September 2007

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, September 24-25, 2007


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, The Historian
  • Kristin Ahlberg
  • Carl Ashley
  • Monica Belmonte
  • Todd Bennett
  • Myra Burton
  • John Carland
  • Evan Dawley
  • Evan Duncan
  • Steve Galpern
  • Amy Garrett
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • David Herschler
  • Paul Hibbeln
  • Susan Holly
  • Adam Howard
  • Stephanie Hurter
  • Hal Jones
  • Edward Keefer
  • Bonnie Sue Kim
  • Peter Kraemer
  • Doug Kraft
  • Madelina Lee
  • Keri Lewis
  • Erin Mahan
  • Aaron Marrs
  • Bill McAllister
  • Chris Morrison
  • Rick Moss
  • Linda Qaimmaqami
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Chris Tudda
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Susan Weetman
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alex Wieland
  • Louise Woodroofe

Bureau of Administration

  • Peter Sheils
  • Marvin Russell
  • William Coombs
  • Naintang B. Ngeh

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for Washington Programs
  • David Langbart, Life Cycle Management Division
  • Marty McGann, Special Access and FOIA Staff
  • Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division
  • Lisa Roberson, Life Cycle Management Division

Central Intelligence Agency

  • Bob K.
  • Bryan H.

Open Session, September 24

Approval of the Record of the June Meeting

Roger Louis called the meeting to order and asked for approval of the June minutes. Ed Rhodes offered a correction to the minutes, noting that Margaret Hedstrom had been left off of the list of attendees but was cited in the minutes as having been present. He proposed that the minutes be amended to add her to the list of attendees. Roger Louis asked for approval of minutes as amended. This was done by (silent) consensus.

Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and the General Editor

David Herschler noted that he would report on behalf of himself and Marc Susser, the executive secretary, who was absent from the start of the meeting.

Herschler introduced four new historians: Bonnie Sue Kim, Joseph Wicentowski, Louise Woodroofe, and Rick Moss. Some of the office staff, including The Historian, were teaching the Diplomatic History module at the Foreign Service Institute and so were absent from the meeting. William McAllister, Herschler said, continued to coordinate the module with "great patience, talent, and wisdom." The module began as an afterthought for FSI, but it has now become one of the highlights of the entire training session. Herschler reported that there had been an impressive showing at SHAFR this past June in Chantilly: papers were presented by Carl Ashley, Steven Galpern, David Nickles, Kathy Rasmussen, Chris Tudda, and Alex Wieland, and panels were chaired by Erin Mahan and Kristin Ahlberg. Herschler noted that Chris Tudda was now serving on the program committee for SHAFR 2008. Planning for the office's fifth annual scholarly conference, entitled U.S.-Soviet Relations in the Era of Détente was well underway. Steven Galpern, from the program committee, gave a brief synopsis on behalf of conference coordinator Amy Garrett. Galpern reported that the conference coincided with the release of a new volume jointly produced by the office and the History and Records Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Galpern briefly discussed the schedule, noting the VIPs who would be in attendance, and highlighted the wide range of topics and geographic regions covered. He urged the committee to check the conference website for more information.

General Editor Edward Keefer began his presentation by reporting that since the last meeting of the Advisory Committee in June, two new Foreign Relations e-volumes had been released: Volume E-2, Documents on Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 1969-1972 and Volume E-5, Part 2, Documents on North Africa, 1969-1972. He expressed regret that this number fell short of earlier projections of 2007 volume production due to a series of problems and in spite of the best efforts of the staff to solve them. Keefer noted that while more print and e-volumes would be released before the end of the year, fewer volumes will be released in 2007 than in 2006.

Keefer followed this with a discussion of the two newly-released e-volumes. On Volume E-2, he reviewed the process leading to the decision to devote the volume to arms control and nonproliferation issues separate from the SALT and ABM negotiations. Keefer addressed the topics covered (NPT ratification, biological weapons, sea-bed, and other nuclear testing conventions) and noted that these were well suited to the e-volume format. Furthermore, he reported that the turn-around time from verification (completed last month) to release, illustrated the speed with which e-volumes could be put into production. Volume E-5, Part 2, the General Editor pointed out, was the companion to Volume E-5, Part 1, on Sub-Saharan Africa, which was released earlier. This volume on North Africa covered both broad regional issues, as well as bilateral relations with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Keefer indicated that while there was an initial preference to include these topics in the volumes covering the Middle East, this was not possible and necessitated their inclusion in an African volume. Regarding the substance of the volume's documentation, he noted that while North Africa was not central to the Nixon administration's foreign policy, the decisions documented in the volume influenced policies adopted later. Moreover, like Volume E-2, the topics covered in the North Africa compilation were well suited to the e-volume format. Lastly, he reminded the Advisory Committee that relations with North Africa during 1973-76 will be covered as part of a broader Middle East regional volume.

