Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation June 4-5, 2018
- Richard Immerman, Chairman
- Mary Dudziak
- Robert McMahon
- Sue Perdue
- Trudy Peterson
- Katherine Sibley
- Thomas Zeiler
Office of the Historian
- Kristin Ahlberg
- Carl Ashley
- Margaret Ball
- Forrest Barnum
- Sarah Berndt
- Joshua Botts
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- 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
- Alexander 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
- Jeff Charlston
- Amelia Hinson
- Tim Kootz
- Keri Lewis
Central Intelligence Agency
- Steve G.
- Doug R.
- Greg T.
National Archives and Records Administration
- William J. Bosanko, Chief Operating Officer
- Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
- David Castillo, Textual Records Division/Accessioning Section
- David Langbart, Textual Records Division
- Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center
- Amy Reytar, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
- M'Lisa Whitney, National Declassification Center
National Security Council
- John Powers
- Greg Koch
- Lee White
- Seth Denbo
Open Session, June 4
Approval of the Record
Chairman Richard Immerman welcomed everyone to the open session of the HAC and moved for the adoption of the previous meeting’s minutes. Robert McMahon proffered a second and the motion was approved unanimously.
Immerman then spoke to recent efforts to refresh the membership of the HAC. After considerable discussion within the Committee and with Assistant Secretary Giuda, a plan was agreed to which would see three current members replaced each year over the next three years, effecting a complete turnover in the composition of the body; the first batch of new members would be in place in time for the December meeting. Immerman noted that Assistant Secretary Giuda professed not to know the cause of the difficulties with HAC membership under Secretary of State Tillerson.
Robert McMahon took the floor, recalling that he had mentioned to Assistant Secretary Giuda at the previous meeting his concerns about possible politicization of appointments to the committee. He indicated the answers to these queries were to him unsatisfying and that he was tendering his resignation from the Committee, effective following the Tuesday session. McMahon expressed confidence that SHAFR would provide capable new nominees to accede to his position who would carry on the work of the Committee. McMahon asserted his resignation was a marker to demonstrate concern about possible politicization of the HAC. He had concluded the non-renewal of HAC member terms showed this to be the case.
Report by the Acting Co-Directors
Renée Goings offered both her personal thanks and the gratitude of the Office for McMahon’s service, highlighting his long and distinguished tenure. General Editor Adam Howard concurred with Goings’s remarks and noted his long professional and personal association with McMahon.
Goings then observed that those present should take no offense at Assistant Secretary Giuda’s absence from the Open Session. The Assistant Secretary had attended an informal morning session with the Committee which allowed her to have a more candid and vigorous discussion with the members than would otherwise be possible given her schedule. Goings said Assistant Secretary Giuda had expressed a great knowledge of and respect for the HAC and the Office at the morning meeting and in their other interactions. Goings said that her optimism concerning the procurement of a new office director at the last meeting had been misplaced as a hiring action had been posted within the Department, per the hiring rules operative at that time, which yielded no applicants. The Bureau of Public Affairs, stated Goings, was fully behind the Office’s efforts to secure a new director and a new hiring action would hopefully be posted as soon as was bureaucratically feasible. Goings concluded by soliciting feedback from the open session on the Office, of which there was none.
Howard began his report on the status of the FRUS series by noting that since the last HAC meeting two volumes had been passed into declassification and one into verification. He lauded the continuing digitization of the FRUS back catalogue into an accessible and easily searchable format, as fifteen volumes covering 1874–1887 had just been released on history.state.gov, bringing the number of available volumes to four-hundred ninety-seven. Twenty-five volumes remain to be digitized, and were projected for completion by the end of the year.
Howard then addressed a recent publication noting that it was unusual to incorporate documents into a volume after it had been completed. A researcher had found notes in the Reagan Library created by Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis during the Carter-era Camp David meetings and given the importance of these records, coupled with the fact the print version of the relevant volume had not yet been produced, a revised second edition of the Arab-Israeli Dispute, August 1978–December 1980, volume had been created interpolating the Lewis notes.
