Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation June 8–9, 2015
- Richard Immerman, Chairman
- Laura Belmonte
- James McAllister
- Robert McMahon
- Susan Perdue
- Trudy Peterson
- Katherine Sibley
- Thomas Zeiler
Office of the Historian
- Stephen Randolph, Historian
- Carl Ashley
- Margaret Ball
- Forrest Barnum
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Seth Center
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Joel Christenson
- Stephanie Eckroth
- Thomas Faith
- David Geyer
- Renée Goings
- Adam Howard
- Aiyaz Husain
- Laura Kolar
- Lindsay Krasnoff
- Aaron Marrs
- Bill McAllister
- Michael McCoyer
- Chris Morrison
- Mircea Munteanu
- David Nickles
- Paul Pitman
- Alex Poster
- Kathleen Rasmussen
- Seth Rotramel
- Avi Rubin
- Daniel Rubin
- Melissa Jane Taylor
- Chris Tudda
- Dean Weatherhead
- Joe Wicentowski
- Alex Wieland
- Louise Woodroofe
- David Zierler
Bureau of Administration
- David Adamson
- Jeff Charlston
- William Fischer
- John Hackett
- Marvin Russell
National Archives and Records Administration
- William Mayer, Executive for Research Services
- David Langbart, Textual Records Division
- Leslie Johnston, Digital Preservation Division
- Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division
- John Laster, Office of Presidential Libraries
- Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division
- Meghan Ryan Guthorn, Textual Records Division
- Philip Heslip, Textual Records Division
- Andreea Vlaicu, Textual Processing Branch
- William Burr, National Security Archive
Working Session, June 8
Presentation and Discussion of Current Research Projects
Chairman Richard Immerman called the meeting to order at 9:55 a.m.
Reflecting on the subject of the presentation—two forthcoming volumes on the Panama Canal Treaty—Immerman observed that the projects addressed a need in the Foreign Relations series (FRUS). He then called on General Editor Adam Howard to introduce the two compilers, Alex Poster and Laura Kolar.
Howard offered a brief overview of two volumes and then invited the compilers to discuss their volumes. The first, compiled by Poster, covers the period from 1973 through 1976. Kolar has assembled and annotated the second volume, documenting the years 1977 through 1980, for publication in the near future. Poster and Kolar discussed their research and findings.
The Committee adjourned at 10:45 a.m.
Open Session, June 8
Approval of the Record of the March 2015 Meeting
Immerman convened the session at 11:15 a.m. He greeted the attendees and moved for the Committee to approve the minutes of the March meeting. His motion received a quick second and the Committee adopted the measure. Immerman then introduced Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Valerie Fowler.
Remarks by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Fowler welcomed the attendees to Navy Hill, conveying the best wishes of Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Doug Franz. Fowler likened the light in the building to the light shed on past events by the historians working within its walls. Identifying the Office as one of her favorite offices, Fowler extended a special thanks to the Committee for the innumerable ways they helped the Office preserve the record of the nation’s foreign relations. She described overseeing the Office as a source of great pride, commending the Office for leading the way in digital publishing within the government and for building collaboration across and among federal agencies to make documents—like those published in the last quarter—available to the public.
Describing the office as a “SWAT Team” that provided quick-turn products to Department of State leadership, Fowler also applauded the many academic and professional endeavors of Office historians. She cited Melissa Jane Taylor’s work for a Foreign Service Institute (FSI) course on visa adjudication and Tiffany Cabrera’s thorough and thoughtful organization of the International Conference of Editors of Diplomatic Documents (ICEDD) as recent, remarkable contributions.
Immerman expressed the Committee’s gratitude to Fowler for the Bureau’s support of the Office and for all the ways she and Franz made the Committee’s work easier. He then invited Stephen Randolph to take the floor.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Randolph greeted the attendees and thanked Fowler for the positive energy she and Franz provided in the course of their work with the Office. Turning to current events in the Office, Randolph welcomed Joel Christenson as the newest historian in the Policy Studies Division. Christenson, who came from the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) History Office, would focus on projects relating to the Western Hemisphere.
