tv Government Historians on Working With Classified Information CSPAN January 27, 2023 8:05pm-9:02pm EST
everybody here at ut for hosting us and helping us put on this incredible conference, so thank you. without long windup i want to just to be more measured and brief about introductions. we have three great historians from the government, which is a new member of the p idb i was shocked and planning for this conference. a shock to understand the government has its own historians. we have heard from outside historians and academics at ut and elsewhere. columbia university, folks have written books.
these are historians for the united states government. and who regularly interact with classified information and whose job it is, as they are going to tell you i'm going to stop babbling. whose job it is to tell the story of some of the great work that is done at the department of state at the fbi the department of defense. so, to my left is adam howard he's the director of the u.s. department of states office of the historian. which publishes the foreign relations of the united states 2012 until 2019, doctor howard served as a general editor of the series prior to that he served from 2009 until 2012 as the chief of the middle east and asia division supervising production covering these geographic regions. also an adjunct professor at
george washington university in their history department for he has a phd from the university of florida. to his left doctor john fox. doctor fox has served as fbi historian since 2003 and is also an adjunct instructor at the catholic universities school department of politics and has been the 2018. he has a phd in modern history from the university of new hampshire and political science from boston university. and finally on the end, doctor erin she is chief historian of the office of the secretary of defense. and director of the pentagon library print she previously served as associate research fellow at the center for the weapons of mass distraction the national defense university and washington d.c. from 2004 until 2008 she was chief of division
of arms control asia and africa the offered office of the storing state department where she edited several volumes in the series. she has her phd from my alma mater university of virginia. thank you all for coming up here. thank you for helping us close out this wonderful conference. and i would like to start by giving each of you the opportunity to tell us what you do at your department to tell the story. how you engage with classified information and how that engagement is challenged. once the start? [laughter] arsenic we put adam next year so he would go first. >> too bad for you. >> i want to say first thanks to everyone from the base organizations and for putting this together.
i love having a platform from which i can shamelessly promote the form of an estate series. for those of you not aware of it or have never heard of it it is the official documentary history of u.s. foreign relations. it is arguably the largest transparency project in the world. we have published hundreds of thousands of documents from 1861 to cover it right we are currently doing george h.w. bush. reagan appeared is what we are publishing. it is a series we have a published hundreds of thousands of documents when you hear about the information act which you heard today within mandatory review those are two. but the third they don't relate to foreign relations and estates committee. it's important player and i don't know if a lot of people recognize that.
as a really rich history here that is the other element i want to spend a little time at in this transparency. the civil war first started there conducting for this where they went to sure constituents through the lincoln administration had to grapple with this when you're going to do here? there is some information that will be published at the end of each year of the war however long it lasted. through it back of that previous administrations known as far back as the washington administration for the found some examples were the legislative branch from the executive branch to documents in foreign relations. this is going to be routinized every year. ultimately the decision was made
they had to be transparent even during work time for it in december of 1860 when the first series of documents returned over from lincoln administration to congress and thus began serious. he had to put up with pushback he got from his own diplomats for this one in particular administer u.s. minister to england in 1864 writes a letter that says look i cannot do my work. all of the sensitive conversations coming through cables are being published at the end of the year. he truly believed democracy derives from the people and people have a right to sue those documents. and so that gave the series the time. as it moved for the first times
to oversee byte value added fruit series they may not see another documentary series or footnotes editorial. things that before, things that happened after. things are referenced in the documents would not have any contacts for. the last thing i will mention is a turning point is when congress passed a law that requires congressional mandated publication of this series for this has to do with the very interesting story in the investigation. newsletter 1989 the story published a volume covering policy in the early 1950s. very interesting document for those of you interested especially in negotiations u.s. government was involved in with the british and ironic government. nothing about cia covid operations that was involved in the overthrow of the government
and ironic for the such of the big outcry. congress gets involved and ultimately congress decides all right were going to make sure they have the access at the highest classified documentation. if there are certain guidelines to help the material should be declassified. the agencies have to operate we have no declassification authority in our office. everything has to be farmed out to other agencies. and so it is a partnership. because of that it's interesting were housed in the department, the publication is considered a state department publication but it's really inter- agency publication it represents entire executive branch in terms of those involved with u.s. foreign relations for a guiding principles to publish the documents the highest level decision-making behind u.s. foreign policy. so, without congress getting involved with that that have been lacking before.
