A Debate: Should Allen Weinstein Be Confirmed as Chief Archivist of the United States?Historians/History
President Bush has nominated Allen Weinstein, author of Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case and The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America- -The Stalin Era, to be the chief archivist of the United States. Some history groups have objected to Weinstein's nomination on the grounds that he has thus far failed to share the notes and documents on which he based his book, The Haunted Wood. At his recent confirmation hearing he announced that he now plans to make these records "available to researchers without restriction 'by early next year' at the Hoover Institution." A spirited debate about Weinstein's nomination recently occurred on Richard Jensen's list:
Paul Gottfried (Professor of history at Elizabethtown College)
What amazes me about this testimony is that Allen Weinstein, who is certainly not a "conservative" but a self-identified 1960s Humphrey Democrat, is being beaten up for "protecting" his sources. Isn't this exactly what the leftists love when the New York Times claims to be using confidentiality to go after Republican presidents or to expose the excesses of anti-Communism? The other deeper problem with Weinstein is that he's had the chutzpah to unmask a Communist spy. Since the end of the Cold War both here and in Europe the establishment Left treats any mention of Communist mass murder or Communist spying as a dangerous diversion from pressing social issues and as evidence of gross insensitivity. Obviously Weinstein is an insensitive person who is unfit to run the National Archives.
Paul Gottfried's reactions to the hearings on Allen Weinstein's confirmation as Archivist of the United States are misguided. Newspaper reporters have an obligation to protect the confidentiality of their sources. That is as important to their professional obligations as client confidentiality is to the legal or medical professions. The professional obligations of historians and archivists run exactly in the other direction: to openness and transparency.
The Senate should not confirm Weinstein until he has deposited his notes and copies of documents with an archive and made them available to other researchers. The rest of us have every right to be able to check his sources for accuracy and we have no opportunity to do so until he makes them available to the rest of us. Short of that, he doesn't meet the test of understanding the obligation of historians and archivists to make sources available to researchers as expeditiously as possible.
I can't figure out why national newspapers, which represent a power vastly greater than any individual scholar, should be more shielded in their right not to divulge sources than Allen Weinstein. If Mr. Weinstein wants to protect his sources, in accordance with a promise, he should be allowed to.
In any case, I can't see why this decision should keep him from being named to the post of national archivist. As anyone who knows me can testify, I am taking this stand without any predilection for Weinstein's politics. But I do admire his courage in blowing the whistle on the abominable Hiss, something that could not advance Weinstein's fortunes in today's academic world.
Michael EtchisonSay that a historian acquires documents from their sole possessor, precisely on the understanding that they will never be released. Does the Code require a) that the historian never use those documents, b) that once he uses those documents he violate his pledge ?
The answer to Michael Etchison's hypothetical is not so difficult as he may think it. It is the same for a historian as it is for an archivist: an archive may receive and maintain a collection with the understanding that it is closed or that it is accessible with restrictions for a period of time. No archive would or should ever agree to receive a collection which is closed to research in perpetuity. No historian should agree to accept a collection of papers which he has agreed never to use or make available forothers to use.In Weinstein's case, he has readily agreed to accept a nomination which would make him the most visible archivist in the United States. For that reason, he must either meet standards above and beyond what is expected of all the rest of us (he should be the exemplar). He should place the notes and documents in question on deposit, without restriction of access, or he should withdraw his name from nomination.
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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
Maarja Krusten's list of qualifications is far more informative than the confusing and unexplained tempest over the non-contextually discussed "Haunted Wood".
(All too typically for HNN, rhetoric, misleading sensationalism, and an artificial "left vs right" dichotomy appear to have again upstaged historical understanding and explanation, in the article on this page and on the page referenced above by Jonathan Dresner).
To the list of desired abilities and traits in a senior archivist, I would add "knowledge of the processes of discovering, documenting, and explaining history".
I have encountered too many senior staffers at government archives in the U.S. (this is less of problem elsewhere, in my experience) who act as though they were deputy policeman or apprentice forest rangers. With pomp and arrogance, they devote 100% of their attention to enforcement of rules (for visitors to the archives) which they don't understand. Many of these rules, at least in these petty-minded bureaucrats' ignorant attempts to apply them, are actually harmful to the protection of documents, and are needlessly disruptive to historical researchers.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
Dear (Ms?) Krusten:
Thanks for your comment. I am not going to be too much specific about which archives I have worked in and which people I encountered there, partly because I don’t have a complete recollection of all such specifics, and partly because I don’t think they are pertinent to the general issues I have raised. But, I can go into more detail re the reasons for my concerns and will do so here.
The problems I referred to in my earlier post go deeper than impoliteness, failure to achieve "balance" between "protecting documents" and "assisting researchers", or inabilities to convey "underlying reasons" for rules. I should maybe say “went deeper" because my experiences were back in the late 1990s (and it is possible that things have improved since, although that seems unlikely, especially in light of your remarks re contract staff).
What I saw (amongst a minority of government archives and archivist, I should say) were dysfunctional rules enforced by staff who were both fairly clueless and indifferent to what the purpose of their archive was.
Archived documents are not like tracts of protected wilderness which have values (genetic diversity, resource conservation, etc.) quite apart from whether anybody ever sees, walks through, or even knows about them. Archived documents are a means towards understanding the past, and the reason taxpayers pay the salaries of public archivists is so that those archives can be of service to researchers and the interested public generally. Of course, part of the job of servicing visitors is to protect documents from mishandling by such visitors; mishandling which would then preclude later visitors from being able to access the materials.
Huge amounts of material at places such as the U.S. National Archives consist of gazillions of boxes of semi-organized and mostly uncatalogued masses of paper. If looking at those papers were handled like camping in a national park, the rule "leave it better than you found it” (take out only trash left by previous visitors, leave only footprints, etc.), might apply.
Instead these archives often employ teams of custodians who preside, for example, over what visitors are allowed to touch and photocopy from the boxes (the contents of which these staffers are utterly clueless of and thoroughly disinterested in). A common consequence is arbitrary rules, for example, about wearing gloves (to "protect documents from fingerprints", but which actually helps shred them). Or allowing unlimited repeat photocopying on a scanner (because the regular copier is "too damaging") -which will, however, surely damage old books, folders, etc. eventually- but never conceiving of the idea of allowing a researcher to once make a good photocopy of an entire folder, for instance, on the regular photocopier, so that future users need only copy the copy, without disturbing the original. Finally, while these staffers sit around do nothing for long periods in between their mostly proforma petty approvals, it is extremely rare to see them ever checking to see whether the contents of visitor-examined boxes are being replaced in approximately the original order or condition. The result, I do not doubt, is, instead of gradual organization of the materials, increasing disorganization.
