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Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation to the United States Department of State

10 May 1996

Hon. Warren Christopher
Secretary of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Christopher:

What follows is the report of the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation (Historical Advisory Committee) for the fifteen month period from 01 July 1994 through 30 September 1995, submitted in accordance with the requirements of Public Law 102-138 of 28 October 1991 (22 USC 4351). Preparation of this report was delayed by the "lockout/furlough" that affected the Department's work during FY 1996, as well as by the protracted discussions and declassification appeals regarding certain volumes of Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS).

The report summarizes the Historical Advisory Committee's work and provides you with our assessment of the current status of the FRUS series and the State Department's program for making its historical record available to the public. Particular attention is paid to continuing efforts toward implementing all the provisions of PL 102-138.

The Historical Advisory Committee remains concerned about publication delays beyond the thirty-year mark prescribed by law for a few volumes of FRUS. The delays are primarily the result of decisions by the Historical Office, upon the recommendation of the Historical Advisory Committee, to allow time to incorporate additional documents only recently declassified by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Historical Advisory Committee will continue to evaluate such delays, balancing the statute's requirement that the FRUS series be published no later than thirty years after the event with the legal injunction that the FRUS volumes be "comprehensive."

This continuing problem suggests that the Historical Office should continue and intensify its efforts to prepare FRUS compilations far enough in advance of the thirty-year publication deadline to allow time for the resolution of declassification problems. It is, therefore, particularly important for the Historical Office to identify, early on, those volumes where such declassification difficulties can be anticipated. The Historical Advisory Committee is pleased to note that both the Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office have indicated willingness to cooperate with reviewing documents for declassification prior to the 26th year (for the CIA) and the 30th year (for the U.K.) release deadlines they follow.

FRUS publication delays early in 1995 were also caused by a serious backlog in responses from the CIA to Historical Office requests for declassification review of documents needed for the series. That bottleneck was broken following timely and effective support from the State Department leadership in response to a request from the Historical Advisory Committee. It now appears that the CIA and the State Department have established procedures that provide for a more expeditious review of FRUS declassification requests.

Another cause of delay in publication of the FRUS series was cumbersome State Department hiring limitations and practices that prevented the Historical Office from expeditiously filling vacancies on its professional staff, despite strong support from the Bureau of Public Affairs.

The Department's efforts to meet the thirty year declassification review mark for its archival holdings continue to show significant progress, particularly in terms of the volume of documents reviewed, although there is concern that the current review strategy assigns a disturbingly low priority to significant numbers of thirty and twenty-five year old "lot" files. Nonetheless, random sampling by the Historical Advisory Committee raises concerns brought up in its last report: expensive page-by- page review is all too often utilized despite the commitment to adopt "risk assessment" techniques; agencies which have equity in documents in State Department files remain uncooperative regarding declassification review which slows the work of State Department reviewers and denies the public access to documents that could easily be opened. This significantly increases costs to the State Department. The Committee strongly recommends that the Department leadership bend every effort to insure that other agencies cooperate fully with the Department's declassification review efforts-- cooperation mandated by the spirit and letter of the new Executive Order on Information Security.

A major preoccupation of the Historical Advisory Committee during this reporting period were the lengthy appeals regarding documents needed to provide the "thorough, accurate, and reliable record" required by the statute. The specific cases related to aspects of relations with Japan and then British Guiana (FRUS, 1961-63, volumes XII and XXII). The Committee strongly supported the Historical Office position that the documents requested were necessary in order to present the comprehensive record mandated by the Foreign Relations statute. The Department leadership agreed with the Historical Office and the Committee, and firmly supported the Committee's contention that application of a balancing test between the public's need and right to know versus the potential damage to both national security and current foreign relations that could be caused by the release of the documents, found clearly for declassification.

This episode prompted establishment of an Interagency Appeals Board consisting of one senior official from each of the three agencies primarily involved-- the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council. (The terms of that Interagency Appeals Board are described in the enclosed agreed State-CIA undertaking.) The Interagency Appeals Board agreed to declassify the materials about relations with British Guiana, but did not declassify documents on U.S.-Japanese relations for the 1961-1963 volume. The Historical Advisory Committee will appeal that and similar decisions after a two year period, with the purpose of publishing those important documents in retrospective volumes of FRUS.