since they are members here trying to find the congressional mandate the historical advisory committee or its existence and its 19 to oversee the work of the foreign composed of nine members six of whom represent major organizations but historical, political science and also legal scholars. that is a very important player in the production. so from 1861 and its commitment to transparency in government through 1991 which gives it the backing that was lacking before. it has created a series that is given only the american people but 25% of our readership online issued on state.gov. all of the volumes are up on that website of the published 25% of that readership are not u.s. citizens but they went to see what the are doing because their governments don't release
this much information. i'll just mention one more thing before i turn it over. there are other countries have their equivalency they look to us as the gold standard. their countries usually best they can do to get the documents on foreign ministry. rose said before recover the entire inner agencies including the intelligence committee for that something they look to with great envy. something that's a credit to united states government it's committed to publishing those documents that something i think makes the series special why i'm happy to be in a position to spread the word to the american people. and what they have at their disposal. >> will mirror talking backstage adam said this is really good news. bni haynes last night i think adam klein asked to give us some good news? i'm not sure she was ready to do
that. but this series is really a good story about government transparency. the other thing you mentioned there and i know we want to talk about is congressional authorization. that something that separates the state department from other historians. john erin who wants to go in next and for everyone here and on c-span back at home who is watching about what you guys do. >> i can go. my position is very different than either adams or aarons and that i sit in the office of public affairs which is where the fbi's storage position was created back in the 1980s we hired our first one. sue came in and served until 93. and then the position was left open for a long time.
the fbi in its history as you may well know is not always home and even story. we are in an agency who has had a lot of stuff written about us. and a lot of it has obviously been highly critical. a lot of this has to do some of the issues that we face today with declassification and with transparency and with records. back in the beginning days j edgar hoover took over the idea of the government records would be available to the public was not something people tended to think about. government records got boxed up, put in a warehouse somewhere eventually were thrown out and they were not need to put some end up in libraries of congress.
but as we heard earlier today does not show the 19 national archives. even when we did the fbi said basically no, our records are our records and they're not going through national archives. for the most part that's exactly what happened. i free of the pre-hoover area it records did go over eventually as microphone and we have been able to access for a good long time. but, overall fbi investigative files to be considered closed to the public. now, that said a lot of what the fbi does comes out of the public. when you are investigating a crime or when you are investigating a national security threat that touches on our national security laws, again in other crime, it ends up in court and the court produces a public record. so bits and pieces of the fbi records ended up in public. but of course it was not until
the late 1960s early 1970s when a combination of government leaks, things like the break-in of the fbi agency in pennsylvania ledge of the exposure of among other things a program called counterintelligence program everyone is heard the word very few actually knew what it was. these things are to come out into the public but it was in the mix of the watergate era to and which case the use of the government rings of power by the president. the misuse of the intelligence community by president nixon led of course change in washington politics. and a flourishing of exposure of what many government agencies were up to in those days.