I could give further examples, but this should convey the gist of the problems. These problems are not directly related to the qualifications of someone at a very senior level, like chief archivist of a whole country, but making archives more functional and more genuinely protective of their material, it seems to me, will not come unless the top people understand what their real purpose to society is. I recognize, of course, that budget limits, and the sheer scale of a big archive, constrain the ability of archivists there to preserve materials and to help the public use them. That is no excuse, however, for having people working at such archives who are clueless about what the purpose of their jobs are. I am not calling for perfection, only a basic competency. Of course, it should (but probably doesn’t) go without saying that if the White House is more devoted to secrecy that any of its predecessors (I paraphrase John Dean, whose book “Worse than Watergate” I have lent out, re the GW Bush Administration) this compounds the challenges immensely, in the case of the U.S. National Archives.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
Your insights and generously shared experiences are valuable, but you err in assuming that HNN is run, posted on, and read mostly by "academic historians".
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
Historians generally are respectful of historical context. A bit more here would be useful.
Can someone tell us the subject of "The Haunted Wood" and discuss whether there were legitimate reasons why the sources for it had to be protected, even temporarily ?
How do any such justifiable grounds for non-disclosure compare to the reasons stated by Weinstein at time ?
Other than this one case, what are Weinstein's general qualifications for a senior archivist's position ?
How do such qualifications compare to the likely reasons for his being nominated for Chief Archivist ?
Roger James Sandilands - 8/31/2004
What a pathetic, parochial, ad hominem reply. How to win friends and influence people! Remember it next time you post on foreign affairs.
Try comparing my 'passionate defence of Currie' (about whom I am far better informed than Weinstein) with the venomous passion of Weinstein's attacks on him -- based on unsubstantiated conjecture masquerading as fact, and on loose citations or summaries of KGB messages that he refuses to let others see in the original.
Weinstein's shoddy historiography and secretiveness should surely disqualify him from the post of national archivist in any country.
Mr Safranski may discount my opinion as that of a bloody foreigner, but it is one shared by my many US friends (who, incidentally, alerted me to his xenophobic message).
- Roger Sandilands
mark safranski - 8/24/2004
My point, as should be obvious, was that General Kobyakov and yourself may be less than objective in assessing the merits of Allen Weinstein to head the National Archives. You wrote:
"This approach smacks of the tendency in much of the mole-hunting historiography (often not without a political agenda in which the more moles the better) to start with a presumption of guilt and to discount contrary interpretations of the evidence; in effect, to require the accused to prove a negative."
This isn't an argument over whether or not Currie or White or Hiss were Soviet spies; we are discussing whether Weinstein is qualified for his political appointment. Your objectivity is in my view prejudiced by your passionate defense of Currie and secondly, if you are a British citizen, your opinion here really doesn't count for much. At least not any more than mine should over who Tony Blair appoints to a junior ministry.
For that matter, since Kobyakov is a citizen and agent of a *foreign state* whose intelligence activities formed a considerable portion of Weinstein's critical historical research, I'm not really sure why we are bothering with his opinion to begin with. We might as well ring up Kryuchkov and see how he feels about Allen Weinstein.
Maarja Krusten - 8/3/2004
Thanks for speaking up and adding an interesting perspective to this thread. If you click on the links to the names at the top of the Cliopatria blog, you will see that people such as Ralph Luker, Jonathan Dresner, Timothy Burke, once worked as or still are employed as professors by universities. It is their articles and blogs which trigger most debates on HNN. And they certainly fit the bill as academic historians. You are right, of course, that not everyone posting on HNN in response to the articles is an academic historian. However, I have seen few voices reflecting a governmental employee perspective. I tend to think most government employees find it prudent to keep their heads down. Still, one would think some retirees would feel it safe to add their voices to the mix.
Maarja Krusten - 8/2/2004
My generation of government archivists, the people who remember President John F. Kennedy's call to public service, is aging and many of us soon will be eligible to retire. Younger archivists who are just starting out hear so much in the media from politicians about culture wars and partisan perspectives. Are they prepared to fight the tough battles inside the Archives on behalf of history that we once fought? Do they feel that the historical community deserves that? Who knows. I think it would be useful for them to hear historians say that some issues transcend ideology and party loyalty. Unfortunately, thus far, mine seems to be the only voice saying that on HNN. For the most part, the others keep re-hashing the old right-left wars about Alger Hiss, etc, although a few point to larger vulnerabilities.
Earlier this year, a well known historian told me that he thinks the historical community in general has let down the National Archives during the last 10-15 years by not learning about and speaking up on important public policy issues. I keep trying to figure out what the barriers are.
At least four of my colleagues at the Archives sacrificed their careers in the late 1980s and early 1990s to try to ensure that the right thing was done with the Nixon records in the face severe political pressure. I thought of my former colleagues and the battles we fought together for historians, when Hayden Peake, a scholar, posted to H-diplo in April 2001 in response to one of my posts. Peake rebuffed my explanations of the difficult challenges faced by the National Archives by saying, "There is no need to gain insight into NARA's problems, it is the solution to the scholars' problems that require attention." Did that simply reflect a self centered perspective or was it the result of a closed mind?
It amazes me sometimes that academic historians resort so much to wrangling amongst themselves. I guess because I am in government, I have overlooked how competitive the academic environment must be. Maybe the need to sell one's history books or to have one's theories proven right can trump other considerations in academe. It must make it harder to have the sense of community that we government historians share.
At any rate, judging by HNN, it certainly seems to me that academic historians have a hard time overcoming ideology and closing ranks when public policy issues crop up. I think the fact that Weinstein wrote about Alger Hiss has been a red flag to historians on the right and the left. But, whether they are on the left or the right, surely it would be safe for historians to take a neutral stance on the Archives as an institution, by agreeing that a U.S. Archivist should be protected from political pressure from either party. Or saying the Archivist should strive to properly balance competing interests in public access! Insteed, HNN still is awash in Hiss and the Haunted Wood.
Perhaps academics, like most specialists, prefer to stick to what they know best. But remember, archivists also are historians (NARA generally requires a graduate degree in history for one to become a journeyman archivist, or it did when I was employed there)--and many archivists do read HNN.
Maarja Krusten - 8/2/2004
A National Archives' official very kindly provided a current link to Gov. Carlin's speech. To read the incumbent U.S. Archivist's 1998 speech on the value of records in American life, and challenges in the age of digital records, please see
Maarja Krusten - 8/2/2004
I've posted at length above about the National Archives' vulnerabilities and about the qualities I as a former archivist would like to see in the agency's chief. Readers can read more about past controversies in books and articles by Stanley Kulter, Joan Hoff, Seymour Hersh, and Jack Hitt. I leave it up to the HHH community to judge how Allen Weinstein will do in this environment. I find it curious that there have been few postings in this thread. Do the underlying problems of the Archives as an executive branch agency not resonate with historians? Or have I not made the challenges clear enough? Perhaps the focus of the initial Gottfried/Luker/Etchison posting simply led people who are not up on the Haunted Wood controversy to shy away from the thread for starters. Or people may not want to be drawn into what unfortunately seems like a right and left split.
While I do not discount the Hiss and Haunted Wood controversies, I do not believe they should be used as the sole indicator of how Dr. Weinstein would perform as U.S. Archivist. More to the point might be how well an Archivist nominee has adhered to professional standards not only when he had something to gain or lose personally, but also in the face of political pressure exerted against the subordinates in his care; his track record on standing up for rather than sacrificing subordinates in the face of tough challenges; whether he typically defers to power or spends his professional currency in trying to achieve proper balance of competing interests, etc.
