June 2017

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation June 19-20, 2017

Minutes

Committee Members

  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • Laura Belmonte
  • Mary Dudziak
  • James McAllister
  • Robert McMahon
  • Susan Perdue
  • Trudy Peterson
  • Katherine Sibley
  • Thomas Zeiler

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
  • David Nickles
  • Paul Pitman
  • Alex Poster
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Matthew Regan
  • Amanda Ross
  • Seth Rotramel
  • Daniel Rubin
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Chris Tudda
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alexander Wieland
  • James Wilson
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

Bureau of Administration

  • David Adamson
  • Kathy Allegrone
  • Jeff Charlston
  • Bill Fischer
  • Tim Kootz
  • Keri Lewis
  • Greg Perett
  • Marvin Russell

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
  • David Langbart, Textual Records Division
  • Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center
  • Amy Reytar, Archives II Reference Branch

Public

  • Malcolm Byrne
  • William Burr

Open Session, June 19

Report by the Historian

Stephen Randolph began his report by announcing the release of the FRUS Iran retrospective volume (Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954), which marked the culmination of a 40-year work program for the Office. Randolph also noted the release of the FRUS Central America volume (Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XV, Central America), and sixteen volumes from the FRUS back catalogue, which cover events taking place between 1912 and 1918 and which were originally published between 1919 and 1933. As he stated at the March meeting, these sixteen volumes were released as part of the recognition of the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I. Randolph also noted that the first installment of articles on the activities of U.S. embassies in Europe during World War I was published on the Office’s website in April. Subsequent articles, written by Seth Rotramel, Charles Hawley, and William McAllister, will be released incrementally over the next several months. Randolph next described the role the Office was playing as “knowledge managers” in supporting the Department through its current strategic planning and reorganization efforts by providing historical information about similar processes the Department had undertaken in the immediate post-Cold War period. Next, Randolph described the Office’s work on the Argentina Transparency Project, which resulted in the presentation of a number of FRUS chapters on U.S.-Argentina bilateral relations to the President of Argentina. He also mentioned the Office’s oral history project related to the recent process of normalizing relations with Cuba. Finally, Randolph reminded the Committee and attendees about the June 21 panel discussion at the Department’s Diplomacy Center about the newly published book, Reagan and the World: Leadership and National Security, 1981–1989. Elizabeth Charles and James Wilson will be on the panel and Randolph will serve as chair.

Report by the General Editor

Adam Howard celebrated the newly released Iran retrospective and Central America FRUS volumes, as well as the sixteen World War I period volumes. He also noted that on June 24 the Office would be holding a panel at the annual conference of Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations. The panel’s topic will be “Planning the FRUS subseries on the Clinton Administration (1992–2000)”. Howard mentioned that the panel would be an opportunity for the Office to engage with the public and get recommendations and suggestions for the Clinton subseries.

Questions

The Committee chair opened the session for questions. Malcolm Byrne from the National Security Archive praised the Iran retrospective volume, saying that all of the reviews he had seen were very favorable. Byrne asked what prompted the Department’s recent approval of the release of the Iran retrospective volume given that it had repeatedly refused approval in the past. Randolph said that under Secretary of State Kerry, the Department had not granted approval even though Assistant Secretary Kirby and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Stevenson had continued to seek clearance during the last weeks of Secretary Kerry’s tenure. Randolph reported that, after giving the new Secretary a few months to settle in, in April the Office submitted an action memorandum to request approval to release the volume through normal channels and that approval was forthcoming more quickly than expected. Randolph attributed the approval and its speed to altered dynamics. However, both he and Immerman stressed that this was speculation and that they did not know for certain the reason for approval at this time or who granted it. Randolph did say that the Office’s action memorandum had requested approval to release the volume after the May 2017 elections in Iran. He also indicated that the Department’s approval directed that the Office release the volume discreetly. Both Randolph and Immerman emphasized that the Bureau of Public Affairs had been constant in its support of the volume and its release throughout the approval process. Byrne asked Randolph if the Office planned a major roll-out of the volume, but Randolph again reiterated the Department’s desire to keep the release low key. Byrne, Immerman, and Dudziak discussed the possibility that the Wilson Center or SHAFR might consider hosting an event about the volume. One possibility would be an event that covered the role that the original volume played in prompting Congressional passage of the 1991 FRUS statute.

