Saturday, July 10, 2010

Transcript of NDC first open forum

Sorry if I got anyone's name wrong.  If I got a word or two wrong and if you politely point them out to me I will endeavor to correct them - Joe

     David Ferriero -I’m David Ferriero the Archivist of the United States.  It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the National Archives and the William G. McGowan theater.  And I would also like to welcome those who are watching us by way of a live webcast, and our friends at C-SPAN.  We’ve called this open public forum to discuss the draft prioritization plan of the National Declassification Center, or the NDC.  This is what will serve as our roadmap in processing the backlog of more than 400 million pages of classified documents.  The goal is to get as many of these documents as possible on the open shelves as quickly as possible for researchers, journalists, historians, government officials, and the public.  Our deadline is Dec 31st, 2013.  Many of these documents include information about military operations and World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  All of this information is of great interests to historians of this period.
    Several weeks ago we published a draft plan on our website and invited comment on it through email and on our new NDC blog.  First, a little background on the order itself.  On December 29, 2009 President Obama signed Executive Order 13526. Section 3.7 of the Order directed me to establish within the National Archives the National Declassification Center.  It’s aim among other things is to streamline the declassification process in several ways.
    First, it is to prioritize the declassification of sought after records to decide which ones get processed first.  That’s what we will be talking about today. 
    Second, is to facilitate the referral processes and quality assurance measures to speed up the processes while maintaining our high performance standards.
    Third, it is to implement standard declassification training for records determined to have permanent historical value.  There are currently some 2,000 different sets of classification guides which has made the records processing more difficult.  At the time of the president’s order I said, and I want to repeat today, the federal government has reached a watershed moment in records declassification. This backlog is so huge that Americans are being denied the ability to know what their government officials did and to hold them accountable for those decisions and actions.  By streamlining the declassification process the NDC will usher in a new day in the world of access with the National Archives making more records available for public scrutiny much more quickly.  I am pleased to announce that this work has begun. NARA and our agency partners have established and are implementing new processes designed to eliminate the backlog of reviewed federal records and more efficiently review referrals in presidential materials.  We have also hosted an all hands equity recognition training seminar that was attended and bore 250 declassification professionals from across the government.  And we are now developing additional training. 
    In the coming months we will be issuing progress reports to the President and to the American people. Today we have come together to get your input on how we prioritize our work.  Our panelists will provide an overview of the NDC processes and [will] discuss how prioritization will be applied to federal records and presidential materials. They will respond to pre-submitted comments and questions and then discuss comments or suggestions that you have brought with you today. Following this meeting comments and suggestions will be compiled and published on the NDC blog.  We will also consider this input when finalizing the plan, and once finalized we will publish the plan on our website, provide updates on the blog and website, and post follow up discussion topics on the blog.  I look forward to a lively discussion today and hope that this will be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue as we work, continue the work of releasing all we can  while protecting what we must.
    We are fortunate today to have such a distinguished panel, three experts on declassification, past, present, and future.
    Sheryl Shenberger became the first permanent director of the NDC on June 7th, 2010.  Prior to that she spent several years at the CIA where she was involved with declassification of both federal and presidential records.
    Michael Kurtz has been at NARA since 1974, and is currently the Assistant Archivist for Record Services, Washington, D.C. He was the acting director of the NDC from its establishment and is chair of the interagency senior steering group that advises the NDC on policy issues.
    And finally, Beth Fidler is a senior archivist in the office of presidential libraries here at NARA where she has worked on declassification issues for many years.  She works with agencies on the remote archives capture project and represents presidential libraries on the NDC program management team. 
    Please join with me in welcoming our panelists.  Sheryl?

    Sheryl Shenberger - I’m just going to have a few brief opening remarks, just to kind of revisit what was said.  The slogan of the National Declassification Center is releasing all we can, protecting what we must and today I want to tell you how we plan to make that a reality. 
    The NDC was established in order to facilitate the review and release of the optimum amount of information accessioned in the national archives.  We want to make available to the public the historical timeline of our government and the collaborative effort inherent in the NDC is really the most efficient way to make that happen. As the Archivist noted, the NDC was established in accordance with [E. O.]13526 but its initial emphasis was given in the presidential memoranda to take care of that 400 million plus page backlog that is sitting in the national archives.  On 4 January, less than a week after the President signed the E.O. NARA formally established the NDC at Archives II at College Park.  But, I remind us all that NARA has been on the forefront of planning for a possible NDC before that advocating early on, years ago that the best way to do review and referral of all of these records was with this collaborative corroborative approach between agencies.
    So, what is our initial challenge? We have the 400 million plus pages of classified records that we need to get through.  We have 5 million pages of presidential records that we need to review.  We have 15 million pages of classified records accessioned annually to NARA, and we make available traditionally, 11 million pages.  This gives us a backlog of at least 4 million pages a year.  We are not going to dig out of that unless we change our work process.  So, that is why the NDC has been formed.  And this is how we are going to meet these challenges.  First, through collaboration and cooperation and that’s the most important thing that I underscore with this, working with NARA the Lean Six Sigma (LSS) partnership under the DOD formed a program management team consisting of multiple agencies with multiple inputs all to help NARA improve its processes, and improve review, and improve referral. 
    We are also looking to ensure standardization of collection of declassification review related data between federal agencies and the NDC.  We are looking to develop this prioritization plan to focus our declass efforts that will be available for the public [to] comment [on.] We are establishing a quality assurance program that will allow us to check the quality of review and then work on that 408 million page backlog. And then we are working with an interagency referral program that facilitates the review of federal and presidential records.
    These efforts are well underway to meet the presidential memorandum deadline and to establish a vital national declassification effort. NARA has already begun reconfiguring existing work space at Archives II to accommodate additional agency reviewers as they are assigned there, and to support the review of special media records.  We are intensively investigating and analyzing and thus improving the process for declassification, making changes that will reduce the backlog and shorten the quality review, and reduce or eliminate the need for any kind of multiple re-reviews.  We are also creating a library of approved declassification guides, in fact, working with a in-house newly built declassification web guide application to centralize all of the equity recognition guides, making it easier for reviewers to check their guidance.
    Finally, we are developing equity recognition training and a certification program for all reviewers.  We envision a career path where reviewers from across the government will take certain courses that will create a professional certified reviewer.  In light of that we held our conference May 25th to the 27th, a three day recognition conference with lots of participation from the various agencies giving their equity information to help other agencies identify their material.  We are planning a conference in Spring 2011 that will be a four or five day interagency effort.  We are also looking towards seven declassification training courses, four web based, three instructor led, and then a course on how records management fits into the declassification and security realm.  Specifically, the changes we are testing and implementing include changing archival processing, putting in after declassification rather than before or during, putting  decision points in our quality assurance program so that we can make a change on how we are reviewing a particular collection, can it bypass certain steps or does it need a full quality assurance check? We are embracing a risk management approach that has been developed with our program management team using a sample review process.  We can’t look at every page, but we can intelligently and scientifically sample groups of documents, groups of records.  We are also expanding the inner-agency referral center to allow more agency access to go through their referrals and hopefully do more releasing.
    You can weigh in by communicating with us through our website, through the blog, through these kinds of meetings.  We want to try to be as transparent as possible with our process, because frankly I see NDC as a fine example of the open government initiative.  It is chartered with releasing historical information and thus opening up important historical documents.  Its processes, methods, and status are designed to be open and transparent with results that are also openly and publicly available with regular reports.
    And finally, [Second time she used the word, “finally.”] it is truly a collaborative approach.  NARA is in the lead but it is bringing all of the agency equity holders together to facilitate an efficient, responsible review for declassification.

