Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation March 1, 2021
- Richard Immerman, Chairman
- Mary Dudziak
- James Goldgeier
- Kristin Hoganson
- William Inboden
- Adriane Lentz-Smith
- Melani McAlister
Office of the Historian
- Kristin Ahlberg
- Carl Ashley
- Margaret Ball
- Forrest Barnum
- Sara Berndt
- Josh Botts
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Thomas Faith
- David Geyer
- Renée Goings
- Charles Hawley
- Kerry Hite
- Adam Howard
- Aiyaz Husain
- Virginia Kinniburgh
- William McAllister
- Michael McCoyer
- Christopher Morrison
- Mircea Munteanu
- David Nickles
- Zury Palencia
- 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
- Jeff Charlston
- Corynne Gerow
- Timothy Kootz
- Eric Stein
- Susan Weetman
National Archives and Records Administration
- Cathleen Brennan
- Robert Fahs
- Beth Fidler
- David Langbart
- John Powers
- Amy Reytar
Department of Defense
- John D. Smith
- Over 25 members of the public
Open Session, March 1
Approval of the Record
Richard Immerman, Chair of the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC), opened the meeting by welcoming the newest HAC member, Kristin Hoganson (Organization of American Historians). The HAC, he said, is still waiting on the security clearances of two other appointed members before it will be at full membership. Immerman next expressed his appreciation to the leadership of the Office of the Historian (OH) for keeping the office functioning despite the restraints of telework and limited office access during the pandemic. Immerman next asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the previous HAC meeting in December 2020. Adriane Lentz-Smith made the motion to approve, which Mary Dudziak seconded. The HAC approved the minutes without dissent or amendment.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Adam Howard followed Immerman and gave an update on the status of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) Series. He began by noting that the Department of Defense (DoD) has made great progress in addressing the backlog of FRUS referral volumes in the declassification process. He deferred to J.D. Smith to provide specifics of the progress made later in the meeting. He then reported that since the December 2020 HAC meeting, OH published two FRUS volumes: Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume E–15, Part 2, Documents on Western Europe, 1973–1976, Second, Revised Edition and Foreign Relations, 1980–1988, Volume IV, Soviet Union, January 1983–March 1985. Howard stated that the Western Europe volume is a revised edition of a compilation volume, which includes a new chapter on Italy. The volume was originally published in 2014, but OH and the HAC decided to withhold the Italy chapter for not meeting the “thorough, accurate and reliable” standard. This was due to the omission of significant documentation regarding U.S.-Italy relations, which had not been declassified at that time. With the assistance of senior FSI leadership (Ambassadors Daniel Smith and Julieta Valls Noyes), OH was able to get the documentation subsequently declassified so that a more comprehensive edition could be released. Howard then turned to the second recently published volume. He noted that the Soviet Union volume is the final volume of four Reagan Soviet Union volumes. This latest volume has already received significant media coverage (Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Slate) because of its inclusion of newly released documents, including documents about the Able Archer exercise in 1983: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/02/able-archer-nuclear-war-reagan.html; https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-opinion-soviet-cold-war-scare-daalder-20210225-psjprfracfg7vcbc4poe4ef3eu-story.html; and https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/soviet-nuclear-war-able-archer/2021/02/17/711fa9e2-7166-11eb-93be-c10813e358a2_story.html.
