Interagency Working Group (IWG)

Meeting Minutes: 02/28/00

February 28, 2000 10am - 4pm; National Archives Building I, Room 105 and 18W


National Archives and Records Administration
Michael Kurtz (Chair)

Public Members
Thomas Baer
Richard Ben-Veniste
Elizabeth Holtzman

Office of the Secretary of Defense
Harold Kwalwasser

Federal Bureau of Investigation
John Collingwood

Central Intelligency Agency
Kenneth J. Levit

National Security Council
William Leary

U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
David Marwell

Department of Justice/Office of Special Investigations
Elizabeth Barry-White for Eli Rosenbaum

Department of State
William Slany

Historical Advisory Panel
Gerhard Weinberg
Rebecca Boehling
James Critchfield
Christopher Simpson
Robert Wolfe
Ronald Zweig

Dr. Kurtz convened the meeting and introduced Gerhard Weinberg, chair of the Historical Advisory Panel. Dr. Weinberg presented the basic concerns and issues that had been raised at the initial meeting of the Historical Advisory Panel (HAP). There were five issues that the HAP felt needed to be brought to the attention of the IWG at this stage. The first and primary issue was integrity of the file. It would be a disaster to create an artificial collection as context is absolutely important for historical research. This includes provenance was of major concern to the members of the HAP. While agencies may not be able to examine and declassify whole series of records, if a document is found in a certain file, that file should be looked at to provide context and should with all effort be reviewed and declassified with the identified document. Historical research is greatly impaired by releasing a snipet here and there. A second issue is preservation of the originals. Given the poor quality of some of the original documents from the 1940s and 1950s, it is quite necessary for the IWG to concern itself with the long-term issue of preservation. Attention needs to be paid to making these documents available not just at the present, but 50 years or 100 years down the road. The physical quality of the paper, microfilm, xerox is poor in the first place, let alone with a lot of use by researchers. The IWG needs to be sensitive to this issue. The third area discussed by the HAP was the issue of exemption from declassification. The IWG will need to look at a differentiated way, the exemption of sources and methods. This category is very important in the first instance of classification, when it was originally classified and used. What is of concern to the HAP is that the blanket use of this category giving the same level of concern in the year 2000 to these espionage products from the 1940s and 1950s. The immediate classification need is gone, with exceptions. The fact of the matter is that those using codes from the 1940s and 1950s are intending for their messages to be read. In relation to this issue, if the IWG wants, it can task the HAP to draft criteria for engaging this issue of the blanket use of the sources and methods exemption. Related to this issue of exemptions is the complicated issue of Foreign Government Information (FGI). This is a complicated issue, and the HAP will defer any recommendations. The fourth category of issues discussed by the HAP was resources for the IWG. As the mandate for the IWG ends some agencies that are now working on the assigned tasks under PL105-246 and the Berger Tasker are going to tell the IWG that they cannot get the job done with the amount of time and resources available to them. The IWG might need to discuss with Congress how the purposes of the legislation are to be accomplished even after the mandate of the IWG has run its course. The last issue discussed by the HAP was its relationship to the historical consultants hired by the IWG, Professors Naftali and Breitman. The HAP will work in coordination with them on research strategies and also be a resource for the historical consultants. With that summary, a general discussion on these issues was opened.