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Thank you Sheryl. Good afternoon, everyone. What I’ll do for just a few minutes is give an overview of our prioritization plan which is really a key document and a key strategy as we go forward working in the NDC.  The executive order, and 3.7 subparagraph D required that a prioritization plan be developed in conjunction with public input, and input from various federal agencies.  And this is also something the prioritization strategy that has been of a great deal of interest to the Public Interest Declassification Board, which as you may know has been a supporter of the NDC concept and its report to the president in December 2007, and has been very interested in how we approach such a massive set of records such as the 400 million page backlog.  And so what we have to talk about today is a somewhat high level concept, what we are going to do after we get the public input that has been provided, that will be provided today and later is to then take that information and build annual work plans.  For instance, by October we need to put a work plan into place that is built on this prioritization plan and breaks down from the record group concept, er, level of analysis, into the actual file series and collections that will be worked on year by year, and then in that way Sheryl as the director of the NDC will be able to inform agencies on the priorities we have for the work plan, what kind of resources  will be needed, all of that will be part of our planned goal.  So, this prioritization plan as a first step is very, very important. 
    And there are a variety of ways to go about this and we felt that the most important way was to start with the concept of what is of high public interest? Not necessarily what is the easiest or low hanging fruit as its called, but what are the records that researchers over a lengthy period of time have really expressed a great deal of interest in, frustration at not being, not gaining access to the records, and so that’s the first part of our matrix is identifying those parts of the collection that are high public interest. 
    We did this in a variety of ways, there has been researcher information that we have from records that are used at the presidential libraries, the national archives at College Park, there is also information that we get in requests through the Freedom of Information Act, Mandatory Review Requests, that is another data source of what people are very interested in seeing, also we have information that we get from federal agencies and from historians working both inside and outside the government, and from the general public, from the media, so we used a variety, as I said, of data, of sources to try to identify those parts of the overall 408 million page collection.  That is what we really should start with and that is what has been identified.
    We also then looked at level of effort, what kind of complexity or difficulty would we experience in trying to go through different parts of the collection and there are several different factors that are relevant to this.  First, you have the issue of the actual complexity of the information itself, if it is highly sensitive, if there are a great deal of records already tagged for further review and referral,  that is a more complex set of issues, volume, the age of the material, all of that factors into the matrix we’ve developed.  So, as those of you who have kind of studied and looked at the proposed plan it’s a matrix where we have identified those records that are of high public interest and easy to declassify, no surprise there that that’s very small volume, much higher, much higher are those that are of high public interest and more difficult to declassify, and then we identify those that are of low public interest easy or difficult to declassify, and process, and release to the public.  And so with the federal records part of the prioritization plan we are going to be applying this to the quality assurance review and release process and also with the referral process which my colleague from the presidential libraries will explain more about how that works because we are putting an emphasis on trying to release public information from the presidential libraries and the holdings there.  In the 408 million page backlog we estimate, and at this point it is an estimate, that about 320 million pages really can be released.  They are not sensitive, approximately, 80 million pages, we think, will require further referral, and review work, of course, that’s scattered throughout the collection, therefore, requiring this quality assurance process and sampling that Sheryl mentioned in her comments.
    So, our emphasis on the federal side will be to identify the approximately 320 million pages, proceed as rapidly as we can to release for research, because that’s what we’re trying to do from a transparency point of view.  And then to process and deal with the referrals that have been identified.  And so, as the Archivist has noted, the president has given us a deadline to finish the whole processing and declassification review and decision making, by the end of December 2013, and we believe that the prioritization plan is a good road map for the annual work plans and the productivity to come.  Thank you.

    Beth Fidler - The NDC initiative for 25 year old classified materials at the presidential libraries is the Remote Archives Capture or RAC project. The RAC is a long standing program for the systematic referral of classified equities at the presidential libraries. Under the RAC project we scan classified textual materials at the presidential libraries in the field and bring the images to a facility in the Washington, D.C. area so that they can be reviewed for declassification at a centralized location by all of the equity holding agencies.
    Declassification decisions are then returned to the presidential libraries and made available to the public.  At most locations these releases have been made in textual form, however, at the Carter library they do make RAC releases available on an unclassified [crest?] in their research room.  Using [crest?] systems we will make electronic releases available to the public at other presidential libraries as they receive new decisions later this year.  These press systems will assist the presidential library archivists in making newly released documents available to the public in a quick and timely manner. 
    We have scanned classified records for referral at the Truman through Carter presidential libraries, and are currently scanning classified records from the Reagan administration.  While we have received over one million pages of  declassification decisions back from the RAC project we do have a significant backlog of 25 year old material which still needs to be reviewed by agencies.     
    Under the auspices of the NDC we have prepared a prioritization schedule for the collections that agencies need to review in the next year taking into account both the age of the records and the high public interest of some of our presidential collections. Our prioritization schedule for the first year focuses on key national security council files at each of the libraries and includes the following collections:
    At Truman and Eisenhower we are looking to review all of the remaining referrals and that would clear up all of our 50 year backlog at those presidential libraries.
    For the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, we are looking to review the national security files for their national security advisors and that would be the significant programs at each of those libraries.
    At the Nixon library we are looking to look at priorities for the classified referrals from the [John D.] Ehrlichmann and [H.R.] Haldeman staff member office files, their president’s office files, and the Latin American country files.
    At the Ford library we are concentrating on the national security advisor files for Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. 
    In addition at the Carter library we have prioritized a portion of their national security files, because of the volume, and have included specifically the [Zbigniew] Brezinski materials, their staff secretary files, the NSC institutional files, and the records of Vice-President Mondale. 
    And finally, we have prioritized a portion of the Kissinger materials from his classified collection at the Library of Congress to include the materials related to China. 

    David Ferriero- So we thought we would start with the questions and comments that have already been submitted and ask around to the panelists to respond to those first and then open it up to you. Okay? So, Sheryl?

    [They did not identify who sent in what comment, or if any of these came from anyone at any agency.]

