July 2005

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, July 11-12, 2005


Committee Members

  • Wm. Roger Louis, Chairman,
  • Diane Clemens,
  • Margaret Hedstrom,
  • Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman,
  • Edward Rhodes,
  • Geoffrey Watson

Office of the Historian

  • Marc Susser, Historian,
  • Kristin Ahlberg,
  • Monica Belmonte,
  • Todd Bennett,
  • Myra Burton,
  • Paul Claussen,
  • Bradley Coleman,
  • Craig Daigle,
  • Evan Duncan,
  • Steve Galpern,
  • Amy Garrett,
  • David Geyer,
  • Renée Goings,
  • David Herschler,
  • Paul Hibbeln,
  • Susan Holly,
  • Edward Keefer,
  • Peter Kraemer,
  • Doug Kraft,
  • Erin Mahan,
  • Bill McAllister,
  • Chris Morrison,
  • David Nickles,
  • Linda Qaimmaqami,
  • Kathleen Rasmussen,
  • Florence Segura,
  • Doug Selvage,
  • Jim Siekmeier,
  • Chris Tudda,
  • James Van Hook,
  • Laurie West Van Hook,
  • Jennifer Walele,
  • Dean Weatherhead,
  • Susan Weetman

Bureau of Administration

  • Brian Dowling, A/RPS/IPS;
  • David Adamson, A/RPS/IPS

National Archives and Records Administration

  • David Kepley, Office of Records Services;
  • David Langbart, Life Cycle Management Division;
  • Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division;
  • Marvin Russell, Initial Processing and Declassification Division;
  • Nancy Smith, Office of Presidential Libraries;
  • John Powers, The Nixon Presidential Materials Project;
  • Mary Kay Schmidt, Initial Processing and Declassification Division

Central Intelligence Agency

  • John C.,
  • Vicki


Approval of the Record of the March 2005 Meeting

Roger Louis called the meeting to order at 1:36 p.m., and announced that it was the 143rd Historical Advisory Committee meeting.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Marc Susser stated that the Historian’s Office had accomplished much and broken new ground. The office had held a symposium with the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Library on two Foreign Relations (FRUS) volumes dealing with Latin America during the Johnson administration. A more recent conference hosted by the office dealt with a volume on South Asia and featured the debut of the first electronic-only FRUS volume. Additionally, for the first time in 10 years, the Department of State had hosted a conference for social studies teachers.

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and the General Editor

Deputy Historian David Herschler reported on personnel and outreach. He mentioned the departure of two members of the staff, one retiring after 33 years of service, and the transition from contract to employee status of two other staff members. The office’s historical outreach, Herschler said, had been extraordinary; the next video entitled “Sports and Diplomacy” and an accompanying curriculum guide would debut in November. Much interest had been noted since the video was described as a cross between the History Channel and ESPN. The office would begin work on a Media and Diplomacy video for release in 2006.

The LBJ Library symposium had examined FRUS volumes covering Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. The office had also played a major role in the last Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) meeting, with five papers being presented and five members providing commentary. This was the fourth consecutive year that the office’s participation at SHAFR meetings had increased.

During the last week in June, the office had hosted a conference on South Asia, in which the new volume on the 1971 crisis featured prominently. The supplement to the volume was the office’s first all-electronic publication, which contained additional material on the crisis, information on bilateral relations, and some longer Nixon telephone conversations. The conference drew about 100 persons, and in addition to the standard academic panels, also included round tables with former diplomats and scholars, including Robert McMahon. The 1971 volume had appeared in April, which gave participants time to read it and prepare. The conference was a success, with praise for the volume, much exchanging of views, and smooth logistical arrangements. Herschler thanked and lauded McMahon and the office’s conference committee for their work.

Edward Keefer said that he hoped that a drought in FRUS publications would now become a “monsoon.” The first drops of rain had been felt as three volumes had been released in the last 3 months, including the first all-electronic volume. Keefer said that it should be possible to average one volume per month for the rest of the decade. The Johnson administration volume on the Caribbean was based on extraordinarily complete access to records from the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, the 303 Committee, and the LBJ Papers and Nixon White House tapes. The volume covered much material about the Dominican Republic, debate on covert actions against Cuba, and policy debate about Haiti. Guyana had been covered “warts and all.”

