Interagency Working Group (IWG)

Meeting Minutes: 10/18/99

October 18, 1999, 1:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m., National Archives Building, Room 105.
Public Meeting

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
Harold Kwalwasser

Federal Bureau of Investigation
John Collingwood

Central Intelligency Agency
David Holmes
Kenneth J. Levit

National Security Council
William Leary

U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
David Marwell

Department of Justice/Office of Special Investigations
Eli Rosenbaum

Department of State
William Slany

Dr. Kurtz convened the meeting with some introductory announcements. Mr. Baer and Ms. Holtzman were delayed in New York and arrived late, so the agenda was adjusted. Some of the meeting topics concerning the IWG budget were for IWG members only—the historian/specialist position, and the FGI subcommittee.

Dr. Kurtz then introduced Major General Robert Noonan, the commander of the US Army Intelligence and Security Command, to discuss the Army intelligence records at Fort Mead.  General Noonan began by discussing how the Army has responded to the IWG guidance for locating IRR records relevant to the NWCDA.  He explained that the IRR maintains, controls, and provides access to the Army’s intelligence records, but unfortunately has only thirty-eight personnel to work those files at Fort Mead.  He then outlined the Army’s progress so far stating that on October 8 the NWCDA was passed into law; the Army awaited guidance; and in February the IWG provided guidance for records pertinent to Nazi war crimes information to be passed on to NARA through DOJ.  He explained further that the IRR files are not categorized under headings such as “Nazis” or “Nazi War Criminals” or “Nazi Acts”, so the Army was awaiting guidance and direction on how to move on the NWCDA.  On March 7 the DOD General Counsel issued a memo stating that all DOD activities will comply with the NWCDA.  General Noonan then described the results of the Army’s initial searches of their records using names and terms from the list provided by DOJ.  The Army’s plan was to digitize the relevant IRR microfilm.  This would preserve and enhance the deteriorating microfilm images and simplify their search of the records.  They hoped to meet all of the requirements of the NWCDA by October 1, 2000.  General Noonan then took questions.

Dr. Kurtz asked how long the digitizing half of the project would take. The General responded that it would take until about August to digitize all of the microfilm and photographic files. Mr. Ben-Veniste then asked what kind of data entry would be used to identify the digital images as digitizing alone would not allow for comparing the 56,000 names from DOJ with the IRR records. Army explained that Boolean searches would allow them to do this through optical character recognition. Mr. Ben-Veniste followed up asking what Army proposed for the balance of the paper files. Army responded that these files will also be digitized, but they are unlikely to be relevant to the act. Army determined this based on estimates according to the age of the file and where it was created. They offered further explanation of how this works in response to follow-up questions. Mr. Ben-Veniste then turned to the issue of whether Army searches would identify records of incidents of US servicemen looting non-monetary gold from Holocaust victims. General Noonan said these will be found so long as they are in the IRR files. He could not speak for records kept elsewhere. Mr. Rosenbaum followed this up commenting that these records would likely to be with unclassified records kept at NARA. Army would also have to look at this issue further as the search develops. Dr. Slany then asked about how the IWG and the Presidential Committee might work together effectively. Mr. Ben-Veniste offered his support for this and also asked what kind of records Army kept relating to previous searches of material relevant to the NWCDA. He suggested that they review this material. Some closing concerns were raised about the quality of the digitization.

Dr. Kurtz next introduced Mr. Cunliffe to discuss RG 319, a record group for all the Army staffs, including intelligence, and its associated problems. Mr. Cunliffe stated that the Army has the largest body of records in need of review and are faced with limited resources. He also distributed a handout on RG 319. Mr. Cunliffe expressed the view that the Army should not get bogged down in declassifying individual records but should work to declassify entire series. Searches for individual names and terms from the name list should be terminated if they are non-productive, so Army should work on developing a search strategy to counter this.

