Secrecy Threatens Historical Record, State Dept is Told

11.01.07 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Broad classification restrictions on the disclosure of historical intelligence information are making it difficult or impossible to accurately represent the record of U.S. foreign policy, an official advisory committee warned in a report (pdf) to the Secretary of State last summer.

By law, the Department of State is obliged to publish “a thorough, accurate and reliable documentary record” of United States foreign policy in its official Foreign Relations of the United States series.

But due to official secrecy, “the credibility of the series… remains in the balance,” according to the newly disclosed report of the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation.

For example, “The blanket denial by the CIA of the right to quote or cite from the President’s Daily Briefs of the Nixon years and beyond will make it difficult to give a full and accurate rendering of the effect of intelligence assessments on the foreign relations of the United States…. [T]he continued exemption of the President’s Daily Briefs may cause serious harm to the intellectual integrity of the Foreign Relations series.”

Similarly, the Committee complained, the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board “has not allowed the historians of the [Foreign Relations] series access to its records [which] need to become accessible to the staff of the [State Department] Office of the Historian and be made available for inclusion in appropriate volumes of Foreign Relations of the United States.”

In short, “Committee members believe that unless policies consistent with respect for the right of the American people to be fully informed about their government’s conduct of foreign policy are adopted and implemented by the Executive Branch, it may become impossible for The Historian [of the State Department] to carry out his duties or for the committee to carry out its Congressionally mandated obligations.”

See “Report of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, January 1-December 31, 2006,” transmitted to the Secretary of State on June 19, 2007.