December 2013

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation December 9, 2013


Committee Members

  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • Robert McMahon
  • Susan Perdue
  • Trudy Peterson
  • Katherine Sibley
  • Thomas Zeiler

Office of the Historian

  • Stephen Randolph, Historian
  • Kristin Ahlberg
  • Carl Ashley
  • Forrest Barnum
  • Sara Berndt
  • Josh Botts
  • Myra Burton
  • Tiffany Cabrera
  • Anne-Marie Carstens
  • Seth Center
  • Mandy Chalou
  • Elizabeth Charles
  • Erin Cozens
  • Evan Duncan
  • Stephanie Eckroth
  • Thomas Faith
  • Amy Garrett
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • David Herschler
  • Kerry Hite
  • Adam Howard
  • Aiyaz Husain
  • Lindsay Krasnoff
  • Ted Mann
  • Aaron Marrs
  • Bill McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Chris Morrison
  • Mircea Munteanu
  • David Nickles
  • Paul Pitman
  • Alex Poster
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Seth Rotramel
  • Avi Rubin
  • Daniel Rubin
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alex Wieland
  • James Wilson
  • David Zierler

Bureau of Administration

  • David Adamson
  • Jeff Charlston
  • William Combes
  • William Fischer
  • Marvin Russell

National Archives and Records Administration

  • John Laster, Office of Presidential Libraries
  • David Langbart, Life Cycle Management Division
  • Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division
  • John Powers, Information Security Oversight Office
  • Sheryl Shenberger, National Declassification Center


  • William Burr, National Security Archive
  • Lee White

Open Session, December 9

Approval of the Record of the September 2013 Meeting

Chairman Richard Immerman called the meeting to order at 11:05 a.m. He then wished a very happy birthday to committee member Katherine Sibley.

Immerman then moved for approval of the previous meeting’s minutes. The motion was seconded by the entire body and passed without debate.

As per Committee by-laws Immerman called for the election of a new Committee chair for the coming year. Sibley nominated the incumbent and was supported by all members present who proceeded to re-elect Immerman to his post by acclimation.

Report by the Executive Secretary

The Historian, Stephen Randolph, began his remarks by directing thanks to the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA) leadership for their support during the current lean budgetary era and more generally for understanding and supporting the needs and goals of the Office and working diligently to ensure both were fulfilled. He noted some personnel changes related to the sequester strategic plan to use Office resources more efficiently, including the hiring of Julie Fort as Administrative Officer, the conversion of Kerry Hite from a contractor to Full Time Employee (FTE) status, the approval of a GS–14 level Digital History Advisor position, the addition of Anne-Marie Carstens as a Franklin Fellow, and the arrival of Ted Mann to the Office for a Y-tour. He noted that Y-tour Foreign Service Officers had the potential to be a great resource for the Office in the future given how splendid Mann’s work with Aiyaz Husain on Asian and Israel-Palestine issues had been.

Randolph then offered a brief précis of progress towards the Office’s move to Navy Hill, observing that he had personally taken a tour of the building recently and that the work appeared to be progressing nicely and was on schedule.

The next topic concerned the recent budget turbulence within the federal government and its effect on the historical community. Randolph mentioned that the recent sequester cuts and government shut down had negatively impacted federal archivists and historians. This had led to many absences and cutbacks and a cumulative net-negative effect on the production of the Office.

Randolph then reported on the recent International Conference of Editors of Diplomatic Documents (ICEDD), held in Geneva in late September and attended by Randolph and the senior leadership of the Office. It had, he related, been a wonderful opportunity to share insights with colleagues around the world. Randolph delivered the news that the Office would be hosting the next ICEDD meeting in April 2015, thanking the PA leadership for their support in this matter.

He then extolled the web publication of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) sesquicentennial history book, which had been posted to the Office’s website that morning. Randolph also praised the new FRUS history section of the website, which includes much of the sesquicentennial material produced within the Office over the past few years and promises to be an ongoing home for new and existing FRUS history content.

Randolph then recognized the recent work of Lindsay Krasnoff, whose ambassadorial briefing program has expanded to become a key aspect of the Office’s outreach and service to the Department. He observed that Krasnoff had recently been to the U.S. Embassy in Paris to brief staff and coordinate efforts for a number of important anniversaries in French-American relations in the near future.

