Changing of the Guard: Recent Retirements

01.05.18 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Several government officials who collectively represent much of the public face of the national security secrecy system have retired recently. They include:

*    Sheryl Shenberger, Director of the National Declassification Center

*    Stephen Randolph, Historian of the State Department

*    David J. Sherman, NSA Associate Director for Strategy, Plans, and Policy

*    Joseph Lambert, CIA Director of Information Management

In various ways they have all been significant collaborators — or at least partners in debate — with public advocates of greater openness, and they have all contributed to a gradual increase in public access to national security information.

Their diverse activities and achievements are not fully known to me and cannot be summarized here. But from my own limited vantage point, each one made a positive difference.

After I raised the question of declassifying US records regarding Indonesia in the 1960s (at a June 2016 meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board), Sheryl Shenberger approached me to ask for more information, which I provided. It turned that this task was ideal for the National Declassification Center, especially since it involved a set of records that were both historically important and relatively limited in volume. She saw to it that the collection was declassified and released last year.

Stephen Randolph helped advocate for the release of the long-suppressed Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume on the 1953 coup in Iran, which was finally published last year. Under his leadership, the Historian’s Office was strengthened, productivity was increased, and FRUS began to be published within its mandated 30-year deadline for the first time in decades.

David Sherman helped foster internal and external discussion of changes to government secrecy policy. And when I pointed out that a “finding aid” to historical NSA records at the National Archives was unhelpfully classified, he conceded that was a mistake and expedited its declassification.

Joseph Lambert (who retired early last year) had the difficult task of defending CIA classification policies. But he was always willing to discuss the subject, to acknowledge errors and to correct them.

In fact, the accessibility of these officials — their willingness to engage with members of the public — was perhaps their single most admirable feature. For my part, I think each of them helped me to see problems of disclosure from a government perspective, to understand what might be feasible and what was not, and to formulate proposals for change that could be acted upon by their respective bureaucracies.