Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation June 6–7, 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
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Thomas Faith
- David Geyer
- Renée Goings
- Charles Hawley
- Kerry Hite
- Adam Howard
- 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
- 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, June 6
Presentation on Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XIX, South Asia
Adam Howard opened the meeting by welcoming the newest member of the HAC, Tim Naftali. He then introduced Kathy Rasmussen who presented Seth Rotramel for a talk on his FRUS volume on South Asia during the Carter administration.
Rotramel noted he could speak for hours on the volume so he would highlight a few key issues given the limited time. He thanked Chris Tudda and Stephanie Eckroth for their declassification and editing work on the volume. He observed that the volume was divided into six compilations, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and a regional section. The India and Pakistan compilations comprised more than half of the total length of the volume.
Rotramel pointed to the December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan as a major turning point for U.S. relations with India and Pakistan. Prior to the invasion, relations with India were good and Pakistan poor, while the situation reversed following the invasion. Carter and Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai had a warm relationship and exchanged long letters, however working level relations were more fraught with the U.S. and India at loggerheads over non-proliferation (NPT) issues. The India compilation contained two major types of documents, letters between Desai and Carter, and memcons of meetings at the embassies in Washington and New Delhi at the working level. The Department and DoD took the lead on NPT issues.
In contrast Carter did not have a warm relationship with Pakistani Prime Minister Bhutto or his eventual replacement General Zia. The NPT negotiations with Pakistan went poorly as the U.S. believed Karachi was using its civilian nuclear program as cover to build up military capabilities. Zia’s coup in 1977 caused a suspension of normal relations as Carter did not wish to legitimize an undemocratic regime, and military sales were also reduced.
Relations with both countries changed with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Zia’s government was willing to oppose the invasion while Indira Gandhi, newly returned to power, refused to condemn the Soviets and hosted Brezhnev for a summit in December 1980. Zia famously rejected military aid in 1980 but support was given covertly in any case.
Rasmussen asked how the volume’s close relationship with the Afghanistan volume for the same period presented challenges and opportunities. Rotramel noted it was complex to have to coordinate closely related volumes but that it had been a fun challenge.
Rasmussen asked Rotramel to discuss how this volume fits in terms of the “organic whole” of the series, in light of the separate volume on Afghanistan for the Carter administration. Rotramel replied that he had worked closely with David Zierler who compiled the Afghanistan volume to ensure they maximized publication of significant documents and avoided duplicate printings.
Members of the Committee then proceeded to ask Rotramel about the volume. Asked to what extent the documentation revealed the extent of U.S. insight into Gandhi’s relationship with the Soviet Union, Rotramel replied that it demonstrated she held the U.S.S.R. at arm’s length. As to the U.S. understanding of Gandhi’s position, Rotramel explained it was clear to officials that Gandhi did not want to alienate the United States, and she evidenced some implied accommodation with U.S. policies.
This was followed with a question about the role of religious freedom and human rights in U.S. relations with India and Pakistan. Rotramel noted the importance of human rights to the Carter administration and stated that to some degree it had a negative impact on relations with Pakistan, but less so with India after Gandhi ended the emergency in January 1977 and the country’s general elections in March of that year. Carter’s good relationship with Desai improved the human rights discussion. U.S. officials urged India to soften its language with regard to Pakistan, where human rights posed a continual issue for the Carter administration, especially after the imposition of martial law following the coup in July 1977. The problem then became what to do with regard to the imprisonment of Bhutto.
Tudda stated that the declassification process for this volume took a bit longer because the use of Pakistan to provide aid to Afghanistan after the U.S.S.R’s invasion of Afghanistan posed issues. That information had already been released, although much of it was in the volume on Afghanistan.