Dr. Kurtz stated the concern that NARA has had from the inception of this project has been the possibility of getting bits and pieces of files and not whole series or files. In the implementing directive sent out to the agencies emphasized the need to transfer, to the greatest extend possible, file series or folders is very important for context. Mr. Leary added that there will be at times practical limits vis-à-vis archival integrity, especially in the example of the documents transferred from the NSC. There will be a wide-ranging effort, but this important principle of context must be kept in mind. Dr. Weinberg stated that the concern of the HAP was context. Agencies are required to find and review and declassify these documents under PL105-246, while they are at it, it might serve them well to do the whole file instead of piecemeal documents. The practical outcome of piecemeal declassification is to create a flood of FOIAs and Mandatory Reviews as researchers try to get at the context, thus creating more working down the line for the agencies. Mr. Ben-Veniste suggested that NARA and the HAP delegate a representative to each agency to discuss this issue without unduly delaying the release of materials. Dr. Kurtz agreed and proposed the HAP and IWG Staff discuss with agencies and report to the IWG on this issue. Dr. Slany added that in the State departments working on FRUS (Foreign Relations of the United States) it has tried to deal with this issue on a smaller scale with difficult obstacles. One of the outcomes may be for the IWG to leave a marker in the files for researchers in the future. Mr. Rosenbaum thanked the HAP for its input on these significant issues, adding that the IWG is fortunate that the members of the HAP are available to work with the IWG. Mr. Rosenbaum commented that the point on archival preservation is exceedingly important. If that is something the IWG wants to move on it needs to do it soon as the agencies have all ready begun copying. The IWG might communicate with the agencies to make them aware of archival preservation, possibly in a NSC tasker. He asked about security clearances for the HAP and the historical consultants. Dr. Kurtz answered that Dr. Weinberg and Mr. Breitman both have clearances. Mr. Ben-Veniste asked if the HAP could elaborate on their thinking about research strategies. Dr. Weinberg assured the IWG that the members of the HAP and the historical consultants will be in regular communication, looking at recommendations then after getting a sense from other historians and researchers, making recommendations concerning records that may have been overlooked or have newly come to light. In the discussion at the HAP meeting, two groups of records that were definitely candidates for examination were the records of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) and the Office of the Military Government in Germany - U.S. (OMGUS). Dr. Kurtz asked that any initial concerns for research strategies are made as soon as possible to Professors Breitman or Naftali. Mr. Rosenbaum asked that a complete contact list with e-mail addresses be made available for the HAP and IWG. Dr. Zweig commented in principle on declassification procedures. In order to implement the Act, the issue of declassification procedures must be met face on. His experience has been even though the U.S. historically as a society has prided itself on making access to information very available with FOIA, etc. new attitudes around the world have propelled other societies ahead of the U.S. in terms of openness. So much so that the U.S. sadly lags behind now, with even Britain and France being more open. Dr. Kurtz addressed the proposal on the table, which was should the IWG task the HAP to draft criteria for handling sources and methods exemption in the agencies. This might prove useful to the agencies. Ms Holtzman voiced concern for creating a standard where there isn't a problem all ready. Mr. Baer was concerned as well that this might be a tool for withholding material that they don't all ready have. As it stands now it is at the discretion of the agency head. Dr. Simpson then had several comments for the IWG. He was most pleased that the work of the IWG will fill in details of the Holocaust, but more importantly give light upon the relationship between Nazi criminals and the U.S. government. The IWG must see to it that agencies do not withhold to protect Nazi "sources". Overall, he was most pleased with the progress thus far made by the IWG. Mr. Rosenbaum added that the odds are for future problems will come up with agencies concerning withholding or redactions. Therefore, the HAP should continue to think about these issues and be prepared for specific instances of problems as they come up. Dr. Slany was persuaded on this issue that while guidelines may not be the avenue to explore, perhaps working and meeting with agency declassifiers to make them more aware of issues revolving around use of exemptions. Mr. Ben-Veniste agreed and elaborated that perhaps a statement of principle might serve the IWG best. Mr. Leary agreed because he did not want a lot of effort in parsing guidelines without concrete examples. Ms Holtzman was in agreement that there was a need for concrete examples not abstract guidance. Mr. Wolfe commented that so much of the time the reflex in the agencies is for such a conservative review and withholding. Dr. Kurtz summed up the consensus of the IWG to be for an educational venture with the agency reviewers. Also the IWG will work with agencies, particularly the intelligence agencies, to get them to look beyond individual documents to whole folders, files or file series if at all possible.

