December 2017

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation December 11-12, 2017

Minutes

Committee Members

  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • Laura Belmonte
  • Mary Dudziak
  • Robert McMahon
  • Trudy Peterson
  • Katherine Sibley

Office of the Historian

  • Stephen Randolph, Historian
  • Kristin Ahlberg
  • Carl Ashley
  • Margaret Ball
  • Forrest Barnum
  • Sarah Berndt
  • Joshua Botts
  • Myra Burton
  • Tiffany Cabrera
  • Seth Center
  • Mandy Chalou
  • Elizabeth Charles
  • Evan Duncan
  • Stephanie Eckroth
  • Thomas Faith
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • Charles Hawley
  • Kerry Hite
  • Adam Howard
  • Aiyaz Husain
  • Aaron Marrs
  • William McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Heather McDaniel
  • Christopher Morrison
  • Mircea Munteanu
  • 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
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alex Wieland
  • James Wilson
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

Bureau of Administration

  • Jeff Charlston
  • Keri Lewis
  • Marvin Russell

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
  • David Castillo, Textual Records Division/Accerssioning Section
  • Philip Heslip, Textual Records Division/Processing Branch
  • David Langbart, Textual Records Division
  • John Laster. Office of Presidential Libraries
  • Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center
  • Amy Reytar, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch

Public

  • William Burr
  • Nate Jones

Open Session, December 11

Approval of the Record

Richard Immerman opened the meeting at 11:03. He noted that because Susan Stevenson would not be in attendance there would be plenty of time to cover several items. He asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the September HAC meeting, which was approved unanimously. He then asked for a nomination to appoint a Chair of the HAC. Mary Dudziak nominated Immerman to continue in this role, and the rest of the committee approved unanimously.

Richard then moved for a motion that the Department of State recognize the exemplary work of Historian Stephen Randolph, who over the past six years has led the Office of the Historian. Richard noted that this will be Steve’s final HAC meeting, and asked for a round of applause for Steve.

Report by the Historian

Randolph then thanked Richard for his kind words and thanked the other committee members for their wise counsel and efforts on behalf of the office. He noted that the HAC has three very important and official functions: 1) oversight of the office; 2) assistance with declassification issues; and 3) informing other federal entities of the work that the Office does. Randolph then explained that beyond these official functions, for which he expressed his appreciation, the committee also serves as an intermediary for and advocate of the Office to the broader academic community. This, he noted, was also a vital element of the strong relationship between the HAC and the Office, and he expressed his gratitude for this.

Randolph then extended his gratitude to the government agencies and the public as represented in the room. Noting his impending retirement, Randolph said that his biggest privilege leading the Office has been to observe and assist in all the fine work that the Office does. The publication of five FRUS volumes to round out 2017, he said, was tribute to the hard work that defines the office. He also made special note of the Editing and Publishing division, whose efforts have been instrumental to the Office’s stellar productivity. Randolph asked for a round of applause for these accomplishments.

Randolph then recognized the other areas in which the Office remains engaged. He noted the Office’s activity in the realms of public history, and in support of many of the Department’s missions. Randolph said he was proud of these efforts. He then recognized the Office’s astounding accomplishments in the digital realm, which included the digitization and publication of FRUS volumes going back to the beginning of the 20th century. Randolph also recognized the Office staff who manage the office’s mailbox, which serves as a crucial point of contact between the Office and the citizens who rely on its work. Finally, Randolph noted the work of the Clinton working group, which demonstrated that for all of the Office’s accomplishments for its current work, it remains committed to its future endeavors as well.

Following his remarks, Randolph received a strong round of applause from the audience.

Report by the General Editor

Before turning to his report, General Editor Adam Howard read the following statement into the record:

The Office of the Historian wishes to record its sincere appreciation for the service of Dr. Stephen P. Randolph. During his six years in the Office—one as General Editor of the Foreign Relations series and five as The Historian—Dr. Randolph oversaw the streamlining of the FRUS production process, leading to increases in efficiency and productivity. Under his watch, the Office published a record 55 FRUS volumes, a number that eclipses any other such period, an achievement without precedent in the series. Dr. Randolph’s belief that an understanding of the past should inform decisions of today animated his support for the Policy Studies and Special Projects Divisions, whose mission and reach expanded during his time as The Historian. Passionate about his goal to make the full FRUS archive and all of the Office’s high-value publications accessible online, Dr. Randolph dramatically expanded the Office’s digital initiatives capacity, which resulted in the release of 234 newly digitized and enriched FRUS volumes at a significantly accelerated rate, completing the entire 20th century span of the series and transforming scholarship through these new capabilities. He was instrumental in securing a new home for the Office, one that allows historians to conduct their work far more effectively. His unwavering commitment to the highest standards of our profession and to the needs of the Office and the historians who work there will be sorely missed.