The General Editor concluded his report by stating that he will have a better idea of how many volumes will be produced in 2007 at the next committee meeting. While reiterating his regret that the series will fall short of its 2007 goals, Keefer was hopeful that additional volumes will be released at the beginning of 2008.

Roger Louis opened the discussion by inquiring when the Eastern Mediterranean volume would appear in print. Keefer responded that he hoped it would be released by year's end.

Louis then asked how many copies of FRUS volumes are printed each year. Keefer replied that between 1,500 and 2,000 copies of each volume are printed each year: 800 of the printed copies are reserved for the depository libraries while 325 copies are the standing order for the non-depository libraries. In addition, Keefer remarked that the office's website also receives several thousand hits on online volumes.

Keefer noted that the University of Wisconsin Library has a website for FRUS volumes from 1861 to the Kennedy administration.

Thomas Zeiler then asked how many FRUS volumes have been sold over the years. Keefer responded that the office has never been able to obtain a figure. Edward Rhodes requested information on the sales price of the FRUS print volumes. Keefer replied that each volume costs between $50 and $70.

Louis noted that there have been a number of good reviews on some of the FRUS volumes. Keefer pointed out that Vietnam Volume VI had received great attention.

Status of Declassification of the Department of State Records

Marvin Russell reported that the declassification effort was proceeding well in keeping with the 25-year rule mandated by the Executive Order. Review has begun on the 1982 electronic records. The Department has finished its review of electronic records from 1977 and 1978, but still needs to coordinate its review with other agencies. The records from 1976 were recently transferred to the National Archives (NARA). Russell noted that the declassification review of the Department's paper records was also proceeding well and that it, too, was in keeping with the 25-year deadline; moreover, his office was preparing paper records for transfer to NARA. In short, Russell noted, there were no problems to report in the declassification review process.

Hedstrom asked Russell to introduce his IPS colleagues who had accompanied him to the committee meeting. In response, Russell introduced Bill Combes and Naintang B. Ngeh.

Hedstrom referred to the declassification teams of reviewers from various agencies working with records in the Remote Archive Capture (RAC) program and asked whether, when it came to Department of State materials, anyone had considered doing parallel reviews for records slated for transfer to NARA. Russell noted that electronic records were being reviewed in a somewhat similar fashion. After Department of State reviewers had examined the files, they sent the records off to the other agencies with equities in the same material. For other State records, the declassification referrals are being done after the records are transferred to NARA. Michael Kurtz confirmed that NARA is working with all relevant agencies in the declassification review process.

Closed Session, September 24

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

Michael Kurtz expressed his appreciation to be able to report to the Committee and stated that his comments must be taken in the greater context of the recent reclassification and Kyle-Lott legislation controversies in the press that had been previously discussed. He stated that the Archivist of the United States, Allen Weinstein, had conceived of some short- and long-term solutions to these problems in the past year.

Short-term solutions have included the provision that no agency may reclassify documents without public notice. Individual agencies were now permitted to petition to have reclassified material restored to open shelves.

The long-term solution, Weinstein felt, lay in a suggestion of the 1990s Moynihan Commission to establish a national, interagency center for declassification across the Executive Branch to replace the declassification review process of individual agencies. Planning for such a center has already begun as the National Declassification Initiative. The Archivist had invited all interested agencies (on a voluntary basis) to attend a meeting in spring/summer 2007 to begin planning the NDI. All agreed to attend and enthusiasm seems high.

Declassification of documents continues even while reclassification issues are being sorted out. One of the major problems of declassification continues to be the fact that multiple agencies can claim equity in documents, which must be reviewed and cleared by each agency in turn. The traditional referral process is both slow and cumbersome, and the proliferation of agency involvement has made it hard to keep track of what agencies have been consulted and what their judgments have been. Under the new system, individual reviewers are replaced by teams, turning the declassification review into a more collaborative enterprise.

This has done a good job of reducing or eliminating two problems of the traditional process: 1) reducing the amount of confusion in the referral system, since review is now an interagency team effort; 2) maintenance of high-quality work in declassification. A Quality Assurance team now samples declassified material to oversee the process and to maintain high standards.

Kurtz stated that one consistent problem has been the review of RD/FRD material, which for obvious reasons cannot be easily declassified. Nonetheless, the development of a Decision Matrix to aid declassification has been a great improvement.

Since January 2007, NARA has been able to place 4 million boxes of reclassified material back on the shelves with the aid of this Matrix. A total of 120,000 documents have been indexed for review. This reflects a doubling of the productivity of the process. Nonetheless, Kurtz warned that an enormous backlog still exists to be reviewed. Many problems still exist, and only through sampling has there been any way to determine where the problems are the worst.

