June 2008

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, June 2–3, 2008


Committee Members

  • Wm. Roger Louis, Chairman
  • Robert McMahon
  • Edward Rhodes
  • Thomas Schwartz
  • 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
  • Steve Galpern
  • Amy Garrett
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • Tiffany Hamelin
  • David Herschler
  • Paul Hibbeln
  • Susan Holly
  • Adam Howard
  • Stephanie Hurter
  • Hal Jones
  • Edward Keefer
  • Bonnie Sue Kim
  • Peter Kraemer
  • Doug Kraft
  • Madelina Lee
  • Keri Lewis
  • Erin Mahan
  • Aaron Marrs
  • Bill McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Chris Morrison
  • Richard Moss
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Chris Tudda
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Susan Weetman
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alex Wieland
  • Louise Woodroofe

Bureau of Administration

  • David Adamson
  • Marvin Russell
  • Tasha Thian
  • Peter Sheils

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Michael Carlson, Special Media Archives Services Division
  • William P. Fischer, Life Cycle Management Division
  • David Langbart, Life Cycle Management Division
  • Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division

Central Intelligence Agency

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

Open Session, June 2

Approval of the Record of the February 2008 Meeting

Chairman Louis called the meeting to order at 1:36 p.m. Edward Rhodes asked that the minutes of the February meeting be corrected to show that he was present. The minutes were then approved by the committee.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Executive Secretary Marc Susser introduced the two new members of the Office of the Historian. He then told the committee about the office’s plans for short and long-term research at the Carter Library. Compiling assignments for the Foreign Relations (FRUS) volumes for the Carter administration had been allocated. Some planning had been done for the Reagan administration series as well. The number of volumes, travel distance, and costs were the chief challenges in planning future volumes. Meanwhile, the office expected to publish three FRUS volumes this summer, with two more to follow soon after.

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and the General Editor

Deputy Historian David Herschler gave a general report on the status of declassification of the FRUS series. Since the last meeting, three volumes had been verified, the final step in the declassification process. Three newly completed manuscripts had been referred for declassification since the February meeting. There were now a total of 25 volumes in the declassification process. All but two of the volumes cover the Nixon/Ford administrations; the others are retrospectives.

Herschler said that the office had continued to make significant progress on both the redesign and substantive enhancements to the website. The technological enhancements will, among other things, revolutionize the way in which FRUS is used online.

Herschler mentioned that the “A-100 team” was now well into its second year of teaching the Diplomatic History Module, a substantive primer on the history of U.S. foreign policy, specially designed for new Foreign Service Officers. The team, which includes more than a dozen staff historians who teach on a rotating basis, would complete the late spring 2008 iteration of the course the following afternoon.

On the professional outreach front, Herschler reported that office historians had continued to be actively engaged in the larger historical profession since the last meeting. In particular, the office had an impressive showing at the 101st annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) held in New York City. Herschler, Susser, and Kristin Ahlberg organized and spoke at a roundtable session, entitled “Historian and Federal Employee: Public History on a Global Stage.” Robert McMahon also spoke on the panel. Aaron Marrs presented a paper entitled “Towards a Social History of the Transportation Revolution.” Melissa Jane Taylor presented a paper entitled, “New Research on America’s Response to Nazism and the Holocaust.” Peter Kraemer chaired his final meeting of the OAH International Committee, and Ahlberg participated in the meeting of the OAH Newsletter advisory committee. Todd Bennett and Doug Kraft also attended the conference.

The May 2008 issue of The Public Historian featured two articles about Federal history programs. One, written by Kristin Ahlberg, described the history of the office, and also highlighted the committee. Jack Holl wrote about the work of Federal history programs and how they served their agencies, as well as the public and other professionals.

Herschler then introduced two new division chiefs, Amy Garrett and William McAllister. Garrett, Policy Studies Division Chief, said that the divisions would work in tandem. Policy Studies would work on short or long-term projects from Department bureaus or from the public. The division would also be involved in website redevelopment. McAllister, Special Projects Division Chief, said that Special Projects would involve research projects using outside funds and would create videos for public outreach. The Joint Historian would be assigned to the Special Projects division. Work and people could be shifted between the two divisions as needed.