In his report, Howard noted that the fourth quarter in 2017 saw the publication of five FRUS volumes, including for example, Global Issues II, 1981–1988, which featured coverage of the growing influence of non-state actors, and Public Diplomacy, 1961–1963. Howard further noted that compilers had submitted five volumes for declassification, that the Declassification Division had verified three volumes, and that the Editing and Publishing Division had digitized another 17 volumes that covered the period from 1900 to 1918. As a result, all published volumes from 1900 on are now available in searchable form on the Office website.

The Deputy Historian, Renée Goings, thanked Joseph Wicentowski for his work on the digitization of FRUS volumes and asked him to describe the website’s new date search capability. Wicentowski explained how date searching worked, noting that many documents lacked dates and that Amanda Ross had figured out how to handle undated documents (as well as documents that were dated using alternate calendars).

The Committee chair opened the session for questions and comments. William Burr, speaking for the researcher community, expressed his thanks for Randolph’s fine service as Historian. Burr also asked why there had been a lag in printing recent FRUS volumes, to which Goings responded that the Office did intend to issue hard copies of FRUS volumes but that the increased production in recent years had exceeded the number that could be printed with the existing budget. Nate Jones thanked Randolph for his work as Historian and asked if it would be possible to publish a list of covert actions acknowledged in FRUS on the Office website. Randolph responded that it should be possible to publish such a list.

At the end of the question and comment period, Randolph expressed his sincere thanks to the Office, noting in particular the strong contributions of the General Editor and the Deputy Historian, underlining the good advice and supervision provided by the division chiefs, and praising the professionalism and integrity of each individual historian.

In closing, Immerman said that it had been an honor to watch the Office develop of the last six years and closed the adjourned the session.

Closed Session, December 11

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Department of State

Jeff Charlston began by sending regrets on behalf of Eric Stein, who was not able to attend. He then reviewed key 2017 statistics for the Systematic Review Program Division (A/GIS/IPS/SRP) of the Office of Information Program and Services: 6,685,000 pages of paper reviewed, 2,059, 424 pages of electronic records, 2411 Mandatory Declassification Review cases, and 13 Foreign Relations of the United States volumes. Referrals through the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) and National Declassification Center (NDC) programs added over 2 million pages to those figures, totaling over 10.7 million pages reviewed for declassification.

Charlston went on to describe IPS’s role in the Department’s initiative to eliminate over twelve thousand Freedom of Information Requests (FOIAs). This entailed a surge in retired Foreign Service officers working on a When Actually Employed (WAE) basis, and the use of student interns. Charlston described the process of a FOIA search, and stated plans for a designated liaison to the Historical Advisory Committee to be in place in 2018.

Following Charlston’s remarks, Adam Howard praised the timeliness of IPS when it came to FRUS reviews. He cited Foreign Relations 1981–1988, vol. V, Soviet Union, March 1985–October 1986, as a model review. The turnaround time was less than 30 days. Keri Lewis of IPS added that 67 days was the average turnaround time for IPS reviews of FRUS volumes in 2018.

Keri Lewis discussed the activities of ISCAP and efforts to improve standards for declassification. Efforts have been made to make declassification guides more specific and useful to individuals who may not be familiar with the subject material.

Office of Presidential Libraries

John Laster began his remarks with apologies for missing the previous HAC meeting.

He then reviewed the progress being made on the RAC project. There have been funding issues on the CIA-side of the project that have slowed progress, including a temporary pause of scanning new documents. Progress can still continue, however, as there still remains a significant backlog of scanned materials that have not yet been reviewed. The Department of State, for example, has 1,327,000 pages of scanned materials that need review. The RAC project is working with the National Declassification Center to determine which materials it should target, as well as investigating cheaper ways to scan the materials (scanning costs, which have risen significantly, are the primary reason for the pause). Declassification continues, but different equities require different levels of treatment, and thus different amounts of time for processing. NSC documents, for example, are able to be processed relatively quickly because the NSC has “aggressive waivers” in place that automatically allow some materials do be processed without further consultation.