Louis then asked for a concrete example of problems with declassification. Kurtz replied that, as an example, when two agencies hold equity in a particular document, they rarely have an idea of which information is sensitive to the other organization. One agency may clear an item fully, while the second might demand redaction or denial based on what it perceives as classified or sensitive information.

Louis asked Marvin Russell to address any other comments he might have to the Committee. Russell reported on the accession and inclusion of diplomatic records into the NARA public online database. He stated that 1976 material is at NARA and in process; 1977 material had been sent to agencies for review; and 1978 material was nearly ready to be sent out. The chair thanked Russell for the report.

In light of the challenge posed by the extremely heavy volume of classified records, Thomas Schwartz asked if the NDI had attempted to determine what proportion of the documents being reviewing should not have been classified in the first place. Kurtz replied that William Leonard of the Information Security Oversight Office at NARA might have looked at that question and would be in a better position to address the issue.

Hedstrom asked if reviewers working on the NDI gave thumbs up/thumbs down decisions on the declassification of individual records or if they made redactions and released documents in part. Kurtz replied that most decisions were of a thumbs up/thumbs down nature.

Robert McMahon asked why different components of the Department of Defense had five seats at the table in the National Declassification Initiative. Kurtz replied that the Department of Defense represented some 50% of the equities in the classified records being reviewed, and that the different components of the Department basically functioned as independent and separate players, which generally would not be willing to cede their declassification authority to a Department-wide body. Kurtz added that there had been talk of a possible declassification center within the Department of Defense but that less had been heard of that idea in recent months.

Katherine Sibley asked if any agencies declined to participate in the NDI. Kurtz replied that no agencies had declined to participate but that some departments with relatively few equities, such as the Department of Commerce, had not been included.

Kurtz then moved on to discuss the records of the 9/11 Commission, which are now being processed at NARA.

Kurtz began the discussion of the 9/11 Commission records project by presenting some background information. He explained that when the Commission turned over its records to NARA, it asked the Archivist to conduct further reviews of the records of relevant agencies to facilitate the possible release of additional records by early 2009. NARA officials began to meet with those agencies in February 2007. The agencies expressed the opinion that, because they had just completed a thorough review and release of documents for the 9/11 Commission's work, it was not likely that they would identify enough additional records by early 2009 to make such a review worthwhile. NARA decided to launch a pilot program to look at a small volume of records and determined that enough valuable documents could be found to justify undertaking the full-scale review project. Kurtz noted that NARA staff also is reviewing unclassified documents for privacy issues, in order to release promptly as much of that material as possible. Additionally, NARA staff is reviewing the documents on which 9/11 Commission footnotes were based, in order to identify what can be released from those records, which would preempt a large number of FOIA requests. Finally, Kurtz said that as documents are cleared for release, they will be put on the web.

Hedstrom referred to the handout on the 9/11 Commission records that had been provided to the HAC and asked if this represented the complete set of records. Kurtz said that it included everything. Hedstrom followed up to ask if the records were all paper. Kurtz responded that there were electronic and audio/visual records as well, and that the collection was very complicated. He explained that a separate Executive Order (E.O.) regarding "special media" required that all audio/visual material be reviewed for release by 2011, and that NARA was approaching its special records work on the 9/11 Commission and under the E.O. as a "joint project." He went on to note that it was a major project, and that they were currently putting together a proposal for handling the costs involved (for data conversion, storage, etc.).

Louis asked if all the 9/11 Commission records had been designated as permanent. David Langbart responded that almost all records of the commission were, although a small volume was determined to not warrant preservation. Langbart went on to explain that all agencies had been required to make their relevant records available to the Commission. Most agencies turned over the records; however, a small group of records from a few of the agencies were made available to the Commission without allowing it to take possession of the records. The Archivist subsequently approached these agencies and they have scheduled the records for either immediate or future transfer to the National Archives.

McMahon asked for an explanation of the Public Interest Declassification Board. Kurtz said that it had been created by the Moynihan Report and had been authorized long before the staff and funding were allocated to make it operational. Over the last 2 years it has conducted a series of hearings (Keefer, Herschler, and Louis reported at one last year) with all government agencies to examine their declassification programs and identify areas for improvement. Kurtz said the Board was currently preparing its report for the Congress and President. McMahon asked who appointed the board members. Kurtz said the White House and Congress made appointments, and Louis agreed that the membership was quite diverse. Kurtz added that he hoped the report would give a boost to the National Declassification Center Concept.

Report by the Subcommittee on Records Issues

Hedstrom noted that the Department of State was almost ready with the 1977 electronic cables and was working on declassification. She also reported that the first sets of electronic cables made available through the AAD system did not include some cables that had yet to be determined permanent. Those that have now have been identified as permanent will be added to the existing on-line collections. Herschler asked which years had been subjected to the revised Subject TAGS appraisal and Langbart said those beginning in mid-1973.