Some things will be beyond his control. An Archivist might be a person of enormous personal integrity and high standards but, if the interests of a sitting President lie in limited disclosure, as a subordinate agency, the Archives still might be forced to take questionable positions in court during litigation. Conversely, if a White House and its Justice Department are committed to public accountability and transparency, the Archivist most likely will take a reasonable position on public access or in matters in litigation. An administration's stance on public disclosure will affect those issues at least as much as the Archivist's personal characteristics. Where personal characteristics such as courage and integrity most matter are behind the scenes, where the Archivist has a choice of whether or not to push for doing the right thing, whether he prevails or not.
Jack Hitt drew a bleak picture of NARA during the late 1980s and early 1990's in "Nixon's Last Trump" (Harper's, August 1994). He described Nixon's "cunning flirtation" with top NARA administrators through which "he got exactly what he wanted: complicity on the part of the archives administrators . . . to prevent the working archivists from releasing the tapes." Hitt felt that the pressure against disclosure reduced NARA's managers to "obedient sycophants." HNN readers would do well to consider carefully the forces in Washington that then led to so harsh a critique of the nation's record keeper.
Maarja Krusten - 8/1/2004
Thanks to everyone who has waded through my long postings on complex issues. For any reader who wants to learn more about the National Archives' vulnerabilities as a subordinate agency of the executive branch, see my article from 1996 (Maarja Krusten, "Watergate's Last Victim," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Winter 1996).
I do not believe the article is available online except through Proquest's subscription service. So I have copied from my files the portion of my article that deals with Professor Stanley Kutler's 1992 lawsuit.
"In 1985, senior Justice Department officials met with Nixon's lawyers. They discussed how the Kennedy Presidential Library was releasing only "the most favorable" items, then tried to force NARA to accept privilege claims against disclosure, only to be stopped by a court decision. . . . .
Unprotected, NARA fell into a deepening pattern of political deference. In 1987, the agency bowed to Nixon's pressure against release of documents. In 1989, it accepted Nixon's list of secret deletions to Watergate tapes. In 1993, the Archives signed an extralegal agreement giving President George Bush control over White House E-mail. . . .
Court records (as well as my personal experience) illustrate NARA's vulnerabilities. Over the protests of working archivists, senior managers in 1989 accepted from Nixon an informal list of deletions to Watergate tapes previously screened for privilege by Judge John Sirica. Agency regulations require public notice of external claims against release of Nixon's records. In opening tape extracts in 1991, NARA did not inform scholars it removed information at Nixon's behest. When historian Stanley Kutler sued for tapes access in 1992 (D.D.C., Civ. A. 92-662-NHJ), NARA continued to shield Nixon's role in tape deletions, admitting it in court only after revelations by working archivists.
Through lawyer Elizabeth A. Pugh, the Justice Department defended the acceptance of the Nixon excision list by NARA managers. Pugh argued in an October 26, 1994 pleading that since no researchers challenged the opening of the tapes in 1991, belated allegations about their handling were moot. Of course, in 1991 researchers could not protest Nixon's role because the government concealed it. The argument in Pugh's pleading implied support for concealing agency actions from the public.
. . . . Anyone who doubts the Archives' predicament should consider the fact that, while lawyers . . . asserted the need to re-screen Nixon's tapes to identify more "personal" segments, a senior NARA manager privately described this as "a chicken-s*** idea." The handling of Kutler's Nixon tapes lawsuit provides a stark lesson in how post-Watergate Washington operates. Let me illustrate this with a personal note. As a former NARA Nixon Project tapes archivist, I testified in the Kutler case in 1992. After later studying the court record, I approached Acting Archivist Peterson in 1994 with ethical concerns about disinformation and possible witness intimidation in the government's defense of the lawsuit. . . . she encouraged me to turn to the Justice Department. [Don Wilson headed the Archives at the time I testified in the Kutler lawsuit in 1992. Dr. Peterson took charge of the agency in 1993 after Dr. Wilson stepped down.]
Concerned that the head of the Archives might suffer political retribution for efforts to correct litigation records, I decided I should bear any potential retaliation alone. When I spelled out my concerns to the Justice Department, I attempted to protect Peterson by shielding my contact with her from the government lawyers who "represent" NARA in court."
See also my February 2004 article on the History News Service, posted at
This article mentions in passing how one of Dr. Peterson's opponents within the National Archives leaked an internal NARA document to Nixon's lawyer. I believe Dr. Peterson was and is an honorable person who tried to do her best as Acting U.S. Archivist under extremely difficult circumstances.
Not an easy environment in which to operate. As I keep saying, based on my 31-years (and counting) as a federal employee, Dr. Weinstein or any U.S. Archivist faces and will continue to face enormous challenges in Washington. All the more reason to stop looking at the nomination solely through the Hiss and Haunted Wood prism.
Maarja Krusten - 8/1/2004
Thank you for the nice comments and the interesting posting. I agree with you about the damaging effect of sensationalism, reliance on right-left dichotomies, and inflated rhetoric! Too often it seems as if there is more heat than light on HNN.
Sorry to hear you have had some bad experiences with government archivists. It is not clear to me whether the negative encounters you describe occurred at the National Archives or elsewhere.
Having worked both sides of the research room setting (assisting researchers while employed by NARA and doing research at NARA after leaving the agency's employ), I believe most federal archivists are genuinely committed to protecting documents and to assisting researchers. But, let's face it, they are human and some balance these requirements better than others.
While most of my former colleagues handled their responsibilities very well, I'm not surprised you have run into some people who acted with pomp or arrogance or failed to convey the underlying reason for rules and regulations. It takes patience to explain why rules are in place and some employees handle the day to day grind of staffing a research room better than others. And, of course, it is the responsibility of security specialists, preservation experts, and archival experts to coordinate carefully with all the stakeholders to ensure that any rules put in place are reasonable. From what you describe, it sounds as if some of that coordination may have been lacking. I'm curious to know what you encountered that seemed damaging to documents.
It will be interesting to see what you as a researcher will encounter as the government replaces more and more of its civil service employees with contract staff, who will be less vested in the instititutions that employ them.
On the other side, some researchers make unreasonable demands or ask for special privileges. I still have not figured out how and why Sandy Berger was able to bring a portfolio into the Archives' classified research room. It sounds like some rules were bent. I have some theories on how that may have come about but will have to wait and see what the final official report on the Berger matter says. One of the news reports I saw described Berger as imperious, just the type of high powered former official who might throw his weight around. Definitely every reference archivist's worst nightmare! Yesterday's Wall Street Journal reported that the government has concluded no original documents are missing as a result of Berger's visits to the research room, and that the 9/11 commission saw everything pertinent.
