U.S. Department of State
Advisory Committee on Historical
December 13-14, 2004
Wm. Roger Louis, Chairman
Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman
Brenda Gayle Plummer
Office of the Historian
Marc Susser, Historian
Susan Kovalik Tully
James Van Hook
Laurie West Van Hook
Bureau of Administration
Brian Dowling, A/RPS/IPS
David Adamson, A/RPS/IPS
Harmon Kirby, A/RPS/IPS
National Archives and Records Administration
Mark Fischer, Nixon Presidential Materials Staff
David Kepley, Office of Records Services
David Langbart, Life Cycle Management Division
Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division
David Mengel, Nixon Presidential Materials Staff
Marvin Russell, Initial Processing and Declassification Division
Nancy Smith, Office of Presidential Libraries
Carl Weissenbach, Nixon Presidential Materials Staff
Central Intelligence Agency
Karen O’ Saben
Don Steury, History Staff
OPEN SESSION, December 13
Approval of the Record of the September 2004 Meeting
The committee approved the record of the September meeting.
Status Reports by the Deputy Historian and the General Editor
David Herschler reported that the office had acquired seven new historians and was fully staffed according to the 2002 reorganization plan. He commented that the office had yet to receive its 2005 fiscal year (FY) budget, thus it was uncertain if additional printing funds would be available for 2005–06.
The office had engaged in a variety of outreach activities. November marked the release of the 30-minute video, "The History of Diplomacy," and 100-page curriculum guide. An office contingent had participated in a workshop and disseminated 1,500 copies of the video and curriculum guide at the November 2004 National Council for the Social Studies conference. Two additional video projects were underway. Preparations had begun for two office-sponsored conferences: the first, at the LBJ Library, would focus on the 1964–1968 Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume on South and Central America; the second, at the Department of State on June 28–29, 2005, would cover U.S. policy toward South Asia in the 1960s and early 1970s, and would complement the release of the South Asia Crisis, 1971 volume and highlight the previously released South Asia volumes for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
In response to a question about the budget from Brenda Gayle Plummer, Herschler said that the Bureau of Public Affairs and the Department continued to support the office. Roger Louis asked whether the cost of paper had affected printing costs. Herschler answered affirmatively, and indicated that the office was investigating alternatives.
Edward Keefer reported that the 1969–72 United Nations volume should be released early next year. The first electronic only-volume, Global Issues, 1969–72, would appear soon. Keefer suggested that a "publishing bonanza" might occur by the March meeting. The office expected to have 15 print and 9 e-volumes, for the 1969–1972 period reviewed during 2005, with 8 and 4, respectively, scheduled for publication in 2005. The office still hoped to meet its goal of publishing 12 volumes per year, but declassification and publication continued to be problems. Keefer said that the upcoming volumes were some of the best, with full intelligence access and extensive use of the Nixon Library materials, tapes, and telephone conversations. The Department’s files would become even more important for the years after 1973. Editors sought to select, in a comprehensible format, the most important among millions of documents.
Keefer noted that a comprehensive and timely FRUS series was based on three parts. Print volumes dealt with core issues–the Soviet Union, China, Economic Policy, the Middle East, Arms Control, Energy, and crisis areas. The e-volumes focused upon bilateral and regional topics, as well as certain global topics. Access guides supplemented both formats.
In response to a question from Lisa Cobbs Hoffman, Keefer said that the print volumes would also be available on-line. Responding to questions from the committee, Herschler explained the status of volumes in the declassification process.
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of the Foreign Policy Record
Harmon Kirby summarized the volumes currently under review by his office. Keefer commented that if all the other agencies were as punctual as the Department of State, then the office would have little difficulty making the 30-year deadline.
Brian Dowling then reported on the status of the Department's declassification effort. Dowling noted that there had been some important administrative changes in his office; a $130,000 telephone system had been installed at the Newington Records office to facilitate communication between Newington and the main IPS office. In addition, he had expedited the hiring process for WAEs, shortening the turn-around time from 2 years to 9 months. Twenty recently-retired Foreign Service Officers currently were in the pipeline. He noted that the amount of time these retirees work on average per year had increased from 200 hours when he started, to 700 hours. Some WAEs worked fewer than 700 hours as they had to commute to Washington to conduct their reviews. Dowling reported that, as of November 15, IPS had processed 16.5 million pages of electronic, microfilm, and paper records. He indicated that IPS reviewed classified information first, then unclassified records, in order to meet the FY 2006 deadline. At the current rate of review, Dowling estimated that IPS would complete the 1976 to mid-1979 period by the end of 2005, and the mid-1979 to 1981 period by the end of 2006, meeting the established deadline.
In response to a question concerning microfilm processing, Dowling explained that all microfilm records were being converted to paper for review. Louis inquired whether the processed paper copies would be transferred to NARA. Dowling answered affirmatively. Robert Schulzinger stated that the overall process seemed illogical. Initially, the paper originals were transferred onto microfilm. Now, NARA had to transfer the microfilm images onto paper. David Langbart noted that this was because government declassification processes had changed over time.