Randolph described the ICEDD conference as a success in more ways than he had anticipated. The meeting brought together professionals from across the world to share experiences and best practices. This year’s event saw broadened participation—including the first representative from a domestic program with the attendance of Daniel Stowell from the Abraham Lincoln Papers. Randolph applauded Cabrera for her energy and attention to detail in planning the event and Renée Goings for negotiating the bureaucracy involving in hosting the international group of participants. He thanked Tom Zeiler for his keynote speech and Susan Perdue for the summary she provided to the Committee. Randolph also noted the many follow-on actions that resulted from the conference, such as Joe Wicentowski’s collaboration on digital initiatives with several program attendees.
Expanding upon the Office’s outreach efforts, Randolph highlighted historians’ participation in academic gatherings such as the National Council on Public History (NCPH) annual meeting, and the Society for History in the Federal Government’s (SHFG) recent conference—attended by Kristin Ahlberg, Sara Berndt, Josh Botts, Mandy Chalou, Elizabeth Charles, Erin Cozens, Joel Christenson, Tom Faith, and Alex Wieland, and organized in part by Carl Ashley. Randolph also acknowledged James Wilson’s involvement in the Ronald Reagan Symposium at Regent University’s Robertson School of Government, Lindsay Krasnoff’s orchestration of Google Hangout sessions on World War I and relations with the Soviet Union and Russia, and Tom Faith’s presentations on his recently published book on chemical warfare at both the Library of Congress and the Society for Military History’s (SMH) annual meeting. Randolph then turned the floor over to Howard for an update on the FRUS publication cycle.
Status Reports by the General Editor
Howard noted the recent publication of FRUS volume E–11: American Republics, 1973–1976, Part I. Describing the volume’s convoluted compiling and production history, Howard thanked the numerous staff members who contributed in completing the publication of this “orphan success.” He also announced that three volumes had been verified and that three additional volumes had been submitted for initial declassification review. Finally, Howard took stock of the 240 volumes digitized to date, describing the improved functionality digitization brought to this trove of documents.
Status of Declassification of State Department Records
Following Howard’s remarks, Jeff Charlston of the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) reported on personnel changes in IPS and the declassification of Department of State records. He also mentioned that IPS expected to fill the position of FRUS coordinator, which would speed up IPS reviews of FRUS volumes.
Charlston stated that since the March meeting, IPS had completed review of two FRUS volumes and had verified two other volumes.
Referring to the review of the Central Foreign Policy File, Charlston noted that in December 2014 the electronic records team finished the 1989 cables; the team is now working on the 1990 cables. The paper records team continues to review the 1986–1990 record set. Since the March 2015 meeting, the Paper Records team has reviewed 501 boxes (1,252,500 pages) of material, bringing the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 total to 1,037 boxes (2.59 million pages). In addition, Charlston reported that the detachment at the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) project has reviewed 94,460 pages from the Presidential Libraries since the March 2015 meeting. The detachment at the National Declassification Center (NDC) continues to review referrals from the NDC’s Interagency Referral Center.
Charlston mentioned that while the paper records team was on track to meet its targets during the first three quarters of FY 2015, planned construction work would slow operations in coming months. He also noted that a permanent solution had been found for the conversion of N- and P-Reel (microfilm) documents into electronic records which would be phased in with support from the Office of the Historian.
The Committee adjourned for lunch at 12:10 p.m.
Closed Session, June 8
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives
Goings and Immerman called the meeting to order at 1 p.m.
Charlston began his remarks by stating that SRP has undertaken a new initiative thanks to a “perfect storm of opportunity.” IPS hoped to put the N- and P- reels on the network at one of its locations, which involves scanning documents onto the system. The declassification community would later address the handling long-term protocol for managing the documents.
Charlston then discussed challenges concerning Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) and NATO information. He remarked that numerous Department of State bureaus and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) offices had been involved in the process. Charlston stated that he would work with his contacts to find out who coordinated declassification issues for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Department reviewers were also working on handling protocols for “hybrid” documents that contain both U.S. and NATO equities. This could free up hundreds of thousands, possibly more than a million pages.