    Sheryl Shenberger - I think I will just read the comment and then I will make my comment to follow it. 
    (Comment) The first one was that all declassified records should be digitized and posted on the internet. 
    (Response) And certainly we would like to make readily available any document of high researcher interest we always have to remember though that digitization is an expensive process, but there is movement in that direction for example certain agencies already post declassified information on their sites, and certain companies are providing digitization for reviewed documents for certain presidential libraries, so we are moving in that direction for sure.
    (Comment) The second one was that there should be an audit process similar to the quality assurance review team process for records that have been exempted from declassification. This should be an independent or multi-agency group.
    (Response) That is an interesting idea and I think that the Information Security Oversight Office, the oversight agency for declassification may want to take the lead on this.  They already do annual audits of agency programs and this sort of effort would fall right within their parameters.
    (Comment) FRD, formerly restricted data should be revisited as a reason for keeping records classified after 50 years. 
    (Response) ISOO and the Public Interest Declassification Board are working on this as a matter of fact and will be discussing this issue at their 22 July meeting.  The meeting is open to the public, and there are details here I have with me. 10:00 a.m. Thursday at the Capital Visitors Center, and I’m sure you can find this on the web as well.
    (Comment) Another comment is that the NDC should not stop after 2013, the public should be included in plans for processing records beyond this date.
    (Response) First of all, we do not plan to stop after 2013, I plan to keep my job for a few more years.  We are going to continue on eliminating the backlog and eliminating any future logs that come along, maybe keeping the backlog eliminated altogether.  And we are going to seek input through this whole process.  We are also interested in forming ultimately a historically orientated working group involving agencies across the government that have an interest and records in common.  Not only will this allow us to have a consistent review process for certain collections, it’s going to allow for maybe some conferences of public interest.  This is the sort of thing that has gone on already with various library programs, like at Johnson’s when they had a symposium on the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and it involved intelligence documentation, etcetera from various agencies all compiled together in a nice forum for the public.  I would like to see something like that with NARA taking the lead working with the various agencies historical programs. 
    (Comment) Where will the NDC ultimately be located?
    (Response) It is currently at Archives II.  We are examining space issues within our building as well as with across the agency, but the future is part of that study.  We don’t know where we will be located. 
    (Comment) This is a little bit lengthy, it talks about restricted data and formerly restricted data, and the importance of retaining the sensitivity on identities of confidential human sources, human intelligence sources and the key design concept of weapons of mass destruction, however, agencies heads can propose additional types of information from being classified longer than 50 years, is this understanding correct?  Have any agencies submitted proposals to protect additional types of information, or do you know if any are planning to? I find it difficult to believe for example that beginning in December 2012 all information on communication intelligence 50 years old and older will be automatically declassified.
    (Response) I have to agree, but I will defer to ISOO on this as I understand the executive order ISOO through the ISCAP approves the request from agency heads to keep information specifically sensitive after 50 years.
    (Comment) Finally, this comment the ongoing failure to establish a robust, reliable, and productive declassification program is steadily eroding the study of intelligence history and may lead to the collapse of the entire field.
    (Response) Well, I disagree.  Not only do agencies have ongoing, living, vital historical programs associated with them because they choose to see the release of their information as a responsibility to the American people.  Some accept input from various review panels , like the [Department of] State Advisory Panel, the CIA has the Historical Review, this helps the agency determine what priorities they should be working, what is the public interested in, what is a professional researcher interested in?.  Do I think we need improvement across the board to work on consistency of review and the prioritization efforts?  I absolutely do, but I would call your attention to the longtime cooperative working group meetings between agencies as well as even the creation of the NDC.  I don’t believe that individual agencies have lost sight of the value of historical research.  I believe the fact that agencies and their armed forces affiliates have units set up just to review their own holdings like the Army Military History Museum, and the Center for Military History, and the Naval Historical Society. They have active programs involving on-sight declassification efforts.  These agencies have official historical units to research and write up key events of their agency’s history.  They advise professionals on key events. They give input into declassification efforts, and FOIA requests, and historical review.  And these historical units often push [for] the release of information within their own organizations. That tells me that the agencies they are affiliated with really do value their programs.   
    I think an improved government wide program can only serve to encourage and assist these agency historians in their efforts to give truth to historical events with their own agency’s history. 

    Dr. Michael Kurtz -   Alright, my job is to talk about the responses at least in brief to the many questions that came in, concerns expressed, about the prioritization plan itself.  So, I have organized it really into kind of five categories of information that people ask questions about, the whole way of how the NDC will decide about what’s processed, and how we came about deciding that with related concerns about lengthy retention periods, lengthy time periods that a file series might cover, records that therefore, that could be released earlier are really held back because of these lengthy time periods for a file series.  So, I want to talk about NDC processing. There were some questions about accessioning that I think are very significant and important and speak to kind of NARA’s overall strategy for accessioning sensitive records.  Questions came in about the John F. Kennedy assassination review collection, the 9/11 Commission records, and also questions about how we determine what is public interest, how we go about making decisions, how we keep people informed as we go forward.  As has been noted a couple of times, we do have our Dec 2013 deadline to process that 400 million pages, in the prioritization plan is as I mentioned is at a rather high level of collection or record group and what we are going to be doing over the next eight weeks or so is taking this and breaking it down into file series and therefore kind of trying to identify where we can get either an entire file series or the very significant parts of the collection declassified because as everyone who does research knows that just kind of cherry picking information really doesn’t give you the context that you need to make an informed judgment about whatever it is that you’re studying, and so we are going to make every effort to approach it from that perspective. 
    So, the refinement of the work plan, the refinement of the file series, working with agencies, Sheryl mentioned that we are going to be working from a training perspective, and a coordination prospective with agencies in a very particularly important area which is the relationship with agencies between the records managers and the declassification programs which in most cases are really operating in very separate areas with very little communication and coordination between the two.  So, the more information that records managers have about classified collections that are going to be coming to NARA the better decisions we can make at the files series level, at bringing records in at perhaps smaller time periods instead of very,very large, long time periods.  And so the coordination between records management and security and declassification is actually a very important one.  And so we are going to be developing a strategy with NARA’s records management program as well as the NDC, working together as partners for both training and inspections and assistance, trying to focus on this area in particular which I think is a very, very important one.  
     In the accessioning area there is concern expressed about the small volume of records from the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, other agencies being accessioned by the National Archives, and we have several initiatives underway working with our agency partners. 
    For instance, with the FBI they are in the process of transferring between 50,000 and 60,000 cubic feet of historically valuable records to the national archives, which is a project that is going on at this time, and a very significant one.
    Also, the Central Intelligence Agency has made a determination, a decision to implement its record schedule to begin transferring on a orderly basis the currently valuable records that have been scheduled at the CIA. These would be original records that would be transferred to the national archives and we are working out the details on that.
    We have a partnership with the Department of Defense on what we call the War Records Project to identify particularly for electronic records, relevant records and systems for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to ensure that they are preserved and transferred early.  What we call pre-accessioning to the national archives and so there is a variety of initiatives underway trying to make the collection of classified as well as unclassified records as fulsome and as complete as possible
    And also what we are doing is working with the records management and security arenas, with the agencies, is preparing a checklist for records managers to use when transferring classified records to NARA to ensure we get the information we want.  This will enable use to develop better work plans, better prioritization plans and also we are cooperating with the Department of Defense who has set up a joint center at the Department of Defense to deal with all the intra Department of Defense review issues that they have and I think this will make the resolution, the DOD related records much speedier and much better and will really enable us to work through some record groups that have been of long-term interest, such as record group 330, the Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which has been a long time area of interest for researchers, and one of which has to get resolved.
    On the questions related to the John F. Kennedy assassination review records, just to note that we have 5 million pages that are in the RRB records [he mangled it, he meant of course the ARRB records.] the assassination review board records. Less then 1% of those records at this point are classified in full and they are scheduled to be released in 2017, unless an agency makes a direct appeal to the president.  And it would be at the presidential level that any decision would be made on whether that small amount of material needs to be, continues to be classified.
    Questions also came in about the concern that agencies are holding back relevant records related to the JFK assassination and I want to say that any reports that we receive on those reports will be investigated and looked into.  At this point we have not found agencies holding back assassination related records.  There is some ongoing litigation involving the Central Intelligence Agency.  We have been in communication with the agency, but no access to the records and no resolution of it as the litigation goes forward, which I think is a bit typical for litigation related issues.
    In the 9/11 issue, on a 9/11 issue, a related issue, a concern was expressed that these various competing priorities, limited resources, that we were not going to be addressing those very important records. So, I would just like to let the audience know that when the Commission closed business in 2004 and transferred the records to the national archives they made a request that we have a further release of records in January of 2009, which we did.  We went through the collection in trying to identify all of the records that could be declassified and made available.  Over 300,000 pages were made available at that time.  It was a very major effort involving different parts of the national archives and our center for legislative records which is where those commission records reside.  And at this point I think it is fair to say that what is left, which is a very significant amount of materials, it is very current, it is still highly classified, it is not yet subject to the declassification provisions of the executive order and so I think we have to, of course, we deal with any FOIA requests that come in on those records but as far as systematic processing I think with limited resources we need to focus elsewhere.  I think we’ve done as much as we can do at this point with the 9/11 records.
    There was also a, and a final area, an interest, concern about how we define public interest, concern about researchers who may not have a voice at the table, will they be heard, you know, does the squeaky wheel get the grease, really? [That] is the concern.  And I think we’ve tried to address that by putting this out for public comment, we’ve made a special effort to reach out to historical organizations, to public interests groups, the media, to get as much input as we can, it’s based on those areas of data sources that I mentioned when I first spoke to get the kind of, the widest understanding of what’s actually of interest to people and not just the particular interest of one or two people but really meets the widest needs possible.  We are committed to, as we do our annual work plans
to make that a transparent and open process with public input along the lines of what we‘re doing with the prioritization plan. Thank you.

