September 2006

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, September 11-12, 2006


Committee Members

  • Wm. Roger Louis, Chairman,
  • Carol Anderson,
  • Margaret Hedstrom,
  • Robert McMahon,
  • Edward Rhodes,
  • Thomas Schwartz,
  • Katherine Sibley,
  • Thomas Zeiler

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 Dawley,
  • Evan Duncan,
  • Steve Galpern,
  • Amy Garrett,
  • David Geyer,
  • Renée Goings,
  • David Herschler,
  • Paul Hibbeln,
  • Susan Holly,
  • Adam Howard,
  • Hal Jones,
  • Edward Keefer,
  • Peter Kraemer,
  • Doug Kraft,
  • Madelina Lee,
  • Keri Lewis,
  • Erin Mahan,
  • Aaron Marrs,
  • Bill McAllister,
  • Chris Morrison,
  • Linda Qaimmaqami,
  • Kathleen Rasmussen,
  • Jim Siekmeier,
  • Melissa Jane Taylor,
  • Chris Tudda,
  • Susan Kovalik Tully,
  • Dean Weatherhead,
  • Susan Weetman,
  • Alex Wieland

Bureau of Administration

  • Margaret Peppe, A/RPS/IPS;
  • Peter Sheils, A/RPS/IPS

National Archives and Records Administration

  • William Fischer, Life Cycle Management Division;
  • Michael Hussey, Civilian Records Staff;
  • David Kepley, Office of Records Services;
  • David Langbart, Life Cycle Management Division;
  • Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division;
  • Lisa Roberson, Life Cycle Management Division;
  • Marvin Russell, Civilian Records Staff;
  • Jeanne Schauble, Initial Processing and Declassification Division;
  • John Powers, Nixon Presidential Materials Project

Central Intelligence Agency

  • John C.,
  • Vicki F.

Members of the Public

  • Bill Burr, National Security Archive;
  • Bruce Craig, National Coalition for History

Open Session, September 11

Approval of the Record of the June 2006 Meeting

Chairman Wm. Roger Louis called the meeting to order at 1:35 p.m. and called for the approval of the record of the June meeting. He also called for any comments, corrections, or amendments for the record, and expressed the Committee's gratitude for the completeness and accuracy of the meeting minutes. Edward Rhodes motioned to accept the minutes. Robert McMahon seconded this motion, and the full committee approved the record. Louis asked which staff members prepared the minutes, and Renée Goings replied that staff historians compile the minutes and then she and other historians in the Declassification and Publishing Division organized and edited the material. Louis then asked Executive Secretary Marc Susser for his report.

Report by the Executive Secretary

Susser began his remarks by introducing seven new historians to the Office: Melissa Jane Taylor, Alex Wieland, Hal Jones, Aaron Marrs, Keri Lewis, Evan Dawley, and Madelina Lee. Another contract historian is slated to join the Office in September. He also noted that Douglas Selvage and James Van Hook had left the Office since the last Committee meeting.

Since the June meeting, the Office had released the electronic-only Foreign Relations volume on Africa, 1973-1976 and Foreign Relations 1964-1968, volume XXIX, Japan. Furthermore, within the month, the Office would publish the China, 1969-1972 print volume, the capstone of the Office's upcoming scholarly conference, as well as two e-volumes: China, 1969-1972, and Iran-Iraq, 1969-1972. Susser then provided an overview of the upcoming conference on China and distributed the conference flier to the Committee members, highlighting that the opening panel would include former senior governmental officials Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Winston Lord.

The Office intends to release the fourth in a series of educational videos at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference, to be held in Washington in November 2006. The video, focusing on the media and diplomacy, is in the final stages of editing and, when completed, will be sent to 12,000 secondary schools in the United States. The Office is in the process of developing, at the request of Under Secretary Nicholas Burns, a diplomatic history component for the Foreign Service Institute's (FSI) orientation course for new Foreign Service officers. Susser concluded his remarks by indicating that Louis, David Herschler, and Ted Keefer had testified in front of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) that previous weekend.

