June 2016

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation June 6–7, 2016


Committee Members

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

Office of the Historian

  • Stephen Randolph, Historian
  • Kristin Ahlberg
  • Carl Ashley
  • Margaret Ball
  • Forrest Barnum
  • Sara Berndt
  • Joshua Botts
  • Myra Burton
  • Tiffany Cabrera
  • Seth Center
  • Mandy Chalou
  • Elizabeth Charles
  • Joel Christenson
  • Stephanie Eckroth
  • Thomas Faith
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • Charles Hawley
  • Kerry Hite
  • Adam Howard
  • Aiyaz Husain
  • Aaron Marrs
  • William McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Heather McDaniel
  • Christopher Morrison
  • David Nickles
  • Paul Pitman
  • Alex Poster
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Seth Rotramel
  • Avi Rubin
  • Daniel Rubin
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Chris Tudda
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Tracy Whittington
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • James Wilson
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

Department of State

  • Ambassador Janice Jacobs, Transparency Coordinator
  • Adam Namm, Chair, Electronic Records Management Working Group

Bureau of Administration

  • David Adamson
  • Jeff Charlston
  • William Fischer
  • Timothy Kootz
  • Keri Lewis
  • Marvin Russell

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
  • Ann Cummings, Acting Executive for Research Services
  • Meghan Ryan Guthorn, Textual Records Division/Accessioning Section
  • Philip Heslip, Textual Records Division/Processing Section
  • David Langbart, Textual Records Division
  • Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center


  • William Burr

Open Session, June 6

Approval of the Record of the March 2016 Meeting

Chairman Richard Immerman opened the session at 11 a.m. Because several Committee members were delayed at the badge office, the approval of the minutes was deferred to a later session. Immerman noted the passing of former Committee member Diane Shaver Clemens. The Historian Stephen Randolph introduced Principal Deputy Assistant (PDAS) Secretary Susan Stevenson and thanked her for the continued support she and the leadership of the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA) provide for the Office.

Remarks by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

Stevenson noted that she was speaking in place of Assistant Secretary John Kirby, who was in China with Secretary Kerry. She thanked the Committee for their annual report and input on the Foreign Relations (FRUS) series. She noted the importance of recognizing FRUS as an interagency effort, involving the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS), the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the National Security Council (NSC), and many others. The FRUS process is possible because of the efforts of many and provides a window on the government that is invaluable. She noted the importance of the entrepreneurial nature of the Office’s approach to electronic records and digital initiatives. With work beginning on the George H.W. Bush administration and 78 volumes currently in process, she noted the progress the Office was making. The recently published Carter administration Organization and Management volume demonstrates challenges in policy formation in dealing with diversity issues, which is a challenge the Department continues to pursue. While many gains have been made, (Stevenson highlighted specifically current recruiting efforts in Historically Black Colleges and Universities) much remains to achieve and it is a complicated activity to document.

Concerning the delays related to the publication of the Iran, 1951–1954 volume, Stevenson explained that the decision went all the way up to Secretary Kerry. She recognized this has a complicated history and wanted the Committee to understand that the Department does have a commitment to transparency. As had been discussed, release was expected following the Parliamentary elections in Iran, but the Secretary did not believe the timing was right. Though there was no new timetable for the volume's release, she noted that the Department is sensitive to the need for the volume to be released and is also sensitive to transparency efforts.

Immerman responded by thanking her for the support for the Office and the FRUS series, noting that the Office is perhaps in a better position than in its history. He expressed disappointment on behalf of the Committee regarding the Iran volume decision, cited the volume's role in bringing about the 1991 FRUS legislation, and asked about the protocol for requesting a meeting with the Secretary to discuss the volume's publication. He stated that there is a vast public community expressing concern over the volume’s delayed publication. Stevenson said she would forward the request for a meeting.

