March 2011

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation March 7–8, 2011


Committee Members

  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • Laura Belmonte
  • Robert McMahon
  • Trudy Peterson
  • Peter Spiro
  • Katherine Sibley

Office of the Historian

  • Edward Brynn, Acting Historian
  • Kristin Ahlberg
  • Carl Ashley
  • Myra Burton
  • Mandy Chalou
  • John Collinge
  • Evan Duncan
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • Tiffany Hamelin
  • David Herschler
  • Susan Holly
  • Adam Howard
  • Stephanie Hurter
  • Aaron Marrs
  • Bill McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Kelly McFarland
  • Chris Morrison
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Chris Tudda
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Susan Weetman
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alex Wieland
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

Bureau of Administration

  • David Adamson
  • Harmon Kirby
  • Nick Murphy
  • Marvin Russell

National Archives and Records Administration

  • David Langbart, Textual Archives Services Division
  • Don Mcllwain, National Declassification Center
  • John Powers, Information Security Oversight Office
  • Emma Stelle, Life Cycle Management Division

Central Intelligence Agency

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

Open Session, March 7

Approval of the Record of the December 2010 Meeting

Committee chair Richard Immerman called the meeting to order at 11:05 a.m. He then asked for the approval of the December 2010 minutes. Katherine Sibley moved and Bob McMahon seconded the motion; the members approved the minutes without objection.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Ambassador Brynn noted that he would focus his remarks in four areas. He indicated that seven senior-level Foreign Service officers had bid on the position of Historian of the Department of State. All seven officers hold PhD degrees in history. If these individuals do not accept other assignments after March 15, at least several bidders will be considered as viable candidates to replace Brynn. He added that Carol Anderson had tendered her resignation as a member of the Advisory Committee and praised her contributions during her tenure. Referencing the 150th anniversary of the Foreign Relations of the United States series, Brynn explained that William McAllister would provide a more comprehensive overview of Office activities planned to commemorate this occasion. He commented that due to Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P .J. Crowley’s support, the Office had expanded its professional staff, broadened its support for the Secretary of State and other Department principals, and undertook a variety of successful outreach initiatives, culminating in the September 2010 Department conference on the Vietnam Experience. Brynn praised the collaboration amongst David Herschler, Susan Weetman, and Carl Ashley in the area of FRUS production.

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and General Editor

Immerman then turned to Herschler for his report. Herschler noted that the Office completed declassification of 3 volumes since the December meeting and anticipated the completion of 1 additional volume in March and 2 volumes in the near future. With regard to staffing, he indicated that Mircea Munteanu had joined the Europe and Americas Division in January, adding that an additional historian is scheduled to join the Office at the end of March. Graduate student intern Forrest Barnum had returned to the Office after spending the fall semester at the University of British Columbia. Kelly McFarland had also returned to the Office following a 2-month detail as an intelligence analyst in the Office of Near East and South Asia, located in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). The formal search for an administrative officer is in progress. On February 28, John Carland retired after 25 years of government service, including the past 9 years in the Office. Mark Hove has accepted a foreign affairs officer position in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) and will begin this new assignment at the end of March. Herschler anticipated that the formal search to fill 5 historian vacancies (including the full time equivalency positions held by Carland and Hove) will commence sometime in March; filling these vacancies will return the Office to a full complement of professional staff. Lastly, Herschler noted that Susan Holly had been reassigned to the Declassification and Publishing Division.

Turning to the Office relocation, Herschler commented that delays had developed in the design phase. However, the Office has been assured that construction will not be delayed in any significant fashion, thus enabling the move to commence in late 2011. He praised the Office Infrastructure Working Group members for their efforts in managing all aspects of the move.

Referencing several items in the Newsletter related to professional development and outreach, Herschler indicated that several historians participated in the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA), held in Boston in early January. The Office sponsored two sessions as part of the FRUS sesquicentennial commemoration, one chaired by Nathaniel Smith, which featured a presentation by Myra Burton, and the other chaired by McFarland, which featured a presentation by Michael McCoyer. Herscher added that Smith and McCoyer would discuss these sessions in greater detail. Melissa Jane Taylor, Aaron Marrs, and Kristin Ahlberg also served as panel chairs or discussants. The Office had its booth on display in the AHA Book Exhibit, where staff members distributed the latest educational DVD and curriculum materials. Members of the Office management team also conducted informational interviews at the AHA Job Center, meeting with 35 interested individuals, during the course of the conference. Immerman asked Herschler as to the time frame for filling staff vacancies, specifically the time it takes from the identification of a desirable candidate to that candidate’s entry on duty. Herschler responded that once an individual is selected, the clearance process could take anywhere from 3- 6 months. He also noted that most historians continue to have academic commitments that make if difficult for them to begin work in the Office at the time clearances are granted; they defer their arrival until summer or fall. At best, the Office did not anticipate that selected candidates would be cleared until June or July at the earliest.