Immerman opened the floor for comments; none were forthcoming.
Report on PA/HO Digital Initiative – The Administrative Timeline
Immerman invited Thomas Faith to deliver remarks about the new Administrative Timeline of the Department of State feature on the website of the Office of the Historian.
Faith noted that the Administrative Timeline is an annotated timeline that highlights principal events concerning the Department’s administration from 1789 through 2017. Former historian Evan Duncan began to compile the Administrative Timeline in 2006 and Faith has collected and edited Duncan’s contributions for web publication. The events and annotations are derived from a variety of public documents including the Federal Register, U.S. Statutes at Large, Executive Orders, Departmental Order, and Department periodicals such as the Bulletin and State Magazine. The Administrative Timeline focuses on the establishment of new offices and changes in organization and will be maintained along with the other Office of the Historian website resources on Department history, including: the Principal Officers and Chiefs of Mission database; Travels Abroad of the Secretary of State, Travels Abroad of the President; and the Recognitions and Relations database. There are multiple notable themes apparent within the timeline, including the shape of the Department’s bureaucracy with regional and functional offices created and eliminated, changes in technology and communication, evolution of personnel policies, workplace equality, and professionalization, information and personnel security, and the management of passports. Faith concluded by noting that improvements regarding search functions are ongoing and that the current plan is to update the timeline annually.
Dudziak suggested that additional hyperlinks be added to other resources on the website as well as an additional sentence describing the Secretary of State timeline.
Immerman requested that Faith contribute an essay to Passport, the newsletter of the Society for the History of American Foreign Relations, about the Administrative Timeline. Faith remarked that this was a sound suggestion and that the timeline serves as a “window to the website.”
Immerman next returned to his earlier remarks about the membership of the HAC, noting that Assistant Secretary Giuda has learned much about the Office of the Historian and the HAC and understands its mission and that “we are emphasizing how to move forward.”
Peterson asked Howard to discuss the public attention recently garnered about an already published 1974 document regarding political executions in Brazil. Howard noted that this was an example of the growing “fanbase for the series” and, because the document in question was an intelligence document, “the good interagency relationships” that led to its declassification and publication. Howard concluded by asserting that FRUS was an essential aspect of “good public diplomacy.”
The Open Session concluded.
Closed Session, June 4
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Immerman convened the afternoon session at approximately 1:00 p.m.
Richard Immerman opened the session and welcomed William J. Bosanko, NARA’s Chief Operating Officer.
Bosanko briefed the HAC on NARA’s plans to move classified documents from all of the Presidential Libraries to NARA II in order to consolidate declassification.
Bosanko noted that NARA sees the plan as necessary because it is very challenging to appropriately safeguard and declassify the records with the current dispersed model. He argued that consolidation could achieve economies of scale, make the declassification process more effective, and improve services for researchers. Bosanko stated that the plan could improve ties to Executive Branch agencies, build on the success of the National Declassification Center, and facilitate resolution of classification issues that cross administrations. In addition, the Public Interest Declassification Board has recommended that NARA establish a single center for all future classified documents. Bosanko stated that the plan will start in FY 2018 with the older Presidential Libraries, which have small amounts of classified material.
Immerman asked whether NARA II would have room to store the classified materials from the Presidential Libraries. Bosanko noted that the classified records at the Presidential Libraries require about 33,000 cubic feet of storage, that NARA II currently has a total capacity of 2 million cubic feet of storage. NARA II will be able to add another 70,000 cubic feet by adding shelves, which is cost-effective. This means that NARA II will be able to handle the materials through the Obama and Trump administrations.
Immerman asked if some records now stored at Archives II will be moved to regional facilities. Bosanko stated that it was routine to move some records from NARA II but they should not affect the types of records relevant to foreign relations that FRUS researchers use.
Howard asked about the archivists who work at the Presidential Libraries. Bosanko stated that almost all of them would remain at their current locations. Once the records from each library have been declassified, they will be sent back. Bosanko stated that the new system will push systematic declassification review through the NDC, which will process material more quickly, reducing the need for FOIA and MDR requests.