Louis asked Susser to outline the Office priorities between September and the end of the year. Susser's hope for the immediate future was that the staff "survive" the upcoming conference and the added difficulties of a Department-wide emergency evacuation drill, scheduled on the conference's opening afternoon. In addition to these events, the Office awaited the final Department budget in order to schedule programming for the next fiscal year (FY). The possibility existed that the Office and Department might host a reception during the 2007 Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) meeting. Also, during the 2005 International Conference on Documentary Editing, the Mexican delegation had spoken to Susser about the possibility of inviting Office historians to present talks at a conference on Mexico and United States, to be held at the Mexican Foreign Ministry in Mexico City during the month of October, and firmed up this commitment during a recent visit to Washington. Susser expressed his hope that these international relationships would prove useful in the future and perhaps lead to additional joint documentary projects, such as the joint documentary project with the Russian Foreign Ministry. He added that the Russian project was making significant progress, as the Russian historians had completed their annotations. Susser anticipated that the project would serve as the basis for the next scholarly conference.

Louis asked if the members of the public in attendance, particularly Bruce Craig, had any questions for Susser. In the absence of any questions, Louis asked David Herschler for his report.

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and the General Editor

Building on some of Susser's comments, Herschler reported that "Today in Washington: The Media and Diplomacy," which would be released at the NCSS meeting in Washington, D.C., is the latest in a series of educational videos, along with accompanying curriculum guides, to be produced by the Office. He then provided additional details concerning the upcoming scholarly conference on the U.S. and China, noting that former Committee member and current Department Counselor Philip Zelikow would deliver the conference's keynote address. As Susser mentioned, several staff historians are developing a curriculum on the history of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy, for the FSI A-100 orientation course, and enlisting other staff to devise and present lectures for this component. The prototype mini-course will be unveiled at the end of October. Herschler also provided a brief overview of his, Keefer, and Louis's testimony presented at the PIDB meeting at the National Archives the previous weekend, noting that the PIDB took surprisingly strong interest in the Foreign Relations volumes and the declassification problems related thereto. Finally, he offered his observations on the Office's staff growth and program development over the last 5 years, commenting that it had been gratifying for him to see the strides made in all areas of Office programming and other activities.

Louis inquired as to Herschler's upcoming priorities and anticipated concerns. Herschler replied that he had, on several occasions, discussed his principal concerns with the Committee. By far, his primary focus of attention remains ensuring that the Office has sufficient resources, both human and monetary, to maintain and enhance its production and dissemination of Foreign Relations, policy-supportive historical studies, and the growing array of Office outreach programs. He pulled from his shirt-pocket a list of some of these many programs to emphasize, he said, that they are never far from his heart.

Louis then asked Keefer to deliver his comments. Keefer highlighted the release of several FRUS volumes since the last Committee meeting. Although declassification issues had delayed release of the Japan 1964-1968 volume, this delay was not indicative of a larger trend. Conversely, Keefer predicted an increase in the speed of declassification, culminating in the preparation and release of 10 volumes by the end of 2006.

Drawing on this, Keefer identified two recent trends in the production of the Foreign Relations series. In contrast to the volumes compiled in the Nixon-Ford series, previous Foreign Relations compilations emphasized bilateral issues. Volumes currently in production are more topical in nature (although some past volumes, such as a Rutherford Hayes-era compilation on commercial relations, and the World War II conference series, typified this approach). The series, as currently construed, focuses on topics such as the cold war, major crises, cultural relations, foundations of foreign policy, global issues, and human rights. The application of modern technologies has also changed the series. The FRUS supplements harnessing technological innovations once considered desirable, namely microfiche, had quickly became obsolete. They have now been replaced by other, more widely used forms of publication, such as electronic-only FRUS volumes. Keefer commented that approximately one quarter of the Nixon-Ford subseries and one third of the Carter subseries would be released as electronic-only publications. New technologies helped to further the Office mission of delivering the Foreign Relations series to a much broader audience.

