Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation December 7, 2020
- Richard Immerman, Chairman
- Mary Dudziak
- James Goldgeier
- William Inboden
- Melani McAlister
Office of the Historian
- Kristin Ahlberg
- Carl Ashley
- Margaret Ball
- Forrest Barnum
- Sarah 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
- Virginia Kinniburgh
- William McAllister
- Michael McCoyer
- Christopher Morrison
- Mircea Munteanu
- David Nickles
- Zury Palencia
- 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
Bureau of Administration
- Jeff Charlston
- Corynne Gerow
- Marvin Russell
- Eric Stein
- Susan Weetman
National Archives and Records Administration
- Cathleen Brennan
- Robert Fahs
- Beth Fidler
- David Langbart
- Don McIlwan
- John Powers
- Amy Reytar
Central Intelligence Agency
- Steve G.
Department of Defense
- John D. Smith
- Over 50 members of the public
Open Session, December 7
Approval of the Record
At 10:01 a.m., Historian Adam Howard opened the meeting and asked Committee Chair Richard Immerman if he had any opening remarks. Immerman conveyed greetings to all attendees, noting that this was the third Committee meeting held remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He added that the next meeting, scheduled for March 2021, would also likely be held remotely, but expressed hope that the June 2021 meeting could be held in person. Immerman also welcomed new members of the Committee, noting that several were in attendance today.
Immerman followed this by asking the Committee members for a motion to approve the minutes from the last meeting in September. James Goldgeier so moved; Melani McAlister seconded the motion. Immerman asked if there was an opposition to the motion, noting that under the technical circumstances, he would take the lack of response as affirmation of the motion. As no response made, Immerman noted the previous minutes were passed unanimously.
Immerman then moved to the next item of business: the election of the Committee Chair. Immerman opened the floor to the members for nomination. William Inboden nominated Immerman to another term as Chair, which was seconded by multiple members. As no other nominations made, Immerman was re-elected as Chair for a further term.
Immerman congratulated OH on progress it had made since the September meeting, including the publication of two FRUS volumes, though noted that this would be discussed in greater detail in a moment. However, Immerman wished to state for the record that he wished to convey a “huzzah” or “several huzzahs” to OH on behalf of the Committee for this progress.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Howard opened his remarks by announcing the “bittersweet” news of the forthcoming retirement of OH Special Projects division chief William McAllister. In commemoration, he stated that he wished to read a statement into the record. Howard stated:
“On behalf of the Office, I would like to thank Dr. William (Bill) McAllister for his invaluable contributions to the Office of the Historian over his 17 year tenure. During this time, Dr. McAllister demonstrated great flexibility, always serving the Office where we needed him most. He has held a variety of positions both in the FRUS divisions and the Historical Studies Divisions. He began his tenure as a FRUS compiler working on the Global Issues volumes for the Nixon-Ford subseries and stepped in to serve as Acting FRUS General Editor between 2009 and 2010. In 2008, Dr. McAllister became the first division director for the newly launched Special Projects Division and played a crucial role in regularizing the capture and use of the institutional history of the Department of State in current day diplomacy. Dr. McAllister's commitment to documentary research and enthusiasm for both Department history and the Foreign Relations series led to the Office's publication of the award-winning Toward Thorough, Accurate and Reliable: A History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series, which to date remains the most comprehensive history of the series and of the evolution of government transparency. For over a decade, Dr. McAllister has also overseen OH’s role in teaching a “Diplomatic History Module” to all new Foreign Service Officers as part of the A-100 orientation course at FSI. Thanks to his efforts, thousands of Foreign Service Officers have received direct history instruction by members of the Office of the Historian. Dr. McAllister's enthusiasm for teaching and exploring the complexities of the Department's history will be missed, as will his generous spirit and collegiality.”