Herschler added that the office had received two major grants from an outside agency funding source to conduct two lessons learned studies in support of current initiatives in the foreign policy community. Historians in the newly constituted Policy Studies and Special Projects Divisions will undertake the studies over the next 15 months.

Rhodes asked about the differences between the two new divisions. Susser said that tasks for Policy Studies would generally be short or long-term and commissioned by principals in the Department. Special projects would focus on projects that entail outside funding, public outreach, and cultural diplomacy. Rhodes also asked whether earlier FRUS volumes would be digitized. Herschler said that while it was technically possible, costs would prevent any short-term implementation. He also suggested that the committee consider viewing a demonstration of the new office website at a future meeting. General Editor Edward Keefer said that no volumes had been published since the last meeting, so he would discuss the Nixon-Ford series in its entirety. He had reviewed all the Nixon-Ford volumes except Panama; all were either in print, under technical editing, or were being declassified. In 1996, two people had completed three of the Nixon volumes. Of the 17 volumes started by 2000, 16 had been published. Of the 15 begun in 2001–02, 6 had been published. Only 2 out of 10 had been published during 2003–2004. The first three volumes were 27 years older than the documents. An early start offered a better chance of catching up. There was an ongoing trend toward publishing fewer volumes with more selectivity and high quality. There had been 66 volumes for Eisenhower and 59 for Kennedy-Johnson, plus microfiche supplements. Only 3 Nixon-Ford volumes had been published within the 30-year limit. In contrast, 30% of the Eisenhower volumes, 16% of the Kennedy volumes, and 34% of the Johnson volumes had met the 30-year limit. Thirty-three of the Nixon volumes remained to be published, and the average volume was published 34 years after the fact. The average Truman and Eisenhower volumes had been published after 33 years. The reports described the nature of the delays. Mr. Keefer said it had been an honor to be general editor of the Nixon subseries and to work with the office staff.

McMahon asked whether there were any predictions about timely publication of the Carter volumes. Keefer answered that that the 32-year mark was possible by 2010. Rhodes asked why the Nixon volumes seemed to take more time than other subseries. Keefer answered that the difficulty of obtaining and transcribing the Nixon tapes were a unique challenge. Louis asked about the LBJ tapes, and was told that these had been an issue before Keefer was general editor. Katherine Sibley asked about overall documentation trends in FRUS, and Keefer answered that with each administration, the body of materials to consider for inclusion increased, more intelligence materials were included, and more agencies were involved in policy-making. Thomas Schwarz asked about selectivity, and Keefer answered that there was a trend toward fewer volumes and more depth.

McMahon noted the trend toward fewer volumes per administration: 57 for Nixon-Ford and 38–46 for Reagan. He recalled that Nancy Smith said there were 8 to 10 million documents in the Reagan Library. Therefore, despite the plan for fewer volumes, publication would likely be no faster. Susser said the nature of the series was changing, with more presidential and less Department material being covered. Susser noted that declassification was easier when the Department was the primary source for documents. McMahon noted the trend toward reliance on Presidential Libraries. Keefer noted that full access to the Truman Library collections was not possible until after Truman’s death. Only then did the role of other agencies become apparent.

McMahon noted that the planned reduction in the number of volumes for the Reagan administration would result in 25,000 fewer pages if each volume averaged 1,300 pages. Keefer reminded him that the number of volumes would increase exponentially without selectivity. Louis remained troubled by the trend toward fewer volumes.

Status of Declassification of the Department of State Records

Marvin Russell reported to the committee that the systematic review of Department of State electronic documents (telegrams) continued on schedule. Review for the 25-year declassification line has reached 1983. Classified e-cable review for 1983 will be completed this year, and unclassified e-cable review is now about 94% complete for 1981 and 81% complete for 1982.

As far as electronic records sent to other agencies for equity review, this process has been completed for the 1977 e-records. Final steps are being taken to ready these for transfer to the National Archives (NARA) for accessioning. Electronic cables from 1978–1979 are currently out for comment by other agencies.

Paper documents are also on track in review.

Peter Sheils introduced Tasha Thian, the new Department Records Officer.

Todd Bennett asked about the records of USIA/USIS, which were unavailable to researchers. He believed that this material was unavailable for several reasons: some of it was in-processing at NARA; and other parts of it were at the Washington National Records Center (WNRC) at Suitland. Russell responded that the Department review of those records was complete and the records had been transferred to NARA.

