Blogs > Cliopatria > Archives and Secrecy

Apr 12, 2006 2:47 pm

Archives and Secrecy

This is certainly a depressing piece from today's Washington Post, showing how, from 2002 till 2006, the National Archives kept secret its program to restore large numbers of previously released documents to secrecy. Allen Weinstein's response in suspending the program, however, does provide some grounds for encouragement.
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Maarja Krusten - 4/14/2006

I don't think I can do an article but I will stop bothering you guys with updates. The lack of discussion here is disheartening -- I had hoped KC would provide me (and my friends at NARA's Nixon Project) some reassurance on Naftali (whom I do not know), at least. Nevertheless, silence too is part of the record and can speak loudly, also. I hope I haven't discouraged KC Johnson or any of the rest of you from posting other links to news stories about NARA on Cliopatria. The regular readers of your blog might benefit from them. Of course, I don't mean to scare off anyone with my insider comments. (If I had a blog about government stuff (and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to have one), I wouldn't mind any of you piping up to comment on any stories I linked to about the largely foreign-to-me world of academe. But I can understand why the Fed stuff might not interest those whom it doesn't affect directly. I apologize for any miscalculation on my part, apparently, I misread the purpose of KC's posting.)

I'll let you all discuss future NARA stories amongst yourself, and won't post any clarifications. I recognize the fact that this is your blog and want you all to feel comfortable with it.

Thanks for taking the time to post and Happy Easter! That's all, am munching my lunch, anyway!


Ralph E. Luker - 4/14/2006

Maarja, Thanks for all the information. Given the volume of it, the rather large number of comments you've posted at Cliopatria, and the lack of discussion that they generate, you might consider putting your concerns and information in an article about these issues for possible publication on HNN's mainpage. You might find more discussion of the issues over there.

Maarja Krusten - 4/14/2006

NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 12, #18; 14 APRIL 2006)
by Bruce Craig (editor)
Website at

5. BITS AND BYTES: 50 New Recordings Added to Recordings Register
6. ARTICLES OF INTEREST: "Historians Strive to Save Old Sounds" (Christian
Science Monitor)

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has released a
heavily redacted copy of a 2002 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between
NARA and various federal agencies involved in a secret program in which
some 10,000 NARA documents already in the public domain were pulled from
open shelves pending re-review (see "House Subcommittee Conducts Oversight
Hearing on Government Secrecy" NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE, Vol. 12 # 12; 16
March 2006).

The memo, released to the National Security Archives through a FOIA
request, documents a disturbing role that NARA played in the multi-year
effort by federal agencies to remove thousands of historical documents from
public access, even though the records had previously been declassified.

The agreement is marked "Secret" and is signed by an Air Force official
(one of three agencies party to the MOU -- the other two being the CIA and
Defense Intelligence Agency) and by Michael J. Kurtz, Assistant Archivist
for NARA. The memo states that the re-review seeks to identify records
that "have been improperly marked as classified" that "would harm the
national security interests of the United States by revealing sensitive
sources and methods of intelligence collection." Furthermore, the
agreement states, "It is in the interest of both (unnamed agency) and the
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to avoid the attention
and researcher complaints that may arise from removing material that has
already been available publicly from the open shelves for extended periods
of time," the agreement said.

Other sections of the memo are equally troubling: "NARA will not disclose
the true reason for the presence of -- [redacted word] -- personnel at
the Archives, to include disclosure to person within NARA who does not have
a validated need-to-know." Withdrawal sheets would conceal any reference
to the program and "any reason for the withholding of documents". If
queried by the press or public, NARA is to respond that the reviewers are
present at the Archives "to ensure appropriate implementation of
Presidential Order 12958 historical records declassification review

Even though the agreement clearly is an embarrassment to NARA, Archivist of
the United States Allen Weinstein, who did not head NARA when the agreement
was signed, applauded the release of the document. He said, that its
release is "an important first step in finding the balance between
continuing to protect national security and protecting the right to know by
the American public." J. William Leonard, director of the Information
Security Oversight Office (ISSO) stated, "there is a need for increased
transparency in this...the more transparent we can be we will not feed
perceptions that somehow this is being done for some sort of nefarious
reason such as trying to cover up agency embarrassments." Weinstein
pledged that NARA's findings on the matter will be issued by the end of
April when the audit that is being conducted by ISSO is released.