Dr. Kurtz followed up with a few comments on how the Army records at NARA should be approached. He suggested that a high-level group from the Army and the Archives should meet to discuss how to proceed with declassifying Army records. He also suggested that a systematic review would be more fruitful for releasing documents than a page-by-page review. Mr. Kwalwasser responded that they should start by sampling record series to prioritize them for declassification, and only after this, should systematic versus page-by-page review be considered. Mr. Baer offered some suggestions on what series he thought should be sampled first. Ms. Holtzman, then, asked what a sample of records would be like. Mr. Kwalwasser responded that they cannot look at all 60 million pages, so they have to come up with some method for determining where to concentrate their resources. To get a sample of records, they would randomly pull some body of records from a possibly relevant series and see if this sample had any value. Ms. Holtzman continued to disagree with this suggestion asking why the CIA’s bulk declassification of captured Nazi war crimes files does not set a precedent for Army declassifying its immediate post-war interrogations of high-ranking German military officials. As a second point, she asked why the records called “Files Related to War Crimes from the Central Files of the Commanding General” are not obviously relevant and obviously declassifiable. Mr. Kwalwasser responded that they still have no basis for saying these are declassifiable without sampling it first. Mr. Baer also disagreed with the sampling suggestion saying that the Army had to show a specific reason for exempting any relevant records.

Mr. Ben-Veniste then had a question about the exclusion of countries other than Germany and Austria from the list of prioritized records given that there were Nazi sympathizers and collaborators all over Europe. Mr. Cunliffe responded that Germany and Austria were only used as examples. Mr. Kwalwasser added that the Army only served as a long term occupation force in Germany and Austria so relevant records were more likely to be found here than in records relating to other countries. He also reiterated that the suggestion of sampling is only meant as a pragmatic solution to the limited resources available for reviewing 60 million pages. Dr. Kurtz then closed the discussion and turned to the IWG budget.

Dr. Kurtz opened the discussion by reminding those present that the topics of the FGI subcommittee and the historian/specialist position are for members only. He then began to explain the budget handout which concerned both the previous and the forthcoming year. Mr. Rosenbaum clarified the availability of OSI funds available to use for IWG related expenses. Ms. Holtzman expressed her concern that there are no funds in the budget for providing a comprehensive search list to the agencies.

Dr. Kurtz next introduced the agenda item concerning name and term lists by explaining the handout distributed in the meeting packet. He then made the point that name lists are of limited use unless the agencies are dealing with name files. This is one reason he favors systematic review—systematic review opens things up. Mr. Marwell then discussed his view of the lists stating that there was no way the Holocaust Museum could certify that the lists were complete. He explained that the way to search for relevant records is to look at those parts of the agencies that would have been involved with topics related to war crimes. Ms. Holtzman stated that her point was not that the list needed certification, but that they had to know whether there were any gaping holes in their lists. Mr. Aly then emphasized that the wider point is that lists of subjects are generally less helpful for locating relevant files for agencies than lists of names were in the particular cases of the CIA and the FBI. He also suggested that the best way to proceed with Army is to look at the possibility of bulk declassification for relevant record series even if they turn out to have very little to do with Nazi war crimes. Mr. Rosenbaum stressed that the purpose of the lists was not to be comprehensive but to have the best possible lists available to the agencies that can search by names. Mr. Baer then asserted that the system of searching for relevant files according to a list of names and terms will not work. Dr. Kurtz concluded the discussion stating that at the next meeting a subcommittee would report on the lists’ utility, disutility, lacks, and gaps.

Dr. Kurtz then introduced the topic of the report to Congress and the release of records. He said that the IWG has received comments from Ms. Holtzman, Mr. Rosenbaum and Ms. White at OSI, and Dr. Ruffner at CIA. Dr. Kurtz stated that he believes all comments have been successfully integrated into the historical section of the report and that there are now two ways to proceed in bringing the content to a conclusion: either they can accept Dr. Kurtz’s word or all contributors can review the historical section again. It was determined that the section would again go out to the contributors for review. Once it is completed the report will be distributed to the various chairs of the committees, to the White House, there will be a press release, and it will be posted to the internet. Mr. Baer stated that the report should be made public in an effective way. Dr. Kurtz explained that he thought the press release should emphasize the positive results of the IWG so far including the release of 300,000 pages, much of which is substantive historical information. Mr. Baer added that the release should emphasize the revelations found in the declassified documents.

Dr. Kurtz then concluded the open section of the meeting and asked that all but the IWG members leave the room.

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