Returning to questions from the Committee, a question was posed on how much relations with other countries in the region were threaded through relations with India and Pakistan. Rotramel affirmed that at the highest levels, those relations were indeed intertwined. While desk officers within the Department focused on country-specific issues and relations, at the higher levels it became difficult to parse those out from the influence of relations with India and Pakistan. Bangladesh proved somewhat of an exception when it joined the UN Security Council during the U.S.S.R’s invasion of Afghanistan, thanks to a relative period of calm in Bangladesh in the 1970s.
Goldgeier asked what Carter’s intentions seemed to be in his correspondence with Desai, and noted the parallel between India’s unwillingness to condemn the U.S.S.R’s invasion of Afghanistan and the country’s current unwillingness to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Rotramel replied that the correspondence between Carter and Desai reflects Carter’s relationship with the Prime Minister as well as his affinity for the country, in part due to his mother’s previous service there in the Peace Corps, as evidenced by the fact that he began to write many of the letters to Desai himself. The administration hoped to convince India and Pakistan to form some sort of organized treaty. Interestingly, officials saw Iran as a key to that process, believing that getting India and Iran to work together and then Pakistan and Iran, might produce such an agreement between India and Pakistan. This is all undermined by the later downturn in U.S.-Iran relations. However, Brzezinski later stated that the improvement in U.S.-India relations was one of the greatest changes in international relations under Carter.
Inboden asked what documents in the volume might be most revealing for scholars and how large a role China played in the relations at the time. Rotramel stated that China’s influence played a big role in the region, and that the Carter administration saw the Pakistan-Iran-India triad as a way to improve U.S. relations with and influence in China. As to key documents, Rotramel indicated that the U.S. negotiators’ efforts to convince Pakistan to come clean about the country’s nuclear program—something the negotiators are well aware of—proved quite interesting.
Naftali asked how afraid Pakistan seemed to be of the U.S.S.R at the time, and whether the U.S. had real reason to believe that the U.S.S.R was looking for a route to the Arabian Sea. Rotramel indicated that the possible questioning of the Durand Line did concern Pakistan after the U.S.S.R invasion of Afghanistan, and that Brzezinski apparently believed the use of Pakistan to reach open water played a role.
Replying to a question regarding document access, research, and concerns about the relocation of documents from presidential libraries, Rotramel noted that while historians may be change-averse, he saw possibilities for improving the research process if the relocation proceeded thoughtfully and kept the researcher in mind. As to his research process, it involved a learning curve: first discerning the library’s organizational structure, the different levels of processing materials, and the different locations of materials within that system. Naftali followed up with the observation that the public may not be aware of the processing issue involved with archived records and that the plan to send all Presidential archival material to the National Declassification Center could mean sending a mountain of unprocessed material. Rotramel replied that yes, Presidential archives were mountains of material and the archivists were effectively processing it with a single shovel.
From the online chat, Wilson read a question as to whether the Carter administration put real pressure or just lip service to attempting pressure Chief Martial Law Administrator (later, President) Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq to commute Bhutto’s sentence. Rotramel indicated that he saw evidence of real pressure including the use of personal, Presidential envoys, and that the U.S. jurists who observed the trial had already published on who and how influence of the High Court proceeded in the case.
Wilson read a question regarding the Pakistani nuclear program and Rotramel thanked Burr and the National Security Archive for their work on the issue. He said Burr’s work had helped him focus his research and aim to bring forward other additional documents on the program.
Wilson then asked what Rotramel thought of the significance of the year 1979 in international relations, noting that historians often point to 1989 for its impact, and Rotramel replied that he thought 1979 a key year due to the number of crises that erupt. He added he had initially thought to teach an entire course at George Washington University on the year 1979.
Michael McCoyer asked how much narcotics came up in U.S.-Pakistan relations, and whether it was drowned out by the other issues. Rotramel replied that narcotics and the drug trade provided a constant drum beat in the background of relations between the countries until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which pushed that and most other issues off the table. He described one instance during Zia’s visit to Washington when the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan learned that one member of the entourage was likely to be carrying heroin, and U.S. officials asked Zia to address the issue before the plane departed, which Zia did. That anecdote ended the discussion, and Rasmussen thanked everyone for their questions.