Report by the General Editor
Once Howard had concluded, FRUS General Editor Kathleen Rasmussen gave her report. She began by also commending DoD on their excellent work reducing the FRUS declassification backlog. Rasmussen stressed the quality of the DoD responses to the referrals, which she described as detailed and not simply blanket denials of documents in their entirety. DoD had endeavored to release documents that are as complete as possible with careful excisions of only information that is of concern to national security. She expressed her gratitude to DoD for great communication with OH leadership and staff. Rasmussen also thanked OH’s Chris Tudda for being the point of contact between OH and DoD for this communication. She then followed up on Howard’s discussion of the two recently published FRUS volumes on Western Europe and the Soviet Union. She noted that the new documentation about Italy included in the Western Europe volume focuses on U.S. Government concerns about Italy’s political and economic stability. The documents include memoranda of conversation between Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford with Italian leaders, as well as various official U.S. analyses of development in Italian politics and its economy. Rasmussen stated that it took fourteen years to get these Italy documents declassified and published. She thanked OH’s Carl Ashley, Mandy Chalou, Tom Faith, Michael McCoyer, Matt Regan, Amanda Ross, Chris Tudda, Ted Keefer, Erin Mahan, Luke Smith and Susan Weetman, as well as Ambassadors Smith and Noyes, for all their hard work to get the volume published. Turning to the Soviet Union volume, she thanked Elizabeth Charles, the volume compiler, as well as Ashley, Chalou, Stephanie Eckroth, David Geyer, Kerry Hite, Ross, Tudda and Joe Wicentowski. She described the volume, which begins with a January 19, 1983, memorandum from Secretary of State George Shultz to President Ronald Reagan and includes documents related to the shooting down by the Soviets of Korean Airline Flight 007, the Able Archer Exercise, and the ascension of Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet Union leader in 1985. She added that beyond the four Soviet Union volumes now published for the Reagan subseries, OH plans to publish by the next HAC meeting in June a volume on U.S.-Soviet Union START Treaty negotiations, as well as another installment of the FRUS microfiche digitization project (volumes from the Kennedy subseries).
After Rasmussen finished her report, Immerman thanked OH for getting these new volumes published, especially the one on Western Europe after many years of delay. Immerman next invited J.D. Smith to give the DoD quarterly update.
Report from the Department of Defense
J.D. Smith thanked the HAC members for the opportunity to present a status update on the progress of the DoD FRUS Program. He also thanked the Department of State Office of the Historian Staff for the kind words in regards to the hard work and dedication of the DoD FRUS Team as well as their remarks regarding DoD improvements made in timeliness and quality of review. He said he could not comment on the status of the Congressionally mandated report on DoD declassification, other than that the report is currently making its way through the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security authorization process for release to Congress. He stated when RDD assumed responsibility on July 30th, 2020, the DoD FRUS Program contained 19 open volumes, comprised of 1,250 documents, totaling 5,725 pages for response to the Department of State Office of the Historian. He explained that prior to the program’s transition to RDD, the RDD team developed processing and program strategies which included a plan of action framework, with ideas and innovations pre-planned for the program’s transition and put them immediately into action on Day 1. Seven months later 1,022 documents, about 82% of the total document load had received final DoD determinations and have been provided to Department of State Office of the Historian. Smith said that 76% of the documents reviewed received full release decisions whereas 24% received partial release determinations. Smith stated the DoD team took great care in rendering determinations and when a partial release determination was made, the redactions were surgical and precise, rather than denying documents in full. Smith remarked around 82% of appeal documents have been processed and that 225 documents, or only 18% percent of the overall FRUS backload remains. He added there was 0% percent loss in DoD’s efficiency due to the pandemic, as the DoD FRUS Team has continued working on-site since its onset.
Immerman praised Smith and the DoD FRUS Program for their progress and efforts in reducing the DoD backlog, in addition to his agenda and program update.
Report from the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS)
Eric Stein took the floor and stated that their presentation would address three topics the HAC had requested more information on: the status update on the Department’s revised domestic records disposition schedules, progress on electronic records management, and impacts on systemic review and declassification caused by the pandemic.
Stein noted he recently met with the National Declassification Center’s (NDC) Bill Fischer to discuss some of these issues.
Tim Kootz delivered a presentation covering the first two topics. He observed that the Department continued to actively collaborate with NARA to update and consolidate its records disposition schedules to align the Department’s records management policies and to prepare to transition to a fully electronic records environment. He noted that NARA approval had been received on roughly one-third of all proposed domestic records disposition schedules and that the remainder were making their way through the stages of the schedule review and approval process. Temporary record disposition schedules are currently being posted in the Federal Register. NARA has proposed a rule that will require agencies to review all records schedules that are ten or more years old every five years.
Moving to the second topic, Kootz stated the Department was developing and establishing policies to support managing electronic records digitally. He cited the 5 FAM 444 electronic messaging policy as an example of these efforts. The eRecords archive has been expanded to ingest and process all digital native records created in the Department, he noted, further expressing optimism that data analytics and other tools could be deployed through the system to enhance records management and information access compliance. Two billion temporary emails and other data types had been captured in eRecords thus far.
