From: H-Diplo [AK] [email protected]>
Date: Mon, Apr 18, 2011 at 4:40 PM
Subject: 2011 History Advisory Committee [HAC] Report
To: [email protected]

From: "RICHARD H. IMMERMAN" [email protected]>
Date: Mon, April 18, 2011 4:32 pm

Please find below the 2011 Report of the History Advisory Committee (HAC) to the Department of State.

April 6, 2011

Report of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, January 1-December 31, 2010

By public law and by tradition, the Historical Advisory Committee to the Department of State (HAC) embraces two principal responsibilities. The first is to oversee the preparation and timely publication of the Foreign Relations of the United States series. The second is to facilitate public access to records that are 25 or more years older than the date of issue.

The Foreign Relations Statute of 1991 (Public Law 102-138 [105 Stat. 647, codified in relevant part at 22 U.S.C. § 4351 et seq.]) mandates the first of these responsibilities. It calls for a "thorough, accurate, and reliable" documentary record of United States foreign policy. That statute evolved from the public controversy triggered by the Foreign Relations volumes published in 1983 and 1989 that covered the events surrounding U.S. interventions in Guatemala in 1954 and in Iran in 1953, respectively. Both volumes omitted documentation on U.S. covert activities that either was not made available to the Office of the Historian (HO) researchers or was not cleared for publication. Knowledgeable scholars rightly criticized the two volumes-and the series-for falling short of the standard of accuracy and thoroughness, dealing a serious blow to its credibility and stature.

Over the two decades that have passed since the Foreign Relations Statute of 1991 became law, the HO has sought with good faith to compile volumes that are as "thorough, reliable, and accurate" as possible. Our committee appreciates that the this standard is an exceedingly challenging and complex one for the HO to meet in view of the explosion of important government documents pertaining to foreign relations for the decades of the 1960s, 1970s, and after and in view of the parallel requirement that volumes be published no later than 30 years after the events they document. HO has struggled to meet these complementary obligations, finding much greater success in achieving the quality objective than in achieving the goal of timeliness. As the HO's inability to close the gap between its publication of the Foreign Relations volumes and the 30-year target has become manifest, our committee's concerns have intensified.

The HAC's second statutory obligation is to monitor and advise on the declassification and opening of the Department of State's records, which in large measure involves the Department's implementation of the operative Executive Order governing the classification and declassification of government records. E.O. 12958, issued in 1995, and later amended by E.O. 13292 of 2003, mandated the declassification of records over 25 years old-unless valid and significant reasons could be specified for not releasing them. Those orders were supplanted, in December 2009, by a new Executive Order (E.O. 13526).

Publications of the Foreign Relations Series

During 2010, the Office of the Historian published six volumes in the Foreign Relations of the United States series. Those were:

1. 1969-1976, VII, Vietnam, July 1970-January 1973
2. 1969-1976, VIII, Vietnam, January 1972-October 1972
3. 1969-1976, IX, Vietnam, October 1972-January 1973
4. 1969-1976, X, Vietnam, January 1973-July 1975
5. 1969-1976, XIX, Part I, Korea, 1969-1972
6. 1969-1976, Salt I, 1969-1973

This is twice the number of volumes published the previous year, reflecting the stabilization of HO following several years of managerial disruption and internal tumult. The HAC congratulates the HO on this accomplishment, and remains impressed by the uniformly high quality of the published volumes. Nevertheless, the improvement in the rate of production should not be exaggerated. The three volumes published in 2009 is an unacceptably low number. Further, no progress has been made toward bringing the series into compliance with the statutory requirement that volumes be published 30 years after the events they document. Indeed, the 6 volumes published in 2010 did not even meet the target set by the Office in 2009. This record reinforces the disappointment HAC has expressed in prior reports.

Especially because significant steps have been taken to resolve the internal turmoil, staff turnover, and managerial disruption that plagued the HO in 2008 and 2009, the Committee assesses the 2010 record of publication of the Foreign Relations series as discouraging. It is particularly concerned that the Office lacks the sense of urgency required to fulfill its statutory obligations.

The Challenge of the 30 Year Rule

The HAC is acutely aware of the challenges to publishing the Foreign Relations volumes in a sufficiently timely manner to begin to close the gap. The most salient current obstacle, ironically, stems from the 1991 legislation. That statute, and a subsequent memorandum of understanding between the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency, mandated and greatly facilitated research in intelligence files and the incorporation of intelligence documentation in Foreign Relations volumes. An interagency committee established in the late 1990s, known as the "High-Level Panel" (HLP), provides guidelines for the publication in the Foreign Relations series of documentation relating to covert actions and other sensitive intelligence activities that had a major impact on U.S. foreign policy. That more than 40 covert intelligence activities have now been acknowledged is evidence of the success of the HLP. The Foreign Relations series serves as the primary venue for publishing documentation on the role of intelligence activities in U.S. foreign relations. Hence, the series has become renowned internationally for openness, which has well served the national interest.