Immerman then turned to Weetman for the General Editor’s report. Weetman noted that the Office had published Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume E-12, East and Southeast Asia, 1973–1976 on March 3, bringing the total of published Nixon-Ford volumes to 38. She added that 3 Carter administration volumes had completed the compiling process. Eight volumes are now undergoing editorial review.

Following Weetman’s remarks, William McAllister provided additional information regarding the 150th anniversary commemoration. He commented that the AHA sessions arranged by Smith and McFarland constituted a portion of the public events scheduled for 2011. The sesquicentennial planning team had arranged for a variety of academic and public talks, including that afternoon’s Department and George Mason University-sponsored conference devoted to the Foreign Relations volume covering foreign economic policy during the 1973–1976 period. McAllister indicated that the Office had published several items on the Department’s DipNote blog, in addition to undertaking an expansive written history of the Foreign Relations series. He anticipated that these activities would carry over into the next year. Immerman asked McAllister if the Office had connected with the editors of The New York Times in order to feature FRUS on its Civil War blog; McAllister indicated that any public materials produced by the office in this vein had to be cleared by the Bureau of Public Affairs, which then determined placement in various media outlets.

Smith noted that his panel, entitled “Open Secrets: the FRUS Series, Democracy’s ‘Need to Know’ and National Security,” featured Burton, Mitch Lerner (Ohio State University-Newark), John Prados (National Security Archive), John Powers (Information Security Oversight Office), and David Pallke (Conflict Records Research Center, National Defense University). Both Lerner and Prados expressed some concern with the timeliness of declassification and publishing of the series. Powers discussed the Open Government initiative, while Pallke commented upon new materials available. Burton gave an overview regarding the strategies and challenges involved in compiling FRUS. Smith added that C-SPAN had filmed the session and has made the video available on its website. He encouraged the Committee members to watch the video. McCoyer, substituting for McFarland, followed on Smith’s comments, indicating that his session focused upon the alternate avenues of research within the series. Michelle Mart (Penn State-Berks), Mary Ann Heiss (Kent State), and he comprised the panel, while McFarland served as chair. McCoyer noted that the panel was well-attended. Mart and Heiss discussed the applicability of post-World War II records to studies of gender, culture, and identity; McCoyer focused on pre-war policy, specifically the U.S. bilateral relationship with Mexico.

Sibley inquired as to whether this constituted an unusually large number of panels or participants from the Office. McAllister responded, stating that the Office traditionally has had a number of historians on the AHA program in some capacity but underscored the fact that the previously discussed sessions were more tightly focused on FRUS compiling and the sesquicentennial. Referencing a survey that Lerner, in preparation for the “Open Secrets” session, had assembled regarding current perceptions of the series and Office, Immerman asked Smith to discuss the results of Lerner’s findings. Smith responded that the findings reflected a general sense that FRUS was essential, but concerns about timeliness persisted. Some comments made on the C- SPAN blog suggested that coverage of certain administrations proved more adequate than others. General discussion ensued regarding the desirability of seeing Lerner’s raw data.

McMahon attempted to summarize the four major concerns as outlined by Lerner’s overall findings: slow release of volumes; fears that the backlog will be exacerbated; the absence of materials on cultural themes and/or non-state actors; and distrust toward government and the declassification process. With reference to the last item, McMahon suggested that the Office undertake a more proactive set of initiatives to convince the public that access to all relevant foreign policy records has never been better. Immerman commented that the public relations aspect might partially be the Committee’s responsibility; perhaps the members should reiterate this theme.

David Langbart interjected that he and other archivists are still amazed by the number of researchers who are unfamiliar with the FRUS series. In assisting researchers at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), archivists inquire as to whether a researcher has examined a FRUS volume before beginning their archival research. Often, researchers have not done so. Nor are some researchers able to make the connection between the documents printed in FRUS and the thousands of other related documents contained in NARA’s holdings. McAllister added that coverage of certain topics within FRUS will improve, considering the Department of State’s increased commitment to a variety of global issues, beginning in the 1970s.