Maarja Krusten - 7/31/2004
Sorry, I neglected to close the quote in the sentence quoting U.S Archivist John Carlin, "We have paper dispatches that generals sent and received in the course of conducting the Civil War more than a hundred years ago, but a hundred years from now will electronic records remain accessible on which to study command decisions in the Gulf War?" Obviously, only that one sentence should be attributed to Governor Carlin. Readers who want to read the full article, please see Lecture transcript, John W. Carlin, "Ready Access to Essential Evidence: The Meaning of Records in American Life," March 1, 1998, originally web posted on August 2, 1999, at http://www.nara.gov/nara/vison/r-980302.html . That link now is out of date, I have been unable to locate a current link. (In itself an illustration of the ephemeral nature of source materials collected in the Internet age!)
Maarja Krusten - 7/31/2004
The statement that during the Cold War, "I voted for Nixon, Bush, Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush" should read "I voted for Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush." I inadvertently listed George H. W. Bush twice in describing my voting record from 1972 to 1988.
Maarja Krusten - 7/31/2004
I do believe that how an historian handles controversies tells us something about his judgment, standards, and how he handles issues of perception. But I have not followed the PERJURY and HAUNTED WOOD controversies closely enough to comment on the specifics of the issues.
During the Cold War, I voted for Nixon, Bush, Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. I now describe myself as an Independent and try to keep an open mind on many issues rather than readily following a party line. Hence my uneasiness with the seemingly ideological right left split over Allen Weinstein.
As a former archivist at the National Archives, one who worked primarily with the Nixon tapes, I do know what qualities I would like to see in an Archivist of the United States. These include:
A STRONG COMMITTMENT TO PROPERLY BALANCING COMPETING INTERESTS IN PUBLIC ACCESS TO HISTORICAL RECORDS. A U.S. Archivist often faces political pressure on issues relating to high level or controversial historical records. He may even find himself overruled at times by the White House and the Department of Justice. But he must be committed to making the strongest possible case for a proper balance of competing interests in public access issues.
The strongest pressure on public access issues often comes from former Presidents, their families, their former associates, and their allies in government. They often argue for limited or selective access. This is natural. They lack historical detachment. Fear of embarrassment is so strong and so human, it can override any other considerations. Scholars, on the other hand, often push to see everything. Yet there clearly is information which requires protection for privacy, classification, etc.
Those arguing to shield information often have more clout and power than those arguing for access. Nevertheless, the Archivist must act as an honest broker. Even when he risks being overruled, he must try to make a reasonable case for proper balance on access issues. He cannot be seen as someone who cedes too much ground to one or the other of the competing interests.
(Note--Dr. Weinstein has mentioned his work with the Mary Baker Eddy papers. I do not know much about those papers. On the surface, these seem to be akin to "donor restricted" papers, where the balance of power often lies strongly with the individual's institution (in this case, with Mary Baker Eddy's institution.) An institution may have a strong vested interest in the way its story is told. In such cases, the private institution's interests often prevail over historians' needs. Since I don't know how the competing interests were balanced in the case of the Mary Baker Eddy papers, I can only say that the situation is not analogous to a federal archives, where certain laws and regulations are supposed to prevail. So it does not really tell me much about what Dr. Weinstein would do in a governmental environment.)
OBJECTIVITY. The Archivist cannot be aligned with -- or be perceived to be aligned with -- any political party or any special interest groups or partisan forces.
SERVING AS A MISSIONARY FOR HISTORY AND RECORD KEEPING. Rarely does the National Archives acknowledge the changes that have taken place in Washington since the public documents commission met during the 1970s. In addition to his other duties, the U.S. Archivist must serve as a missionary for good record keeping. This can be very difficult.
Writing in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Michael Beschloss noted in December 2002:
"Increasingly worried about such political dangers as subpoenas from special prosecutors, newspaper leaks, and memoirs by disgruntled ex-officials published while their ex--bosses are still in office, presidents and their chief officials shy away from putting things on paper. Public figures no longer write the kind of thoughtful, discursive letters and revealing memos that we used to see. People in Washington are more public relations savvy than in earlier times and, thus, more adept at drafting memos and other records that conceal their motives and can fool the historian.
The result of all of this is that a historian of the years of Bill Clinton, George W Bush, or their successors may not have the kind of sources needed to understand who did what to whom and why as well as a scholar might for, say, the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. The result of this could be that historical scholarship on future presidents may become, of necessity, more speculative."
If, as Beschloss and other observers have pointed out, there now is diminished record keeping, it will be very difficult for the Archivist to counter the trend. The imperative not to create records in Washington would seem to be much stronger than the need to create a good paper trail. Nevertheless, the U.S. Archivist must offer affirmative reasons for good record keeping.
POLITICAL SOPHISTICATION. While he cannot allow his position to be politicized, the Archivist must be politically sophisticated. He needs to form strategic alliances and to know how to survive in Washington without compromising the integrity of the institution he heads. Not easy, by any means!
UNDERSTANDING TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGES AND CHALLENGES. The Archivist must be committed to the preservation of records in all media. This is critical because technological advances have coincided with seeming increased caution in documentation. Beschloss, Lloyd Cutler, and former government officials such as Steve Garfinkel have noted a chilling effect on government record keeping in the post-Watergate era.
Reliance on personal computers largely has removed from the office the neutral buffer of a secretary, the third party with no vested interest in the content of records. Fewer and fewer offices rely on secretaries, who once were responsible for filing incoming letters, and keeping notes, working documents and carbon copies of outgoing correspondence, thereby ensuring that they were preserved for posterity. Instead, officials--the people with the greatest vested interests in how their activities will be viewed--create their own records on computers and are responsible for saving (or not saving) them within document management systems or on hard drives.
The incumbent Archivist, John W. Carlin, summarized his agency's concerns in 1999. "We have paper dispatches that generals sent and received in the course of conducting the Civil War more than a hundred years ago, but a hundred years from now will electronic records remain accessible on which to study command decisions in the Gulf War?
WILLINGNESS TO STAND BEHIND HIS EMPLOYEES. The Archivist may face strong pressure from former Presidents and other powerful political forces. He must protect his subordinate employees in such situations. He must ensure that they are not placed in positions where they are asked to take actions that are unethical or illegal. When I and my former colleagues were placed in a troubling position in the face of pressure from President Nixon during the late 1980s, we felt that we had no one to turn to for help. We knew of some respected managers within the Archives, outside our work unit, whom we might have turned to. But we were concerned that we might face punitive action if we turned to them for help. After all, we had seen a highly respected archivist/manager in our own unit removed from her position for what staff widely perceived to be punitive reasons.
Nor did we go to the press with our concerns. Some of the troubling issues surrounding pressure from Nixon later were aired out when Dr. Kutler filed his lawsuit for access to the Nixon tapes in 1992. From what I can see in the court record, the Justice Department during the first Bush administration (1992) largely dismissed the concerns of working level archivists. DOJ's actions created an unfortunate precedent, as they leave staff archivists increasingly vulnerable to political pressure. Still, had Dr. Kutler not filed his lawsuit, the issues may never have surfaced.
The U.S. Archivist head should ensure that his subordinates are not placed in situations where they feel their professional standards and even their ethics may be compromised. If they are placed in such situations, they must have reliable administrative remedies. At the very least, the agency head and his management team must be open and candid with subordinate employees, and be willling to explain to them why the agency faces political pressure.
