March 2005

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, March 7-8, 2005


Committee Members

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

Office of the Historian

  • Marc Susser, Historian,
  • Monica Belmonte,
  • Todd Bennett,
  • Myra Burton,
  • John Carland,
  • Paul Claussen,
  • Bradley Coleman,
  • Evan Duncan,
  • Steve Galpern,
  • Amy Garrett,
  • David Geyer,
  • Renée Goings,
  • David Goldman,
  • David Herschler,
  • Paul Hibbeln,
  • Susan Holly,
  • Adam Howard,
  • Edward Keefer,
  • Peter Kraemer,
  • Doug Kraft,
  • Robert Krikorian,
  • Erin Mahan,
  • Bill McAllister,
  • David Nickles,
  • Linda Qaimmaqami,
  • Kathleen Rasmussen,
  • Florence Segura,
  • Doug Selvage,
  • Jim Siekmeier,
  • Luke Smith,
  • Chris Tudda,
  • Susan Kovalik Tully,
  • 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-Washington, DC;
  • Sally Kuisel, Textual Archives Division;
  • David Langbart, Life Cycle Management Division;
  • Marty McGann, Textual Archives Division;
  • Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division;
  • Marvin Russell, Initial Processing and Declassification Division;
  • Nancy Smith, Office of Presidential Libraries;
  • Meredith Wagner, Initial Processing and Declassification Division;
  • David Kepley, Office of Records Services;
  • David Langbart, Life Cycle Management Division;
  • Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division;

Central Intelligence Agency

  • John C.


Approval of the Record of the December 2004 Meeting

Roger Louis called the meeting to order at 1:35 p.m. He noted that there were no members of the public present at the open session. Before approval of the record of the December meeting, he asked whether there was any difference between the record of a meeting and the minutes of a meeting. The consensus was that there was no difference. Lisa Cobbs Hoffman asked why a subcommittee report at the last meeting about the need to review classified documents not declassified for inclusion in Foreign Relations (FRUS) volumes had not been included in the record. David Herschler said that it had been discussed either in an executive session or during an informal meeting—neither of which were included in the minutes. Louis agreed to make the topic of classified documents denied in full for inclusion in FRUS an agenda item for the next meeting. The committee then approved the record of the December meeting.

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and the General Editor

Marc Susser asked Herschler to report on developments in the office. Herschler said that Susser, Edward Keefer, and Erin Mahan had just returned from China, where they discussed a future joint volume. Regarding personnel, Nina Howland had retired after 20 years of service and Adam Howard had moved up from contract to full-time. Budget information for FY 2006 had only recently become available. The Bureau of Public Affairs had sustained a cut that affected all offices, but the bureau leadership was still strongly supportive of the office. Less funding was likely for the next year or two. The office was considering various measures to deal with the budget cut, mainly involving cost-cutting measures in both compiling and printing. The Department of State also had submitted its annual report to Congress on its compliance with the Foreign Relations series statute.

Declassification was proceeding more smoothly, with fewer documents being denied and more cooperation with CIA, NSC, and State reviewers. There were still sensitive issues to deal with, but 8 to10 year delays were unlikely. The High-Level Panel procedure instituted in 1998 had been a success, but dialogue between the three agencies could still be slow at times. While work with the CIA was improving, and it was generally working within the 120-day limit, other reviewing agencies were still not keeping up.

In the policy studies and outreach division, the office had nearly completed a major 2-year classified study for the Secretary. In addition, the office had prepared six papers for Secretary-designate Rice in December and January. Also, a book-length history of a bureau was in process and two symposiums were being planned: one in mid-April at the LBJ Library, and another late in June at the Department focusing on the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon era South Asia volumes. A video on sports diplomacy was scheduled for release in the fall.

Keefer then discussed recent FRUS volumes. One volume had been published since December: Volume V, United Nations, 1969-72. This would be the last print volume dealing with UN affairs. E-volumes focusing on the United Nations would include more material and would facilitate tie-ins with global affairs. Since March 2004, three volumes had been released: two for 1964-68 and one for 1969-72. Three more volumes were scheduled for release in April: one LBJ administration volume and two Nixon administration volumes. Keefer noted that the first LBJ volume—Vietnam, 1964—appeared 28 years after the events documented. The last volumes (Japan and the Congo retrospective) would appear in excess of 38 years afterwards. More progress would be needed with the Nixon-Ford volumes if the 30-year mark were to be met by 2010. Two Nixon volumes had made the 30-year mark.

