May 2017

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation May 15, 2017


Committee Members

  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • Susan Perdue
  • Trudy Peterson

Office of the Historian

  • Stephen Randolph, Historian
  • Carl Ashley
  • Mandy Chalou
  • Renée Goings
  • Adam Howard
  • Michael McCoyer
  • James Wilson


  • William Burr
  • Seth Denbo

Open Session, May 15

Report by the Historian

Historian Stephen Randolph welcomed everyone to the meeting and noted the unconventional schedule was due to bureaucratic issues. He opened by giving an overview of Office programs over the past several months. Randolph highlighted the Office’s contributions to the World War I centennial, noting that in May the Office did a special back catalog digital release of 16 Foreign Relations volumes covering the period of the war. He thanked the digital production and editing team for facilitating this special release. The second line of commemoration, which was a narrative history, highlights the role of U.S. diplomats and how the staff at the embassies and the U.S. government helped U.S. citizens in Europe during the war. The first three chapters were published on April 6. Randolph noted that April 6 was one of the most productive days for the Office, as both the quarterly release and the narrative history were digitally published. He went on to explain that further chapters of the WWI history would be published, each covering the major capitals of Europe. The history is set to conclude by leading up to the Rogers Act and the creation of the modern Foreign Service.

Randolph also reported on the Argentina Declassification Project and stated how proud he was of the work of the Office in participating in this initiative. Because of the timing of President Macri’s visit, the only product that was able to be delivered to the President was a collection of documents from this project. The Office contributed documents selected for two chapters of an upcoming FRUS volume on South America. The Office worked very hard on the coordination of clearing all the materials, writing background and guides to the documents, and readying the documents for digital publication. The next release of documents on this project will come in the fall. Trudy Peterson asked if the autumn release is the final release or if more would come. Randolph replied that he believed it would be the last release, minus some material that may come out later due to declassification hold ups.

Randolph also noted that the Office was asked to host a talk on June 21 at the U.S. Diplomacy Center, in conjunction with a former member of the Office, Bradley Coleman. James Wilson and Elizabeth Charles will also take part in the event. Randolph wanted to highlight the importance of using the USDC for talks and conferences, as it is open to the public. Immerman said that the day of the talk falls in between the next HAC meeting and the first day of the SHAFR annual meeting.

Next, Randolph gave an update on the Iran, 1951–1954 volume. He reported that he has so much respect for the leadership of the Public Affairs Bureau, because they continued to raise the issue of the Iran volume to senior leadership through to the end of the last administration. It was decided that the request for publication would be put on hold until the new administration was firmly in place, and that the issue would be raised again in April 2017. Randolph reported that the Office and Bureau have restarted the process to and remain cautiously optimistic about the volume’s release. Immerman asked Randolph to clarify the process for members of the public who might not be familiar with the steps taken. Randolph stated that there were two tracks pursued. Immerman mentioned that the HAC would be happy to talk to leadership at the Department if that would help make the case for publication. Randolph reported that the HAC’s Annual Report was a great help.

Report by the General Editor

General Editor Adam Howard reported that since the December meeting, the Office had verified four volumes, two volumes were submitted into declassification, and two volumes were published. He reported that the Soviet Union volume, compiled by James Wilson, was published at the 28-year line. He stated that he wished every volume could be published within the 30-year timeframe, but since the Office has to rely on so many outside agencies for declassification, it sometimes is not possible to meet the guideline. He went on to say that each of the FRUS divisions are working hard to finish the volumes so that as many can be published at the 30-year line.

Howard went on to discuss the digitization of the legacy volumes, saying that it was one of the most exciting things the Office does. The ability to word search across volumes by terms and key words improves researcher’s usage of the volumes, as searches can be done across volumes and administrations. He stated that the goal for this year is to digitize volumes back to 1900, and that hopefully, barring any budgetary issues, the remainder of the series would be finished in two to three years.

Immerman commented that because of the slowdown in declassification in other agencies that the Office will not be able to make its projected target for 2018. The HAC will have to explain this in the annual report. He asked how everything was going with the CIA and its declassification process and wondered if there was an update. Howard stated that there will be an update at the next HAC meeting. Carl Ashley reported on the volumes verified by the CIA this year and said that the situation isn’t as bleak as it sounds.

Bill Burr asked about the Japan, 1969‒1972 volume, and if it is expected to be published soon. Randolph assured Burr that the volume is finishing up the declassification stage and will be moving into editing soon.

Peterson asked where the Office is on the Reagan subseries and is every volume in process. Howard stated that all the Reagan volumes are being worked on and that no volume is sitting. He noted that the Office has already started working on Bush volumes. Peterson asked which Reagan volumes will be coming out soon. Wilson stated that Global Issues II is scheduled to be published this year, and Chalou added that one or two could come out next year. Randolph praised Alex Poster’s work on the Global Issues II volume, stating that it is a very interesting and important volume.

Peterson also asked for an update on the hiring and staffing vacancies at the CIA. Randolph stated that one of the positions has been filled. He continued that on the declassification front, IPS is doing a wonderful job of carrying the declassifications burdens of FRUS, FOIA, and the Argentina Project. He was also very complimentary of John Powers and his colleagues at the NSC for all of their work.

Immerman stated that the goal of the annual report is to give credit where it is due, but he also wants to explain the fall off in declassification production at the CIA. Randolph said that it is a question of volume, and that the CIA is working on many projects.

Burr asked about the status of the 1980 Department telegrams. Immerman said that he didn’t believe they discussed the 1980 telegrams at the last meeting, but that he thinks the situation is better.

Peterson inquired about NARA funding for RAC scanning at the Reagan Library. Randolph stated that it was still on hold. Immerman commented that there have been collateral issues because of the funding problem and that it now goes beyond not having money to scan documents. He noted that the Carter Library is replacing their current system, and under the new system, documents will eventually be uploaded into CIA’s CREST system. Immerman noted that this was a concern. Wilson asked why Immerman was concerned by this. Immerman replied that the search function on CREST is not the best and that he wished more work could be done on the interface.

Peterson commented that the big problem with this system is provenance. She also mentioned that NARA now has to work on the new system for the Obama administration records. The foundation will be paying for the digitization of the unclassified files, but the classified records will stay in Washington at the Archives. She mentioned that the Obama Presidential Library is the end of the presidential library system as it exists now. Immerman commented that he isn’t clear on how the processing of the classified material will work, especially in regards to storage. Peterson also noted that it is unclear where the hard copies of the unclassified documents will eventually be stored. Randolph noted that the Archives is running out of space. Peterson said that there is still the capacity to expand, but Congress has never approved the funds needed.

The open session adjourned at 10:05 am.

Closed Session, May 15

The committee had a briefing about the Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XI, Iran: Hostage Crisis volume. The committee then discussed the volume.