and the committee of course exposed a lot of this to the public. it was at the same time is a freedom of information act was also bolstered a basic list of the fbi could not say investigative are not able to be exposed to the public. and so all of this sudden the nature of how the fbi dealt with its records especially with regard to the public began to change. we probably did not think of our history. we had thought of history in the past that a phd historian working in the 1950s and 60s of public affairs office basically brings a guy who did the research for donna whitehead's book the fbi story. but it was not in the sense the fbi putting out its own history. and even if it was it was one of all roses no thorns. it was not an effective history that could tell you about what
was good, what was bad, what was working, what wasn't working for the bureau. with the challenge of flare in the 1970s, with the initiation of the first suits against the fbi to release its records. with a lot of these things going on with the bicentennial and the push for government historians and so forth the bureau did finally get around to bringing in a historian. so the historian's position in fbi has a long history behind it. the work of the bureau. history projects a phenomenal program. quality through mark felt comes out and i have to deal that
mediate talking about what was going on in the bureau in the early 1970s and whose fault it was. i have worked with authors, i've worked with academics. i get out and talk to the public. largely in academic forms. and publish also academic magazines. i also am in charge of the history contents on fbi.gov. when we do museum projects and often brought in. a temporary exhibit around the 100th anniversary of the bureau about the fbi and the media played a major role in it. it takes up a lot of time. historians don't want to get into the detail. it's a little bit of everything for his far as classified efforts go i also insert internal questions. ideal classified records not to
the extent i'm talking to the public though. a lot of my work is in that sphere. this is where again i differ from both adam and aaron. my position is more republic history position as opposed to institutional one. i will leave it at that. >> good news, not necessarily all bad news. but at least a story of what happened before and how the challenges. >> i think it is good news and we tend to deal with our history differently today. we are open to talking about where as before we didn't. well i don't usually talk about the most recent past. mine is more historical. i certainly do get involved and
records issues whether finding them or explaining what they need at times. i work close with her records and management people. so in that sense in bringing in the historical perspective has been good. i wish more of the department of justice had similar. there is no historian other than the department of justice. marshals have one, dea has eight contracts, i think atf has one now. there's a group in the civil rights that has litigation historical research. and they do a good job. there's a lot of history out there that does not get done. >> thanks. saving the absolute best for last historian from the department of defense. please share with everyone to watch online what you do and how you interact and what stories you tell pray. >> that plug comes from us both being university of virginia alum i am sure.
it is wonderful to be here. i don't to say we are an incestuous community because that is not pc. there's a lot of us who have worked together in the past. bennett history conferences they had the pleasure of working. i've enjoyed about this conference it on like i speak of one who doesn't bother with social media i'm not in an echo chamber not reiterate going that is my problem to print instead i have learned a great deal for my colleagues have spoken about this. my role is both similar and dissimilar to adam's and john's. for one thing about the dod historian. i've been on quite a few documentaries. even though i tell them that never translates into the name.
the dod historian. in all actuality the historians to the office of the secretary of defense. they are each service program military service has a historian. those programs are much larger than mine. the joint chiefs of have a history office. the coaster each of the combat commands. i say all of this it speaks to in some respects leads to a lack of cohesion some of that is resource driven like the state
department we produce a book series as the name kind of says it all. it's the office of the secretary of defense historical series. these books rank from six -- 800 pages of a focus on the secretary of defense but the larger context of the national security policy of any given presidential administration under which the secretary serves. called numerous classified materials across inner agency from cia and other agencies. we submit our manuscripts for declassification. we about to publish under reagan at first volume will come out so
that might get us into kind of the challenges of classified history and the government so maybe i will leave it at that. >> i want to be mindful and leave time for the crowd here to ask questions. one of the grave challenges as we have heard work drowning with classified information. to declassify or not even close to catching up with it. many of us are thinking how to prioritize. and where to focus our limited resources to address the problem. it's got to be a question each of you asks as you carry on the new mission. as you think about what to write, what to tell what stories.
for the new executive order should try and deal of prioritization. next i don't want to just whine about a problem but i more by nature's look for a solution. i think trying to re- rate the executive order to address some of the problems that we collectively face is one way. current executive order there's much of a seat at the table for historians. and i think having a closer relationship and the records manager of which we are not one success story on the obama administration is implemented fully in the trump
administration. that involved and argentina document collection. i think adam you might have been involved in that as well. we worked with our records manager to identify documents that can be declassified and turned over to the argentine government covering that chapter in their history of the military dictatorship. the records and managers did an excellent job using keyword searches. there are limitations to keyword searches. we go through these files routinely and where to look, how to narrow searches. there needs to be a constant dialogue where you sit matters.
