December 2021

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation December 6–7, 2021

Minutes

Committee Members

  • James Goldgeier, Chairman
  • Kristin Hoganson
  • William Inboden
  • Adriane Lentz-Smith
  • Sharon Leon
  • Melani McAlister
  • Nancy McGovern
  • Deborah Pearlstein

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
  • Virginia Kinniburgh
  • Michael McCoyer
  • 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
  • Joseph Wicentowski
  • Alexander Wieland
  • James Wilson
  • Louise Woodroofe

Bureau of Administration

  • Corynne Gerow
  • Timothy Kootz
  • Thomas Opstal
  • Eric Stein
  • Susan Weetman

National Archives and Records Administration

  • William Bosanko
  • Cathleen Brennan
  • Beth Fidler
  • David Langbart
  • Don McIlwain
  • John Powers

Public

  • Over 25 members of the public

Open Session, December 6

Approval of the Record

Jim Goldgeier, Committee Chair, opened the meeting at 10am and welcomed everyone. Melani McAlister moved to approve the minutes. Nancy McGovern seconded. With no objections, the minutes from the August 2021 minutes were approved.

Remarks by the Acting Director of the Foreign Service Institute

Adam Howard introduced Acting FSI Director, Ambassador Joan Polaschik. Polaschik welcomed everyone and commented that she was honored to speak to this committee, the public, and interagency colleagues. She noted this was the first hybrid HAC meeting with a few committee members in OH, and that an in person closed session would also take place. This is moving us toward the “new normal” for meetings.

Polaschik welcomed the new HAC members who joined since the last in person meeting: Kristin Hoganson, Organization of American Historians; Sharon Leon, At Large; Melani McAlister, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations; Nancy McGovern, Society of American Archivists; and Deborah Pearlstein, American Society of International Law. She then congratulated James Goldgeier on becoming the chair of the HAC.

Polaschik commented that even in light of the continuing pandemic, 2021 has been a great year for FRUS production with the publication of several volumes and microfiche supplements: Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume IV, Soviet Union, January 1983–March 1985, Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume XI, START I, and Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume E–15, Part 2, Documents on Western Europe, 1973–1976, Second, Revised Edition. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, American Republics; Cuba 1961–1962; Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath, Volumes X/XI/XII, Microfiche Supplement was also published.

She also highlighted some other examples of the work of OH and outreach.

In September, OH Historian Laura Kolar presented to the incoming class of Science and Technology fellows at the request of the Secretary’s Science and Technology advisor. This group included AAAS and Jefferson Science fellows.

H-Diplo published a forum on the Argentina Declassification Project, 2016–2019, including an essay from OH historian Sara Berndt and IPS colleague Keri Lewis. The forum highlighted the 48,000 pages of U.S. Government records, from 1975–1984, released through the project and the great interagency efforts utilized to complete this project.

Polaschik continued that a recent Dip Note featured a discussion with OH historian Elizabeth Charles about her work on FRUS: (https://www.state.gov/celebrating-100-years-foreign-policy-history).

Polaschik then addressed returning to the workplace: the Department continues to follow White House and federal guidance for the National Capital Region (NCR). The NCR remains on mission critical status. As conditions hopefully improve, the Department will move to a priority workforce and build in more in person activities as allowed. She commended OH for its in-person presence since June, with some OH staff returning to the office to work with classified materials as needed to move the FRUS process along.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Polaschik turned the floor over to Howard. Howard commented that three links to articles were in the meeting chat. The first was Wicentowski’s H-Diplo Articlerelated to his August HAC presentation. The AHA Perspectives and State Magazine articles discussed OH anniversaries: 160 years of the FRUS Series, 100 years of OH, and 30 years of the 1991 FRUS law.

Report by the General Editor

Howard turned the floor over to the General Editor, Kathleen Rasmussen for a FRUS update.

Rasmussen noted OH was proud to publish 4 volumes and microfiche supplements as noted by Polaschik. She also noted that the Office is hopeful that Foundations 1981–88 will be published before year’s end. The volume is in its final production stage, but external factors could cause a delay.

Rasmussen expressed her sincere thanks to the Office’s interagency partners in research and declassification: CIA, DoD, IPS, NARA, and the NSC for all their hard work and dedication to the FRUS process.

She also thanked the OH FRUS team, commenting that they have done an incredible job at innovating on how to make FRUS happen during challenging times. She thanked everyone for keeping FRUS rolling ahead.

Howard thanked Rasmussen for the FRUS update.

