Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation August 27-28, 2018
- Richard Immerman, Chairman
- Mary Dudziak
- James McAllister
- Susan Perdue
- Trudy Peterson
- Katherine Sibley
- Thomas Zeiler
Office of the Historian
- Kristin Ahlberg
- Carl Ashley
- Margaret Ball
- Forrest Barnum
- Sara Berndt
- Josh Botts
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Thomas Faith
- David Geyer
- Renée Goings
- Charles Hawley
- Kerry Hite
- Adam Howard
- Aiyaz Husain
- William McAllister
- Michael McCoyer
- Heather McDaniel
- Christopher Morrison
- David Nickles
- Paul Pitman
- Alexander Poster
- Kathleen Rasmussen
- Matthew Regan
- Amanda Ross
- Seth Rotramel
- Daniel Rubin
- Nathaniel Smith
- Melissa Jane Taylor
- Chris Tudda
- Dean Weatherhead
- Joseph Wicentowski
- Alexander Wieland
- James Wilson
- Louise Woodroofe
- David Zierler
Bureau of Administration
- Chanda Brown
- Jeff Charlston
- Amelia Hinson
- Tim Kootz
- Keri Lewis
- Marvin Russell
- Nakayla Stewart
National Archives and Records Administration
- Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
- David Castillo, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
- Elizabeth Fidler, Office of Presidential Libraries
- Philip Heslip, Textual Records Division
- David Langbart, Textual Records Division
- Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center
- Amy Reytar, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
- M'Lisa Whitney, National Declassification Center
- Bill Burr
- Seth Denbo
- Lee White
Open Session, August 27
Approval of the Record
Immerman asked to approve the minutes from the previous HAC meeting; Sibley seconded. Immerman noted that this was the final meeting for HAC members Zeiler, Sibley, and McAllister and thanked them for providing an invaluable service. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Stevenson also thanked the outgoing members and stated that the Assistant Secretary and the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary would be present at HAC meetings more frequently. She thanked all who worked on FRUS, then announced the names of the four new members: Daryl Press (APSA), David Engerman (SHAFR), Adriane Lentz-Smith (at-large) and Julia Irwin (at-large).
Stevenson proceeded to discuss the search for the new office director and explained the process. Stevenson said she hoped that at the very least, the name of the new hire would be known by December. Stevenson expressed her gratitude to Acting Co-Directors Renée Goings and Adam Howard for serving in the interim.
Stevenson thanked the office for publishing fifteen digitized volumes and mentioned the office’s good work on the policy side, particularly on the administrative timeline. She also mentioned the office’s contributions to Foreign Service Officer training and thanked Mary Dudziak for her recent presentation to the Department on Race and Foreign Policy in the Civil Rights Era.
A representative from the American Historical Association, Seth Denbo, asked what criteria were used to choose the new HAC members. Stevenson replied that since 2009 other offices in the Department have played a role in appointing HAC members and the process was replicated this year. She stated that each academic organization put forth three names and one from each was selected. Immerman added that the process of choosing members for the HAC was becoming more regularized, less ad-hoc, and that the HAC was working on a system that would allow for frequent rotation of service. He said that some of the current members had been serving for 13 years and that terms should be more brief, stating that three years was a more preferable norm. Denbo asked when the job for office director would be posted on USAJOBS. Stevenson replied that she did not know, but the job would be posted soon, if it was not online already. Dudziak asked what requirements were necessary to serve as the Historian. Stevenson told Dudziak she would send a list. Stevenson stated that it typically takes approximately 80 days from the advertisement of a Department position for the person selected to begin work on the job, the lag largely due to security clearances. Immerman added that the new HAC members may initially serve without security clearances so they can be present for the December meeting.
