Publication Date

November 1, 1994

Editor's Note:The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series is the official documentary historical record of the U.S. government's foreign policy. The staff of the historian of the Department of Stale plans, researches, compiles, and edits the volumes in the series. A new statutory charter for the preparation of the FRUS series was established by Public Law 102-138, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which was signed by President Bush in October 1991. According to the statute, the series must provide comprehensive documentation of the major foreign policy decisions and actions of the United States government, including details about facts that contributed to policy formation and views that supported or differed from the policy positions that were, ultimately adopted.

The Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) is charged under the law with ensuring that the FRUS series is accurate and comprehensive. The HAC also works to ensure that FRUS volumes are published no later than thirty years after the events they describe, and it monitors, through random sampling, the declassification and transfer to the National Archives of all State Department historical records that are thirty years old or older. In addition, the HAC has a broad mandate to advise the Secretary of State regarding the historical record. The HAC, which met four times in 1993 and three times in the first six months of 1994, recently submitted a report on its activities for the period between January 1993 and June l994. The following is a detailed summary of the report.

Fewer Pages for FRUS Volume on Johnson Presidency

The HAC noted in its last report that the State Department's historical office decided to reduce the total number of pages on the Johnson presidency in the FRUS series by eliminating microfiche supplements. As a result, there will he fewer total (microfiche and printed) pages on the Johnson presidency than there are for either the Kennedy presidency or the last subseries on the Eisenhower presidency, which covers the years from 1958 through 1960.

To accommodate this reduction in total pages, the historical office has been revising its editorial format. It is applying tighter selection criteria to avoid repetition and is making greater use of bibliographical annotations to direct researchers to archival sources. Initial monitoring by the HAC indicates that the historical office is achieving an appropriate balance between quality and quantity. Nevertheless, the HAC remains concerned that the reduction in documentation could threaten the comprehensiveness of theFRUS series. Consequently, the HAC will continue to monitor the compilations on the Johnson presidency to determine the effect of current editorial policies.

Access to the Documentary Record

The quality and accuracy of the FRUS series depends upon full and unhindered access to the documentary record. The State Department and most other government agencies have general cooperated with the historical office in allowing access. The records of the State Department’s Intelligence and Research Bureau have been designated as official, and compilers from historical office may review them. The records will he transferred to the National Archives according to a recently established schedule. Similarly, the Department of Defense has regularized access to its records. The National Security Agency is now the only government entry that, has not complied with the provisions of the foreign relations series statute.

HAC Presses CIA for Access to Records

The HAC continues to press the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for access to documents about pre-1960 intelligence activities related to foreign policy; the historical office plans to compile a retrospective FRUS publication dealing with those activities. The advisory committee is particularly, but not exclusively, interested in records on Guatemala and Iran, since previous FRUS volumes did not sent a comprehensive and accurate picture of American policy to want those states. The HAC is concerned that the CIA’s own publishing program is drawing resources away from the support given the FRUS series while also failing to meet the series’ editorial standards.

Refusal to Declassify Thirty-Year-Old Documents Threatens to Distort Record or Foreign Policy during Kennedy Administration

The refusal of the State Department and other agencies, primarily the CIA, to declassify 30-year-old documents needed for the FRUS series remains the greatest barrier to meeting the requirement that the series be accurate and comprehensive. Even though compilers from the historical office may have access todocuments, they cannot publish them in the FRUS series until the documents are declassified. The advisor committee is preparing to contest declassification refusals by the State Department and the CIA that will, in the unanimous opinionof HAC members, seriously distort the record of American foreign policy with at least two nations during the Kennedy presidency. The HAC finds it particularly disturbing that the issues involved in the declassification refusals are ones that will reoccur on a regular basis for subsequent FRUS volumes committee hopes to avoid having to recommend that a FRUS volume not he published in order to prevent a distortion of the historical record. Such a recommendation remains, however, a distinct possibility unless the State Department and other agencies apply what the HAC considers to be the appropriate balancing test between the public’s right to know in a democracy and the demands of national security, which currently seems to be conceived of in an overly cautious, Cold War-inspired manner.

In the past, the advisory committee has shown respect for legitimate national security requirements. For instance, the HAC recommended publication of the FRUS volume on Japan and Korea for the years 1958-4) even though it warned the public that the exclusion of certain document from the volume prevented it from being a comprehensive and accurate record. The committee has concluded, however, that the current refusal to declassify documents stemsfrom fear of embarrassment rather than concern for national security. The HAC hopes that the current situation can be resolved without confrontation. It has proposed a number of compromises but has not received a positive response. The advisory committee believes that confrontations can be avoided if the State Department and other agencies would take to heart President Clinton’s statements regarding the public’s ”need to know” in a democracy.

Meeting the Thirty-Year-Mark for FRUS

The FRUS statute requires that FRUS volumes be published not more than 30 years after the events they record. Some FRUS volumes have, however, failed to meet the 30-year deadline. The major cause of delay is the declassification appeals process, which can take well over a year in spite of the response deadlines set by the FRUS statute. But even with such delays, most of which the HAC has found unnecessary, the HAC, with pleasure that the goal of publishing FRUS volumes within 30 years of the events they describe is almost within grasp.