    Beth Fidler - And finally we received a comment that collections with the oldest records should be declassified first, that they are likely to be less sensitive and many have important information for researchers. 
    (Response) And I think both the federal records program and the presidential libraries have taken that into account when preparing this years prioritization schedule.  At the presidential libraries we have placed all remaining classified referrals for the Truman Eisenhower administrations on our prioritization schedule for this year for agencies to review.  This will handle all 50 year old records at the presidential libraries. 

    David Ferriero - Okay, it’s yours.  There are microphones on either side of the room and we’ll go back and forth.  So, who’s first?

    Steven Aftergood - Hello, my name is Steven Aftergood, I’m with the Federation of American Scientists.
    Thank you for your work, thank you for your efforts to do this outreach to the public.  A few points, on the prioritization of the backlog it seems to me that the president has already prioritized it.  I mean he has told us, he has told you that all of it needs to be done in the next four years. So, the question, you know, of what should be done this year versus next year or in April versus October, you know if you want to get into that, bless you, but I don’t personally consider it a very important issue since all of those records have to be processed in the near term.  A more difficult, a more challenging and interesting question is how should the future operation of the center be prioritized?  What are you going to do in the post 2013 era? How are you going to prioritize the vast mountain of records awaiting processing? I think this process, as commendable as it is, I mean this outreach process, unless you end up having thousands, or tens of thousands of participants you are not going to get meaningful polling data on which record groups are really of, you know, higher, middle, or low priority.  I think what you really need is a guiding principle that will tell you how to proceed. And so one possible guiding principle would be that a higher level records that would have a broader impact on national policy should be given precedence.  That means that presidential records in most cases would go before agency records.  Large cabinet agencies might go before small independent agencies, within individual agencies agency leadership records might go before rank and file records.  And that is a sort of common sense principle that cuts through a lot of hemming and hawing and squeaky wheels, and I think will make sense to a lot of people.
    But a second principle, I would suggest is that the first principle might be wrong. (laughter)  In other words there might be very important and interesting records that are not captured by a simple, top down kind of approach.  And so therefore with that in mind I would suggest that something like 10 to 50 percent of the processing load should not be prioritized, rather it should be most of it should be devoted to oldest records first so that we have a, what you might call no classified record left behind (laughter) and then everything we can be confident will be declassified in time.  I say most of that 10 to 50 percent, I think you should also allow a fraction for unexpected contingencies, for news events that may drive declassification priorities in a way that you can’t anticipate now, and so on.
    A couple of other prioritization related issues that are not mentioned in the plan is the question of which records should be processed on a pass/fail basis and which ones should not.  I was honestly a little bit disappointed or unexcited to hear that most of the backlog is going to be processed on a pass/fail basis so that if there is one classified sentence in a whole document the whole document will be withheld. I understand you may need to do that in order to make some headway on the backlog, but it means that lots of valuable stuff is going to be held back.  It may be that you want to raise a prioritization related question are there some records either in the backlog or in the post backlog era where you want to say no we don’t want to do pass/fail we want to do page by page or even line by line, that’s a prioritization question. 
    Another prioritization related question not in the plan is even though scanning and posting documents online is expensive and burdensome are there some records where you would want to take the trouble and the expense to do that anyway? That again is a prioritization question [he said plan but he meant question.] 
    And I’m going over what my allotted time probably is I want to quickly mention two non-prioritization issues which are legislative initiatives related to the effectiveness of the center.  I would like to see the center and the archives as a whole reach out to DOE [Department of Energy] and DOD [Department of Defense] to negotiate the elimination of the formerly restricted data category.  Yes, it’s on the agenda of the Public Interest Declassification Board, other people are talking about it, but it’s time to move forward, come up with a legislative proposal to amend the Atomic Energy Act, get it done, it will make the future work of the center much easier
    Likewise I would like to see the center and the archives reach out to DOE and come to an agreement on a legislative proposal to repeal the Kyl - Lott Act so that the archives, the center does not have to jump through the hoops that the Kyl - Lott Act has imposed on declassification.  I think it should be possible to achieve an adequate level of quality control without the formalities of the Act. Thank you very much once again.

     David Ferriero - Good advice.