When questioned by Immerman about the effect of the scanning pause, Laster said that, even if no new scanning occurred, there was enough backlog to last 2–3 years. When asked by Howard if the pause would affect the production of FRUS and if there was anything the Office could do to help, Laster said funding and access to materials were the primary difficulties.

Laster reported that scanning had not yet begun at the George H.W. Bush Library, but preparations continue. The deadline for the identification of equities is December 2018. Laster noted in regards to the Clinton Library that access letters should be sent with as much lead-time as possible. He also reviewed the unique approach the Obama Library was taking, which involved no physical record collections on site. The records will stay with NARA at other facilities, and negotiations are underway for the possibility to digitize and present unclassified materials online. Classified records would remain in DC, with the possibility of records being scanned and added to the collection as they were declassified. Laster also noted that presidential records are not subject to FOIA requests until five years after the end of the administration.

Immerman asked how the records would be made available, and Laster replied there was no firm decision yet, but it is possible that it would be through the National Archives Catalog. Immerman noted that many online collections were cumbersome and urged NARA to make the collections as easy-to-navigate as possible.

As for the library for President Trump, Laster said that the model used by the Obama Library was not “set in stone” and that the Trump Library may be a more traditional library, although it was difficult to predict at this point in the administration. In response to a question, he also noted that the President’s Twitter feed is being captured by NARA for preservation.

In response to a question from Immerman, Laster reported on the problems with accessing declassified documents at the Carter Library. Because of CIA concerns about putting large quantities of declassified documents online, the declassified documents were originally only available on two standalone computers, both of which broke. CIA no longer has an objection, so the declassified documents that were available on the standalone computers are now being put online, but this is a slow process. Both the Carter and Johnson libraries now have CDs with documents that researchers can use on site in the interim.

National Declassification Center

Don McIlwain mentioned the impending retirement of NDC Director Sheryl Shenberger at the end of December, and the need to hire a new director. In response Immerman asked McIlwain to pass along best wishes to Shenberger from the HAC.

McIlwain continued that the “indexing on demand” project is going well. In response to a question from Immerman, McIlwain stated that the rate requests for the indexing have not varied greatly.

McIlwain discussed recent updates to NDC’s blog, which provides information on recently processed collections. Immerman and Dudziak suggested sharing this information with a broader audience that may not follow the NDC blog. Suggestions included H-Diplo posts, a SHAFR “news flash,” or a podcast. McIlwain offered to host a panel at SHAFR to discuss NDC activity.

NARA Research Services

David Langbart began by introducing new hire David Castillo, who has taken over responsibility in the Accessioning Team for foreign affairs records. Langbart stated that NARA had prioritized four series of records for processing during FY18: the 1977 P-reels, which would be available in December 2017, the 1978 P-reels which would be finished by the end of February 2018, the 1979 P-reels which would be finished by the end of April 2018, and a series of records on passport matters which should be finished by September 2018. Langbart said that the elimination of Saturday hours had generated few complaints and that most people did not work on Saturdays. Langbart added that he had received a FOIA request from the National Security Archive for a document that was published 80 years ago in the FRUS series. He also noted that the finding aids project continues and that the comprehensive update of the foreign affairs web pages had been completed. In response to a pre-meeting request from the Chair, Langbart reported, that there was no progress on reintegration of declassified telegrams into the online Central Foreign Policy File.

Immerman stated he would inquire about the reintegration issue again, hoping that someone would look at it. Immerman added that more and more people want to access information online, so developing online tools at NARA was important. Langbart said progress towards putting records online is being made. Immerman compared NARA’s search capabilities with the Office of the Historian’s and stated that the Office’s search engine was very sophisticated, so creating a good search engine could be possible for NARA.

Dudziak asked how one could provide constructive criticism to NARA. Langbart replied that there was an email address on the NARA website, occasional computer surveys, and a suggestion box. Dudziak stated, “better-organized criticism could help you.”

Peterson stressed the value of publicizing further some of the NARA search tools and that SHAFR could help spread the word about the new finding aids. Dudziak said she would write a letter about this issue to incoming SHAFR president, Peter Hahn. Immerman added it was an “important issue.” Peterson stated she found the online guide quite helpful. Langbart said the guide only provided general information. Peterson suggested that the new finding aids be linked to the online guide. Langbart stated that the finding aids might be linked to the catalog, but not the guide.

The meeting concluded.