Is Allen Weinstein too Secretive to Become the Chief Archivist of the United States?


Mr. Sandilands is Professor of Economics, University of Strathclyde , Glasgow , UK, is the author of THE LIFE AND POLITICAL ECONOMY OF LAUCHLIN CURRIE (Duke University Press, 1990), and (with James Boughton), “Politics and the Attack on FDR's Economists: From the Grand Alliance to the Cold War,” (Intelligence and National Security , Autumn 2003).

President Bush's intention to nominate Allen Weinstein as Archivist of the United States has raised a few eyebrows.

Weinstein is best known for Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (1978) and The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999), co-authored with Alexander Vassiliev who was given access (for a substantial fee) to KGB archives. The KGB closed their archives to other researchers who therefore cannot check the accuracy, context or interpretation of the notes made by Vassiliev and written up mainly by Weinstein. Except, that is, if Weinstein were to grant access to his files.  

But what is disturbing about Weinstein as Archivist of the United States is that he is so notoriously reluctant to open up his own archives. These include his original KGB notes and his taped interviews with witnesses who have challenged his selective quotations. He made an exception with Sam Tanenhaus whose Whittaker Chambers: A Biography (1997) lionises a self-proclaimed Soviet spy turned right-wing nemesis of Alger Hiss. Because Chambers was a chronic fantasist, having assumed at least ten false identities from the age of 19 (long before his professed involvement in espionage), he scarcely warrants the trust that Weinstein and Tanenhaus have vested in his various conflicting testimonies.  

In a 1997 edition of Perjury Weinstein adds material from the recently declassified VENONA papers. In particular, he insisted triumphantly that Alger Hiss was the person code-named ALES in a March 1945 Soviet cable. This has since been hotly disputed and few scholars now accept the official NSA line that ALES was “probably Alger Hiss.”

Major-General Julius Kobyakov, deputy director of the KGB's American Division in the late 1980s, has stated categorically (Diplomatic History, H-Diplo, website, October 16, 2003) that ALES was not Hiss. He also searched the KGB archives for evidence that other individuals named by Weinstein as spies, notably Lauchlin Currie, economic adviser to President Roosevelt, and Harry Dexter White, Assistant Treasury Secretary and architect of the IMF. Kobyakov concluded that nothing in Currie's file suggests he had ever wittingly collaborated with Soviet intelligence. He was no more than a “sub-source,” or someone whose conversations with trusted colleagues were reported to Moscow without his knowledge. Kobyakov wrote that “in the spirit of machismo, many [KGB officers] claimed that we had an ‘agent' [Currie] in the White House.” They included Iskhak Akhmerov in whose reports Weinstein placed so much store or interpreted in the most sinister possible way.  

Kobyakov, unimpressed by Weinstein's surmises and over-confident identification of “agents” in The Haunted Wood, has written: “equally unimpressive was a file on White. There was no record that someone had pitched or otherwise recruited him.” In another message to H-Diplo, February 10, 2004, Kobyakov wrote:

I undertand that Currie or White, who were branded as subversives in the McCarthy era and stigmatised again by the VENONA cables, would hardly be considered heroes by the present day American historical establishment. But if a professional opinion is called for, as to whether those people were Soviet agents, my answer is no…. It is easy to badmouth the people who no longer can defend themselves, and to overlook the fact that they in their own way may have helped the anti-Hitler coalition to win the bloodiest war in history.

In similar vein, the distinguished Berkeley economist Brad DeLong recently listed the ten Americans who he considered did most to win the Cold War. Harry White was his number one, ahead of George Kennan and George Marshall. He had “laid the groundwork for the greatest generation of economic growth the world has ever seen,” based on political democracy and the mixed economy. If he was a spy, “never did any intelligence service receive worse service.”  Victor Navasky, long-time defender of Alger Hiss, asked (in the Nation, October 16, 1997 ) why Weinstein was so intent on his “quixotic” mission to find certainty in the Hiss case when the record exudes uncertainty (as too in the cases of Currie, White and others). He suggests:

It could, of course, simply be a predilection for what he regards as the winning side. Thus in the early seventies, when campuses across the country were questioning cold war pieties, he represented himself as sympathetic to Hiss and succeeded in getting a grant from the progressive Rabinowitz Foundation…. In the late seventies, as the political pendulum began to swing back to the right, he declared himself reluctantly persuaded by the weight of evidence against Hiss. By the eighties he was on Reagan's transition team, and in the nineties, with the centrist Democrats back in power, he succeeded in conscripting Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan as the keynote speaker for his Venona Conference.

Today the power is with George W Bush. Just as in 1984 when Ronald Reagan gave the Medal of Freedom to Whittaker Chambers, will 2004 see a similar political award with Allen Weinstein as Archivist of the United States?


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John Earl Haynes - 4/20/2004

Roger Sandilands is entitled to trumpet his unhappiness with the nomination of Allen Weinstein to be the next Archivist of the United States. But there is something odd in being lectured to in strident, self-righteous tones about an internal American governmental appointment by a British citizen relying on the undocumented claims of a Russian, an unrepentant former KGB general, to smear a respected American scholar.

In the twenty-five years since Allen Weinstein published Perjury, his masterful analysis of the Hiss-Chambers case, no one has been able to challenge his conclusion that Whittaker Chambers told the truth and that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy. The only other full-length scholarly study of the case, Sam Tanenhaus's Whittaker Chambers, reached a similar conclusion.

