Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation August 31–September 1, 2015
- 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
- Joshua Botts
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Seth Center
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Joel Christenson
- Erin Cozens
- Evan Duncan
- Stephanie Eckroth
- Thomas Faith
- David Geyer
- Renée Goings
- Charles Hawley
- Kerry Hite
- Adam Howard
- Aiyaz Husain
- Laura Kolar
- Lindsay Krasnoff
- Aaron Marrs
- William McAllister
- Michael McCoyer
- Heather McDaniel
- Christopher Morrison
- Mircea Munteanu
- David Nickles
- Paul Pitman
- Alex Poster
- Kathleen Rasmussen
- Seth Rotramel
- Avi Rubin
- Daniel Rubin
- Nathaniel Smith
- Melissa Jane Taylor
- Chris Tudda
- Dean Weatherhead
- Tracy Whittington
- Joe Wicentowski
- Alexander Wieland
- Louise Woodroofe
- David Zierler
Bureau of Administration
- David Adamson
- Jeff Charlston
- John Hackett
- Marvin Russell
National Archives and Records Administration
- Cathleen Brennan, Archives II Reference Branch
- Meghan Ryan Guthorn, Textual Records Division/Accessioning Section
- Theodore Hull, Director, Electronic Records Division
- David Langbart, Textual Records Division
- Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division
- Sheryl Shenberger, Director, National Declassification Center
- John Laster, Office of Presidential Libraries
Department of Energy
- Ken Stein
National Security Council, Access Management
- Keri Lewis
Central Intelligence Agency
- FRUS Coordination Team
- William Burr, National Security Archive
Open Session, August 31
Approval of the Record of the June 2015 Meeting
Chairman Richard Immerman opened the session at 11:05 a.m. with a vote to approve the minutes from the June 2015 meeting, which the Committee approved. The chairman then introduced Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Valerie Fowler.
Remarks by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
Fowler began by noting that the Department views the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series as an interagency project and praised all the agencies involved in moving it forward. She highlighted the fact that since the June meeting the Office had published two volumes (Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1969–1972 and Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula, 1977–1980) and had made 18 additional volumes (including the Lansing Papers, World War I supplements, The Potsdam Conference, and multiple volumes from 1946 and 1947) available online. She lauded the Office of the Historian for its significant research contribution to the Bureau’s efforts to support the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and emphasized the real difference the Office made. She concluded by commending the Office’s declassification work.
Immerman expressed the Committee’s gratitude to Fowler for the Bureau’s support of the Office and for all the ways she and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Douglas Franz made the Committee’s work easier. He then invited Stephen Randolph to take the floor.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Randolph thanked Fowler, as well as the Bureau’s front office, for their excellent support of the Office. He then welcomed the addition of Heather McDaniel, who will be working in the Editing and Publishing Division; and Tracy Whittington, a Foreign Service Officer serving in the Policy Studies Division on a Y-tour assignment. He echoed Fowler’s praise for the Office, especially Renée Goings and Mandy Chalou, in publishing the FRUS back-catalogue. This included the Lincoln Condolence volume that was published in time for the International Conference of Editors of Diplomatic Documents in April. He noted that publication of the Lansing and World War I volumes offered a reminder of the work of Tyler Dennett, the Department’s first professional historian. Dennett set new editorial standards in the World War I volumes that provided the foundation for FRUS volumes today.
Status Report by the General Editor
General Editor Adam Howard also highlighted the publications of the Arab-Israeli Dispute and Middle East Region volumes. He emphasized that while both had been delayed far too long in the declassification review the Office persevered and brought both compilations through to publication. Howard indicated that the Office had verified one volume since the June meeting; two volumes had been submitted for declassification. Howard echoed Randolph’s gratitude to Fowler and the Bureau staff for their support in getting and filling the new editor position. At this point, Immerman also thanked Fowler on behalf of the Committee.
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) was working on the following projects in conjunction with the 25-year review of the Central Foreign Policy File: 1990 classified telegrams and 1980–1981 N- and P-reel images.