Stein broke in to note that eRecords could be used for FOIA, 25-year reviews, and other records management mandates. He expressed optimism that tools such as AI and machine learning could be used with the eRecords data to make limited resources go further than had heretofore been the case.
Stein moved to the final topic, stating that the pandemic did not have a measurable negative impact on the 25-year declassification review program. The Mandatory Declassification Review program had experienced delays, however no FRUS volumes had been arrested by these setbacks. Since August 2020, he reported, program staff had maintained a limited on-site presence with staff members adhering to Department guidelines for health and safety. Staff had managed nearly 388 MDR requests for a 16.2% backlog reduction. During the pandemic, Stein noted fewer MDR requests had been received. Stein asserted progress had been made on an electronic review system for N and P reels before maximum telework had been resumed last fall and that it would be a priority when conditions permitted. Stein concluded by noting that the overwhelming priority had been and would be employee safety, observing that many employees performing reviews were retired FSOs and others in risk categories during the pandemic.
Immerman thanked Kootz and Stein for their presentation and asked three questions on behalf of himself and the HAC:
—To what extent will OH and other historians be involved with disposition schedules?
—Will IPS make the December 2022 NARA electronic records management deadline? If not, will you ask for an extension?
—Is there enough funding to fulfill the mandate?
Stein briefly noted that IPS welcomed input from historians before Kootz addressed the first question. He noted that IPS was working towards an MOU with OH on disposition schedules, and there was a meeting between the two offices scheduled for this afternoon at which NARA equities and other topics would be discussed. He suggested that historians brought an interesting perspective on how disposition schedules had changed over time, for example, that electronic records schedules are generally broader than those for traditional paper records. Immerman expressed gratitude that these kinds of meetings were taking place.
Stein addressed the second question by suggesting the December 2022 deadline was aggressive and that the pandemic would cause delays. He thanked the HAC for questions about their mandate.
Using that as a segue, Stein demurred on the third question by expressing a desire to not get ahead of the upcoming budget cycle. However, he stated that requests for additional resources would be made in order that IPS’s mandate could be fulfilled. He noted all responsibilities would be fulfilled one way or another but lacking additional resources it would simply take longer.
Kootz observed NARA had posted proposed metadata rules for digital records in the Federal Register for comment and asked historians and interested members of the public to comment on them. Feedback from the HAC would be particularly welcome.
Immerman noted that historical associations such as AHA and SHAFR had become more proactive at recognizing the importance of having members comment on proposed rules and regulations in the Federal Register. Immerman then thanked Stein and Kootz for their remarks and for the detailed briefings and monthly updates they had been providing the HAC. He stressed that he and the HAC were in agreement that the overwhelming priority was staff health and safety during the pandemic.
Report on the Carter Administration's Policy Toward Africa
Rasmussen then introduced OH historians Myra Burton and Louise Woodroofe, who discussed policy development and approaches the Carter administration made to the complicated and varied African continent. Woodroofe compiled the Foreign Relations, 1977–1980 Volume XVII, Parts 1 and 2, on the Horn of Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Burton compiled the Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XVI, on Southern Africa.
During the course of both presentations, several important themes emerged. The Carter administration attempted to deal with African states outside of the traditional Cold War paradigm in several instances. But inevitably, the U.S.-Soviet Cold War competition came back into play and trumped other policies.
Next, Carter’s emphasis on human rights played a role in how the administration approached African states and leaders. In deliberations over policy, and military or economic assistance, human rights considerations sometimes shaped the administration's policies toward African states. But not always.
Perhaps most vital was the recognition that the African continent was not a monolith. Each nation had different goals and approaches in working with the United States. Woodroofe explained the difficulty in developing a cohesive and coherent policy toward a massive continent with different types of governments, with different economic and security needs. This created great complexity in the Carter administration’s development of policy over time.
Sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn
Woodroofe explained that at the outset the Carter administration wanted to demonstrate more interest in Africa than its predecessors and to consider the perspectives of African voices. She structured the Sub-Saharan Africa volume with an opening chapter on the administration’s general Africa policy, then into regional chapters. In the chapter on West Africa, she compared Carter administration policies toward Liberia, a long-time U.S. ally, and Nigeria, the economic powerhouse of this region. In an example of Cold War and human rights considerations, when Samuel Doe overthrew the Tolbert dynasty in Liberia, his new regime committed massive human rights violations. However, the Carter administration chose to continue aid to Liberia, lest this leave an opening for the Soviet Union to gain a foothold in West Africa.
Central African policy had a similar slant. The Carter administration became increasingly irritated with Mobutu, the kleptocratic leader of Zaire, because he continually threatened to turn toward the Soviet camp. Because Mobutu was well placed to funnel weapons to UNITA, the anti-communist group fighting against the Soviet backed government in Angola, the Carter administration overlooked Mobutu’s shortcomings and continued economic and military assistance.
The East Africa chapter focuses primarily on Uganda and its erratic and unstable ruler, Idi Amin. Complicating matters in this country, the U.S. closed its embassy in 1973 and diplomatic communication was via the West German embassy. Amin escalated attacks against the Christian population, including U.S. missionaries, in 1977, causing concern for the Carter administration. Amin was overthrown in 1979 after Uganda’s invasion of Tanzania.
Woodroofe then moved on to the Horn of Africa volume, which she explained warranted its own volume due to the importance of covering the conflict in this region, where the Cold War paradigm again played a major role. Ethiopia, long-time ally of the U.S. under Emperor Haile Selassie, until the leftward revolution led by Mengistu, rejected the U.S. alliance and turned toward Moscow. Somalia, led by Mohammad Siad Barre, resented the new Ethiopian alliance with Moscow and had designs on Ethiopian territory. Siad Barre reached out to the U.S. to turn to their camp which tempted Carter—until Somalia invaded Ethiopia.
For the United States and the Carter administration, much of this was viewed in the context of Havana and Moscow’s actions intervening in Angola. However, two camps emerged within the administration; Brzezinski pushed for stronger response to Soviet involvement in the region, while Vance argued for a quieter approach as to not disrupt the SALT II arms control talks.
Finally, Woodfroofe discussed Carter’s use of covert actions in Africa to achieve U.S. policy goals. The covert actions were designed to undermine Soviet and Cuban presence in Africa.
Burton explained that when Carter took office, a series of events led to a dramatic increase in U.S. involvement in the region of Southern Africa. An on-going civil war in Angola, conflicts in Namibia and Southern Rhodesia, and the apartheid regime in South Africa, as well as South African increased nuclear activity, led the Carter administration to undertake an ambitious agenda to decrease violence and instability in the region.
The administration undertook overt and covert actions to try and demonstrate Angolan dissatisfaction with Cuban and Soviet involvement in the country. In attempts to open a dialogue, Assistant Secretary of State Dick Moose went on a mission to Angola in 1978 to explain the benefits of normalizing relations with the U.S. and the removal of Cuban forces from Angola—to no avail.
Efforts to reach a negotiated settlement on Southern Rhodesia were successful, despite the machinations of Ian Smith to impose an internal settlement that excluded the external nationalists who had been fighting the white minority regime for years. Working in tandem with the United Kingdom, the Carter administration aggressively pursued negotiations with all parties in the conflict. Undeterred, Smith announced the Salisbury Agreement with the internal nationalists in March 1978 and an interim government, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, was established. The Carter administration, however, continued to advocate for an internationally acceptable solution that would include the external nationalists. Despite growing opposition from some members of Congress, who saw an opportunity to lift U.N. sanctions against Rhodesia, Carter refused to accept the results of elections held under the Salisbury Agreement. Still active behind the scenes, the administration assumed a less public role in support of the United Kingdom as they convened the Lancaster House Conference, in which all parties to the Rhodesian conflict participated. Negotiations continued throughout the fall of 1979, resulting in Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
South Africa presented perhaps the greatest set of challenges for the administration with the apartheid regime and increased nuclear activity. South Africa’s frequently opaque nuclear activity and refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty created difficulties for the Carter administration, who wanted assurance the regime was not trying to build a nuclear weapon. The apartheid regime and its suppression of black Africans ran counter to Carter’s human rights policies. However, the Afrikaner regime demonstrated little interest in change—leading Carter to a full policy review of commercial and economic relations with South Africa, a reduction in embassy personnel, and supporting the UN arms embargo.
