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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 3

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 3

Subject:

Re: Statements by Carlin & Weinstein on reclassification case

From:

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Reply-To:

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Date:

Tue, 18 Apr 2006 10:45:20 -0400

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (85 lines)

Richard Cox writes:

"We should compare the recent statements of the former and current 
Archivists on the NARA reclassification case, and we should wonder just 
who is in charge at this institution. And, as well, we should wonder 
how many other secret deals have been made by someone at this 
institution. We need to remember that the Information Security 
Oversight Office is an internal NARA organ. While Dr. Weinstein’s 
statement may seem reassuring, I believe we are pass the point when 
NARA can be trusted on its own to regulate itself; that trust can be 
regained, but it will have to come through independent oversight.

I urge all archivists to write to the Society of American Archivists to 
demand that our professional association create an independent body to 
look into what is going on in this case, as well as reconsider how NARA 
can be strengthened as an archival agency in this era of growing 
government secrecy. I also urge archivists to support the work of the 
National Security Agency in its efforts to function as a watchdog of 
NARA."

I agree with Richard that these issues are too important to leave by 
the wayside.  And I strongly agree that SAA should look at what 
happened here and also to consider how NARA can be strengthened as an 
archival agency.

A few additional comments.  Richard asks who is in charge of NARA.  We 
do not yet know who all the players were in the acceptance of the two 
MOUs.  Some of this may be difficult to unravel.  The Archives' lawyers 
may claim attorney-client privilege, for example, over the substance of 
what they advised.  However, NARA should be able to telll us whether or 
not the MOUs were passed through its Office of General Counsel. That 
type of procedural routing information should not be privileged.  Nor 
do we know what pressure various officials faced.  I don't know how 
much NARA will admit to.

As to who is in charge, anyone who works in a large organization knows 
that the man or woman at the top may not get involved in all the nitty 
gritty but often relies on direct reports for briefings or a heads up 
about contentious matters.  What he or she is told obviously will vary. 
And how an agency head interprets a briefing or a heads up depends in 
part on his or her own level of technical knowledge of the issues.

There are a number of areas where this process can break down.  We 
simply do not yet know what happened at NARA.  I understand, of course, 
why Richard is leery of internal organs.  NARA does not have a strong 
history of examining thoroughly or candidly problems relating to third 
party pressure it faces in attempting to open historical records.  Or 
reporting about such findings publicly.  In my view, the past failure 
to do so simply sets the scene for future pressure.  However, I am 
cautiously optimistic that Mr. Leonard of ISOO will, at a minimum, be 
able to address forthrightly the issues relating to reclassification.  
He also may be able to address the roles played by various people 
inside and outside NARA in agreeing to the MOUs.  I understand, 
however, why Richard and others may disagree with me.  Hence the need 
for SAA and others to play a role, as well.

I used to talk during the 1990s about my Nixon Project experiences with 
my late sister, Eva, who worked in NARA's declassification unit.  I 
asked her how she would feel if third parties outside the agency asked 
her to represent their deletions as her own, independent archival 
decisions.  I argued that NARA must scrupulously differentiate between 
deletions made by its staff and retractions requested by others.  Eva 
often replied, "Oh, those are NL(the Office of Presidential Libraries) 
problems.  NL is different; the rest of NARA doesn't face that sort of 
thing."  I wonder what she would think of the present controversy!

Examining these issues is not political, of course.  Regardless of our 
individual political views, I would hope that all of us who subscribe 
to the List can relate to the need to preserve the public trust in 
matters relating to national memory.

Maarja

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