Approval of the Record
James Goldgeier opened the second half of the open session, asking if there was a motion to approve the minutes for the previous meeting. Such a motion was made, seconded, and the minutes were approved.
Remarks by the Deputy Director of the Foreign Service Institute
Michael Ratney, the Deputy Director of the Foreign Service Institute, welcomed the HAC and highlighted recent FSI initiatives on COVID, the modernization of FRUS production, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA); and OH support for Department programs. McAlister asked about how FSI included DEIA in its training programs, and Ratney noted how FSI had begun to incorporate DEIA across the curriculum and was starting to emphasize how to confront difficult situations. Ratney noted that FSI had an important role in the Department’s DEIA efforts since training touched all personnel. Hoganson asked what FSI could do to help the effort to update OPM’s description of the historian (0170) series in order to make it easier to recruit strong candidates. Goings noted that the effort to revise the 0170 series descriptions is going forward but that it would take some time. In the interim, FSI’s Executive Director had encouraged OH to go ahead and advertise vacancies on the basis of edited position descriptions to see if that approach would be successful. Ratney noted that FSI had its own human resources function to support OH’s hiring.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Adam Howard announced that OH was sending a delegation to the upcoming meeting of the International Committee of Editors of Diplomatic Documents (ICEDD), which would take place in Warsaw. Howard noted that the ICEDD served as a forum at which members could share best practices and that one goal was to encourage more countries to launch programs.
Report by the General Editor
Howard introduced Kathleen Rasmussen, General Editor. Rasmussen described the current status of the office’s work on FRUS as the “new normal” and noted that despite a number of challenges with production issues the office hopes to publish Foundations of Foreign Policy, 1981–1988 this year. Additionally, the Presidential Libraries have reopened, and FRUS researchers are planning to return to the H.W. Bush and Clinton collections. The Department of Defense research cycles should also begin this summer. Research is also proceeding in Department of State digital records and lot files and CIA records. As a general matter of approach, the office continues to focus efforts on volumes that are farthest along in the process. On that front, Rasmussen noted that she had recently completed the second review of the Poland volume for the Reagan administration. Delivering the dozen or so Reagan sub-series volumes that are still being researched, compiled, reviewed, and/or revised into declassification as soon as possible is a major goal.
Goldgeier asked how the ability to access records that are only 20 years old would affect work on the FRUS series. Rasmussen responded that due to the realities of the workflow on a FRUS volume the 20 years is actually about 26 years, which would be around 1996. Facing the delays caused by the pandemic and the interruption of records access due to the transfer of classified records from the Presidential Libraries to the National Declassification Center (NDC), OH has encouraged FRUS compilers to move forward to their next volume if they encounter a roadblock. The new 20-year window of records access can help with that. OH has one Historian currently working on a Clinton volume on the Irish Peace Process and the current problem is that he cannot access the records he needs the most: the classified Clinton documents. Focus right now is on the H.W. Bush classified records. The schedule for shipping all of the classified records from the libraries to the NDC is still not set.
Inboden asked what might delay the Foundations, 1981–88, volume, and Rasmussen stated that she could take that up in the closed session. Inboden and Hoganson asked about the plan to move classified collections from the Presidential Libraries to NARA II, where they would be processed by the NDC. Rasmussen and Don McIlwain responded that the move plans had not been communicated and that it may be possible to restart FRUS research at some of the libraries.
William Burr of the National Security Archive asked when the Department would retire the Department Central Files for the years after 1979. David Langbart from NARA provided an overview of the Department’s central file for the years after 1974, noting that they had been preserved on microfilm. Langbart stated that the Department and NARA feel that they have found a way to retire the records to NARA and make them accessible to researchers in digital form.
