March 2016

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation March 7–8, 2016


Committee Members

  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • Laura Belmonte
  • Mary L. Dudziak
  • 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
  • Elizabeth Charles
  • Joel Christenson
  • Erin Cozens
  • Stephanie Eckroth
  • Thomas Faith
  • 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
  • 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

Bureau of Administration

  • David Adamson
  • Jeff Charlston
  • John Hackett
  • Timothy Kootz
  • Marvin Russell

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Cathleen Brennan, Archives II Reference Branch
  • Meghan Ryan Guthorn, Textual Records Division/Accessioning Section
  • Philip Heslip, Archives II Processing Branch
  • David Langbart, Textual Records Division
  • Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center
  • John Laster, Office of Presidential Libraries

Central Intelligence Agency

  • FRUS Coordination Team

Open Session, March 7

Approval of the Record of the December 2015 Meeting

Chairman Richard Immerman opened the session at 11:05 a.m. with a vote to approve the minutes from the December 2015 meeting, which the Historical Advisory Committee approved. Immerman then introduced Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs John Kirby, and Committee members introduced themselves to Kirby.

Remarks by the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

Kirby said that he had come to appreciate the important role that the Office of the Historian plays in helping the Department and the public learn from the past. He added that the “only history that repeats is the history you don’t learn.” Kirby stated that he now relies often on the Office to help support the Department’s mission, and he drew attention to the paper provided to the White House to help the preparations for the President’s trip to Cuba. Kirby said that the Secretary of State considers himself a beneficiary of the Office and believes in supporting the mission of transparency, preservation of records, and teaching.

Report by the Historian

Historian Stephen Randolph thanked Kirby for his support, welcomed the new Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Susan Stevenson, and reported on the Office and its programs. He emphasized that, since the last Committee meeting, the Office had published digitized versions of 19 Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)volumes from 1943 and 1944 that cover mobilization for victory in World War II and diplomatic preparations for the post-war order.

Status Report by the General Editor

General Editor Adam Howard reported that since the December meeting, the Office had published two FRUS volumes, American Republics, 1973–1976, and the first Reagan volume, Conflict in the South Atlantic, 1981–1984. He further stated that, in 2015, for the first time in several years, the Office had published 10 volumes. Howard noted that both the earlier volumes that recently had been digitized as well as newly released volumes are word-searchable.

Immerman asked for an update on the publication date for the Iran retrospective volume. Kirby stated that the Department is still working on obtaining approval to publish the volume and that the Secretary is committed to releasing it. He added that he understands that there is a great deal of interest in the volume and that the Office will keep the Committee informed of developments.

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Jeff Charlston reported progress on the Department’s declassification efforts, highlighting a number of changes. Charlston stated that the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) had ended 2015 with record levels of production and that FRUS review was proceeding smoothly and at high levels. He discussed changes to FRUS branch procedures and noted that Keri Lewis, the new FRUS Coordinator, was a strong and effective liaison between IPS and the Office.

Charlston reported that over 1200 cases were completed in the first quarter of FY 2016 as a result of the increased productivity of the FRUS branch. In comparison, in all of FY 2015 the branch completed 833 cases. This far into FY 2016 the branch has already exceeded the entire number of cases closed in 5 of the last 7 full fiscal years. As of today, the branch has 1736 open MDR cases, 295 open FOIA cases, and 53 others for a total of 2084 cases open. The branch has also received 3 FRUS volumes since December and has expedited the review of one, per the Office’s request. Review of the remaining two will be completed on time.

Review of classified cables progresses, and so far this year the Electronic Review Branch has released 74% of the classified pages reviewed. Charlston noted that classified cable review suffered from a much lower release rate than comparable paper documents, and he further explained that he could not determine whether this was a substantive problem with the cables or, more likely, an issue related to process. Charlston reported that in FY 2015 the Paper Review Branch completed the review of 4,210,000 pages, releasing 4,186,779 pages and exempting 23,221 pages. This is a release rate of 99.45%. As of February 23, 2016 the branch had completed approximately 1.4 million pages of primary review for FY2016. There are a total of approximately 5.1 million pages of 1991 paper records.

