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Report of the Advisory Committee
on Historical Diplomatic Documentation
to the United States Department of State

Warren F. Kimball, Chairman
American Historical Association

Benton Vincent Davis, Jr.
American Political Science Association

Michael J. Hogan
Organization of American Historians

Melvyn P. Leffler
At-large member

Jane M. Picker
American Society of International Law

Michael E. Schaller
At-large member

Robert D. Schulzinger
At-large member

Nancy Bernkopf-Tucker
Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations

Anne H. Van Camp
Society of American Archivists

26 June 1997

Hon. Madeleine K. Albright
Secretary of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Albright:

This is the report of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation (Historical Advisory Committee) for the twelve month period 01 October 1995 through 30 September 1996, submitted in accordance with the requirements of Public Law 102-138 of 28 October 1991 (22 USC 4351).

The report surveys the work of the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) and presents our assessment of the current status of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the world's most prestigious ongoing collection of government documents, one that has set the standard for others to emulate. The HAC also oversees the State Department's program for making its historical record available to the public as required by PL 102-138 and Executive Order 12958 (Information Security).

For the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC), the key issue is the degree to which the complete historical record of United States foreign policy and diplomacy has been opened to the American public. The Committee recognizes the need to balance openness with national security, the safety of individuals, and the conduct of current foreign policy. At the same time, the HAC subscribes fully to the Jeffersonian precept that wise decisions require knowledge, and that confidence in government is a byproduct of reasonable honesty and openness. In the post-Cold War world, the Historical Advisory Committee, and the American public, are unconvinced by arguments from some agencies that secrecy for 30-year old information takes precedence over the value for the democracy of openness-- not to mention the cost benefits of declassification that were outlined recently in the Moynihan Commission report.

The Department of State has set a standard for systematic declassification review of the archival record that is, so far, the best in government. The Department approached the Executive Order with a "can do" attitude and, whatever differences this committee may have with the Department on declassification standards, it appears that it has made a good-faith and largely successful effort to meet the E.O. requirements. The State Department's review effort has demonstrated to us (and to the Department) that "bulk" declassification based upon an assessment of the risks involved can result in the speedy review and declassification of huge amounts of information without significant risk. We know that the State Department is happy to share its experience with other government agencies.

With regard to the publication of the Foreign Relations series, the HAC remains concerned about a continued failure to adhere to the statutory requirement that the volumes be published thirty years after events. Personnel shortages in the Historical Office that have persisted over the past two years have contributed to the delay, although those shortages have been addressed by the Department and should be alleviated shortly.

But the primary cause of delay is the dilemma of meeting the thirty year publication mark while insuring that the volumes present a full, accurate, and comprehensive account of the nation's foreign policy and diplomacy. All too frequently, the Historical Advisory Committee and the H.O. are faced with choosing between that thirty year deadline and insisting on the accuracy and comprehensiveness required by the law. Occasionally this is the result of declassification decisions in the Department that seems presentist and overly sensitive to the chance that publication of thirty year old documents might seriously damage current foreign relations. We believe it would be most helpful if the Department leadership emphasized to desk officers and declassifiers that the balancing test between those issues and disclosure is heavily weighted toward openness for information that is twenty-five to thirty years old and older.

But the problems posed by that sort of presentism are dwarfed by the barriers to opening the historical record which, to date, must be laid at the doorstep of the intelligence community, primarily the Central Intelligence Agency. The Historical Advisory Committee was created as a direct result of the embarrassment that resulted from publication in the late 1980s of a volume of FRUS that ignored the use by the U.S. government of covert activities to influence U.S.-Iranian relations in the mid-1950s, despite widespread evidence (including memoirs by British and U.S. intelligence agents) to the contrary. Documenting covert activities used to implement U.S. foreign policy remains problematical for the FRUS series. The CIA has, for four years, acknowledged conducting at least eleven covert activities during the Cold War, but (as of the closing date of this report) has declassified enough information to delineate our foreign policy in only one case-- British Guiana. As a result, a number of volumes of FRUS are delayed awaiting the outcome of repeated declassification appeals. The HAC does not advocate revealing secrets that would jeopardize national security or the safety of individual. But we are firmly convinced that the basic outlines of our thirty-year old foreign policy and how we chose to implement is can be told to the American public without fear of hurting living people or damaging current policy.a

We also fear that the slowness in developing effective and proactive cooperation between State Department historians and the CIA History Staff as well as the uncertainties of widely divergent research approaches of State historians to intelligence issues, has resulted and will continue to result in incomplete compilations (prior to any declassification requests). That means the FRUS series is not meeting the standards of completeness set down by the law. The HAC is closely monitoring this problem and will confront it directly during 1997. While the HAC has been assured in recent months (since the formal end-date of this report) that these problems are being addressed by the CIA and the Historical Office, we cannot feel confident that effective, proactive CIA engagement with State historians on FRUS volumes is anywhere near at hand. The result is that a number of FRUS compilations now stand in never-never land, and the HAC is forced to contemplate recommending against publication because the thirty-year old historical record is or will fall grossly short of a complete record including the relevant intelligence involvement.