If the work of subordinate archivists involves controversial or sensitive records, the U.S. Archivist must see to it that he and his management team properly support working level staff. The Archives was hurt badly in 1992 by the failure of some top managers to support their subordinates during Dr. Kutler's litigation over the Nixon tapes. Working level archivists still remember what happened then and fear it may happen again. President Nixon entered the lawsuit as an intervenor and the government's lawyers often seemed to march in lockstep with Nixons.
Historian Joan Hoff alleged that after the witnesses testified in the Kutler lawsuit, a senior Archives manager later faced "heavy criticism" inside and outside the Archives for "allowing testimony in the tapes suit to degenerate into slander of individual members" of the Archives staff. (Hoff, "The Nixon Tapes," Athan Theoharis, A CULTURE OF SECRECY, 121). I would guess that no U.S. Archivist wants to hear an historian make such allegations about any member of his management team. The Archivist should ensure that the problems surrounding the Kutler tapes litigation do not recurr.
TREATING ARCHIVES EMPLOYEES AS ASSETS. The Archives hires highly educated, skilled employees, most of whom have graduate degrees in history. I would say to the head of the Archives, you hire them for their brains, don't be afraid to let them use them! Talk to them, and more importantly, listen to them. The U.S. Archivist and his management team will best serve the agency if they view staff at all grade levels as assets, even as partners, and, at all times, as members of the team. This does not mean demanding unquestioning personal loyalty from subordinates. Rather, it means ensuring genuine two way communication and an environment where staff at all levels can speak truth to power.
Former National Archives' Nixon Project archivist
don warner saklad - 7/30/2004
Leadership is needed from the chief archivist for archiving municipalities public archives. Our Boston city departments current public documents are very difficult to get. Government Documents Department curatorial leadership at our Boston Public Library do not advocate as they should for a mayoral directive and a city council order for the more routine transmittal of city departments public documents to our Boston Public Library Government Documents Department. Grey literature not distributed widely by municipal departments, commissions, committees and panels need the advocacy of the chief archivist.
Peter N. Kirstein - 7/29/2004
If there is an ideological split over Mr Weinstein's suitability to become archivist of NARA, I believe the nominee's highly partisan position on research is its genesis. That is his right of course but it cannot be divorced from the firestorm surrounding his nomination.
It is reasonable to ask, however, whether the Reagan Administration's papers on the Iran-Contra scandal would remain "private" so as to protect the possible involvement of then Vice President George H W Bush. Many believe that beginning with Pres. Clinton's appointment of Mr Carlin, that nominations will be forever partisan as governments in power seek to have docile, partisan archivists conceal what is damaging and release what is laudatory. Perhaps a fixed term that could exceed any president's term(s) would be beneficial.
While I do not know how Mr Weinstein would handle the privacy versus accessibility question, his track record suggests an aversion, to put it mildly, to access. If an individual refuses to share primary documents in his own possession, or PURCHASES a monopoly on the use of primary source material, such basic violations of well-established research ethics and guidelines are non-starters for his confirmation by the Senate.
Peter N. Kirstein
Maarja Krusten - 7/29/2004
I mentioned this morning that I am troubled by the seemingly ideological, right left split over the Weinstein nomination. I believe it has distracted from a full airing of issues surrounding the National Archives and its vulnerability to political pressure, from a number of entities and political parties.
In an op ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on June 14, 2004, Jacob Heilbrunn wrote, "It's no secret that the Bush administration has a fetish for secrecy. Whether it's keeping the records of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force concealed or denying the 9-11 commission key documents, the administration regularly displays disdain for open government.
But does that contempt extend even to the office of the national archivist?
The left apparently believes it does, and that's why President Bush's nomination of Allen Weinstein -- author of the definitive biography of Alger Hiss, "Perjury" -- for the post of national archivist has triggered a furor."
Heilbrunn then quotes an editorial from The Nation and adds, "Weinstein has become a target for scholars who despise Bush and for those who continue to insist that Hiss was never a spy for the Soviet Union and want payback."
I find that Heilbrunn and the Nation both present simplistic views of the controversy over the Weinstein nomination. Archival organizations have not entered the fray over the Hiss and Haunted Wood books. Instead, they have expressed concern over the failure of the White House to consult with historical and archival organizations. Incumbent Archivist John Carlin's forced removal is particularly troubling.
The legislative history of the National Archives independence bill showed that Congress in 1984 originally contemplated a set 10-year term for the U.S. Archivist. The intent was to provide protection against removal for political reasons. Although the provision fell out of the bill in conference, there still has been an expectation that the Archivist will serve 10 years. Hence Carlin's stated intention to remain on the job through June 2005.
For those of you who have access to LEXIS NEXIS subscription service, the hearing transcript of the July 22, 2004 hearing now is available. Sen. Levin correctly expressed concern over Carlin's forced removal and stated that it is an issue "totally separate" from Dr. Weinstein's qualifications. Sen. Levin noted that "we have an obligation to protect the objectivity of the Archives."
Richard Henry Morgan - 7/29/2004
I would add that I don't know that that is the case. Wiener asserts it, but ... well, you know the rest of that sentence. Beyond the atrocious piece Wiener wrote on Bellesiles, he also says that Weinstein has refused to share his "documents", and then says his book is "based on documents said to come from KGB files" -- I think you and I both are under the impression that Weinstein doesn't have KGB documents. A little too loose for my taste. In fact, the charges are flung about quite promiscuously. Near the end of his piece from the LAT and reproduced here at HNN, Wiener says: "The charges against Weinstein bring to mind another historian accused of research fraud, Michael Bellesiles, ..."
That is the first instance of the mention of fraud in the article. I don't think it passes the smell test to toss that out there, imbedded in the word 'another', en passant.
Richard Henry Morgan - 7/29/2004
Doesn't sound exactly kosher to me.
Ralph E. Luker - 7/29/2004
Do you think it is o.k. for your publisher to pay for your exclusive access and, thus, put your scholarship beyond examination by others?
Richard Henry Morgan - 7/29/2004
And yes, you can take the above post as drawing a distinction between paying for access on the one hand (a grubby business, but not unknown in the less developed parts of the world), and paying for one's own access AND for denying access to others. If I were shaken down for access money, I'd be muy pissed if others were given, in effect, the privilege of free access, though the objection would be one of injustice to me, rather than a contravention of research standards. But paying for exclusive access -- and essentially putting one's scholarship beyond examination by others -- that is beyond the pale.
Richard Henry Morgan - 7/29/2004
There are a host of interesting issues floating about concerning Weinstein. Jon Weiner, in the Nation, has it that Weinstein won't share "documents" from the Russian archives with others. Others, some on this site, agree that he doesn't have documents. It has been alleged that he arranged for exclusive access to the Russian archives. Is that so, or was it simply a case of pay as you go cowboy capitalism run amok in Russia at the time -- that anyone with the bread could get access? Apparently, not even having the bread was enough, as the archives became closed even to Weinstein's co-author -- or so it is alleged.
