September 2005

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, September 19-20, 2005


Committee Members

  • Wm. Roger Louis Chairman,
  • Margaret Hedstrom,
  • Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman,
  • Robert McMahon,
  • Edward Rhodes,
  • Robert Schulzinger,
  • Geoffrey Watson

Office of the Historian

  • Marc Susser, Historian,
  • Kristin Ahlberg,
  • Carl Ashley,
  • Monica Belmonte,
  • Todd Bennett,
  • Myra Burton,
  • John Carland,
  • Paul Claussen,
  • Bradley Coleman,
  • Craig Daigle,
  • Evan Duncan,
  • Steve Galpern,
  • Amy Garrett,
  • David Geyer,
  • RenĂ©e Goings,
  • David Herschler,
  • Paul Hibbeln,
  • Susan Holly,
  • Adam Howard,
  • Edward Keefer,
  • Peter Kraemer,
  • Doug Kraft,
  • Robert Krikorian,
  • Erin Mahan,
  • Bill McAllister,
  • Chris Morrison,
  • Linda Qaimmaqami,
  • Kathleen Rasmussen,
  • Doug Selvage,
  • Jim Siekmeier,
  • 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;
  • Harmon Kirby, A/RPS/IPS

National Archives and Records Administration

  • David Kepley, Office of Records Services;
  • Marvin Russell, Initial Processing and Declassification Division;
  • Nancy Smith, Office of Presidential Libraries; John Powers, Nixon Project

Central Intelligence Agency

  • John C.,
  • Vicki F.

OPEN SESSION, September 19

Approval of the Record of the July 2005 Meeting: Chairman Roger Louis called the meeting to order at 1:36 p.m. The committee approved the minutes of the July meeting.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Marc Susser announced that the Office of the Historian had recently released the second electronic-only Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume, entitled Documents on Global Issues, 1969-1972. The third electronic-only volume--Documents on Africa, 1969-1972--would follow shortly. He recounted for the committee that to date, eight Nixon-Ford volumes have been published: five print volumes and two electronic-only volumes. He then noted that several senior staff historians were slated to attend the biannual International Conference of Editors of Diplomatic Documents, to be held in Paris during the first week of October. Susser believed that the American contingent would have more progress to report, concerning electronic documentation, than any other national delegation. The office continued to pursue other forms of electronic communication, in the form of educational videotapes for use in middle and high school social studies classes. Susser indicated that he had viewed the third video in the Doors to Diplomacy series--"Sports and Diplomacy in the Global Arena"--and described the format as a cross between the History Channel and ESPN. The accompanying curriculum package was currently in production and would serve as a useful teaching tool. Susser concluded his report by introducing Carl Ashley, the newest historian in the Declassification and Publishing Division, who brings considerable editing and web technology expertise to the office.

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and the General Editor

David Herschler indicated that the newest historian in the Declassification and Publishing Division filled an open contract position. Five office historians remain on contract and have yet to be converted into FTE positions. Current staffing and budgetary constraints preclude this conversion. Herschler noted that the office had sustained a 20 percent reduction in its fiscal year (FY) 2005 budget compared with the FY 2004 budget and was therefore understaffed at 38 historians. He remained optimistic that the office will retain its current employees and that the increased experience of the staff will offset any personnel losses. Regarding the FY 2006 budget, Herschler commented that the office would probably not receive it until early in 2006.

Turning from personnel news to outreach activities, Herschler expanded upon Susser's remarks about the "Sports and Diplomacy in the Global Arena" video project and announced that the office would roll out the video and accompanying curriculum guide at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) annual conference, to be held in Kansas City in November. In addition to the newest video, staff historians planned to distribute in Kansas City several hundred copies of the 2004 "A History of Diplomacy" videotape. The office had distributed 12,000 videos to date. Robert Schulzinger inquired as to how the general public could obtain copies of the video; Susan Holly responded that interested persons could access a form on the Office of the Historian web page in order to submit a video request. This electronic method of communication allows the office to construct a database for contact purposes pertaining to future video releases.

Herschler then noted that since the July meeting, four FRUS volumes had been verified. He credited the Chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division and the editorial and declassification staff for their efforts. Herschler predicted that four additional FRUS volumes would be verified between September and December, and added that the Division has been submitting at least one new volume per month for review. The next step will be to publish more than twice the number of volumes published in 2005, contingent on the budget. Herschler reiterated that major progress had been made during the past 2 months and reminded the committee that difficult volumes will always exist. The dual statutory requirements of the series--production timetable and high quality--are challenging to meet, but he is confident the staff will succeed.