    Scott Rafferty - Yes, my name’s Scott Rafferty, I have just three quick questions, first of all as you work through this backlog and discover more about the historic practices of classification and potential abuses of classification what kind of feedback loops are there to the [Q. E.counsel?] and to other forward looking initiatives about how we classify documents going forward?  And how do your experiences as you work through the backlog and find these anomalies or potential abuses how does that feedback to your own processing prioritization? Do you find that an agency or in a particular subject area has been promiscuous in doing classification does that alter your approach procedurally and potentially your priorities in expediting the treatment of remaining documents within related record groups or subject areas or within that agency? And finally just a detail can you find a little bit more explanation about how this project relates to classified documents, such as the Kissinger papers that have found their way into the Library of Congress?

    Dr. Michael J. Kurtz - Alright, I’ll get started with at least the first two questions and I think maybe Beth, you can deal with the Kissinger question.  Very interesting questions and we have been talking about it, and we have been talking about a, creating, we intend to have a feedback loop because as we are going through this process and we’re discovering, you know, this declassification, systematic declassification effort has been going on since 1995 when President Clinton issued his executive order and so over that lengthy period of time there have been problems that have developed, some as quality control, other kinds of issues, abuses, as you say, whatever it is, what problems we find in the reviews, we intend to provide that information directly back to the agency involved so that they can make corrections in their training, in their review, in their monitoring and their accountability. And so I’m not sure it would necessarily affect the overall prioritization of what we are going to be doing from the public interest point of view what to release, I think as Mr. Aftergood noted as far as the backlog goes in a way the President has set what is going to be released, it’s the backlog.  But, we intend to, very seriously, provide feedback about what we are discovering as we do quality control checks, and issues that have come up with certain reviews, for certain bodies of records some of those problems can be not only be corrected on the spot with the collection at hand but can be prevented in future reviews as agencies do their work.  So, that is a very important part of our work.

    Beth Fidler - And the Kissinger collection is at the Library of Congress. The national archives has a deed of gift with Kissinger for scanning the classified materials from that collection.  We have scanned those materials as part of the Remote Archive Capture Project and those are undergoing reviews by agencies.  Now the declassified results of that will be provided through the Ford and Nixon libraries respectfully for their time periods and available here at NARA.

    David Ferriero - Go ahead

    Jim Lesar - Jim Lesar.  I like, Steven Aftergood, I have questions about the prioritization plan, I would thank you very much for making it available for comment, but I have a couple of observations.  The first of which is that it really does very little in the way of prioritization because of the 408 million pages said to be backlogged 90% are in the difficult, the high public interest but difficult to process category.  So, that leaves you with the problem of further prioritizing that classification which is most of everything you’ve got. And it seems to me that while there is a basis for some of what you’ve suggested, that is that there should be the input of requesters and researchers should be considered in that I think you  need to go beyond that into some sort of substantive evaluation of the importance of the subjects in terms of accountability to democratic institutions and to the political history of the United States.  So, I would prefer, or suggest that at the apex of the high public interest documents are those in which Congress itself has spoken and demanded release, most notably in the case of the President Kennedy assassination records. 
    And I’m a little disturbed at the suggestion which I have seemed to have picked up here is that those records would be withheld until 2017, while the Act, the JFK Act does provide for withholding until 2017 it does not mandate that date.  There are other considerations that should advance it to the very top of the apex, including the fact that the 50th anniversary is upon us within three years.  There will be an enormous public scrutiny of the assassination in light of that, and not to have all of the records out for that debate would be a very grave error, I think.
    There are, next to the category that I would place at the top where Congress had mandated disclosure on a subject I would say that the next level down would be those areas where congressional committees have considered a subject, have investigated a subject, The Church Committee, The Watergate [Commission], The King Assassination, Prisoners of Wars, those kinds of issues, Vietnam, those kinds of issues need to be in the second tier in considering a prioritization [plan.]. Thank you.

    David Ferriero - Do you want to respond to that?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Thank you very much. I think as we do our annual work plan, breakdown this high level, that’s when your points about these, the political issues, the constitutional issues, the high public interest issues really can help inform us to decide at which particular point do we want to deal with this particular collection, and so forth.  Again, keeping in mind that if we are successful as we have every expectation to be in eliminating the backlog the vast majority of that will be on the open shelves by or before Dec 2013.  As we go forward a lot of what you are saying really forms, I think, a basis for how we do prioritization as we go beyond the backlog.

    Jim Lesar - I would just add a further thing, that this is an area where I think there is no area that has received more intense, and continuing and enduring  inquiry from the public in terms of FOIA requests, and in terms of mandatory declassification review requests than the subject of the Kennedy assassination.  It is an area where a large number of very talented people have over a long period of time, unique, I think, in American history, devoted themselves in trying to answer the unanswered questions.  We are getting very old, we are dying off, we need the information now, not three years from now.

    George Lardner - My name is George Lardner, and I would like to get a little better understanding of those 408 million pages and what’s in them. Let me take a homely example, seven years ago I asked the archives for a bunch of records under the Freedom of Information Act, I got a bunch.  I thought I got them all.  Last year I discovered that, no, no, 20 boxes have been overlooked. So, I have been pestering them and getting some boxes.  But, I’m wondering, these boxes, these 20 had to undergo, what I was told was declassification review.  I said why? They are not marked confidential or secret.  They said well we have to review them for Social Security numbers things like that.  Is my material in the 408 million or did it fall between the cracks. And do they just use the phrase declassification review for anything they have to process before they can give them to you?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Mr. Lardner, let me try to answer this quick because I do not know the particulars of your situation.

    George Lardner - Sure.  

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - We are required, of course, to review records that have privacy concerns. 

    George Lardner - Right.

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - And so, that actually is a very significant review issue for NARA, and it’s not the same as declassification review.  Declassification review is for national security information. But PII information is of great concern to any number of individuals and entities and so perhaps that’s exactly what your information got caught up in.  I’m not sure.

    George Lardner - But does that mean then that there are that many more, hundreds of thousands or millions of pages that are just privacy related that are in addition to the 408 million you’ve listed here that you would have to go through the tedious process of so called declassification? 

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Yes. I mean there is a significant amount to the collections in both the presidential libraries and federal records that have privacy issues.  We have a special staff that is set up to deal with those review issues and  try to expedite and getting them out to researchers as soon as possible.
    Historical records are in a little bit of a different category than say your current financial information that a bank or someone has to protect, there are different standards, not as strict, not as more contemporary information, nonetheless it requires review.

    George Lardner - Can I ask one follow up question then? Do you have enough money to get it done by 2013? (Sheryl Shenberger smiled and nodded no. Laughter) Do you have an extra special appropriation? Or what are you going to do?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Okay, well in the President’s budget for FY ‘11 that’s on the Hill being reviewed the President is requesting five million dollars for the NDC and to increase staff and to begin building the information technology infrastructure that we need.

    George Lardner - Is that enough?

    Sheryl Shenberger - Umm-mmm. (As in, “no.”) 