While Archivist Weinstein is clearly not responsible for any of the
language in the agreement and was not aware of its contents until he was
recently briefed, concerns have been raised about the role of the then
Archivist of the United States Carlin and perhaps other key NARA staff who
according to Tom Blanton, executive director of the National Security
Archive, "basically aided and abetted a covert operation that whited out
the nation's history by reclassifying previously released documents."

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.

An answer to this question may seem baffling, especially to those not "of"
the national security establishment. Security agencies generally take the
stance that when they have a specific classified program to protect from
improper "incidental disclosure," typically they take a firm stance: they
insist that all such materials need to be protected under the cloak of
classification and secrecy. NARA, on the other hand, generally takes the
position that secrecy tends to focus attention on documents that otherwise
would not draw any particular attention by researchers, historians, or the
press. Often NARA advocates this position in discussions with agencies but
finds itself over-ruled by agencies wishing to take a firmer stance. This
very public disclosure of a secret re-review program that probably never
needed to be classified "secret" in the first place, serves only to raise
concerns by the public and Congress alike about excessive secrecy in

The National Coalition for History along with the several major history and
archives organizations have joined with a number of other concerned
organizations (i.e. Association of Research Libraries, Center for American
Progress, etc...) and individuals (especially documentary filmmakers) to
begin a campaign to raise public and Congressional awareness of troubling
aspects of the recent agreement between the Smithsonian Institution (SI)
and SHOWTIME Networks Inc. As reported last week in this publication (see
"Smithsonian Semi-Commercial Deal With Showtime Draws Fire" in NCH
WASHINGTON UPDATE Vol 12, #16; 7 April 2006) the semi-exclusive aspect of
the SI/SHOWTIME agreement is particularly problematic as it appears to
violate the professional and ethical standards of a host of scholarly
organizations including the American Historical Association, Organization
of American Historians (AHA), and the Society of American Archivists (SAA).

This last Tuesday, organizational representatives mapped out a strategy to
address the issue. To start, several professional member organizations
such as the AHA and SAA agreed to write letters on behalf of their
organizations raising concerns, including letters to the editors of major
national newspapers and to Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lawrence
Small. A "sign-on" letter is also being circulated in which individuals
can also express their concern in a public forum. For those interested in
signing that letter, contact Carl Malamud of the Center for American
Progress at for additional information.

On 10 April 2006, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein announced
the appointment of presidential historian Timothy Naftali to serve as the
first director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in
Yorba Linda, California. Naftali, who is currently Associate Professor and
Director of the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of
Virginia's Miller Center for Public Affairs, will assume his duties on 16
October 2006.

Educated at Yale University and Johns Hopkins University, Professor Naftali
received a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1993. Since 1999,
he has directed the Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Program, where
he oversees the team of scholars and staff responsible for transcribing,
annotating and interpreting hundreds of telephone conversations and
meetings secretly recorded by Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower,
Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in the White House.

According to Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor, "Naftali
is an excellent choice to head the Nixon Presidential library. In my
association with Mr. Naftali, on the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial
Government Records Interagency Working Group and the National Commission on
Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, I found him to be an outstanding
scholar and an energetic advocate for the people."

In making the announcement the Archivist said, "As the Nixon Library
prepares to join the other 11 Presidential libraries that are part of the
National Archives system, I am very pleased that Timothy Naftali has agreed
to take on this important new position. Professor Naftali's experience,
energy, and vision will invigorate this new national resource and help the
Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum quickly become a major center
for research and learning. As the representative of a younger generation of
scholars, he will be able to set a new tone for a national center to study
the Nixon era."

Currently, there are some 44 million pages of textual records that will be
placed under Naftali's stewardship. More than 3,000 hours of presidential
tape recordings of the Nixon Administration currently housed at the
National Archives College Park facility also will be transferred eventually
to the Yorba Linda facility.

In accepting the position, Naftali stated, "I am honored to be entrusted
with bringing together the vast historical records of the Nixon
administration in Yorba Linda and ensuring that they are open and
accessible for current and future generations." Among his initial
projects, Naftali will focus on is a conferences on Vietnam and
Sino-American relations, will initiate a Nixon oral history project and
create a significant multimedia website.