The Historical Advisory Committee's concern about publication of a FRUS volume that does not meet the "comprehensive documentation" requirement of the statute is heightened by our recognition that this may not be an isolated problem. The record of "actions of the U.S. Government in response to the political situation" in various countries is crucial to an understanding of American foreign policy during the late Eisenhower and the Kennedy administrations. Such actions can prove embarrassing thirty or more years later, but, as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recently pointed out: "if you want a secret respected, see that it's respectable in the first place." (Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 4 March 1996, remarks at an Open Forum at the Dept. of State.) Similarly, the Historical Advisory Committee is unpersuaded by arguments recently advanced by the CIA to the effect that disclosure of thirty-year old documents will jeopardize current intelligence liaison with friendly nations.

The Historical Advisory Committee remains troubled by the overly restrictive declassification standards used by many within and outside the State Department. The Committee unanimously agrees that on-going training and familiarization, using the public's right to know as the starting point, is needed for State Department reviewers and for reviewers at NARA. We hope that the new Executive Order [12958] on Information Security will encourage such training throughout the federal government. Effective and realistic declassification procedures using "risk assessment" and random sampling techniques, so as to allow bulk declassification of files that are unlikely to contain sensitive material, will save substantial money and resources.

The Historical Advisory Committee is satisfied with the progress made in compiling the FRUS volumes for the Johnson years, and much appreciative of the cooperation of the director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library for his work in making the LBJ telephone transcripts available to HO compilers.

Research on the volumes for the Nixon years is only beginning, but the committee is uneasy about the cutback in total pages of at least 30 percent for the Nixon years as compared with the total pages published or planned for the Kennedy and Johnson years. However, any recommendations in that regard must await the initial assessment of the documentation by the Historical Office. The committee also will monitor closely the plans for the Nixon presidency volumes to insure that the resources available will allow the FRUS series to meet the thirty-year publication requirement.

The Historical Advisory Committee spent significant time discussing the new Executive Order on Information Security, and made a number of proposals to the Department leadership. Important reforms incorporated in the new Executive Order of April 1995 reflect the continuing efforts of the Committee. While many of the Committee's most urgent recommendations were not acted upon, the 25 year mandatory declassification line, performance milestones, and the establishment of an Advisory Council of cleared public members were major Committee priorities included in the Order. But any assessment must await the results. The Committee is particularly disturbed by repeated suggestions that some in government service believe the Executive Order will "go away" after the national election of November 1996. If that perception is allowed to survive and grow, it will encourage foot- dragging and obstructionism on the part of those who are unenthusiastic about "openness."

The matter of management of the Department's electronic records is of growing concern. The Historical Advisory Committee has asked for further information from those responsible and plans to pursue this issue vigorously in the coming year. The Committee has similar concerns about preservations and management of the historically important files of the Legal Advisor's Office.

The support given the Historical Advisory Committee by its Executive Secretary remains responsive and effective. The reactions and support provided by the Department leadership has been candid and honest. The support from the Public Affairs Bureau has been consistent and courageous. The Committee appreciates the respect accorded its efforts and recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Warren F. Kimball

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation


Understanding Between the Department of State and the CIA on Cooperating and Publishing Essential Covert Actions in the Foreign Relations Series

The Department of State and the CIA will be guided by the general presumption that volumes of the Foreign Relations of the United States series will disclose for the historical record major covert actions undertaken as a matter of U.S. foreign policy.

Declassification review of records of such covert actions proposed for inclusion in Foreign Relations volumes will proceed on a case- by-case basis. Negative determinations will be made only if there is reason to believe that disclosure would cause damage to current national security interests or reveal intelligence sources and methods or otherwise reveal information protected by law.

A high-level review panel composed of the Chief of Staff of the State Department, the Executive Director of the CIA, and the NSC Senior Director for Intelligence has been established and will consider cases where broad U.S. policy interests could be affected by declassification decisions for documents proposed for inclusion in the Foreign Relations series, and State and CIA cannot agree on a declassification determination.

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation to the United States Department of State


Warren F. Kimball (Chair)
American Historical Association

Benton Vincent Davis, Jr.
American Political Science Association

Michael J. Hogan
Organization of American Historians

Melvyn P. Leffler
At-large member

Jane M. Picker
American Society of International Law

Michael E. Schaller
At-large member

Robert D. Schulzinger
At-large member

Nancy Bernkopf Tucker
Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations

Anne H. Van Camp
Society of American Archivists

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