Randolph concluded by noting this would be Deputy Historian David Herschler’s final Committee meeting following decades of exemplary service to the Office.

Comments by the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Valerie Fowler took the floor and added her praise for Herschler’s long and storied history of service within the government and to the Office over the past 37 years. She stated that any student interested in U.S. foreign policy will have benefitted from Herschler’s direct work.

She noted that Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz wanted to attend the Committee meeting but was away from Washington on foreign assignment. She indicated that Frantz would attend the subsequent meeting in March 2014 and concluded by praising the Office’s recent work, specifically, the recent release of 6 FRUS volumes. Fowler asserted that the Office of the Historian has been central to the Department of State and is now better understood in terms of its work and contributions.

Immerman thanked both Randolph and Fowler for their comments. He then noted that there had been a plethora of excellent news from the Office recently, adding that he had confidence and hope in the future of the Office and the FRUS series. He concluded by saluting Herschler’s service, commenting that there was no real way to express the Committee’s appreciation. Immerman suggested that the Committee would continue to draw from Herschler’s institutional knowledge.

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and General Editor

General Editor Adam Howard gave his report on the status of the FRUS series. He noted that since the last Committee meeting, the Office had published two volumes (Foreign Economic Policy, 1977–80 and Arab-Israeli Dispute: January 1977– August 1978) and observed that two more volumes would be published by the end of the year. Howard stated that seven volumes, in total, would be published by the end of 2013, an increase of one volume over the 2012 publication rate. Five of the volumes were published at the 33-year line. Howard then indicated that nine volumes were declassified and eight volumes were submitted to declassification.

Immerman then asked Herschler for his report. Herschler stated that this would be his 108th and final Committee meeting. He saluted the eight different Committee chairs he had worked with in his time organizing Committee meetings and expressed gratitude that he had been able to contribute to the work of the Office. He praised the role of the Committee and noted that the recently-completed and released FRUS history illustrated the importance of the institution to the Office and to the broader historical community. Herschler expressed optimism for the future while flagging two issues he suggested would need to be confronted by the Office. First, he noted that sequestration and the broader budget “battles” since 2011 had done significant damage to archivists and historians, who are generally seen as “low hanging fruit” in times of austerity. He suggested that the Committee promote the full funding of archivists and historians within the federal government. Secondly he noted his career-spanning interest in born-digital records, These records presented many logistical and interpretive challenges to modern historians and would very shortly present some challenges to FRUS compilers and editors as their work began to enter the born-digital age. It will take the collective wisdom of an entire group of people to identify, preserve, declassify, and make available these records to the public. Herschler also asserted that the Committee should continue to serve as a strong advocate for the declassification and opening of foreign policy records.

Herschler concluded by noting that the current working relationship between the Office and the Committee was the best he’d experienced in 28 years and expressed great confidence that future challenges would be surmounted by the Office and the Committee.

Immerman briefly spoke in support of the ideas advanced in Herschler’s remarks and praised his long service and inestimable contributions to the Office. Immerman added that these challenges will require engagement, noting that the Committee would remain active.

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Immerman asked Bill Combes for his report. Combes began by stating that during Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, the Systematic Review Program SRP/FRUS reviewed 11,000 pages of FRUS material and nearly 2,100 pages of special projects. The SRP/ER team, in November, completed the review of the 1988 classified cables and began review of the 1989 cables. The team also completed review of State Archiving System (SAS) P-reel indices of all classifications through 1988. The Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) hopes to complete review of the 1989 cables in Calendar Year (CY) 2014.

Combes reported that IPS continues to review the 1986–1990 block of paper records. Through October 31, IPS has reviewed approximately 2.2 million pages of paper, bringing the total number of pages reviewed for the 1986–1990 block to 6.9 million pages. There are approximately 15.2 million pages remaining for review in that block.

Combes added that IPS completed 1.8 million pages of Kyl–Lott review at the National Declassification Center (NDC), thus addressing the backlog. The files being processed first are prioritized by the NDC. IPS also reviewed over 188,000 pages of Remote Archives Capture (RAC) referrals from the Presidential Libraries through the NDC, and reviewed over 58,000 pages of paper referrals.

Combes reported that their vendor has completed scanning and indexing of the 1980 and 1981 N- and P-reels, and delivered those records in November. IPS staff is reviewing and loading that data, and the reviews are scheduled to begin in early 2014.

