From the National Coalition for History column of the September 2009 issue of Perspectives on History

News Briefs, September 2009

Lee White, September 2009

Obama Administration Reviewing Declassification Policies Under Review

On May 27, 2009, President Obama signed a memorandum ordering the review of Executive Order 12958, as amended, “Classified National Security Information.” The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) recently solicited public input for revisions to the order via an online Declassification Policy Forum in four topical areas: Declassification Policy, a National Declassification Center, Classification Policy, and Technology Challenges and Opportunities. Summaries of the public comments can be accessed on the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) Blog (http://blog.ostp.gov/category/declass).

The PIDB is currently formulating its recommendations to the National Security Advisor, which will be issued shortly. The National Security Advisor must submit his review of the Order to the President by late August.

Controversy in State Department Historian’s Office Comes to an End

In May 2009, the long-awaited report into the management of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian was released by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OIG recommended that Marc Susser, the director of the Office of the Historian, be replaced. As a result, Susser has been reassigned within the State Department, and Ambassador John Campbell has been named as acting director.

This ends the saga that began at a meeting of the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) on December 10, 2008, when Wm. Roger Louis—the historian who had chaired the Advisory Committee for the previous five years—alleged that the future of the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the official record of U.S. foreign policy, was in jeopardy due to mismanagement by the Office of the Historian.

Congressional Hearing Held on Loss of Clinton Administration Hard Drive

On July 29, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) provided a status update at a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the loss of an external hard drive containing copies of Clinton Administration Executive Office of the President (EOP) data. In May, the National Archives and Records Administration announced a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the recovery of the hard drive. NARA learned in late March 2009 that the hard drive was missing from a processing room at NARA’s College Park, Maryland facility.

The external hard drive includes some personally identifying information (PII) of persons who may have worked in the Clinton Executive Office, visited the White House complex, or submitted PII to the White House. The National Archives recently sent notification letters to approximately 15,750 individuals whose names and social security numbers are on the missing hard drive. The Archives is offering these individuals one year of free credit monitoring.

There is an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Secret Service into the loss of the hard drive. Individuals with information about the missing hard drive are urged to call the United States Secret Service Washington Field Office at 202-406-8800.

NARA Opens New Civilian Personnel, Immigration, and Nixon White House Records

In June, the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center announced it has opened more than 6 million individual personnel files of former federal civilian employees from the mid-1800s through 1951.

This opening of 6 million files adds to the existing collection of more than 9 million military personnel files that are already available for research and is part of the creation of the largest archival repository in the United States outside the National Archives in the Washington, D.C., area. In late 2010, the records will be moved to a state-of-the-art repository that is under construction in suburban St Louis County, Missouri.

On June 23, 2009, the Nixon Presidential Library opened approximately 154 hours of tape recordings from the Nixon White House recorded in January and February 1973, and consisting of approximately 994 conversations. The conversations cover topics such as the conclusion of a peace settlement between the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the return of American POWs, President Nixon’s second inauguration, the U.S. and Europe, the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, energy policy, the reorganization of the executive branch, and the first Watergate trial.

On June 3, the National Archives and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services signed an agreement to designate as permanent the immigration files created on the millions of aliens residing in the United States beginning in 1944 until now. This represents the first step in the preservation of the 32 million records that were originally scheduled for disposal.

These Alien Case Files are commonly referred to as “A-Files.” The new agreement authorizes the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services/Department of Homeland Security to send A-Files to the National Archives when 100 years have passed since the birth date of the subject of a file. The National Archives expects to receive the first transfer of A-files later this year.

—Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at lwhite@nationalhistorycoalition.org.