Rasmussen recommended an article by Langbart published in the SHAFR Passport newsletter that discussed the background and status of the microfilm reel collections. Langbart added a reference to the NARA website that has an entry on these collections and commented that automation, in many ways, has been a cautionary tale. Myra Burton discussed the challenge of accessing documents on P-reels for FRUS research.
Hoganson raised two questions: 1) will the finding aids for those collections from Presidential Libraries that are transferred to NARA II be different than finding aids prepared in the past; 2) will FRUS volumes get larger as the amount of documentation grows. McIlwain noted that the NDC finding aids are not as detailed at this point and that there are currently mostly box and folder lists. He said that future plans involve more development and refinement but that they currently provide basic intellectual control over the collections. He added that more descriptive, mature finding aids are a goal but that he doesn’t control the resources and could not put a timeline on the process. The NDC goal is to get the documents reviewed and declassified. He predicted that: “my archivist colleagues within the National Archives will later continue to refine the finding aids.”
Rasmussen addressed Hoganson’s second question noting that the page limit for a FRUS volume is 1400 document pages. Rasmussen agreed that over time the relevant records have expanded massively and listed a number of reasons this has happened from the mundane (the proliferation of photocopiers) to the essential (the rise of the United States as a world power). Rasmussen stated: “This has been a problem for a long time now. We are a bunch of professionally trained historians for a reason: we research widely and have to distill them into the proper amount.”
Rasmussen outlined a number of page saving strategies and tools employed by FRUS compilers and editors, including editorial notes and the use of annotation to guide further research. Rasmussen also discussed the evolution of the page limit issue using the microfiche and e-volumes episodes as examples of the limited gains made by significantly lengthening the volumes (both created unsustainable editing, declassification, and publishing delays). Rasmussen concluded by stating: “We will have to increasingly rely on our judgment of the most essential documents, use editorial notes, and annotation to guide other researchers.”
Tudda noted that the office has, occasionally, added entirely new volumes to the original publication plan for a presidential administration when essential subjects are discovered after the original plan was formulated.
Goldgeier concluded the session by thanking Rasmussen and everyone for attending.
Burr added a final written comment in the online forum: “On the matter of the NDC reviewing presidential records, I think it’s a tall order for a staff of six people that is also responsible for FOIAs and MDRs. Unless Congress and the U.S. government make sure that NARA has adequate resources for declassification the huge backlog will only get bigger.”
Goldgeier closed the session after thanking Seth Rotramel for his presentation.
Closed Session, June 6
Report from the National Declassification Center (NDC)
After an introduction by the Historian, William Fischer of the NDC expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to speak to the Committee. He first noted that there were a lot of new faces around the room, then stated that he planned to begin with general updates concerning the NDC and continue with more specific information about their current operations and updates on long-standing issues.
Fischer announced that the NDC resumed full operations in March. Full operations include work on the annual review of records that have been transferred to NARA the previous year, the interagency referral center and the classified research room. They were still trying to work out the slack built up in the system but they were making progress.
According to Fischer, the top priorities of the NDC coming out of the pandemic are the growing backlogs of unprocessed records, the largest being the annual quality assurance review. The NDC was partly created to work through the 350-million-page declassification backlog from the 1990s and early 2000s, and they completed that project in 2013. The current backlog is eight million pages, starting with records received at the end of 2019. The NDC intends to get through those pages this year and Fischer was confident they would do so. There is also a backlog of FOIA and MDR cases as of March. The goal is to reduce the federal backlogs by 10% this year. Fischer noted that FOIA cases inherited from Presidential Libraries are often slower to complete due to the limited archival and initial processing and declassification work done on recently acquired records. Fischer added that the loss of NDC staff during the pandemic is also presenting a challenge.
Goldgeier asked how the NDC prioritized FOIA requests. Fischer replied that the basic policy is “first in, first out.” However, there is now the obstacle of Presidential Library record requests mixed in with FOIA/MDR requests for federal records. NDC was attempting to establish queues for each library to better manage requests and resources. It also depended on who had custody of which presidential records.
