Nation's Largest Single-Subject Declassification Effort Coming to a Close
Press Release · Wednesday, Mar 5, 2014
Eight Million Pages of New Material for Researchers on Nazi and Japanese War Crimes
Washington, DC…The Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group (IWG), the group tasked with locating, declassifying, and making publicly available U.S. records of Nazi and Japanese war crimes, concluded its work on March 31, 2007.
The IWG was formed under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998 and the Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act of 2000. Its membership consists of representatives of seven Executive Branch agencies and three Presidentially appointed public members: Thomas H. Baer, Richard Ben-Veniste, and Elizabeth Holtzman. The IWG was extended twice, most recently in March 2005, to complete the largest ever congressionally mandated single-subject declassification effort.
The group’s Final Report to Congress will be issued in mid-April. It will describe the history of the legislation that brought about the declassification effort; agencies’ implementation of the act; the declassification results; and recommendations for future declassification policies.
Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, statutory chair of the IWG, said, “The IWG was given a complicated and difficult task, and the members of the group completed it thoroughly and with much success. As a result more than 8 million pages were opened.”
He continued, “The IWG benefited during its seven years from the strong leadership of its past chairs, Steven Garfinkel and Michael Kurtz, and from the commitment of its agency representatives, who accomplished exhaustive searches for records in the midst of many competing priorities at their agencies. Without the active oversight of our supporters in Congress—Representative Carolyn Maloney, former Senator Mike DeWine, and Senator Dianne Feinstein—the effort would have ended long before completion. I extend my thanks to them and to the IWG public members, who never lost sight of the goal of opening the public record of this chapter in our history for greater government accountability and for a fuller understanding of our past.”
The seven-year, roughly $30 million declassification effort resulted in the opening of more than 8 million pages of U.S. records—not all of them directly linked to war crimes. Notably, the records include the entirety of the operational files of the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor agency of the CIA), and more than 163,000 pages of CIA materials of a type never before opened to the public.
The declassified records also included more than:
- 435,000 pages of FBI files
- 20,000 pages from Army Counterintelligence Corps files
- 100,000 pages related to Japanese War Crimes; and
- 6 million additional pages of records.
The group relied on the expertise of several prominent historians who were on contract to aid the effort, including: Richard Breitman, Edward Drea, Norman Goda, James Lide, Marlene Mayo, Timothy Naftali, Robert Wolfe, and Daqing Yang. An Historical Advisory Panel, chaired by Gerhard Weinberg, gave freely of its time and knowledge to help the IWG refine searches for relevant records.
Describing the historians as IWG “crucial partners” in the Final Report, Public Member Thomas H. Baer emphasized that the Public Members insisted on retaining them to point the way when nothing less thanfull disclosure was required and when the public interest permitted the few cases of redactions or summaries. The legislation made no provision for historians, he wrote.
One of the IWG’s aims was to uncover documentation that would shed light on the extent to which the U.S. Government had knowingly used and protected war criminals for intelligence purposes. Findings on this subject were explored to two volumes produced by the IWG: Researching Japanese War Crimes: Introductory Essays (January 2007) and U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis (April 2004).
Public member Elizabeth Holtzman in the Final Report wrote, “It is not clear that Nazis provided us with any useful intelligence. In fact we know that in some cases at least they were a serious detriment to us. Given the intelligence failures of the Iraq war, it might be important for U.S. policymakers to understand that using very bad people for intelligence activities does not automatically get us very good results and, instead, may get us very bad results.”
“The documents found and released include many important, and sometimes disturbing, material,” wrote Eli Rosenbaum, IWG Member and Director of the Office of Special Investigations. “As the present report indicates, while these materials do not compel any dramatic revision of mainstream scholarship on the war and its aftermath, they do enhance our understanding of those events and add some hitherto unreported events to the chronology.”
Public Member Richard Ben-Veniste commented that “there is far toomuch secrecy in government. Secrecy often acts as the handmaiden ofcomplacency, arrogance, and incompetence. In a democratic society,openness should be the rule; the right to know should trump theimpulse to withhold, except in truly justifiable circumstances. Inthe end, there was really no good reason why these documents—reflecting information about our government’s action, or inaction,during the most horrific period of the last century and its aftermath—were kept secret for so long.”
More information about the IWG and downloadable reports, volumes, finding aids, and other resources can be accessed on the IWG web page.
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This page was last reviewed on August 15, 2016.
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