Following the presentations, Kathy Rasmussen initiated the general discussion by asking Burton and Woodroofe to describe the biggest surprises and challenges they encountered in the process of compiling their volumes on the Carter administration’s foreign policy in Africa.
In reply, Woodroofe noted that while declassification often poses the most significant challenge in FRUS production, the process had proved comparatively smooth for the Sub-Saharan and Horn of Africa volumes. Balancing the volume’s representation of different bureaucratic entities proved more difficult in light of the prolific documentation provided by Paul Henza. The greatest surprise had been the number of covert actions undertaken by the Carter administration. Woodroofe noted that a general perception existed that Republican administrations were more likely to use covert actions, yet the documentation regarding Carter indicated he had made significant use of them.
Burton affirmed Woodroofe’s findings and noted that the sheer number of people involved in multi-country volumes presented a regular challenge in their compilation. As to surprises, Burton described her near disbelief that South Africa believed they could maintain apartheid in the face of obvious U.S. opposition, and that the leaders appeared to move through the stages of grief regarding their relationship with the United States in ways akin to a personal relationship breakup.
Immerman inquired about the historiographic significance of the volumes. Woodroofe pointed to the value of documents in relating historical events, rather than interviews or recollections. She indicated that the pictures of events revealed by the documentation differed from how administration officials would like to recall the period. Noting that she had completed her doctoral dissertation and a book manuscript before accessing the Covert Action documentation, she stated that one thing FRUS covers well are such actions. Burton elaborated on that point, stressing the value of FRUS research in providing access to records that are difficult to locate or that remain classified. Rasmussen concurred, highlighting the value of FRUS annotation in directing readers to other documents or collections of relevance.
Members of the public followed with several questions. Some asked for clarification regarding the previous names for Zimbabwe during the period. Burton explained the different stages in the name shift during the Carter administration. Another question centered on the ability of Carter’s policy to keep the United States out of direct involvement in conflicts on the continent. Both Burton and Woodroofe indicated that with the exception of Angola, the administration largely achieved that end.
Other members of the public inquired about the status of the volumes on Africa under the Reagan administration and were directed to the portion of the Office’s website listing the production status of all forthcoming FRUS volumes. Another member of the public asked what other publications Office historians planned, and Rasmussen explained that while many of the Department historians do publish or speak on historical topics in their capacity as private citizens, they cannot publish or present material related to a particular FRUS volume prior to its publication and availability to the general public.
In response to a member of the public’s question regarding why the Safari Club had not appeared in the volumes, Woodroofe and Rasmussen explained that the reason lay in the fact that the available documents had not risen to the level that the Office usually uses for determining inclusion in a volume: namely, any relevant documents did not appear to correlate directly with decision-making processes.
Asked by a colleague to highlight the most difficult aspect of volume compilation, Woodroofe and Burton explained the difficulty of producing a balanced document selection for volumes of limited space that cover 38–40 countries. Additionally, Burton noted that many volumes are intertwined, covering the same topics and sometimes reasonably indicating inclusion of the same documents. Sorting out who publishes what in which volume can be difficult.
Asked by a member of the public to characterize the Carter administration toward Nigeria—particularly in contrast to the Nixon and Ford administrations, both Woodroofe and Burton indicated that the issues in Nigeria, as with other countries on the African continent, proved more consistent over time and across administrations than one might expect. The differences appeared not so much in policies per se, but in their implementation. The same was true in comparing the Carter and Reagan administrations.
A member of the Committee inquired about the production implications of increasing a volume’s page count, and Rasmussen explained that while nearly every compiler wanted to include more documents in their volume, the physical limitations were only part of the concern. The more significant issues were methodological: the Office, unlike a document archive, does not hold documents. Instead, FRUS volumes are curated collections. Howard expanded on this point, noting that the Office has no declassification authority, and therefore depends upon its interagency partners to review and declassify the documents published in FRUS. Expanding the document limits would drastically increase that burden.
Immerman closed the session by thanking all the presenters and the public attendees.