The HAC has to date evaded the issue of incomplete and inaccurate compilations, whatever the reasons for incomplete documentation, by insisting on Prefaces stating that the volume in question constitutes an inaccurate and incomplete record. But the HAC is increasingly disinclined to resort to that sort of compromise when the Committee knows that the documentary record is or is likely to be available in government archives. That is particularly true for the many covert activities that have been revealed in various official (e.g. Congressional hearings) and semi-official (memoirs by CIA agents) sources. Such a compromise is especially ludicrous with regard to the specific covert activities now acknowledged by the CIA. The same is true for general policies previously revealed in other volumes of FRUS, as in the case of attempts to influence elections to prevent establishment of an anti-American and/or pro-Soviet government-- something the United States has acknowledged doing in British Guiana-- while refusing to declassify similar actions elsewhere during the same time period.b For the editors of the FRUS series to pretend such actions and/or policies did not happen makes the volumes and the Department of State the target of ridicule and scorn.

FRUS publication delays early in 1995 were also caused by a serious backlog in responses from the CIA to Historical Office requests for declassification review of documents needed for the series. That bottleneck was broken following timely and effective support from the State Department leadership in response to a request from the Historical Advisory Committee. It now appears that the CIA and the State Department have established procedures that provide for a more expeditious review of FRUS declassification requests, although that does not address the more critical problem of declassification standards.

Continued random sampling of the Department's declassification review effort in the archives continues to raise some concerns brought up in our previous reports. Agencies, particularly the CIA, with equities in documents in State Department files have failed to implement a declassification review program for such materials, whatever the promises, greatly slowing the work of State Department reviewers and denying the public access to historical documents that could easily be opened. This also significantly increases costs to the State Department. Repeating our recommendation of last year, the Committee urges the Department leadership to do all it can to insure that other agencies cooperate fully with the Department's declassification review efforts-- cooperation mandated by the spirit and letter of the new Executive order on Information Security.

In our last report, the Historical Advisory Committee made a number of recommendations aimed at increasing the use of State Department declassification guidelines by qualified personnel with the National Archives, especially at the Presidential Libraries. The Committee is encouraged by the steps taken by the Department to implement a number of our recommendations. This will speed up the review process, cut costs, and help the public gain fuller access to the historical record. The Committee will continue to review those guidelines to insure that unnecessarily restrictive declassification standards are not established and that National Archives/ Presidential Libraries personnel make effective use of those guidelines.

Research on the volumes for the Nixon years has begun, and the Committee is cautiously optimistic about access for State Department historians to the Nixon Project materials. No serious problems have arisen to date, but we will monitor that process carefully to insure that Historical Office compilers gain the access required by law without having to weave their way through unnecessary bureaucratic mazes.

The Historical Advisory Committee remains concerned about implementation of Executive Order 12958. We were consulted extensively by the Department about the drafting and the implementation of that Executive Order, and remain convinced that appointment of the Information Security Policy Advisory Council is crucial to the successful carrying out of the E.O. We are apprehensive at the number of "file exemptions" requested (though not acted upon) from the declassification review requirements. Even more troubling are rumors that most agencies with intelligence materials in their files may ask for an extension beyond the year 2000-- the date when all un-reviewed records would automatically become declassified. A happy exception is the Department of State, which has indicated that it expects to meet the year 2000 declassification review deadline.

The Committee is pleased to report that the matter of management of the Department's electronic records is being addressed by the Department. We look forward to receiving regular reports on progress. Similarly, the Department has taken appropriate steps to insure the preservation and proper management of the historically important files of the Legal Advisor's Office.

The support given the Historical Advisory Committee by its Executive Secretary remains responsive and effective. We are particularly gratified by the strong and honest support of the Bureau of Public Affairs. The Department leadership has given us a hearing whenever we requested, has given our recommendations fair consideration, and has provided candid explanations for decisions. The respect with which the Historical Advisory Committee has been treated makes our relationship with the Department a productive one, however much we may disagree.

a. Subsequent to the end of this reporting period, CIA officials admitted to the HAC and the media that it had destroyed some records of covert activities undertaken in the 1950s and 1960s. However routine such destruction may have been, it seems to have been random and not systematic. State Department historians, often with the assistance of CIA historians, have managed to find significant if incomplete records for such covert actions. But declassification continues to pose very serious problems for the FRUS series.

b. Subsequent to the end-date of this report, the CIA released a small portion of documentation related to covert activities in Guatemala in the late 1950s. Additional releases may occur. Nevertheless, the HAC continues to recommend that those covert operations be part of the "retrospective" FRUS volume being compiled containing documents on significant covert activities and intelligence materials that were not available when certain FRUS volumes were published.

Copy to:
Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate
Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives
American Historical Association
American Political Science Association
American Society of International Law
Organization of American Historians
Society of American Archivists
Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations
Hon. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, USS
Director of Central Intelligence
Archivist of the United States
Page Putnam Miller

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