Howard asked about access to records for FRUS researchers. Bosanko stated that the changes should work well for FRUS, since the records will be on one location at NARA II and there will be some archivists there who will be able to help FRUS researchers.
Dudziak stated that the Presidential Libraries have been the key repositories for research on each administration and have offered not only documentation but also expert archivists who provide research guidance. Bosanko replied that archivists and historians shared similar concerns as they all faced new challenges, such as the growth in digital records or the Obama Foundation’s decision not to build a document storage facility in Chicago. Bosanko stated that NARA sees the Obama model as the model for future administrations. Bosanko also noted that, under the current law, it was up to each administration to decide on plans for presidential libraries, and the uncertainty of two models as options makes it hard for NARA to plan.
Sibley asked what would happen to the older Presidential Libraries. Bosanko stated that the classified materials would be moved, but that almost all of the archivists would stay in place. The new plan will allow more archivists to work on processing instead of safeguarding and declassification.
Howard asked about archivists who could help researchers who work on presidential records at Archives II. Bosanko said that some archivists from Presidential Libraries would be able to move to Washington if they wish. If none of them choose to move, the staff in Washington will learn to guide researchers and would be informed by staff in the Libraries. The main subject matter experts (SMEs) for each administration will remain at the Presidential Libraries. Myra Burton asked about research access for FRUS historians. Bosanko stated that he anticipated that NARA II would be able to facilitate greater research access as more FRUS historians begin to work at NARA II.
Immerman, who noted that the HAC would need to brief the historical organizations about the new plans, asked how he could respond to concerns that, in the name of efficiency, NARA and the Presidential Libraries were losing SMEs. Bosanko stated that the losses had been going on for 25 years as the volume of records had increased while staffing available for this had fallen. NARA has tried, with limited success, to address these losses by transferring knowledge to new archivists. Still it would be impossible to truly address the loss of the SMEs without budget increases.
Nathaniel Smith asked whether the documents scanned for the Obama administration would include full metadata. Bosanko stated that the scanning program was being designed with users in mind and that metadata required by NARA would be captured.
Immerman suggested that Bosanko set up meetings with other historical organizations to bring them into the conversation. Bosanko indicated openness to further dialog but commented that that in his experience some historical organizations struggled with identifying who might speak for them. Dudziak, who mentioned that solutions to the challenges NARA faced could require both changes in law and budget decisions, suggested that NARA might establish a task force on the future of the archives, or an advisory board, that could contribute ideas and build support for NARA’s future.
Immerman thanked Bosanko for informing the HAC about NARA’s plans, requested that each HAC member should update its constituents, and asked Bosanko for concrete progress reports on the consolidation of classified materials and processing of the Obama administration materials.
Jeff Charlston of the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) stated that IPS was in the midst of change. The hiring freeze has been lifted, but authorized staffing levels are now set at a lower level even as the volume of work is increasing. IPS is therefore reorganizing.
Charlston reported that in the last quarter IPS reviewed 265 cubic feet of records and reduced their MDR backlog by 63%. IPS also reviewed two new FRUS volumes, finished the Argentina declassification project, and verified another FRUS volume. He also reported that IPS was starting review of the N and P reels from 1980 onward. Because of the reels’ deteriorating condition, IPS is reviewing them on a “first fail” basis—i.e., the reviewer will flag the entire reel once they have identified a single equity from another agency. Charlston declared that this is the best IPS could do to get the material cataloged and into proper storage. The alternative is to wait for preservation funding that is never likely to materialize.
Immerman asked about the estimated speed of the review. Charlston replied that they were hoping to review two years’ worth of reels per calendar year, barring further budget cuts and assuming they retained current staffing.
David Langbart of NARA noted that this was not consistent with the Department’s commitment to NARA to provide a public use version of the documents on the P-Reels. Charlston asserted that this action is simply recognizing reality. Langbart notes that preservation of these records is the responsibility of the Department.