Charlston stated that the review of the images had not significantly advanced due to technical problems but that Systematic Review Program (SRP) was searching for a “permanent solution” to review online record-reels. He cited ongoing renovations and resource shortages as key challenges to review progress. Nevertheless, the review of 1990 classified electronic cables should meet the end of year deadline set by the Executive Order (EO). Charlston noted the work of Marvin Russell and David Adamson, as well as the addition of Keri Lewis as the new FRUS Coordinator.
Charlston reported that, by the close of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, the SRP had received 1,664 mandatory declassification requests (MDR), 306 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and 25 miscellaneous requests for a total of 1,995 open requests. By contrast, as of August 10, 2015, SRP had received 2,020 MDR; 2,097 FOIA requests; and 352 miscellaneous requests for a total of 4,469 open requests. At the close of Calendar Year (CY) 2014, SRP had reviewed 3.7 million primary pages, and at the end of FY 2015, SRP had reviewed 3.365 million pages. Charlston stated that SRP anticipates the same productivity levels for FY 2015. He also spoke briefly about the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) project and IPS work at the National Declassification Center (NDC).
Trudy Peterson asked a question about the volume difference between MDR and FOIA requests, to which Charlston replied that SRP had received five times as many MDR as FOIA requests and that SRP is not the only branch of IPS processing FOIA and MDR. Charlston explained that SRP, under its mission, picks up only requests for information over 25 years old and filters requests related to FRUS and MDR.
Immerman asked whether the number of requests had remained constant over the years. Charlston explained that the numbers for MDR continue to rise across the Federal Government as researchers learn about this option. He further stated that this increase has minimal impact on FRUS declassification efforts, as most records are older than 25 years. Charlston answered a follow-up question on FOIA request form efforts, stating that defers to another office on FOIA reform inquiries.
David Geyer inquired about the Clinton email FOIA requests, and Charlston stated that his team had detailed staff to support the targeted requests.
Katherine Sibley asked about the status of the 1953 Iran volume, and Fowler explained that while there was no public update at this time, the volume remains on the Office’s radar. She indicated updates would likely be available in mid-October.
The Committee adjourned for lunch at noon.
Closed Session, August 31
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives
Immerman convened the session at 1:25 p.m. and asked Don McIlwain of the National Declassification Center for his report.
McIlwain updated the Committee on the NDC’s “indexing on demand” initiative that invited researchers, via the center’s web log, to request the prioritization of certain collections for indexing. He reported the response was positive.
Immerman pledged to add his own response.
McIlwain reported that input from researchers under the initiative had led to the completion of 66 projects and had resulted in 3.75 million pages of material being added to the open shelves. An additional 9 projects were ongoing.
Immerman asked whether NDC knew who the requesters were, adding that no one had raised the initiative at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) annual conference in June. He also wondered how the requesters came to the initiative and how they were informed of it.
McIlwain responded that the initiative had been publicized through National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) channels, but that no larger outreach effort had been made. He added that the NDC needed to increase public knowledge of the program. He noted that one method of disseminating information on the initiative was through advice given in the research room at Archives II.
Peterson asked what sorts of files researchers were requesting.
McIlwain responded that the requests spanned a range of government departments including the Departments of State and Defense, including policy files and military records.
Peterson asked whether a breakdown could be done.
McIlwain estimated that 100 projects would be in the chain by the Committee meeting in December and that a better sense of range of requests might be available at that time.
Sheryl Shenberger stated that indexing on demand had proved very successful. She added that the NDC staff themselves liked the system and enjoyed the work, and explained that staff found that knowing the customer making the request added to their enthusiasm about the work. She said she was pleased with the way the initiative was going.
McIlwain seconded Shenberger’s comments about staff enjoyment of the work and added that the initiative was a way for the NDC to become more customer-driven. He reported that given the successful results of the initial launch, the initiative could be publicized further and could seek greater resources.
McIlwain went on to report on the interagency referral center, citing that out of a sample of 0.5 million pages of Department of State material, the Department released slightly more than 75 percent.
Immerman stated it would be good to know the different release rates for other agencies.
McIlwain responded with the following release figures: Office of the Secretary of Defense (48 percent); U.S. Army (67 percent); U.S. Air Force (96 percent); U.S. Navy (70 percent); and Defense Intelligence Agency (82 percent). He added that the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) page-level redaction instructions had resulted in an 80 percent release rate.