McMahon, commenting upon a larger methodological shift in the historical profession, noted that a lot of historians have “run away” from the study of the state, specifically, and the history of U.S. foreign relations, generally. FRUS, he exhorted, could not “run away.” He suggested that any poll of diplomatic historians would yield the same sort of answers, considering that many historians of U.S. foreign relations opt to refer to themselves as transnational or cross-border historians. Immerman wondered if this trend had gained greater traction since Michael Hogan’s Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) June 2003 presidential address, wherein Hogan pondered the future of diplomatic history in an increasingly globalized age. McMahon noted that a recent book by a highly regarded historian contains not a single citation to a FRUS volume. Failure to use FRUS in one’s research is not necessarily either a Committee or Office problem, but it is striking.

Referencing Langbart’s remarks, Ashley indicated that he had completed an article for AHA Perspectives on History on the availability of foreign policy research materials housed at NARA, including the Access to Archival Database (AAD), and the presidential libraries. Trudy Peterson suggested that the Committee highlight these issues within the context of its annual report to Congress. Immerman, noting the fact that the AHA reprints the Committee’s report in Perspectives on History, suggested that H-DIPLO publish it as well. He added that even in terms of Office-sponsored historical conferences, some of these events should be less ambitious and more focused on the access, selection, and declassification process involved in FRUS production. David Zierler had given such an overview, based on his experience as a FRUS compiler, at Temple University during the past year. Immerman wondered if H-DIPLO could convene a roundtable on FRUS, noting the wide variety of topical roundtables featured on the H-DIPLO site. David Geyer suggested that the Office should capitalize on the Wikileaks episode, as it had generated great interest in foreign policy documentation. Laura Belmonte indicated that Brad Simpson—program co-chair of this year’s SHAFR meeting—had approached her to participate in a panel on this topic; Peterson interjected that she, too, had discussed Wikileaks as a panelist at a conference in New York. Referencing the proliferation of discussions related to Wikileaks on the SHAFR webpage, Immerman asserted that the focus must remain on FRUS production and efforts to educate and/or dispel myths about the series.

Belmonte, referencing current scholarly trends, added that the Committee might seek out an alternative scholarly venue for discussion of the series, involving historians who specialize in cultural or gender history and scholars from other related disciplines. McMahon highlighted the tendency for historians to favor archival research over published primary sources. Scholars, he continued, would rather travel to foreign archives and unearth one or two relevant documents than use sources more readily at their disposal. He conceded that such a trend is problematic because the researcher has not undertaken the systemic work necessary—including the consultation of FRUS volumes—to produce top quality scholarship. FRUS compilers provide a great service to the profession by highlighting relevant documentation and directing the researcher to other sources. Peterson then asked Langbart if historians researching foreign policy topics at NARA are consulting the electronic cables. Langbart responded that many researchers ignore hard copies in favor of using AAD, but that they are using the cables. He added that a historian could not produce scholarship by only using FRUS; researchers must delve into the unpublished documents found in the primary sources. Researchers tend to hold various misconceptions about NARA holdings, assuming that if documentation on a topic is not printed in FRUS, then it does not exist in the archives.

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Marvin Russell indicated that 2010 had generally been a successful year. Concerning the review of the electronic telegrams, he noted that the 1985 record segment had been completed, while nearly 50% of the 1986 segment was also complete. Paper reviews for 1981–1985 were completed last fall. 500,000 pages of post files from the period 1986–1990 have been reviewed this year; however, there are significant concerns about the volume of records from the 1986–1990 time period. SRP will need to review approximately 5,000,000 pages per year for this five-year block—double the amount from previous years. Additionally, referrals from the National Declassification Center and other agencies have been claiming more time and effort. Examples of these demands include the foundation of a new all DOD Joint Referral Center at Ft. Belvoir and the CIA Remote Archives Capture project. There is no means of increasing available staff in the near future, suggesting that these issues are likely to persist. Initial review priorities for paper review include P- and N-reel microfilm, which has lagged behind the substantial progress made in electronic records, and a newly unearthed collection of from of NODIS cables spanning the period 1982–1985.

GMU Conference

The Committee attended a conference on the recently published Foreign Economic Policy volume at George Mason University.

Closed Session, March 8

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

Immerman welcomed the CIA representatives and opened the session at 9:15 a.m.

In response to questions from Immerman about specific declassification issues related to the Iran and Congo retrospective volumes, a discussion occurred between Agency representatives and the Committee.

Sibley asked about the status of the SALT II and Energy Crisis volumes. Tudda replied that they had been verified with the CIA on March 1, 2011.

The Committee then discussed the status of several volumes currently in declassification review with the Agency representatives and HO.