Bill Fisher also noted that the quality of the review that IPS has done is very good given the resources available. The staff consists of seven reviewers plus additional staff. Discussion of resources and the quality assurance review ensued, followed by discussion of the gap in review of P-reel and N-reel materials and items transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) via the NDC.

Discussion of National Archives and Records Administration Policy Regarding Central Foreign Policy File

Immerman initiated the discussion by asking whether the Committee should revisit its original recommendation that NARA wait to make available all portions of the Central Foreign Policy File for a given year until all components of it had been reviewed, declassified, and processed. Robert McMahon stated that while he understood the arguments of both sides, he would prefer to stick to the Committee's original policy since that policy not only matches the policies of British and Commonwealth countries but also prevents distortions by historians who would not have access to the full record. Bill Burr noted that there are already incomplete records for particular years available at NARA right now, for the 1970s. Immerman commented that he came down 55–45 on the side of releasing the records for a given year all at once. David Langbart noted that the lags and unevenness in review of various parts of the records are due to NDC priorities. Trudy Peterson asserted that there was no point in changing the Committee’s recommendations unless the NDC’s priorities also changed. Immerman proposed that the Committee defer voting on changing their policy pending further discussion with the NDC.

The meeting was then adjourned for lunch.

Closed Session, December 9

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

Immerman called the session to order at 1:43 p.m. and asked Sheryl Shenberger to report on the activities of the National Declassification Center. Shenberger stated that the Kyl–Lott evaluation was just about completed and only required another week. This was the last hurdle for clearing the backlog of 350 million pages. Shenberger stated that the agencies had staffed up to meet the deadline. They were working to review 11 million pages, located offsite, at a pace of 3 million pages per week throughput with “all hands on deck.” She said the next task would be to address the “rollover,” which consisted of 27 million pages that came to NARA after the 2010 cut-off date. Within this category, the NDC would prioritize based on comments from researchers (including those from the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) blog), staff, and the Committee.

Don Mcllwain then discussed the processing of the Top Secret (TS) and Nodis elements of the Central Foreign Policy File. He stated that the 1975–1976 material was in the backlog, while the 1977–78 material was in the rollover. He said that the 1975 TS and Nodis and the 1976 TS materials were at the Department of Energy (DOE) for a final audit and would be made available to researchers. He added that the 1976 Nodis materials remained in the general backlog. Mcllwain noted that in CY 2013 (January 1–November 8) NARA had moved to the open shelves additional materials from Record Groups 59, 84, and 306, consisting of 1,408 boxes in 76 separate series.

Immerman asked what Mcllwain meant when he stated that these materials would be “made available to researchers.” Mcllwain responded that this meant a list of completed records series would be available on the internet. Researchers could consult this information and then come to NARA and request documents based on the titles and other details obtained from the list. The requested documents would then be provided at the next pull. Langbart added that some of these records might still be in Federal Records Center (FRC) cartons and not fully or finally described, but that these records might still be given to researchers.

Immerman then asked Mcllwain if the 1974–1976 Nodis materials had completed the NDC review. He noted that the Committee was still considering what stance to take regarding the question of piecemeal releases versus releases only of complete bodies of records. Mcllwain confirmed that the NDC’s focus was on getting complete bodies of records out faster. He underscored the continued interagency collaboration that ensured these materials are reviewed and released.

Immerman queried as to when the rollover materials would make it through the NDC so that the records could be passed on to DOE. Mcllwain said it was hard to estimate, because DOE remained focused on the backlog. Shenberger said DOE, while performing exceptional work, was 95 million pages behind. Once that got under control and DOE moved on to the rollover, they wanted to strategize to identify priority groups of records to push through the process. She expected DOE to agree with that approach.

Peterson referred to the IPS chart that identified the 11 elements of the Central Foreign Policy File. She asked if some would were partially completed, whether it would then take 3 or 4 more years to complete the remaining few items, thereby holding up the entire body of records. She asked what was the typical time spent from the beginning to end. Mcllwain said he could not offer a good estimate. He described the process to clarify why it is hard to make a guess, but noted that things will go faster after the backlog is cleared. He also said that they were trying to be pragmatic about making available a large body of records even if a small number were still in the process.