Turning to matters of personnel and staffing, Charlston announced that IPS has posted the FRUS coordinator position, as well as two other GS–13 openings. He outlined his work to delineate a career-progression that would establish a professional development program for IPS employees, leading from internships to the top of IPS.
Immerman and Katherine Sibley applauded the four new Branch Chief positions.
Immerman inquired about the previous week’s Archival Working Group/NATO Conference.
Charlston replied that NATO controlled its own declassification system, so documents with NATO equities needed to go to every member nation for clearance.
Trudy Peterson stated that NATO was working on a “no objection” window, wherein a referral memorandum would say something like “we are planning to declassify this document if we do not receive a reply by…”
Charlston remarked that the United States normally sent a few hundred documents to NATO each year, but the government actually generates thousands of documents that technically contain NATO equities.
Peterson asked whether the Archives Committee would consider documents held in NATO archives during their meeting in December.
Charlston explained that they had established different working committees for different NATO declassification issues.
Following up on the issue of Formerly Restricted Data FRD, Peterson wondered how far IPS could go.
Charlston observed that the law (10 C.F.R.) allowed some leeway, and noted in particular the language: “When the information is so broadly known that it calls into question the validity of further withholding of information.” Yet, he expanded, the Department had to nominate the release of information under this part of the law. The Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Energy (DOE) had to authorize release of the information in question, and the Department of State had to concur with the release.
Immerman asked who officially approved release of the information.
Charlston said the process between the 1964 Atomic Energy Act, Kyl-Lott, and the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) means each nomination must be precise, and that the Department of Energy and Department of Defense are the approval authorities. The Department of State must concur with FRD releases affecting foreign relations.
Peterson inquired about the 2014 Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) meeting regarding FRD information.
Joining the conversation, Don McIlwain stated that the PIDB would be meeting later in June and recommended that committee members use the NDC Blog (http://blogs.archives.gov/ndc/) to ask about the FRD issue.
Randolph commented that the DOD FRD Working Group was a manifestation of the PIDB recommendation. He mentioned that the Office was currently preparing a package for the DOD Working Group, that included information previously released in FRUS and by other agencies.
Charlston elaborated, explaining that IPS and the Office were partnering to present FRD issues to the working group. IPS is the Department lead for FRD and other declassification matters.
Sibley asked how the FRD issue related to Kyl-Lott.
Charlston explained that declassifying nuclear weapons information from a given historical time period was actually evaluated in light of 2015 security concerns. That has meant if any one authority concerned with the declassification process said “no” to releasing the material, the information was withheld.
Peterson remarked that the United States had declassified the fact that nuclear tests were held in the Marshall Islands in the 1940s and 1950s.
Immerman marveled that in such a byzantine process and it amazed him that only one person can deny release of information. He asked whether the key to releasing the material was the presence of the information in the public domain.
Charlston said it was really based on the comfort level of people who were accustomed to saying “we cannot confirm or deny,” as well as the potential harm the information could cause to foreign relations. Often release of information came down to DOD versus the Department of State. Charlston said Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) was not a barrier to release as it is not a classification designation and that information labeled CUI was automatically released under the Records Act.
Charlston noted that John Powers had replaced Mary Ronan at the National Security Council (NSC). Since the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) had not designated anyone to attend the meeting in Powers’ place, the Committee would not receive its usual report.
McIlwain said the presence of CUI suggested that boxes should be screened for privacy or law enforcement reasons; but that the information would not be screened for national security reasons.
John Laster then provided an update on the status of emails from the Reagan administration. According to Laster, the Department had received them on disc. The emails also had been loaded onto a system at NARA I, where FRUS historians could review the messages until the Office could obtain the correct hardware to enable uploading in the Department. This marked the first time the emails had been available since the Iran-Contra investigations and the end of the Reagan administration. Laster commented that the President’s National Action Plan had been a driving force in making the Reagan emails available. The emails would be used as a test case for similar records from the time period. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other agencies would review the approximately 80,000 emails for declassification. Emails from the George H.W. Bush administration were slated to be next and those would be available through the RAC.
Robert McMahon inquired about the status of the few emails in the Reagan collection not available to FRUS historians.
