April 1, 1997
Nora Slatkin, Executive Director
Central Intelligence Agency
Washington, DC 20505
Dear Ms. Slatkin:
As you know, the State Department's Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) is charged by Congress with the responsibility of advising the Secretary of State regarding the Foreign Relations of the United States series. All government agencies are enjoined to cooperate so as to ensure that the series constitutes a "comprehensive" and "accurate" record of the history of United States foreign policy and diplomacy. The law further requires that "the published record shall omit no facts which were of major importance in reaching a decision, and nothing shall be omitted for the purpose of concealing a defect of policy."
The Foreign Relations statute of 1991, and this committee, came into existence following public and Congressional protests (mockery and scorn might be a better phrase) when a Foreign Relations volume on relations with Iran in the mid-1950s failed to acknowledge the role of the CIA in Iranian domestic politics, despite such evidence as a memoir account by CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt.
Unfortunately, we are faced today with a similar situation, one that promises to deteriorate unless firm leadership is exercised. I enclose copies of reviews of two recent Foreign Relations volumes that dealt with events in the Congo, 1958-63. While we do not accept the author's accusations that State Department historians consciously suppressed documentary evidence of U.S. government policy regarding covert involvement in that region, it is evident from the official historical record (Congressional hearings) that the United States used the CIA for such purposes in the Congo. Nevertheless, the CIA did not make available to State historians compiling those volumes any body of documentation regarding the Agency's implementation of U.S. policy. We ask you to ponder how we can all work together constructively in the future so that we do not run afoul of the law, and we ask you to keep in mind that we are dealing with events that took place at least thirty years ago during the now-ended Cold War.
One practice of this committee and the Department of State is to publish vital documentation previously denied or not made available for the Foreign Relations series. We intend to include new documentation on the Congo for the years 1958-63 in such a retrospective volume, or in the volume on Africa for 1964-68 which is now moving toward publication. The original compilations (1958-60, 1961-63) were made before inter-agency implementation of the 1991 Foreign Relations statute. The State Department's Historian's Office raised the issue of the shortcomings of the Congo volumes with the History Staff in the Agency's Center for the Study of Intelligence in December 1996 when the critical reviews first appeared. We now ask that State historians be granted expedited access and proactive assistance in finding CIA records relevant to this Congo issue.
But we should not have to take up each other's time with this sort of specific concern, rather we should focus on the future. There is a broader and recurring problem in the compilation of Foreign Relations volumes as that process relates to the CIA. The Agency has often been reasonable about providing and declassifying intelligence analysis of the kind given to policymakers. But that has not been the case with covert activities, usually political, carried out in support of U.S. government foreign policy. Despite the now famous "list of eleven" covert activities that can be acknowledged, we all know that many more such actions occurred during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. The HAC is deeply concerned that, unless such historical activities are acknowledged and documented in reasonable detail in Foreign Relations, we risk violating the law and attracting public attention that would further erode American faith in the accountability of its government and leaders.
We are here concerned with both declassification and with access to information. We know of no cases where access has not been granted to State historians when they knew of the existence of documents, and the CSI assures us that they have done the very best they can to help identify significant issues. But something in the CIA seems to prevent State historians from learning of all 30-year old covert activities. And they cannot request access to what they do not know exists.
The HAC understands and accepts the need and responsibility for the CIA to maintain security concerning its sources (particularly HUMINT) and methods. In reality, Foreign Relations compilers do not seek that kind of detailed information. Nor are they (and the HAC) unwilling to accept redactions of unnecessary detail. Our discussions with CIA personnel about declassification lead us to believe that they have done all they can to address these issues and to encourage reasonable openness, but somewhere within the CIA there remains an unwillingness to share and to declassify important historical records bearing on basic policy issues. As a result we fear that the public may be denied an "accurate" and "comprehensive" record of the nation's 30- year old foreign policy and diplomacy.
The CSI has just recently undertaken steps designed to manage more effectively liaison with the State Department Historian's Office. We hope that this will improve things, although previous efforts have failed to resolve the problems. In the past the HAC heard a great deal about the "culture of secrecy" within the Agency and the need to reshape that culture as it related to disclosure of historical information at least 30-years old and often much older. But it appears that, somewhere within key areas of the Agency, such reshaping has not occurred.
We suggest the following concrete steps as a productive beginning:
second, that the Agency reconsider its stand on three key compilations now under declassification appeal. The HAC has reviewed those records and unanimously concluded that the broad foreign policy issues can be presented in Foreign Relations without compromising Agency sources and methods. The requirements of the Foreign Relations statute might be met if the Agency found a way to acknowledge involvement by declassifying some material, excising excessive detail, and, in extremis, by summarizing major excisions;
third, that Agency leadership promulgate throughout the CIA that the Historical Office of the State Department is required by law to prepare and publish a "comprehensive" record of American foreign policy in the Foreign Relations series, and that the Agency therefore must share all relevant information with Historical Office compilers (declassification of CIA information, of course, remains the responsibility of the Agency);
fourth, that CIA leadership agree that once the State Department and the National Security Council determine to reveal a policy decision regarding covert activity, CIA shall review the information only for sources and methods security.
This letter has the unanimous approval of the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation.
Warren F. Kimball
Enclosures: As stated