    George Lardner - No, I didn’t think so.

    Beth Fidler - We have also requested an additional million dollars to support the remote archives capture project in 2011.

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Thank you. 

    David Ferriero - Well, let me just say this is a mandate that does have funding attached to it, which is extraordinary.

    John Judge - I’m John Judge I work with the Coalition on Political Assassinations, we were, our groups were part of what got the JFK Records Act passed.  The executive order seems to have a presumption of release. I seem to remember that there was a similar executive order that was never implemented out of the Clinton era to have a release of files that were at that point 25 years or older, at least to have a full review for release.  And the executive order seems from my reading, I’m not a lawyer, to allow some records to be put in the category of wouldn’t be released after 25 years, and they can go to 50, some to 75, some to 75 years beyond that perhaps, I’m assuming that that’s what this review that you’re implementing deals with but I’m not sure if there are yet, in other words whether the agencies are getting an additional swipe to say well he wants it out after 25 years but we think we should keep it because of this standard or that standard, so that would be interesting for me to be cleared up.
    The reason the JFK Records Act worked so well and worked so much better than the Freedom of Information Act, which it actually was meant to help correct, is that it established, number one, an independent review board that did not involve an agency decision.  It also had a set presumption of release. It had a very limited number of reasons that anyone could postpone the release of the document under the review, like a living agent who was going to be compromised, an existing source or operation method that was going to be compromised, or a privacy agreement, or an agreement with a foreign government, but that was it,  and beyond that, like protecting somebody’s identity for some reason, and that’s why I think that the percentage that is still postponed is so small.  So, it was much more limited in terms of what exemptions it would allow.  It did allow redactions.  and also allowed replacements where the text, or the gist of what was being redacted could be conveyed for the historical purpose.

    [The Assassination Records Review Board referred to this practice as “substitute language.”]

    With this volume that is probably not doable for everything but you might prioritize some records especially in these public interest areas where you thought about that as a possibility.
    And it also had documents postponed to date certain in other words if the living agent died during the period before the multiple release then the record could be released.  It set some dates in the Federal Register for release prior to 2017 and the presumption is that the archivist in there reviewing those annually or as they come up but I don’t know whether that’s being done, but they set some things for earlier release.  And certainly Congress could reverse the date.
    Another thing that they did that was with most of the files they put what they call a RIF on the file, a record information form, that allowed a digital, and those were digitized, and that allowed a digital search of the topics and the names in the file without having to digitize the entire file and that has been useful for researchers and might be something you would consider.
    I helped to draft, and there’s a new version of the bill, I did it in ‘05 and ‘06, a Martin Luther King Records Act about his life and assassination, and it was passed on the JFK Act.  And it’s in play now somewhat in congress.  But, a lot of the House Select Committee files on Dr. King are still locked up and other records, and I don’t know whether this 25 year rule touches records that have been segregated for a congressional investigation like this, in other words they may have been locked up under the House rule but because they are agency generated and over 25 years old they would fit the category that way, whether this review would touch them or whether the congressional segregation itself is going to hold the sway. 

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Let me try a couple, respond to a couple of the points that you made sir? First of all, this gives us an opportunity to say something that really none of the three of us have actually said, the process that is going on with the agencies with the 408 million pages is not a re-review of everything.  The president not only in a kind of way set the prioritization plan but he also really served as a risk manager and said the two areas of information that we are to focus on, it relates to confidential sources and to keep weapons concepts, and weapons design for weapons of mass destruction. Now as we are doing sampling and quality assurance to try to deal with those two areas if we find some other information that should be classified alright we can tab it but it is not an opportunity for agencies to re-review and kind of apply their judgment yet again.  These records have been reviewed once, or more times by the agencies.  As far as legislative records, yes, they are in a different category from federal or presidential records and so they don’t, legislative records do not fall under the purview of the executive order.  Their governed release is governed by the rules of the House or the Senate and so our legislative archives unit works very closely, and NARA works very closely with congress and the committees of congress specifically to work on declassification and release but given the separation of powers these are different mandates and different requirements for between presidential, federal and legislative. 

    Brian Martin - My name is Brian Martin and I’d like to agree and disagree with what Mr. Aftergood suggested in terms of prioritization guidelines. One, I agree with him wholeheartedly that the basic priority question isn’t all that great because you have to do it all and you have to do it in three to for years.  Good luck with the money, that will be the challenge I think. But I disagree with the general guiding principle that well we just have to say that it is all going to be the high level policy information and the reason I do that is that there is a significant group of researchers who focus on collecting documentation relating to the rights and interests of individuals, corporations, and governments involved primarily in legal proceedings, these could be are veterans who are trying to pursue claims related to exposure to materials, hazardous materials during their service or it could be that they have a, they are trying to claim a post traumatic stress defense in a criminal case and they need information about their operational activities during their service, it could be corporations who are, corporations and individuals who are dealing with product liability involving weapons systems, could be environmental issues, all those kinds of things, now often these records are administrative in nature, they are transactional, or they are technical, or personal, so there is a very narrow focus of these records, they don’t relate to this broad policy interest in holding the government accountable, which are all important, but I would argue that these interests are actually more immediate, these are things that are, you know, people who are facing court deadlines, they are trying to get benefits that they are due or resolve issues that have been long standing, and that immediacy suggests that they ought to have a higher priority. Now I am asking you all to be very Solomonic in having to make these distinctions, and I’m asking, I am suggesting that there may not be a large number of people behind these interests so that your interpretation of the degree of public interest needs to be, not only the extent of that public interest but the nature of that public interest.  And I know that gets you into dangerous territory because you have to interpret why people want things but I think you really have to ask yourself that question and come up with a way to address that. 
    Now, I’d also like to ask a couple of questions about your sources and methods, and pun definitely intended there, one, Dr. Kurtz, you talked about the sources that you used, and you referenced, used to come up with the priorities, you know you looked at the FOIA records, FOIA requests and things like that, but I don’t see in the plan how you use those.  You talk about, you know, being able to, you said 2/3rds of the polls, you know, these records in the category two on page three are related to 2/3rds of the polls, do you all have the quantitative data for that because several years ago when we were dealing with the questions relating to digitization we asked, you know, what are the most requested records in the national archives and we were told that you couldn’t tell us because it’s all on the individual request forms that are filed away by record group in chronological order and they are sitting back there in Archives II and nobody has ever gone through and quantitatively analyzed them to tell us what are the most requested records.  So, I’m curious as to how you are using this information or as the reports suggests that you got information from the archivist, which I highly respect the archival professionals at the national archives and in the presidential libraries but if we are dealing with the impressionistic perceptions of them, and us, the researchers, because I have a very narrow focus as well, [then] I think we are doing a disservice in trying to figure out what the priorities are, you need to look at what data sources are really out there
    The other net obstacle, concern, I have if you gave us this information at the record level, and I appreciate the fact that you told us in the report and you told us here that you, over the next eight weeks are going to be breaking this down into the series level, and I think that really is the only meaningful level that this kind of prioritization can take place and I realize that that means there are thousands, literally thousands, tens of thousands maybe of series that you are having to deal with here, but if you want the public to really comment on this stuff you need to give us that data as well.  So, hopefully, in the future generations of this we are going to see the series level descriptions and [we would] be able to give you our comments at that point.

