Fixing Foreign Relations Series

The 1992 HAC Report

Warren F. Kimball | Sep 1, 1993

The most crucial aspect of the work of the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) during 1992 has been meeting the serious responsibilities levied on it by the "Foreign Relations Series" legislation. Our efforts have fallen into three broad categories: First, ensuring that the Foreign Relations of the United States series constitutes, in the words of the statute, "a thorough, accurate, and reliable ... comprehensive documentation of the major foreign policy decisions and actions of the United States Government"; second, ensuring that the Foreign Relations series is published no later than thirty years after the events; and third, monitoring the declassification and transfer to the National Archives of all State Department historical records thirty years old or older.

I. Quality of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series

Ensuring the quality of the Foreign Relations series is an ongoing process. However, a committee of nine persons cannot hope to review, page by page, the work putout by the full-time staff of the Historical Office (HO). What the HAC can and does do is to ensure the integrity of the process by which the HO compiles and publishes the Foreign Relations volumes. It does this by reviewing compilations on request of the HO, making its own selections of compilations to review, evaluating the editorial assumptions and guidelines set by the HO for the Foreign Relations series, and examining samples of records not selected by the HO for inclusion in the Foreign Relations series so as to ensure that those volumes accurately represent the foreign policymaking process.

Review of Foreign Relations series compilations: The HAC, with the full cooperation and guidance of the historian and the HO staff, has reviewed five prepublication compilations of Foreign Relations volumes in the past year and is satisfied that the HO selections and editing meet the canons of good scholarship as well as the requirements of the "Foreign Relations Series" law. The HAC made specific recommendations regarding certain volumes brought to its attention by the HO. In one case, when HAC recommendations to declassify certain documents were not accepted, we recommended publication of the volume with a statement in the preface that explained the circumstances. In order to clarify the role of the HAC to the users of Foreign Relations we have developed a series of different statements for the prefaces which explain the roleplayed by the HAC in the production of that volume. In addition, substantive prefatory remarks written by the HO editors now contain a candid and informative assessment of the research and declassification process as it affected that individual volume. The HAC did not review documents not selected by the HO for inclusion in Foreign Relations but will exercise that responsibility early in 1993.

HAC access to classified documents: The review process has included requesting and gaining access to State Department and Central intelligence Agency (CIA) documents that the HO wished to include but which were denied declassification. In the process, the HAC has recommended re-review of a number of documents. The State Department and certain outside agencies, including the CIA, were responsive to those requests and, in some cases, additional documents were declassified for publication in the Foreign Relations series. We anticipate making similar requests for access and re-review to other agencies in the future, and look forward to the negotiation of agreements between the HO and other agencies—the National Security Agency and the Departments of Defense, Treasury, Energy, and Justice—Which have not met the legal requirement for agreed procedures for HO and HAC access to classified material requested for the Foreign Relations series.

Johnson presidency volumes: The HAC has also studied the HO plan for compiling the Foreign Relations volumes dealing with the years of Lyndon Johnson's presidency. Those plans call for a reduction in the number of pages covering the events for each year, but aim at balancing that by providing more guidance concerning the location and nature of archival materials on specific issues. Committee members expressed some concern about the new editing policies, but, at present the HAC recommends following that plan, although we will closely monitor production of the initial compilations to ensure that they meet the criteria set forth in the "Foreign Relations series" statute. In addition to our concern about the effect of these new editorial procedures, we are uncertain about the adequacy of resources currently projected for compiling and editing those Johnson presidency volumes. Again, we will have to monitor progress to learn if that uncertainty is warranted.

Remedying previous omissions in the Foreign Relations series: The HAC has also recommended that documents withheld from certain volumes of Foreign Relations already published be re-reviewed for possible declassification and public access, so that the public record of United States foreign policy for those years will also meet the criteria of the current law. We recommended expediting re-review for documents related to U.S. policy regarding Guatemala and Iran, 1952-54, since the withholding of that material from the printed volumes created such public concern three years ago. The CIA has informed us that it is now collecting and re-reviewing supplementary documentation for both Iran and Guatemala (1952-54). Once the HO has examined that package of documentation, the committee will recommend how best to make that material available to the public.

New CIA declassification policies: The completeness of the Foreign Relations volumes currently being compiled is likely to be greatly enhanced by new CIA policies regarding declassification review and release of its thirty-year-old historical documentation. Those new policies are contained in a recent change to CIA regulations, which calls for "a presumption in favor of disclosure" in such matters. Discussions between CIA officials and members of the HAC, including HAC requests for re-review of documents in two Foreign Relations volumes, indicate that this program is being implemented and that it may result in the inclusion of a significantly larger number of CIA documents in future volumes.

Electronic records and the Foreign Relations series: Looming over all these pressing problems is our sense of foreboding about the long-term nature of the Foreign Relations series as we move into the age of electronic documents and document storage-issues that fall under the responsibility of bureaus other than Public Affairs. The HAC has had discussions with appropriate State Department records managers, and been promised more detailed reports in 1993, but we are not yet comfortable that we have sufficient information about this growing problem The HAC will continue to investigate this matter and hopes to make concrete recommendations in the near future. At the very least, one can anticipate the HAC recommending that the department undertake an early study of the implications of the new technology for the Foreign Relations series as well as for the preservation in the National Archives of the department's historical record.

II. Publication of the Foreign Relations Series within Thirty Years

Implementation schedule: The Historian's Office has developed a schedule, with milestones, for meeting the legislative mandate to publish Foreign Relations volumes within thirty years after the events. The department provided leadership and assured resource support for meeting that thirty year deadline by 1996, and the HAC concludes that the department's commitment to meet the provisions of the law is clear and unequivocal. In the first year under the accelerated schedule, HO and the department met its optimistic goals and published twelve volumes and microfiche supplements. In this regard, we wish to note the positive efforts of the Bureau of Public Affairs, particularly the historian, Dr. William Slany, and his staff.