Emphasizing conversations with researchers as a main area of focus, McIlwain said that dialogue could, for example, effect the release of 19 out of 20 pages of a document in a matter of days; while requests for an entire document significantly slowed process and offered little promise of releasing additional material. He cited the benefit of being forthright with researchers by noting the difference in review times—e.g., 3 days versus 2 years.
McIlwain underscored the promise of indexing on demand, and encouraged the Committee members to encourage their students and colleagues to take advantage of the initiative. Immerman replied that he would forward on a description of the program if McIlwain would send one to him.
Petersen asked about the NDC’s progress in gathering declassification guidelines from various government agencies. McIlwain responded that the guidance had been received internally and that it was used to identify information, but not to declassify documents.
Charlston commented that the current 75 percent release rate for referrals to the State Department at the NDC indicated that the declassification community is making progress, but that they were still receiving too much. If referrals contained only information that the State Department still needed to protect, as intended, the release rate would be zero.
McIlwain pointed out that the material coming through the system at present was received years ago and that reviewers were improving. Immerman inquired about average tenure of a reviewer, and McIlwain responded that while he would not venture a guess, many reviewers were contractors. He observed that the Department benefitted by relying on retired Foreign Service Officers to perform reviews. He added that NDC was currently working on training arrangements across federal agencies and was looking for a way to provide information on that training to the Committee.
Randolph raised the continuing challenge posed by reviews from some agencies that indicate reviewers received minimal training, and McIlwain noted that basic equity recognition was an area of focus. Immerman observed that one problem seemed to be the standardization of expertise and suggested training should be standardized.
Shenberger replied that NDC was working on this with its multi-day equity recognition training. She added, however, that despite training there may continue to be a tendency for reviewers to err on the side of referral. The NDC was trying to find the right balance with help of its baseline training program.
Immerman thanked McIlwain and Shenberger for their comments and invited David Langbart to provide his report.
David Langbart noted several items of progress: accessioning of foreign affairs records continued at NARA, with 61 transfers of Record Group (RG) 59, 17 transfers of RG 84, and 26 transfers of RG 306; processing continued for foreign affairs materials in RGs 59 (51 series) and 469 (21 series) (although the specific numbers were down slightly due to recent personnel shifts); processing of 1979 telegrams and P-Reel Index entries from the Central Foreign Policy File is nearing completion; progress also continued on digitization of the 1906–1910 Numerical and Minor Files. Langbart described his work with the NDC to streamline the return of withdrawn items to the files. He also explained that he restored order to the Central Files that researchers had messed up—for example, the files from the 1950s on Vietnam that were in particularly bad shape—and at the same time worked with the NDC to see what withdrawn documents can be refiled. He also noted that improvement the Catalog by revising the “advanced search” feature tyat should appear sometime this fall. Responding to Immerman’s earlier concern about the layout of the Central Foreign Policy File (CFPF) landing page, Langbart explained that Electronic Records had completed a revision to the site’s organization that resulted in a neater page.
The Committee applauded Langbart’s report and Immerman commended the excellent progress, asking when Langbart expected the 1979 telegrams and P-Reel Index entries to go online. Langbart indicated that the hope was that they would be accessible by the end of the year.
Peterson wanted to know how NARA decided how to respond and prioritize requests to digitize documents. Langbart explained that the challenge with digitization was the involvement of digital partners who invariably focused on projects to which they could profitably sell access. This meant the materials of interest to scholars got short shrift. To solve the problem, NARA would have to produce those projects without outside partners. Langbart stated NARA was trying to increase work on those projects. For instance, NARA was working on the Records of American Commission to Negotiate Peace from World War I and the Central Decimal Files on World War I. He further explained that microfilm records were easier to digitize than paper ones.
Immerman asked Langbart to update the Committee on the progress of his work to reintegrate the release of declassified electronic records so that they would be available like paper records, noting that the Committee had expressed interest in the issue for the last several years.
Langbart introduced Ted Hull, head of Electronic Records at NARA to discuss the topic.
Hull explained that while NARA could complete the work independently, it needed to coordinate with NDC to release the information and his team was still exploring the best approach. The challenge rested in the format of the information: the cables in XML format. While NARA could export them to PDF format to make them available, and could coordinate that with NDC, the process was not perfect.