Keefer explained that the LBJ volumes were prepared during a time of diminished resources for the office and had difficult declassification issues, which contributed to the publication delay. With the increased resources now available, Keefer expected that all the Nixon volumes would be published by 2010, although the next 5 years would be difficult. Louis commented that he hoped we were reaching the watershed.

Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of the Foreign Policy Record

Louis called on Brian Dowling to give his report. Dowling stated that CDs containing documents from the Department’s P-Reels and withdrawal cards for the years 1973-74 were delivered to NARA on March 7. CDs with the electronic records of 1975 would be delivered to NARA in the next few months. The declassification of Department materials for Record Group 59 will be “off the table” by the next meeting of the Historical Advisory Committee. Other Department records, including post files, ACDA, and USIA materials, will take somewhat longer. Dowling expressed his hope that by the next meeting, only post files and P-reels will require review. The P-reels, Dowling said, take somewhat longer because they have to be converted to paper for declassification review, and each document on the reels is a unique copy, so they require very careful reading. With the existing technology in his office, his staff can convert only one box of P-reels to paper in a given week for declassification review. They are hoping that new equipment will permit them to accelerate the process to print out five boxes per week.

Dowling said that he was hiring “computer-literate WAE’s” (retired Foreign Service officers) to expedite the declassification of the electronic records. To insure that the WAE’s are computer literate, Dowling communicates with them by e-mail. This helps confirm that they are at least able to operate a computer and use e-mail—prerequisites for the position. One problem in the past has been the salary cap for WAE’s; as retirees, they are permitted to earn only a certain amount per year (which varies according to final salary) before they have to pay the Department back for excess wages. Dowling now hires a few of them as contractors after they have reached their salary cap; this helps him maintain experienced reviewers and speed up the declassification process. In terms of progress on electronic records, Dowling said his office is half-way through its review of electronic records for 1977; they hope to complete their review of the 1977 records by June, the 1978 records by October, and the 1979 electronic records by early 2006. Louis said that it sounded like there had been a “tremendous breakthrough” on the manpower-hours problem.

Nancy Smith said that the Department of State also needed to complete its review of additional materials in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Presidential Libraries by 2006, since the Department had only recently joined the Remote Archival Capture (RAC) program.

Geoffrey Watson then asked if the electronic records contained material processed on the old Wang computers. Dowling said that only the cables from the time were electronic records.

In response to a question from Ed Rhodes regarding the length of time needed to process electronic records, Dowling noted that a contributing factor was the fact that it is difficult to sit in front of the computer screen for extended periods of time. Personally, he cannot sit in front of it for more than 6 hours at a time without getting a headache. After 6 hours, it is easy to make mistakes.

In response to another question from Rhodes, Dowling clarified that RG 59 contains the general records of the Department of State, and RG 84 contains the post files.


Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of the Foreign Policy Record

David Kepley began his report with three items. First, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had sworn in Allen Weinstein, the new Archivist, that morning. Second, the withdrawal cards and P-reels were ready for loading into the Access to Archival Database (AAD) system. Finally, the system was nearly up and ready. It had been redesigned and was within 3 weeks of being sent to Margaret Hedstrom for a usability study; although it still needed additional testing. Kepley asked if some State historians conducting research at NARA would test out the new system for the cables and give feedback on system usability and improvements.

Foreign Relations Research at the Nixon Project

Herschler reported that the Nixon Project staffing dilemma had continued. The one remaining subvention may soon be elevated to a Full-Time Employment status with NARA that will affect her availability. Smith had arranged to have one member of her staff work on the Foreign Relations series. Possibilities for a major disruption of Foreign Relations work remained, particularly since the one subvention leaving did almost all of the tape processing.

Keefer reiterated the importance of the Nixon tapes to the Foreign Relations series. The Office of the Historian must receive and transcribe those tapes in a timely manner in order to meet the 30-year deadline.

Nancy Smith said that the Nixon Project still needed to duplicate about 180 conversations for the Department of State. Thus far, she said, the project had completed 431 conversations for the office; according to Smith, the office had used only a small number of those in FRUS. In this light, Smith then asked if the Office of the Historian could slim down its tapes request to lighten the NARA workload.

