Interagency Working Group (IWG)

Meeting Minutes: 01/12/99

January 12, 1999, 2:00 - 4:30; National Archives Building I/Room 105

Member Participants:

National Archives and Records Administration
Michael Kurtz (Chair)

Public Members
Thomas Baer
Richard Ben-Veniste
Elizabeth Holtzman

Office of the Secretary of Defense
Stewart Aly

Central Intelligency Agency
David Holmes

U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
David Marwell

Department of Justice/Office of Special Investigations
Eli Rosenbaum

Department of State
William Slany

Federal Bureau of Investigation
John Collingwood

National Security Council
William Leary

Mr. Leary, representing the administration, convened the Interagency Working Group (IWG) and made opening remarks. He welcomed the distinguished members to the important job at hand. He introduced Chair Michael Kurtz.

Dr. Kurtz made introductory comments. Members introduced themselves, and addressed the business of the agenda. Initial "housekeeping" was also addressed covering security clearances for public members, travel authorization/reimbursement, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) provision of administrative support for the IWG. Mr. Rosenbaum addressed the issues of funding and reimbursement from money allocated to the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He will authorize reimbursement to NARA for some expenses of administrative support.

Dr. Kurtz stated that the records of the IWG are Federal records. The IWG, in conducting its meetings, will operate under Roberts Rules for voting purposes but will strive for consensus as the most effective approach to the business at hand.

Dr. Kurtz then opened the floor to issues and discussion of the agenda. Mr. Aly immediately pointed to the need for the IWG to consult the Department of Justice (DoJ) on legal issues; for instance, how Freedom of Information Act legal interpretation may relate to the statute. Mr. Rosenbaum was confident that DoJ could provide FOIA experts to help IWG. Mr. Baer then suggested that other agencies should be added to, or should consult with, the IWG. Several agencies were suggested by members, namely Treasury, DOE, NASA, War Refugee Board, and the Federal Reserve.

Several members raised the question of whether the meetings of the IWG are to be open to the public. The question as to whether the group was covered by the Government in the Sunshine Act was held in abeyance until more research could be done, and will be addressed at the next meeting. Several members suggested the idea of holding hearings/open meetings, possibly in conjunction with the Holocaust Assets Commission.

Mr. Rosenbaum raised the question of the approach to be taken in implementing the law and recommended as a starting point that OSI provide a list of names from their databases.

Building a name list of possible war criminals would be done incrementally, the first phase being a list of names of SS Officers, convicted war criminals, and other major Nazi figures. He suggested that the list could start with the 60,000 name SS Officer list from the Berlin Document Center. Ms Holtzman and Mr. Baer indicated that while a name search was important, broader topics such as policies, directives, and operations need to be addressed as well. Dr. Kurtz indicated that finding aides for such material are available at NARA.

Mr. Ben-Veniste stressed that he wanted more background information on the legislation in order for the IWG to carry out its mission properly, to which Ms Holtzman, who had been involved in the legislative process, gave some background and legislative history as to the intention of the statute and the intended role of the IWG. The legislation stemmed initially from the Kurt Waldheim case.

Dr. Slany suggested that the IWG look at the historical problems involved. He stressed that the IWG should facilitate declassification of documents and attempt to set them in the context of the larger body of Nazi war criminal records for historians/researchers to use. He stressed the need for an "historical prospectus" of how records were accumulated and used by agencies. Dr. Kurtz indicated that the finding aides for looted WWII assets at NARA could be very helpful to the IWG. Dr. Slany made the point that the Nazi Gold project proved that many declassified records haven't been looked at by researchers, and that the IWG needs to get a handle on the context of the classified records. Mr. Ben-Veniste agreed that context was important. He suggested that treatment of Nazi war criminal records themselves were very important, especially with respect to pre-FOIA disclosure procedures. He also stressed the need of the IWG to have the scope of the IWG's task well-defined from the very beginning.

The discussion then turned to how to define the scope of the IWG. Several members suggested that an initial presentation by NARA, other agencies, and historians would benefit the IWG in terms of historical perspective and context.

The topic of whether or not to approach the President for authority to override agency decisions was discussed by Mr. Baer. It was suggested by Mr. Ben-Veniste that review and persuasion to get a consensus for release from agencies might be better than authority. Mr. Leary indicated that, as far as defining the scope and the intention of Congress in this statute, the Congressional staffers that had drafted the legislation were available to provide a briefing on the matter.

Mr. Rosenbaum stressed the difficult work that lay ahead for the IWG, and that given the time limits imposed on the IWG, if a thorough name search is not completed, the Congress and the public might be very disappointed, and so asked that the name search list be started forthwith. Ms Holtzman wanted more information as to how just a name search can lead to other policy and operations documents. Dr. Marwell said that a name search could be an effective starting point and could lead to the discovery of policy and operations documents. At the Berlin Document Center such searches had led to "ratline" operations through a search of documents relating to a name search of Klaus Barbie. Mr. Leary suggested that the IWG go to the agencies for preliminary searches in a broadly-defined manner to get an idea of what they might come up with.

Mr. Baer indicated that the role/purpose of the public members was to question the IWG's and agencies' approach, so that they can testify to the diligence of the IWG in seeking records relating to Nazi war criminals. He also indicated a desire to consult with academics in the field. Mr. Ben-Veniste indicated that the IWG should possibly look to scholars to make use of existing scholarship. He suggested getting a list of historians and access professionals together. Mr. Rosenbaum noted another avenue to pursue in identifying records would be to look to retirees for their "institutional memories". Mr. Leary suggested a special role for the public members might be in heading up contact with the public, possibly in public meetings of the IWG. Mr. Leary asked for suggestions for the best approach to open meetings. He added that Public meetings in conjunction with the Holocaust Assets Commission might be worth exploring.

