September 2022

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation September 12–13, 2022


Committee Members

  • 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
  • Michelle Guzman
  • Charles Hawley
  • Kerry Hite
  • Adam Howard
  • Virginia Kinniburgh
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Brad Morith
  • Christopher Morrison
  • Mircea Munteanu
  • David Nickles
  • Paul Pitman
  • Alexander Poster
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Matthew Regan
  • Amanda Ross
  • Seth Rotramel
  • Daniel Rubin
  • Ashley Schofield
  • 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
  • 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, September 12

Presentation on Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXVI, Arms Control and Nonproliferation

Adam Howard opened the meeting by introducing Kathy Rasmussen who presented Chris Tudda for a talk on his FRUS volume on Arms Control during the Carter administration.

Tudda opened his presentation by explaining this Carter volume contained 501 documents, was 1230+ pages, and dealt with numerous topics covering: conventional arms control negotiations, nuclear non-proliferation, anti-satellite weapons (ASAT), chemical and biological weapons, comprehensive test ban, and a chapter on the 1978 United Nations Special Session on Disarmament. Because of the volume's breadth, he chose to focus on a few specific topics for the presentation, with the goal of explaining how Cold War realities caused Carter to shift from his idealism and human rights focused agenda toward a more “hawkish” foreign policy.

Tudda explained that upon taking office, Carter focused on human rights policies and pushed back against the realist policies of Nixon and Kissinger. Carter was critical of foreign arms sales under Nixon and Kissinger to authoritarian, dictatorial regimes who received weapons because they were staunchly anti-communist. In May 1977 at an address at Notre Dame, Carter stated that the U.S. needed to get over its “inordinate fear of communism.” While initially, Carter pushed for more idealist foreign policy goals related to human rights, Tudda examined how realist concerns from allies and some within his administration regarding potential Soviet expansionism trumped Carter’s idealist policy on human rights over the course of the administration. Allies reported concerns to ambassadors that halting arms sales could leave a door open for the Soviets and they urged for policy changes. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski influenced Carter’s thinking on these issues, and he eventually shifted some policies to fit with the realities of the global situation and to stifle Soviet influence.

Tudda then discussed how nuclear reactor sales, for primarily peaceful energy uses, was another area of concern for Carter upon entering office. As a nuclear engineer, Carter understood that reactor fuel purchased for peaceful purposes could be repurposed. For these reasons, the Carter administration adopted stringent policies regarding nuclear safeguards, domestic reprocessing of nuclear fuel, and the export of nuclear technology, and encouraged both allies and adversaries to limit peaceful nuclear energy exploration. This caused tensions with several close allies, namely Japan, France, and West Germany. With the energy crisis in the 1970s Japan turned toward nuclear power to reduce its reliance on foreign sources of oil. West Germany agreed to sell Brazil a nuclear reactor and plutonium in 1975, and Carter tried to convince West Germany to abrogate the sale. Argentina’s nuclear program was another concern. Tudda explained that “Given that Argentina and Brazil were run by military dictatorships, Carter reluctantly realized that his attempts to promote human rights and foster non-proliferation could not coexist because his administration could not use the withholding of arms sales as leverage to change allies’ internal behavior.” Instead, Carter worked through the International Atomic Energy Agency to promote non-proliferation, with mixed results.

Finally, verification issues plagued the U.S.-Soviet relationship, and impacted not only nuclear arms negotiations, but also ASAT, militarization of space, and even chemical and biological weapons talks. Tudda aptly pointed out how these issues, negotiated in different fora and at different times, were related to the bigger issues of verification and ultimately trust. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and Brzezinski were skeptical of the benefits of new arms control agreements with the Soviets, and the DoD and JCS did not want to agree to anything that would restrict ASAT development and testing. But Carter and Secretary of State Vance pushed for arms control agreements, demonstrating a split in the administration.

Carter personally approved the Soviets’ right to use telemetry encryption, which meant the United States could not verify Soviet testing – if the tests were encrypted. Brezhnev assured Carter he would not use the encryption, but this did not appease some in the Senate who then moved to block SALT II ratification. There was also evidence that the Soviets violated the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) with a high-yield nuclear test, exceeding the 150-kiloton limit. The TTBT violation and further Soviet high-yield tests, also torpedoed the signing of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The lack of a verification regime in SALT II, coupled with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, meant Carter withdrew the treaty from the ratification process.