Immerman asked whether the Clinton email project had affected Charlston’s team, and Charlston responded that it had not. He did note that the ongoing renovation delays at SA–13, however, certainly had affected review time and productivity. He stated that N and P reel review, specifically, had been delayed significantly and need a long-term fix. Charlston proposed a solution to the N and P reel issue—conversion from current format and subsequent electronic review. He noted that this strategy would take some time and would require additional facilities. Movement on the proposed solution, Charlston noted, could not commence until summer 2017 but would cost less money in the long term.

The Committee adjourned for lunch at noon.

Closed Session, March 7

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

Immerman convened the session at 1:15 p.m.


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.

Immerman asked whether the Clinton emails had slowed IPS workflow. Kootz noted no effect on processing but mentioned that temporary staff losses due to the Clinton email review had hampered data entry. He further stated that manual data entry is currently a huge burden but that the new transfer checklist (i.e., DS-4239 Classified Records Transfer Checklist) will be automatically generated.

Mary Dudziak inquired about the impact of human error. Kootz explained that the new automated forms would use Boolean logic and would employ human quality checks at multiple levels to reduce errors.

Trudy Peterson asked about the status of a 60-cubic-foot transfer request and about the efficiency of inactive material entering and exiting NARA’s records centers. Kootz replied that there were one or two issues outstanding but that IPS would deliver the requested material in mid-April. David Langbart agreed with this assessment and explained that inactive records are those no longer needed for current business. Agency offices generally hold on to records while they are active. The Department then sends records to its records center for an intermediate period before sending them to the federal records center for long-term storage before either transfer to the National Archives or destruction.

Peterson asked about the status of archived Department of State email. Kootz explained that this involved many gigabytes of data and that, while progress is being made by IPS, one of the main concerns is that the material is being transferred over without loss. Charlston stated that this material included all the email records (drafts, duplicates, etc.), not just the final product. To the question of version control, Kootz added that working files were part of the permanent record if they contained substantive information.

Immerman noted that the number of versions of some National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) ran into the hundreds. Dudziak stated that the process of how an important document is ultimately created by mingling the input of many different sources is historically valuable. Even a distribution list, she noted, can be very useful and that it is hard to know what researchers will want to examine in 25 years. Langbart agreed that this could open records to new types of inquiry and cited the danger of being bogged down in minutiae because of the sheer volume of material.

National Archives: National Declassification Center

Don McIlwain stated that the National Declassification Center (NDC) continues to work on review. He stated that the factory side is working on records accessioned last year and that they are on target to achieve quality assurance by the end of the year. He noted that 182 projects, or 5.3 million pages, have been indexed and that a list of completed index projects would be posted to the NDC blog so that researchers could easily find this information. He stated that the NDC receives the most requests for Department of State records.

McIlwain emphasized that he highly encourages prioritization of declassification review so that the NDC knows what should be done first. He explained that NDC attempts to anticipate what people will want but that, without explicit requests, priority falls to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) review requests. He noted that NDC prefers to take direction from researcher requests.

Peterson noted that at the December 2015 Committee meeting the Committee discussed a special project on the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Central Files, and she asked how that project had progressed. McIlwain said that work had begun on this project and that he could provide more details at a later date.

McIlwain noted that the NDC now has archivists who can scan and cooperate with agencies more effectively. He explained that agencies had given the NDC permission and instructions for review, i.e., agencies may care to protect a source page but not necessarily an actual intelligence report. NDC is focusing on late 1950s to mid-1970s records now.

Immerman stated that he would forward Peterson an email on this, noting that there would be interest in publishing these documents someday as they are important records.

Peterson asked about the Department of Energy (DOE) review of records from 1978. McIlwain said that these P-reel records are in progress and were still at DOE.

Peterson mentioned a project to invite agency representatives to solve common problems with FOIA requests and Mandatory Declassification Reviews (MDRs). McIlwain said that Marvin Russell led this effort and that agencies were willing to help triage. For example, he noted, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had contacts onsite to complete DIA’s document review, which reduced referrals. Most agencies, he stated, prefer completing their own reviews over referrals, and many had been great partners.

McIlwain promised an update on the OSD project for the June Committee meeting.