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Okay, a number of interesting points.  I think it is fair to say that a very important set of constituents for the national archives are veterans, and the POW, and MIA community and others who are really interested and really need the kind of information that you talked about, and I think it very much is  linked as we go forward as we breakdown the record groups into file series and so forth to make those kinds of determinations.  We provide a number of services to veterans to prove claims and other sorts of needs, medical issues that kind of thing both here at the national archives and from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
    As far as methodology goes we did actually not only talk to the archivist but did look back at the data to get a clearer idea, at least at the record group level of what we are talking about as far as researcher use and interest, I think as we go forward and we move out of this huge backlog and we have more manageable records, of volume of records to deal with the analysis can become much more precise.

    Brian Martin - Thank you very much and thank you for the opportunity to comment

    Eric Larson - Hi, my name is Eric Larson and I would like you to comment a bit more on the actual review process, specifically is this essentially a mandatory declassification review, or if this is different, how is it different? And this pass/fail standard, what is going to happen to these records after they fail? Are they going to be open for an MDR, like five years from then?  And will the public be informed as to what failed?  And if you could post that information online that would be really helpful.  That’s basically my questions.

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Okay, let me get started in responding to your question and perhaps Sheryl will jump in with some additional insights.  Certainly all the records are open and available as far as FOIA and Mandatory Review requests.  So there is no particular like time period after which you can, that you would have to wait in order to file, to file a request. We intend to as we always do to put in each file [a notice] if records have been withdrawn to provide we believe and hope, adequate information for those who want to file a FOIA, so that is going to continue.  At the pace in which we have to work over the next couple of years I don’t know how much can get online. We are committed to getting online as complete a description as we can of what is being released, so that researchers will know what is being released and be able have access to it.  And so we are going to very much use our social media, our web, and every way we can to get that information out.

    Sheryl Shenberger - Just to talk about the review process, it would be a perfect world if we could scan all of these 408 million pages out and then work the images on computer and just surgically remove certain words or whatever is there that is sensitive but unfortunately you cannot do that practically with 408 million pages.  So, we either have to prioritize by say scanning a particular collection, which is a good idea ultimately because then we can surgically review or we would have to do it on either a document level basis, because it’s hard copy, or maybe even a page level basis just pull certain pages that would allow a little more out if we can to get more released.  A lot of this material though, is not so sensitive that we cannot release the entire document.  So, we fully believe that most of this material will go out.  I mean this 408 million pages is a lot, we really do think a good portion of that is going to go. The quantity that is not because it does have something sensitive in it, if it cannot be removed by just a page taken out say of the document, that does get stored and then relooked at in a future planned review because guidelines from agencies change and therefore we want to be as responsive as we can to those and the idea would be that as years progress more and more of that exempted material would be let out eventually

    Eric Larson - Okay, a follow up question on the same subject, are the agencies with equities in these records are they going to be involved the review process?

    Sheryl Shenberger - Yes, indeed. The most important part of the National Declassification Center is the collaboration between all the agencies that have equity.  So, already at national archives we have a lot of agency representatives who are going through their material as well as other agency material looking for their own equities, so they definitely weigh in on their own information for release or exemption. 

    Eric Larson - And at this point with the E.O. 13526 do they have the sole authority to say that yes that has to remain classified or is there going to be some oversight of their decision?

    Sheryl Shenberger - They have the authority, yes there is oversight. Yes we are doing some quality checking, but yes, they do have the authority to release or exempt their own information.

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - I would also note that the Information Security Oversight Office which is an arm of NARA has the authority and carries it out to do audits of how agencies conduct and perform their declassification operations.

    Eric Larson - And one more question, which agencies have equity in the Kennedy assassination records?

    Me - Dozens. (I’m sorry, but it was a dumb question.  It would take a long time to properly answer this question. They all kind of looked at each other, even the Archivist of the United States.  They don’t keep such a list.  Mr. Larson should consult the Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board for a start. I'm sure that's still online somewhere) 

    David Ferriero - Yeah, [a better question would be] which don’t. 

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - I really don’t know how to actually, specifically answer that question. I’d say that less than 1 % is still classified in full, which agencies those involve, I’m not sure. Sorry

    Jefferson Morley - Hi, my name is Jefferson Morley. Thank you for having this forum, I think it really does a lot to encourage people’s confidence that the government is truly interested in getting this out, so I wish you a lot of success.        
    A couple of comments and suggestions, one, we’ve heard a lot about how do you set your priorities I think it would be very interesting to publish your data about how many record requests there are per agency, I think that would be useful.  I think in regards to the Kennedy assassination in particular which is a subject area that crosses many agencies it would be possible to compare this topic versus this agency in terms of what should be a priority, I think that would be helpful. 
    A second point was I noticed in your summary of where you are going, now I’m talking about specific record groups, the specific identification stopped at, I think, the Carter administration. And we didn’t hear what record groups are of highest priority in the administrations since then, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and so on.  And I think that Jim Lesar’s suggestion made there that what has been of interest to congressional committees might go to the top, so for example you might have the Iran/Contra material becoming the most important as you go forward. But, in any case, to publish your own thinking about what record groups in the subsequent administrations  you are going to focus on or are considering focusing on.
    And finally, specifically in the JFK area you mentioned litigation and I think that was a reference to a lawsuit I have going on I just want to say that that’s very fine to say that the agency is not going to respond until the litigation is done, the fact is there is a memorandum of understanding about the enforcement of the JFK Records Act.  It was signed by the CIA, signed by the records review board in 1998, it is a legally enforceable document right now and it should be enforced.  And if you really want to get, win peoples, public confidence you’re going to have to enforce the law in this case.  It’s not complicated.  The law is there, the intent of congress is very clear, and it needs to be addressed. Thank you.

    [I was surprised that there was no response to what Jeff Morley said.]

    Nate Jones - Hi, I’m Nate Jones with the National Security Archive.  I have one quick question, and one quick comment.  First the question, I noticed that there wasn’t any priority series for the remote access [archives] capture program at the Reagan library and by my count his first administration is now entirely 25 years old, so I was wondering why that was omitted. 
    And my second comment was I heard some chuckles about the idea of releasing former intelligence communication documents [Really? I didn’t.  What is he talking about?] and I just [want] to state for the record Obama’s memo said that no document could be classified forever and Attorney General Holder in his memo to agency heads said that just because a document can be legally withheld does not mean that it should be.  So, I hope that as a member of the public you take this to heart as you release all you can and withhold only what you must.  Thank you.