Report by the Historian

Randolph reported on the Office and its programs. He emphasized that, since the last Committee meeting, the Office published the Carter Organization and Management volume, which dealt with NSC and intelligence reforms, in addition to diversity issues within the Department of State. Randolph cited the effortsof Melissa Jane Taylor, Kerry Hite, Carl Ashley, and Thomas Faith in producing this “fascinating” compilation. Moreover, the Office also published digitized versions of 23 FRUS volumes from 1940–1951. Randolph commended the efforts of Stephanie Eckroth in resolving the technical issues associated with this recent publication. Randolph also reported that Tracy Whittington wrote an article for the Foreign Service Journal profiling the Office with an emphasis on policy support. Sara Berndt and Nathaniel Smith have worked closely with the NSC and IPS on an effort to get documents on the Dirty War in Argentina released in coordination with President Obama's recent trip to Argentina. Randolph continued that several historians in the Office are working on projects related to the role of U.S. European embassies during World War I. Complementing work is already finished on the Embassy in Paris, work has now commenced on the 1914–17 experience of U.S. Embassy Berlin; research on Vienna and London is envisioned for the future. Randolph concluded his remarks by noting that the Office hopes to add a member of staff to replace (“ultimate superstar”) historian Erin Cozens, who recently departed the Office to join the Foreign Service. He added that he hoped to have further progress on this to report at a later meeting.

Report by the General Editor

General Editor Adam Howard reported that since the March Committee meeting, the Office had published the Carter Organization and Management volume. With the release of the Carter Public Diplomacy volume scheduled for June 8, three FRUS volumes will have been published so far in 2016. Howard noted several volumes had been verified with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and two more volumes moved into the declassification process. He added that in reference to the 23 newly digitized volumes, the technical searchability functions developed for these records is a crucial, “exciting” addition for researchers. Randolph added that Joe Wicentowski had completed a new version of the Office website with new capabilities.


Bill Burr asked about the cuts in Remote Archives Capture (RAC) funding. Immerman responded that he believed the words to describe the cuts were “mammoth and crippling.” The Committee had no reason to believe this would improve in the near future.

The Committee then adjourned for lunch.

Closed Session, June 6

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Immerman called the session to order at 1:10 p.m. by noting the receipt of new letterhead for the Committee. He then introduced Ann Cummings, the Acting Executive for Research Services at NARA, and welcomed her to the meeting. Immerman also announced that in April he had met with David Langbart, William Fischer, and John Laster to discuss improving the communication among members of the records and declassification communities and the Committee. Explaining that some reports often used language unfamiliar to members of the Committee, Immerman requested read-ahead briefings for Committee members to assist in building a common language. He noted the Committee had received those briefing papers and expressed his appreciation. He then introduced Jeff Charlston of IPS.

Office of Information Programs and Services

Charlston reported that in addition to the information provided to the Committee in the read-ahead, renovation of the Newington facility now had an estimated completion date of August l, 2016. During the renovation period IPS lost eight declassification reviewers due to normal attrition, but he planned to replace those employees once construction at Newington ended.

In the meantime, Charlston highlighted the success of the FRUS reviewing branch, under the leadership of Keri Lewis. As of May 18, the branch had completed 1,882 Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR), Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and other requests. That number more than doubled the total number of cases completed in all of 2015. The branch completed 195 cases in May, and received only 17 new cases for review. While at the time of the read-ahead, the branch had 1,278 open MDR cases, 122 open FOIA cases, and 35 other cases; at the time of the meeting the total outstanding reviews numbered only 100 across all three types of cases. Charlston attributed the remarkable progress to Lewis’s work.

Regarding the electronic records branch, Charlston revised the numbers in the read-ahead briefing. The read-ahead stated that the branch had reviewed 378,734 pages, of which 374,661 had originally been classified. As of June 3, the branch had reviewed 399,611 pages, of which 395,538 had originally been classified. The branch reviewed a total of 113,734 pages in May. By comparison, Charlston stated the total number of pages reviewed in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 was 1,383,073 but remarked that since classified record reviews often fell more heavily in the first part of the year, the numbers for FY 2016 were likely to improve.