Laster said it was a very tightly controlled program but could not provide more specifics.
Immerman commented that the 1989 lawsuits had helped preserve these important records.
Laster responded that FRUS historians would have to judge what of value has not already been published. He added that the Center for Content and Understanding was converting most of the emails into a searchable and readable format. He cautioned that RAC funding was likely to stay at its current low level, which would mean fewer Reagan Library items could be scanned.
Howard asked if the Office of Presidential Libraries would consider making the George H.W. Bush records available through the RAC.
Laster said that was a possibility but that no decision had been reached.
Immerman questioned whether the Office would have sufficient resources and access to research the necessary Bush records.
Howard responded that it would be a crunch, but offered that, fortunately, the Bush administration records covered only one Presidential term. However, the Clinton administration records would likely pose a greater challenge.
Laster added that while 2.5 million pages of Clinton administration emails were here in Washington, textual records were housed at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Zeiler asked when the budget crunch will hit.
Laster declared that it has been impacting the Presidential Libraries since 2011; their budget for the RAC project has steeply declined. If funded at previous levels, NARA would have been able to scan the Bush Vice-Presidential records into RAC by now so they would be undergoing a declassification review. They would also be working to scan the Bush Presidential records if the funds were available.
The Committee adjourned for a short break at 2 p.m.
Resumption of Closed Session, June 8
Immerman called the meeting back into session at 2:15 p.m., and asked the NARA representatives for their report.
McIlwain began his comments by thanking Randolph for taking part in the recent declassification forum. He affirmed that NARA wants to do more to foster cooperation and coordination among the declassification community, historians, and other researchers.
Randolph informed the Committee that the forum’s discussion had focused on the prioritization of declassification.
McIlwain then described NARA’s indexing-on-demand program. From the millions of pages waiting in the queue, the National Archives has published a list of the series on one of the NARA blogs. Researchers, McIlwain said, can request that certain series be indexed before others. Such a request moves the series to the top of the queue. Forty-one projects have been completed, totaling over 3 million pages. NARA has also hired one additional staff member to act as a liaison in the research room.
Immerman interjected that the members of the Committee represent a large constituency of historians and researchers. Since few, if any, know about this ability to request indexing of series, he asked that NARA representatives describe how they publicize such new programs. McIlwain answered that NARA informs the interested public through its social media accounts and its web presence. A discussion on how Committee members could help publicize the new NARA features/programs followed, including publication on the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) website and social media sites, and publication in Passport. Immerman offered that members of the Committee could work with NARA representatives to increase visibility of NARA resources for researchers.
David Langbart, questioning the extent to which researchers pay attention to such things, noted that very few researchers show up at announced and advertised foreign affairs records consultation hour held regularly each week, to ask for help in researching and obtaining documents.
Bill Mayer added that NARA also sends out a regular letter (email) to researchers. He said that more cross promotion of the outreach was necessary to reach more people. In the meantime, NARA is moving toward the increased use of social media and digital media to improve researcher education, including training via video on YouTube. A discussion on NARA websites and their visibility then followed.
Langbart described the status of accessioning of records since the last meeting of the Committee in March. He explained that the 3rd quarter transfer of foreign affairs records was delayed by one week, but it was getting back on schedule. During FY 2015 700 square feet of records from over 119 series, including material from Record Groups 43 and 59, have been processed.
Immerman asked what was being done to reintegrate electronic records into the printed records. NARA representatives did not have an update on that process but that they had people “working on it” and that more answers would be available during Tuesday’s digital presentation.
On the issue of P-Reels, Langbart informed the Committee that the 1974–1976 reels have been declassified for some time. The 1977–1979 P-reels are at the Archives and are considered the highest priority records to be processed, but no progress has been made on declassifying them. McIlwain added that the 1977–1979 reels are in the DOE queue—the 1977 reels since May 2014 and the 1978 reels since Dec 2014—and while NARA has repeatedly asked DOE to move these records to the top of their own queue, DOE has not done so. DOE’s policy is to complete older projects before taking up new ones.
