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Office of the Historian

December 2008

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation December 10-11, 2008

Minutes

Committee Members

  • Wm. Roger Louis, Outgoing Chairman
  • Robert McMahon, Chairman
  • Edward Rhodes
  • Katherine Sibley
  • Thomas Zeiler

Office of the Historian

  • Marc Susser, The Historian
  • Kristin Ahlberg
  • Carl Ashley
  • Todd Bennett
  • Myra Burton
  • John Carland
  • Evan Dawley
  • Evan Duncan
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • Tiffany Hamelin
  • David Herschler
  • Paul Hibbeln
  • Susan Holly
  • Adam Howard
  • Stephanie Hurter
  • Bonnie Sue Kim
  • Peter Kraemer
  • Aaron Marrs
  • Bill McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Chris Morrison
  • Richard Moss
  • David Nickles
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Chris Tudda
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Susan Weetman
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alex Wieland
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

Bureau of Administration

  • David Adamson
  • Harmon Kirby
  • Marvin Russell
  • Courtney Allen
  • William Coombs

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Margaret Hawkins, Life Cycle Management Division
  • David Langbart, Textual Archives Services Division
  • Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division
  • Lisa Roberson, Life Cycle Management Division
  • Emma Stelle, Life Cycle Management Division

Department of Defense

  • Patricia Skinner
  • Darrell Walker

Central Intelligence Agency

  • Peter N.
  • Perry C.
  • Robin T.

Open Session, December 10

Committee Resignations

Wm. Roger Louis, Chairman of the Historical Advisory Committee, opened the meeting by stating his concern for the future viability of the Foreign Relations (FRUS) series, and citing attrition experienced by the Office of the Historian over the last several years, culminating in the retirement of the General Editor. Louis also stated his opinion that morale in the office was generally low, and that these problems were directly related to mismanagement by the Historian, which was proven by the 12 anonymous letters he had from current and former staff. Louis stood up and announced that he would read aloud his resignation letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the public record. Before Louis could do so, Sean McCormack, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, interjected to protest that it was beneath the integrity of the committee to traffic in slander and innuendo. McCormack said that there were proper channels for disaffected members of the office staff to voice their concerns, and he would not stand for anonymous and unsubstantiated personal attacks to be aired in an open forum. Louis said that the sources of the complaints were not anonymous to him. Louis did not read the complaints, but did read a letter submitted to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Louis tendered his resignation as Chairman and member of the committee, effective immediately.

Committee member Edward Rhodes read aloud a letter he also sent to Secretary Rice, in which he tendered his resignation from the committee, effective February 16, 2009. Rhodes stated that his decision was motivated in large part to protest the fact that the Department of State had decided not to renew the membership of Thomas Schwartz, which Rhodes interpreted as a punitive step by the Department to intimidate the committee and reduce its independence. Rhodes concluded by stating that he was grateful and honored to have served on the committee.

Thomas Zeiler read a statement written by Thomas Schwartz, in which Schwartz expressed his disappointment that he could not deliver the message in person, but urged the office staff to keep morale high. Zeiler added that the committee wished to cooperate with the office toward their common purpose of streamlining and improving the declassification process. He recommended that the next committee meeting recognize the service of the former General Editor properly; reseat Thomas Schwartz; and assure other committee members that they will not be punished should they express opinions that contravene the decisions of office management and the State Department. Zeiler said that the committee did not see its role as adversarial.

Robert McMahon also read a statement written by Thomas Schwartz, in which Schwartz called into question the point of an advisory committee if its members are not allowed to voice their objections. Schwartz criticized the internal dynamics of the office, likening its policies to North Korea. At this point, Assistant Secretary McCormack again interjected, protesting that such language was totally unacceptable, below the standards expected of professional academics, and had succeeded only in casting a cloud over everyone in the room. McCormack then left the meeting.

Katherine Sibley echoed Zeiler’s comments about the desire of the committee to cooperate toward a common purpose. She noted that the most important job was to keep FRUS moving at the highest standard, but this could not happen if the independence of the committee was threatened. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Teresa Dean noted that committee membership is not a tenured position, and that the Department of State was actively seeking greater diversity in the committee. She also noted that the alleged mistreatment of Schwartz was tempered by the fact that he was invited to, and attended, a dinner with Secretary Rice.