Readers familiar with Weiner's treatment of the Bellesiles controversy will not be satisfied with mere assertion on these matters. Has Weinstein addressed these issues in his Congressional testimony? Has he publicly addressed these issues in a dispositive form in any public forum? Has his publisher gone on record with the terms of his contract? I'd feel more comfortable making a judgment on these issues if I knew I were dealing with facts. If anyone can point me to sources for the factual claims made, I would be most grateful.
Peter N. Kirstein - 7/29/2004
Well you are so certainly entitled to parse one's comments on Mr Weinstein as ideologically inspired--as if the Bush administration's nomination--was bereft of such considerations.
The fact remains should the archivist of the United States be held to the highest professional standards regardless of ideology? An individual who allows his publisher to pay vast sums of money as the entrance fee into an archive, with the understanding that no other, repeat, no other scholar will be allowed to peruse the documents, fails that test. The trait of selfishness is also suggestive of such a monopolistic approach to scholarly access.
Access to primary source material cannot become a commodity that is accessible only to the highest bidder. A historian who repeatedly seeks privileged access to documents and who fervently resists accountability for the use of those documents, should not be confirmed as NARA's archivist.
Peter N. Kirstein
Maarja Krusten - 7/29/2004
Dr. Luker writes, "You can dismiss the public's right to know as "the interests of historians" all you want to, Richard." He must be referring to some antecedents not known to me, as I did not see in Mr. Morgan's post from 7/28 a dismissal of the public's right to know. Or I may be unaccustomed to the conventions of blogdom, where terms such as right and wrong seem to be used with abandon.
In my view, the postings on HNN about Dr. Weinstein's nomination only have scratched the surface of the issues surrounding an Archivist's obligations. And the framing of the archival issues by what appear to be left-right camps has not been useful. Perhaps this has occurred because of the Hiss issues. Undoubtedly, the Bush administration finds it easier to dismiss objections to Dr. Weinstein that are raised by a publication such as The Nation, than it would questions raised by writers not so closely identified with a particular political viewpoint.
I am uneasy about the seeming right left split because of the way the Archives has been burned by such matters in the past. In my experience, partisan political publications have not proven to be the best forum for a full airing of archival issues. For example, on May 13, 1994 The Washington Times characterized John T. Fawcett, former head of the National Archives' Office of Presidential Libraries, and two other officials, as "strong proponents of limited access philosophy, particularly Mr. Fawcett, who was responsible for administering the Presidential Records Act." The Washington Times took a strong stance in support of Mr. Fawcett and against Acting U.S. Archivist Trudy Peterson, and failed to properly present Dr. Peterson's views.
On the other hand, Scott Armstrong, writing in "The War Over Secrecy" in Athan Theoharis's book, A Culture of Secrecy, claimed that "in historical circles, Mr. Fawcett had become notorious for consistently taking the side of former presidents and the entourages they left in charge of the political management of the presidential libraries. Many of his colleagues at the archives were also worried that Fawcett's deference to past presidents might lead him to abandon the archives' obligation to ensure the preservation and accessibility of government records."
In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that when I was called as a witness in Stanley Kutler's lawsuit to gain access to the Nixon tapes, some of my testimony centered on disputes that staff archivists, such as I, had with Mr. Fawcett in 1989 over whether the Archives should inform the public that it was accepting a list of deletions from Nixon to the Watergate tapes. I testified that we working level archivists failed to persuade Mr. Fawcett to follow our interpretation of the Archives' regulatory procedures. When the Archives opened certain segments of the Watergate special prosecution task force tapes in 1991, it did not inform the public that Nixon's agents had submitted a list of deletions to those tapes.
As an aside, while I disagreed with Mr. Fawcett over the handling of the Nixon deletions, I understand other views attributed to him, such as concern about the so-called "chilling effect" on federal record keeping.
Generally, I believe that the Archives faces strong political pressure in matters relating to presidential records and that it is best protected by adherence to regulatory procedures. I did not find the interjection of the Washington Times into past policy disputes to be helpful to an agency which must project an appearance of nonpartisanship and objectivity. That is why I continue to be uneasy about the underlying reason why the debate over Allen Weinstein seems to be falling into a left and right split, at least on HNN, rather than focusing on the difficult challenges that archivists face in a political environment in objectively screening records and properly balancing competing interests. While I am at it, why does HNN say that it "Features Articles and Op Eds by Historians from Both the Left and the Right"? Are there no centrist historians, LOL?
Richard Henry Morgan - 7/29/2004
Except that the public's right to know is circumscribed by legislation enacted by, you guessed it, elected representatives of the people. It seems perfectly clear from the job description posted above thet among the Archivists duties, as prescribed by law, is to determine precisely those materials where the public's right to know doesn't trump other concerns expressed in the law.
The line isn't between a right to know and no such right, but between a right to know what needs to be known, and otherwise, and that will always raise questions on where that line is to be drawn, who is to draw it, and who is to guard the guardians. I submit that there's a real possibility the interests of historians are not always co-extensive with the right of the people to know, nor the rights of individuals, however much historians, or journalists, or whatever group, may view themselves as heralds of the people. But then, that's just my view.
RJ Sandilands - 7/29/2004
Mr Safranski: What has your point got to do with whether or not Mr Weinstein is prepared to release the evidence on which he makes damning accusations against the integrity of persons who otherwise would and should be regarded as among your most distinguished public servants?
If someone made serious but dubious allegations against you or someone you knew well, would you be content if I told people that the detractor is a "disinterested" historian, and should therefore be given more credence than you?
This approach smacks of the tendency in much of the mole-hunting historiography (often not without a political agenda in which the more moles the better) to start with a presumption of guilt and to discount contrary interpretations of the evidence; in effect, to require the accused to prove a negative.
- Roger Sandilands (email@example.com)
Ralph E. Luker - 7/29/2004
You can dismiss the public's right to know as "the interests of historians" all you want to, Richard, but last I checked the public pays the Archivist's salary, funds the National Archives, and pays for the whole shebang, except that part passed on to our children as debt. Our children are part of the public, as well, and, if they're allowed, they'll be reading the work of the historians -- unless, the will to hide, lock away, and prevent research prevails.
Richard Henry Morgan - 7/28/2004
If I get the correct impression, the position grants a good deal of discretion to the National Archivist, not always remediable by legal action. It is understandable that historians would lobby for their professional interest -- maximal access. In fact, it is understandable that they would define the job in those terms, and seek someone of like views to hold the position.
But as you say, there are competing interests. I'm continually amused by the notion that one can secure just the result one desires by a combination of legislation -- "better living through legislation!". Words and expressions have their ambiguities and vagaries, so it is indeed all the more important in such cases to get the right person for the job -- right from a perspective that involves not just the interests of historians.
You couldn't print enough money to get me to take the job -- as though there were any possibility of that coming to pass.
mark safranski - 7/28/2004
It is important to note here that Dr. Sandilands had a personal and professional relationship with Mr. Currie and General Kobyakov is an inactive member of Russia's state security apparatus. Compared to either of them, Allen Weinstein is a *disinterested* party on the topic of the history of Soviet espionage agents in America.