On 12 April 2006 the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History
announced plans for a major architectural transformation to focus on three
areas: architectural enhancements to the museum's interior, constructing a
state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner, and updating the
42-year-old building's infrastructure including mechanical, electrical,
plumbing, lighting, fire and security systems.

To prepare for the transformation, the museum will begin closing some of
its exhibition galleries this spring and summer, and the full museum will
close to the public as of 5 September. (Labor Day, 4 September, will be the
last day to visit the museum.) Construction will begin in the fall of 2006
with the museum being scheduled to reopen by summer 2008.

The 42-year old museum has been sending visitors through a maze of
hallways, exhibitions, and displays that have confused and mystified
visitors for decades. The $85 million renovation will seek to unite the
collections by having visitors pass first through a detailed introductory
exhibition that will identify the purpose of the museum and explain its
collections. Included in the renovation plans is a new enclosure for the
Stars and Stripes that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor that
inspired the writing of the American national anthem. A welcome center
will also be added near the entrance of the mall.

The renovation plans are not without criticism, however. Smithsonian
insiders report that the key donor, Kenneth E. Behring, who is contributing
some $16 million to the renovation (part of an overall $80 million donation
to the Smithsonian), has made his views known and insisted on grand
stairways and other expensive architectural components and skylights that
were questioned by staff as being costly unnecessary additions. There also
was considerable internal controversy over the wisdom of closing the entire
museum down rather than renovate it in stages in order to avoid closing the
popular museum down entirely for two years.

Item #1 - 50 New Recordings Added to Recording Registry: Librarian of
Congress James H. Billington has made his annual selection of 50 sound
recordings for addition to the National Recording Registry. The selections
are made based on the basis of recordings that are "culturally,
historically, or aesthetically significant." The new additions to the
registry honor a wide variety of outstanding spoken and musical recordings
and span the years 1903-1988. Among the selections is the first
presidential inauguration to be broadcast, featuring the New England
man-of-few-words -- Calvin Coolidge; the first official transatlantic
telephone conversation that took place on 7 January 1927 and a number of
performances by a pantheon of significant American artists, including Bob
Hope, Nat King Cole, Fred Allen, Mahalia Jackson, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly,
Jerry Lee Lewis, Dave Brubeck, B.B. King, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and
Stevie Wonder. The Library is currently accepting nominations for the
2006 National Recording Registry at the National Recording Preservation
Board Web site,

One posting this week: In "Historians Strive to Save Old Sounds" (Christian
Science Monitor; 13 April 2006) Monitor reporter Randy Dotinga traces the
effort to preserve songs and spoken word performances recorded on the early
precursors of compact discs through digitization. For the article go to: .

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Maarja Krusten - 4/14/2006

(1) Since I hurriedly posted above an extract from Sy Hersh's description of the issues surrounding the DOJ memorandum, I did not provide a citation or date for the decision in the court case. It was Public Citizen v. Burke, 843 F 2d 1473 (DC Cir. 1988). The DOJ directive was ruled invalid in the 1988 Burke decision (one year PRIOR to the internal NARA dispute over Nixon's tape deletions described in the second Hersh extract). However, the underlying premise of the defunct Reagan-era administrative order is echoed in President Bush's recent executive order on Presidential records. Public Citizen lays this out in a press release availalble at . An excellent overview from a lawyer's perspective (Scott Nelson) is available at

2. For accounts other than Hersh's of some of the problems surrounding release of the Nixon tapes, see the suggestions for further reading at;bheaders=1#39632
and;bheaders=1#39651 .

3. A detailed account providing my perspective of how any Nixon claims against release are supposed to be handled is available at . The article discusses many issues related to transparency at NARA and how it has handled informing the public. See also my earlier article on HNN in August 2004, "The Real Issue at the Heart of the Weinstein Controversy," available at . Please note the concerns I expressed in the concluding paragraph to the latter article.

Maarja Krusten - 4/14/2006

The WaPo recently started using Technorati to link readers to what bloggers are saying about its articles. Consequently anyone reading Chris Lee's piece on NARA online can look in the box to the right of his article, browse the full list of blogs, and click over to Cliopatria. Thanks for providing (1) a forum for me to post my comments about NARA's difficult challenges, from my public sector perspective as a former Archives insider, and (2) an illustration by Cliopatria's bloggers of how some segments of the private sector react to stories such as Lee's about NARA. I imagine anyone who wanders over here from the WaPo site will learn quite a bit about why NARA faces the challenges it does!