Naftali wondered why these cases were not being sent to the Presidential Libraries. Don McIlwain replied that the NDC was working Presidential Library cases since they had custody of some Presidential Library records and were slated to gain custody of many more. Fischer stated that expectations of when the remaining presidential records would be transferred to NARA had changed due to the pandemic. There is no timeline when the remaining Presidential records would resume moving but at present it is considered more advantageous to continue to work these cases at NARA. Fischer added that this issue is currently under discussion by NARA’s senior leadership.
Pearlstein asked if they were waiting for authorization from someone to continue the move or if there were particular “sticking points” holding up consolidation. Fischer replied that NARA leadership was well aware of the problem but it was a matter of balancing priorities and many other issues including: funding; arranging transportation by the USAF; hiring movers; and, the fact that different libraries were at different COVID levels.
Inboden inquired what percentage of material had already been moved. Fischer answered that he didn’t know the percentages but they were preparing to receive approximately 20,000 cubic feet of LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Clinton records. Added to this are electronic systems from Archives I. Fischer declared that the idea behind the consolidation is in part, a resource saving measure to reduce security costs and to achieve efficiencies by having the records onsite at Archives II alongside interagency partners. NDC also has good relationships with agency FOIA and MDR personnel in the area.
Naftali asked if they had essentially created a “mini-Obama” library at NDC. Fischer replied that there was a lot of archival work still to be done on the relatively new Obama and Trump records. They were working on initial processing tasks such as folder title lists to support FOIA and MDR processing. Naftali stated that the Obama Library had seven archivists and he questioned if NDC also had seven archivists assigned to Obama records. Goldgeier asked if NDC archivists were focused on Presidential Library records. Fischer responded that the NDC archivists were very experienced in archival processes but were not subject matter experts.
David Langbart commented that when Jay Bosanko presented to the Committee two years ago, these same questions came up for discussion. Langbart suggested that the Committee peruse the minutes from that meeting.
Fischer had one last item to share concerning presidential records: the digital records system, used through Reagan’s first term. There is an enormous amount of IT documentation that has to be produced to prepare the system for operation, but when it is finally up and running it will be a great resource for researchers. Fischer reiterated that the research room was open by appointment.
Finally, Fischer announced that he had some good news about the “infamous” P and N microfilm reels. The Department digitized the 1980 and 1981 records many years before and NDC has been working closely with the Department to get those years reviewed, into an electronic format, and then transferred to NARA. As of last week, Department reviewer Marvin Russell had completed about 50% of the 1980 review—with a very high release rate.
Report from Research Services
Langbart opened by discussing that it was good to be resuming in-person HAC meetings. He then referred to his read-ahead report and noted some of the highlights. He discussed the re-opening of the NARA reading room, which is gradually returning to a pre-pandemic status.
For researchers, the reading room is not yet opened to full capacity and appointments, which fill up quickly, are still required. While NARA initially limited researchers to one appointment slot at a time, they are now able to reserve unlimited numbers of slots if they are available.
In terms of staffing, employees have not all returned to their prior schedules. Accessioning, processing, cataloging, and digitization have resumed at NARA. Reference, which never stopped during the pandemic, has now resumed in-person. He noted that Chris Naylor had recently taken over for Ann Cummings as head of Research Services.
Goldgeier asked whether there was any prioritization for PhD students or academics in terms of securing research appointments. Langbart responded that everyone was treated equally on a first-come-first-served basis, but that staff is concerned about people making appointments but not keeping them. Pearlstein asked if there was a waitlist that would kick in if people did not keep their appointments. Langbart responded that if people were local, they could call the day of their desired appointment and see if there were any openings. Langbart noted, however, that it was important to make contact in advance of a visit so that they could begin to pull items for research.