Maarja Krusten - 7/28/2004
Dr. Luker writes that "The professional obligations of historians and archivists run exactly in the other direction: to openness and transparency." Archivists have an obligation to properly balance a number of competing interests. This can be very difficult and Dr. Weinstein will face some tough choices in terms of backing up his subordinates in the Archives and fending off challenges from former Presidents. Readers who are interested in learning more about the complex issues which the U.S. Archives handles may want to read the following. Those readers who are interested solely in the debate over historians' notes may want to skip this post, which is logn because the issues are complicated.
Consider the following complexities which surround release of Richard Nixon's historical records by the National Archives. The Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA) calls on the National Archives (NARA) to return to Nixon (now his estate) "personal" material but to open disclosable information of general historical significance. There was, and remains, ample potential for conflict between the two requirements. Representatives of the former President (and now of his estate) have the right to review materials the government has okayed for disclosure and formally to file objections to release through a regulatory process.
Thousands of pages of documents are unprocessed and some tapes remain to be released. Although Nixon and his heirs have the right to file objections against release, researchers have no judicial remedy if the Archives marks items for deletion from the historical record as personal-returnable. Nor can researchers reach historical information through the Freedom of Information Act, which does not apply to the Nixon records. This places enormous responsibilities on the shoulders of the government's archivists.
Applying public control to Presidential records has been challenging for the National Archives. Externally, President Nixon and his advocates have applied pressure in an effort to affect disclosures. In the past, they have found allies within the government, notably at the Department of Justice during the 1980s. The PRMPA called for early release of materials relating to Watergate "abuses of governmental power." But Nixon repeatedly pointed to practices at traditional, donor-restricted Presidential Libraries, which open the most innocuous records first. (Records at the Presidential Libraries are administered under three different laws.) The old-school libraries often wait until events have cooled down and former Presidents have died before disclosing the most controversial materials. I believe that this is what Nixon wanted to happen with his files, despite what was written in the statutory language of the PRMPA.
The Nixon records law calls on archivists to apply complex legal requirements. In upholding the PRMPA, the Supreme Court found that while materials about public political associations generally were disclosable, Nixon also had a right to "private political association." In screening materials for release, government archivists, such as I, have found the concept of "personal-political" to be one of the most challenging. The President heads the government, but also is leader of his political party. His governmental and political actions can be inextricably intertwined. Can tape segments and documents containing such information be separated neatly into categories, the former to be retained, the latter excised for return? Not always with ease.
To understand the challenges government archivists face, look at H. R. Haldeman's published diary, which chronicles his contacts with Nixon. Try to decide, sentence by sentence (1) where Nixon is speaking as a government official with the potential to exercise executive powers (even if some of that may have political overtones); (2) where he is speaking as leader of his political party--with NO link to present or future Presidential actions; and (3) where he is speaking solely as a private citizen. If these were Nixon's records, you could retain in your archives material in the first category but the law requires you to return to Nixon's estate anything in the last two categories.
The legislative history of the PRMPA provided only general guidelines on privacy and personal-returnable materials. Government officials told a House subcommittee in 1975 that returnable personal information might include "invitations to family parties; birthday wishes; reports on health; advice on financial matters." Privacy, beyond customarily accepted areas, such as family matters, was a trickier concept.
Professor Norman Graebner offered the historical researcher's perspective, noting presciently during hearings in 1975 on the Nixon records act,
"We have two extremes, perfect or total accessibility and absolute privacy, and these two are antagonistic positions at the end of a long spectrum and the task of any archivist is to find that point along the spectrum where one finds that happy medium between what I would call legitimate accessibility and the protection of third parties and privacy. . . . to find that point on the spectrum is a very difficult task and perhaps not even two archivists would come at the same point in that spectrum, but historians are constantly quarreling with the archivists of the [traditional donor restricted] Presidential Libraries because the archivists apply more conservative judgments than many historians think should be applied. . . . that point on the spectrum should be pushed somewhere to the side of where it now is but not to any extreme."
Given these complexities, it is not surprising that Nixon challenged the Archives' efforts to release materials during his lifetime. Nixon's lawyer, R. Stan Mortenson of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, argued in 1987 that the Nixon records act's regulations were "capricious and constitute an abuse of discretion . . . the regulations too narrowly define 'private or personal' materials as those 'relating solely to a person's family or other non-governmental activities.'" His letter was released under the Freedom of Information Act and a copy made available in the Nixon Project's research room during the late 1980s.
H. R. Haldeman's meeting notes with President Nixon (the "H notes") are part of the White House Special Files held by the National Archives. Clearly, Nixon's agents applied more restrictive standards to Haldeman's files than did the government. For example, federal archivists had determined in their independent review that all but about 10 pages of "H notes" for November 17-December 21, 1972 should be opened for research. But Nixon's lawyers asked that the entire 270-page folder for November 17-December 21 be withheld from historians as "private," "personal," or "privileged." These were among thousands of contested items marked by archivists for release and then referred to a high level Archives review board after Nixon sought to block their disclosure to researchers.
Not until after Nixon died did the National Archives decide to release in 1996, rather than return to his estate, most of the "contested items" blocked from disclosure in 1987. The release of contested items showed that Nixon had regarded as "personal-returnable" a Haldeman note of a meeting on Vietnam negotiations that recorded the President's comment to Henry Kissinger, "get best deal let Thieu paddle his own canoe." He also contested release of directives to "uncover Jewish cells" at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nixon even blocked release of some notes on Watergate ("put it on Mitchell - we're protecting him adds up P is protecting John Mitchell.")
Under the PRMPA's implementing regulations, a Presidential Materials Review Board considered Nixon's objections to release of the White House Special Files. Jack Anderson reported on July 25, 1989 that the top-level NARA board was split on how to handle "touchy documents." After Nixon died in 1994, the board, with several new members, appears to have reversed many of the earlier tentative decisions described by Anderson and most of the contested items were released to the public in 1996. Of the items Nixon's agents sought to remove from government custody, the National Archives retained 33,199 documents and returned to the Nixon estate 8,992 documents. Of the retained documents, NARA opened to the public 28,035 documents.
While the Archives struggled to screen and to release for public research Nixon's records during the 1980s, a House subcommittee discovered in 1986 that Richard Nixon's lawyers had gone to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to ask for a selective veto over what could be released from his records. The lawyers pointed to how John F. Kennedy's library supposedly was releasing "only" favorable items. DOJ granted Nixon's request but a court correctly overturned the directive.
As you can see, different governmental components zigged and zagged in dealing with Nixon's objections to public disclosure. The Archives now faces challenges in opening records from the Reagan and Bush administrstions. Who heads the Archives, who forms his management team, and the actions of the White House and the Department of Justice all affect what materials the public ultimately sees.
I hope this provides greater contextual sophistication to the debate over historians' notes. This is the environment in which Dr. Weinstein will be operating, should he become U.S. Archivist.
