Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation December 5–6, 2022
- James Goldgeier, Chairman
- Kristin Hoganson
- William Inboden
- Adriane Lentz-Smith
- Sharon Leon
- Melani McAlister
- Nancy McGovern
- Timothy Naftali
- Deborah Pearlstein
Office of the Historian
- Kristin Ahlberg
- Carl Ashley
- Margaret Ball
- Forrest Barnum
- Sara Berndt
- Josh Botts
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Thomas Faith
- David Geyer
- Renée Goings
- Michelle Guzman
- Charles Hawley
- Kerry Hite
- Adam Howard
- Virginia Kinniburgh
- Michael McCoyer
- Brad Morith
- Christopher Morrison
- Mircea Munteanu
- David Nickles
- Nicole Orphanides
- Paul Pitman
- Alexander Poster
- Kathleen Rasmussen
- Matthew Regan
- Amanda Ross
- Seth Rotramel
- Daniel Rubin
- Ashley Schofield
- Nathaniel Smith
- Melissa Jane Taylor
- Chris Tudda
- Dean Weatherhead
- Joseph Wicentowski
- Alexander Wieland
- James Wilson
- Louise Woodroofe
Bureau of Administration
- Jeff Charlston
- Corynne Gerow
- Timothy Kootz
- Thomas Opstal
- Marvin Russell
- Eric Stein
National Archives and Records Administration
- Cathleen Brennan
- Elizabeth Fidler
- William Fischer
- David Langbart
- Don McIlwain
- Over 20 members of the public
Open Session, December 5
Presentation on Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume I, Foundations of Foreign Policy
General Editor Kathy Rasmussen introduced Dr. Kristin Ahlberg with a brief biography of Ahlberg’s work in OH and her personal historical publications.
Ahlberg read her prepared presentation which included the 3 most important themes of the volume: Reagan’s attempt to draw a distinction between his policies and those of the Carter administration; the restoration of U.S. strength; and the promotion of democracy abroad. She also explained the philosophy behind some of the choices she made about selecting archival and public documentation and how the sheer volume of available documentation meant that she had to consult OH colleagues for recommendations about documents to be double-printed, footnotes, and cross-references to other Reagan FRUS volumes.
After Ahlberg finished her presentation, she took questions from the HAC members and others present, both in person and online. Ahlberg first responded to a question regarding how her academic background influenced the documents she chose to include. In her response, she noted that anyone who knows her knows she is interested in foreign assistance and food policy, so she was eager to include documents on those topics. Also, being a generalist, with a broad training in the history of foreign policy, helped her. However, most of the documents she selected would have been selected by most historians. Nevertheless, there is room for creativity in the FRUS series. For example, what a compiler chooses to footnote may include unique topics, namely any reference to Sesame Street was footnoted.
Ahlberg was asked how she addressed the Reagan administration’s views on race, and specifically South Africa in the context of anti-communism. Ahlberg noted that she worked closely with her colleagues in the Africa and Americas division while compiling documents on these topics. She made sure that these issues were included in the volume.
Ahlberg was then asked if—given the fact that she was already very familiar with the Reagan administration—was there anything that surprised her. She said that there were the elements that she was expecting. She noted that, as in the Carter Foundations volume, there was a lot of “stock-taking,” which was common to all administrations. Namely, she selected many documents that were internal assessments on the administration’s performance.
Ahlberg was then asked whether she included documents on what the administration thought about itself but didn’t turn into policy. She responded in the affirmative, adding that she thought these documents were important.
Regarding a question on the administration’s role in ending the Cold War, Ahlberg noted that the administration took a more reactive approach and was not pursuing a grand strategy to end the standoff.
Another question posed to Ahlberg took up Reagan’s personal role in foreign policymaking and whether it was difficult for his advisors to get him to focus on the topic. Ahlberg noted that Reagan was very focused on how foreign policy would resonate in the domestic realm, especially during the 1984 reelection campaign. She then drew attention to the emphasis that the President and the administration put on commemoration. Namely, the commemoration of the 40 year anniversary of D-Day and the end of World War II were very important for the administration. Reagan was very keyed into celebrating these important events and sought to get agencies to work together towards this end. There was also a strong desire in the administration not to offend current allies who used to be belligerents, namely Japan.
Iran-Contra was raised and Ahlberg noted that she included the topic in the volume, but mainly through footnotes. There is separate volume on that issue, so it was not a main focus. She did include discussion on who the administration sought to get out ahead of the issue.
Lastly, there was a question regarding the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and how much of that Ahlberg was able to include. She noted that there were some very good documents showing the effort to use this new technology to negotiate from a position of strength, yet not come across as a “nuclear cowboy.”
The Committee then thanked Ahlberg for her presentation.
Approval of the Record
The committee approved the record of the previous meeting following the correction of a misspelling.