Noting that the paper branch has enjoyed double-digit percentage increases in production for each year since FY 2012, Charlston highlighted the urgent need to mitigate any risk to national security imposed by the mandate to automatically declassify records on a rolling 25-year cycle. To minimize any risk, the paper branch would need to review 5.1 million pages of records from 1991 prior to their automatic declassification and release on January l, 2017. Primary review of those records was currently in process. As of May 19, the branch had completed review of 2.4 million pages of material. By comparison, the branch reviewed 4.2 million pages of material for FY 2015, releasing 4.18 pages and exempting a total of 23,221 pages (a release rate of 99.45 percent).

He expected the paper review rate to stay relatively steady; meaning any improvement in the rate of production could come only through an increase in either efficiency or resources. Since the latter looked unlikely, he noted that the new facility and an improvement in software appeared the only changes likely to make a difference in the near term. Charlston also stated that he hoped to co-locate the paper and electronic branches to increase the efficiency of both teams.

Tom Zeiler asked if IPS prioritized reviews across both electronic and paper branches or only within Paper Branch. Charlston explained that the processes and methods differed significantly between the branches, so that priorities were branch specific. Asked to elaborate, Charlston explained that part of the difference in review results between the branches may derive from training and that he planned to investigate this and other issues by co-locating the branches.

Immerman asked if Charlston would clarify the procedures, methods, and software issues in use in the next read-ahead, since this topic arose regularly at Committee meetings but seemed to remain a point of misunderstanding. Charlston agreed. Immerman then turned to Lewis and asked how she had achieved such record setting results.

Lewis explained that the FRUS branch had a unique job by comparison to the electronic and paper branches. Since her group focused on MDRs and FOIAs in the 25-year and over period, reviewers could call upon previous experience and content knowledge to comb through the documents and chip away at the backlog. To allow reviewers to focus on the cases, Lewis said she removed the burden of administrative duties from them and reassigned them to Civil Service employees. She noted that much of the backlog evolved from three issues: 100 percent turn-over in administrative staff, a slow computer system, and an office move. Resolving these issues, and providing better schedule tracking for the When Actually Employed (WAE) employees, had improved performance. In addition, it helped to have someone to push things along. However, these changes may not solve the issues in the other branches within IPS.

Immerman then asked Charlston if he could clarify the distinctions in training between the electronic and paper divisions. Charlston explained the different document formats meant entirely different review processes. For paper reviews, a reviewer might have 10 boxes to review. Within each box, the documents largely represented a coherent set: they were often from the same office or location, and often in some sort of order. Thus, a paper reviewer had a context for the documents that assisted their evaluation. Unlike paper reviews, electronic reviewers received items according to the order in which they were scanned. Thus, they might see items from the same day, but one might be a telegram to one Embassy, and the next item might be a memorandum on an entirely different topic. These reviewers had no context in which to evaluate the items, and therefore had to research each document independently; a process that took much longer. It amounted to a built-in inefficiency for the review of electronic records.

Lewis added that the FRUS division also received cases based on specific requests, so the reviewers developed areas of expertise as well as a related skill set that expedited their process.

Renée Goings inquired about filling vacant positions in IPS. Charlston explained that previously his office had authorized a chief position for each of the three branches, but that those three authorizations had been reduced to one, and now the one had been reallocated to another area.

Goings asked if there was any way to assist him in arguing for the chief position for FRUS and Immerman noted that the Committee could certainly write a letter. Charlston expressed his thanks.

National Archives National Declassification Center

Don McIlwain opened his presentation with a happy notice: last week he closed the oldest extant FOIA case, which had been open since 1993. This is part of his office's broader effort “to get out of the 1990s” for which 19 cases remain. All of these cases involve external consultations with other agencies. He stated that Marvin Russell from the Department has been an enormous help. McIlwain noted that his office has a new procedure that emphasizes working with the experts of other agencies who are on-site in College Park. This has proved to reduce a lot of inefficiencies associated with the review process.