Marc Susser responded directly to Roger Louis. He told Louis that although their relationship had always been professional, Louis had not been forthright. Susser said that by engaging in anonymous personal attacks, the committee’s action was beneath its standards. What was especially troublesome was the fact that the attacks were substantively out of place. The committee’s decision to involve itself in internal matters, such as personnel issues, was beyond its legal purview. He also pointed out that Louis’s description of the role of the General Editor as the engine that drives declassification was inaccurate. It is absolutely untrue, he said, that the General Editor oversees declassification matters. That responsibility falls to the Deputy Historian. Susser noted that he was shocked that after 3 years as chairman, and almost 9 years on the committee, Louis was unaware of what each senior manager in the office actually did.

Election of Chairman

Louis asked for nominations to replace him as Chairman of the committee. The committee nominated, and voted to approve, Robert McMahon as the new Chairman.

After a brief recess following Louis’s departure, McMahon announced that although technically a quorum did not exist with only four committee members present, because two positions on the committee were currently unfilled, a quorum of current members did exist. They decided to continue the meeting and would leave it to the legal office of the State Department to decide on the legitimacy of the meeting.

Approval of the Record of the September 2008 Meeting

The record of the September meeting was approved by the committee; approval of the agenda of the December meeting followed.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Susser introduced Thomas Pearcy, the newest member of the office and the CIA Joint Historian. Susser announced that the office anticipated getting two more volumes out by the end of the year, and by mid-January the office would conclude work on review of the Nixon tape transcripts from the final 15 volumes. Susser noted that this would coincide with the inauguration of the new president.

Susser relayed details of a successful trip to Houston, where he, Doug Kraft, David Herschler, and Susan Holly attended a conference of the National Council for the Social Studies. The office-produced DVD on U.S.-China relations, titled A Journey Shared: The United States and China, was extremely well received, and with the release of 10,000 CDs containing curriculum guides to accompany the DVD, Susser estimated that upwards of one million students ultimately will have direct access to the historical educational video produced by the office. He recognized Holly’s excellent work and noted the importance of exposing a broad audience to the work done by the office, and that it was gratifying to interact with students and teachers.

Susser also noted that he, Chris Tudda, and Doug Kraft attended a conference in Bern sponsored by the Swiss Government, titled “Science and Foreign Policy: The Swiss Science Counselors in Washington and the World (1958-2008).”

Finally, Susser announced the appointment of Trudy Peterson to the committee.

Status Report by the Deputy Historian

David Herschler gave an update on the declassification process. Since the last meeting, three volumes were verified, the final step in the declassification process. Another volume will be verified before the end of the calendar year. One newly completed manuscript was referred for declassification since the September meeting. There are now a total of 24 volumes in the declassification process. All but two of the volumes cover the Nixon/Ford administrations; the others are retrospectives.

Herschler noted that the U.S.-China DVD marked the first time an office video was done totally in a digital format, and that the timing of its release coincided well with the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Herschler also discussed a visit to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, which houses Bush’s Vice Presidential papers. Both Herschler and Susser noted the importance of accessing these papers, given Bush’s wide ranging foreign policy activities as Vice President. They estimated that budgetary restrictions would require a smaller team from the office to obtain all of the materials relevant for all FRUS volumes on behalf of other compilers. They also said that the staff at the Bush Library seemed eager to accommodate FRUS researchers.

Herschler, Susser and Kraft also visited Texas A&M, where they met with graduate students to discuss careers in federal history.

Herschler also gave an update on the new website. He said that the new website is a tremendous improvement over the old one, particularly because it will accelerate the production process. He commented that this has been one of the most successful endeavors undertaken by the office. It had been completed ahead of schedule and under budget, and all who contributed to it deserve great kudos. Herschler invited the principal staff members involved in creating the new website, Stephanie Hurter and Joe Wicentowski, to give an update on the project.

Hurter noted that the project has taken a year and half, and that the impending launch date would not have been possible without the support of Susser, Herschler, and Kraft. Hurter also noted that the project was 6 weeks ahead of schedule, and production costs were lower than expected, saving the Department between $300,000 and $500,000.

Wicentowski noted that the new website is nearly complete. People, terms, and abbreviations have now been tagged and appear on the sidebar, every image is viewable on the screen, and the full-text search function is in place and will improve over time. Wicentowski noted that these new features will help the office’s readership take advantage of the tremendous resources available from the office. He also noted that a link to the old site will remain temporarily.

Wicentowski also explained one of the great advantages of the new website. Whereas the old site required a labor intensive and time-sensitive method for uploading information, even a large electronic-only publication can now be loaded onto the new website in half a day.