McMahon stated that the “most important material” to a researcher might be located within that “small number" of records. He worried that piecemeal release would lead to incomplete scholarship, adding that this has an implication for sensitive historical topics, especially if TS and/or Nodis documents are not available to the researcher. Mcllwain responded that NARA does not want to give the impression to a researcher that if Secret and below materials are available that it means that the Central Foreign Policy File for that given year is complete. He added that it was imperative that researchers know that other elements of the File, such as the TS and Nodis documents, were still in the process.

Immerman said that he may contact Mcllwain at the time the Committee begins drafting its annual report in order to obtain the latest details on the situation. He said the Committee tries to help explain the process to the broader historical community.

Immerman then asked Langbart for his comments. Langbart opened his remarks by cautioning that unprocessed records still present challenges for researchers. He stated that NARA was trying to adopt a rational policy for opening Central File records for a given year at approximately the same time and did not want to race ahead with certain components and leave other components behind. Furthermore, he expressed surprise at researchers not asking about all components of Department of State records. This is despite the fact that NARA has publicized all the component parts of the Central Foreign Policy File.

Mcllwain then commented on the ways the NDC was working with NARA research services to create systems for dealing with records. Peterson then asked how much of the backlog remained classified. Shenberger replied that 60 percent had been released in full and 40 percent held back. When Peterson asked about the remaining 40 percent, Shenberger responded that review was ongoing—proceeding on a document-by-document basis—and that she was optimistic for a 2014 release.

Mcllwain stated that the NDC can move through older, previously exempted material based upon a new Executive Order to which Shenberger added that 50 percent of referrals of such documentation was released.

Immerman then asked Fischer if he had any comments to make. Fischer responded that he did not.

Immerman asked John Powers for his report.  After offering his congratulations to Herschler on his upcoming retirement, noting that he had first met Herschler in 1995 when Powers served as a FRUS subvention at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, Powers presented a report on the most recent PIDB public meeting, the last until further funding is secured.  The meeting focused on a specific recommendation from the PIDB's 2012 Transforming the Security Classification System report to the President on prioritizing records for declassification.  He thanked the Historian for participating on a panel to address how Department of State historians compile FRUS volumes and how future volumes will be compiled in an era of large volumes of digital data.  The PIDB used the meeting to begin an online effort to solicit public feedback on declassification priorities across five broad areas:  records more than 25 years old; records less than 25 years old; obsolete Restricted Data (RD)/Formerly Restricted Data (FRD); service records; and records from Presidential Libraries.  Their blog can be found at  Powers also discussed the recent release of the Obama administration’s second National Action Plan, noting that this Plan called for the creation of the Classification Reform Steering Committee and for reform of FRD records.  Sibley then asked a question about the priority given to the latter issue; Powers responded that this has been a long-standing concern for historians and was driven by feedback from the public.

John Laster proceeded to give his report. He provided an update on the ongoing effort to provide FRUS researchers with access to Reagan-era email (Professional Office System (PROFS) notes). Laster stated that NARA now had agreements with the National Security Council and a copy of the PROFS notes (consisting of over 300,000 messages) would be turned over to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to see if CIA would be able to make the notes text searchable, in addition to using the notes to test equity recognition tools. Laster added that NARA would try to make the PROFS notes available at the earliest possible date. Herschler inquired about the time frame; Laster responded that he did not have an answer at the moment, but that NARA planned to turn this information over to the CIA by the beginning of January.

Shenberger hailed this as an exciting development and stated that the framework for interagency cooperation in this case could serve as a template for further projects. Immerman agreed, adding that it was useful to have these processes explained and to develop a dialogue from these exchanges. Langbart pressed the Committee for a response to their preference regarding the review and release of Department of State records since the question had been left open from the morning discussion. Immerman and McMahon responded that it seemed reasonable if all components of Department of State records for a given year were released within a 12- month time frame. Immerman stated that the Committee had reached the decision that current NARA practices, regarding the Central Foreign Policy File, remain in place.

The session adjourned at 2:43 p.m.

Major Office Undertakings in Digital Outreach and Policy Studies

Immerman called the session to order at 3 p.m.