As I said, best of luck to Mr. Naftali. I hope he manages with care (to the extent he can or is allowed to) both Nixon's records and the subordinate archival staff placed in his care. The biggest challenge won't necesarily lie in dealing with the powerful; it will be in how he treats the least powerful people, such as staff archivists. I hope he protects them from having to do anything unethical, etc. Not sure if academic life prepares a person for that; being a good manager in the public sector, the type of man or woman who inspires staff loyalty, requires a certain selflessness and empathy for subordinates. At any rate, I wish him and all those at NARA well.

Maarja Krusten - 4/13/2006

On the same day that NARA posted on its website the redacted MOU that prompted the WaPo story about lack of transparency to which you linked, the U.S. Archivist announced that he was naming Tim Naftali as Director of the new NARA-administered Nixon Library in California. (See ).

Any thoughts you'd like to share about how Naftali will do in this position? Or, at least, about the challenges he may face? I posted the following comment last year to an HNN article under Naftali's name. He did not reply so I don't know if he is one of the people who writes articles for HNN but doesn't welcome comments, or simply ignores them (a practice I remember as being criticized on Cliopatria awhile back), or whether he simply had nothing to say on the topic I raised. The problem with silence is that it can be construed many ways. Of course, I don't know how far back he was being considered a potential appointee as director of the Nixon Library.

"Given your expertise in Presidential history and transcription, I would ask one thing. If you see federal archivists at Presidential Libraries under attack, either by scholars for "bureaucratic footdragging," or by former Presidents and their loyalists for any number of reasons, use your professional capital to speak out in their defense. Most likely, they will not be able to defend themselves publicly. (See my comment from 2/23 on the other thread about how the U.S. Archivist is handicapped.) They will need people such as you to act as advocates."

For the statement on Naftali's appointment by the Rev. John H. Taylor, Executive Director of the Nixon Birthplace and Library Foundation, see . You'll see it along with the announcement of forthcoming appearances at the (as of now still privately run) Library by David Horowitz and Hugh Hewitt.

For Taylor's 1998 article about the Nixon tapes, see the cached version which used to be available on the Nixon Library website until recently but seems to have been removed recently. Cached version available at .

This is the article which included in its opening paragraphs this assertion by Taylor: "The explosive release of the last Watergate tapes, with its grossly distorted coverage, was the high-water mark, the Pickett's Charge, in a campaign to lay on Nixon all the iniquities of a troubled era." And concluded with an observation that

"The tacit foes of full disclosure are federal government officials who are too slow in declassifying materials relating to Richard Nixon's interactions with dead Communists, his maneuvers in the Middle East, his efforts to end the war he inherited in a way that would preserve U.S. honor and validate the sacrifices made by the three million Americans who served."

Obviously, I wish Naftali good luck in negotiating future releases of historical information with Taylor and other representatives of Nixon's family. The family retains the right to file claims to block the release of records that NARA designates for public release. Whether this will be done formally and transparently, with publicly announced claims and submissions to the Presidential Materials Review Board, or in other ways, I do not know.

Maarja Krusten - 4/13/2006

Sorry for the typo, I'm very tired, this stuff is wearying to look back on and generally to think of in terms of the big picture, then, now or in the future.

Maarja Krusten - 4/13/2006

Were these people described below mere bureaucrats at the National Archives? (None of the people mentioned below still works at the National Archives.) How do those of you outside the government view such public employees (as adversaries, allies, or just faceless bureaucrats)? What would you do in the situation described below? You be the judge. If nothing else, try to put yourself in the shoes of the various Archives officials. Here's what Sy Hersh wrote in 1992:


"The [NARA Nixon tapes] group was led by Frederick J. Graboske, an intense and energetic native of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania., who had joined the National Archives in January of 1976. He and his colleagues were quiet and sturdy workers who understood that their political ideology must not interfere with their professional responsibilities. Graboske had voted for Nixon in 1968 and 1972 but had grown skeptical of his performance during Watergate. Maarja Krusten, who by all accounts was one of the most dedicated and talented members of the group, had been an enthusiastic volunteer in Nixon's 1968 Presidential campaign, and was until she put in some years Iistening to the tape recordings, at least, a Nixon admirer. She had worked on the staff of Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr., of Tennessee, a Republican. She was eventually put in charge of training archivists assigned to the Nixon-tape project. The Graboske group had a strong sense of mission and spirit. "I enjoyed it," Paul A Schmidt, of Salt Lake City . . . recalled.