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Marvin Russell introduced Courtney Rowland, who is working on unclassified electronic records. He then reported that the declassification of classified electronic materials is on schedule. He noted that the classified records for 1983 were completed in September, and that Limited Official Use electronic records for 1983 were completed in December. He stated that his office continues to work on the unclassified electronic records for 1981 to 1984. The paper records for 1982 to 1985 were on schedule under the requirements of the executive order.

Rhodes asked if there was any bad news to report. Russell responded that only 80 percent of the paper records that the Department aimed to review in 2008 had been reviewed, attributing the shortfall to a lack of resources. Rhodes then asked if Russell anticipated any problems. Russell responded that USUN records were particularly difficult to review. He was hopeful that the pace would pick up once those records were completed.

Michael McCoyer asked why telegrams available for viewing on the State Archiving System were not available at the National Archives (NARA). Russell noted that NARA does not maintain temporary records and that the software programs are not ready to filter out that material. He said that the e-cable records for 1978 to 1979 had been sent to other agencies for review, but not all agencies had yet provided feedback. David Langbart added that the central file consists of more than the cables. Since NARA does not want piecemeal records, it will accept the records for a given year only when all records for that year are ready for transfer.

Closed Session, December 10

Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives

Don McIlwaine noted that he had a couple of updates. First, there would be an expansion of the quality assurance program. This will include a team working 5 days a week on Department of State records. McIlwaine added that this quality assurance program had started out as a pilot program after the declassification crisis 2 years ago where material was being pulled off the shelves at NARA by the CIA and other agencies because they argued that the materials had not been properly declassified originally.

McIlwaine’s other update included reference to the 1976 electronic cables and P-reel collection being indexed. One problem that has arisen with electronic cables is NATO’s recent concern over material released in the 1975 cable series. As a result, NATO is working with NARA on the 1975 and 1976 cables to identify sensitive NATO material. In responding to a question from Rhodes, McIlwaine said that some State cables in these collections had NATO’s position on issues. McIlwaine noted, however, that this was mildly bad news, akin to a “speed bump” rather than bringing declassification to a “screeching halt.”

McIlwaine then briefly discussed the status of USIA records. McMahon asked if the committee had any other questions for McIlwaine. Sibley inquired about the status of the National Declassification Initiative. McIlwaine responded that the transition team seems very interested in a National Declassification Center and this made McIlwaine very hopeful since such a center would standardize procedures and build confidence among the agencies.

Documentation Withheld from Recently Reviewed Foreign Relations Manuscripts

Patricia Skinner from the Department of Defense (DOD) reported that she now has a team of three devoted to FRUS, which triples the manpower previously available to the series. She then introduced her two new employees, Tonya Kemp and Casey Dowell. Skinner said she recognized that the DOD had fallen behind on reviews in the past, but hoped that henceforth they would be able to give timely reviews.

Skinner has requested that the Historian’s Office send the documents for review over in smaller tranches. Rhodes expressed his deep appreciation for the new staff, although he noted that some volumes are still moving slowly. Committee members then asked questions about declassification issues in specific volumes.

McMahon asked if DOD would make a distinction between unofficial and official releases of information, and Skinner and Darrell Walker responded that they would. McMahon and Rhodes pleaded for common sense to prevail in the case of already available documentation, since the credibility of the series is at stake. Walker replied that leaked and improperly declassified material was not officially recognizable as declassified, and to be properly declassified, DOD must release the materials officially. Existing in the public domain was immaterial to the determination to release or acknowledge material as declassified. McMahon responded that the series’ credibility might be in question, were it not to note or acknowledge the existence of materials that might not be officially released, but which were well known within the scholarly community or the public. The series could hardly ignore such documents, and might be obliged to attempt to declassify them. Skinner responded that DOD was certainly willing to attempt to address such concerns. Rhodes reemphasized McMahon’s points. Walker replied that the situation is involved and complex in such cases, and the need is always for “more eyes,” and this implied a fuller and more lengthy review. Rhodes repeated his concerns about the series’ credibility were it not to pursue the declassification of materials that were already in the public view, although not released officially.

Sibley asked for the background on the development and maturation of this DOD office. Skinner provided details of the development of her office, emphasizing her experience with the FRUS declassification process which led to her being assigned a formal office and staff. Walker praised Skinner’s management and said that she deserved considerable credit for making the declassification process work so much more efficiently than in the past.

Planning Research in the Reagan White House Materials

Susser reported that there are a lot of potentially significant files in the vice presidential records collections. The plan is to send a “swat team” of historians to the Bush Library to collect material for all the volumes at one time.

