educate researchers by putting information about the records on its website and publishing occasional articles in SHAFR’s Passport newsletter about various collections and how to conduct research at NARA. Mcllwain stated that as long as other agencies have signed off on the release of these documents, his staff will segregate the records for researchers by request.
Immerman then turned to the issue of withdrawn documents. He asked how withdrawn documents that are still classified will be indicated to researchers, inquiring if withdrawal sheets will continue to be used. Mcllwain said that withdrawal sheets will be used and that a unique identification number on the withdrawal sheet will be matched to the tab collar. He added that researchers will be able to submit FOIA or mandatory declassification review (MDR) requests for those documents. Peterson asked about the prioritization of “Special Requests,” MDR, and FOIA. Mcllwain replied: “It’s an art, not a science.” Zeiler asked about the information that would be included on the withdrawal sheets. McIlwain responded that the Committee had seen examples of these sheets when they visited Archives II during the March meeting.
Discussion ensued about the adequacy of information on withdrawal sheets, followed by continued discussion on how the records will be accessed and the finding aids compiled.
Peterson said “I look at it like a snake swallowing a chicken,” and asked if the resources currently committed to reducing the declassification review backlog could be repurposed to index and process the documents more rapidly once the backlog is reduced. Mcllwain said that decision is above his pay grade, but it might be possible to repurpose internally within the NDC to work on FOIA.
Once this discussion ended, Langbart offered his remarks. He reiterated that foreign affairs records get top priority once the NDC sends them for processing, but that staff resources are limited. Immerman added, “It always comes back to resources.”
Peterson asked Langbart to comment on the discussion that took place before lunch, about whether to release central file documents as they are declassified, or to wait until all documents from that year become available.
Langbart offered a personal opinion that releasing parts of the central file as they are declassified would make the job of the reference staff more difficult because researchers will want to know why they have access to some documents and not others. He also expressed his personal agreement with Immerman, who said in the earlier session that the current imbalance could potentially increase as a result if documents that are easier to declassify can be made available to researchers first.
Discussion ensued about how resources are allocated at NARA. The Committee then discussed approaches to the next day’s session with Bill Mayer.
Fischer was invited to give his remarks, but he declined.
Charlston and Fischer then provided additional information about declassification and the implementation of the electronic workflow process. Fischer noted that IPS had based this process on one used at the NDC. It had created a standard electronic form featuring various data fields. IPS then used some 800 odd feet of lot files as a test. Fischer affirmed that IPS and NARA enjoy excellent relations. Immerman commented that the more successful the Department is at reviewing and transferring records, the more work it creates for NARA.
Immerman then asked Powers to provide his report. Powers discussed the Information Security Oversight Office’s (ISOO) declassification assessment program. He noted that, in FY 2012, 14 of 15 agencies received “high scores.” In FY 13, ISOO had limited resources to conduct assessments and created a five-year plan to assess each agency at least once within that time frame. ISOO also revised the scoring methodology after receiving input from stakeholders. In FY 2013, ISOO conducted assessments of five agencies. All five received high scores. “As a general rule,” he commented, “things have gotten better” since the program started in 2008. He indicated that he would be happy to provide a briefing on the relevant aspects of Executive Order (E.O.) 13526, specifically section I (classification, classification prohibitions, reclassification) and section III (declassification).
Turning to the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), Powers indicated that the PIDB remains very interested in reforming the way historical and obsolete Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) is reviewed for declassification and public access. He noted that there was high-level leadership interest at the Departments of Defense, Energy and State. The PIDB is also planning a public meeting scheduled for October 24. The meeting will serve as an opportunity to re-launch their “Transforming Classification” blog (see:http://blogs.archives.gov/transformingclassification/) soliciting public input and comments on declassification priorities. He suggested that Immerman might consider testifying at this meeting and welcomed comments from the Committee and the Office on the blog when it goes “live.” Once “live,” it will be available for comments for six weeks. Finally, Powers discussed the reaction to the PIDB’s “Transforming the Security Classification System” report, noting continued bi-partisan interest from Congress.
Immerman then turned to John Laster for his report. First, Herschler mentioned that a new subvention agreement for the Reagan Library had been completed. Laster then noted the cuts to the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) program, adding that support for the RAC at the Reagan Library is gone. He commented on the Office’s research at Archives I, II, and the Reagan Library, expressing his belief that the relationships among the Office of the Historian, Office of Presidential Libraries, and the individual presidential libraries are strong.
The session ended at 2:30 p.m.
Efforts to meet the 30-year publication line for the Foreign Relations of the United States Series
Immerman called the meeting back to order at 2:52 p.m.
Following a short introduction and overview by David Geyer, Elizabeth Charles discussed progress on her FRUS volume with the Committee.
Report on access to the personal papers of Alexander Haig and Caspar Weinberger
Alex Wieland and Wilson discussed the Office’s research in the Haig and Weinberger papers. Randolph noted that the Office secured access to the Weinberger papers as a result of excellent working relationships with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) History Office. Wieland described the arrangement of the unclassified and classified files in the Haig papers, indicating that many of the documents bear Haig’s handwritten notations. In addition, the files contain papers and meeting notes that do not appear in other collections. Wilson highlighted several specific documents that he and Wieland discovered in the Haig papers.
The Committee adjourned at 4:59 p.m.