. . .Nixon and his attorneys did object [to the proposed release of Watergate tapes], in mid-1989, and they registered their objections by going directly to one of [then NARA Presidential Libraries chief John] Fawcett's deputies with a list of seventy deletions they required from the tapes to be released, none of them Watergater elated. It was the same issue that had been haunting the processing of the former President's documents since 1977.

Nixon claimed that the archivists were violating his privacy. The archivists . . . feared that management was prepared once again to cave in, as it had caved in to the Justice Department's intervention in 1985. Fred Graboske, unfortunately, was no longer around to lead the protests: after eleven years on the job, he had moved on to an important new archival assignment, in the White House. The fight was waged by Maarja Krusten and Paul Schmidt; Joan Howard, then the Archives' leading expert on the Nixon papers, joined them.

. . . Krusten, Schmidt, and Howard, among others, met in late August of 1989 with John Fawcett and protested Nixon's intervention. . .The handling of the seventy contested items was nothing more than a normal dispute among archivists, Fawcett said, and therefore, instead of compelling Nixon to file a formal objection, as the guidelines stipulated, he had decided to refer them to a panel of senior archivists for review. [Maarja's note, 2006: According to NARA's regulations, a senior archival panel has no jurisdiction over external claims against release of Nixon's records. Those are supposed to be handled by a higher level Presidential Materials Review Board -- which includes NARA office heads and one outside historian. A senior archival panel only can advise on disputes or questions raised among archivists. As I recall, most, if not all, the people later named to serve on that archival panel were Fawcett's subordinates. This was unusual. To enhance deliberations, previous senior panels had been composed of archivists from several different reporting chains within NARA. That later was noted in a NARA Inspector General memo from 1994 released to me under FOIA.]

If that panel agreed with Fawcett, the offending passages would be removed, and would be reported on the official withdrawal sheet as independent archival objections. Scholars and journalists listening to the tapes would believe that the deleted items had been removed by the Archives for any of a variety of substantive reasons, including national security and personal privacy. Fawcett explained to his colleagues that he was seeking to handle the tapes in a manner that was "fair" to Nixon.

The Nixon-tape archivists felt betrayed. They knew that the seventy contested items had reached Fawcett not because of a legitimate archival dispute from their peers but because Nixon's attorneys had taken them to him. If Nixon wanted to object to the processing of the seventy items on privacy grounds, his only recourse was to file a complaint with the Presidential Materials Review Board and take his chances, like everybody else. The odds of success there were very much against Nixon, the archivists believed, because all sixty hours of the White House tapes provided in the Watergate case had been screened for privacy before court use by Judge John J. Sirica, of the United States District Court in Washington - the Watergate judge - and also by Sirica's law clerks; another goal had been to insure that the tapes were responsive to the Special Prosecutor's subpoena.

. . .None of the Nixon archivists had faith in the senior archival panel that was to be set up; its members, they were convinced, would do what Fawcett told them to do

. . . Maarja Krusten later testified, in a deposition, that she had been appalled at Fawcett's insistence at the meeting that the Nixon deletions be recorded as archival actions. She quoted Fawcett as saying that "he did not understand why we were so concerned" about how the deletions got recorded, "because the end result would be that [the tape] would be withdrawn from researcher use." At that point, she testified, Paul Schmidt responded that he did not "fed comfortable lying to researchers" and that he "objected to being asked to do something that was unethical, improper, and possibly illegal." Krusten had already applied for another job: "I did not like where the project was headed. . .. The tapes were completed in 1987 and no further action was taken toward opening any of them. . . . That was demoralizing to the staff who had spent ten years working on them."

. . . [By 1991] Graboske and Krusten had moved on to other jobs, and Joan Howard had been demoted and banished to a regional archives center in Denver. The original members of the Nixon-tape project who had stayed on were convinced that Howard was being punished for volunteering to join in the protest to Fawcett."


Source: Seymour M. Hersh, "Nixon's Last Coverup: The Tapes He Wants the Archives to Suppress," New Yorker, December 14, 1992, passim.