In response to Louis's query concerning Office priorities, Keefer responded that the main objective would be the publication of as many Foreign Relations volumes as possible. He again stressed that the Office would release 10 volumes by the end of 2006, a goal requiring an accelerated pace of the interagency declassification process. Keefer also noted that several staff historians had recently completed a comprehensive access guide covering the FRUS Vietnam volumes for 1969-1975. Currently in declassification, the guide should be available at the next Committee meeting.

Rhodes then reminded Keefer of the Committee's devotion to declassification and stressed that the Office should inform the Committee as to how their assistance might be most useful in that regard. Keefer responded that he appreciated Rhodes's sentiment. McMahon then observed that the Department of Defense had failed to meet several declassification commitments. The Department of Defense, he added, had missed its reporting deadlines on 10 outstanding volumes by an average of 7 months. McMahon requested an update on the status of the Office's relationship with the Department of Defense. Herschler commented that the Office had raised these issues with the PIDB and offered to brief the Committee during the closed session. McMahon asked that the public portion of the minutes clearly identify the existence of the problem. Louis requested that this issue serve as a central topic at the next Committee meeting.

Margaret Hedstrom offered her congratulations for the Office's embrace and application of new technologies. She asked if the Office had considered incorporating print-on-demand capabilities. Keefer indicated that this decision rested with the Government Printing Office (GPO) and not with the Office of the Historian. Louis noted that print-on-demand would make it possible to reissue out-of-print volumes.

Status of Declassification of State Department Records

Louis introduced Margaret Peppe of the Office of Information Programs and Services, Department of State, and asked her to comment on the status of the declassification of Department of State records.

Peppe reported that the Department had completed its review of 1978-1981 documentation ahead of schedule. She and her staff were in the process of transferring the tranche of 1977 records to the National Archives (NARA). She indicated that the National Archives had completed its accession of the Department records for 1973 and 1974. She concluded by informing the Committee that this report would be her last. Peter Sheils, the acting chief of the Department's Systematic Review Program, would report to the Committee beginning in December.

Louis thanked Peppe and called the meeting to recess.

Closed Session, September 11

Report by the Subcommittee on Electronic Records

The Committee reconvened at 3:15 p.m. Louis asked Hedstrom to report on that morning's meeting of the subcommittee.

Hedstrom responded that all of the Committee members had attended that morning's meeting; therefore, her comments would be brief. Subcommittee members had discussed the progress of the national declassification initiative, including the expansion of the interagency declassification center and the drafting of a detailed work plan. The interagency steering committee included members from 11 agencies and was engaged in the process of establishing protocols for a more coordinated declassification review of multi-equity documents at NARA. During the Committee's working lunch, Assistant Archivist Michael Kurtz had briefed Committee members as to the status of this initiative, noting that the steering committee would convene at the end of September to discuss the work plan.

Peppe interjected that the Department of State would meet its Executive Order mandated declassification deadline and added that the Department's electronic records for 1975 and 1976 had been transferred to NARA, where staff members were currently reviewing them for classified information and privacy concerns. Hedstrom also reported on the progress of the prototype Subject TAGS based system as a tool for determining the disposition of the electronic records constituting the Central Foreign Policy File. National Archives staff members were conducting appraisals of the individual Subject TAGS in order to categorize permanent and temporary records. This appraisal would be available, hopefully, by the Committee's next meeting. She had observed a spirit of cooperation between NARA and IPS in the areas of electronic and paper file record transfers and in their continued work on the disposition schedule. NARA had also put some effort into refiling recently declassified documents back into their original open stacks files, as well as establishing a good mechanism to alert NARA researchers to the status of recently declassified documents that had not yet been refiled. Hedstrom noted that the subcommittee had also been briefed on resource constraints at NARA and the resultant need to make trade-offs among duties, such as the faster processing of records, the refiling of declassified materials, and the transfer of electronic records.

Louis asked David Kepley if he had anything to contribute to Hedstrom's report. Kepley praised Hedstrom's comprehensive report and said that he had nothing to add.

