August 2016

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation August 29, 2016


Committee Members

  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • Laura Belmonte
  • Mary Dudziak
  • James McAllister
  • Robert McMahon
  • Susan Perdue
  • Trudy Peterson
  • Katherine Sibley
  • Thomas Zeiler

Office of the Historian

  • Stephen Randolph, Historian
  • Kristin Ahlberg
  • Carl Ashley
  • Margaret Ball
  • Forrest Barnum
  • Sara Berndt
  • Joshua Botts
  • Myra Burton
  • Tiffany Cabrera
  • Seth Center
  • Mandy Chalou
  • Elizabeth Charles
  • Joel Christenson
  • Stephanie Eckroth
  • Thomas Faith
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • Charles Hawley
  • Kerry Hite
  • Adam Howard
  • Aiyaz Husain
  • Aaron Marrs
  • William McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Heather McDaniel
  • Christopher Morrison
  • David Nickles
  • Paul Pitman
  • Alex Poster
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Seth Rotramel
  • Avi Rubin
  • Daniel Rubin
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Chris Tudda
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • James Wilson
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

Bureau of Administration

  • David Adamson
  • Jeff Charlston
  • John Hackett
  • Keri Lewis
  • Marvin Russell

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
  • Ann Cummings, Acting Executive for Research Services
  • Meghan Ryan Guthorn, Textual Records Division/Accessioning Section
  • David Langbart, Textual Records Division
  • John Laster, Office of Presidential Libraries
  • Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center

Central Intelligence Agency

  • FRUS Coordination Team


  • William Burr

Closed Session, August 29

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

The meeting was called to session at 9 a.m. The Historian Stephen Randolph welcomed the CIA FRUS coordinator to the meeting. The Historian and the FRUS coordinator discussed the President’s Daily Briefing (PDB) event that occurred the previous week at the Nixon Presidential Library. The coordinator discussed the delay with the review of several FRUS volumes, mainly which was due to the PDB event and the continued increasing workload and staffing issues. Chairman Richard Immerman asked when the staffing holes would be filled and the coordinator suggested meeting again in December to discuss FRUS at a joint meeting with the CIA Historical Review Panel.

Open Session, August 29

Approval of the Record of the June 2016 Meeting

Chairman Richard Immerman opened the session at 11:05 a.m. and the committee approved the minutes from the June meeting.

Remarks by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

Randolph welcomed PDAS Susan Stevenson who said that Kirby had just returned from a 10-day trip with Kerry. She welcomed the Committee and said she was happy to hear their advice and input. She also praised the recent upload of 20 legacy volumes from the 1930s to the Office website.

Regarding the Iran Retrospective FRUS volume, Stevenson said that Kerry has either been on leave or on the road. Kirby had spoken to Kerry’s Chief of Staff about the volume and hopes Kerry himself will make a decision on the volume when he returns next week. Kerry’s staff is aware of the volume’s importance. She stated that it was possible that the Committee could meet with Kerry during their December meeting

Immerman asked if she could assess the odds of a meeting and release of the Iran volume. Dudziak asked if a meeting in December would be too late and if necessary should some members could come to DC to meet with Kerry at a different time before the December meeting. Zeiler mentioned that when they met with Secretary Rice it was in January 2009. McMahon noted Rice had not only met with the Committee in 2009 but also earlier to honor former HAC member Robert Shulzinger, who had been one of her dissertation advisors. Stevenson said Kerry will be at UNGA in mid-September but was unsure of his schedule thereafter.

Report by the Historian

Randolph gave the quarterly update, praised Stevenson’s support of the Office, and noted that the office had hired a new Program Analyst from NARA to work with Wicentowski on Digital Initiatives, Amanda Ross. She will begin in October. The Office had received the cert list for the editor position and hopes a hiring decision will be made within a week; he praised the Editing Division for being crucial to the Office’s workflow and getting information to the public. He also praised Nick Sheldon for his work as administrative assistant and that the Office was working with HR to have him replaced.