Closed Session, June 2

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

Louis asked Don McIlwain to deliver his report. McIlwain indicated that he planned to discuss the declassification and opening of records and the establishment of a classified national records center. He noted that the 1975 P-reel printouts had been indexed and had proceeded through the interagency referral system. Currently, the P-reels were undergoing a final Kyl–Lott review at the Department of Energy. Approximately one-fourth of the material had been examined. McIlwain commented that once the process was complete, the P-reels would be available for research.

He then turned to the topic of the Record Group (RG) 84 post files. The files for the 1970–1975 period had been accessioned to the National Archives under a WNRC transfer. Archivists had processed these materials and put the documentation into distinct series, organized alphabetically by country and by post, beginning with Canberra. Archivists had sent the post files through the interagency referral system. McIlwain commented that the records of the United States Information Agency (USIA) Record Group 306, were also undergoing declassification review. He would provide an update concerning these records at the September meeting. Bennett interjected, inquiring as to the status of several RG 306 subcollections. McIlwain responded by asking Bennett and other staff historians to provide him with a list of priority collections.

Turning to a discussion of the National Declassification Initiative (NDI), McIlwain stressed that the quality assurance team reviews had expanded from 1 day to 2 days a week. Three new archives specialists had recently joined the reviewing team, and McIlwain expressed his hope that the reviewing process could expand to 4 days a week in order to, as he quipped, “push the rat through the snake.” He added that a working group, which included Department of State representation, had pursued the feasibility of a classified national records center, as an outgrowth of recommendations made by the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB). The working group intended to develop a concept plan by summer’s end. Part of the impetus for such a center stemmed from the practicality of a centralized location.

Concluding his report, McIlwain asked for questions. Herschler, referencing the Department of State Lot Files, inquired as to how researchers could best identify records that did not appear in the NARA finding aids. McIlwain indicated that staff historians should contact him in order to determine the location of these materials. Herschler then posed a question as to the schedule of declassification and processing, in regard to the availability of documentation. McIlwain responded that NARA devised a work plan that is not necessarily reliable, due to the vagaries of the referral process. Bennett inquired as to whether the Office of the Historian could be helpful by identifying collections of interest to the general public, in order to move these collections to the front of the declassification queue. McIwain responded in the affirmative, adding that staff historians should contact him with this information.

Louis asked David Langbart if he had any comments. Langbart indicated that the process continued to function well. Louis then turned to David Adamson, who responded that he did not have any information to add to the discussion.

Update of Development and Implementation of the SMART System

The SMART (State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset) System was developed by the Office of Information Resource Management (IRM) in order to meet the growing need for streamlining, capturing, and archiving Department of State emails. Once launched, the system will save selected emails to a searchable database that will allow for fine-grained searching. Emails will be tagged with key words, classification level, and selected by users as containing either short- or long-term relevance. The emails in the database archived under long-term relevance will eventually be turned over to NARA for permanent archival retention, review, and declassification. The system is currently being tested in a few key offices and is to begin testing at foreign posts within the next year. The SMART staff will present a demonstration of the system for the Office of the Historian in the fall.

Documentation Withheld from Recently Reviewed Foreign Relations Manuscripts

The committee discussed documentation withheld from FRUS manuscripts with the Genreal Editor and the Chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division.

Closed Session, June 3

Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business

Kathy Rasmussen discussed her current research with the committee.

Committee Review of Recently Published volume, Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, China, 1973–1976

The committee discussed this recently published volume with the General Editor.

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

Herschler welcomed the CIA representatives and said that there has been an overall improvement in the pace of CIA declassification review of volumes without High Level Panel (HLP) issues. The Agency is no longer in arrears on any such volumes. Volumes with HLP issues, however, continue to move very slowly through the process, despite the persistent efforts of the Agency’s FRUS staff and the office to initiate HLP reviews at the earliest possible moment. Approximately half of all FRUS volumes contain at least one HLP issue, and so the HLP process has a considerable impact on the timeliness of the completion of declassification and publishing of the series. The office has learned that some offices within the Agency are reluctant to review those FRUS documents in volumes with HLP issues that are completely unrelated to the HLP issues, despite the earlier commitment by the Agency to do just that. This has set back declassification of significant documentation in several volumes awaiting resolution of the CIA’s HLP process well beyond the 120-day statutory declassification review timeframe. Moreover, the office has now received some indication that the expedited process for CIA internal consideration and recommendations on HLP issues that had been established more than a year ago may not be working as well as had been envisioned.