Report on FRUS and the Argentina Declassification Project

Rasmussen then introduced Sara Berndt, who would present on FRUS and the Argentina Declassification Project. Berndt discussed declassification, historical memory, and human rights, by exploring the contributions of and links between FRUS and a large, targeted declassification U.S. Government initiative, the Argentina Declassification Project. She emphasized that FRUS and the ADP had very different goals, audiences, and histories. She gave brief histories of the FRUS series and the declassification project, including some examples of the kinds of records that were published in each. In different ways, both projects support but cannot singlehandedly define a usable, accurate, public historical memory.

https://www.intelligence.gov/argentina-declassification-project

https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1977-80v24/ch2

Rasmussen thanked Berndt and asked her to discuss transparency as a larger issue. Berndt discussed how in many ways our situation is unique because we are interested in historical memory and how information trickled throughout the U.S. Government.

Goldgeier thanked Berndt for the presentation and noted that intelligence gathering is a unique part of this history as well. What do the documents reveal about how the Intelligence Community does its work, and how does it then become part of policy? Berndt stated that it is clear that the U.S. Government knew that the 1976 Argentine coup was going to occur, and it was equally clear that the U.S. did not direct or fund the coup. She notes that it is rare that we get so full a picture, since the documents show so many agencies’ perspectives and how these were feeding from different sources up to higher officials, and then how those officials made sense of the conflicting information.

Deborah Pearlstein asked if the embassy staff engaged in figuring out the mechanisms of the legal regime by which the Junta operated. Sara Berndt replied that testimony was preserved to document the victims and ascertain how the regime worked on an operational level. There was, however, no real attempt to do formal legal analysis with the goal of using the international system to prosecute the junta later. The main goal was to stop the Junta from engaging in repressive activities and, failing that, document the atrocities.

A member of the public asked if projects like the ADP could become more institutionalized. Berndt suggested the main obstacle to such an outcome was that such projects were, by the standards of declassification and transparency initiatives, very time consuming and expensive. She noted that the project had positive outcomes in terms of promoting human rights and improving relations with Argentina, which helped to make the case for efforts like the ADP to policymakers.

Rasmussen noted that for those curious about the process and logistics of the ADP it was well worth reading the article that Berndt had authored with then IPS staffer Keri Lewis and a monograph written by John Powers. Berndt noted that officials like Powers had to release documents based on several national interest criteria.

Another question followed up by asking if the term “declassification diplomacy” might be a useful rubric for promoting ADP and similar projects in the future. Berndt noted that it might be a useful framework for persuading policymakers and the public of the value of declassification projects. She felt a degree of discomfort about history being used as a political tool but commented that within the government it was inevitable that any effort would have to be seen to advance the national interest. Rasmussen argued that the previous point about time and resources was the major constraint since it was a challenge to persuade policymakers to use limited resources for intensive projects unless some value-added political benefits were attached to the project.

Hoganson asked if the ADP had improved document retention. Berndt wryly observed that as a historian she viewed the destruction of any document as a cause of “heartbreak.” Context, she asserted, was important; while items like raw intelligence cables might be useful for the raw information they contained, they could be of even more value if one could determine who had read them and how they were used. She also conceded that duplicate documents and routine office-management records were destroyed for valid reasons.

Bill McAllister commented that other governments watched the decisions of the U.S. Government and often modelled their own policies regarding information access on us. Berndt noted that both the Vatican and the French government had announced that they would release Argentina records in part because the U.S. had done so.

Tudda, who had worked on getting the ADP documents through the declassification process, argued that the outrage and disgust displayed by embassy staff at the actions of the Junta played a role in shaping policy. He noted that the staff were faced with the disappearance and abuse of contacts locally employed staff and their families. Berndt observed that human rights work at an embassy was often quite weedy, involving making lists of those who had been arrested or vanished and then trying to keep track of what happened with each case. It was a “firehose of information” that could be extremely difficult to parse in real time. The institutionalization of human rights in the U.S. Government during the 70s was, she argued, a significant area of historical inquiry that ADP documents could further.

Rasmussen thanked Berndt for her excellent work on the ADP and her informative presentation.

Remarks from the National Archives and Records Administration

Goldgeier welcomed NARA COO William “Jay” Bosanko and thanked him for addressing the Committee. Bosanko reported on plans to allow researchers back to NARA facilities going forward. Goldgeier and Hoganson expressed their appreciation for the work of NARA staff in assisting researchers to the extent possible during the pandemic. A general discussion ensued regarding the issues surrounding researcher access.