Committee member Trudy Peterson underlined the significance of the release of the Central America FRUS volume. She emphasized its timeliness and importance given current events in El Salvador with the reopening of the investigation into Archbishop Oscar Romero’s 1980 assassination. Office historians Kathleen Rasmussen and Christopher Tudda briefly detailed the important information contained in the volume’s documents.

The Committee adjourned the session at 11:32 a.m. for lunch.

Closed Session, June 19

Immerman convened the afternoon session at approximately 1:00 p.m.

Office of Information Programs and Services

After introductory remarks by Immerman, Bill Fischer of the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) stated that his organization was fully committed to FRUS and fully behind the Office’s mission.

Jeff Charlston noted that 862,500 pages of paper records had been processed by IPS reviewers since the last meeting, with the total 6.3 million pages requiring review by the end of the year representing 900,000 more pages than last year. The current hiring freeze is having some negative impact on production, and IPS is looking to bring in Foreign Service Officers to help.

Tim Kootz discussed IPS’s working relationship with NARA and categorized it as “extremely smooth.” He reported that 845 cubic feet of permanent records are being prepared for shipment to NARA for FY 17. Another 300 cubic feet of Top Secret material will be proposed for transfer in Q1 FY 18.

Immerman wondered how the increase in the amount of incoming records affected NARA. David Langbart described the situation as one of a big hose feeding into a small funnel. Better organization at NARA was necessary to ease this problem. Kootz added that accurate paperwork from the transferring agencies was also essential to reduce processing times. Randolph asked about physical space constraints at NARA. Langbart replied that it was a constant challenge; he noted that excluding records that don’t belong in the National Archives required constant scrutiny.

Immerman asked when the 1980 tranche of P-reels was expected. Charlston answered that IPS was aware that the delay was frustrating but assured the Committee that IPS is working towards a solution.

Kootz noted that construction at the Newington Facility was complete. IPS was attempting to make one unadulterated master set of their microfilm holdings, but did not know when the transfer would occur. He added that it was a large burden on State at Newington to hold these records as they were mandated to respond to all reference requests.

Immerman asked about the decision for IPS to consolidate responsibility for all mandatory reviews within the Systematic Review Program (SRP). Charlston answered that this decision had been formalized just before the last HAC meeting. He stated that the decision to place all declassification review within his SRP Division was also an opportunity to analyze their entire process and obtain better results by being better organized.

Peterson asked about the Remote Archive Capture (RAC) backlog. Charlston answered that the backlog was 1.4 million pages due to the increase of incoming material and problems they were having obtaining Department of Energy (DOE) clearances for new reviewers. Reducing the volume of unnecessary referrals from NARA would best help unclog the system and reduce the backlog. Reviewers had a tendency to believe that any overseas issue was by definition Department equity. In a perfect world everything referred would require exemptions, but in reality the Department does not need to review about 50% of these documents. This is a training issue first and foremost.

Keri Lewis added that presidential libraries also refer hundreds of cases and thousands of pages that have no State equity.

Dudziak asked about the possibility of an online training program for reviewers. Charlston responded that there were two challenges to overcome: 1) The training would have to be at a TS/SCI level; 2) The Department guidance for the use of automated tools was constantly in flux.

Langbart discussed the improper application of records schedules. He stated that not all agencies conform to them and that some of the records sent to the National Archives have little value. Geyer replied that compilers often worry about finding a lot file relevant to their topic, but discovering it has been destroyed. Immerman expressed concern that with the current lack of resources, NARA was “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Randolph then introduced two reviewers from IPS—Kathy Allegrone and Greg Perett—and stated that they provide a sound foundation for FRUS volumes. Carl Ashley said that the IPS FRUS review team was a “bright spot” in the declassification process and that State’s reviewers often had previous experience within the Department, so the reviewers were familiar with the material, or at least familiar with who in the Department has expertise in the material. He stated Allegrone and Perett both had long careers in the Department.

Allegrone said being a reviewer was her second career, so she could “push the envelope” responsibly with her work. She added she and her colleagues kept abreast of current events that might affect decisions of the desk officers. Their familiarity with the Department’s bureaucracy was of great assistance to her. She remarked that IPS is the only group of reviewers that looks at the FRUS volume in its entirety and thus IPS has the best insight on what FRUS compilers are trying to do. She detailed some of the more challenging volumes that she has worked on throughout the years, and discussed that many times it desk officers who are overly cautious regarding declassification. Allegrone also said knowing when to contact someone’s superior and knowing when to drop an issue was an important part of her job.