Impact of that schedule: The HAC has concerns about the compromises that are part of the plan for the volumes dealing with the Johnson presidency, but decided not to make any recommendations until it has the opportunity to assess the effect of those new editorial policies on the Foreign Relations series compilations.

Monitoring the schedule: The HAC, working with the HO, has developed a production schedule (generally known as the "Perkins chart" after its most vigorous proponent) that allows the HAC to monitor the progress of each volume of the Foreign Relations series as it proceeds through compilation and declassification review. Arrangements have been made for the most important parts of this chart to be made readily available to the public.

Implementation of HAC recommendations: Two requests and recommendations, regarding the Foreign Relations schedule and its impact, made by the HAC during 1992 were implemented expeditiously by the department, CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC). One was providing additional funds to the Johnson Presidential Library to help minimize the impact of HO compilation work at that library on public research; the other was a CIA/NSC agreement to eliminate prescreening requirements that had delayed compilation of Foreign Relations volumes by the HO.

Delays in declassification reviews by other agencies or governments: In order to eliminate unnecessary and costly bureaucratic duplication and delays, the HAC recommends the transfer of declassification coordination authority and resources from the Historical Documents Review Division (HDR) to HO.

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

Statutory requirements: The "Foreign Relations Series" statute requires that all thirty-year old classified State Department records be transferred to the National Archives and reviewed for declassification. This process shall be completed by November I, 1992, or delayed until November I, 1993, providing a description is given to the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees of "how the Department of State intends to meet the requirements" of the statute.

Current status: The responsibility within the State Department for declassification review and transfer of records to the National Archives lies with the Bureau of Administration, particularly the HDR, not the Historical Office in the Bureau of Public Affairs. The Secretary delegated accountability for these matters to the Under Secretary for Management The HAC has been informed by HDR and National Archives representatives that they estimate that the implementation of the statutory requirement cannot be achieved until the year 2010! That prompted the HAC to send a letter on November 25, 1992, to the Secretary of State that said, in part:" ...we are dismayed at the thought of the State Department being seventeen years behind the legally mandated declassification review requirement. Equally alarming is the implication that this situation will deteriorate rather than improve, especially after the department's May 1992 report to Congress promised a good faith effort to comply. We are not convinced that this lengthy delay is wholly or even largely a matter of resources. We have recommended, formally and informally, that existing declassification review procedures—from personnel to the mechanics of the actual review process—be fully reexamined, particularly in the light of the new international situation that exists with the end of the Cold War. Instead, we find the assumptions underlying the declassification review process to be unchanged. It is, apparently, business as usual."

The HAC then made the following recommendations:

1. that the department reaffirm its commitment to open its thirty-year-old records to the public as required by law;

2. that the department and the National Archives convene a high-level meeting early in 1993, to which HAC members would be invited, to determine cooperative measures to achieve the thirty year opening requirement; and

3. that the department, by March 15, 1993, send Congress a comprehensive report, to which the Historical Advisory Committee will give all assistance, if asked, outlining specific actions and milestone dates by which the department can achieve this mandated goal of opening state records.

Discussion: Even with the good intentions and efforts of a number of State Department officials, including the Bureau of Public Affairs and the HO, the Historical Advisory Committee has not been given the opportunity to advise the Secretary of State in a timely fashion regarding declassification procedures and goals, despite our repeated requests. Reports regarding this matter are drafted outside the Bureau of Public Affairs, usually in the Bureau of Administration. The report on department plans to open its thirty-year old records to the public, required by section 404 (e) of the "Foreign Relations Series" statute, went to Congress without seeking the advice of the HAC, despite the recommendation in our annual report for 1991. Nor have we yet been formally asked for advice about the report by department records managers and declassifiers required by section 407(c)(l)of that law—the report explaining why the department requested a one-year delay (to October 1993) in meeting the thirty-year mark for opening records to the American public. To date, there is still no formal State Department schedule for meeting that goal. The one time our advice was sought in these matters—specifically the negotiation of a new memorandum of agreement between the department and the National Archives-it took intervention by a senior official in the Bureau of Public Affairs, who refused to sign off on the memo until such consultations took place. The HAC then responded within forty-eight hours.

The HAC believes that a "we" versus "they" attitude persists in certain areas of the department over the issue of declassification of the historical record. A crucial part of the image we must have in order to serve as an example of democracy is that of the United States as an open society of laws where the government is responsible to the people for its actions. The HAC understands the legitimate need for secrecy in our current foreign relations-to protect individuals, to protect privacy, and to protect ongoing diplomatic efforts. But historical documents that are at least thirty years old pose little or no threat to any of those categories. Extraordinarily sensitive documents relating to the Cuban Missile Crisis were released in 1992 by the CIA with no ill effects. In 1972, the British and American governments opened the bulk of their Second World War archives—without page-by-page declassification review and, therefore, at great cost savings to the taxpayer— again without harm to the national interest

Remedies: The HAC is pleased that the Department has provided additional resources to the National Archives to help meet current statutory requirements, but we strongly believe 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. Such procedural changes should start with an immediate and serious consideration of bulk declassification as well as the implementation of the recommendations made in our letter of November 25.

For the Committee:

Warren F. Kimball, Chair
Rutgers University

Committee Members: Betty Glad (Univ. of South Carolina), George Herring (Univ. of Kentucky), Anna K. Nelson (American Univ.), Bradford Perkins (Univ. of Michigan), Jane Picker (Cleveland State Univ.), Emily Rosenberg (Macalester College), Arnold Taylor (Howard Univ.). Anne Van Camp (Hoover Institution).


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