Goings thanked the HAC for its support and Howard said he wished to commit to record the good service of the departing members, presenting each with a certificate of commendation with the following statement:
Renée and I would like to commit to the record the Office’s gratitude to James McAllister, Katie Sibley, and Tom Zeiler. Throughout their years of service on this committee, James, Katie, and Tom discharged their responsibilities with thought, care, and excellent humor, consistently demonstrating their dedication to the Office as a whole and the Foreign Relations series in particular. That sense of commitment was also evident in their efforts on our behalf that went beyond their official responsibilities: James, for example, helped orchestrate a very successful joint conference on FRUS at Williams College, while Katie and Tom welcomed some of our colleagues to their home institutions, where they were able to engage with the public and promote the Foreign Relations series. All three of you have been great friends to this Office, and we will very much miss your insight, counsel, and good cheer.
The departing members received a hearty round of applause by all.
Report by the General Editor
Howard then provided a FRUS update. He stated that since the last meeting, one volume had entered declassification and Japan 1969–1972 had been published. He added that fifteen back catalogue volumes had been digitized, and he suggested that the audience look at the FRUS History to see why the content of these volumes was so different from the content of the volumes the office publishes at present. Howard remarked that complete digitization should be completed by December and that the office was looking to digitize its microfiche supplements, though he said that process was “difficult” and might take some time. He proceeded to read a post from a blogger who applauded the digitization initiative. Howard concluded by stating he had given DOD a volume on the Atlantic Conference during WWII and that Secretary Mattis had personally handed to a British delegation.
Immerman then asked if there was an update on when hard copies of FRUS volumes would resume. Howard explained that this would happen soon and that the delay was due to budgetary issues. Immerman suggested that the office should use social media to announce when print copies were once again available. Dudziak argued that in many ways print copies were also valuable and urged that the office continue to offer both formats. Howard explained that the print and digital copies are identical. Immerman mentioned that at a previous meeting, the Committee had discussed whether, for budgetary reasons, it made sense to move away from print copies; the Committee had decided such a decision was not warranted. Immerman explained that context is extremely important to historical research and that digital copies were not as conducive to that sort of research. Zeiler asked whether the cost of printing FRUS volumes was prohibitive. Goings explained that the additional cost for each volume is relatively low, but that as the office has become more productive, and more volumes are being published, the printing costs have increased and become substantial. Stevenson concurred, saying that the budget does not allow for printing 8–10 volumes per year. Dudziak asked whether e-books are available on the website and suggested that the website be reconfigured to promote the full volumes, as opposed to individual documents. Immerman concurred saying that the issue may be in presentation, not in content. Wicentowski explained the functionality of the website, which allows researchers to examine full volumes or individual documents. Sibley discussed her recent experience with the website, and noted that it was quite easy to contextualize individual documents within the volume as a whole. She asked how the office chooses which volumes to publish in hard copy. Howard explained that all volumes will be published in hard copy, but that it is done primarily in the order that volumes were completed.
Burr asked whether there was an update on 1980 telegrams. Charleston explained that progress is being made; the 1980 N-reels were ready for review. Immerman suggested to Burr that the HAC would let Burr know if, before the next HAC convened, there is any change to the status of the telegrams.
Closed Session, August 27
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Immerman introduced Charlston and noted that the Committee did not receive a read-ahead this time from him. Charlston said he’d review the state of IPS, and noted that Peggy Grafeld had died last week. “She was a legend who built IPS into what it is now.”
Charlston said there is good news for IPS across the board coming from initiatives that had begun a few years ago. It would now be reorganizing into five divisions, but the names/titles of those divisions are still in flux. He reported that the Bunche Library will increase its personnel and become more of a player in the Department’s research services. SRP and Records Management Divisions will integrate formerly separate IT elements of IPS.
IPS is part of an NSC working group preparing an update for Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information. The new Order is expected to improve declassification processing. Immerman asked how an Executive Order is modified. Charlston replied that the NSC has to submit a draft E.O., receive all the Agencies’ responses, and send it to the President with their recommendations for signature. Immerman asked if the NSC is the ultimate arbiter before it goes to the President. Charlston said yes and that the Agencies are concerned about whether or not TS, S, and C classifications should be modified to only two classification markings. The other issues are NATO documents and best practices for processing and referral of these documents. He will be going to Brussels to make a presentation in the hopes of creating a declassification guide for NATO.
