March 2022

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation March 7–8, 2022

Minutes

Committee Members

  • James Goldgeier, Chairman
  • Kristin Hoganson
  • William Inboden
  • Adriane Lentz-Smith
  • Sharon Leon
  • Melani McAlister
  • Nancy McGovern
  • 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

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Cathleen Brennan
  • Sean Curry
  • David Langbart
  • Don McIlwain
  • Amy Reytar
  • Mark Sgambettera

Public

  • Over 25 members of the public

Open Session, March 7

Presentation on A Short History of the Foreign Relations Series

Rasmussen introduced Joshua Botts, to present a short history of the FRUS series, as covered in Toward “Thorough, Accurate, and Reliable”: A History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series, available on the Office’s website: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus-history.

Botts provided an overview of the history of the Foreign Relations series focusing on two themes: evolving editorial practices driven by changes in the mission of the series and the development of clearance procedures that reflected policy judgments about how to strike a responsible balance between transparency and security. The presentation drew heavily from the history of the Foreign Relations series published by the Office in 2015.

Rasmussen said she will moderate the discussion and asked for any questions to be sent either orally or typed into the google session. She then said that the office has often discussed the important role that OH historians play in the declassification of the volumes. Could Botts explain that further?

Botts replied that officials in the Department are/have been empowered by the Executive Order to release information. But in the end, the Office of the Historian has the power to decide whether or not a thorough, accurate, and reliable has been produced for a given FRUS volume. Sometimes, the clearance process results in a volume that the Office, or the Advisory Committee, or both, believes has produced a distorted or incomplete record of why an administration made certain decisions or acted in a certain way. The OH historians can therefore validate or not accept the decisions that come from the volume clearance process.

A member of the public asked when FRUS will begin including social media posts, tweets, and the like in volumes?

Rasmussen replied that the Office has begun to discuss the general issue of using such documents—and that OH recognizes that they are documents—but right now the Office is working on the Reagan and H.W. Bush series so those types of records haven’t come up. The Office has had experience in using similar “different” records such as the Nixon Tapes and the Reagan email system and encountered slides and other non-traditional material and knows that we will need to incorporate these new records soon.

Goldgeier asked how professional historians in other agencies compare to those in OH when it comes to the document clearance/declassification process.

Botts said that while he hasn’t researched the other historical offices there have been times when DoD’s historian—in particular Rudy Winnaker—played a key role in the declassification process for FRUS. While DOD has only existed since 1947, it has always had a historian (historians) and Winnaker helped get the Yalta volume through the process. He was not only instrumental in getting OH historians access to DOD documents, but helped get the volume cleared, even though he was aghast at the extent of the documentation proposed for inclusion in the Yalta volume and opposed release of the particular documents at that time. CIA’s historians play a different role: they don’t work on the clearance process but have helped OH historians get access to intelligence and other documentation held by CIA.

Pearlstein mentioned documentation on the Civil War and Yalta that have been released and then reflected that the political leadership often took political considerations into play and wondered how often that occurred later during the Cold War.

Botts replied that political leaders have often used declassification of documents for Cold War ends, but not through FRUS, because the series had already earned a constituency among academics and others who would’ve called foul if the series was used in any kind of a political way. These academics would’ve noticed if something was not included in a FRUS volume and called attention to such omissions publicly if the volume didn’t live up to the series established standards. So they used other documentary collections to do so. For example, the 1949 China White Paper was originally conceived as a FRUS volume, until it became obvious it could never achieve the standard of a FRUS volume. The volume of German documents was originally supposed to be a U.S.-U.K.-U.S.S.R. production, but the Department used the publication of the series as a way to embarrass the Soviet Union during the early Cold War years.

Goldgeier noted that he never realized that Tom Donilon had been an intern in OH even though he’s known him for years. He continued by asking whether FRUS was used in internal policy deliberations within the Department, and between the executive and legislative branches.

Botts replied that for decades, FRUS was the mechanism for how the Department reported to Congress about its activities. There is evidence that Congress used FRUS for its own historical research into foreign policy activities. But as the series became more distant from current events, FRUS became a historical device. But sometimes Congress will ask OH to share documents.

Leon asked about Legislative Committee records and noted that they often remain classified longer than the Executive Branch’s national security documents. Does that interfere with documenting a full history of given events?

Botts answered that Slany—The Historian during the 80s and 90s—had wanted to include more documentation on Congress’s role in the foreign policy making process. But OH realized that such documentation is often included in the Department’s and other Executive Branch Agencies’ collections. These documents have been used in more recent subseries, but he couldn’t recall whether specific Congressionally-produced documents had been included in FRUS.

Rasmussen concurred and said that most Congressional documents are included when they interact with the Executive Branch. FRUS is definitely an Executive Branch product and the search for documents goes outward from the Department to other agencies.

Pearlstein noted that as U.S. foreign policy has expanded geographically and functionally, that she didn’t see many records from the Office of the Legal Advisor (L).

Botts replied that as OH shifted from concentrating on Department documents for FRUS to the White House and other agencies that the series concentrates on the Seventh Floor Principals and the documents they generate. This reflects also how FRUS covers increasingly Washington created foreign policy rather than how Posts had generated policy in previous decades.

Rasmussen said documents from L get into FRUS on a case-by-case basis and she knows she’s printed at least 1 document from the USTR’s legal team.

Geyer wrote that OH’s access to FRUS doesn’t apply to Congressional material but OH has done some limited work in these materials.

Rasmussen thanked Botts and Howard announced a 10-minute break until the next session.

