Research at the National Archives

Access to State Department Records

What are withdrawn items?
During declassification projects, documents which cannot be released are removed from the files and replaced with withdrawal notices. Each notice represents a withdrawal decision on an entire document or in some cases a small number of consecutive documents. The withdrawal notice contains unique information used by NARA staff to retrieve the withdrawn item if a researcher requests it informally or under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This information includes the unique declassification project number assigned to the specific block of records and a sequential number assigned when the item was withdrawn from its original box. Examples of these identifiers are: "NND 989501, box 7, tab 3" or "NW 35678, box 1587, tab 1." In most cases, the withdrawal notice also contains a description of the document and its folder citation. Sometimes withdrawn items from more than one project may be found in a single box. In some older projects, the project and box numbers appear only on the box labels.

Are all withdrawn items still fully classified?
No. Under Executive Order 12958 issued by President Clinton, the Department of State has reviewed all of the items withdrawn from its records prior to 1996 and made a new declassification determination on each one.

How can researchers gain access to withdrawn items?
Researchers who encounter withdrawal notices in their boxes of State Department records should consult one of the archivists on the State reference team and make an informal request for release of the withdrawn items. The researcher should have copies of the withdrawal notices and/or the full project, box, and tab citation of each withdrawn item when meeting with the reference archivist. If the records can be released, the reference archivist will make them available for copying. If the release cannot be accomplished during the researcher's visit to NARA, arrangements will be made for copies to be mailed to the requestor.

What if the withdrawn items are not declassified?
Researchers may file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for any withdrawn item which was not declassified following an informal request. The FOIA request should be filed with NARA following the instructions in the handout in the research room. Researchers may also file a FOIA request for the redacted portion of any sanitized document found in the files.

When is a withdrawn item returned to the files?
A withdrawn item is returned to the files after someone requests it and after all the agencies with interests in it have determined that it may be declassified and released in full. If the agencies determine that a document can be released only in part, NARA prepares a redacted copy of the document and attaches it to the withdrawal notice.