National Archives: Research Services

Langbart reported on the latest accessioning of foreign affairs records to NARA. In the period following the December 2015 Committee meeting, the Department of State (DOS) made 18 transfers of RG 59 records (approximately 26 cubic feet) and 1 transfer of RG 84 records (approximately 8 cubic feet) to NARA. Langbart noted that additional records had arrived from the Department but that accessioning actions had not yet been completed for 30 transfers of RG 59 records (approximately 78 cubic feet) and 3 transfers of RG 84 records (approximately 3 cubic feet).

According to Langbart, the processing of foreign affairs records continues apace. Since the December meeting, the processing staff had undertaken a major project to establish basic descriptive information for all the foreign affairs records. The impetus for this project was that descriptive information about these records was either nonexistent or so cryptic as to be unusable. Since the start of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the 4 archivists working on the project had described DOS records in RG 59 and 84, as well as RG 469 (pre-U.S. Agency for International Development foreign assistance agencies). Langbart noted that the archivists had prepared minimal descriptive information on 1,191 series, which totals approximately 7,891 cubic feet of records. When the records are processed, the project archivists will develop full descriptive information.

Langbart next reported that a few weeks ago the 1979 telegrams and P-reel index entries in the Central Foreign Policy File were made available online. He also noted that the problems associated with the project to digitalize the 1906–1910 Numerical and Minor Files and related indices, the Department’s central files for the period, were resolved and those records were now available online. With that process completed, digitalization efforts were underway for the Department’s so-called World War I File, as well as for the most important records of The Inquiry and the American Commission to Negotiate Peace from World War I.

According to Langbart, the NDC had secured approval for the release of the additional several thousand pages of withdrawn items from the 1940–1944 segment of the DOS’s Central Decimal File. These will be shortly returned to the files.

Langbart next reported that on February 13 the changes to the Advanced Search feature of the NARA Catalog went online. He noted that NARA believes that these enhancements will improve the usability of the catalog but that Research Services will continue to press for additional improvements.

Finally, Langbart detailed the level of work of the NARA II reference staff during the first quarter of FY 2016: the reference staff had received 2,912 emails and letters and had assisted with 6,812 individual researcher visits to the main Research Room. Additionally, the pull staff recorded 53,019 pulls of items.

Immerman asked if the number of emails and letters had increased. Langbart said that it had. Katie Sibley asked if the increase was due to scholars, to which Langbart replied that the increase resulted from a range of inquiries, including historians, legal researchers, and journalists.

Peterson asked about releasing documents on Vietnam from the Central File, noting that the last time Langbart reported that it “had tanked.” Langbart said that the 1960–1963 results were less than hoped for. He explained that this could be due to changes in the way Foreign Service reporting was prepared at the time; reflecting explicit input from other agencies.

The Committee adjourned for a break at 2:45 p.m.

Closed Session, March 7

Presentation and discussion on current Office research and annotation

At 3:00 p.m., Immerman called the session to order and Howard introduced Seth Rotramel.

Rotramel discussed his work on a recent compilation focusing on South Asia, 1981–1988, outlining the central themes that emerged during his research, his observations regarding the key topics in the documents, and how the volume might illuminate previously overlooked aspects of some events.

The meeting adjourned to Executive Session at 4:00 p.m.

Closed Session, March 8

Immerman called the session to order at 9:10 a.m. He welcomed the CIA’s FRUS coordination team and then gave Randolph the floor.

Randolph thanked the CIA’s FRUS Team, stating that theirefforts are critical to the Office. He mentioned the China 1948 FRUS volume, from the recent back catalog release, and remarked that it was an example of how little policymakers in Washington, DC, knew about the events of the volume as they unfolded and how important the development of the national intelligence establishment has been since then.

Central Intelligence Agency

Immerman commended the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) work on the declassification of the Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs). The CIA discussed last year’s PDB release of documents from the Kennedy and Johnson presidential administrations and its follow-up later this year on the release of PDBs from the Nixon and Ford administrations. Overall, the release last year was well-received by the academic community and CIA expects the same positive reaction for the second release.

The CIA FRUS Team discussed the status of the reviews on FRUS manuscripts from the Department of State and their process in the review of the documents. In general, their review process is in good shape and the staff is working diligently to stay a pace with deadlines.

Randolph thanked the CIA’s FRUS Team again and the session adjourned at 10 a.m.