Returning to the issue of implementation, Ms Holtzman indicated a several-pronged approach might be best:

  1. Get started with the name list from OSI.
  2. Get idea of organization of files from agencies.
  3. Get NARA expert opinions on the records.
  4. Ask public historians for their advice.

Mr. Collingwood said that FBI records are organized mostly by names, with very few organized by operations. These files are filed by classification, therefore the parameters for searching need to be specific. The FBI only does page-by-page review. Speaking of CIA records, Mr. Holmes indicated that CIA has 2 categories of records, OSS and CIA, and that a cross-indexing system is in place for searches of CIA records. Mr. Ben-Veniste asked whether we have an idea of what exists, and whether we know what has happened in FOIA/access battles in the past. Mr. Holmes added that the CIA had made and is making major efforts for the Assassination Records Review Board searches and for declassification under EO 12958.

Ms Holtzman summarized 4 questions regarding the task ahead:

  1. What other agencies to consult?(DOE, Treasury, NSC)
  2. What is the Time Period covered?(1933-??)
  3. Who goes on the name list? Criteria?
  4. What historians/experts to consult for help?

Mr. Aly raised some DoD issues. There are many separate components (i.e., Army, Navy, AF, DIA, NSA, etc) to coordinate and dates are very important for searches in order to avoid going over the same files multiple times. The IWG in its guidance to agencies must be specific. He also raised the question of the scope of the legislation: what other countries are involved...Japan? Mr. Ben-Veniste argued for approaching Congress for clarification on the matter. Mr. Aly also asked who would be doing all of the work since the IWG had no money or staff. Mr. Ben-Veniste stated that the IWG should define the scope and promptly go back to Congress for any needed clarification and, perhaps, resources. Ms Holtzman was not optimistic about getting additional funding from Congress; she agreed that the IWG needs to define a specific and concrete scope before approaching Congress.

Another implementation issue discussed was how the agencies would do the work. Since much of the WWII material is at NARA and no longer at the agencies, Dr. Kurtz stated that it would be most efficient for the agencies do on-site review at NARA. Dr. Marwell asked if the specialists at NARA could offer their expertise on agency records. Dr. Kurtz indicated that it could be done.

Dr. Kurtz then turned the discussion to 2 crucial questions:

  1. Time period involved. 1933-??
  2. Countries involved. What governments/allies are covered in addition to Germany?

Mr. Leary submitted that the intent of the legislation is directed at "older" records. The consensus among the IWG members was that the legislation was directed at U.S. records.

Ms Holtzman addressed the question of whether Japanese war crimes were intended to be covered by the act, saying they were covered by the act. The subject of East German/Stasi records was broached by Mr. Ben-Veniste. Mr. Rosenbaum cautioned restraint in dealing with foreign governments.

Mr. Aly stressed that definition of terms would be critical. Dr. Kurtz continued by stating that the IWG was a 3-year body, and therefore a measured progress should be our goal, not necessarily the October 1999 report deadline. Mr. Ben-Veniste suggested that as far as the legislation goes, the IWG has no authority itself to declassify. Dr. Kurtz indicated that perhaps the best way to approach the task might be to form a sub-body, an Interagency Review Group, to facilitate dialogue between the agencies and the IWG. Mr. Leary stated that agencies should voluntarily cooperate, and the IWG can support decisions by consensus building among the agencies through contact of an IRG. Ms Holtzman saw nothing inconsistent between authority of agency heads and recommendations by the IWG. Mr. Aly raised the issue of requesting an appropriation for staff support from Congress. Mr. Baer agreed and would be more comfortable with an appropriation from Congress.

[Mr. Baer and Mr. Rosenbaum had to leave to attend to other business. Dr Elizabeth Barry-White sat in for Mr. Rosenbaum.]

Dr. Slany offered the idea of getting some helpful background lists from international conferences and foreign commissions that have been established. He also indicated that contact with the Executive Director of the Holocaust Assets Commission might be worthwhile.

Ms Holtzman remembered the testimony of a NARA official before Congress as to the existence of many classified documents still in the looted WWII assets collection at NARA, and she was also concerned about standards for review and how to get agencies to take a fresh look at this material. Dr. Kurtz answered that NARA was planning on going back through that collection for purposes of the IWG. Mr. Leary indicated that a systematic review of these records by the agencies along with pro-active involvement of the IWG would provide an impetus for a fresh look by the agencies. Mr. Collingwood noted the need to limit inconsistencies in guidance to agencies. Dr. Marwell shared his experience from the Assassination Records Review Board, in which the Board issued standards to each agency for specific classes of exemptions. It proved to be a very complicated approach.

In summing up, Dr. Kurtz stated that through the course of discussion a consensus of direction for the IWG would be to:

  • Define the scope of the IWG's task and draft a statement.
  • Draft a call to agencies for cooperation.
  • Develop a time line for 3-year life of IWG and set strategy for IWG for next 6-8 months
  • IWG regular meetings will be held every 2-3 weeks
  • IWG will reconvene at National Archives Building, Washington DC/Room 105 at 2pm on February 2, 1999.

Session adjourned.

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