When Margaret Hedstrom asked why classified material was reviewed prior to unclassified material, Dowling explained that IPS had decided this was simply the approach they would use. He noted that unclassified boxes often contained classified materials. Furthermore, IPS wanted to be sure that nothing classified or falling under privacy provisions was inadvertently released.
CLOSED SESSION, December 13
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of the Foreign policy Record
Hedstrom reported to the committee that the 1973–74 electronic cable files had been copied, verified, and accessioned by NARA. The Department of Energy (DOE) was in the process of reviewing the withdrawn cards and the RD/FRDs. She commented that while 48 out of 148 boxes of 1974 P-reels were still under review at DOE, the remaining reels should be ready by the end of the year and would be accompanied by an electronic index.
Hedstrom provided an update on the redesign of the Access to Archival Data (AAD) system. The subcommittee had reviewed a paper prototype of the search and retrieval interface–which is currently being tested for technical feasibility and performance–and found it promising. Hedstrom and her students will conduct a usability test on the prototype–with a January completion date–in advance of the February release. If these deadlines were met, Hedstrom hoped to present a demonstration at the March meeting. She also noted that she and Plummer were impressed by David Kepley’s mock-up of the system, especially the fact that researchers can search for both paper and electronic copies, using a variety of search categories, including time-period, subject, name, key words, and others.
In reference to the DOE review of 1975 records, Hedstrom explained that once the electronic files were transferred to NARA, she expected them to be available in 3 to 4 months. The positive news is that the DOE had started its review of 1976 material. Hedstrom made one final reference to AAD, asserting that an improved AAD would prove worth the wait–provided the wait ends soon.
Louis inquired as to Hedstrom’s optimism concerning the revamped AAD system, given her previous skepticism. System improvements and Kepley’s successful demonstration changed her mind, she replied, adding that the system designers’ openness to suggestions and adjustments contributed toward her positive outlook. She cautioned, though, that there would no doubt be future difficulties that would warrant further improvements.
Plummer reinforced Hedstrom’s conclusion that the system was user-friendly and flexible, but asked Hedstrom if she and her students would test it on non-specialists to determine if it would be practical for them to use. Hedstrom responded that she and her students have recruited both specialists and typical public users as test-subjects.
Cobbs Hoffman expressed the hope that once the system functioned, Kepley would not have to come to every meeting and brief the committee on its progress. Hedstrom cautioned that electronic records often present unanticipated challenges; however, the detailed reporting should decline and the transfers should become regular.
Kepley had nothing to add to Hedstrom’s summary, but cautioned that, because he does not have control over withdrawn cards–DOE does–he cannot ensure that they will meet their target dates.
Don McIlwain reported on the challenges presented by the online P-reel index, noting that it must be made clear to researchers that they will not be able to see the microfilmed documents online. Rather, users will have to submit a request via e-mail to NARA, which will reproduce them at a cost of $0.50 per page. When Schulzinger asked why researchers could not get the material online, McIlwain stated that the costs were prohibitive. Hedstrom added that the poor quality of the original microfilm presented an obstacle to scanning.
David Adamson reported that IPS was "on course" with their declassification review of electronic telegrams. They were currently waiting on DOE to review 1975 cables.
Foreign Relations Research at the National Archives: Issues Relating to Microfilmed State Records at NARA
William McAllister reported on his study pertaining to the accessibility of P-reels. SA–2 housed all the reels, with the exception of the 1974 reels. Historians have use of one, older microfilm reader; McAllister was unsure what alternate arrangements could be made if the reader malfunctioned. He asked the NARA representatives how they planned to guarantee Department of State historians uninterrupted access to the microfilm reels during the transfer of materials to NARA II.
McIlwain assured the committee that the P-reels would be treated as any other classified accessioned record, available to Department historians in the NARA classified reading rooms. Once the Archives declassifies the film, other researchers would be able to utilize the film. He said that he would work to permit uninterrupted access for Department of State historians during the transfer, although some short disruptions may be unavoidable. Langbart then explained the difference between P-reels and D-reels. The P-reels are film copies of Department paper records; the D-reels capture digital items created at the Department message center.
Hedstrom inquired whether the office historians would have access to the P-reel index; McIlwain replied affirmatively. The participants then briefly discussed the availability of TAGS research tools.
The Foreign Relations Series: Withheld Documentation from Recently Declassified Manuscripts
Schulzinger reported that the subcommittee had examined two sets of documents from the recently published volume on South and Central America; Mexico, 1964–1968. The first set included documents withheld or redacted; the second set included declassified documents (available on the shelf at NARA) about which questions have emerged. Of the documents sanitized or withheld from the publication, some were denied. Schulzinger said that the withheld/sanitized documents did not compromise the volume. Herschler added that a third category of documents had raised problems: those that had been declassified, widely disseminated, and are now in FRUS manuscripts with proposed excisions.