i know when i worked at state on i work there we were in the public affairs bureau the records people were elsewhere. dod an outfit in an organization where our records branch with us. we have of an approach for my counterparts don't have that kind of close relationship. i think the end result is frustration at getting at the records. knowing what to prioritize to put them in for declassification for it i can go on and on so i will stop here and let adam or john. >> how you think about prioritize? >> i like two things have been brought up this morning to things done when it's been brought up over and over responding. one of the biggest challenges we have we urged in with documents
of all the executive agencies and foreign policies. their technology does not speak to each other. it is something obviously it's a funding issue. you get that in place agency speak to each other will see much better efficiency and more speed in terms of declassification of the documents have incorporated in the series. and we got it. if you're someone sitting at a desk at the cia or state department someone puts on your desk a highly sensitive historical documents you are going to be leaning towards saying no because you have no incentive to say yes. your career is on the line we understand it that's an institutional problem if there are ways to come up that can provide incentives for people to save you know what?
it's important for me too release this information as opposed to holding it back for the third thing i will mention his education. it's a constant issue in the agencies with documents in the position two, three, four years tops typically. when they keep rotating in and out yet to consciously reeducate them this is the series its importance a congressional mandate. you don't always go get an opportunity to get in front of those people is are getting the documents. that's another issue they can afford preauthorization. >> i find from my perspective i'm been 24 years. i've only been a historian for most of that. perhaps the biggest issue we started to change that and shift and millions of pages over the national archives they can be properly taken care of.
now the questions i get regarding classification issues regarding fbi records, et cetera often come down and to make them available. and so it's a broader government record issue simply declassification. fbi records, people focus on them case-by-case. identifying a record here and there that should be reviewed for classification is not always work large of the records have gone out under some of these things there is congressional mandates. the nazi war crimes disclosure act the jfk record task force
acts. and frankly, as far as in getting information out to the public that is of interest is currently more effective. on the other hand because the fbi's case based a lot of other areas in the government actually identifiable people might want to see is not as difficult. most people are interested in the administrative that might be elsewhere. even there it's interesting stuff. it comes down to simply flood of records. picking out the gems is where professionals can sometimes help.
>> to add on to what we are all saying, i think it's a wonderful to have it outside advisory committee. i would also like to see the executive order rewritten to have an internal dod voice. because once you are in the government have the clearances and doing it day to day, you have an appreciation for the perspective that a scholar might bring. also the internal youmans invoice so to speak. dod kind of written into the executive order would be a highly effective mechanism. when you are in the government sadly have to think in terms of prophecies and mechanisms. i have an outside historian now and then highlighting problems.
maybe even longer having a historian on a daily basis would be most effective. that is my plug to everyone who has more than i. >> i will take what we can get. >> to you alright classified stories? like, and you write histories that are classified for that we write classified histories. rex don't think of any extended sense pretty certain that use classified records to answer specific questions. about either a case or an event. but, as far as doing an actual classified history i've been more of a consultant at times.
>> we very much do. we have the long term projects of the book but on a daily basis we are answering requests from different parts of the department. mainly the office of the secretary of defense. we generate information papers. we find documents to support this or that we do long-term classified studies. on average y generate close to four or 500 classified a reference request or daily i don't mean daily i mean dearly. i wish. >> are you mindful about how to make those records declassified the stories? >> we write them for people with clearances to inform policymakers and
decision-makers. mindful of the deep classification servicing those on a >> can you tell people how that request comes in? it's a policymakers senior official says what happened over the last three or four years in this area is that generally what happened 50 years ago? >> our offices got the reputation of being very responsive dod cipher the acronyms speak is notorious for coordination i think some of our higher ups have me and staff on speed dial. they know they can call us or e-mail and say can you get this or that? we generate what we can in the time constraints. >> what is this or that? what is the request? were they asking for?