Tim Kootz noted that the Department is transitioning to a cloud-based architecture which will help records management. The current electronic environment needs to be consolidated so it can support management, classified functions, and declassification. The Department is getting new software for various e-initiatives (there are currently 13 email systems in the Department) to have one centralized repository for electronic records. Immerman asked whether the new system has been purchased or just identified for purchase. Kootz said IPS had done two individual studies on available tools, and both recommended the same tool since it was a FOIA tool. Kootz also noted that an end-to-end FOIA system will be online in about a year. It will take two years for the MDR system to be online, and that the Department’s leadership is strongly behind these new initiatives. Charlston noted this will vastly improve all IPS processes. Kootz said they want to build the process so as to meet all of the Department’s records management needs.
Charlston said he expects to have a new Branch Chief in place by September 4 and a new Team Leader out at the Newington facility shortly thereafter. He also has identified several Y Tour candidates who could join the review team at Newington. He also expects to have new interns and WAE positions. Charlston said the Electronic Review Team will be moving from Foggy Bottom to Newington, hopefully sometime in October. The FRUS/MDR team will be moving to HST, likely in January 2019.
Charlston turned to SRP’s priorities, which included 1) FRUS review; 2) Classification and Declassification training, which include weekly and bi-weekly training sessions; and 3) MDRs. The Classification and Declassification training includes a complete overhaul of the existing training, including portion marking of individual documents. Charlston noted that the MDR referral and response process is going very well. The Automatic and Systematic Programs were temporarily affected by the FOIA surge but those processes are back to normal. They hope to get more flexibility in defining what is and what isn’t eligible for the Automatic and Systematic Programs. His current priority is accessioning processed Department material to NARA. McIlwain said that would be great but the Department still needs to identify other Agency equities in its documents.
Charlston and Kootz also discussed issues with one of the storage facilities, which is leading to problems with accepting new records. They are trying to accession and retire records so they can create room in a suitable space. Charlston said replacing this storage facility is now SRP’s highest priority, even more pressing than the problems with the deterioration of the original P and N reels.
Charlston turned to Prepublication Review and said that IPS continues to keep up with its requirements. He noted that SRP had completed its portion of the Argentina Declassification Project. He noted that SRP’s support for the FOIA surge continues, but his goal is to concentrate on Declassification, not FOIA. Peterson asked who answers a FOIA question, for example, the Embassy in Manila, or IPS. Charlston replied that IPS does all the tasking and coordinates with Post, Desk, etc. Hopefully the new software will help this overall process. A dedicated FOIA person will be in each functional Bureau who will then work with IPS to answer FOIAs.
Charlston said the 1980 N reel review has been finished but that NARA did not accept their accession, so they’ve suspended their N reel review for the foreseeable future. NARA has identified a contractor who could digitize the reels. Kootz asked why are the N and P reels so necessary to be digitized given the costs involved. He believes it would be better to just transfer the original reels to NARA.
Langbart replied that the bottom line is that the microfilm cannot be made available to the public. The Department committed itself to making all the records on microfilm available to NARA in a format that could be made available to the public, and it is the Department’s responsibility to fulfill that commitment. Charlston said that IPS has no record that such a promise was ever made by the Department. Langbart replied that Peggy Grafeld made the commitment. Geyer said that he believed that this promise was made at a previous HAC meeting and should be in the Minutes. Charlston said that the Department cannot find a record of this promise, and that the Department microfilm cannot be read when the original technology dies. Immerman asked if review of these reels can be expedited to NARA. From the HAC’s perspective, it’s not about the medium, it’s making the records available that is most important. Peterson asked what if IPS or NARA just printed out the reels. Charlston said half of the money required for that process goes to digitizing, the other half to print. Most of these records, however, are illegible due to the deterioration of the microfilm reels. McIlwain asked if the printouts are deteriorating. Langbart asked if the reels they are looking at are the silver version, and explained that there are two types of microfilm; Silver Halide and Diazo. Silver Halide is permanent and was the requirement when the reels were produced in the 1970s under the Department’s Disposition Schedule.