On behalf of the Committee, Immerman seconded Howard’s statement, adding that he wished to thank McAllister for his many contributions to OH, his personal “good cheer,” and complimented him for being one of the “best-dressed” at Committee meetings over the years. Moreover, he observed, McAllister was serving as Acting FRUS General Editor when he joined the Committee, a time that was very difficult for the Office of the Historian. Immerman concluded by wishing McAllister good luck for the future.
McAllister thanked Howard and Immerman for their tributes. He added that in his 17 years in the Office, he saw how the work of the office was truly a team effort and stated that it was his “pleasure to make a small contribution” to that work. McAllister also said that he “learned a lot” about the Department, diplomacy, among other things, in his work.
Howard then turned to the work of OH since the last meeting, stating that he was “pleased” to announce that the Office had published two FRUS volumes—Iran Hostage Crisis, Part I and Soviet Union, 1985–86—the latter, the first published volume by Elizabeth Charles. He went on to state that he was looking forward to hearing feedback about the volumes not only from the scholarly community, but also from practitioners, particularly (referring to the Soviet volume) those working on arms control.
Howard continued by discussing the state of Department of Defense reviews of FRUS volumes. He began by thanking Frosty Sturgis, previously the DoD’s point-person in addressing FRUS declassification, for helping transition DoD toward the current FRUS declassification review process. He added his thanks to Tom Muir and Liz Ortiz of DoD for their help in coordinating that transition. Lastly, Howard thanked the DoD’s new FRUS declassification coordinator, J.D. Smith, noting that it has been a “pleasure” to work with him and his team over the past few months. Howard reminded the audience that he had stated at the last meeting that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the new arrangements; he was now amending that remark by dropping the qualifier “cautiously,” stating that he was completely optimistic about the working relationship, particularly given the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Report by the General Editor
General Editor Kathy Rasmussen then delivered an update on the FRUS series. She began by seconding Howard’s comments on the DoD relationship, stating that she was “very pleased and optimistic” about the situation. She paid tribute to Frosty Sturgis for his past help and his role in aiding the transition to the new FRUS team. She also offered further praise for J.D. Smith, noting the “wonderful” and “great-quality” document reviews his team had done so far, and expressed her belief that the reviews would help make more efficient the production of future FRUS volumes.
Rasmussen then gave a status report on current FRUS production. She stated that while a small rotating group of individuals were working on volumes, the continued Covid-19 pandemic meant that most FRUS historians were working from home. Moreover, the majority of the series’ interagency research partners’ operations were not yet at normal levels. Rasmussen turned to the “good news” of the publication of two new FRUS volumes: Iran Hostage Crisis, Part I, published November 17; and Soviet Union, March 1985–October 1986, published on December 1. For each, Rasmussen paid tribute to the compilers who produced the volumes, Linda Qaimmaqami and Elizabeth Charles, and highlighted the issues and events covered by each. On the Hostage Crisis volume, she noted that it had been “14 years in the making.” Rasmussen also paid tribute to the efforts of other OH historians who contributed to the volumes’ publication: Chris Morrison, Chris Tudda, Carl Ashley, Kerry Hite, Stephanie Eckroth, Amanda Ross, David Geyer, Kristin Ahlberg, and Mandy Chalou. Rasmussen also stated that OH hoped to publish two more volumes (Soviet Union, 83–85 and START I 81–88) before the March 2021 Committee meeting.
Rasmussen then asked if there were questions. Dudziak asked Immerman if he should invite the public to ask questions. Immerman said he could and invited these by using the chat function.
Report on Foreign Relations of the United States, 1981–1988, Volume XLI, Global Issues II
At 10:20 a.m., Rasmussen began the next portion of the meeting with her introduction of Dr. Alexander Poster. Poster presented on the compilation on the Reagan administration’s response to the AIDS epidemic documented in the Global Issues volume. Rasmussen noted that the compilation on the response to the AIDS epidemic was one of seven other compilations in the Global Issues volume, which included compilations on whaling, famine in Africa, the response to the ozone hole over Antarctica, as well as Law of the Sea.