Herschler reported that the office had verified two print volumes with the CIA since the February meeting. This makes a total of four volumes verified with the CIA thus far in 2008. The office anticipated verifying a minimum of 4 to 5 more volumes by the end of September.

Since the February meeting, Herschler noted, the CIA had completed the initial declassification review of two of eight volumes in the initial declassification review phase. Four volumes had passed the 120-day declassification review deadline, but were awaiting decisions on HLP issues. The other four were not yet overdue, but two of those were awaiting resolution of HLP issues. The office had referred three new volumes to the CIA since the February meeting. The CIA currently also has two volumes under appeal.

Louis asked about the two retrospective volumes on the Congo and Iran, and discussed specifics of those reviews with the CIA representatives.

Rhodes empathized with the CIA’s FRUS Review Coordinator’s difficulty in coordinating with new the NCS IRO’s learning curve on new material for volume review, but expressed “a deep and very serious concern” about the length of time for HLP decisions, the delay in review of chapters that do not contain HLP issues; and the renewal of the aggregate budget number issue, which the office and the committee believed had been resolved years ago.” McMahon was also frustrated by the apparent backsliding in the HLP, and the overall review processes in 2008 after positive progress had been made in 2006 and 2007. The CIA representatives responded that they were trying to speed the process up, and that they would be in touch about many of the outstanding volumes as soon as possible. Rhodes responded that “I’ll be in touch” was not a reassuring response to the committee, and expressed concern that the committee would have to revisit the same issues at the September 2008 Committee meeting. The committee then discussed the review of the retrospective Congo volume with the CIA representatives. McMahon asked why there was a distinction between information that the legislative branch had publicly released, for example that in the Church Committee Report, and that being contemplated by an agency of the executive branch. He emphasized that the scholarly community saw no such distinction and wanted the U.S. Government to release as much information as possible.

McMahon said that the committee was open to a philosophical exchange over release of information, particularly information that is already in the public domain. However, he continued, the committee does not believe that a compelling reason to protect national security exists when the public already has knowledge of certain issues, like those in the Church Committee Report. He repeated that the scholarly community wanted the government to err on the side of release and does not understand the justification for refusing to release publicly available documentation in a FRUS volume. A CIA representative responded that there is an ongoing issue within the CIA and the U.S. Government as a whole over official vs. non-official release.

The committee and office staff then discussed the National Security Policy, 1973–1976 volume with the CIA representatives.

The CIA representatives then discussed some specifics of the Agency review process with the committee.

The CIA representatives then raised the possibility of a joint conference or event similar to the recent Helms symposium held at Georgetown University. Such a conference, and the resulting publicity, could be beneficial to both offices. Louis agreed with the proposal. Weetman agreed that a joint conference would be appropriate for certain FRUS volumes. Susser agreed and reminded the committee of the success of the 2003 Guatemala retrospective conference, which also resulted in the CIA’s release of additional documentation not contained in the volume. The CIA reiterated that tight budgets necessitated the cooperation of U.S. Government agencies and the participation of area universities in such an event.

Weetman recommended that a specific due date for issue statements (similar to those for volumes) might be helpful. The CIA representatives agreed, and stated that they had begun to enforce internal due dates for issue statements. Rhodes suggested that a formal agreement to that effect could be created. The CIA representatives said that closer interaction between their office and the Historian’s Office, rather than exchanges of correspondence, might speed up the process. Herschler mentioned that it would be helpful if the office drafted issue statements even earlier in the declassification process.

The CIA representatives informed the committee that their responses were often delayed because their office was attempting to coordinate their document excisions internally as much as possible for the sake of long-term efficiency. Rhodes expressed his appreciation to the CIA representatives for their efforts and offered the committee’s assistance. Weetman suggested more communication between the CIA and the office to ascertain the status of any outstanding volumes and issue statements.

Louis thanked the CIA representatives and ended the session.