Former National Archives' Nixon project archivist
RJ Sandilands - 7/28/2004
My own particular beef with Allen Weinstein concerns the way he treated the evidence gleaned from the KGB archives in respect of FDR's White House adviser, Lauchlin Currie. In my paper, "Guilt by Association? Lauchlin Currie's Alleged Involvement with Washington Economists in Soviet Espionage", (_History of Political Economy_ 32:3, 2000), and in another paper that also deals with the Harry Dexter White case (in _Intelligence and National Security_, 18:3, 2003), I show that Weinstein and Vassiliev's use of this material in _The Haunted Wood_ is vitiated by ambiguity and unsupported conjecture. They mix apparently (but not clearly) direct quotes from the archives (often undated) with parenthetical musings of their own, the basis for which is never made clear. It is impossible to know how much credence to put upon their evidence, still less the interpretations they place on them, unless we can see the original documents. My repeated requests to Mr Weinstein for the relevant material did not even elicit the courtesy of a reply.
Last December Major-General (retd.) Julius Kobyakov, deputy director of the KGB's American desk in the late 1980s wrote to me to support my position against Weinstein and others in accusing Currie and White of espionage. After extensive archival research on Soviet intelligence in the US in the 1930s and 1940s he found "there was nothing in [Currie's] file to suggest that he had ever wittingly collaborated with the Soviet intelligence... However, in the spirit of machismo, many people claimed that we had an 'agent' in the White House. Among the members of my profession there is a sacramental question: 'Does he know that he is our agent?' There is strong indication that neither Currie nor White knew that."
- Roger Sandilands
Professor of Economics
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK
Peter N. Kirstein - 7/27/2004
I appreciate Dr Luker's comments. I am no fan of John Carlin and I would not have chosen him as archivist of NARA. He was not a historian although he did teach Pub Ad at Wichita State University after a rather lengthy tenure as governor of Kansas.
If I had a Hobson's choice between a non-historian and a historian of highly questionable research ethics, I would choose the former. Hopefully, the next archivist will be a prominent historian without the ethical and polemical baggage of Mr. Weinstein.
Ralph E. Luker - 7/27/2004
In fairness, I should say that I disagree entirely with Professor Kirstein's observations about the relative merit of Carlin's and Weinstein's qualifications to be Archivist. Apart from his political connections, John Carlin had no qualifications whatsoever to be Archivist of the United States. On the face of it, Weinstein is very well qualified to be Archivist.
Peter N. Kirstein - 7/27/2004
Mr Weinstein as I alluded to below refused to release a variety of interviews when he was researching Alger Hiss for his work Perjury. So you were correct, if not in precise reference, in raising another work with similar difficulties.
Your coffee is fine.
Peter N. Kirstein - 7/27/2004
Allen Weinstein should be rejected for ethical reasons as archivist of the U. S. He certainly is the inferior to John Carlin. Weinstein’s publisher Random House paid $100,000 for access to KGB documents with the understanding that no other scholar would gain subsequent access.
[Query] What type of historian would accept such an arrangement? I think the mere act of purchasing access to primary source material is indefensible. This sets a precedent in which historians that are backed by personal fortune or the financial clout of corporate-elite publishing houses gain initial access to primary documents. Compounding this ethically questionable act was Mr Weinstein’s guarantee of exclusive access. Put up the cash and not only are you allowed initial entry into the stacks but also a monopoly on their content. Sure publishers want to cash in but a historian does not have to be an enabler in which archival access is another manifestation of competitive capitalism. How many historians out there would ever agree to such an arrangement?
[Query] While Mr Weinstein has relented and agreed to make his sources available, certainly given the six years since The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America--The Stalin Era was published, one may speculate that the author’s reluctance is a fear of collegial scrutiny of the accuracy of his documentation.
This man has withheld source material on Alger Hiss as well--a disturbing pattern of eschewing accountability for one's findings.
Maybe someone should start warming up a Hot Seat for Mister Allen Weinstein, nominee for archivist of the United States.
Peter N. Kirstein
Maarja Krusten - 7/27/2004
Quick correction to forestall nitpicking--The referencde to the Hiss book notes above should have read Haunted Wood notes. Too early in the morning, hadn't finished my coffee and didn't catch it before hitting send, LOL
Maarja Krusten - 7/27/2004
How relevant this debate over historians' notes is to Prof. Weinstein's potential performance as U.S. Archivist depends on how much free will you think he will have as a subordinate official. Certainly the debate has some relevance as a discussion of personal principles and standards, but there will be other factors at play. In addition to looking at the professor's past actions, you may want to consider the recent positions taken by the White House and the Justice Department (DOJ) on public disclosure, a zone of executive privacy, timely public access to historical materials, etc. As U.S. Archivist, Prof. Weinstein will be a Presidential appointee and a subordinate officer of the executive branch.
In matters of litigation, the government speaks with one voice, and it is DOJ whose lawyers will speak for the Archives. For example, when a researcher sues the Archivist for public access to records, DOJ speaks in court. The Archivist cannot hire lawyers to speak for the Archives who would take a view different from the Justice Department. DOJ, of course, also is headed by a subordinate official of the executive branch, the Attorney General.
Some of the issues play out in an atmosphere of political pressure. For an historian's account of litigation with the National Archives over Presidential records, see Stanley I. Kutler, "Liberation of the Nixon tapes," _Legal Times_, May 6, 1996. I worked as an archivist at the National Archives from 1976 to 1990 and was called as a witness in the Kutler lawsuit.
I know from personal experience that the Archives split into opposing camps during the late 1980s and early 1990s in the face of pressure from Richard Nixon over his Presidential records. Only some of the views held by the opposing factions within the Archives found an official forum, as the Bush DOJ only represented certain viewpoints when Kutler filed his lawsuit in 1992. Dr. Kutler noted in his article of that contentious time period, "What is harder to understand is that the National Archives proved to be Nixon's willing and trusted ally -- even though it meant defying the law and misleading the public as to the nature of the material."
Little wonder then, that the Senators at the Weinstein hearing focused less on the Hiss book notes, more on the difficult challenges Prof. Weinstein may face. See "Senator Seeks Reasons for Archivist's Dismissal," Government Executive magazine, July 23, 2004, at http://snipurl.com/7yv9
". . . .Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said he had trouble reconciling that philosophy with Weinstein's stated intention to defend the president's executive order against court challenge. 'I think I know where your heart is, but I want to know where your lawyers will be. If your lawyers are restricting access to the presidential documents, I think you're on the wrong side,' Durbin said."
For those HNN readers who are liberal Democrats, picture being U.S. Archivist and having the Bush White House and the Justice Department craft the positions that will be taken in court -- in your name -- on access to government records. For those of you who are conservative Republicans, picture being in charge of the Archives and having a Clinton-type White House and a Reno-type DOJ tell you what stance to take in court. The voices speaking for you may not represent your private views on access to documents.
For more on the challenges that Dr. Weinstein will face, see also June 1, 2004, published letter, Richmond Times Dispatch, http://snipurl.com/6sat
Jonathan Dresner - 7/27/2004
The issues are hashed out in some detail in the comments to Ralph Luker's post on Cliopatria: http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/6450.html
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