Louis at this point suggested that there no longer was a need for separate subcommittees on Records Issues and on the Foreign Relations series. Herschler noted that Louis, as the chair, could consolidate the subcommittees and Louis decided to do so.

Louis next called on Langbart to comment to the committee. Langbart referred to Hedstrom's comments and noted that the Subject TAGS appraisal project was a model approach that was unique in government. It allowed NARA to focus on the most important records.

Langbart referred to Kurtz's comments about the papers of the 9/11 Commission. Langbart had conducted the appraisal of the records and found them to be quite rich, and he agreed with Kurtz's earlier presentation about the need to open additional related records from the various agencies. Langbart also remarked on his surprise at the lack of resistance from the separate agencies when asked by the Archivist to transfer or at least protect for later transfer the records that had only been made "available" to the Commission. All the agencies having such records agreed to transfer the records to the National Archives when no more than 30 years old.

Thomas Zeiler asked if the 9/11 Commission's records might be relevant for inclusion in FRUS. Langbart responded that it was doubtful, because many of these records were only copies provided by the individual agencies; the original telegrams, reports, memoranda, etc. would have been generated from and kept with the records of the referring agency. Moreover, Langbart believed that only the records generated and transmitted internally within the Commission were unique and are not of the type of materials generally included in FRUS. Langbart added that the Commission worked closely with NARA and that he believed the Commission's Executive Secretary Philip Zelikow deserved a great deal of the credit for this cooperative attitude.

Louis asked for Marvin Russell to address any other comments he might have to the Committee. Russell reported on the accession and inclusion of diplomatic records into the NARA public online database. He stated that 1976 material is at NARA and in process; 1977 material had been sent to agencies for review; and 1978 material was nearly ready to be sent out. The chair thanked Russell for the report.

Declassification and the Foreign Relations Series

The committee discussed declassification issues relating to specific volumes with the General Editor and the Chief of the Declassification division.

Committee Review of Recently Published volume, Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971-May 1972.

The committee discussed its views of volume XIV with the General Editor.

Closed Session, September 25

Staff Historians Report on Volumes in Progress and Other Office Business

Monica Belmonte discussed the initial research for her Carter volume with the committee.

The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series

Herschler introduced the new CIA FRUS coordinator and provided an update on the office's working relationship with the CIA. The CIA has verified four volumes since the last meeting and also completed its review of three volumes. Herschler noted that whenever High Level Panel (HLP) issues are involved, the declassification review can be very slow. This is because these issues need three agency approvals, including NSC approval, before they are passed to the CIA for declassification review of relevant documents. The office is thus trying to get HLP issues statements started before the rest of the declassification process, but it is difficult for reviewers to do the HLP assessment without the whole manuscript.

Herschler wanted to state for the record that the previous CIA FRUS reviewer had served as an outstanding proponent of the FRUS series and made many efforts to facilitate declassification. Herschler expressed his hope that this relationship would continue with his successor. Louis seconded these sentiments. Keefer seconded Herschler's comments about the previous FRUS coordinator's positive contributions to establishing a mechanism for faster review.

The new CIA FRUS reviewer introduced himself, saying he had only been in the position for 3 weeks.

The CIA then discussed the status of the Iran retrospective volume with the committee.

Weetman said that the process for HLP review needed to be significantly improved to allow for better turn-around time. Louis asked how to make the HLP review more efficient. Herschler commented that the delays are largely CIA bureaucratic issues, and that the CIA has had to work internally and at high levels to resolve these issues. He expressed his belief that the system has improved, especially the overall time frame.

The committee discussed how the mechanism for approving declassification of covert actions could be changed or improved upon for the Carter and Reagan administrations.

The committee then discussed specific declassification issues of recent volumes with the staff and the CIA.

Sibley asked about the status of the joint historian. Susser responded that the office had filled the position, and was waiting on the clearance process. After the State clearance process, currently underway, was finished, the CIA would then initiate its own. The sequential nature of this process lengthens the time required to bring the joint historian on board.

In response to Louis's question as to whether this situation was holding up any volumes, Keefer answered that the office's access to CIA records was good, the office had learned the ropes of researching at the CIA, the CIA staff was helping PA/HO researchers in the interim, and that the new joint historian will have a different role than did his predecessor. Louis stated that he was aware that James Van Hook had established the relationship but did not understand how the job would be different. Keefer said that the joint historian would not do a retrospective volume, since all those have been done, but would do a more current volume. Herschler added that the institutional connections made by the previous CIA FRUS coordinator's staff had not been in place previously, and that the previous joint historian had served as a liaison between the office and the CIA. The new joint historian would benefit from these earlier efforts. Keefer also noted that every intelligence agency now has a history office and that history is on the rise among the intelligence agencies.