Herschler raised the issue of the Joint CIA-State Historian and explained that the position was being classified by Human Resources and hoped that it would be posted soon. Brynn thanked Collinge for assuming the duties of Acting Joint Historian. The Committee then discussed ways of expediting the clearance process for the new Joint-Historian.

A CIA representative mentioned that the Agency was co-sponsoring an event at the Wilson Center on Soviet Wartime Statutes which complement documents already released on the Parallel History Project on April 2, 2011 from 1:00–4:00 featuring scholars such as Mark Kramer.

As there were no more questions, Immerman thanked the CIA representatives for attending.

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

David Langbart spoke to the Committee about recent changes at NARA. He provided a new organizational chart and noted that the Archives are undergoing a major transformation involving the most significant changes since 1997. The organizational structure will change from a geographically-based functionally integrated structure to a functionally-based geographically integrated set-up. In addition, he noted that Michael Kurtz had retired and Sharon Fawcett was retiring soon. Among other innovations, the position of “Chief Operating Officer” has been created. The “Research Services” section is undergoing major changes. Likewise, “Agency Services” is undergoing changes, and will be headed by Jay Bosanko, who is leaving ISOO. Of other interest to the Committee, Langbart noted that beginning in late 2010, CIA has been transferring records for the period up to the mid-1960s, among which are records about the 1954 Guatemala operation. Katie Sibley asked about the reason for the change in organization. Langbart replied that the new archivist determined that change is needed in order to transform NARA. Laura Belmonte queried what effect the reorganization would have on staff levels. Langbart responded that NARA’s priorities in budget and staffing over the last 20 years have resulted in a decline in the number of staff doing reference. Belmonte noted that fewer people will be available to deal with a volume of work that will continue to increase. David Nickles asked about subject matter experts among the archivists. Langbart responded that the Archives does not have subject matter branches anymore with the resulting loss of expertise in the records. For example, the old Diplomatic Branch once had about twenty-six people devoted to diplomatic records of whom eleven were doing projects and eleven handling queries. Now, no single person in reference is assigned to just work on foreign affairs records. Langbart drew attention to the “Research Council,” which will allow feedback from organizations.

Kathleen Rasmussen asked whether the changes at NARA will affect the research experience of patrons. Langbart said that users probably will not see a major change but that only time will tell. Trudy Peterson queried whether there will be any changes below the top levels shown on the charts. Langbart replied that we don’t know the details of the organization yet and it is expected that the transformation will take five years. Katie Sibley wondered whether HO would be affected. Langbart noted that the National Declassification Center would move to a new organization, and that we don’t know what the effects of that will be. Mircea Munteanu noted that with the decline of staff at NARA able to help researchers, it would be helpful if more documents were digitized. Langbart stated that this would be difficult because imaging records is very expensive—old information indicates about $20 per page—and this would make large scale scanning impracticable given the billions of pages held by NARA. Langbart did add that NARA has partnerships with organizations to facilitate digitization, but that most of these organizations work in the field of genealogy. For most other records, the expense of digitization would be prohibitive in the near future. Trudy Peterson noted that more recent estimates indicate that the cost has dropped significantly.

Don Mcllwain then began a presentation on the National Declassification Center (NDC), which he said has been more tranquil than NARA. The NDC is facing a backlog of 417 million pages, of which 83 million have been evaluated. A bright spot is that the ability to measure progress has improved. Three teams are working, each composed of representatives from NARA, relevant agencies, the intelligence community, and the Department of Energy. DOE’s was participating in order to resolve Kyl–Lott concerns. Mcllwain said that thirteen million pages had been through the process since July. David Mengel is heading a project to declassify film and videotape. Mcllwain noted that he was himself heading a FOIA/Mandatory Review project to make that process digital; this would save money and time, and allow better coordination and tracking. Mcllwain added that there is a prioritization plan in the works. One effort involved the declassification of the Pentagon Papers and related documents (including the investigation into the leak). Documents relating to the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and incidents with upcoming anniversaries would also be declassified.

John Powers thanked HO for inviting him to participate in the recent AHA panel on FRUS and openness and secrecy in government. Noting Jay Bosanko’s promotion and impending departure as ISOO’s Director, Powers said that Bosanko wanted to express his thanks to HO and the Committee for having invited him to collaborate on various issues over the preceding years. According to Powers, Bosanko felt that the relationship had been a success story; he had enjoyed being involved; and he would continue to be involved in his new position.

Powers delivered a letter from Bosanko to the Office regarding an upcoming meeting of various agencies to discuss declassification guidance for the Arab-Israeli Dispute volume.