After introductory remarks, Timothy Kootz reported that IPS is in the midst of revamping its process to include changing forms to assist the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and producing better metadata. In all, he stated, IPS would process 400 cubic feet by the end of the year.

McIlwain then asked if the Committee had looked at his readout, which they had. Immerman then mentioned that the Committee would like to minimize both jargon and numbers provided without context during these kinds of presentations, as the members are not equipped to understand what is going on absent more explanation. He asked about the current release rate of 75.2 percent. Is this high? Low? How should we interpret this number?

McIlwain responded that this number is for referrals to the Department of State; other agencies are saying that the Department needs to look at a given document. State says it can be declassified, and so the National Declassification Center (NDC) wants to see this number decrease. A lower referral rate means State is getting fewer “garbage” referrals. And as the NDC now does a better job at training for referrals this number should go down, there will be fewer but more high quality (i.e., necessary) referrals that go out and actually contain sensitive material requiring attention. So the interagency process needs to be smarter to ensure that referrals are better and fewer. Seventy-five percent is a good number but the aim is for it to get lower.

Immerman responded that this contextualization is very helpful. McIlwain then reported on the “Pair Project” being undertaken at the NDC, which involved taking all withdrawn material from 1973–2000, and reviewing it again to see what can be declassified and refiled into the open stacks. With regard to Department of State records, the NDC has been working with the Textual Records Division and the office has been able to refile 98 percent of all withdrawn material, while the remaining 2 percent refers to other material. The project has been a major success in its own right, and it has also freed up shelf space. Refiling 6 million pages is significant, and it also precludes FOIA requests on material that has been proactively declassified, which releases the NDC staff from this additional burden.

Trudy Peterson then asked if there was a means by which the academic community can be periodically updated on what has been refiled. McIlwain responded affirmatively, which Peterson welcomed given the keen interest in these records. Immerman then noted that when possible, the Committee has also publicized the refiling of records and asked for the NDC's assistance with this effort. McIlwain noted the intense interest in these records the NDC has seen and pledged his assistance to help in the future. Immerman appreciated this offer because NDC staff could do the best job both in explaining what was refiled and the significance of the refiling.

Langbart interjected with a different view. He cautioned that such efforts could be misleading to those researchers who might not understand the relationship of a given set of refiles to the broader “universe” of files that are already open. Immerman agreed, and noted this is why he asked for the NDC's partnership in getting the word out—precisely because only they can provide the proper explanation of how a given set of newly refiled material fits with extant open material. Langbart expressed his satisfaction at this, but cautioned that, as with every new initiative, this would create a new demand on finite resources.

Petersen then asked for an update on the RAC project, to which McIlwain responded that the budget is “very tight” but that the staff was doing what it could to stretch resources. One initiative involved streamlining reviews in College Park to minimize travel time to and from other facilities. He then deferred to John Laster, who was not in attendance, for more information.

Immerman then made a special announcement: on this day (June 6) in 1977 Langbart began his career at NARA. The group applauded Langbart's 39 years of service. Immerman joked that on his first day, Langbart inquired into the status of the Central Files, and then David Geyer further joked that on his first day Langbart offered his “dissenting view.” Langbart expressed appreciation for this recognition.

NARA Research Services

Langbart began his report describing the latest accessioning of foreign affairs and intelligence records to NARA. In FYs 2015–2016, the Department of State made 32 accessions to Record Group (RG) 59 (approximately 90 cubic feet of records) and 4 accessions to RG 84 (approximately 15 cubic feet of records). During the same period, the CIA transferred 18 accessions to RG 263 (approximately 108 cubic feet); the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) added 7 accessions to RG 373 (approximately 763 cubic feet); and finally, the National Security Agency (NSA) conveyed 92 accessions to RG 457 (approximately 2,291 cubic feet).