Perett stated that he considered himself a historian and noted that he teaches college history. He mentioned he was stationed in Tehran during the revolution and thus became known as the “Iran” guy in his office. He discussed his work on two different volumes covering Iran and related the challenges of working on these volumes. Perett concluded that familiarity of the issues plus knowledge about what is in the public domain has helped him when pushing back against restrictive offices and agencies.

The audience applauded Allegrone and Perett. Immerman thanked the two for their efforts. Rasmussen added that Allegrone had saved one of her volumes. Tudda seconded Rasmussen’s compliment.

Dudziak asked how the IPS reviewers pass down their institutional knowledge and how they go about obtaining expertise from others. Allegrone stated that the office was a “collegial room of people” who worked on a variety of issues other than FRUS, so the knowledge is preserved and exchanged through natural office dynamics. Perett said that there is always someone in the office with area expertise and that IPS reviewers earn expertise through the work that they do.

Sibley asked if IPS looked at the volumes during or after compilation. Allegrone said they looked at the volumes when they were completed (during the declassification process). Howard referred Sibley to a chart and indicated precisely when IPS was involved with declassification.

McMahon asked if Allegrone and Perett were familiar with FRUS before they began working for IPS. Both reviewers said they were. Perett said he used FRUS in his dissertation. McMahon then asked if either of the reviewers had encountered any surprises when reading volumes. Perett said he was surprised about the volume of information available and how much selection had to take place. Immerman stated that Allegrone and Perett were supportive of FRUS (and history in general) and not all agencies have the same priorities. Allegrone (in response to McMahon) added that she found some of her own documents selected for a FRUS volume once and she was surprised to learn of the greater policy narrative surrounding the issue that she had worked on.

Dudziak asked what Allegrone and Perett would say to other offices and agencies that were inflexible regarding declassification. Allegrone said the problem was often the leadership of those offices. McCoyer stated that the decision to declassify a document often hinges on whom the document is referred to, so there can be problems on the lower lever as well. Lewis remarked that there were cultural differences between agencies regarding transparency.

Randolph asked if they had noticed a change in attitude, negative or positive, since the new administration had taken office. Perett said he wasn’t sure and he couldn’t answer that question yet.

Lewis stated that Allegrone and Perett had worked to declassify many documents from the FRUS series and that their efforts should be recognized. The audience gave Allegrone and Perett a round of applause.

A short recess began at 2:20.

National Archives National Declassification Center

Immerman called the session to order at 2:40 p.m. and introduced McIlwain from the National Declassification Center (NDC).

McIlwain began his report by discussing the status of Department of State referrals and stated that 96% of Department referrals had been released. However, he added that the many other agencies were not releasing. Moreover, he noted that while the high release rate of DOS referrals was ‘great,’ it would be better if there were fewer documents to review. He explained that other agencies were not making use of the Department waiver and referring documents that did not need to be referred. McIlwain stated that these unnecessary referrals were problematic. While the release rate was great, he would like to see a reduction in types of referrals. Parenthetically, he announced that a conference would be held in September for 250–300 reviewers to examine reviewing practices, which would include Jeff Charlston and John Powers (NSC).

McIlwain proceeded to update the committee on the review of Department of State P reels. He stated that the DOE had completed its review of P-reels for 1977 and 1978 and expressed hope that work on these could be completed by August and turned over. He added that DOE had also recently completed its review of 1979 P reels and hoped that work on these could be completed by the end of December. McIlwain said he hoped that all P-reels would be done by December and noted that he was confident that this would indeed happen.

McIlwain went on discuss the ways in which reviewers have tried to be responsive to researcher needs. He reported that they were working with researchers requesting 1977 or 1978 P reels, where only part of the collections may be available, on a case-by-case basis. In cases where collections have been exempted, the researcher would have to file a FOIA; in other cases, though, he thought they would be able to get the researcher the individual reels they requested.