The South Asia volume, Keefer continued, was the first in the Nixon series to deal with a major crisis that went to the heart of trilateral diplomacy with the USSR and China. It marked the start of the office’s three-tiered program involving print volumes, e-volumes, and access guides. A quarter of the Nixon volumes would be completely electronic. These cost less to produce, were faster to edit, and included more material. The South Asia e-volume included the full texts of Nixon White House tapes dealing with the Indo-Pakistan crisis and was a model for future volumes.

Louis noted that the Latin American conference featured a happy mix of historians and participants, and that it was helpful to have joint sponsorship by the University of Texas. The most recent FRUS volumes had set a new standard, Louis said. He noted that one purpose of the committee’s meetings was to inform the public of the office’s activities. Since few reporters now attended, the program was a victim of its own success.

Kristin Ahlberg thanked members of the program committee, colleagues, and senior office management for their assistance before and during the South Asia conference. Many professional organizations had been contacted, she said, leading to an excellent mix of conference participants.

Lisa Cobbs Hoffman asked Keefer about the office’s budget, wondering whether the projected publication pace of one volume a month would be hampered by lack of funds. Keefer acknowledged that this schedule would indeed stretch the budget but said that the office had always managed to find the money to print a finished volume. In reply to a question by Louis, Keefer stated that a normal print run of a FRUS volume consisted of 1,500 to 2,500 copies, depending on the GPO’s estimation of demand. Herschler noted that production expenses for each print volume were $30,000, but that they were always looking for ways to cut costs. Keefer added that e-volumes were much cheaper because they were produced entirely “in-house.”

In response to a question from Hoffman, Herschler, Keefer, and the committee discussed new and better to ways to promote FRUS.

Hedstrom asked about the impact of the office’s teaching videos. Susan Holly replied that the first video, “Terrorism: A War Without Borders” had been very successful. The second, “A History of Diplomacy,” had just been sent out to high-school teachers across the nation to be used during the upcoming fall semester. Many of these teachers had already contacted the office and praised the high quality of the video and lesson plans and requested additional copies for their colleagues.

In response to a question from Edward Rhodes, Herschler discussed the prospects for future conferences with the committee.

Hedstrom asked about the China Supplement volume. Keefer replied that at one time the office planned to issue a supplement to every volume but will not be able to, due to lack of resources. This supplement, therefore, is a “one-time only” event for print volumes. E-volumes, on the other hand, can still be supplemented as needed. Louis asked about the status of the Organization of Foreign Policy volume, and Susan Weetman replied that it was on track to be published next year.

Rhodes wondered whether there was any bad news to report. Keefer answered that there was always a potential for declassification problems, but that the office had a better overall system in place than before. Herschler commented that during the last 4 months many previously stalled volumes had moved forward in the declassification process and that the office anticipated four to five more volumes to be verified before the end of September.

Status of Declassification of State Department Records

Brian Dowling reported that his team reviews had suffered a setback in June, when their facility was flooded by a burst water pipe. He and the committee discussed this development in detail.

Dowling then turned to the chart he had distributed earlier, illustrating the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) progress in declassifying three kinds of records: paper, electronic, and microfilm. He noted that IPS had yet to declassify 1,300 boxes of paper records. As for electronic records, Dowling anticipated that IPS would complete its first and second tier reviews of 1978 classified materials by September and 1979 classified materials by the end of the year. Given the priority of completing the classified (as opposed to the unclassified) record review, IPS would focus on reviewing the 1980 and 1981 classified cables, and then the unclassified materials in 2006. At present, he said, some 15 college students were reviewing unclassified records. While Dowling expected that IPS would make its deadline to review paper and electronic records, he was less optimistic about microfilm materials, which took twice as long to process because IPS, in addition to performing a declassification review, was also converting P-reels into paper records. IPS processed an average of five P-reels each day. Dowling said he was considering requesting an extension of the deadline for electronic media.


Report by the Sub-Committee on Eletronic Records

Hedstrom reported that the Subcommittee on Electronic Records had considered two issues during its meeting that morning: the transfer of central electronic telegram files to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); and the State Messaging and Archiving Retrieval Toolset (SMART), the new system for storing and retrieving State telegrams, e-mail, and other electronic records.