    Beth Fidler - With respect to your question about the Reagan administration records the prioritization plan that we put forward is for the first year of the NDC.  And we do want to look forward in next year and future years to portions of the Reagan administration and the remaining materials from the Kennedy through Carter administrations, but given for the first year and to prioritize a portion of the material that is 25 years old and has been 25 years old [and older] for sometime now, that is how we portioned out approximately a million pages and referrals to agencies for the first year.

    Chris Shalto (sp?) - Hi, my name’s Chris Shalto, let me briefly add my appreciation for your work and for holding the forum.  I wanted to ask about the, kind of going beyond the plan and its implementation, your budget and resources have been discussed and looking at the girth of the task ahead of you I wanted to get your impression about how well utilized the provisions of the executive order [are] that permit agency facilities to be set up for this purpose and your impressions of how quickly the DOD loan program will become activated and begin to lend some assistance to the backlog and just to note that there are no other agency partners here with you today and are there other forums where they will be offering their input to the plan and will that input be made public? Thanks very much.  [So, was he with the DOD?]

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Thank you.  The Department of Defense if I have my date correct, dates correct was started in March of this year, the joint center, I think that, so that the work is already underway, and I think it will greatly facilitate the work of the NDC getting through some of the most highly sought records groups, ones which have a number of review issues  and so it’s already underway.  We have a NARA staff stationed at the joint center and so we are working very closely with the Department of Defense to kind of facilitate the working through of the process, the decision making, getting the records to NARA.  So, I think it’s a strong partnership. 

    Chris Shalto - Are there other agencies that you can share that are contemplating a similar approach?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - No, I think most of the other agencies will be able to deal with their issues at the NDC itself.  The issue with the Department of Defense  is that they are the agency that has the most records, from a volume point of view and, of course, it’s a very, very, diverse organization, and so, with a variety of different components.  So, they really, I think, made the right decision to bring their entire agency together to get, to deal with all of the intra DOD issues.  So, I think that’s the only one that I am aware of where there’s such a process review appropriate.  

    David Ferriero - Your observation about panel participation has registered with the archivist.  This is the first open forum.  I expect to have more of these as we go along.  And its a great idea to involve some of our partners.  

    Jim Lesar - Yes, Jim Lesar, again. In 1984 congress passed the Central Intelligence Agency Information Act which allowed for the designation of “operational files” which are exempt from review under the FOIA, exempt from search and review under the FOIA, will all designated operational files be transferred to the National Declassification Center?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - The plan is according to the records schedule that we have with the Central Intelligence Agency, yes, we have records schedules with all agencies, is that the permanently valuable records which include operational files over a period of time would be transferred to the national archives, yes. 

    Jim Lesar - All of them? Or will the CIA screen and eliminate some of them beforehand?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Well, all I can say is as far as the record schedule goes, any files series that is judged to be permanently valuable all of that material in that file series is to be kept intact and transferred to the national archives.

    Jim Lesar - And who makes the decision as to whether or not they are determined to be permanently valuable?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - In general the way that works is it’s really, it’s a joint decision making process between the agency involved and the national archives to where we come to a consensus, a conclusion on which files series are permanently valuable.  And so it’s the same thing with the CIA as it is with any other agency.

    Jim Lesar - Okay.  And those will published in the public register, federal register?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - The schedules are published in the federal register for public comment

    Jim Lesar - One further question, are there any of the records that you say are one percent of the JFK Act collection is currently withheld.  Are any of those, does that category consist solely of CIA records?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - I would have to check into that. I do know it’s got, that less than one percent really has a good bit of human sources and methods, that would be CIA related, whether there are other equities I’m not sure. 

    Jim Lesar - Do you plan to review the JFK materials under the National Declassification Center or are you simply relying on the 2017 date?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - No, we will process this as part of the NDC.

    Jim Lesar - In so doing will you apply the JFK review standards which were far more liberal than the FOIA and which may differ with other standards?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - Well, NARA has taken on the responsibility of the assassination review board when it went out of existence. So, yes, we would be working with those standards.

    Jim Lesar - Thank you. 

    Dr. Anna Nelson - I really came here today to represent the historians of American foreign relations because we are among the very biggest users of classified records as you might expect, along with some military historians.  Much of what I was going to say would be repeating what has been said.  So, we were working with the draft, you’ve talked a lot about going beyond the draft.  So, those were questions that we had.
    There is one thing though that has not been mentioned today, and that is, so that is really going to be my main point, you know it’s wonderful to open everything for comment, I can’t congratulate you more about that, it gets a lot of people involved.  The problem is that it takes a researcher who is actively researching to really lead you to certain areas that you may not think about as priorities.  For example, one of the examples is the draft is that it totally leaves out the State Department lot files.  Every historian looks at the State Department lot files.  They are more important than almost anything else because whatever the screwy name of them they are in fact office files of assistant secretaries, their deputies, they are invaluable, but they were not listed. So, I think that what you need in addition, not to do without all the people, but in addition you need to have ad hoc groups for various kinds of records who would meet intermittently and answer some of the questions and actually have a hands on experience, there are a lot of people in the Washington area, other people you might tie [to] a meeting, to a conference, or something here, so you don’t have to spend a whole of lot money which is always an issue, but I think that that would be a very important thing.
    However, I, as some of you know I was also a member of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Board.  When I was on that board, which has been gone now for 12 years a fellow historian said to me, well you know what, you will never get away from it.  And he was right.  But, I would like to say that when we turned off the lights and closed the door in 1998 we knew that there would be records out there somewhere that we hadn’t seen.  It was just impossible to try to do them all.  We were successful because we had a statute.  And the statute allowed us to do all kinds of things, and because we had an administration that was willing to be a little more open.
    The person who is in charge of those records told me a few years ago that there was a bunch of CIA records which the CIA said let’s just get rid of them, and they gave them to the archives, they were part of what was going to be held back, I don’t know if anybody has used those or not, the rest of the records, to my understanding are all CIA records.  There may be one of two from Defense or something but obviously there were an enormous number of CIA and FBI records, and there is an enormous number of records in the archives in the collection, you said 5 million pages, I would also like to add that yes, our guidelines were far more open, we really thought that when people died 10 years after their privacy was no longer an issue, so we made certain guidelines like that, we were very protective of people who needed it or whose families needed it but the guidelines were very, very broad and we could do that because we had a statute behind us.  We also made the decision that if we redacted material, which we had to do, we would make sure that the paragraphs made sense, we would not redact material which just left the reader saying what in the world is this about? So, we made some, you put four or five historians on the board you have that kind of trouble, we tried to make good decisions and open a lot of records, you know what, having been told repeatedly by the CIA in our meetings that we were destroying American security, [if you] open those records you are destroying American security, we opened the records, we have yet to destroy American security.

    David Ferriero - Thank you all, this is a great start for the public to have some input into what is going on here.  I encourage you to take a look at the NDC blog, the NDC website, to continue this discussion with us, and as I said this is the first of a series of open forums that we will be hosting.  So, thank you all for joining us. 


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