In the meantime, the U.S. learned of an anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk, near a suspected Soviet biological weapons research center in April 1979, an apparent violation of the Biological Weapons Convention. With these issues and tensions mounting, Brzezinski argued the Soviets could not be trusted, especially with the examples of Afghanistan, TTBT, verification issues, or chemical and biological weapons. Carter was forced to face this reality, and his policies toward the Soviets followed suit. Tudda concluded that through an examination of the documents in this particular volume, “Carter and his advisors had to moderate their policies, and compromise their principles as they reluctantly decided that a combination of anti-communist ideology, the self-interest of U.S. allies, and Soviet behavior trumped their more idealistic goals.”

Following Tudda’s presentation Rasmussen moderated a general discussion and question and answer session. Questions and comments were taken from those present at the meeting and from those who attended the meeting online.

The first question posed to Tudda was about Carter’s National Security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski and whether or not Carter debated appointing Brzezinski to that role. Although Tudda does not know specifically if there was any debate about Brzezinski’s appointment, he does not think there was much, if any, opposition to Brzezinski. He believed Carter chose Brzezinski as a counterbalance to his choice of Cyrus Vance as Secretary of State. Additionally, Tudda said that Carter, at least during the first two years of his administration, invited a variety of opinions from his cabinet and advisors. Tudda also noted that Brzezinski and Vance shared the same view on arms control. In fact, there was general unanimity between Carter and his advisors, including Brzezinski, that no other country should get nuclear weapons. Brzezinski supported the administration’s foreign policy and that did not really change until the Iran hostage crisis. A meeting attendee added that according to David Rothkopf’s book, Running the World, David Rockefeller introduced Carter to Brzezinski.

The next question addressed the issue of telemetry encryption and Tudda’s comment during his presentation that Carter agreed to permit the Soviets to use this encryption in practice because he thought he could not demand that the Soviet Union, as a sovereign nation, refrain from using certain technologies. Tudda referred the questioner to the FRUS volume on SALT II (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1980). He added that Carter was likely following the thinking of Nixon and Kissinger in trusting the Soviets because the Soviets, at least in terms of strategic arms limitation, wanted the same things as the United States. This, said Tudda, did not go unnoticed by congressional conservatives who thought the SALT II treaty had problems with verification, in part because of this position on telemetry encryption. According to Tudda, this, along with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prevented Congress from finally ratifying the SALT II treaty.

In response to a question about Carter’s human rights advocacy and arms control, Tudda thought that Carter’s policies, as sincere as he was about them, were constrained by the realities of the Cold War and other foreign policy concerns. Tudda gave as an example Carter’s lack of leverage in persuading the Israelis to stop settlement building. He also noted that despite Carter’s speech on May 22, 1977, stating that the United States was moving past its “inordinate” fear of communism, Carter’s foreign policy in response to growing Soviet influence in the Middle East and Africa more closely resembled Eisenhower’s “domino theory” than a new course. Carter, Tudda said, had eventually lost his trust in the Soviets.

When asked why there was so little documentation about nuclear arms and South Asia in his volume and also about his process of document selection, Tudda stressed that there was just too much documentation to include. Because South Asia was covered in a separate FRUS volumes in this subseries, Tudda coordinated with the compiler of that volume so that documentation he was not able to include in his volume would be included in the South Asia volume (Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Vol. XIX, South Asia) He used as examples Pakistan’s concerns over chemical weapons use in Afghanistan and both Pakistan’s and India’s desires to develop nuclear weapons programs. He said that this was also the case for documentation about other countries’ nuclear ambitions, such as those of South Africa. He emphasized that other FRUS volumes from the Carter subseries, including the South Asia and Southern Africa volumes, contained much of this information.

Once Tudda finished answering questions posed by those attending the HAC meeting in-person, he fielded questions from those attending the meeting online.

The first of these questions dealt with Tudda’s consideration of the congressional angle on arms control and nonproliferation, especially given volume size limitations and the FRUS prioritization of Executive branch records. Tudda admitted that there was not much documentation specifically about congressional action in his volume. However, he noted that the FRUS volume on human rights (Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Vol. II, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs) and on South America (Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Vol. XXIV, South America; Latin America Region) had significant documentation about congressional involvement.

In response to a question on Nuclear Intelligence Estimate (NIE) documentation in his volume, Tudda said he include some of this documentation and other intelligence information on nuclear nonproliferation and chemical weapons.

Rasmussen followed up on Tudda’s answers by saying that the FRUS series volumes include congressional records when it is warranted, but stressed that the focus of the FRUS series is on Executive Branch records. She added that some topics, such as human rights and trade policy, necessitate more attention to congressional records because of Congress’ role in these particular issues.