Edward Keefer began his presentation by highlighting the features of the electronic publishing formats. He commented that the electronic-only publications could be read either as text (html) or as PDF files, and that within the near future, the whole volume, and not just the individual documents, would be word-searchable as well. He reminded the committee that in April 2005, he felt that the office would be able to publish one volume per month and suggested that the committee check back in April 2006 to see if the office has been able to adhere to this timetable. With specific reference to the electronic-only FRUS volume on Global Issues, 1969-1972, Keefer explained that this volume's content signified a shift in focus to transnational or global issues. An earlier FRUS volume--Energy Diplomacy and Global Issues, 1964-1968--marked the first attempt by the office to document transnational issues. A print volume covering these themes during the 1973-1976 era is currently in production. Terrorism and hijacking of civil aviation; international narcotics production and trafficking; space; the environment; and law of the sea will make up the content of the electronic-only volume. Keefer asserted that refugee issues, while rising in importance, did not constitute a major foreign policy concern of the Nixon administration. He added that if a major section of the volume were devoted to human rights issues, it would not accurately represent the main foreign policy issues of the day.

Keefer then moved on to a discussion of the electronic-only publication: Documents on Africa, 1969-1972. He noted that the volume contained documentation on bilateral issues and regional themes. The documents related to North Africa were currently in the declassification process and would be added to the volume in the future. The committee members engaged in a discussion about specific issues related to Biafra. Keefer highlighted the fact that contrary to the conventional wisdom which holds that President Nixon and National Security Adviser Kissinger were disinterested in Africa, the documentation indicates that Nixon was sympathetic to the Biafran cause and expressed concern over the human suffering there, although very little concrete action was taken. A discussion then followed regarding the most efficient way of alerting scholars and other interested persons to the fact that the FRUS electronic-only publications are accessible through the Department of State's website.

The committee inquired as to how the FRUS electronic-only publications compared to the State Archiving System (SAS) and National Archives' Access to Archival Databases (AAD) program. Herschler observed that SAS consists mainly of cables. The new electronic publications contain, in addition to cable traffic, memoranda and general correspondence. Keefer assured the Committee that the office followed the same exacting standards in producing the electronic-only publications as it did with print volumes. Compilers of these volumes similarly selected and contextualized documents, rather than collecting thousands of documents per topic and putting this documentation on the website. Keefer explained that the compilers of electronic volumes prepare front matter, name and source lists, abbreviations, editorial notes, and source notes for inclusion in the electronic volumes. One major difference between the two formats is that the electronic-only publications do not contain indices. In lieu of indexing, the office planned to improve keyword search ability.

Noting that the committee was greatly impressed with the office's acceleration of the publishing process, Louis asked Keefer about the types of problems the office experienced in preparing electronic publications, particularly with regard to quality control. Keefer replied that the increase in editorial staff made it easier to proofread volumes multiple times both inside and outside the office. Referencing the office's ability to add material or correct errors in the electronic publications, Margaret Hedstrom asked how the office planned to deal with corrections if and when they were found. Keefer replied that corrections would be made whenever errors might surface. He commented that electronic publishing would help the office to avoid occasional publication delays related to the declassification process. For example, the editors could prepare and post the declassified sections of a given FRUS electronic volume and then insert additional documentation as it is declassified.

Louis inquired as to the additional costs the office would incur in preparing electronic publications. Herschler replied the cost of one print volume was between $35 and $50 thousand and, given recent budgetary cutbacks, the Department would be unable to publish only print FRUS volumes. Electronic volumes provided a faster, less-expensive means of publishing. As a result, electronic publishing would help "close the gap" on the 30-year publication requirement. Keefer indicated that one-fourth of the Nixon-Ford volumes, and one-third of the Carter volumes, would be produced as electronic-only volumes. Herschler noted that electronic publishing eliminated printing and indexing fees and other outside expenditures. Susan Weetman added that the office absorbed the upfront costs related to the purchase of computer hardware and software required for electronic publishing.

Robert McMahon wondered if the office's international counterparts had expressed any interest in doing electronic publications. Susser replied that he did not know if his international colleagues intended to pursue this type of publishing. Keefer indicated that concerns had been expressed regarding the possibility that hackers might "break" into online publications and "doctor" or modify documents, but commented that the "average" hacker could not accomplish this type of destruction. He also indicated that other diplomatic documentary editors prepared documentary series that differed from FRUS in certain ways and noted that some reluctance toward electronic publishing existed. Previously, committee members had expressed their concerns related to the electronic publishing, Keefer commented, and had, only recently, embraced the new format. He assured the committee that he and other office historians would highlight the attractiveness of electronic publishing at the upcoming Paris international documentary editors' conference.