Keefer explained how the Department of State historians sorted through tape logs to determine which tapes most likely fit with a FRUS volume. The office requested only those conversations that fit with its congressional mandate. Department of State researchers needed to listen to all requested tapes before they could determine which ones could be included in Department of State publications. Keefer stressed that the Nixon tapes were valuable resources, even if they were sometimes difficult to employ.

Nancy Smith then briefed the committee on the status of Nixon Project operations. She said that five workers left the project in the last year; more losses were expected in the months to come. In order to cover staff losses, Marc Fischer, the project director, was now devoting 1 day each week to Department of State business. In order to serve the Department of State, NARA administrators have also detailed one employee from another office to the Nixon Project. That worker is now reviewing Foreign Relations volumes, and has competed 25 of 26 volumes.

The Nixon Project, Smith stated, has many conflicting mandates; however, it will try to serve the needs of the office through the end of the year. NARA was open to using idle subvention money, but time was growing short to get a qualified and cleared worker in place.

Nancy Smith asked State historians to call research requests for textual records into the Nixon Project before coming to the archives. This would allow the smaller NARA staff more time to react to the Department’s needs. Smith then talked about new NARA security procedures in classified areas. All State historians, she said, must follow these new rules. Smith asked if the office could give the Nixon Project a better sense of how many volumes it would need to review in the months ahead so that the remaining staff could better budget their time.

Louis opened the discussion to questions from the committee. In response to a question from Watson, Keefer said that the office would try to give NARA the best information possible, but the FRUS compilation timetable was merely a projection of the office’s schedule; the real pace of production might outstrip the schedule.

Louis asked Nancy Smith about the tapes NARA still needed to send to the office. Smith explained how NARA has processed the tapes. The remaining series, known as the fifth chron, she called “virgin territory”: they have not been reviewed or catalogued.

Watson asked if NARA planned to publish all the Nixon tapes. Smith told Watson that NARA had no plans to publish the tapes, but believed that the Miller Center, located at the University of Virginia, had a Nixon tape publication program. Mahan explained, however, that the Miller Center had decided to limit its work to the Kennedy and Johnson recordings.

Louis asked if the National Archives had transcripts of the recordings. Herschler said that NARA did not have transcripts. The Office of the Historian made its own. Keefer added that the office tried to limit its transcriptions to portions directly related to the Foreign Relations series—to do otherwise would waste office resources. Nancy Smith confirmed the fact that the National Archives does not have transcripts.

Smith, Mahan, and others then elaborated on problems using the tapes, which often consist of long, sometimes rambling, conversations from microphones positioned in the White House and other government buildings. Using the tapes can be very profitable because they capture candid moments. At the same time, sorting through the (sometimes inaudible) recordings to isolate (and understand) key conversations can be difficult. The Nixon Administration was the last to record conversations.

Louis then asked what the Office of the Historian did with unused transcripts. Keefer said that historians try only to transcribe what they needed for each volume; the office, he said, retains unused portions. Mahan proposed that, in the future, the office might publish the other transcripts as a supplement.

Reflecting on the difficulties of using sound recording in Foreign Relations publications, Keefer proposed that the members of the committee review an unpublished Foreign Relations volume at the next meeting that includes numerous Nixon tape transcripts; this would give the committee a good sense of the problems and possibilities associated with the use of sound recordings.

The Foreign Relations Series: Withheld Documentation from Recently Declassified Manuscripts and Other Clearance Issues

The committee discussed clearance issues related to the FRUS series.

Staff Historians Report on Policy-Supportive Research and Other Office Business

Members of the staff discussed on-going policy-supportive studies and historical outreach projects with the committee. The committee adjourned for the day at 4:57 p.m.


Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business

Louis called the committee to order at 8:27 a.m. Steven Galpern reported to the committee on his volume-in-progress.

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

Herschler stated that the CIA had declassified three volumes since the last committee meeting. He noted that January was the first time in 6 months that no new manuscripts were submitted to the CIA, but that the office should be sending one manuscript per month for the rest of the year.

Declassification delays by other agencies were delaying 10 volumes. Despite this, Herschler anticipated that these 10 volumes would be declassified by September.

The committee discussed declassification issues in specific volumes with the committee.

James Van Hook discussed his research plan for his upcoming volume with the committee.

The committee went into executive session at 11:59 a.m.