Dudziak asked what the HAC could do to help make these records available. Charlston replied there really is nothing the Committee can do. Until IPS gets the infrastructure completed they can’t process records. He also said that by 2023 the N and P reels processing will also be competing with digital records processing. Kootz said he has even been asked by budget people whether IPS could solicit donations from the private sector. McIlwain said 2023 is the magic year because by then NARA is not supposed to accept any more paper records. Immerman asked if they’ve ever received a private donation for records processing. McIlwain replied that NARA has digitization partnerships with several companies primarily for genealogical records, but he is not aware that any group has contributed outside money to process classified records. He believes that Kissinger gave the Library of Congress money to process some of his records. Sibley asked why 2023 is the cutoff date. Charlston replied the edict that all records must be digital by that date, not paper. In response to a Charlston comment that there were no Department of State equities in film over 25 years old, Langbart inquired that if it’s all over 25 years old, aren’t all the records now declassified? Charlston replied that they can’t declassify other Agencies’ equities.
Peterson asked if the Department does declassification review in vendor space. Tim replied that the Department has not done this but he knows DOD/OSD does it.
Immerman said the HAC has to respond to this and will study the issue. He urged Charlston to be creative, but agreed that it will take something highly unusual to fix it.
The session then ended.
Office of Presidential Libraries
Beth Fidler, the representative of the Office of Presidential Libraries (OPL), said that she did not have any comments to make, but would be glad to take any questions that the Committee might have.
In response, Immerman referenced the HAC’s recent report and reiterated the Committee’s anxiety about the proposed NARA changes vis-à-vis the disposition of classified Presidential records. He noted that the Committee would continue to ask for updates on their progress with which they can keep the broader historical community and public informed. Fidler responded that they were continuing to gather information on this, but that they had not yet seen a formal plan for the movement of classified records back to Washington. Immerman reiterated the ‘upsetting’ nature of the proposals as the Committee understood them, noting that information was trickling out, but reiterated the belief that the upcoming meetings can help further articulate these concerns and help the historical community understand the answers.
The discussion then turned to the subject of finding aids at the Presidential Libraries. After expressing a general concern about the process of record digitization, Dudziak expressed deeper concern with the apparent decline of traditional finding aids at the Libraries. She emphasized the critical importance of finding aids to the process of historical research and asked if traditional finding aids will continue to be found at the Libraries. Fidler replied by clarifying that digitization, in the case of Obama administration records, was proceeding for unclassified records only. On the question of finding aids, she noted that for all Libraries after Reagan, the FOIA process was the main driver for archival processing at the Libraries. Instead of traditional finding aids, holdings are described along FOIA-case lines. To this, Dudziak expressed further concern that this organizational decision might undermine the integrity of the archival records from a research standpoint. Tudda followed up on this by relaying his experiences dealing with the FOIA-case organization system at the George H.W. Bush Library. Fidler again pointed out that the decision to adopt a FOIA-case description was due to the fact that post-Reagan Libraries had to adapt to the review processes required by the FOIA law.
Continuing on finding aids, Burton noted that research queries would be hampered by the planned move of class records back to Washington, arguing that the archivists who currently had the most understanding and material knowledge of the records and how to search them, would soon no longer be with the records themselves. Further expressions of concern at this prospect were made by Dudziak and Immerman. Geyer related his experiences working at the George H.W. Bush Library and noted drawbacks in the ability to ‘know that you’d seen everything on a given topic,’ in his case, Germany. Fidler reiterated that the FOIA law’s requirement that review be done on a line-by-line basis had pushed the Libraries to adopt the FOIA-centric approach.