Discussion then turned to the public outreach video projects. Hedstrom inquired if teachers had provided any feedback about the video. Holly responded affirmatively, indicating that she and others had received positive comments at last year's NCSS conference. She expected that this positive response would continue. She explained that the office is collaborating with teachers who were responsible for formulating educational standards at the state level to ensure that the video and curriculum materials would correspond to, and complement, state standards. In disseminating the last video, the office had included a comments form. Holly discerned a common thread in this feedback: educators expressed their gratitude for these materials, as they could not obtain these teaching tools elsewhere. Herschler added that the historians producing the video had met recently with the four teachers tasked with developing the corresponding curriculum guide for the "Sports and Diplomacy" video.

Louis then indicated that it was time to hear from Brian Dowling of IPS.

Status of Declassification of State Department Records

Brian Dowling first updated the committee on the status of the flooded SCIF at Newington. The flood and the subsequent restoration measures had caused significant delays to the 2006 deadline of processing 24 million pages of documents. He noted that his staff had lost 4 to 5 weeks of work. Dowling projected that by October 3 the staff would resume a normal work schedule. His staff had processed 13 million pages to date and needed to process an additional 10.6 million by the 2006 deadline. Dowling expressed optimism at meeting this deadline.

Documents to be processed included Department of State and United States Information Agency (USIA) records, diplomatic post files, and records from smaller agencies, such as the Peace Corps; in form, the records included paper records, microfilm prints, and electronic files. Once processed, many paper records might remain unexamined for years, in contrast to electronic records, which would be electronically searchable immediately. He acknowledged the challenge in reviewing the electronic records, due to the two-tiered review process. Dowling's staff was in the process of completing the review for 1978 classified electronic records. Classified electronic records for 1979, 1980, and 1981 were to be completed in 2006.

Dowling then discussed the process of converting the microfilm records to paper copies. He commented that the microfilm totaled 2.8 million microfilmed pages. The conversion process was both difficult and expensive, and Dowling explained that his staff undertook as much of this process as possible in order to reduce costs. Staff members currently were able to process three reels per week. He expected to provide the committee with a more accurate completion date for this conversion process at the time of the December meeting.

Dowling stated that most (90-95 percent) of the microfilmed record existed among the paper records, but that no system existed to coordinate which records had been microfilmed. Therefore, the review of microfilm and paper records amounted to a double review.

Hedstrom asked Dowling if master copies of the microfilms existed. Dowling stated that all microfilms were, by definition, "user copies," as the paper records constituted the master copies of microfilmed documents. Hedstrom commented that standard archival practice dictated that records managers produced master copies of microfilm reels and then duplicated the user copy from the master. She again inquired if master copies of the microfilm records existed. Dowling doubted that such copies existed but admitted that he did not know which guidelines the Department of State had followed at the time the reels were filmed. Bill McAllister added that he had asked NARA archivists this same question and had not received a definitive answer. Hedstrom suggested that an inquiry be made about this matter. Dowling stated that if such master copies existed, he and his staff would be using them now.

Hedstrom asked a second question about the two-tiered process of electronic records processing and asked for clarification about when the second tier review would be complete for 1980 and 1981 records. Dowling clarified that both review tiers for classified 1980 and 1981 records would be completed in 2006.

Hedstrom also inquired as to the status of withdrawal cards in these records. David Adamson stated that withdrawal cards were separate, in that they are created after the electronic documents are reviewed.

The committee recessed at 2:50 p.m. for a short break.

CLOSED SESSION, September 19

Louis reconvened the meeting at 3 p.m.

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

Louis asked David Kepley to give his report.

Kepley drew upon the comments he had made at the July meeting about the challenges associated with making electronic records accessible to the general public. NARA archivists had faced a technical challenge in presenting the material; the adoption of an effective search engine had resolved this difficulty. A second challenge existed as to the usability of NARA's AAD program. He indicated that Hedstrom had completed her study of the system's usability. In addition, NARA archivists had included six Department of State staff historians in an AAD usability test; the historians provided generally positive feedback and several suggestions for improvement. Kepley commented that these suggestions could be readily implemented. Kepley anticipated that NARA could have the AAD accessible to the general public prior to the December committee meeting.

Adamson commented that the Department of State had transferred the 1973, 1974, and 1975 electronic records to NARA. Schulzinger inquired if the general public was currently unable to access these records. Kepley confirmed that this was the case, but reiterated his expectation that these records would be available to the general public by the next committee meeting.