McIlwain explained that materials from FOIA or MDR files have been released, and NDC wanted to make them available as PDFs, similar to other FOIA releases.
Immerman expressed concern at the lack of progress over the last 3 years. He said that for today’s young researchers, who rely so heavily on internet and database searches, making available electronic records is absolutely crucial. For accessibility, those records must be reintegrated into their original files where they belong. He stated that the Committee needed to hear that more progress has been made on the issue, and asked why it was taking so long.
In an attempt to clarify the nature of the delay, Peterson stated that the Committee understood the possible scenarios: paper to paper, which was not hard to reintegrate; paper that was released electronically, but there is a copy floating out there that is not necessarily traceable back to its source; and electronic records that were withheld, but eventually released.
McIlwain confirmed these scenarios and explained that born-electronic records were basically treated as a snapshot, and the challenge was how to reintegrate these records into their native format. Langbart elaborated, stating that in the transition from classified XML files to declassified PDF records, the material had to run through a stripper to take out any potentially sensitive material in the metadata. Ensuring that all necessary information had been removed before transferring the material to a declassified platform posed a sincere security concern.
Immerman noted that if that was the case he was not optimistic that progress would improve any time soon.
Langbart acknowledged that the issue was not amenable to a short-term solution, and McIlwain added that the 25-year exemption means they would have to figure this out, and might have to completely re-segregate the materials.
Thomas Zeiler asked if it was a technological problem or a policy problem, to which Langbart and McIlwain replied it was both.
Petersen asked about the possibility that other agencies could release metadata, and Langbart explained that the issue was not that the metadata itself was classified, instead it was the possibly that data hidden within the metadata could be classified.
Laster stated that while they were making progress, the system was not user friendly, and in this case it was technologically complex which meant it also posed a budgetary and fiscal challenge to come up with resources to develop a system sophisticated enough to deal with the problem.
Michael McCoyer asked if another problem was that databases like the State Archiving System (SAS) were not designed to deal with the release of electronic records.
Langbart explained that NARA did not have SAS, just the data from SAS.
McIlwain clarified that NARA had a picture of a redacted document, rather than the document itself, meaning there were no concerns regarding metadata because it produced a PDF that did not have that information.
Immerman said the prognosis sounded bleak, and wondered if there would be any improvement before 2023.
Charlston noted the electronic records issue was going to expand and by 2023 he would need to double his program size.
Peterson asked if it was possible to go into a released electronic file from which a document was withheld and provide a cross-reference to the PDF to assist researchers. Hull said they were working on such a cross-reference system as part of their plan.
Mary Dudziak wanted to know if the website made clear what was available and what was not and Langbart explained that the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page addressed the issue and listed the items and their availability.
The Committee adjourned for a break at 2:20 p.m.
Closed Session Continued, August 31
The CIA and the Foreign Relations series: Status of Implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of State and the CIA
Immerman called the Committee into session at 2:30 p.m. and requested that Peter N. briefly outline the recent CIA reorganization. Peter N. explained that there were now 10 mission centers to increase the interactions among different divisions. The new model was intended to better use Agency resources and improve coordination between the former Digital Innovation (DI) and DO tracks. The team thinks this might bring more cohesiveness to the Agency. FRUS now fell under the DI directorate.
Celia M. discussed progress on FRUS material in the last year and stated that the team had verified four volumes.
Howard commented that the appeal process was much improved due to the quality of the initial reviews by the CIA.
Immerman noted the improved relationship, commenting that the increased level of understanding, communication, and contact seemed to have made the process run more smoothly. Celia agreed and stated that having McCoyer on site helped with troubleshooting and resolving issues.
Randolph expressed his sincere thanks to the team for their work and noted that the mutual respect that developed between the Office and the CIA team made the work flow much easier.
Immerman stated that the Committee’s annual report would note the improved communication and great strides made in these areas.
Status of the Department of Energy Special Declassification Review Effort
At 3 p.m., Immerman welcomed Ken Stein from the Department of Energy (DOE).
Stein provided a detailed introduction on the intricacies of the Kyl-Lott legislation, the necessity of page-by-page reviews by the DOE, and how the need for such a review led to a large backlog at NARA. He described the 2009 directive from the White House to clear the backlog and stated that in analyzing backlog, DOE had identified 8,000 sensitive documents. Stein said that DOE was 90 percent finished with the backlog and that they would hopefully complete their work in 2016.
