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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 4

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 4

Subject:

Re: NARA Press Briefing (reclassification audit)

From:

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Reply-To:

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Date:

Tue, 25 Apr 2006 15:35:14 -0400

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (74 lines)

Thanks so much for posting this, Bruce!

I found interesting the following paragraph:

""I think that sentence is very inartfully worded," said Mr. Kurtz. "I 
certainly did not think that that was the mission of the National 
Archives to, how should I put it, to fool people -- to deceive. At the 
same time, the concern of these agencies was that there was 
national-security information improperly released, so we had to strike 
a balance ... between protecting national-security information and 
having the maximum access possible."

It isn't surprising to me that external stakeholders might not realize 
that NARA has to work constantly at keeping the confidence of 
researchers in how it handles records.   I don't think other agencies 
with equities in the archival records always consider that.  Some may, 
others don't appear to.

Certainly, my late sister Eva (who worked in NARA's declassification 
division) would not be surprised that representatives of other agencies 
sometimes come across as heavy handed.   Sometimes the problems lie in 
what agency representatives say in public.  If you read George 
Lardner's May 2001 article about NARA and the DOE Kyl-Lott review, you 
don't get much expressed concern from DOE's officials about NARA's need 
to apply balancing tests.  They come across as somewhat self important 
and not very attuned to NARA's need to maintain trust with all the 
stakeholders, including the research public.   I remember Eva rolled 
her eyes when she saw some of the quotes attributed to DOE officials in 
George Lardner's 2001 article.  (BTW, Eva's reaction to the posturing 
in the article was not political.  Far from it  -  Eva never voted 
anything but straight Republican during her lifetime, LOL.)  I often 
think about Eva as I read about the current controversy.  She was a 
very dedicated NARA employee and a good public servant.  Eva generally 
got along well with everyone she worked with, from inside and outside 
NARA.  Many people commented on that to us after her death.  We also 
received a lovely letter from John Carlin.  Ah, I really miss my sis!

It's clear to me that external stakeholders don't always consider 
potential harm to NARA when they push their agendas.  What seems 
effective at one time as a pressure tactic actually can later 
boomerang.   (Now that its Library is about to merge with NARA, the 
Nixon Birthplace and Library Foundation has taken down the link on its 
website  to John Taylor's 1998 imflammatory article on archivists and 
the Nixon tapes.  But it still remains accessible in the cached version 
at http://shrinkster.com/dz6 . )  Unfortunately, a heavy handed 
approach often raises suspicions whereas being forthright soothes 
fears.  No one disputes that certain categories of information need to 
be protected.  However, how that is done requires contextual 
sophistication beyond what was shown by the agencies that asked NARA to 
sign the MOUs.  It's much harder to persuade those from whom you are 
withholding information that everything is procedurally on the up and 
up than it is to ensure restriction.

NARA always has had to work at striking a balance between protecting 
various categories of information and providing the maximum access 
possible.  However, there is no need for deception (fooling people) in 
getting that done.  As I said earlier, the power lies in the hands of 
those with custody of the records, not those clamoring for their 
release.

Maarja

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