Hedstrom expressed confidence that the general public would have access to the Department's 1973 and 1974 electronic cables by the next meeting, though she was uncertain whether the 1975 cables would be available. She commented that she had offered suggestions for the improvement of the AAD and that on the whole the system had been improved. She said that she was fairly confident that the new interface would allow for public usability. Louis asked whether Hedstrom was confident enough to disband the electronic records subcommittee. Lisa Cobbs Hoffman suggested that the committee refrain from this action at the present time.

Schulzinger sought confirmation that the public would have access to the Department's electronic records. Hedstrom answered affirmatively, adding that the AAD allowed the user to search across all NARA materials, in addition to cables. Schulzinger asked Kepley if a specific date had been set for the inauguration of its on-line access system. Kepley again reiterated that the AAD would be accessible prior to the December meeting. Geoffrey Watson inquired if users could access the AAD via the current iteration of NARA's website. Kepley responded that, currently, the AAD is accessible only through an internal NARA test website.

Foreign Relations Research at the Nixon Project

Louis then asked Herschler to comment on the working relationship between the Office of the Historian and the Nixon Presidential Materials Project located at NARA II.

Herschler stressed that the office continues to work very closely with John Powers and the Nixon Presidential Materials Project staff. Nixon Project staffers have facilitated on-site research undertaken by staff historians, conducted Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA) reviews of completed volumes, and prepared compact discs of Nixon telephone conversations for transcription by the office. Although the office is no longer funding any Nixon Project subventions, staff historians and Nixon Project staff members continue to collaborate in terms of daily research and PRMPA reviews. The status of the Nixon tape recordings requires additional discussion. Recently, Herschler and Keefer met with Powers to discuss priorities in terms of the office's tape requests. Overall, 15 percent of the office's tape requests remain to be done. Turning to the topic of FRUS research at the Carter Library, Herschler indicated that historians would begin research in Carter materials in 2006. The office will be working out arrangements for access to the Remote Archival Capture (RAC) project Carter materials with Nancy Smith and other key officials in the next few weeks.

After a brief introduction by Louis, Powers delivered his report. Despite his earlier, dire predictions, he expressed relief that the Nixon Project had not imploded, although its efficiency had been slowed by the ongoing RAC review. NARA has been able to replace several staff members who left their positions after the announcement was made that NARA would transfer all Nixon archival materials to the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. Project staff members have devised a concrete plan to prepare for the move to California, while continuing to answer e-mail research requests, brief general researchers, and pull boxes--approximately 1,300 per month. In addition, Powers informed the committee that the Nixon Project was scheduled to release the Vietnam Subject Files and Vietnam Special Files on November 10. The release would constitute the last substantial release of Nixon materials at NARA II. As the transfer of materials to Yorba Linda approaches, the Nixon Project will obtain additional funding for archivists, thus permitting the more-experienced archivists to concentrate their efforts on FRUS. Powers indicated that he was in the process of arranging a meeting among Herschler, Keefer, and the Nixon Project's new director.

Returning to personnel issues, Powers commented that four Nixon Project staff members continue to work on FRUS in various capacities. Although the employee detailed from the Office of Presidential Libraries has assumed her assigned position within NARA, she continues to assist with PRMPA review and packaging of materials. Powers indicated that during the current quarter, nine staff historians conducted research at the Nixon Project, while the project staff members completed five PRMPA reviews of FRUS volumes. Concerning the office's tape request, Powers commented that the majority of unreleased tapes are unprocessed and rough, and have not been reviewed under PRMPA guidelines for personal/returnable information. To date, the Nixon Project has provided the office with 292 taped conversations; 160 requests remain. During the last quarter, the Nixon Project staff reproduced only 10 conversations. Powers expressed his hope that his staff could, in the near future, produce 30 new conversations for the office. With regard to printed materials, the project staff had packaged 3,300 photocopied pages of documents selected by office historians. Powers commended the agreement reached between the office and the Nixon Project, requesting that staff historians e-mail their pull requests in advance of their visits. He also informed the committee that his practice of sending Herschler an e-mail detailing the Nixon Project's weekly agenda allowed staff historians to plan their visits and thus make the best use of their time at the Nixon Project.

In response to a question about the status of certain Reagan Library document collections, Nancy Smith indicated that a large tranche of foreign policy documents still required processing and described it as an "extremely complicated situation." Smith commented that the relevant electronic records, especially e-mails, would pose difficulties to researchers.

