Secrecy Overwhelms U.S. Historical Record

04.20.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Department of State is not fulfilling its obligation to produce a “thorough, reliable, and accurate” account of U.S. foreign policy and there is no foreseeable likelihood that it will do so, an official historical advisory committee told the Secretary of State this month.

The Department’s “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) series is required to fully document the history of U.S. foreign policy no later than 30 years after the fact, but that’s not happening.

“No progress has been made toward bringing the [FRUS] series into compliance with the statutory requirement that volumes be published 30 years after the events they document,” said the new annual report of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation.  “Indeed, the 6 volumes published in 2010 did not even meet the target set by the [State Department Historian’s] Office in 2009.”

Among other obstacles, “the CIA’s resistance to declassifying documents that are already in the public domain presents a severe challenge,” the Committee said.

But CIA is not the only obstacle.  “The Departments of Defense, Energy, and Justice (including the FBI) have often been as [culpable] if not more culpable than the CIA for the delays.”

“The HAC [Historical Advisory Committee] is pessimistic about [the Historian’s Office’s] prospects for meeting its statutory obligations if its current performance continues,” the new annual report concluded.

“The current records management system does not ensure those records of historical significance are identified in such a way as to promote their timely review for declassification and public release,” wrote Adm. William Studeman, former Acting Director of Central Intelligence, in the blog of the Public Interest Declassification Board last week.  “There is a great danger that, unless changes are made, our nation will be unable to document these historical decisions for future generations,” he said.

Last week, the National Security Archive filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency seeking disclosure of an official CIA history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.  “The CIA is holding history hostage,” said the Archive’s Peter Kornbluh.