Randolph addressed several of the Office’s digital outreach initiatives, noting that Joe Wicentowski and others had produced a digital mandate document to govern the review and posting of information to the Office’s website. He highlighted the work of Erin Cozens and Aaron Marrs in developing a subject taxonomy in order to tag all online published work, including FRUS volumes. Randolph discussed some of the newer features of the Office’s website, including the revamped Milestones section and the FRUS history and supporting primary source documentation.

Chris Morrison discussed his and others’ work on U.S.-Iranian relations. Morrison stated that the Office had recently received several requests from Assistant Secretary Frantz for background about U.S.-Iranian issues, shortly after U.S. negotiators had commenced their talks with the Iranians. Morrison stated that the Policy Studies Division provided a detailed paper to Frantz in 2 hours’ time. Morrison explained that the Policy Studies Division was able to act so quickly because its historians had completed a 2011 project on Iran that they were able to use as a resource. Immerman asked if the 2011 project was proposed and initiated within the Policy Studies Division. Morrison said that it was, since questions from the Department regarding Iran were relatively common. Morrison added that Frantz had more recently met with Randolph, at which point more papers were requested and provided, again with quick turn-around. Morrison stated that the Policy Studies Division had succeeded in providing the Department with both internal and public papers about U.S.-Iranian dialogue.

Husain spoke about his work regarding the Middle East. He stated that in the spring, he began working on a paper on the recent Arab revolutions that was delivered to Secretary of State Kerry. Additionally, he produced a paper (in conjunction with a contact on the Policy Planning Staff (S/P)) about the transformation of the Middle East from World War I to the present. That paper was also given to the Secretary. He added that a future paper on political Islam was a possibility. Husain said that he was working currently with Ambassador Martin Indyk's office to provide papers on the Middle East peace process, and that one of his papers had already been delivered to Indyk. Husain said he used archival sources and interviews to prepare the papers, and Mann added that memoirs had been particularly useful. Immerman asked if Husain's studies would assist with the production of FRUS in the future. Husain replied that he was keeping a log of all the sources he viewed and that the log would assist future researchers. Marrs stated that all of the Office's policy studies are eventually retired to NARA. William McAllister added that Seth Center's work on Iraq will be helpful to compilers as well. Morrison said that Center's work had already brought new documents into the Office. Sibley asked if Husain's contact in S/P was a historian or a policymaker. Husain said the contact was a policymaker with a background in history.

Marrs then discussed his work on Africa. He stated that his work fell into three categories. His paper after the coup in Mali was an example of the first category—studies based on contemporary events. His paper on peacekeeping in Africa was an example of the second category—papers requested by PA. His 12 papers for Ambassadors were an example of the third category—papers written for Ambassadors who were preparing to go to an African post. He added that he had also given oral briefings to Ambassadors, and that many of his papers had been circulated outside the Bureau of African Affairs (AF) to 10 other Bureaus. Marrs said that he had been working closely with Krasnoff (who prepares ambassadorial briefings for European posts), since many European nations once had African colonies and Ambassadors often want to know more about colonial history.

Immerman stated that he was “impressed” with the work done by the Policy Studies and Special Projects Divisions and that all the members of the Committee were “converts” on the importance of policy studies.

Efforts to Meet the 30-Year Publication Line: Researching and Annotating Documentation in Carter Administration Records

Following an overview by David Geyer, Mircea Munteanu discussed his current research with the Committee, noting the organization of his volume, the challenges he faced in research, and the issues he expects to face in declassification of the volume.

Resolution in Recognition of David Herschler’s Service to the National Archives and Records Administration and the Department of State

Upon the conclusion of Munteanu’s presentation, Peterson asked Immerman for the floor in order to deliver the following resolution:

  • “Whereas David Herschler has given 37 years of dedicated service to the Government of the United States, and
  • “Whereas David Herschler has served the Historical Office with distinction in a variety of roles, including that of Deputy Historian, and
  • “Whereas David Herschler has persistently and vigorously advocated for the declassification and release of State Department records and their transfer to the National Archives, and
  • “Whereas David Herschler has attended 108 meetings of the Historical Advisory Committee and has organized the HAC meetings with exemplary efficiency and diplomacy,
  • “Therefore,
  • “The Historical Advisory Committee of the Department of State thanks David Herschler for his service and his participation in the transformation of the Historical Office into an organization that comes ever closer to meeting its Congressional mandate, and wishes him a long and active retirement.”

The meeting then adjourned.