Schulzinger then asked the staff historians to comment on their experiences in researching the Nixon and Ford materials. He inquired as to the strategies historians use in deciding where to focus their research, specifically, how do historians decide whether to conduct research in the Kissinger Papers at NARA or in the Kissinger Papers at the Library of Congress. Douglas Selvage responded that substantial duplication exists between the Kissinger Papers at the Library of Congress and the documents housed at the Nixon and Ford libraries. Since the limited number of staff at the Library of Congress leads to a delay in processing copy requests, office historians usually first conduct research in the Nixon and Ford materials and then select copies of Kissinger's papers unique to the Library of Congress collection.

In response to a question from Schulzinger about the office's use of the Ford Library, Keefer replied that the office had scheduled 4 to 6 research trips, of a 2-week duration, to Ann Arbor. Three historians made up each group of researchers. He commented on the quality and organization of the Library's collections. Hedstrom added that the Ford Library is now the fourth most-used presidential library, thanks in large part to research by office historians. Continuing, she noted that new director of the Ford Library, Elaine Didier, is very energetic and a librarian, rather than a historian. Didier has enhanced the Library's cooperation with the University of Michigan and the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids. Hedstrom added that she is a member of the Library's board.

The Foreign Relations Series: Declassification Issues

The committee discussed documentation withheld from recently declassified volumes.

Policy-Supportive historical Studies prepared by the Office of the Historian

Paul Claussen discussed with the committee the work of his division, focusing on the preparation of policy-supportive historical studies.

The committee recessed at 5 p.m.

CLOSED SESSION, September 20

Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business

Louis called the meeting to order at 8:45 a.m.

Myra Burton discussed her work in progress with the committee.

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

John C. reported on the Agency's declassification review of FRUS volumes. Although he reported little substantive progress on the volumes immediately under review, he did inform the committee that he and his colleagues had improved the review process itself.

Herschler discussed the status of FRUS volumes under review at the CIA.

James Van Hook discussed the present state of play of the Iran retrospective volume with the committee.

Van Hook also noted that four historians from the office had been at the Center for the Study of Intelligence Historical Office.

Members of the committee and representatives of the CIA discussed the status of volumes in various stages of declassification and procedures for declassification of future FRUS volumes.

Future of the Foreign Relations Series

Louis announced that, since Schulzinger was coming to the end of his 9-year tenure on the committee, Schulzinger would offer some valedictory remarks. Schulzinger began by noting that when he came in, the Iran and Congo volumes were either simmering along or on track, depending on the terminology one chose. These volumes, however, were still unpublished, and this has been one of the FRUStrations for the committee, which has its origins in the publication of the misleading Iran volume in 1989. The committee needs to pay constant attention to the progress of very sensitive volumes, because only through constant vigilance and attention are such volumes eventually published. With the assurance that his own remarks would take only 5 minutes, Schulzinger commented that he hoped to spend most of the hour talking about the future of FRUS volumes.

In 1998-99, he continued, the Historian's Office and the committee reconceptualized the entire series. A new scheme was developed to try to address the way foreign policy is approached. Different types of volumes in addition to the bi-laterals were created, some encompassing more than one period, some reflecting general themes. This new concept has borne fruit, and some recent volumes are, as hoped, absolutely superb. Moreover, when he first joined the committee, the technical revolution in publishing was beginning, so the challenge was to see how new technology could be used to make material more accessible. Now fully one-quarter of the Nixon volumes and one-third of the Carter volumes will be electronic publications. Schulzinger said that he could not wait to see the electronic-only publication coming out next week. The process was not easy, he said, and people had to work hard, but FRUS was now grabbing the future.

Schulzinger also discussed the importance of the prospective access guides. When first conceived, the idea behind access guides was that published volumes would tell future researchers how to find things in the myriad government archives. FRUS historians have unique knowledge of how to find material, which should not be lost. Schulzinger strongly encouraged the idea that for the future of FRUS, the access guides should go forward. If the guides are published in electronic format, they can be altered later as needed. Most serious researchers now research electronically. FRUStration is high on this point. Researchers will be in the Historian's Office's debt for providing information about where material can be found.

Louis asked Keefer for comment, and Keefer replied by thanking Schulzinger for his service since he played a key role in developing this new conceptual publication framework. Keefer remarked that he believed that FRUS volumes are access guides in and of themselves, but he accepted the rationale behind publishing these guides. When Schulzinger joined the committee, no mechanism existed for clearing material on covert operations and no strategy existed for dealing with tapes. These tools have been developed in the last 10 years. His support helped keep the office going, for which he deserved gratitude.

There ensued a lengthy discussion on the details of preparing and publishing access guides and other issues concerning the committee's role with the FRUS series.

The committee adjourned for Executive Session at 11:17 a.m.