Remarks by the Director of the Foreign Service Institute
Director of FSI, Ambassador Joan Polaschik, expressed thanks to Ahlberg for her interesting presentation and noted that it was a privilege to meet with OH and the HAC. Polaschik endorsed the hybrid nature of the meeting as it expands access for members of the public and described 2022 as an extremely busy and productive year for OH. The office has undertaken important efforts to modernize and upgrade the production process for a more up-to-date and efficient structure. Some of the macro-level elements of this effort have included the digitization of tens of thousands of documents and the creation of a customized new database that will track the status of volumes throughout the production process. The office is also implementing processes that will dramatically reduce the time between a manuscript’s declassification and publication.
Polaschik noted that all of these critical advances will take some time to fully implement and that you may continue to see a lag in production times over the next two years. Adam and his team firmly believe that these efforts will pay off over the long term and are absolutely worth the short-term disruption. Polaschik next described how OH has contributed to fostering a culture of learning at the Department that is a key priority of Secretary Blinken’s modernization agenda. Polaschik stated that she had been with the Department for 29 years and has witnessed a lack of appreciation for learning that OH can help to rectify. She offered examples of OH efforts, including partnering with the Bunche Library to host three book talks on topics ranging from the impact of social media on history to the Civil War and human rights and the foreign policy of the Reagan administration. OH also hosted the first of two office hour sessions for Department colleagues to learn about the history of the organization and about OH’s work. Polaschik also described the addition of an institutional historical training to the Civil Service orientation class as well as efforts to develop proof of concepts for micro learning videos on the history of bilateral relations with specific countries.
Pearlstein asked to hear more about the historical training provided to incoming civil service employees.
Polaschik described the significant effort undertaken to make sure that Foreign Service employees understand the history of the Department and the values that underscore our expectations as well as the challenges of the work. There has been a disparity in the amount of training provided to the Civil Service, by comparison. Foreign Service training last six weeks whereas Civil Service orientation is only one week. There are some valid reasons for this difference, but FSI would like to expand Civil Service training particularly regarding historical knowledge.
Howard added that OH has been teaching incoming Foreign Service classes since 2006 and has now begun to offer historical training as a part of the Civil Service orientation.
Goings remarked that OH has so far mostly provided the history of the Department as an institution but has recently undertaken efforts to delve more into the history of inclusion within the Department.
Hoganson inquired whether OH had received any responses or follow up stemming from the HAC’s annual report. There were a number of specific recommendations, including improvement to the High Level Panel process.
Polaschik responded by underscoring the importance of the HAC role and the value of its contributions, including its reports. There is pending legislation for FSI to have a Board of Visitors which Polaschik would like to see modelled on the HAC and its important role of support for us.
Goldgeier followed up on Hoganson’s inquiry asking whether OH ever receives feedback regarding the HAC report or the OH report.
Goings responded that OH has received questions from Congress, and Congressional staff, on a number of occasions in the past. Department responses have been rarer. However, OH usually includes action items that track to issues raised in HAC report and these produce ongoing efforts to address and resolve issues identified by the HAC. Goings added that the current effort to advance the High Level Panel with our CIA partners was an example of this.
William Burr submitted a question in the chat, asking about the volume on the Soviet Union that is no longer online apparently owing to problems surrounding the classification status of certain documents. Burr asked is that volume likely to be restored to the OH website anytime soon? Goings answered that this question would be best addressed by the Press Office and offered to share the contact information.
McAlister asked about the how the Department and FSI managed teaching and training components during the pandemic.
Polaschik responded by describing an evolving approach. FSI expanded hybrid and online functions in an effort to find a “new normal” and to identify what works best in what format. Foreign language training has remained hybrid whereas consular training is now almost entirely done remotely because it is more effective in that format for learners. FSI is also undertaking an effort to study the approaches of other organizations and hopes to have a more refined approach by the spring of 2023.
Hoganson asked for an update about the relocation of Department records to Charleston, South Carolina. Goings replied that some aspects of the plan have changed since the last briefing to the HAC and that OH will arrange a future briefing on this subject from Eric Stein.
Goldgeier thanked Ambassador Polaschik, and invited Howard to speak.
Report by the Executive Director
Howard also thanked Ambassador Polaschik for attending the meeting and for the supporting the work of OH. Howard noted that on October 11, he and Goings met with the Chief of the Policy Planning Staff equivalent for the Netherlands Foreign Ministry and gave a tour of the Navy Hill grounds. They discussed the origins of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the historical context OH provides for Department officials, and OH’s digital initiatives. The Dutch officials briefed on their plans for an oral history program and sought OH advice on how to handle declassification issues.
Report by the General Editor
Rasmussen offered the report from the General Editor. Shortly after the HAC meeting in September, then Chief of the Africa and Americas Division Myra Burton left the Office of the Historian for an outside position after 21 years of outstanding service. During her time at OH, Myra researched and compiled six volumes on U.S. relations with Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, submitting her final volume, Southern Africa, 1985–1988, for declassification coordination review just weeks before she left. She served as a Division Chief for eleven years, during which time she conducted thorough, accurate, reliable, and timely reviews of more than a dozen FRUS volumes, even as she continued to research and compile her own. We miss Myra and wish her all the best in the next stage of her career.
In late October, OH conducted a search to fill the vacancy left by Myra’s departure. Louise Woodroofe was selected for the position.