Hedstrom suggested that David Langbart might say a few words on the effort to determine the disposition of Department's electronic Central Foreign Policy File records through the use of Subject TAGS.

Langbart reported that NARA and the Department of State were working on a system that would determine the disposition of all present and future Departmental electronic Central Foreign Policy File records using Subject TAGS. It had taken them several years to refine the approach, as well as demonstrate its effectiveness (Langbart said that the system had the zero percent error rate necessary to move forward with the project). The appraisal will go through the process at NARA, and then be formally submitted by the Department to NARA. As part of the process, NARA will not review records containing E, M, P, or T Subject TAGS, as there is a universal consensus that these records are permanent. It will conduct an appraisal on the Subject TAGS relating to administrative, business, consular, and operations matters.

Hedstrom asked whether documents were ever assigned the wrong tag.

Langbart replied that all documents coming into the Department from the field were reviewed by an indexing staff, who assigned supplemental Subject TAGS to the documents as necessary. He did note that one problem with the Department's electronic records archiving system was that the text of between 2 and 3 percent of messages could not be located because of various problems; in the majority of such cases, however, the text of the message did appear on microfilm, which is being preserved.

Louis asked Langbart to provide an overview as to how the staff at the Archives reviews Department of State Lot Files to determine their permanent or temporary disposition. Langbart responded that Lot Files consisted of the Department's decentralized office files. Until the early 1990s, many Lot Files were screened to determine whether they contained documents properly regarded as being part of the Central Foreign Policy Files. Documents so designated either were microfilmed or indexed as part of the Central Foreign Policy File. Since the early 1990s, the Department has had no screening process in place for Lot Files. Instead, working with NARA, an appraisal is made of the entire series of records to determine whether it should be kept or destroyed in its entirety. Within the geographic bureaus, for example, files from the offices of high-ranking officials have tended to contain important policy records and thus are designated as permanent, while files from lower-ranking officials duplicate materials in the central files and have been scheduled for destruction. Files from offices within the functional bureaus generally contain more substantial materials and have been designated as permanent, as have the files of the highest ranking Department officials. Langbart added that with respect to the files of bureaus such as Intelligence and Research (INR), the inclination has been in favor of retention. In sum, NARA views the Central Foreign Policy Files and the files from the Department's bureaus and offices as forming part of an integrated whole.

Louis asked whether anyone had additional comments. McMahon observed that, during his tenure as a staff historian, he found Lot Files and post files to be crucial repositories of material for inclusion in FRUS volumes, yielding documents that could be found nowhere else. At that time, McMahon remembered, Department records managers were quick to destroy records. Louis noted that internal office dynamics often helped explain the uneven quality of the Lot Files.

In response to McMahon's comment, Keefer agreed that Lot Files were an important source for the historians preparing volumes for the 1950s period. He noted that these records, however, were less important during later periods, as desk officers played a less important role in the policy making process. Currently, Lot Files from offices at the bureau, or even the Departmental level, are more important. Moreover, in the past, historians relied more heavily on Lot and post files in order to gain access to those records at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) unattainable in other ways.

Langbart agreed with McMahon that the Department may have destroyed some records worth preserving but noted that many files had been saved because staff historians had successfully argued their value. The Department of State agreed, beginning with the 1960s-era files, to refrain from destroying records until the National Archives reviewed the material. Langbart agreed with Keefer's assertion that foreign policy was no longer made at the desk officer level. Langbart further noted that the National Archives gave attention to the files of foreign policy principals and supported the launch of electronic systems such as STARS, which tracked the document flow of the Secretary's office, and SMART. He anticipated that the latter system would eventually be implemented by the Department and hoped that the Archives could gain access to previous Secretary-level document retrieval systems (such as SADI) and documents.

Hedstrom asked whether the term "Lot Files" was still current and meaningful. Langbart answered affirmatively and indicated that the term was used to denote any body of records retired to the Records Service Center.

Louis then thanked Langbart for his comments.