McIlwain turned to discussing staffing issues. He announced that NARA research coordinator Pam Jahnke would be retiring shortly. Therefore, for the time being, McIlwain would be the point of contact for arranging classified research. McIlwain went on to say that 9 new archives technicians had been approved for the NDC, as these positions had been approved prior to the federal hiring freeze, and that interviews would take place after clearance and other application particulars had been completed.

Immerman then called for questions before asking McIlwain what an archives technician was. McIlwain responded by describing that it was an entry-level position used by NARA and the NDC, and proceeded to describe the work of an archives technician. He added that he had begun his own career as a technician and expressed his own personal satisfaction with doing that job.

Dudziak asked if the jobs were posted online. McIlwain stated that they were looking for candidates that had the requisite clearances but added that he would let the Committee know when jobs opened up to the public. Dudziak observed that the academic job market was such that graduate students might be interested in the positions. McIlwain noted that the job postings were tweeted out and stated that he would also inform Immerman of openings as they became available.

Immerman asked a further question about the September conference. McIlwain responded by saying that the sessions were still coming together, but that the overall purpose of the event was to educate the entire declassification community on sensitivities in documents for referral with the intention of minimizing unnecessary referrals. The improvement of equity recognition by reviewers was a particular goal; as an example, McIlwain noted that DOE would have a session on identifying RD/FRD information in documents. McIlwain thought that the recent renewal of the (5-year) declassification guidelines meant that this was a particularly opportune moment to hold this conference and repeated that they expected 250–300 reviewers to attend.

Immerman asked if there were any further questions. There were none. The session ended at approximately 2:50 p.m. and David Langbart’s report immediately followed.

Research Services

David Langbart began his report by following-up on two items from the previous Committee meeting. First, regarding the issue of attendees of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) who plan to visit the National Archives this week and next, Langbart thanked Mary Dudziak for working with NARA to prepare some “Know Before You Go” guidance. Visits by SHAFR researchers coincided with three other large groups converging on the Archives this week. Based on results to date, at least some of the SHAFR attendees made use of the guidance. Langbart hoped to make such information a regular form of cooperation between the Archives and SHAFR.

Langbart also noted that at he had discussed the Research Services intern program with the Committee at the previous meeting, and confirmed that the Archives had acquired several interns for the summer.

The second follow-up topic, Langbart noted, constituted the digitization of the primary Department of State files on World War I, the so-called “World War I file” in the Central Decimal File, the Inquiry Documents, and the main series of records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace. Langbart reported those records are now all online. NARA staff had posted three items to NARA’s TextMessage blog highlighting the records.

Moving to other items, Langbart reported that accessioning of foreign affairs records continued. Meghan Ryan Guthorn coordinated the accessioning of 2 transfers in RG 84, totaling 11cubic feet. A larger volume arrived, but accessioning is not yet complete. In addition, the major FY 2017 processing project, covering USIA records, is substantially complete, resulting in 204 newly processed series, totaling 1750 cubic feet, accretions to 5 series of records, and description-only work on 6 records series.

Turning to reference responses, Langbart reported that from October 1, 2016, through May 31, 2017, Archives II Reference Branch personnel had completed 7499 reference inquiries and received about 59,000 visitors. No additional reference personnel had been approved for Archives II.

Some of the more amusing inquiries the staff received included a request for U.S. Government documents covering Chinese interactions with countries in the Arabian Peninsula from the 7th through the 16th centuries and a request for CIA records from the period 1913–1922, “after J. Edgar Hoover founded the organization.”

Finally, Langbart reported that the Finding Aids Project continues apace. Thus far in FY 2017, NARA has assigned 575 record groups and collections of donated material. Of those, 493 are complete. Staff continues to note and update finding aids that exist on NARA’s electronic platforms. The next phase involves inventorying and updating the paper finding aids. Interns provide tremendous assistance in this work. In exchange, they receive credit in the School of Professional Development, and exposure to the Archives.

Closed Session, June 20

Presentation and Discussion on Current Office Research and Annotation

Immerman called the session to order at 9:30 a.m., and Howard introduced David Zierler.

Zierler discussed his work on the recent compilation, Foreign Relations, 1981‒1988, Volume XXIII, Iran-Contra Affair, 1985‒1988, outlining the central themes that emerged during his research and his observations regarding key topics in the volume. He then answered several research questions.

The Committee then adjourned.