OH continues to make progress in conducting FRUS research not only in interagency records here in DC, but in presidential records at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, the George H.W. Bush Library in College Station, Texas, and the Bill Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.
With the majority of FRUS historians working on H.W. Bush volumes, over the next several months OH will focus on conducting as much research at College Station as possible in anticipation of the eventual—but still unscheduled—transfer of the Bush Library’s classified records to the National Declassification Center.
In all, ten historians are scheduled to conduct research on some fifteen FRUS volumes at the Bush Library before the HAC next meets in March 2023. Particularly exciting is that three of those historians will be researching in Bush’s personal diary, to which the Bush Estate graciously granted OH access in 2021.
This flurry of research would not be possible were it not for all the FRUS historians who cleared their schedules at short notice and front-loaded their Bush Library research and the marvelous archivists in College Station, especially Simon Staats and Chris Pembelton.
One additional production update: since the last meeting, another volume has been submitted for declassification coordination review, Somalia 1989–1993. This is the first volume containing Clinton administration documentation to make it through the research, annotation, and review process and move into declassification.
Finally, as Ambassador Polaschik noted in her remarks, OH hopes to publish two newly digitized microfiche supplements: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957, China, Volume III, Microfiche Supplement and Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958–1960, National Security Policy; Arms Control and Disarmament, Volume III, Microfiche Supplement, over the next couple of months.
These publications are two of 13 microfiche supplements produced by our office from 1993 to 1998. Each supplement includes images of additional documents expanding upon issues addressed in their corresponding print volumes that could not be printed due to space limitations. As an addition to the digital archive of the Foreign Relations back catalog, OH is digitizing the text from the microfiche images of these supplements and enriching them to create full text searchable digital editions and ebooks.
Goldgeier offered an additional thank you to Ambassador Polaschik and expressed the committee’s excitement to hear about the upcoming research trips. Goldgeier also expressed the committee’s happiness that OH was getting back up to speed after the pandemic and offered good luck with the ongoing work.
Closed Session, December 5
Report from the National Archives and Records Administration
Goldgeier opened the session by referencing the pre-reading document in which William “Jay” Bosanko provided information to the committee in advance of the meeting. Goldgeier asked to begin with a discussion of the planned transfer of classified material from the Presidential Libraries to NARA facilities in Washington, and Pearlstein asked for clarification of some related points made in Bosanko’s pre-reading document. Bosanko also briefed the HAC on other topics relevant to the committee’s interests.
Briefing on the Status of the FRUS Series and from the Office of Information Programs and Services (A/GIS/IPS)
Jeffrey Charlston introduced himself as the Chief of Systematic Review Program at the Department of State. Charlston said that it had been a productive year for his office, adding that Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Stein had forwarded a letter written by the HAC. Despite his staff not returning in full until March, Charlston said nearly 100 percent of confidential and secret cables for 1997 had been reviewed. He also indicated that 90 percent of paper reviews to and through 1997 had been reviewed as well. He said that the COVID backlog of 25-year reviews had been cleared.
Charlston added that 100 percent of pre-publication reviews of manuscripts by retired Department personnel are on track and that a pilot program to facilitate historians in other agencies pursuing approved official research in Department repositories was so far successful. Charlston noted that 117 foreign government declassification requests had been cleared, although 481 were still active. He stated that his office had contributed to the 9/11 declassification project as well as to the JFK assassination records.
Charlston said that his office’s NARA liaison, Marvin Russell, had reviewed 60,500 pages of P-reels and that the NDC had completed 250,000 pages of mandatory reviews, with a 98 percent release rate. Charlston added that IPS had started pilot program of AI review of cables, and that “the computer will learn as time goes on,” and that the program looked “more and more viable” with a full update to follow at the conclusion of the pilot.
Charlston then stated he was “tap dancing” around limitations on disclosing developments in the NATO Archives Committee. He addressed issues of NATO records and multinational hybrid records and stated he was optimistic about future hybrid review. Charlston said that other nations praised the efficiency of the U.S. declassification process and cited the United States as “the example.” He also reported that, during the late November meeting the United Nations had announced to the NATO Archives Committee that the digitization of League of Nations records had been completed and the results released to the public.
McAlister asked for clarification on the 9/11 declassification project. Specifically, she wanted to know where the declassified records would be held.
Charlston responded that the project involved a re-review of FBI records on 9/11 and provided details on the origins of the project. The project, the results of which should be on the DOJ website, was the result of intricate consultations and discussions with dozens of other countries, and long hours from Charlston’s team.
Pearlstein commented on the benefit of the 9/11 project and asked for clarification on foreign government queries to IPS. Charlston responded that the queries were varied; often involving countries trying to get information released that contains U.S. classified information. The Department has become the channel through which these many of queries come.
Charlston noted that there was no update on the IPS move to Charleston, SC. There would be a need to retain some sort of IPS footprint in the Washington area. He then offered to take the HAC on a tour of the facility where the reviewers worked. Goldgeier finished the session by thanking Charlston and noting that the HAC would look forward to the tour.
Closed Session, December 6
Briefing from the Electronic Records Division, NARA
NARA archivists and staff members briefed the committee on records-related issues.