Dr. Kurtz then opened the floor to other members of the HAP to bring up issues or comments. Dr. Boehling commented that her concern was that agencies are usually not savvy to what historians are looking for in records, which makes the whole context issue rather important. Providing whole file series or files along with other related information would go a long way in helping. Mr. Rosenbaum asked if it was helpful to have contextual releases. Perhaps holding documents back to be released in context with other material. Dr. Zweig agreed that whole files should be released not individual documents out of context. Dr. Weinberg added that while there are many resources for historians and researchers to get context, for example FOIA or mandatory review, the agencies might as well use this process to be efficient and get the whole thing done at this time. Dr. Simpson asked about bulk declassification. Mr. Baer answered that in his opinion bulk declassification is the way to go, but a procedure for review and search strategies by the agencies must come first. He asked the HAP how the IWG could advance the idea of bulk declassification with the agencies. Dr. Weinberg thought that the IWG could remind the agencies of the public interest and attention on release, and ask the agencies if it was in their interest to release as much as possible to get the media, historians, and researcher communities off their collective backs. He commented that it had worked for him in the past to pester agencies so that they finally released the material to get "crazy" Weinberg out of their hair. Mr. Rosenbaum commented that the issue of bulk declassification constantly keeps coming up. He asked the Chair if a full and frank discussion on bulk declassification could be had by the IWG.

Mr. Critchfield shared his opinion that perhaps there need be a total re-examination of the system of declassification, a wholesale improvement. We could ask what has happened in the last 80 years and what has not been released that is of concern. Dr. Simpson added that Congress has made its decision for release of this material by the approval of PL105-246. There has to be a presumption of release concerning this material. Mr. Ben-Veniste said that he was under the impression that Mr. Kwalwasser would be bringing to the table in the afternoon meeting a decision from on top concerning bulk declassification. Ms Holtzman issued concern for creating an artificial hierarchy of value in search strategies, but after reading an article from the Wall Street Journal, perhaps the IWG and the agencies could identify categories of people, like Army interrogators or retired personnel who served during the post-war time period, to engage in this process. Mr. Wolfe added that perhaps interrogators and analysts from the time period could be sought, but time was marching on and those resources were getting scare with the as the years go by. Mr. Rosenbaum commented that he was familiar with organizations of retired people from this time period and perhaps the IWG could seek an outreach effort. Mr. Ben-Veniste asked what is the realistic expectation that these people could provide real leads in records. Mr. Baer added that the IWG should widely disseminate what it was doing in an outreach effort to historical journals and perhaps find veterans through that avenue. Dr. Weinberg suggested the outreach should be on the Internet as well, but to make these announcements focused on concrete issues, not in broad sweeping terms. Ms Holtzman asked if the IWG should have its own e-mail list or listserv. Dr. Kurtz said that the IWG Staff would develop this issue and get a draft to the members.

Session adjourned.

The afternoon meeting of the IWG was classified. An unclassified agenda is provided below.

Meeting Agenda

12PM - 1:30PM - Break for Lunch

1:30PM - 4PM, Room 18W

  1. Introduction of Giulliana Bullard, Public Affairs Specialist (5 minutes)
  2. CIA Progress Report - Ken Levit (30 minutes)
  3. Review Team Report - John Pereira (20 minutes)
  4. Historian Reports - Michael Kurtz (10 minutes)
  5. NARA Update - Michael Kurtz (10 minutes)
  6. Ft. Meade Status Report - Hal Kwalwasser, Michael Kurtz (10 minutes)
  7. Report on FGI - Bill Leary (15 minutes)
  8. Lists Subcommittee update - David Marwell (10 minutes)

Following were the consensus decisions of the IWG:

  1. Dr. Weinberg would review material to be withheld by CIA in this first round of review.
  2. CIA, working with the IWG Review Team and Dr. Weinberg, would be prepared at the next IWG meeting to present samples of categories of material to be withheld.
  3. Arrangements would be made for all IWG members to review material.
  4. IWG needed to meet as a group to make decisions on material.

The next IWG meeting was tentatively scheduled for March 28, 2000.

    Meetings Page