After a Six Year Declassification Review, A New FRUS Volume

05.05.10 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The latest volume of the official “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) series was published by the State Department yesterday on the topic of Korea, 1969-1972.  It covers U.S. relations with the Republic of Korea as well as disputes with North Korea during the Nixon Administration.

Remarkably, declassification of the 489-page FRUS volume (pdf) took no less than six years.

“The declassification review of this volume, which began in 2003 and was completed in 2009, resulted in the decision to withhold 1 document in full, excise a paragraph or more in 5 documents, and make minor excisions of less than a paragraph in 17 documents,” according to the Preface of the new volume.  Another FRUS volume on Japan during the same period also entered declassification review in 2003, but has still not emerged into the light of day.

This is no way to run a history program, historians and archivists agree.  But without profound changes in declassification procedures the current backlog of records awaiting declassification is going to grow, not shrink, said Michael J. Kurtz of the National Archives.  The Archives typically processes 11 million pages per year for declassification, Mr. Kurtz told the Public Interest Declassification Board on April 22, but it takes possession of an additional 15 million pages of classified records each year, for a net increase in classified historical files.

In December 2009, President Obama ordered that the backlog of more than 400 million pages of 25 year old classified records must be declassified and made publicly available by the end of December 2013.  Meeting that deadline will require the new National Declassification Center to increase the current declassification capacity tenfold to 100 million pages per year, Mr. Kurtz said.  To achieve this ambitious goal, the Archives is subjecting its declassification practices to a “business process reengineering” review that is supposed to eliminate repetitious, wasteful or counterproductive declassification activities and improve productivity.