Randolph noted that the new issue of Passport contained an article about the Office co-written by him, Howard, and Wicentowski. He discussed Whittington’s impending departure, thanked her for her work on the Middle East peace process, and highlighted her article recently published in the Foreign Service Journal. Randolph discussed the recent upload of the late 1930s FRUS volumes to the Office website and noted his participation on a historians’ panel at the CIA’s PDB release/conference at the Nixon Library which featured Director of National Intelligence Clapper and Director of Central Intelligence Brennan.

Randolph noted the Office’s support for the human rights in Argentina declassification initiative including the FRUS, 77-80, South America volume and the lists of documents prepared for the NSC by Berndt and Smith.

Report by the General Editor

General Editor Adam Howard noted the recent release of the FRUS, 77–80, Public Diplomacy (PD) volume, the first stand-alone PD volume, and mentioned that the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon PD volumes are currently in production. He reported that the Declassification Division had verified 2 volumes and 2 new volumes had been submitted to Declassification since the June meeting. He reiterated Randolph’s praise for the late 1930s digital release which he said numbered approximately 170,000 documents. He noted that to date 351 volumes had been digitized and stressed that unlike the FRUS volumes on the University of Wisconsin’s website, these volumes are searchable and in PDF format.

Belmonte asked if there were any plans to integrate PDBs recently released by CIA into FRUS volumes, but Howard said the cost would be prohibitive and cited budgetary/resource limitations. Zeiler asked if the Office could publish PDBs in a separate FRUS volume. Geyer responded that it would be repetitive for the Office to publish its own volume given CIA’s release.

Peterson asked what lessons were learned from the Argentinian declassification project. She said examining what was discovered would be useful should the Office be tasked with a similar project involving, for example, Colombia or Myanmar.

Randolph stated that the Office had assisted with similar declassification work before in a project involving Brazil, but that this time the Office received more guidance from the NSC. He stated that it was easy to commit to individual declassification projects, but that the desired results are harder to achieve when resources are limited. He added that the Argentinians liked the final project. Stevenson suggested documenting the cost of the project so the NSC would know the effort required when they next make a similar request. Immerman suggested including the Argentinian declassification project in the annual report, so all would know of the hard work the Office undertook.

Randolph stated he was very proud of the work that was done.

The meeting adjourned at 11:30 a.m. for lunch

Closed Session, August 29

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Office of Information Programs and Services

Jeff Charlston provided an update on the progress of the Systematic Review Program. He reported that, as of August 1, the FRUS reviewing branch had completed some 2400 Mandatory Declassification Reviews (MDR), FOIA, and other cases for FY 2016—in addition to closing out the ten oldest MDRs in IPS. He went on to report 860 open MDR cases, 114 open FOIA cases, and 43 additional cases, for a total of 1017—a decrease from 3024 open cases at the start of FY 2016—and a goal of cutting the backlog to under 500 by the end of the year. The FRUS branch also completed review of three volumes since the previous Committee meeting.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Review Branch had as of August 1 reviewed 1,126,966 pages, 692,183 of them originally classified. That included 629,728 pages reviewed in June alone—of which 300,000 were withdrawn based on dirty-word searches. (By comparison, the branch had reviewed 1,383,073 pages of classified and unclassified records in FY2015) Also, as of August 1, the Paper Branch had completed 3.15 million pages of 5.1 million pages of 1991 papers to be reviewed before January 1, 2017—as per 25-year automatic declassification review. Finally, Remote Access Capture (RAC) reviewers contributed to the review of 2527 documents for the review of the Nixon and Ford administration’s Presidential Daily Briefs, making minimal redactions to the resulting 28,306 pages.

Charlston next reviewed digitization efforts and software, highlighting efforts to use the National Declassification Center’s (NDC) equipment to review the digitized 1980–1981 N and P reel documents, and provided an update on IPS reviewer’s plans to transition from Freedoms 2 (F2) to Freedoms (F3) software to conduct reviews.