Immerman responded that the evolutionary reasons for the Libraries’ adoption of this organization method were apparent to him, but the question in his mind was whether there were ways to mitigate the consequences this method has for research. This inspired further comment from Rasmussen who elaborated on ways research proceeded with ‘traditional’ finding aids, intimating that a systematic research approach for a set or sub-set of records would not be possible now. Immerman interjected to second Burton’s point about the loss of expert, granular understanding of the records might be lost when the records are in one place and the records are in another (as a result of the records’ movement back to Washington). Highlighting the importance of understanding the wider context of a given subject, Dudziak observed that such context might be lost if a researcher is forced to rely on the documentation yielded by the targeted results of a FOIA search. In response, further comments were offered by Fidler, on the challenges of the FOIA review process, and by Sibley, on the ‘episodic’ character of her recent research experiences at the Clinton and George W. Bush Libraries.
Conversation then turned to the usability of research aids the Libraries were currently making available for researchers. Fidler, seconded by Langbart, pointed out that if a researcher understood the organizational structure of the relevant administration, then finding aids did exist. To this, Tudda asked about researchers who did not possess this knowledge. Would a new researcher be able to begin research on their desired topic on the day they arrived or would advance knowledge be essential? In response, there was general discussion of the differing demands of researchers, using anecdotal evidence to illustrate the varied nature of researchers’ advance knowledge and preparation.
Turning the discussion back to research aids, Dudziak asked Fidler if traditional finding aids are being prepared by the post-Reagan Presidential Libraries and was informed that the Libraries had produced folder lists. Immerman asked whether the folder lists described the contents of the folders. Fidler replied ‘no’; the Libraries’ folder lists were lists of folder titles only and are different from the finding aids traditionally made available to researchers. Petersen asked whether the folder title lists were presented to the Libraries with the records themselves. Fidler confirmed that this was the case. The archivists’ work in preparing for the onset of FOIA then, in turn, allowed them to do two things: gain intellectual control of the records and ensure the accuracy of the lists which accompanied them.
Dudziak again expressed concern that the current nature of research aids and the increased reliance of the research process upon the FOIA process threatened to create a ‘spiraling problem’ for researchers. This, in turn, prompted Petersen to ask if the folder title lists were ‘workable’ for researchers. Fidler answered affirmatively that she felt they were. A back-and-forth between Fidler, Immerman, and Rasmussen ensued, as the latter two participants sought further clarity about the lists’ utility. Echoing Geyer’s statements, Rasmussen noted that the reliance on folder titles and FOIA requests might result in patchy sets of records being available to the public. Fidler assured Rasmussen and Immerman that Library archivists work with researchers as much as possible to ensure that the researcher is satisfied with the breadth and depth of their research requests; researchers are given the opportunity to review the search results related to their topics before proceeding with FOIA requests.
The session ended with a series of questions regarding the status of the Obama administration records. In response to a question from Petersen, Fidler confirmed that all records were currently in Chicago; classified records are due to be returned to Washington. Petersen asked if digitization of records will occur and Fidler responded that the unclassified records will be digitized. Immerman asked a final question about research facilities at the Library: will there be dedicated space for research? Fidler responded that there will be dedicated space and described generally the characteristics of the space.
Immerman thanked Fidler for her responses and called McIlwain to give his report.
National Declassification Center
Don McIlwain reported that processing for 2018 is proceeding well. For Department record groups, about 350,000 pages have gone through the evaluation processes. Approximately 431,000 pages were accessioned this year and those will be ready to go through declassification in 2019. At the interagency referral center, over 60,000 pages of Department referrals have been processed, with a release rate of 96 percent.
Indexing On Demand continues to be successful, with over 500 projects having been completed. Approximately 16,000,000 pages have been processed for this with a release rate of 80 percent. The indexing of the P reels also continues, and is complete for the years 1977 to 1979. These reels have been transferred to Research Services for processing.
McIlwain reported that for FOIA, the NDC goal is to continue to work through the backlog and reduce it by ten percent. He stated that this goal is achievable, even with being down on staffing. He also reported that seven of the ten oldest FOIA cases have been closed so far this year, with the possibility that several more will be closed before the end of the year. Of these cases, there are several outstanding issues belonging to the DOD and DOE.
McIlwain noted that the NDC has hired several new archives specialists and one archivist, and that the NDC Director posting has closed and interviews have started for that position.