Bosanko reported that NARA is currently fulfilling limited emergency research requests from Executive Agency branches and is also taking appointments from public and private researchers no more than 2 weeks out. Thus far, NARA has been able to meet current requests for access but cannot determine what the demand will be when fully reopened. Hoganson asked about the ability of agencies to meet the M–19–21 mandate in the wake of the Pandemic. Bosanko replied that NARA is working with interagency partners to determine the best way forward. Bosanko also discussed the status of records transfers from the Presidential Libraries to the National Declassification Center. Finally, Bosanko announced that Ann Cummings had retired as the Executive for Research Services and that Chris Naylor would be the Acting.

The committee adjourned into the Executive Session.

Closed Session, December 6

Discussion of FRUS Declassification

At 2:30, the HAC came back into session to discuss numerous declassification decisions and reviews on several FRUS volumes.

Closed Session, December 7

Report from the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS)

Howard opened the session at 9:02 and welcomed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Information Services Eric Stein and Agency Records Officer Timothy Kootz to the session.

Stein began his remarks by stating that the Office of Information Programs and Services had many achievements during 2021. However, the global pandemic did impact IPS workflow and contributed to delays in processing records. He added that IPS had invested in some technological improvements and indicated that Kootz would discuss some of IPS’s accomplishments.

Kootz underscored that despite the pandemic, IPS did cover a lot of ground during 2021, both at the policy end and at the back end of the records management process. He highlighted the negotiation and implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Office of the Historian. The MOU sets out a process for OH to provide feedback on Department of State records schedules. Kootz underscored the importance of the working relationship between IPS and OH on records issues.

Kootz then discussed efforts made regarding records disposition. He referenced the eRecords system and gave a brief explanation of its contents. Lastly, he mentioned the Department’s efforts to maintain certain post records during times of disruption.

Kootz added that he hoped to draw on the expertise of Committee members with backgrounds in digital records and humanities and stressed his hope that IPS and the Committee’s records subcommittee would continue to establish a solid partnership. In addition to Hoganson and Leon, Goldgeier and Leon noted that Nancy McGovern, the third member of the records subcommittee, had a substantial background in electronic records.

At this point, Stein noted that the more IPS can leverage technology, it will free IPS to prioritize other efforts and programs.

Stein also referenced the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) 2019 directive (M–19–21) regarding agency transition to the creation, management, and retention of all federal records in electronic format by 2022, adding that IPS was awaiting additional guidance. He then said that while he had attended Committee meetings for the last 6 years, today’s meeting marked his last appearance before the Committee. Kootz and Jeff Charlston will represent IPS at future Committee meetings. Goings said that Stein had done an exceptional job and had worked well with the Office and congratulated him on his promotion.

Stein and Kootz then asked the Committee members if they had any questions about the current state of records management.

Leon inquired as to the process of appraisal at the point of collection. Kootz responded that this was most evident regarding the treatment of email and the designation of the 400 Capstone officials. A detailed discussion ensued.

Leon then asked a follow-on question regarding the presence of records officers at each major station. Kootz responded that each post had an information management officer (IMO) and each bureau had a records coordinator. The management officers at each post are also points of contact regarding records retention. He also provided information on briefings of senior officials.

The Committee and Kootz then had a detailed discussion of the Department’s email policy, including how the Department designates Capstone roles and NARA’s vetting role.

Goldgeier then inquired as to the record retention and management policies adopted by other federal agencies. Kootz responded that the Federal Records Act mandates that all federal agencies follow specific guidelines but that the agencies do have some latitude. However, around 150 federal agencies have employed the Capstone designation. He added that only the Archivist of the United States could approve records schedules and the deletion of federal records.

Hoganson expressed her gratitude that the MOU with OH had been enacted. She asked that IPS provide more information as to how the MOU process is working. More information from IPS regarding the digitization process would also be helpful, she said, and she requested that IPS provide the Committee with additional information concerning training, monitoring, and compliance.

At this point Kootz explained that the Capstone designation is only applied to email. Other records are scheduled according to the appropriate records schedules. He added that the email ingested contains a wealth of raw data that will be useful to future researchers.

Stein thanked the members of the Committee for a great discussion and made one last point about emails. Hoganson made an additional point that she would like to obtain more information about the potential researcher experience with the Department of State’s records. Kootz responded that, according to the lifecycle of a record, IPS eventually relinquishes custody of Department records to NARA. Up until that point, IPS has ensured that the Department has met NARA’s requirements for retention and transfer. It is then NARA’s responsibility to determine how these records will be processed and eventually made available to researchers.

The session ended at approximately 9:55 a.m.

Briefing on Declassification and FRUS

McCoyer and Tudda briefed the HAC about the declassification process and recent declassification decisions.