Mayer added that the large issue here is the prioritization of records since different agencies view priorities differently and everyone is dealing with resource constraints. It is necessary to move all stakeholders to one definition of what is the priority. Langbart and McIlwain, however, stressed that their immediate priority remain the P-Reels.
Mayer informed the Committee that NARA was actively involved with the historical community concerning NARA’s online National Archives Catalog. A major release in late May improved functionality, and another major update is slated to occur this summer, but the major problem remains the catalog structure. At the same time, NARA started its migration to a new catalog on May 31st. Langbart reported that there had been some hope for quicker change, but this is not to be. Instead, it will be a long process. Langbart told the Committee that the new catalog will feature increased storage capacity, which is critical for supporting efforts to make records available online. In late July, new advanced search features will be added, with reorganization of fields based on value and other measurements Overall, Langbart stressed, some progress is being made, even if minimal. Mayer noted that it was a complicated piece of software and that it was not easy to have one search engine for both casual and professional researchers.
Immerman said that some students have complained about the confusing Access to Archival Databases (AAD) interface for Department of State records and lengthy load times. NARA representatives took note of the comment.
Mayer said NARA was developing a new researcher registration system so that a single researcher card will work across all NARA facilities. Immerman noted that SHAFR’s annual meeting was often in the Washington area so that attendees could visit the Archives in addition to attending the conference.
Sibley asked if morale was improving at the Archives. Langbart said that the results of the survey of federal employees should be coming out soon.
Randolph said at future Committee meetings, he would ask a historian in the office to organize a brown bag presentation of an ongoing volume in order to give guests from NARA and other agencies a better understanding of the publication processes.
Immerman reiterated that the Committee can be helpful in publicizing NARA initiatives on researcher education and outreach.
The Committee adjourned into Executive Session at 4:20 p.m.
Closed Session, June 9
Issues and Current Projects Relating to Declassification, Retention, and Opening of Records at the Department of State
At 9:05 a.m., Immerman called the session to order and introduced an IPS official who spoke about the Department’s email records. This is a matter that is now under review by the OIG at the request of Secretary Kerry. Also discussed during the session was the status of the Department FOIA program, and that the next records transfer to NARA will take place on June 24, noting that 230 cubic feet have been transferred so far this year.
Special Presentation on Digital Preservation by Bill Mayer, NARA
After a short break, Mayer introduced Leslie Johnston, formerly at the Library of Congress and now Chief of NARA’s Digital Preservation division. Johnston explained that there are two preservation units at NARA: one for physical preservation, another for digital preservation. The latter handles records that were born digital or have since been digitized. Within the Digital Preservation division, the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) program initiates agency electronic records scheduling and transfers, while the Archival Preservation System (APS) system runs an automated workflow to read media received from agencies.
Johnston explained that her division offers guidance to agencies in order to preserve their data. NARA will accept an increasingly wide array of formats and will always preserve the original file format, but will publicly offer various formats. She then explained how validity systems worked and how they help correct inventory. She also outlined how her division audits their holdings by taking annual samples of holdings on servers.
Johnston then presented a prospective system for electronic records. This system would encompass holdings for Congress, the White House, and several federal agencies. She outlined the system capabilities and mentioned that she’s working with IBM and the platform Agile.
Johnston discussed the processing of presidential emails, which has been a success. They are currently retrieving emails going back to the Professional Office System (PROFS system) from the Reagan administration. All Presidential email becomes full-text indexed. NARA currently handles hundreds of millions of emails and is preparing to ingest 1 billion emails from the Obama administration. Due to the scale of these emails, FOIA requests will not be quick, but with the new systems they will be accurate.
Peterson asked how court records factor in to preservation, and Johnston stated that not much attention was being paid to them, since most are still in paper form.
Ashley asked whether there was any concern about degradation of hardware or deterioration of digital records. Johnston responded that there are always multiple copies of documents. The documents are stored on different hardware and in different physical locations.
Immerman questioned how confident Johnston was that NARA would be able to apply the best, most sophisticated technology to the problem. Johnston replied that the technology was excellent, but a larger problem was an over-reliance on contractors; NARA needs to do a better job building up knowledge and expertise from within the agency.
The meeting adjourned at 11:30 a.m.