Tim Kootz of IPS said that it would cost $4–5 million to process and make a comprehensive review of the material, resources that IPS didn’t have at the moment and probably not for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, no one could access the material. They needed to transfer the material to NARA—having it sit indefinitely in Department custody doesn’t help the public. Charlston also stated that already one out of ten reels could not be deciphered because of their deteriorating condition.
Langbart declared that the “silver” originals were in the very recent past in very good condition. Charlston replied that IPS priority was getting the reels accessible and out the door before they “rot.”
Immerman confessed that the entire saga is confusing and needed to be summarized in some fashion.
McCoyer wondered why the N-reels were being reviewed if the records were duplicated elsewhere. Charlston replied that not every document was duplicated, and not all had been indexed.
National Declassification Center
Don McIlwain stated that currently 350,000 pages that were accessioned in CY 2017 from Department of State record groups (59, 84, 286, 306, etc.) are scheduled for processing in CY 2018. The National Declassification Center (NDC) completed the evaluation of 234,000 pages, 95,000 pages are in evaluation stage, and 6,000 SCI records remain. To date in CY 2018, 44,458 pages of referrals to the Department of State have been processed for the Interagency Referral Center (IRC), with a release rate of just over 95 percent.
McIlwain continued that the “indexing on demand” group has completed 472 projects to date, consisting of 15,240,600 pages with a release rate of just under 80 percent.
The P-reel indexing and final release is complete for 1977–1979, and has passed on to Research Services for processing to make them more user-friendly.
The NDC FOIA team aims to continue to reduce its backlog by at least ten percent. The team thus far has closed six of the ten oldest FOIA cases with three consultations for OSD and one each for DIA and DOE. The NDC is in the process of hiring four archives specialists, two of whom will work on FOIA. The new director position has yet to be posted.
On the FOIA On-site Consultation Pilot Program, Marvin Russell from IPS continues to participate as an on-site consultant, reviewing Dayton Accord tapes and working on the Argentina declassification project.
The NDC FOIA team continues to process materials related to Argentina for a digital collection release. NDC is coordinating with agencies to resolve referrals on other accessioned records related to Argentina, with records found in 25 series from six different agencies.
David Langbart informed the HAC that about 70 cubic feet of records in RG 59, 12 cubic feet in RG 263, and 219 cubic feet in RG 373, 362 cubic feet in RC 457, and 34 cubic feet in RG 490 have been accessioned since the March meeting.
For FY18, the processing of foreign affairs records continues. P-Reel printout processing is complete. The Passport Correspondence project is making progress—more than 75% done and on track to be completed by the end of the fiscal year. Planning for FY 2019 is underway.
Langbart informed that HAC that the Reference staff at Archives II was busy since the beginning of the fiscal year, with about 11,000 queries thus far.
The project for updating the finding aids continues, with work continuing on Record Group by Record Group to determine the most vital entries that need updating box and folder lists.
Langbart asked for recommendations from HAC members, historians in the Office, and from the interested public at large for recommendations on what entries are most important. Ideas can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the reintegration of telegrams into the Central Foreign Policy File, the proposal for posting declassified telegrams online has been approved. While not “the” solution, this project will make full and partially declassified telegrams and telegrams with missing text available on a dedicated webpage. Langbart noted that coordination and cooperation between textual records, electronic records, both part of Research Services, and the National Declassification Center is necessary for this project to proceed. An update will be provided at the August meeting.
A brief discussion occurred, followed by a break in the proceedings.
Closed Session, June 4
The Central Intelligence Agency and the Foreign Relations series
The meeting resumed at 3 p.m.
The session commenced with Richard Immerman thanking the representatives for coming today. He expressed his hope that this meeting would be representative of a good relationship and good communication with the Agency going forward. He then turned it over to the representatives.