Two developments have enhanced progress. First, the State Department estab1isbed an additional unit in the historical office to manage and hasten the declassification process. The unit appears to be working effectively. In one case, it identified a potential problem caused by delays at the CIA, and timely intervention by the advisory committee and the State Department prompted the CIA to accelerate its responses so that deadlines could be met.

Second, two additionalpositions have been created at the Johnson Library through the support of a subvention promoted by the HAC. One of the positions will enhance the processing of documents for theFRUS series; the other position will accelerate the recordings of President Johnson’s dictabelt recordings and transcripts, which are needed for the FRUS series.

Unfortunately, the progress achieved in reaching the 30-year goal for publication is materially threatened by the inability of the historical office to fill vacancies in its professional staff. State Department hiring limitations that do not permit the historical office to recruit persons with the necessary educational and professional credentials appear to be the cause. In addition, extensive delays in obtaining security clearances, a relic of the Cold War, is exacerbating the problem.

In general, the HAC believes that the historical office has made progress toward meeting the 30-year publication deadline, and it feels that short delays that enhance the completeness and quality of the published volumes are preferable to a mechanical adherence to schedule. (The HAC notes, however, that most of the delays the FRUS series endures are unnecessary.) Nevertheless, the committee remains extremely concerned about the cumulative effect of persistent personnel shortages in thehistorica1 office’s professional staff.

Declassification and Transfer to the National Archives of Thirty-Year-Old State Department Records

Under the October 1991 statute, the HAC monitors the progress of systematic declassification review of 30-year-old State Department documents and their transfer to the National Archives. Early in 1993, the committee warned the State Department that it ran the risk of not meeting the 30-year deadline. Continued pressure from the HAC led to interagency discussions and the creation of an interbureau working group. In June 1993, the State Department formally approved the "Action Plan for Opening the Department of State's Thirty-Year-Old and Older Records," and it communicated its approval to Congress.

Since then, significant progress has been made. A comprehensive description of departmental records has been compiled. And through the use of a new single-stage review process long recommended by the HAC, the 1963 Central Files, which include over one million pages, were reviewed in four months. This rapid procedure is now being used for other files. In addition, the State Department has drawn up declassification guidelines, and it has indicated its willingness to allow presidential libraries and the National Archives greater declassification authority.

Nevertheless, the HAC remains concerned that the State Department's action plan has not been fully or appropriately implemented. For example, the State Department Center for Declassification, which was created to accelerate the declassification process, has not been provided with adequate or suitable facilities. Similarly, the action plan's "risk assessment" component, which calls for assessing the potential risk entailed in declassifying large groups of files and then actually declassifying in bulk those files where the risk seems relatively low, has not been effectively implemented. Those in charge of declassification have been reluctant to adopt the risk assessment approach and have continued to use expensive page-by-page review procedures. In addition, special interageney declassification groups called for in the action plan have not been convened. Attempts by the State Department and the HAC to encourage the CIA to cooperate on such teams have met with bureaucratic delays and no concrete results. In its 1992 report, the committee advised that "a change in procedures, which may require a change in the culture that dominates the declassification review process, is the sine qua non for meeting the current legislative mandate,” The HAC believes that such is still the case.

Draft Executive Order on Information Security

The change in the culture of classification and declassification must go beyond the State Department if the public's right to know is to be protected. The president recognized the need for change when he issued a directive calling for review of current information security practices. He expressly stated that the end of the Cold War demands a reassessment of information security requirements.

The HAC, in its advisory role to the Secretary of State, spent a great deal of time during the period covered in this report analyzing the various drafts of a new executive orderprepared in response to the president’s directive. The committee offered a number of broad recommendations. For instance, it proposed that the Secretary of State support a 25-year target date for declassifying records and that specific and enforceable compliance safeguards and performance deadlines be established for the declassification and appeals processes. In addition, the committee recommended the establishment of a balancing test to weigh the public’s right to know in a democracy against the national security. It also proposed the creation of an effective public oversight committee with responsibility to report directly to the president.

State Department Policy on Publishing Treaties

In response to complaints about the elimination of various State Department publications related to treaties and international agreements, the HAC has begun to study the broad question of preserving and allowing access to the historic: record on such legal matters.

Electronic Records and Information Management

Preliminary reports from the HAC Subcommittee on Electronic Records and Information Management indicate that the State Department generally well ahead of most other large government agencies in addressing issues related to electronic records and information management. Nevertheless, the committee is becoming concerned about whether or not the official record being created and preserved adequately documents State Department activities. More specifically, the HAC fears that the current environment, which is extremely cautious and litigious, may adversely affect the type of information that is recorded and preserved. The committee supports the development of a State Department database that would be available to the public and include documents declassified under the Freedom of Information Act, or mandatory request actions. The committee also supports the eventual development of a similar database on a government-wide basis. The HAC will consider such matters more fully over its next reporting period.

The report on the HAC's activities for January 1993 through June 1994 was submitted by (Rutgers Univ. at Newark), chair of the HAC. Other committee members are Betty Glad (Univ. of South Carolina), George C. Herring (Univ. of Kentucky), Melvyn P. Leffler (Univ. of Virginia), Anna K. Nelson (American Univ.), Bradford Perkins (Univ. of Michigan), Jane Picker (Cleveland State Univ.), Emily Rosenberg (Macalester Coll.), and Anne Van Camp (Hoover Inst.).

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