Foreign Relations Research in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter Materials

Keefer reported on the status of the Historian's Office research at three presidential libraries. He stated that, after 10 years, the Office's research at the Nixon Project was almost finished, adding that John Powers had assured him that all the Nixon tape requests would be completed that day (September 11). Keefer also stated that the Office's research at the Ford Library was essentially completed, and he thanked the Ford Library archivists for their cooperation, noting that the research had been undertaken without the use of subventions. Lastly, he commented that research in the Carter Library materials was underway. The Remote Archival Capture (RAC) system proved a great boon, especially as it is without cost to the Office. He also thanked NARA and the Carter Library for their great support.

In response to Herschler's request for comments from RAC users, Erin Mahan mentioned that the Carter H-Files are on disc and not yet uploaded onto the RAC system.

Powers indicated that he had good news to impart. First, the Nixon Project, during the summer, utilized three students to pull all open shelf boxes for researchers. This act allowed the Nixon Project staff to devote their time to early completion of the RAC project. The transfer of materials to Yorba Linda was pushed from August to October, again, freeing time for staff members to finish the Office's tape requests. Powers then presented a wrapped box of 42 compact discs, covering 72 conversations, representing 350 hours of work. Keefer responded that this was the "greatest comeback since Lazarus."

Powers added that since the last Committee meeting, the Nixon Project had reviewed 3 additional volumes, wrapped 8 packages, and had 6 historians visit the Project. He then summarized the last 10 years as follows: the Nixon Project reviewed 41 of 57 Nixon volumes; wrapped 258,000 pages of classified documents (since January 2000, 1,332 packages); and processed 1,276 conversations (or 1,500 hours of conversation, including the 72 conversations on discs he presented today before the Committee). The Office would need to provide him with the 2007 work plan. The next 3 months would tax the Project staff, given the move to California. The new director's priority was to release the remaining batch of Nixon tapes (fall 1972) in 2008.

Louis requested that Herschler pursue the point that the Historian's Office research at the Nixon Project was not quite complete. Herschler responded that the Committee and the Office had, for several years, struggled at the Nixon Project, along with Powers and his predecessors, to undertake a massive amount of research, process tape transcripts, and complete the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA) review, which was the least time-intensive task. What Powers had just presented--the completed tape project--had been the most vexing. Herschler congratulated Powers and the dwindling number of Nixon staff for finishing the last 60 hours of tape transcripts between June and September. The completion of that task was a credit to Powers and to the high level of coordination between the Historian's Office staff and Powers during the past year and a half. The Historian's Office still had a handful of research visits, related to the less heavily documented 1972-74 period, to make to the Nixon project, and the remaining PRMPA reviews. It was not anticipated that these tasks would require extensive time from the Nixon Project staff.

Keefer agreed that only one volume remained that still required research at the Nixon Project: Foundations and Organization of Foreign Policy, 1973-1976. Owing to the amount of open material, or the existence of other materials at the Ford Library, Keefer expressed his hope that the remaining research would not overly disrupt the lives of the Nixon staff. Like all good marriages, Keefer continued, the Historian's Office and the Nixon Project had had their ups and downs over the past 10 years. But, Keefer observed, dealing with Powers had been a breath of fresh air, and Powers's positive attitude was much appreciated. The Historian's Office had been at the Nixon Project too long and annoyed too many, but the end result yielded volumes that highlight the value of Nixon Project documents. Keefer then commented on the differences in materials and the research process that the Nixon-era records posed, in contrast to other presidential records collections, adding that the Nixon materials were incredibly rich and deserving of 57 volumes. Keefer thanked Powers for all of his assistance over the long 10 years and reiterated the difficulty of researching in that material. Louis also extended the thanks of the Committee to Powers for his tenacity and the spirit of cooperation that he had brought to facilitating the Historian's Office research.

Powers expressed appreciation in turn and pointed out for the benefit of researchers that the research room hours at the National Archives would change, and that the Nixon Project was complying with the pull schedules of the research room.