Rhodes asked if it would be possible for FRUS historians to perform double duty at the Bush Library while researching Reagan-related materials. Susser replied that the collections are separate, so it would not be cost effective.

Herschler reported that Nancy Smith was unable to attend the committee session, but that he and other office managers had met with her the previous day. They discussed differences and similarities about the Reagan records as compared to other presidential administrations. Starting with Reagan, all presidential and vice presidential materials fall under the Presidential Records Act. This means that “presidential records” are no longer “presidential materials,” and that they now fall under Freedom of Information Act jurisdiction. There is, however, a “perfunctory statutory mandate” that “official” research and copying from the presidential records, such as FRUS research, requires permission from the representatives of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and the General Counsel for the current sitting president. There are potential complications with PRMs, etc. as they need to be reviewed before they are copied and come to the office, to ensure that there are not any violations of confidentiality agreements.

Rhodes asked for clarification about the review of materials for personal information, or “confidential advice.” Herschler responded that only a small percentage of documents fall under the categories that require review before copying. There is a universe of approximately 370,000 pages of vice presidential records relating to foreign policy. These materials usually have finding aids, which the office has at its disposal, so it is possible to “scrub down” the materials to those that are pertinent. Herschler reiterated the “swat team” approach to research, instead of sending individual compilers to the Bush Library for each volume.

Herschler then noted that research at the Reagan Library will, however, be more complicated. He reported that there are over 8 million pages of material at the Reagan Library. The records prior to 1985 resemble the records of other presidential administrations, particularly the Carter administration. Records from 1985 onward are no longer arranged by agency or country, etc., but were done by auto-generated control numbers and located by use of a searchable database. Unfortunately, the database is still under White House control, although it is likely that after the transition to the Obama Administration, the database will be transferred to NARA and the office could obtain access to it. The office would then not need to search thousands of microfiche. Some of the files are sorted by White House staff members, but there are not always finding aids in these collections. The office needs to work out a comprehensive research plan to address the records and determine a plan of attack. The plan is to send historians on longer research trips in a team approach, 3 to 4 times per year for 2 to 3 weeks per trip. The office has had good experience with this approach at the Carter Library. Herschler and Susser hope to visit the Reagan Library in the spring of 2009 to make arrangements for research there.

McMahon asked if there would be any issues with papers of the Cabinet secretaries, such as Secretary of State Alexander Haig, at the Reagan Library. David Geyer replied that the Secretary of State’s papers would be in the Department of State Lot Files. It is not like the situation with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger donating his papers to the Library of Congress.

Zeiler asked about electronic records at the Reagan library. Herschler replied that emails were initiated through the PROFS system beginning in 1985, but cautioned that the administration was still paper based. Presumably, early electronic mail was printed out and would be in the paper documents. According to Nancy Smith, the electronic records do not become a real logistical hurdle until the Clinton administration. Bennett added that email during the Reagan administration was printed out, but had little policy relevance for FRUS, except perhaps Iran-Contra. This would require some further investigation to identify potentially useful subjects contained in the email record.

Zeiler inquired whether it would be possible to have volumes spanning the Reagan and Bush administrations on topics like the end of the Cold War, the demise of the Soviet Union, etc. Susser referred the committee to the volume list, but thought the addition of such a volume would be a good idea. Susser suggested that this matter be more fully explored at a later time.

Herschler noted that finding aids for Vice President George H.W. Bush are available and potentially useful on vice presidential foreign trips. Zeiler asked if George H.W. Bush had any significant role in foreign policy. Tudda answered that Bush played an important role on matters related to China, and had made visits to General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. He had a similar, enhanced role as vice president, like his immediate predecessor, Walter Mondale.

Closed Session, December 11

Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business

Peter Kraemer discussed his research work in progress with the committee.

Carl Ashley spoke to the committee about the internal e-volume publication process. In response, the committee and the office staff engaged in a discussion about the process of getting electronic volumes onto the internet and converting older print volumes into an online viewable format. Included in this discussion were issues raised about cost effectiveness, updating capabilities, and planning for the future. McMahon said that a new agenda item should be scheduled for the next meeting that includes a review of the new website and viewing of e-publications. McMahon also suggested that Joe Wicentowski and Stephanie Hurter should write a piece for Perspectives about the new website and the resources contained therein.

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

The committee met with the CIA’s Historical Review Panel. They discussed several issues of mutual interest and concern in the areas of declassification in general, and with respect to certain FRUS volumes in particular. Both bodies agreed that it was a useful exercise, and expressed the hope that they could meet once a year in the future.