Hedstrom then detailed the several barriers to getting the electronic telegram files on-line. Hedstrom noted that NARA was conducting a second round of user studies, allowing access to an additional 150,000 electronic telegrams. The project had been delayed, however, due to the withdrawal of several thousand documents because of privacy concerns.

Hedstrom estimated that NARA would be able to process the 1975 Department of State records in a matter of weeks after receiving them, since the staff had learned valuable lessons in processing the previous accession.

Hedstrom said that NARA had failed to deliver on its promise to give committee members a demonstration of its electronic records retrieval system. Although nothing was likely to happen before September, Hedstrom suggested that the committee should be concerned if the demonstration did not take place by its meeting in December.

Hedstrom noted that plans for SMART to replace SAS (State Archiving System) were very ambitious—and were currently running about 1 year behind schedule. The Department of State, however, still hoped to finish testing in a simulated environment this year and roll out a pilot project of the new system in 2006.

David Kepley praised Hedstrom’s report and said that he had nothing to add. Don McIlwain added that the process of accessioning electronic records was moving forward.

In response to Herschler’s question, David Adamson explained why there had been a need to re-examine the 1973-74 cables for privacy concerns and withdraw an additional 3,200 of the 700,000 cables. He said that first, the initial review had been a pilot effort; since then they had learned a lot. Second, they now had automated tools for reviewing the cables for such items as social security and passport numbers. And third, Adamson said, guidance had changed since the initial review was done. In particular, guidance on withdrawing passport numbers and on arrest cases—which account for 90% of the 3,200 additional cables withdrawn—had changed.

Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of the Foreign Policy Record: Foreign Relations Research at the Nixon Project

John Powers reported to the committee on FRUS research at the Nixon Project. Overall, Powers said that his job entailed three main responsibilities. First, the Nixon Project supports FRUS researchers. He noted that there had been many FRUS researchers at the Nixon Project in the last few months.

Second, the Nixon Project completes the Presidential Materials and Records Preservation Act (PRMPA) review. The Nixon Project was mainly up to date on its PRMPA review. These first two responsibilities were time consuming and the Nixon Project had lost much of its staff, but things were proceeding well. Powers was now sending the office weekly updates on the status of research at the Nixon project.

The third responsibility was copying taped conversations onto CDs for the office to transcribe. It was this aspect of the Nixon Project’s work that Powers was most concerned about. The majority of the tapes that the office had requested were in the unprocessed “5th chron” (November 1972 to July 1973). The work on the tapes was going more slowly than Powers had anticipated. As such, the Nixon Project planned to work closely with the Office of Presidential Libraries at NARA to expedite the process of copying the tapes.

Powers said that he had really enjoyed the South Asia Conference. He commented that the new FRUS volumes on South Asia were insightful and accurate—he was impressed with what the office was able to get declassified. Powers said that the declassified tape transcripts in FRUS volumes are the only access the public will have to many tapes until the release of the “5th chron” in late 2009 or 2010. He continued that he had spent the second day of the conference at his office answering queries from the public on the tapes in the new South Asia volumes.

Powers stated that there were four main activities at the Nixon Project that would continue to affect FRUS: first was the move to Yorba Linda, California; second was the staffing issue; third were reference requests; and fourth was the Project’s work on the Remote Archival Capture (RAC) project.

Last year the Nixon Project lost eight staff members, including former Director Karl Wiessenbach, to the Eisenhower Library—none of these people had been replaced. There are no FRUS subventions at the project. The Nixon Project has one person whose last day is July 31, detailed to work on FRUS. Powers hoped that the Project could convince her to remain on a part-time basis. If she remained on the staff, she would be doing PRMPA reviews and packaging of classified documents to be shipped to the office. The Nixon Project had recently hired two new archivists who would be able to help with FRUS work.

Reference work at the Nixon Project by the public had been especially heavy recently. Over the past months, the Nixon Project had averaged 36 new researchers per month, 106 reference requests per month, and 54 new researchers per month. Project personnel have, on average, pulled 1,439 boxes per month. This was done with a staff of 11.