Louis said that he agreed, in principle, with the need to suppress documents that expose intelligence sources and methods. But he objected to having entire documents–even editorial notes–suppressed, often by the Department of State. Louis suggested that the committee review certain documents being withheld from yet-to-be-printed volumes at the next meeting.
Keefer urged the committee not to look at the problem as just a contest for one document. Rather, he said, it should be viewed in the context of the entire manuscript. He said that the committee needed to understand that the declassification process was based on negotiation and compromise; the office could not win every contest. Herschler mentioned that the Executive Order requires that demonstrable damage would have to be shown with the release of a document in order to withhold the information. Kirby noted that demonstrable damage was a matter of judgment, and desk officers were sometimes more reflexive, due to the nature of their work. He said that the fact that documents are 30 years old is irrelevant–current situations must be taken into account. Kirby said that if the Office believed a desk officer was in error, the Office could take the issue to others for redress, such as the deputy office director, the office director, or the deputy assistant secretary.
Staff Historians Report on Office Business
Herschler, Susan Kovalik Tully, and Susan Holly discussed the office’s video outreach program with the committee. Chris Tudda and Rick Moss discussed the preparation of e-volumes with the committee.
CLOSED SESSION, December 14
Staff Historians Report on Volumes Recently Published or Work in Progress
Herschler and David Geyer discussed their recently published volume on South and Central America; Mexico, 1964–1968. Douglas Selvage also discussed his volume in progress with the committee.
Foreign Relations Research at the Nixon Project
Staff from the Nixon Project then reported to the committee. All of the Office’s research, or most of it, will be completed in 2005, except work on two volumes. Herschler summarized the status of the Office’s work at the Nixon Project and discussed the Office’s future priorities there, which would focus heavily on the "5th Chron" of Nixon tapes, which are still unprocessed. Nancy Smith said that the 9-year relationship between the office and the Nixon Project was nearing an end. Karl Weissenbach added that the Nixon Project was doing "everything it could" to assist the Department of State. He then spoke of a new review process for Nixon Project materials and hoped that reviews could move more quickly. Weissenbach noted that the establishment of the future Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California, would not affect FRUS, but that the upcoming transfer was "an additional burden" faced by his staff, as it would consume resources and time.
Schulzinger asked Weissenbach for a timetable on the Nixon Project’s move to Yorba Linda, and what would remain at College Park until after the transfer. He also inquired as to whether a staff and library director had been named. Weissenbach highlighted the current situation. All tapes from the 5th Chron will remain at NARA until processed. All materials will eventually be transferred–tentatively, beginning in April 2006–to the NARA-administered Nixon Presidential Library. In addition, head of state gifts and Nixon congressional materials (currently housed elsewhere) would be transferred to California. In one sense the Nixon Library, at the moment, is a bi-coastal library, with Weissenbach as head of the "East Coast" branch, which will continue processing the remaining material. No textual items would be moved before 2008 or 2009. The plan is to have processed all materials prior to transfer. The Nixon Project at NARA II would likely close in 2009 or 2010.
Weissenbach said that no director for the Yorba Linda site existed at this time, and that he acted in that capacity. NARA would appoint a director, possibly in January 2006. He added that a preliminary staff plan existed that included a director, curatorial staff, administrative assistant, and one or two archivists. Louis commented that he felt reassured to hear that plans were underway for the library; the status of the Nixon Papers had heretofore been in limbo.
Louis thanked the Nixon Project staff and concluded the session.
The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series
Herschler summarized the progress made on the CIA review of Foreign Relations since the September committee meeting. For the second quarter in a row, the office has sent one volume per month to the Agency for review according to existing plans. No volumes have been verified since September, as the office is still awaiting declassification decisions from other agencies. The office expects that several volumes will be verified in the first half of 2005.
Herschler then discussed specific declassification problems with some volumes.
The CIA noted that its Historical Review Panel would meet from December 15 to 17. Improved coordination has expedited the CIA review process, and the CIA had completed the review of 13 manuscripts and 1 access guide in FY 2004. The CIA hoped a number of verification meetings would be scheduled during the next year in order to allow the same people who reviewed a volume to participate in its verification.
In the last quarter, the CIA had received the press release for the South and Central America; Mexico, 1964–1968 volume only a week before its release. Since then, the Agency was pleased to have received assurances from the Office of the Historian that the summaries and press releases of volumes would be sent well in advance of publication.
Van Hook commented that the office historians were making great use of CIA records.
Robert Jervis discussed the role of the HRP with the committee, particularly concerning the Foreign Relations series.
The committee adjourned at noon and reconvened at 1:15 for Office of the Historian Staff comments and an executive session.