Langbart continued with update on NARA's archival processing of foreign affairs records. Since the beginning of 2016, he reported, archivists have described 905 series in RG 59 (6,884 cubic feet), 758 series (6,384 cubic feet) in RG 286, and 57 series (136 cubic feet) in RG 84. Langbart highlighted that all the RG 84 records reviewed and declassified by the NDC have now been processed.

Langbart concluded his report by noting the continuing efforts to digitize microfilm of Department records from the World War I-era, including the most important records of The Inquiry and the American Commission to Negotiate Peace. He also noted that the reference staff at Archives II had responded to 3,608 emailed and mailed reference inquiries in the first quarter of 2016.

Langbart then fielded questions from the Committee. Zeiler asked about reference staffing and responsiveness to ascertain whether NARA directed adequate resources to reference services. Langbart explained that there were about 22 archivists on the reference staff and that their responsibilities included responding to inquiries, working with researchers in the reference room, coordinating with the NDC regarding still-classified records, and handling special requests. He also explained that staff 10 days to answer inquiries and the staff had a 96 percent success rate. Cummings added that NARA still had approximately 5,000 cubic feet of records to process and needed to balance competing reference and processing priorities.

Immerman asked what records were in this processing backlog. Cummings replied that it was comprised of records accessioned since the 1990s and the toughest processing still had to be done. She explained that this processing would be prioritized based on use. Langbart elaborated that records accessioned during the 1990s and early 2000s had very poor accession-level descriptions, but that NARA and the agencies had made progress improving this kind of basic archival information for subsequent transfers. Immerman followed up to inquire how accession-level descriptions relate to finding aids used by researchers. Langbart described the archival processing work that NARA performs after it receives records. He noted that archivists could combine multiple accessions into a single entry or series or break up one accession into multiple entries or series as they arrange records and prepare finding aids, but they relied upon basic descriptions to understand what the agencies were sending to the Archives. He reiterated that NARA was gaining better control over these basic accession-level descriptions.

Zeiler asked about the age of records that were being opened to researchers at NARA. Langbart explained that NARA relied upon the agencies to transfer records. Immerman noted that researchers had no idea how many records that should have been transferred to NARA were still in the possession of originating agencies. Katie Sibley asked about the Venona Project records. Langbart cautioned that almost all of the working materials for Venona remained classified. Peterson commented that it seemed like some intelligence agencies were doing a “paper dump.” Cummings agreed that some agencies transfer still heavily-classified collections of records. Zeiler asked if NARA had space for incoming records. Langbart replied that classified records compound existing space problems. Immerman asked if agencies or NARA had discretion to schedule records transfers. Langbart explained that originating agencies schedule records and that intelligence agencies generally retain their records longer than other parts of the government. Sometimes, NARA asks agencies to delay transferring records that cannot be declassified. Peterson asked if records were safer after being transferred to NARA than under control of the originating agency. Langbart stated that his experience is that records are generally safe at the agencies. At the end of the session, discussion returned to NSA records. Michael McCoyer asked if the NSA had systematically reviewed the records it transferred to NARA or applied blanket file series exemptions. McIlwain reported that they had been systematically reviewed. Langbart concluded that, when agencies “dump” classified records with the Archives, it leaves NARA with significant unfunded FOIA responsibilities.

Zeiler asked if researchers could determine what was contained in older unprocessed records accessioned to NARA. Meghan Ryan Guthorn from the Accessioning Branch confirmed that this information existed, but could be classified. Sibley asked how researchers could know what was in a collection if it was fully restricted. Guthorn responded they could use FOIA and MDR processes. McIlwain pointed out that the NDC could cooperate with researchers to target such requests. Sibley asked whether these records would be automatically declassified. McIlwain explained that this depended on whether any exemptions applied to them. He pointed out that 50- and 75- year exemptions to automatic declassification had to be approved by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) and that these exemptions were much more difficult for agencies to receive than 25-year exemptions.