This invaluable barometer of openness has, however, created substantial delays in the declassification and publication processes. The HO estimates that any volume with an HLP issue will spend at least one additional year, and often more, in the declassification pipeline than will a volume which does not contain an intelligence issue which requires consideration, the drafting of guidelines, and clearance by that inter-agency panel. Appealing negative decisions about documents is a time-consuming process, and on occasion the CIA has reclassified previously released documents. Further, the CIA's resistance to declassifying documents that are already in the public domain presents a severe challenge for the HO to publish volumes that meet the standard of a "thorough, accurate, and reliable" documentary record of United States foreign policy. CIA, we must emphasize, is but one of multiple agencies with equities in sensitive intelligence related issues.

The failure of agencies to meet the 120-day deadline, set by statute, for reviewing documents chosen for inclusion in Foreign Relations volumes has exacerbated this problem and frustrated the HO and HAC. Indeed, the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Justice (including the FBI) have often been as if not more culpable than the CIA for the delays. The Historical Advisory Committee is encouraged by recent evidence of improvement. Seeming small measures, such as regular informal meetings between the HO and CIA, for example, have had salutary effects. Still, the time and effort required to gain release of documents deemed vital to producing a thorough, accurate, and reliable history of U.S. foreign relations continues to constitute a serious roadblock to publication.

These issues will intensify the challenge of meeting the 30-year rule as the HO seeks to hasten publication of the volumes covering the Carter and Reagan administrations. With the recent additions to its historical staff, the Office has now assigned each volume for the 1977-80 quadrennium. The HO estimates that at least half of these volumes will require resolution of HLP issues. The Reagan administration records contain approximately 8.5 million classified pages, and changes in the filing system will likely complicate historians' ability to ensure that they have identified and located every potentially useful record in the National Security collection.

Declassification Issues and the Transfer of Department of State Records to the National Archives

During 2010, the committee continued to review the State Department's classification guidelines and to monitor the application of those guidelines to further the declassification process. It also monitored the transfer of the Department's records-electronic as well as paper--to the National Archives and Records Administration. We are pleased to note that notwithstanding the increased number of documents that required review, the Department's Systematic Review Program achieved its core annual goal of completing the declassification review of 25-year old records. Nevertheless, some of these records remain classified because of the equities of other agencies and departments.

In addition, the committee continued to engage in extensive discussion with National Archives personnel relating to its National Declassification Initiative and the progress of the Public Interest Declassification Board. It also met with the newly appointed director of the National Declassification Center. (NDC) In these discussions it provided recommendations on the priorities for the declassification reviews. The HAC strongly supports the NDC, which should promote a more rational and streamlined approach to the declassification and availability of governmental records pertaining to foreign affairs.

To voice its concerns about the ways in which the current declassification system affects the timely production of Foreign Relations volumes, the committee met quarterly with the director or other representatives of the Information Security Oversight Office. It also met with representatives of the Office of Presidential Libraries to discuss its declassification efforts and the Remote Archive Capture program, which operates under the National Declassification Center.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Notwithstanding the challenges that HO confronts, the Historical Advisory Committee is convinced that the Office can and must address its statutory responsibilities with a more effective strategy and a greater sense of urgency. It is preparing 28 volumes for the Carter administration. Of these only four have been fully compiled, reviewed, revised, and entered into the declassification process. The Office has yet to begin its research in the Reagan administration records (1981-88). It may experience further delays, moreover, as the Office moves to a new location this year.

The HAC is working closely with HO to accelerate the rate of publication by focusing on those aspects of the process over which HO can exercise control. It has gained the concurrence of the Office's management to establish and enforce a two-year ceiling on the time required to compile a volume. It has also recommended that HO take multiple measures to expedite publication. These range from formulating a policy that recognizes the need to balance thoroughness and timeliness to revising its review and publication processes. Indeed, HO should be able to publish volumes more efficiently if it relies principally on an electronic format, reserving printed volumes for presentation to foreign countries and similar ceremonial occasions. The Committee has also recommended that the Office postpone work on those volumes which face intractable declassification issues so that it can concentrate on less problematic ones, and that, as it did last year, it publish volumes online as soon as it determines they are reliable even if some documents remain classified. The HAC will gladly assist in making this determination. Another possibility is for the HO temporarily to shift personnel from Special Projects to Foreign Relations to meet what HAC considers an urgent situation.

The HAC is pessimistic about HO's prospects for meeting its statutory obligations if its current performance continues. It nevertheless appreciates the HO's commitment and capabilities and is confident that by adopting more efficient strategies for publishing despite the obstacles to declassification, a determined office can serve the national interest by reaching the 30-year line of publication within a decade. It must making doing so its highest priority.

Richard H. Immerman
Chair, Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation

Committee Members:
Carol Anderson
Laura Belmonte
James McAllister
Robert McMahon
Trudy Peterson
Katherine Sibley
Peter Spiro
Thomas Zeiler