Louis solicited other comments. Thomas Schwartz inquired about the final tranche of tape releases to the public. Powers replied that the matter was complicated, since procedures under the deed of gift were still being negotiated with the Nixon Estate. The position of the Nixon Project was that it preferred to release the final batch of tapes, including political materials, at one time. The new director of the Nixon Library, Timothy Naftali, would begin in a month and was interested in releasing the remaining November 1972-July 1973 tapes in the spring of 2008.

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

The Committee discussed its review of withheld documentation from recently-declassified Foreign Relations manuscripts.

Louis adjourned the meeting at 5 p.m.

Closed Session, September 12

Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business

Louis called the meeting to order at 8:45 a.m. Staff historians Bradley Coleman and James Siekmeier discussed the progress of their volume, Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, volume XXII, Panama, 1973-1978, with the Committee.

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

Herschler offered his comments on the status of FRUS declassification efforts. He noted that the CIA had completed its review of two electronic-only volumes and was in the process of finishing a third, upon submission of one Nixon tape transcript.

The discussion that followed focused on the status of various volumes as they moved through the declassification process. Herschler expressed concerns over delays and potentially insufficient resources at the CIA to complete declassification review in accordance with the statute and the memorandum of understanding. He applauded the spirit of cooperation between the CIA and the Office.

Additional discussion followed concerning the hiring of a new joint historian.

Herschler then provided a general explanation of the declassification process from submission of a manuscript for review to verification, citing improvements and impediments to the publication of volumes, including how appeals could delay the process. Herschler added that in the 15 years after the Statute passed, volumes have been cleared through the declassification process at an average of approximately 3 years versus the 6 years it had taken prior to the passage of the Statute. More recently, volumes had been cleared in an average of less than 2 years, but there will always be individual volumes that present special declassification problems, and that can take an inordinately long time. While it is almost impossible to reach the 30-year line for all volumes when some volumes spend between 4 and 6 years in declassification, the appeals process has been vital to advancing the declassification of difficult volumes. The Office admittedly could do a better job in expediting appeals, but all too often the time devoted to drafting an appeal helps make it the strongest appeal possible. In other words, trading some time for a much better volume can often be worth it.

McMahon asked about the Presidential Daily Briefs (PDB) issue in light of the new DCI and questioned whether the fact that there was no demonstrable negative political fallout from certain volumes had been noticed by the CIA. The Agency reported that there was no change at this time regarding the disposition of the PDBs. The issue of whether the current or contemporaneous D/CIA makes the decision remains unresolved. The ultimate "owner" of the PDBs is the NSC, so the CIA will never unilaterally declassify a PDB.

McMahon reiterated that he hoped that the lack of negative consequences would affect the direction of future CIA declassification decisions. Herschler noted that one embassy held up the release of a Foreign Relations volume, fearing negative consequences. Ultimately, the embassy reported that the reaction to the release was extremely positive. In short, anecdotal evidence did not support the claim that publication of a FRUS volume could have a harmful effect on diplomatic relations. McMahon agreed and added that, on the contrary, there was a definite positive reaction following the release of certain volumes, as these volumes demonstrated the openness of U.S. society compared with the countries in question. Herschler stated he made that same case at the recent Public Interest Declassification Board meeting. Douglas Kraft concurred, noting that the reaction in Guatemala to the 1952-1954 retrospective volume was very positive because it gave an encouraging and relevant example as to how a country dealt with issues of openness in the historical record.

Louis thanked the CIA representatives for their continuing efforts.

Hedstrom inquired as to the possibility of a concurrent Advisory Committee/Historical Review Panel (HRP) meeting. CIA answered that this was a possibility, but there was no commitment as yet from the D/CIA with respect to the scheduling of the December HRP meeting. Since it was central to the effectiveness of the HRP to meet with the D/CIA, working that meeting into his schedule would take priority.

Committee Review of Recently Published Volume, Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970

The Committee discussed with the General Editor the recently-released volume on Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970.

Louis then asked for staff comments. The meeting adjourned at 11:35, and the Committee met in executive session.