Secrecy News

Historical Advisory Committee Reports Setbacks in 2017

The substantial progress that was achieved in recent years in producing the State Department’s official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series was reversed in several respects last year, according to a new annual report from the Department’s Historical Advisory Committee.

The FRUS series is required by statute to publish a “thorough, accurate, and reliable” documentary record of United States foreign relations no later than 30 years after the events that they document.

To a large extent, FRUS is dependent on — and also helps to motivate — declassification of national security and foreign policy records. Such declassification in turn depends on the cooperation of other agencies who are called upon to review selected documents.

But “The pace of the reviews of FRUS volumes submitted to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Department of Defense (DoD) and the declassification of documents was disappointing” in 2017, the new annual report said.

The Department of Defense “was unconscionably tardy and inattentive. It completed only one out of eleven volumes submitted for review throughout the entire year.”

Because most of the historically significant documents provided to DoD were not reviewed and cleared for release in any form, the FRUS volumes that were planned to contain them cannot be published any time soon.

Likewise, “Although in 2017 CIA did not behave nearly as irresponsibly as DoD, it performed below the expectations produced over the several preceding years.”

On the other hand, the Committee found reason to praise the State Department, the National Archives, and the National Security Council. Another bright spot in 2017 was the publication of the long-delayed FRUS supplement on events surrounding the 1953 coup in Iran.

The annual report concluded with several legislative proposals and policy recommendations that the Advisory Committee believes would promote an improved review and publication process.

But it is unclear whether the State Department itself will be receptive to any such improvements. The Department has not been overly friendly to its own History Office (HO), the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) noted.

“The unexpected and unprecedented decision of the State Department’s leadership in December to reject HO’s request to renew three HAC members unsettled both the committee and the office,” the annual report said.