Immerman asked about the total number of documents DOE had reviewed in order to identify the 8,000 sensitive documents.
Stein said 320 million pages were reviewed.
Immerman wondered if the DOE was too risk-averse and if 8,000 documents out of 320 million pages was significant. He then asked if the White House directive constrained review of other documents.
Stein said that he hoped to soon begin reviewing the 1979 P-Reel printouts.
Sibley asked about the dialogue between different agencies and DOE. Shenberger observed that DOE could be responsive. For instance, their team had prioritized a collection about human rights issues in Brazil.
Stein said that DOE only remands collections when they find significant errors and confirmed that their chief priority was finishing the backlog.
Sibley asked for clarification about the difference between Restricted Data (RD) and Formerly Restricted Data (FRD), and Stein explained that the categories were similar and that both categories’ nomenclature was antiquated.
Immerman asked if there had ever been a discussion to put the backlog on hold to do the P-reels, and Stein replied that DOE would look at the P-reels after they had finished with the backlog.
Peterson noted that the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) had recommended more flexibility with FRD, and Stein said he was not aware of any policy changes.
Charlston said that the Department of State was part of a working group on FRD declassification. McIlwain indicated that Department of Defense would be posting online updates about any changes to FRD policy. Stein said DOE had forwarded its suggestions to the working group, and Immerman asked if any single agency could veto the changes of the working group. Charlston explained that any of the three agencies concerned, Energy, Defense, and State, could veto those changes.
Dudziak asked what could be done to make DOE’s review move more quickly and what the Committee could do to facilitate a quicker review.
Stein explained that part of the problem was the organization of retired records. Many record sets were poorly organized. He said prioritizing records for review could also help, adding that more resources were needed to improve the quality of the initial page-by-page review. He expected there would be difficulty in dealing with electronic records in the future and that IT tools needed to be developed.
Because it was noted that it was helpful for agency staff morale when they could see that there was a person behind declassification requests, Dudziak asked how the Committee might be able to help with that. Immerman noted that the Committee was already addressing the issue, but added that agencies needed to come up with more solutions aside from asking for more resources.
Shenberger said that the Committee’s concerns were understandable, but that reviewers were working hard and that there were 2 to 3 levels of quality assurance at NARA and not much flexibility to prioritize collections until the backlog had been completed.
Charlston reminded the Committee that all the reviewers had received training in Kyl-Lott and that training was a resource that required time, and Zeiler asked if enough people had been trained. Stein said more than 3,000 reviewers had received training. He described the training as thorough, but suggested the document quotas placed on the reviewers might be unreasonable and might be reducing the quality of the reviews. He explained that by the time a document is remanded, the reviewer did their initial review years ago without the same training, and is likely no longer reviewing documents, so little can be learned about the nature of the mistakes reviewers make.
After a discussion about the backlog material versus the P-reel documents, Stein explained that DOE’s priority was responding to the White House directive that had come without funding to support necessary IT tools.
Immerman said that the Committee needed to figure out a strategy to respond to these issues. He stated that he understood that the 2009 mandate was unfunded but he was still concerned about the focus on the backlog over other collections. He asked if more training would help and stated that the wait times to see the records were becoming a huge problem. He stated that the releases kept falling further behind.
Charlston said he would ask for more funding to digitize the P-reels. Immerman asked Charlston if he was confident that IT tools would speed up reviews if the P-reels were digitized, and Charlston indicated he was.
Immerman asked if such a tool would satisfy the requirements of Kyl-Lott, and Stein confirmed it was possible, but that it would depend on the tool. He said that any tool would need to be as good as manual review and that he would need to see the tool before anyone signed off on it.
The Committee adjourned for the day at 4 p.m.
Closed Session, September 1
Presentation and discussion on current Office research and annotation
At 9:05 a.m., Immerman called the session to order and the General Editor introduced Louise Woodroofe.
Woodroofe discussed her work on a recent compilation focusing on the Horn of Africa, 1977–1980, outlining the central themes that emerged during her research, her 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 10:15 a.m.