Steve G., Doug R., and Greg T., all introduced themselves and their respective positions. Steve then gave a progress report, which he characterized overall as a very positive step for the Agency’s review and response of FRUS volumes which are at various stages of review. He noted that since January, two volumes have been returned to the Department and three additional volumes are forthcoming. He noted that two volumes had recently been verified, and as of today, of the thirteen volumes in question, seven await verification. Greg then reported that under his watch, the review procedure would be undergoing some changes.
Sibley then asked about a particular volume that has been in limbo since November 2015 and Steve responded that a review response was currently in draft. Howard then clarified that the volume in question was actually two. Sibley and Steve then had a brief exchange about the status of several other volumes.
Doug then discussed the need to devote resources to special, targeted review projects such as the recent declassification of documents relating to the JFK assassination and the Tet Offensive, and he pledged that such projects would not sideline regular FRUS review responsibilities. He explained that by tasking a team to focus on FRUS this would move things forward. Doug noted that he had established a production team responsible for all actions to make reviews move more efficiently. Steve interjected that we have already seen positive examples demonstrating that this plan is working.
Immerman then noted that the HAC was looking for assurances that FRUS reviews would always remain a priority. Doug responded that he has gained a better feel for how to align resources accordingly.
Immerman asked about the status several other volumes and received answers about where each was in the process.
In a concluding note, Howard offered a hearty thank you to the representatives for their appearance and for the positive nature of the discussion. He noted that many mistakenly assume that much of the declassification process is theological (i.e., based on substantive differences on what should and should not be released) when in fact it is primarily about establishing open and positive lines of communication. Steve agreed with this sentiment, and invited members of the Office to the Agency for an upcoming meeting on declassification issues.
Jeff Charlston then offered that he has known Steve and Doug for a long time, and he thought they were excellent at what they did and that the Office was lucky to have them as partners.
The session concluded at 3:38 p.m.
Closed Session, June 5
Declassification and the National Security Council
Immerman welcomed John Powers for what would be his last HAC session before returning to ISOO after three years at the NSC. Renée Goings then read a formal resolution into the record expressing gratitude on behalf of the Office: “During his three years at the National Security Council, John has been an untiring champion of transparency and a friend of FRUS. He has been instrumental in gaining positive attention for FRUS declassification at the highest levels of government, and has helped us with innumerable difficult declassification issues. His priorities have always been aligned with the highest interests of the United States: transparency, justice, and truth. He has been an example of the best kind of civil servant: unfailingly kind, extremely dedicated, generous, hardworking, and supportive and respectful of all colleagues.”
Powers thanked the Office for praise and introduced Greg Koch, his deputy, who will be acting director. Powers encouraged the Office to keep up efforts to encourage timely declassification review of FRUS volumes, as well as encouraging collaboration between interagency historical offices when it comes to declassification efforts. He noted that resources are very limited at DOD and they are overwhelmed processing FOIA requests and conducting pre-publication reviews; unfortunately, FRUS is not as high of a priority.
Powers anticipates a new Executive Order on classification, but suggested that the turnover of three national security advisors in a year and a half has not helped. The system has to be modernized in a way that reduces over-classification and leads us toward more automation.
Immerman asked Powers to elaborate on overclassification and automatic declassification. Powers answered that automatic declassification worked well when it was introduced in the late 1990s. Volumes of material were not as significant. The 1999 Kyle-Lott amendment to the Defense Authorization Act had a profound effect on agencies, which stopped managing risk and moved to page-by-page review of all documents. The most recent Executive Order on classification attempted to limit exemptions from automatic declassification, but Powers expects the forthcoming Executive Order to be more precise. A discussion ensued about how different agencies are currently training their employees to better mark material.
Dudziak expressed enthusiasm for greater training at agencies when it comes to classification of material. She also asked about competition for resources among interagency special projects and FRUS. Powers encouraged the Office to think creatively, and pursue cross-collaboration with CIA and DOD history offices.
Howard asked Powers about his new role at ISOO. Powers stated it will be to oversee ISCAP, on which he will be a non-voting member. Also, he will be associate director for classification management, in which role he will work on the new EO on classification matters.
Powers thanked the Office for its hard work on declassification over the years.
The meeting adjourned.