Remarks for "Declassification Diplomacy: the United States Declassification Project for Argentina"
Archivist's Reception Room, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
April 12, 2019
Good morning Attorney General Garavano, Ambassador de Roa, and Director Quinteros.
I am honored to host you today. I’d also like to thank John Dinkelman, John Demurs, Corin Stone, Karen Meyers, and Carlos Osorio for attending today’s ceremony.
My first duty is to welcome you to the National Archives – “my house” – as I like to say. The National Archives serves a crucial role as our Nation’s record-keeper. Our mission is to collect, protect, and preserve the permanently valuable records of all three branches of the United States Government. We take this responsibility seriously. Public access to government records strengthens democracy by allowing citizens to hold their government accountable, understand their history, and participate more effectively in their government.
When President Franklin Roosevelt, who signed the legislation creating the National Archives, articulated his vision and our mission during the dedication of his Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, he said:
“It seems to me that the dedication of a library is in itself an act of faith. To bring together the records of the past and house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. And it must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.” Creating their own future—our mission.
Today, the collection has over 15 billion sheets of paper, 44 million photographs, miles and miles of video and film, and more than 5 billion electronic records—the fastest growing record form. These records start with the Oaths of Allegiance signed by George Washington and his troops at Valley Forge and go all the way up to the Tweets that are being created in the White House as I speak.
Millions of visitors and researchers visit us each year to learn about our Nation’s history. The National Archives operates 44 facilities in 17 states, including 14 Presidential Libraries and Museums, two research facilities here in the Washington DC area, and 14 Regional Archives across the country.
I am honored to host this important event on behalf of the President, the United States Government, the 16 agencies that participated in this project, and the American people. To set the stage and emphasize its importance, I used my prerogative as Archivist to showcase two treasures from our vault.
Outside of this room, there are two treaties on display. In 1822, the United States was the third nation to recognize Argentina’s Declaration of Independence from Spain. While our two nations enjoyed good relations and started trading, it was not until July 10, 1853, that our two nations first formalized bilateral relations with a treaty to allow free navigation on the Parana and Uruguay Rivers. This treaty––focused solely on navigation rights––quickly led to agreement of a broader treaty.
This second treaty, the Treaty of Friendship, Navigation, and Commerce, was signed shortly thereafter on July 27, 1853, and expanded our relationship to include agreements to facilitate increased trade.
Please have a look at them after the ceremony.
I also invite all of you to visit “The Public Vaults” in our museum. The Treaty of Friendship, Navigation, and Commerce that the Argentine Confederation gave to the United States is now on display. This ornate version includes a skippet with the seal of the Argentine Confederation.
The U.S. Declassification Project for Argentina is both historic and significant. There have been other declassification projects in the past. But this one stands out for several reasons. First, the project spanned two Presidential administrations. President Barack Obama directed agencies to conduct this project after receiving a request from Argentine President Mauricio Macri. And after President Macri renewed his request early in this Administration, President Donald Trump directed that it continue.
The project is unparalleled for its scope and breadth. Sixteen Executive branch agencies participated, including Intelligence, Defense, and law enforcement agencies. Over 380 employees from these agencies spent almost 32,000 hours searching for and reviewing records on a word-for-word basis. The results of those reviews are impressive and reflect the President’s interest. Over 43,000 pages were––or are about to be publicly released. The declassification rate on these pages is 97% and aligns with the President’s instruction to release as much information as possible.
Finally, the process for organizing and completing this project is unique. I attribute its success to the inclusion of all stakeholders. They include the Executive branch agencies working with officials from the Argentine Embassy in Washington DC, the United States Embassy in Buenos Aires, and the Argentine Government. There was also dialogue and communication with Argentine civil society organizations, including two videoconferences; historians working closely from within and outside Government; and cooperation with Carlos Osorio from the National Security Archive.
I thank the National Archives staff who participated in this project: staff from the National Declassification Center, the Center for Legislative Archives, the Presidential Materials Division, the Office of Innovation, the Information Security Oversight Office and archivists from the Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush Presidential Libraries.
Our staff played a key role throughout this project. In August 2016, just two months after receiving the Presidential directive, the archivists in the Presidential Libraries quickly compiled and reviewed over 1,000 pages of Presidential documents. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered these documents to President Macri later that month on an official trip to Buenos Aires. In December 2016, as the Government of Argentina honored the life of former Assistant Secretary of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Patt Derian, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Noah Mamet delivered an additional 550 pages.
These pages remain significant as they include information from 25 President’s Daily Briefs from the Carter administration. “PDBs” as they are called, are among our nation’s most sensitive intelligence documents and are compiled expressly for the President.
Few others in Government get to read them.
The Carter Administration PDBs were not scheduled for review until the next decade. These declassified PDBs allow for important context and aid historians in understanding President Carter’s actions and policies regarding human rights violations in Argentina.
In April 2017, President Trump provided over 3,000 pages of newly declassified documents to President Macri. They included documents from the Carter Library identified by Department of State historians for inclusion in the South America volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States series, the official documentary and historical record of major United States foreign policy decisions and activities.
For this last tranche of records, the staff at National Declassification Center searched over 740 cubic feet of records and identified over 4,600 pages for inclusion. They included records created by the Air Force, Army, the Departments of Justice, Labor, and State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Joint Staff, the US Information Agency, and US Agency for International Development.
The National Declassification Center staff was supported by declassification professionals from several agencies. I’d like to thank the staff from the Air Force, the Army, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI, the Joint Staff, the Washington Headquarters Services at the Department of Defense, the Navy, the U.S. Southern Command, and the Departments of Justice and State for their work. This collaboration illustrates how the National Declassification Center brings together people and processes within the Executive branch declassification community to advance declassification and public access to historical records.
There are distinguished retired Diplomats here today – like Tex Harris and Fred Rondon who helped save lives while working at the Department of State.
Mario del Carril is here representing his wife, Isabel Mignone. Her sister was arrested and disappeared in 1976. Her mother Angelica was one of the founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and her father, Emilio, championed human rights and accountability, including testifying in trials. Azul Hidalgo Sola is also here. Her grandfather, Ambassador Hector Hildalgo Sola was kidnapped and disappeared in July 1977.
The records of Tex Harris and Fred Rondon are here at the National Archives. The records about Monica Mignone and the work of her parents for justice are here just as records relating to the disappearance of Azul’s grandfather are here. They help tell the story of this period in Argentine history – and in our history.
On your way into this building this morning you passed by two statues. One statue included the words, “Study the Past.” Using archival records, this project was designed to:
- Help families and victims find closure, peace and justice
- Ensure accountability and aid judicial processes
- Aid Argentine citizens understand its history
The other statue included the words “The Past is Prologue.” The declassification of these records greatly aids the national history so we can learn from it.
The lessons from these records––and from survivors and those who seek truth and justice for the people of Argentina – are meaningful and offer hope for the future.