The general discussion concluded with a brief discussion about the Carter administration’s balance act between a desire to promote the peaceful use of nuclear power as an energy source and the risk that nuclear power may be misapplied or diverted by other countries to develop nuclear weapons programs. As examples Tudda cited concerns Carter officials had regarding West Germany’s attempt to sell a nuclear power plant to Brazil and France’s efforts to sell nuclear technology to India.

Approval of the Record

HAC Chairman James Goldgeier asked if there is a motion to approve the minutes of the June session of the Advisory Committee. Kristin Hoganson noted that she would like an edit to the minutes from the last session to better represent her comments. Deborah Perlstein made a motion that the minutes be approved subject to the edits requested being made. The motion was seconded and then approved by the Committee.

Remarks by the Director of the Foreign Service Institute

Adam Howard welcomed Ambassador Joan Polaschik, Director of the Foreign Service Institute to the meeting. Ambassador Polaschik noted the important role the Office of the Historian plays in the Department of State community as a whole and in the FSI community in particular. She noted that the new hybrid (in person/online) format OH adopted for the public sessions of the HAC meetings allows for more transparency and reach and that, just as the HAC recommended at the last session, this new format is here to stay.

Ambassador Polaschik then provided additional responses to the recommendations the Committee made at the last meeting. On the issue of the High Level Panel (HLP) backlog of volumes, she noted that the Department leadership is fully supportive of the efforts OH is making to find a working solution with CIA and the White House. She also noted that the office is working to schedule a joint meeting of the Historical Advisory Committee and the CIA’s own advisory panel, hopefully before the end of the calendar year.

Ambassador Polaschik reported to the HAC that OH and FSI were able to address another outstanding issue noted at the last meeting, namely the number of vacancies in the office. The Office of the Historian was able to hire eight highly qualified historians that are scheduled to start as soon as they receive the necessary clearances. Lastly, she reported on the fact that FSI and OH are supporting the delay of the move of Department records to Charleston, SC, but that she will defer to A Bureau on the issue.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Adam Howard provided a report on three separate activities undertaken by the Office of the Historian. First, the Office supported a Department-wide effort led by the Department of State’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility related to the Juneteenth national holiday. Tiffany Cabrera and Kristin Ahlberg authored and published an in-memoriam article in STATE magazine on Madeleine Albright. Lastly, he noted that historians from the office attended the 2022 International Congress of Editors of Diplomatic Documents organized by the Polish Institute for International Affairs. The Congress, held in Warsaw, Poland, June 8–10, gathered diplomatic historians and editors from countries around the globe to exchange lessons learned from their own publishing experiences with editing, publishing, and digital challenges. It also provided an opportunity to reassess the current state of scholarship on the Polish Crisis of 1980–1981 and led to the publication of an edited collection of documents from multiple countries covering the events leading to the imposition of martial law in December 1981.

Report by the General Editor

Rasmussen updated the HAC on the status of the series. She noted that of the eight historians that the office was able to hire in the past year, two have already started in the office: one will be working on Economic and fiscal policy; the other joining the declassification branch of the office to help address the backlog. Rasmussen also noted that pandemic restrictions have eased, allowing historians to start going back to research in the presidential libraries for the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations. She thanked the staff at National Archives and Records Administration for their help in DC and at the presidential libraries for making the office’s work possible. Rasmussen also noted that research in the Department of Defense holdings will also restart later this year.

On the publication front, Rasmussen told the HAC that two new Reagan administration volumes have been submitted for declassification and that the easing of pandemic restrictions have allowed the publication of Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Foundations of Foreign Policy volume. A presentation on the volume is scheduled for the December meeting of the HAC.

Hoganson prompted a discussion on the move of documents from the Presidential Libraries to the DC area and what the role of the presidential archivists might be. Goldgeier suggested that the HAC needs to further discuss this issue so that they can clarify what questions they need to ask during upcoming reports on this issue. Naftali asked if there are staffing problems in Washington and suggested that perhaps staff from the libraries could be detailed for short stints to Washington to help the transition and processing of documents.

Responding to the concerns raised by members of the Committee, Don McIlwain noted that the archivists at the Presidential Libraries will continue to help process FOIA and MDR requests and would be central to the reintegration of the documents following declassification in Washington. The ongoing process is one of partnership with NARA staff at the presidential libraries. The move of the George W. Bush files to Washington, McIlwain told the HAC, provided an opportunity to iron out kinks in the process. He noted that NARA II has assigned liaison archivists to interface with the staff at the Presidential libraries to facilitate the transition of the documents and their quick processing. Some of the lessons learned are how to effectively reintegrate declassified documents at the folder level and send them back to the open stacks; how to handle exemptions, and other such issues, which McIlwain described as “in the weeds.” The large processes, he assured the members of the Committee and the members of the public, are working well.