Maarja Krusten - 4/13/2006

The U.S. Archivist is a subordinate employee of the executive branch, one who serves at the pleasure of the President. Credible reports suggest that U.S. Archivist John W. Carlin faced the ire of Bush operatives in 2000 when he refused to delay a planned release by NARA of Nixon's tapes right before the Presidential election. (The Chicago Tribune wrote about that; I've referenced James Warren's article in some of my articles here). I've also heard additional, credible sounding stories (which I haven't tried to track down so cannot corroborate) of threats such as "we'll get you for this" later being flung at Carlin as a result.

I've seen no published reports of Carlin's role in the MOU; the agreement was signed by Assistant Archivist Michael Kurtz.

I know of no Archives employee who ever has revealed previously undisclosed national security classified information. The AF MOU of 2002 was classified "Secret." What would any of you have done if pressured to sign it? It does not appear as if NARA's lawyers were able to protect its top officials. What do you, as agency head, do in such a case? Remember, you couldn't show the MOU to anyone without a "need to know" or reveal its contents. Even if you could (and you couldn't), there hardly has been much attention paid to NARA, either among the general public or in historians' forums. Or even by journalists until recently. So. . . how easy would it be to raise the red flag? Or to contemplate risking your career by trying to do so? (Yeah, still relatively young and idealistic back in 1989, I and a few of my colleagues did that in the Nixon case, but that's a difficult route for me to recommend to anyone else.)

Here's what Sy Hersh wrote about an earlier case of political pressure on NARA that did NOT involve security classification. So it might have been a little easier for the Archives to form strategic alliances back then than in the present case. (No, I wasn't a witness at the Hill hearing Sy describes, but I was working at NARA's Nixon Project at the time.) I think Sy's characterization of Frank Burke is a bit harsh. But, what he wrote is worth considering, so here's what Sy wrote. Keep in mind a Republican then was in the White House; Democrats then controlled the Congress.

"In November of 1985, as the new set of regulations-the sixth-was being prepared by the Archives, [Nixon's attorneys ] Mortenson and Miller held a private meeting with senior officials of the Justice Department, which was then headed by Attorney General Edwin M. Meese III. The participants apparently reached a consensus on a proposal that the Archives be considered unable to deal with Nixon's claims of executive privilege.

. . .A few months later, the Justice Department drafted an administrativ:e rule stating that the National Archives was compelled to honor any claims of executive privilege by Nixon, Reagan, or any future President. The Archives was then being managed by Frank G. Burke, a career employee serving as Acting Archivist.

The Archives appended the Justice Department rule to the revised set of regulations without comment, but did not publish it with the regulations. The new rule, if left unchallenged by Congress or the federal courts, would reverse the procedures: Nixon could restrict any document he wished to, and the burden would be on the Archives to challenge his claim. The Archives had now given Nixon what the Supreme Court and Congress would not a blanket claim of executive privilege.

The political cowardice displayed by the National Archives was thoroughly aired in 1986, during little-noted public hearings before the Government Information, Justice, and Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations, which has jurisdiction over the Presidential libraries.

Frank Burke and Gary L. Brooks, who was the acting director of the Archives legal staff, stunned the committee members by testifying that they considered the Justice Department's memorandum to be binding upon the administration of the Nixon tape recordings and other materials. On October 3, 1986, the House Committee on Government Operations issued a scathing report, which accused the senior officials of the Archives of failing to respond to the Reagan Administration's challenge to its "statutory and regulatory authority" and went on to say, "That the Archives would abdicate its legislated responsibility to promulgate regulations and, in the process, misinform the public is troublesome in and of itself. When this abandonment is viewed in the context of past litigation. . . and the likelihood of future disputes concerning public availability, the decision. . . takes on even greater importance."

The committee members were not surprised to learn that the Archives leadership had been placed under intense political pressure by Meese's Justice Department, one congressional aide noted in a recent interview, but they could not understand why no one on the inside had reached out to Congress or any other group for help. "These guys didn't let their supporters on Capitol Hill or in the archival and historical community know what Justice was doing" the aide said. "We had to find out on our own. The leadership did not raise the red flag when it should have."

