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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 2

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 2

Subject:

Re: nara and reclassification

From:

[log in to unmask]

Reply-To:

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Date:

Fri, 14 Apr 2006 13:50:46 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (115 lines)

Richard and List:

Just as I was troubled during my own career at NARA by the though of 
representing deletions requested by Nixon as independent archival 
withdrawals, so too am I troubled by what news stories suggest about 
the NARA AF MOU.  We have yet to hear a good explanation from NARA 
about the reclassification matter.  Who knows how much NARA will be 
able to tell the public.

In the Nixon case, no one argued that Nixon did not have a right to ask 
NARA to withhold information pending a determination by the 
Presidential Materials Review Board.  Nixon and now his estate had 
every right to disagree with archival decisions on what to release from 
White House records.  But, in my view (shared by almost all of my 
1989-era staff level colleagues), any such disagreement had to be 
handled srupulouosly, through regulatory channels, in order to protect 
the overall credibility of NARA's archival screening efforts.  I 
actually said to a colleague then and later testified under oath about 
my comment that "we weren't serving the former President very well" by 
considering agency actions that would raise questions about the 
handling of tapes dealing with the Watergate coverup.

(I like what my current boss, Comptroller General David M. Walker, said 
in a speech last year about other issues, unrelated to what I'm 
describing here:  "We need leaders who have the integrity to lead by 
example and to practice what they preach, leaders who recognize that 
the law is the floor of acceptable conduct and who strive to meet a 
higher standard.")

The same is true with declassification/reclassification.  I can see how 
outside agencies (which, as was Nixon, are parties with a vested 
interest in records they created or have equities in) might view 
declassification issues differently than NARA.   Bruce Craig raises a 
good question in his newsletter:

"This raises the issue: why in the first place did the parties to the 
agreement believe it a necessity to keep the re_review "secret."   
There are other very public re-reviews being conducted by such agencies 
as the
Department of Energy that is carrying out the Congressionally mandated 
Kyle-Lott review of inadvertent releases relating to nuclear energy and 
weapons programs."

It's unclear to me why the reported NARA effort by AF et al. was not 
handled more transparently (simply in terms of admitting to its 
existence and providing unclassified details of procedures or 
protocols), or at least more like the DOE effort.  After all, it's not 
like any researcher could compel NARA or an agency with equities to 
release something that should  not have been released.  The power, and 
therefore the necessary trust, lies in the  hands of those holding the 
records, not those clamoring for there release.  Given the nature of 
the effort described in the MOU, I see NARA really being in a bind 
here.  No matter what it says, people are going to ask, well, what else 
has been concealed.  That's sad for me to see.  I can't imagine the 
pressure it must have faced in order to go along with this.

Richard, what would you suggest SAA do in this matter?  I tend to agree 
that it should issue a statement, but it needs to be carefully crafted.

I know back in 1992-1993, as the Nixon case unfolded, I kept looking 
for SAA to comment.  However, as I read through the court pleadings and 
deposition transcripts, I came to recognize that not all the NARA 
players were on the same page.  Some of what I saw in the early court 
filings surprised me.  People such as John Fawcett and Nancy Smith 
helped prepare the initial, July 1992 responses to interrogatories and 
document production requests in Kutler v. Wilson.  They never consulted 
with veteran former Nixon Project staff, such as Fred Graboske or me.

John Fawcett was one of the first NARA officials to testify in the 
Nixon tapes case.  Fred Graboske and I testified later, in August and 
September 1992, recounting the 1989 meeting among Fawcett and Nixon 
Project archivists.  (Fred wasn't there but testified about how he 
discussed the meeting with me and with Paul Schmidt right after it 
occurred.)  I don't know of anyone from SAA who went to the courthouse 
in 1992 or 1993 to read through all the stuff I read there, although I 
suppose they could have done so.  Absent an effort to learn what was 
said under oath, any SAA reaction to the Nixon problems would have been 
based on second-hand accounts.  And SAA hardly was in a position to 
start picking and choosing among varying positions voiced by NARA 
employees.  Absent an attempt to get into the nitty gritty of the 
issues buried in the court filings, which would have been complicated 
but would have served NARA well, all SAA then could do was issue 
general statements.

Maarja


-----Original Message-----
From: Richard Cox <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Fri, 14 Apr 2006 15:35:48 +0000
Subject: nara and reclassification

Below is another view into the Nara and reclassification case, and this 
view
suggests a serious breach of professional ethics (in my opinion).  I do 
not
believe SAA has issued a statement/position on the reclassification, 
and I urge
members of SAA to communicate with SAA leadership to look into this 
case and
take a position.

A posting from the Archives & Archivists LISTSERV List sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, www.archivists.org.
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