Closed Session, September 12

Report from the National Archives and Records Administration

Jay Bosanko (NARA) was unable to attend the session as scheduled. In lieu of this, the HAC members used the time to discuss a list of written questions to submit to him for his written response.

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

Jeff Charlston of the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) at the Department of State provided comments on the progress his office has been making on their various declassification programs. He presented handouts of Executive Order 13526 as well as their most recent declassification guidance.

IPS is on pace with its 25-year review. They have also recently posted 622 documents on its FOIA reading wall. They continue to prioritize the Foreign Relations Series. Their main backlog as a result of the pandemic is the Mandatory Review program with 1500 pending cases.

Charlston then responded to previously submitted questions from the Advisory Committee.

In a question about procedures and challenges, he explained that procedures and declassification guidance are established in compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements. The FRUS, MDR, FOIA, and the 25-year “automatic” declassification programs all have different declassification procedures.

He stated that the telework environment introduced during the COVID pandemic does present challenges to declassification efforts, but the expanded use of remote work also offers opportunity.

To address the approaching tsunami of digital records, IPS is working to fill positions and leverage technology to perform a greater variety of work at home. They are also initiating an experiment using computer-assisted review for the Department’s cables.

Since the return to all-hands status last spring, IPS has kept pace with FRUS volume review, and has been working on several special projects. These are often initiated at foreign governments request and come from high-level interest. These projects often require the re-direction of staff.

In answer to the question of how declassification review is being impacted by technology, Charlston responded that digitization and risk-sensitive methodologies are the solution to emerging challenges. A decade ago, reviewing over 2 million pages of paper a year with available resources seemed an insurmountable task. In 2014 IPS began prioritizing declassification records review based on risk, and risk-appropriate methodology now allows the same labor force to review nearly 7 million pages yearly. ISOO encouraged all reviewing agencies to adopt the same approach during the pandemic.

In answer to the question as to how to ensure reviewer consistency, Charlston replied that this was a challenge. Technology has standardized review to some extent, and shared declassification guidelines have helped agencies remain on the same page, but these only go so far. It all comes down to training, execution, and process. The majority of IPS reviewers are retired diplomats who are already very experienced when they begin work in the office. Other reviewers may be contractors fresh out of college with diplomatic history backgrounds that need formal training to reach the necessary competency. New reviewers receive assistance from senior reviewers to resolve ambiguities and the office encourages a collegial atmosphere. In the end, declassification review, despite strong quality control methodologies, is both a human exercise and complex, demanding work.

Goldgeier asked why a document reviewed and found to have still-sensitive equities would years later, after re-review, have less redactions or even be released in full. Charlston responded that the risk of harm to national security changes over time and declassification guidance is constantly evolving with it. Reviewers in turn adjust their review to reflect the altered guidance.

Naftali commented that some of the issued guidance is “squishy” – is there another set of guidelines that specifically protects certain issues? Charlston replied that the guidance used by their staff was sometimes not precise, but IPS senior reviewers had a high level of expertise as well as a record of high accuracy. They were also very conversant with contemporary diplomatic issues. If the guidance was too specific it might be at the cost of transparency. Naftali stated that the Department seemed to be particularly sensitive about certain countries. Charlston acknowledged that the office often considers, based on the time period and subject matter, what impact the release of previously classified information might have on relations with a given country in light of its own political environment and security concerns.

Naftali asked what would happen if a confidential source was discovered during a 25-year review. Charlston answered that according to the Executive Order 13526 and National Archives’ practice under the Federal Records Act, the entire document would have to be denied in a 25- or 50-year review. The document would only be redacted in case of a FOIA request or MDR.

Deborah Pearlstein asked if every agency had their own declassification guidance. Charlston replied in the affirmative (for agencies with the authority to exempt information from declassification). Some agencies had several declassification guides, and all are available at the National Declassification Center. Department reviewers are trained to recognize equities from other agencies, but it has been found to be more efficient simply to refer those documents to the originating agency. Pearlstein noted that some of the squishiness was baked into EO 13526. Does IPS have any input into the drafting or revision of the executive order? Charlston answered that IPS had been involved in previous attempts to replace EO 13526 and had recently received notification they would also be part of another upcoming effort to do the same.

Goldgeier closed the session, and the committee went into the Executive Session.

Closed Session, September 13

Briefing on EO 13526

Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Stein gave a briefing to the HAC about the status of E.O. 13526 and the interagency process working on the revisions to the E.O.