Following Poster’s presentation, the virtual floor was opened for questions from the members of the advisory board as well as the public at large. The first question noted the broad implications of the AIDS epidemic on U.S. foreign policy and asked if this influence was surprising. Poster recalled that the response to HIV/AIDS involved more than just a health response. It included dealing with immigration issues and disinformation. Given the complexity of the issues involved, the administration’s response quickly became politicized.
Asked to expand on the Soviet disinformation campaign he mentioned in his presentation, Poster said the complexity of the issue and the Reagan administration’s initial response allowed the Soviet disinformation campaign to effectively write itself. The persistence of the KGB in spreading the story in the global media meant that the White House had a lot of fires to put out. It was only once the administration started taking the issue seriously that it was able to “take the wind out of the sails” of the Soviet campaign. He also added that racism and discrimination certainly played a factor in the way the White House reacted to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The disease, Poster noted, was something the White House saw as concerning “other people” and that it was not something that needed to concern its constituency. He noted that during the immigration debate taking place in the Reagan administration, HIV/AIDS was seen as an immigration issue, which meant Attorney General Ed Meese was a central influence on Reagan’s view of the problem. One bureaucratic battle the Department of State lost to the Attorney General and the Health and Human Services department was the requirement of an HIV/AIDS test for visa applicants.
Poster revisited Reagan’s view of the epidemic later in the Q&A session when he was asked about Rock Hudson’s death and its effect on Reagan. He noted that Reagan was often motivated by personal stories more than hard data. Hudson was a friend, and his death was a sea change in the way the administration dealt with the problem and the way Reagan himself viewed the issue.
To the question of whether the HIV/AIDS epidemic was an intelligence failure, Poster answered unequivocally yes. The CIA, he recalled, did not collect intelligence on HIV/AIDS until it was pushed by the Department of State to do so. Even then, the CIA remained inflexible on the subject and was slow to pick up the trends. Immerman noted that, at the end of 2020, we are ourselves living in the midst of a global pandemic and trying to decipher if a pandemic is an intelligence or a policy failure. He commended Poster for contributing to the foundation of our understanding of the role of intelligence in global health policy responses.
Continuing on the topic of intelligence collection, Poster answered a question related to the role of NGOs by noting that it was private, international, and non-governmental organizations who provided the most thorough and up to date information on the spread and effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Especially as the administration response became more robust, agencies such as USAID worked closely with the WHO and NGOs to collect data and coordinate responses. Answering a question on the role the Department of State played in the NIH/CDC cooperation with WHO, Poster noted that the Department acted primarily as a facilitator. Asked if the White House tried to influence the way the Department reported on the issue, Alex responded that the White House initially lacked a communication strategy and did not have a unified message, while at the same time Foreign Service Officers were pushing Secretary of State George Shultz to come up with a coordinated policy to guide their own interactions abroad.
Report from the Department of Defense
Howard noted that OH staff first met with the new Department of Defense (DoD) team this past summer and was very pleased to be working with them. Howard next introduced J.D. Smith of the Records and Declassification Division (RDD).
Smith offered his thanks to Immerman, as Committee Chair, and to Howard for the opportunity to provide a short briefing to the committee. Smith shared credit for the progress made to date by RDD with the members of his staff who have all been working around the clock amidst the challenges presented by the pandemic situation. Smith noted that they have been able to avoid any degradation of quality or lag in the timeliness of their reviews and he thanked Howard, Rasmussen, Ashley, and Tudda for their understanding and cooperation throughout the transition to the current team. Smith next explained the organizational structure of the DoD regarding his staff. Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) is the premier support organization for the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the “Fourth Estate,” providing a wide-range of services such as financial management, human resources support, and various executive services, including the management of declassification processes for FOIA, Mandatory Declassification Reviews, and responding to FRUS requests. RDD within the Executive Services Directorate of WHS oversees the implementation of the information management programs for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) under the direction of Luz Ortiz, the OSD Federal Records Officer. Smith noted that his team was now the one-stop shop to support the Department of State (including the Office of the Historian and FRUS) within the DoD for FRUS searches and declassification reviews. He added that it was important to note that his staff’s responsibilities balance the need for governmental transparency with the reality that historical records may contain information that must be protected to safeguard classified national security information. Smith affirmed that his team was committed to an open process.