Immerman asked about NARA's progress reintegrating withheld records that were subsequently declassified from the Department of State's central file. Cummings explained that reintegration efforts had to balance the staffing required with the scope of documentation that is declassified. McIlwain offered that further technical processing may ease the staffing burden. Cummings agreed with Immerman that there has not been much progress in reintegrating the central file. Langbart added later that the last of the withdrawals from the 1940-44 segment of the Central Decimal File had been returned to the files. Peterson asked for an update on the declassification of previously-withheld portions of the central file relating to Vietnam. Langbart reported that the Pre-ADRRES Indexing Review (PAIR) project had enjoyed mixed results. Documents containing only Department of State equities have been released while documents containing other agency equities are withheld more frequently. Other agency equities, he added, increased over time, making the later withheld records increasingly difficult to declassify.

Comments by Ambassador Janice Jacobs, Transparency Coordinator, and Adam Namm, Chair, Electronic Records Management Working Group

Randolph made introductory remarks about the Department's initiatives for managing electronic records in compliance with the Executive Order, which requires solutions for managing email records by 2016, and other electronic records by 2019.

Janice Jacobs provided an overview of her work as Transparency Coordinator and her focus on four “buckets.” These include Governance (efficient records management); Training (near and long-term to create a career continuum); Technology (especially to help process FOIA responses); and Best Practices (considering what other agencies and private entities have done). Jacobs stated that the 2019 E.O. mandate was essentially driving the Department to build its information management system for the future. She noted that the Department also has a “knowledge management” initiative and she is working to align that with the records management effort. The ultimate goal is to have an “enterprise-wide records and knowledge management platform” in place by 2019.

Adam Namm introduced his role as Chair of the Electronic Records Management Working Group (ERMWG), which he explained was a part time responsibility in his role as head of the Under Secretary for Management's Office of Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation. He stated the Department is on track to meet the 2016 requirements by implementing an email solution by the end of the year, and observed that the email solution might be adapted to achieve the 2019 goals. Namm explained that right now the Department was simply capturing records of Department principals, but acknowledged that search functionality was a problem. He said the Department is looking to adopt by the end of 2016 a software solution with good search and return functions.

Jacobs mentioned work underway with NARA aimed at reducing the Department's records disposition schedules. Peterson asked how that might work. Jacobs said the Department was working with NARA on this and the hope was that technology would provide solutions through automation. Fischer explained further that records professionals involved in these streamlining efforts adhered to a first principle of “do no harm.” They keep in mind the anticipated needs of future researchers and seek to refine existing frameworks. He said they work closely with the office to understand its core functions and programs so they would be certain to capture relevant records. He said Department records managers also are working to enhance metadata collection, which will help future researchers. Fischer concluded that it was easier for research retrieval system designers to develop solutions when dealing with streamlined schedules and greater reliance on collected metadata.

Peterson asked if there is an interagency working group on e-records. Jacobs and Namm said there was not, since NARA has set the requirements and the agencies are individually tasked with implementation. Peterson asked how the proposed record management and search solutions would work with the separate email/record systems at the Department. Jacobs said the Department was looking to have enterprise-wide management/search functionality, while likely retaining separate systems but under the same management protocols. Peterson acknowledged that having separate systems was not inherently a bad thing, as long as the same management practices applied to each.

Robert McMahon asked if non-State Messaging and Archival Retrieval Toolset (SMART) emails are lost. Fischer noted that a 2014 memorandum from Under Secretary for Management Kennedy directed departing senior officials to retire their emails. Jacobs and Namm noted the Department's heightened awareness and efforts to preserve such records.

Immerman concluded by expressing the committee's appreciation and suggested they might touch base with Jacobs and Namm in December to get a status update to include in the Committee’s annual report to the Secretary.

Closed Session, June 7

Presentation and discussion on current Office research and annotation

Immerman called the session to order at 8:30 a.m., and Howard introduced Chris Tudda.

Tudda discussed his work on the recent compilation, Foreign Relations, Volume XLVII, Terrorism, 1981–1988, outlining the central themes that emerged during his research and his observations regarding key topics in the volume. He then answered several research questions.

The Committee then adjourned into Executive Session.