>> i cannot get into too many specifics. but things related to current great power struggles. historical analogs from say the cuban missile crisis to the present. i am kind of mincing my words i don't want to reveal on c-span or wherever we are being televised what secretary of defense is asking us to look up. it has a meaningful impact on current foreign policy. >> decision-makers need to understand what happened in the past. some of that is classified. he traveled when he moved around 6000 books went with him.
new how to use historians with good effect. one of things we get request for often which is and analogies that can provide contracts for current policies for the other things institutional history. a lot of policies when understand how their predecessors reap organize elements how the department has handled changes in the pastoral things they have done when they face new challenges internally not just externally. >> on the history of the state department or the fbi. >> is institutional history institutional knowledge. once you mindful of our time and make sure those students out here have an opportunity to come and ask questions. we have about 15 minutes left we have a microphone appear.
and it was to ask questions otherwise will keep going. we have eager folks. my cousin was the late ana and she was with -- shoes on the assassination records and she works with the foreign records in the department of state as well. i'm over the law school one thing she commented on was the assassination records review board ci holding on existed. took them a long time to press
on various questions appealed to president clinton when she handled his last day in office or they had an office in mexico city because it's very close in issue. did you find the department of state more cooperative now on my cousin was there? turks have a good working relationship frank with all the agencies of the working level of already mentioned one of them is people are very concerned and their jobs, their careers distort releasing regulation. too that point everybody knows this why can't they release it? one thing to keep a vice government including ours where the official, we have this state
department or the printed volumes. therefore agencies will say it sure this is already been out into non- government publication. but you are the official documentary so it is a different story for that's right i know a lot of people get very frustrated because agencies make that distinction they say that's ridiculous it is out. but in terms of our relationship i can honestly say we have good relations working at the agencies. people at that working level as i mention they have a lot to worry about when you're looking at documents. then have that leadership at 40000 feet and compressing the forced from the trees for it takes a lot of effort there are very busy people. not always going to be able to get in front of them to make your case. that's where the difficulties come into play. more often than not. thanks. >> hello earlier this week i was in d.c. and out to
internationals by there was a section of about some countries altering photos rewriting textbooks and rewriting history for various reasons related to their politics at the time. i was curious about the ethics of the historian and redacting parts of historical records for natural interest. >> oh wow, sounds like a great paper topic. >> i think there's a big difference between redaction and altering. redaction you are just not revealing it. but altering is far different. i think that is the valiantly federal historians bring. we are not a spokesperson so to speak for any given agencies. we have freedom of speech. our secretary of dispense can be
quite critical. i am never told i must redact something because it's not flattering. most of the secretaries of defense, i'm thinking back before my time but my predecessor said he offered to let robert reed what was in a pretty critical volume on secretary declined said he respected historian. i don't know what else to say. next is a balance there. we do take the oath of office. we do cite a whole bunch of things about not disclosing classified information. for me at the fbi i also put obligations to protect fbi files of someone is still alive.
i have an obligation to protect and not disclose a number of our human sources who might not be classified. but are still peoples whose identities the fbi protects. and so when i tell a story i can't always put all the details. that doesn't mean i can't tell a truthful complete story. depending on what we talk about there's more than enough to do the job about as humanly completely as you can. there are most things. the balance comes simply and knowing you have certain obligations under the law. we also have an obligation to tell the truth.