Smith next described the process involved for a DoD response to a FRUS request. RDD serves as the coordinator for a department-wide response, ingesting and then tasking each equity holding office within the DoD with queries and tracking all responses. There are more than twenty distinct DoD components that have independent declassification authorities and concomitant equities. RDD compiles the multiple responses to taskings and returns a single unified response to the Department of State. Smith noted that his description was provided at a general level suited to the open session of the meeting and offered to follow up in a closed session, if necessary. He concluded by describing his team as extremely dedicated and proud to be a part of the mission for the Departments of State and Defense, as well as the larger public.
Immerman thanked Smith for the extremely informative and illuminating presentation and opened the floor to questions.
Goldgeier inquired about deadlines associated with the taskings sent out by RDD within DoD. Smith affirmed that there are deadlines, which are very important particularly in view of the appeals process. RDD carefully tracks the timeline for each tasking.
Immerman asked about the requirement for DoD to produce a report on its declassification progress overall. Smith noted that he had contributed to the report, led by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security, but was not certain of the future release and publication date.
Inboden asked if RDD had established a timeline for processing the remaining 1980s FRUS volumes. Smith responded that his team has a plan of action for every volume and even every chapter. He noted that of the roughly 1,300 documents that RDD received for processing to date, around 630 documents, or fifty percent, were already closed out.
Dudziak asked about efforts undertaken at DoD to strengthen staffing continuity and expertise regarding declassification and appreciation of the role of FRUS. Smith replied that a fundamental improvement was made thanks to ISOO’s success in forcing all offices with declassification authorities to create and update declassification guides. These guides have proven to be extremely helpful, no matter who is in the seat, because they provide a standard for page-by-page or line-by-line reviews. Smith added that, while there is no formal orientation for new DoD staff members on these issues (outside of DoD’s FRUS Team), his team takes extra effort to reach out to newcomers and educate them about their responsibilities.
An OH historian inquired about RDD collaboration with the OSD Historical Office and Smith responded by outlining a strong working relationship and almost daily exchange of communications, which have also proven helpful regarding the FRUS process.
Hoganson inquired about how RDD handles disagreements about declassification decisions. Smith replied that, luckily, there haven’t been any disagreements to date. However, he added, the resolution of any dispute would be to gather all interested parties and utilize the declassification guidelines in specific reference to each page, paragraph, and line of text.
Immerman thanked Smith again for his presentation and noted the committee’s appreciation for his efforts.
Report from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Next, Immerman introduced David Langbart from Research Services at the National Archives and Records Administration.
Langbart gave a brief overview of the current opening status of NARA regarding the Covid-19 crisis. Status updates are available at http://www.archives.gov/coronavirus.
Immerman inquired about any ongoing automatic declassification cases and Don McIlwain responded on behalf of the National Declassification Center. McIlwain noted that a limited process of evaluation reviews had begun over the last few weeks and that some agency partners had returned in a limited trial run. Work had also begun with FOIA/MDR coordination with the George W. Bush, Eisenhower, and Carter Libraries, as well as with the ongoing reviews of the “P” and “N” microfilm reels. Unfortunately, because of the very recent Covid-19 metrics in Prince George’s County all of NARA II’s staff would be working from home as of today’s close of business.
Howard offered a closing statement that, in normal times, OH would be hosting a holiday party and that hopefully it would be possible next year. He also thanked all attendees, which included as many as 88 people.
Immerman closed out the meeting with an invitation to join the discussion again in March at the next session which will mostly likely also be a virtual one and asked everyone to do absolutely everything that is necessary to be able to stay safe.