NARA—Office of Presidential Libraries

John Laster provided an update on the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) Project. As of August 29, there were 2,743,167 remaining pages to be reviewed, of which 1,325,241 have Department of State equity; 1,882,753 of the outstanding pages are from the Reagan Library. Department of State reviewers accounted for 1,026,248 of the 4,083,204 pages completed by the RAC during the entirety of the project.

Laster went on to describe efforts to prepare for the transition and transfer of custody of presidential records. Responding to a question from Adam Howard, he noted the enthusiasm of FRUS compilers for the Reagan-era Professional Office System (PROFs) electronic messaging database, and ongoing efforts to incorporate the All-in-One System employed by the National Security Council Staff during the George H.W. Bush administration. He expressed optimism that electronic messages of subsequent administrations—in which staffers used Microsoft Outlook—might prove to be more easily accessible for FRUS compilers.

National Archives National Declassification Center

Don McIlwain of NARA stated that the good news from the National Declassification Center (NDC) is that important material is getting released; the bad news is that agencies are still not following guidelines, are too cautious and over referring. The NDC wants more shared information between agencies and to help train their reviewers. Doing so would likely slow their release rate, but improve efficiency overall by reducing extraneous referrals.

McIlwain also reported the NDC closed the ten oldest active FOIAs cases in the federal government and that only 13 cases remained to be cleared from the 1990s. Their goal is to turn around FOIA cases in a year, but some agencies were reluctant to give their reviewers stationed at Archives II the authority to make final declassification decisions on 25 year old documents. McIlwain added that the guidance the Office developed regarding the Argentina project made the NDC’s job easier.

Trudy Peterson asked about the pilot project to revisit previously withdrawn documents. McIlwain replied that NARA staff, and agency teams as needed, were reviewing withdrawn documents from 1973–91. The release rate is very high except for those items containing nuclear and intelligence information.

NARA Research Services

David Langbart reported that since the last meeting the Archives has accessioned a small amount of Department of State records and a large body of records from NSA. He also reported that the 518 rolls of microfilm constituting the Department’s “World War I file” have been digitized and are now on-line. He noted that so far in FY 16, Archives I & II have received approximately 16,000 reference requests, 12,000 researcher visits, and has pulled almost 70,000 items for researchers. There has been little or no progress on the issue of reintegrating documents into the electronic Central Foreign Policy File. The Committee raised questions about the dates of the recently-accessioned NSA records. Langbart volunteered himself and a member of the accessioning staff to review the NSA records and report back to the Committee.

Ann Cummings, Acting Chief of Archives II Research Services, announced the hiring of nine archives technicians. These new technicians will not only answer written researcher requests but also perform archivist tasks such as basic arrangement and creating box lists. In 2015 Special Access and FOIA added ten new positions. Former Chief Bill Mayer succeeded in making technician positions promotable to the GS–7 level. Research Services is focused on reducing the current records backlog (486,000 cubic feet in the Washington DC area, 200,000 cubic feet at the National Personnel Records Center, and 330,000 cubic feet at other field archives units).

Zeiler asked about the transition from archives technician to archivist. Cummings replied that there was no set time limit for a technician to be considered for an archivist position, that the availability of openings was the issue. Many of the newly hired technicians were overqualified, some possessing library science degrees. Langbart explained that a technician is a semi-professional post, while an archivist is a professional one.

Dudziak asked how a reference request is directed. Cummings replied that automation was slowly supplanting remote interaction between archives employees and researchers, the idea being that if detailed reference information was digitalized and put online that the researcher would find it and be steered to the right facility.

Peterson inquired about the ratio of technicians to archivists. Cummings answered that it was about 2–1, not including 2–3 Archives specialists.

Cummings announced that the job posting for the permanent Chief of Research Services closes in early September.

Report on State Declassification of Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs)

Charlston discussed with the Committee the Department of State role and procedures in reviewing the recently released Nixon and Ford PDBs.

The meeting adjourned to Executive Session at 3:30 p.m.