The Project is also working with the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), and must comply with equity identification for RAC documents by May 2006.

Last quarter, the Project had 11 FRUS researchers. It also conducted six PRMPA reviews. Regarding tapes—the biggest challenge—the project had received a total of 633 requests for taped conversations from FRUS historians since FRUS work began at the project. Of those, the project still had 173 remaining conversations left to review and copy for the office, and nearly all are from the unprocessed “5th chron.” In addition, Powers noted, the Nixon Project had packaged 2,700 pages of classified documents this past quarter. Powers hoped that the Nixon Project and the office would sit down to prioritize tape requests. Overall, Powers concluded that since he had taken over as supervisor, communication between the Nixon Project and the office had improved.

Louis then called on Nancy Smith, who discussed the RAC project, in which documents from the Carter Library are scanned and then reviewed in Washington. She said that it would be easy for FRUS historians to schedule an appointment to view the documents. Before office historians can review the scanned documents, however, both the Office of the Historian and the Office of Presidential Libraries needed to agree to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Only documents that need declassification review are part of the RAC project. As such, viewing RAC documents does not eliminate the need to do research at the Carter Library. The RAC does not include material that does not fall under mandatory review, nor does it include material that is unclassified or was previously declassified.

Keefer said that a year ago, the office had initiated discussions with Nancy Smith regarding access to RAC documents at the Carter Library. Now the office is nearly ready to look at the RAC materials.

Louis commented that he was happy that Smith would allow FRUS researchers to look at the RAC documents. He also asked how delays in processing Nixon tapes would affect the FRUS schedule for producing volumes. Keefer noted that some completed volumes were only awaiting insertion of transcripts of taped conversations. Keefer noted that the tapes were an extremely valuable historical resource—in some cases, they are the only documents that the office has to explain how policy was made.

Hoffman expressed concern about the staffing problems at the Nixon Project. She asked if shortages in staffing would hold up the copying of conversations to CDs for the office to transcribe? Powers responded that resources had been shifted away from the processing of the “5th chron” to other responsibilities. They had stopped doing public review of tapes, which would help meet FRUS work. He discussed the difficulty of predicting how long it takes to find, review, and copy conversations. Powers said it may take some time for the Nixon Project to go through the 173 remaining conversations that the office had requested and the Nixon Project had yet to copy to CDs. Powers thought it would be a good idea if the office were to go over the 173 conversations and confirm if all of them were essential for the FRUS historians, and to review the prioritization of these requests. The one member of the staff assigned to make the CDs also had to spend one day per week on PRMPA review of the manuscripts. Powers hoped that she would be able to devote more time to the CDs in the future.

Smith said that under E.O. 12958 guidelines, the Nixon Project must review all the relevant materials at the Nixon Project by May 2006 for the RAC program. The courts have ruled that the reviews must be done in chronological order. Smith stated that the new hires lack the clearances and expertise to do this work; thus, there is no immediate solution. However, they are considering looking for part-time employees for this task.

Powers noted that there was no way for the ISOO to extend the May 1, 2006 deadline for equity identification for the review of the RAC documents. The new hires would be helpful in doing office work, responding to inquiries, and pulls of boxes. Others with clearances and experience would have to do the equity identification.

Smith said she understood that the committee had a legitimate concern about the rate at which the Nixon Library processes office tape requests, and she mentioned that she had spoken to Keefer and Herschler about the situation. Herschler responded that it would be good to sit down next week with the Nixon Project to go over the prioritization of the tapes requests. He also thought it would be a good idea to start thinking about finding additional people who could do tape work at the Nixon Project. Smith said that the new employee hired to do the tape work must be fully cleared, cannot be a Department employee—to avoid a conflict of interest—and, finally, John Taylor must approve the employee. Herschler said that it would be difficult to find a candidate outside the Department with the clearances and the proper experience with tapes. Smith noted that considering how difficult the review of tapes is, it might prove very time-consuming for the Nixon Project to devote resources to training a person who lacked experience in this area. Hoffman said that the committee had heard more about the problem of finding someone to review tapes at the Nixon Project than solutions to the problem.