At this point, Public Citizen, the public interest group founded by Ralph Nader, stepped in: it teamed up with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and in federal court successfully challenged the Justice Department's intervention. Public Citizen's argument was direct: in permitting Nixon "to foreclose public access to materials relating to his administration, including records regarding Watergate abuses," the Justice Department was in violation of "the plain language and clear intent" of Congress. Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington lawyer, who handled the case for Public Citizen, remains critical of the "far too deferential" attitude of the Archives' leadership toward Nixon. The top officials are "just bureaucrats who have never been imbued with the mission of getting the truth" to the public, he said in a recent interview. "The bottom line is that there's no public advocate inside, and without an inside advocate you have no way of insuring public access." [END HERSH EXTRACT]

Source: Seymour M. Hersh, "Nixon's Last Coverup: The Tapes He Wants the Archives to Suppress," New Yorker, December 14, 1992, 87-88.

Again, I wouldn't say we all were just "bureaucrats." My boss actually later went the whistleblower route in 1992. I and others supported him in our sworn testimony, in the face of withering fire by Nixon's attorneys. Clearly, the environment in which we worked to release historical records to the public was extremely difficult. I see little that has changed for the better since then, in terms of advocates for greater protection from potential pressure, for the colleagues I left behind.

Maarja Krusten
Former NARA Nixon tapes archivist, 1976-1990

Maarja Krusten - 4/12/2006

This HNN roundup item from February 2006

Of course, I was not aware of the existence of the AF MOU. I haven't worked at NARA since 1990.

Maarja Krusten - 4/12/2006

If you look at NARA's redacted version of its classification MOU at
you will see that the official who declassified the once Secret document is David Mengel. Years ago, when he first started out at NARA, David worked for my sister when she was a supervisory archivist in NARA's records declassification division. She helped train him and served as a mentor to him at the start of his career. For the past few years (the last years of John Carlin's tenure as U.S. Archivist), David was the supervisory archivist in charge of the Nixon tapes at NARA's Nixon Project. He moved on to a new job at NARA around the beginning of 2005 -- or late 2004. (That's based on my hazy recollection from chatting with him st a party at NARA last summer.) David now is Chief of NARA's Special Access/Freedom of Information Act unit. I regard him as a person of high integrity and great competence and hold him in great esteem, professionally and personally.

Robert KC Johnson - 4/12/2006

That doesn't seem to be clear--though I can't see how the program could have been launched without Carlin's approval, or at least knowledge.

Maarja Krusten - 4/12/2006

I'm at home today with plenty of time to read the newspapers. The Washington Post story does not surprise me, of course.

HNN readers who are interested in NARA's declassification and release of State Department records may wish to look at my exchanges with Jeffrey Kimball, Warren Kimball and Hayden Peake on H-Diplo in April 2001. Please see . My late twin sister, Eva, was a senior archivist in NARA's records declassification division. She specialized in screening State Department records for declassification but also worked with a number of other agency reviewers.

At the time I was posting on H-Diplo in the April of 2001, my sis still was alive. In posting on H-Diplo, in a somewhat circumspect fashion, I was mindful not only of her experiences at NARA, but also my own. See also George Lardner's May 2001 article in the WaPo, "DOE Puts Declassification into Reverse," available at .

Further on transparency at NARA, what an agency should tell the research public about restrictions, etc. -- most of you probably already have read Sy Hersh's (1992) and Jack Hitt's (1994) published accounts of internal disputes at NARA over whether or not to reveal that former President Nixon had asked us to delete passages from Watergate tapes in 1989. As I particpant in those debates, and someone who had to testify about them under oath in Stanley Kutler's lawsuit, I also have written about these issues. See especially my article on HNN last year, "The Nixon Papers Deal--An Archivist's Perspective," by Maarja Krusten, March 21, 2005. See
I then asked, "Will NARA in the future follow the 1987 model of transparency, a process which, although potentially embarrassing to the Nixon estate, I believe best serves all the stakeholders?"

As a former NARA employee, I wish the agency well, but am all too familiar with the challenges it faces in doing the right thing with the nation's recorded history. As I've said in a number of forums, there is no firewall to protect NARA from pressure. How its managers react to that pressure depends on many factors, some of which I've covered previously here on HNN. I await with interest NARA's response to the WaPo story to which Dr. Johnson linked, as well as the related Associated Press piece at .

NARA's press release and a PDF version of the redacted 2002 MOU are available at


Ralph E. Luker - 4/12/2006

KC, Do we know that John Carlin signed off on this agreement? If so, ... and _then_ they kicked him out? How much more accommodating could he have been?

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