Powers noted an upcoming Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) meeting “next week,” which was to include a panel on what the “next classification system should look like.” There would also be a blog for public comments. The first two topics to be raised on the blog would deal with technology. Powers suggested HO and the Committee be quite interested and should comment. The first topic was about using technology to improve declassification. Powers referenced State’s existing process for dealing with S AS records. The second topic was about metadata standards, and Powers mentioned that one question to be raised dealt with eliminating the current records management lifecycle model in favor of one that is better suited for electronic records. With regard to further streamlining declassification, Powers noted that the PIDB feels that even projects like the one Mcllwain had mentioned are still too inefficient (Mcllwain had earlier described a pilot project of scanning classified FOLA and MDR materials and sending each them e-copies for review that can then later be combined into a single version for release). Powers mentioned that, in the interest of even greater efficiency, the possibility of ending the concept of agency ownership of historical records had been raised, which would eliminate the need for agencies to refer records to all other agencies with equity interest in them. Powers reiterated his invitation for all present to attend the upcoming PIDB meeting and participate in the blog where these kinds of issues would be discussed.

Peterson noted that Canada had recently changed its declassification guidelines regarding information derived from human and technological sources and asked if this had changed the U.S. approach to the declassification of FBI materials. Powers stated that nothing has changed yet. Langbart noted, however, that at least the FBI is now transferring records to NARA, and that they are including “sensitive categories” in those transfers. Powers added that he has gone to the FBI to offer them guidance on making their referrals more efficient.

Herschler asked if it would be possible to have the NDC assist with FRUS multi-agency referral issues. Powers stated that he didn’t want to speak for NDC Director Sheryl Shenberger, but did note that under the FRUS referral process there is a 180-day timeline with the right to appeal, which may not exist within the NDC. Mcllwain stated that he would take the question back to Shenberger, and commented that the in-person collaboration between agencies (made possible by the NDC) would be more efficient. He thought that the process should be easy with RAC / Presidential Libraries materials, but also noted that the challenge would be letting agencies give authority to their people onsite at the NDC.

Immerman asked if there were any other questions or comments. Nathaniel Smith said he would like to revisit the Committee’s thoughts on Mitch Lerner’s informal survey of SHAFR members about FRUS, which Lerner had discussed at the recent AHA panel. Smith stated that he had initially suggested the idea of the survey to Lerner, and that he thought one of the survey’s main conclusions was the continuing relevance of the series. He asked if the Committee had any further thoughts or reactions.

McMahon said he thought the biggest concern or issue from the survey was the sense that the series is slipping to a 40-year rather than a 30-year line, and that everything else revealed by the survey is trivial compared to that. Immerman said that there has been widespread concern about this even before the survey—people are concerned whether progress will be made on this front. This provides an opportunity for someone from HO to write an essay laying out the case for how HO is addressing the issue. Belmonte agreed, adding that the explosion of work on the 1970’s makes the issue especially pressing. McMahon responded that there is a danger of people producing scholarly works on these topics without the benefit of FRUS. Many advisors are telling students they cannot count on FRUS being out in time for their research. He added that there is also a frustration that even volumes that have been completed will not be available for students’ research, due to declassification issues. Peterson commented that there is also a “trust issue” in the sense that people fear HO does not get full access to the records it needs, but that this concern would be alleviated if volumes came out with greater urgency. McMahon stated that HO needs to communicate more directly and forthrightly with scholars about where the series is, and how it is going to get where it needs to go. It is more important to do this than to sponsor panels at the AHA about the non-diplomatic uses of FRUS, or to hold conferences on a single volume. HO needs to convey that it recognizes that there is a problem.

McMahon said that HO should advertise the release of new volumes in Passport. He also said that being able to tell people that all Carter volumes will be compiled by the end of 2012 would make a big difference. McMahon stated that the Committee members felt that they have greater sense of urgency about the timeliness of the series than people working on the volumes do.

On the issue of publicizing the release of new volumes, Kathy Rasmussen stated that HO is already working to get all newly-released volumes reviewed. It was her understanding that every volume is currently being sent out to journals, but that HO can also make sure that volumes are sent to H-Diplo. Immerman noted that HO has an “in” with Diplomatic History. Chris Tudda said that Tom Zeiler already has the set of Vietnam FRUS volumes, and is currently looking for a reviewer. McMahon suggested that HO put together an HO panel in which other documentary editors could speak about FRUS’s influence on their series. David Geyer noted that the perception registered in the Lerner survey that HO does not get full access to records is not true, and that the Committee might be in a better position to clarify this point in academic circles.

The Committee then adjourned into executive session.