Hedstrom asked if there was any way, aside from examining the tape logs, to prioritize the tape requests so that the most important conversations would be reviewed and copied first. Craig Daigle said that looking at the logs was the only way to do this. Powers said that there may be errors in the tape logs, or someone might have written down the incorrect conversation number in a tape request. It would thus be impossible for the Nixon staffer to know if, due to a typographical error in the request, she was copying a conversation that would not have any bearing at all on FRUS.

Bradley Coleman noted that his tape requests had the length of conversation listed with the request. Powers responded that the Nixon Project staff had to double-check these lengths of conversations. He suggested that it might be a good idea for the subvention to sit down with the historians to ensure that the right conversation was being reviewed and copied.

Louis asked which historians had requested and which volumes required conversations that still needed to be reviewed, copied, and transcribed. Mahan stated that Coleman, Howard and Carland had asked for conversations. She also knew of several tape requests from the time period just before the “5th chron” that had not yet been copied. Daigle noted that a number of tapes for the Vietnam and Middle East volumes, some from 1973, particularly Latin America, were awaiting review and copying.

Keefer stated that the only way to know what would be in the conversation was to look at the tape logs. He suggested examining the prioritization of the tape requests, and moving to the top of the list the conversations for which there was no other available record.

Keefer noted that it was inherent in the FRUS process to collect more material than could be printed. For example, FRUS historians copy about 10 times as many documents as are published. The ratio of unpublished tape conversations is only about 2:1 or 3:1. Powers said that the Nixon Project wanted FRUS historians to declassify as many conversations as possible. In that way, it would be easier for the Nixon Project to release more material with the release of the “5th chron” in 2009-2010. Louis said that the number of tape requests appeared manageable.

Herschler said that as the FRUS series continues into future administrations, the transcription of the tapes will come to an end—there would be no more tapes to deal with after the Nixon administration.

James Van Hook asked which collections would be reviewed under the RAC program. Smith responded that the RAC was reviewing and scanning documents that needed to be reviewed under the terms of E.O. 12958. She said that if the material had been reviewed under some other authority, it would not be included in the RAC program. Although it would be a good idea for FRUS historians to review the RAC material before traveling to the Carter Library, a review of the RAC materials would not eliminate the need for research at the library.

Van Hook asked if there was any way for FRUS historians to know what documents had been reviewed and possibly declassified in other places besides the RAC. Keefer noted that the RAC was not created for historical research.

Weetman asked for clarification that the documents FRUS historians will review in the RAC would not be fully declassified. Smith confirmed that this was the case.

The Foreign Relations Series: Declassification Issues

The committee discussed declassification issues related to the Foreign Relations series.

The committee adjourned for the day at 4:55 p.m.


Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business

Coleman discussed the progress of his volume on Vietnam, 1973-1975 with the committee.

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

Herschler said that the office and the CIA had continued to work closely since the last committee meeting. He noted that John Collinge was now Director of the CIA FRUS staff, and praised the efforts of Sue Kiely during her tenure as director.

Herschler reported that six volumes had been verified this year, including an accelerated review for the South Asia electronic publication. He said that the office expects to verify four to six more volumes by the end of the year, which should clear the backlog of volumes. He related this to production and budget schedules. He then stated that the CIA had completed its review of two more volumes, with nine still remaining in progress. One additional volume had been recently submitted to the CIA.

Collinge then discussed in detail CIA reviews of specific volumes.

Van Hook reported to the committee on various FRUS historians who had been conducting research at the CIA. Van Hook noted his organization of a panel for the Society for History in the Federal Government. In September he will also help with the organization of a conference on German-American intelligence cooperation. Van Hook stated he was nearing completion of his manuscript for the FRUS series.

Collinge noted the very positive feedback by U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker on the recent FRUS volumes on South Asia.

Herschler stated that relations between the office and the CIA had greatly improved since 2001, and he looked forward to continued cooperation with the CIA. Herschler added that it was very important for the office to use the money allocated to print volumes this year, since budget constraints for printing might be severe next year.

Committee Review of Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Vol. XI, South Asia Crisis, 1971

Keefer and Louis Smith discussed with the committee the newly released Foreign Relations volume on the South Asia crisis of 1971.

The committee adjourned for Executive Session at 11:30 a.m.