McIlwain closed by discussing interagency cooperation, noting that Marvin Russell from the Department continues to review records pertaining to FOIA, MDR, and the Argentina Declassification Project.
David Langbart informed the HAC that the following volume of foreign affairs and intelligence records had been accessioned in FY 2018: about 146 cubic feet of records in RG 59, 83 cubic feet in RG 84, and 12 cubic feet in RG 263, 219 cubic feet in RG 373, and 776 cubic feet in RG 457, and 46 cubic feet in RG 490.
He explained that the FY 2018 project to process the Passport Correspondence is essentially complete. The FY 2019 processing work plan is in process, with an estimate of 1,400 cubic feet to be processed in RG 59, RG 84, RG 286, RG 306, and RG 420.
The Archives II Reference Branch has fielded about 15,000 inquiries in FY 2018 and remains busy.
Langbart continued that the finding aids project work continues on a Record Group by Record Group basis to determine the most vital entries that need updating box and folder lists.
He explained that the proposal for posting declassified telegrams online, discussed at prior meetings, has been approved. This allows for the online posting of newly-released under FOIA etc., telegrams from the Central Foreign Policy File. While not “the” solution, this project will make full and partially declassified telegrams and telegrams with missing text available on a dedicated webpage. He noted the close cooperation and coordination between textual records, electronic records, both part of Research Services, and the National Declassification Center on this project and highlighted the important contribution of a summer intern.
Lastly, Langbart explained that Erin Townsend, director of the Textual Records Division, is leaving NARA. David Castillo is leaving the Accessioning Branch to join the Archives II Reference Branch.
Closed Session, August 28
The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP)
Keri Lewis of IPS presented on the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). Lewis was appointed to the ISCAP in March 2016 and represents the Department as the Liaison. She explained generally the creation of the ISCAP and its four key functions: that it was created under E.O. 12958, signed by President Clinton on April 17, 1995, and is now governed by E.O. 13526, signed by President Obama on December 29, 2009. Lewis explained that E.O. 13526 represented a key shift for ISCAP’s duties because, among other things, it established a time limit for agencies to respond to Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) filings and appeals. An appeal can be made to ISCAP if agencies do not respond within 365 days of an initial MDR filing, deny an appeal, or do not fully respond to an appeal within 180 days. An administrative appeal to ISCAP is the final appeal for the requester. This time cap mandated by E.O. 13526 has presented an enormous challenge for the ISCAP staff because it now receives more requests for review as agencies fail to meet their deadlines. Agencies are also grappling with the issue of how to prioritize what to declassify.
Lewis reviewed the four fundamental functions of the ISCAP: resolving classification challenges; adjudicating MDR appeals; reviewing agency exemptions from automatic declassification; and informing senior agency officials and the public of decisions made by the panel. Members of the ISCAP staff review 23 agency declassification guides in an effort to standardize declassification guidance across the government. When it comes to ISCAP’s prioritization, Lewis reported that ISCAP held a forum last year to enlist public support and elicit ideas on how to prioritize cases. ISCAP itself prioritizes its work based on age, with new requesters prioritized over serial requesters, as well as by the simplicity of the case and the importance of the information under review. For example, if a document’s declassification process will affect declassification policy, it will be prioritized.
Lewis outlined the structure and personnel of the panel. There are six ISCAP members appointed by the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, the National Archives, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Security Advisor. The Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) is the executive secretary and ISOO provides support to the panel. The CIA does not have a vote unless the classified information being adjudicated originated with the CIA.
In response to a question from the Committee, Lewis described the process of how a dissenting agency would appeal a panel decision with which it disagreed. The appeal would go to the National Security Advisor and ultimately to the President.
Goings closed out the session by recognizing Lewis for her hard work and advocacy on the ISCAP. Howard concurred.
Presentation and Discussion on Current Office Research and Annotation
Myra Burton discussed her work on the recent compilation, Foreign Relations, 1981–1984, Volume XXV, Southern Africa, outlining the central themes that emerged during her research and her observations regarding key topics in the volume. She then answered several research questions.