and explain as completely as you understand what actually happened hopefully he do that pretty well. the bureaus willing to pay me for a good long time. they seem to be okay with me doing it. obviously redaction's are frustrating when your work with historical documents pressure said there is a story they're usually pretty don't always need all the details. what you do is try to negotiate we don't need this we don't need that but we need the story. it's finding the opportunity to get the story out that mean so much. again it goes back to the issue of resources but is not always easy to always find time for everybody to sit down and go through individual documents and talk about this should be kept out we are all committed to national security but the story can be told for this portion of the material. you get back and forth documents
even with redaction the american people what they need to understand foreign policy. again it's not easy to do when people's time is a precious it's hard to get in front of each other all the time tapas negotiations. >> i first entered the bureau i got my foot in the door as an analyst. someone at the magic marker truck lining out names and former identities and things like that. in night i was finishing up my dissertation using 10,000 pages of fbi records i was kind of torn, how much can i interpret into what's there? fbi records especially in the hoover days were incredibly redundant. they duplicated information
across a wide swath of things for you the organizations caption about what it was, who it was and so forth. so to the extent you can put a lot of information in there. so i had to be careful in the one sense i was not supposed to be using the details i might get for my day job and it turns out a friend of mine was processing so i could not speak to her about that. but you end up balancing the sayings and trying too as credible a job as you can. i was pleased with my dissertation i turned it into a book and movie rights are going and all that sort of thing. but who knows maybe in my post bureau career. brexit's essence like any of them are falsifying records and drink those kinds of things that you thought the spy museum either. thanks for your patience. >> good people there.
>> this address to the representative from osd it applies to all three of you. you make your job from the point of your institution is to rapidly respond to requests and support the mission of the secretary of defense. that requires you to retain a time depth of records which means that either you can't turn over records to the national archive, or you have to keep duplicates. i think that's a real problem with paper records as opposed to electronic records. am i missing something there? >> i think i understand your question, your concern. we obtain our records from the office of the secretary of defense branch. we used to get paper copies that
everything is digital. so we get hard drives of top-secret and secret level documentation. that does not preclude it from going in a timely way. >> of the real question. i did not know what you are still accessing paper records which you needed to retain what you had a great deal of time to go back 50 or 60 years even. from what i am understanding everything at your end has been digitized so it's not an issue. >> i have been in the position about 12 years of very historically reminded records of mine historian. we have made an effort to digitize and retire records that belong at the archives we have retained our own digital copy.
i think i can say all of the other dod programs follow suit. >> tried to work in the releases and other records like that. so at least before covid i went out when ever i could. i would have to look at our records there. you end up having to work that out. some records we have and if i need them i can figure it out through our systems. and if not i got archives. >> i think you are going to be our last question for the conference. trying to keep us all on time. no pressure. x well, okay. if you could fbi.gov/capitol violence you see pretty extraordinary media and a link
to what is happening at the justice department in respect to investigation of conspiracy. as a historian how are you approaching getting a public record of what is happening in that investigation, which some of the largest crowd source in the history. reaching out to the public to investigate. and work with the public. how are you thinking about retaining documents? do you have that as part of your work? >> as far as it goes for me i am in a one shop. even trying to capture a fraction of what the fbi is doing today would be impossible part ultimately i have to rely on the quality of our record-keeping system. and folks know we have records on everything. so basically i know we followed
the mayor's guidelines and dealing with records retention to the best of our ability. i believe you do the same with fbi.gov. it is not a story i'm going to be working on anytime soon. it still in litigation. it is not something i would even be able to comment on because my agency is still involved in it. just like a number of more recent record stories that were brought up this morning from our friends in the press. friends, yes? those are not stories that would fall under my role. not least of which is not finished yet. i have tended on cold war. civil rights era the threw me
out to talk about fbi records and malcom x on the netflix series. the bureaus had me talking to other people about this or that dealing with our old records. for dealing with closed cases with materials that are out there at least partially in the public. and said that is where my position ends up. >> when it finishes though, if you anticipate making online resource for americans so we can understand what is done? it's after a while the greatest domestic in our history. >> capturing electronic records is a struggle we hold government is undergoing. and it's working it's policies out for that. so, do i personally intend to do that? no because by the time it's finished i will be retired. [laughter] as far as the rest goes, sometimes we're wishing quite a lot. >> mark graham is making sure he