Approval of the Record

At 11:00 a.m., James Goldgeier, Chair of the HAC, opened this portion of the open session by noting HAC member attendance. Five members of the Committee (Kristin Hoganson, Deborah Pearlstein, Sharon Leon, and Melani McAlister) attended in-person and three members (William Inboden, Adriane Lentz-Smith and Nancy McGovern) attended on-line. Goldgeier next moved to vote on approval of minutes from the prior HAC meeting. The motion was seconded and the Committee approved the minutes.

Remarks by the Acting Director of the Foreign Service Institute

Adam Howard followed Goldgeier by introducing Acting Director of the Foreign Service Institute, Ambassador Joan Polaschik. Howard noted that Polaschik is a career Foreign Service Officer and a member of the Senior Foreign Service. She served most of her career in the Middle East and North Africa, served as the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria, and is currently serving as Acting Director of FSI. As part of her welcoming remarks, Polaschik began by noting the hybrid (both in-person and on-line) nature of the meeting and acknowledging the advantages of the format for reaching a wider audience. She provided an update on the OH achievements and work since the prior HAC meeting. Responding to a request by the Department of State’s Bureau of European Affairs, which is leading the policy response to the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, two OH historians are serving on details in support of that effort. Polaschik underscored their important contributions. Additionally, OH has made significant contributions to the Department’s celebration of Black History Month 2022. First, OH cosponsored with the Department’s Operations Center the second annual Ebenezer Bassett lecture on February 23, which focused on the legacy of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. OH historian Melissa Jane Taylor delivered the lecture and Howard gave opening remarks. Polaschik also noted that two other OH historians, Joshua Botts and Mircea Munteanu, co-authored an article about Powell, which will be published in April 2022 issue of State Magazine. She concluded her comments detailing adjustments the Department is making to its COVID mitigation posture as case rates have continued to decline. On February 28, the Department moved to Phase Two, “mission critical and on-site dependent functions” for in-office work. What this means for both FSI and OH is more in-person, on-site work, such as training and collaborative work. For OH specifically, this will mean that more staff will be present to conduct classified work, moving more volumes of the FRUS series forward.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Howard next followed Polaschik with an update on the status of the FRUS Series. Before the update, Howard briefly noted Colin Powell’s longstanding support of OH and the FRUS series. While serving as Secretary of State, Powell frequently turned to OH for historical information and context for Department work. In later years, he remained committed to the work of the Office. As recently as 2019 and early 2020, Powell met with OH historians to discuss his government service during the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations. Howard then addressed recent Congressional legislation that now permits OH historians to access government records that are 20 years old or older; prior to that they were restricted to those 26 years old or older. He added that OH was beginning to assess how this new access will impact the production of the FRUS series.

Report by the General Editor

Once Howard had concluded, FRUS General Editor Kathleen Rasmussen gave her report. She began by stating that the publication of 1981–1988 Foundations of Foreign Policy for the Reagan series was delayed and is now scheduled for publication in 2022. She echoed Polaschik’s announcement about the change in Department work status, which should permit substantial progress on moving FRUS volumes towards completion now that more OH staff will be able to work on-site and with classified materials. She did stress that there remain disruptions beyond OH’s control. In particular, OH progress will depend on the operating status of other agencies and archives. However, she stated that given the material OH has access to and the parts of the process it has under its control she expects to move toward declassification and/or publication all volumes that have been on hold due to the pandemic. Specific attention will be given to those volumes closest to publication. Moreover, Rasmussen indicated that OH will push to bring 12 volumes from the Reagan series that are currently in the research, annotation, review, and revision stages into the declassification process.

General Discussion

After Rasmussen finished her report, Goldgeier opened the session up to general questions once he made the point about the importance of OH’s work to produce a “thorough, accurate, and reliable” account of history in light of Russia President Vladimir Putin’s abuse of history to rationalize Russia’s war on Ukraine. Continuing from a point raised in the previous session about the incorporation of policy makers’ social media content in the FRUS series, HAC member Melani McAlister asked what was likely to be preserved by the U.S. Government. Deputy Director Renée Goings stated that according to her understanding of the Presidential Records Act, social media in the form of Twitter “tweets” and Facebook posts by U.S. Government officials should be preserved. However, she was not certain about the public comments and responses to such records and said that the National Archives is the appropriate agency to answer the question about preserving social media. The next question was about the impact the pandemic has had on the FRUS backlog. Howard responded by noting that any assessment on how much time it would take for OH to make progress on the backlog was impossible at this point as so much was dependent on access to archives controlled by other agencies and their operating status and timeline. Don McIlwain with the National Archives did add that the classified record reading room at the National Archives II facility in College Park, MD, would resume operations next week on a two-days-per-week basis. The unclassified textual records reading room at NARA II has been open on a limited basis (by appointment, Tuesday–Friday) and will remain open. McIlwain referred questions about the operating status of the presidential libraries to the specific libraries because the opening of each one depended on local Covid case levels, a point confirmed by Cathleen Brennan of NARA.

Goldgeier closed the session by thanking Polaschik for attending and asked Howard and Rasmussen for any closing comments. Howard thanked Botts for his presentation on the history of the FRUS series delivered in the opening session. Rasmussen (and Botts) posted a link to an electronic copy of the FRUS history for the attendees’ benefit.

The open session ended at 11:28 a.m.

Closed Session, March 7

Briefing on the Status of the FRUS Series and from the Office of Information Programs and Services (A/GIS/IPS)

Members of OH provided classified briefings to the Committee on the status of the FRUS series and declassification updates. IPS also provided a classified briefing on the declassification of Department records. The meeting adjourned at 5 p.m.

Closed Session, March 8

Briefing on the Status of the FRUS Series

The Office provided a classified briefing to the Committee about the status of High Level Panel issues. The meeting adjourned at noon.