Hoganson asked Langbart about the long-term usability and accessibility of digitized documents and his confidence in OH access to presidential documents that may not have been preserved correctly. In terms of preservation, Langbart noted that the current laws and regulations are sufficient but that they only work if people abide by them. NARA has some ability to investigate and pursue misuse of records, but it is not the records police.
Briefing on the Status of the FRUS Series and from the Office of Information Programs and Services (A/GIS/IPS)
Stein began his remarks by providing some general updates to supplement the monthly updates his office provides to the committee. He noted that the OIG report on Department records issues had been completed.
Stein drew attention to challenges associated with overseas record keeping, especially with regard to differences in electronic versus paper records. He said the Department is learning from recent overseas experiences, such as departures from Afghanistan and Ethiopia, which involved shipping boxes of records around and placing them at risk. One aspect of the effort to address these issues is the creation of a new branch unit for “overseas compliance.” Stein noted that the Department also continues to work on the preservation of digital materials. He acknowledged that the Department will not meet the deadline to comply with NARA’s digitization mandate, and cited a lack of funds as the primary reason. Stein said that funding to comply with the mandate has been requested for FY2024, and in the meantime, the Department is working to preserve paper and digital records. The eRecords system is ingesting an enormous amount of material, and his offices have a primary focus on preserving the records that have been created, while also trying to enhance the abilities to search and use what has been captured.
Stein turned to discuss declassification program issues, including some background discussion on the impending move of most records operations to facilities in Charleston, SC. With regard to physical space, Stein explained that records are currently being held and processed in a very overcrowded area. A move to new facilities had been under discussion since 2015–2016, and the upcoming end of the lease for the current facility in 2024 prompted the latest initiative. An analysis showed that improving current facilities in the Washington area to make them more adequate would cost more than building a new facility in Charleston, with modern systems, and proper storage. Regarding personnel, they are moving 58 full time positions to Charleston, and will have space for 150 personnel. While the declassification program is set to move in 2024, however, a small unit focused on FRUS (equal to current numbers) will remain in Washington and work in “hoteling” workspaces.
Naftali asked what level of classified material would be inaccessible through digital systems after the move. Stein responded that digitization challenges and solutions were being worked in an effort to make material available on demand. Hoganson asked about OH access to documents for research and Stein stated that he and Goings recently had begun a dialogue on this, and he assured the offices would devise acceptable solutions before the 2024 move.
Leon asked about the 2024 move of IPS to Charleston and if locations closer to D.C. had been considered. Stein replied that proximity was a concern, but Charleston was the best place fiscally to go, although there could eventually be “hubs” in other places, plus the current building in D.C. was full, expensive to rent, and had a “snake problem.”
Naftali asked how people in a different location would be able to view TS/SCI documents. Stein said IPS is trying to move as much documentation to NARA as it can, and that the aim was to scan as much as possible that remained. Naftali asked if offices retiring records could digitize them before giving them to IPS. Stein replied that was not cost-effective.
Lentz-Smith warned that Charleston had a snake problem, then asked if some of the recruitment could be done at HBCUs. Stein said that Lentz-Smith had made a good suggestion, but that all work at IPS would have to be done on site. Lentz-Smith mentioned there were several HBCUs near Charleston. Hoganson asked what kind of training the new hires would receive and mentioned concerns about recent delays in payments processed through the payroll center in Charleston. She also asked about the risk of flooding and hurricane damage in the context of climate change. Stein answered Hoganson’s question by saying that there are different levels of training for different types of declassification review.
Goldgeier asked what implications the move to Charleston would have on OH. Stein replied that there would be few, if any, implications. Goings stated that many different pathways for remote record viewing existed. Goings informed the HAC that the decision to move IPS had already been made by the seventh floor. She said she had worked to acquire contract vehicles that would improve efficiencies and that these contract vehicles would help modernize OH. She thanked Stein for his help.
Goldgeier thanked Stein for his presentation.