Professor Sandilands repeats the canard that Chambers was a "fantasist," a lie first leveled by Hiss's lawyer, the late John Lowenthal, suggesting that Chambers made up out of whole cloth his story of involvement in Soviet espionage. This requires that Sandilands ignore the voluminous evidence offered by former spies with whom Chambers worked, the handwritten and typed documents that Chambers saved and produced to verify his claims about Hiss and Harry Dexter White, and the enormous raft of material and evidence produced at Hiss's trials and in the decades since confirming Chambers's story and demonstrating that Hiss was a perjurer.

Professor Sandilands and a handful of other espionage deniers have frantically tried to discredit the Venona decryptions that made crystal clear the work done for the KGB by such American spies. He claims that "few scholars now accept the official NSA [National Security Agency] line that ALES was “probably Alger Hiss” in one of the telegrams. He is wrong. And his reliance on Major General Julius Kobyakov is strange. General Kobyakov has stated his nostalgia for the days of Soviet power and his disapproval of the partial opening of KGB archives in the early 1990s (ended by 1995). Why are Kobyakov's undocumented statements acceptable while the documents that Weinstein's collaborator, also an ex-KGB officer, Alexander Vassiliev, located in the KGB’s archives during its partial opening - documents quoted in The Haunted Wood - dismissed by Sandilands? Would Professor Sandilands similarly accept the unsupported word of a unrepentant Nazi intelligence chief about the files of his agency? If Ales is not Hiss, why doesn't Kobyakov tell us who Ales, this high-ranking State Department employee who spied for the Soviet Union, really was? Kobyakov once directed Soviet espionage against the United States. He has chosen not only to stonewall about what he knows but to attack those who attempt to bring to light the facts of Soviet espionage in the United States.

In the meantime, we are pleased that Dr. Weinstein, a distinguished scholar and writer, has been honored by this nomination to be Archivist of the United States.

Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes

Maarja - Krusten - 4/19/2004

For more information on past problems at the National Archives, and a glimpse of the areas where Dr. Weinstein will face some of his greatest challenges, see my article at http://www.h-net.org/~hns/articles/2004/020504a.html
Note: the posted title of the article was chosen by the editors of History News Service was not of my choosing. My own, original title for this piece was "Aggressive Advocacy Haunts the Nixon Foundation." For HNN readers who are Republicans, please read the article and reflect carefully on why someone who had voted for Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and G. H. W. Bush should have been compelled to start writing articles about public access in an effort to protect colleagues she respected and left behind at the National Archives when she left the agency in 1990. Being vocal on such issues is soooo not a Republican characteristic, there's gotta be something behind it!

Maarja - Krusten - 4/18/2004

Mark Safranski correctly points out that on the face of it, it does not seem fair to assume that Dr. Weinstein will not act properly. The real problem lies in the fact that the worst controversies surrounding archival records occurred during past Republican presidencies. The Nixon tapes deletion controversy to which I was a witness, and which I described in my PRESIDENTIAL STUDIES QUARTERLY article cited above, occurred while G. H. W. Bush was president. Sy Hersh described the controversy in his 1992 New Yorker piece, as well.

Earlier, during the Reagan presidency, the Justice Department tried to force NARA to accept without discretion Nixon's privilege claims against disclosure. The courts correctly overturned that in Public Citizen v. Burke. Congress also found in 1986 that following the DOJ directive meant abdication of the Archivist's legal responsibility under the Nixon records law to objectively review historical materials.

So, unfortunately for Dr. Weinstein now, Archives employees and clients have searing memories of past Republican attempts to subvert existing laws and regulations. Naturally, once you've been burned, you look at actions through the prism of those experiences. That is what is happening with Bush's announcement that he is replacing Carlin with Weinstein.

I'm not quite sure why Republicans have developed such a bad attitude on accountability, public disclosure, etc., areas most scholars look to, but they certainly do trail a lot of baggage on those issues. I have voted for a lot of Republicans and I have to admit I am baffled by the Bush-Cheney administration's stance on public disclosure. I think too much secretiveness in the past, as well as the bad things that happened to NARA during earlier administrations, are the primary source of the concern over the new Archivist.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/18/2004

incomplete citation above, sorry, should be Maarja Krusten, "Watergate's Last Victim" in PRESIDENTIAL STUDIES QUARTERLY, Spring 1996.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/18/2004

OK, Mark, you hooked me back into responding, LOL. I cannot take the time in a single post to explain all the areas where the Archives needs more protection. I’ll start with one story, then address your point about liberal scholars, something I also have pointed out on the Archives List. Sorry this is a bit long but the story I tell is even more harrowing than I can convey in this post.

You may want to look at my article, "Watergate's Last Victim" in PRESIDENTIAL STUDIES QUARTERLY. In it I describe NARA's vulnerabilities to pressure. This is what the issue is that in the Weinstein nomination (the fact that the Bush administration wants him in place), not his personal integrity or good intentions. Keep in mind that I was subpoenaed as a witness in Dr. Kutler's public access litigation, which he filed in 1992 to open the Nixon tapes.

I was asked during my testmony about my work with the Nixon tapes as an employee of the Archives from 1976 to 1990. Much of the testimony centered on incidents that took place in 1989, when Nixon sought to have information deleted from the Watergate tapes. My testimony and that of 2 other Archives’ witnesses did not comport with the story of a senior NARA official. (That official later received a “failing” performance assessment from NARA in 1994, as revealed in stories in the Washington Times in 1994. The WT supported the official, who now works as a private consultant. Because of my past dealings with that official, I am very wary of him. Scott Armstrong has described him as being “notorious” inside and outside the Archives for his perceived deference to Presidents. This is the type of label Dr. Weinstein will have to avoid, obviously.)

Essentially, the 2 other witnesses and I revealed hidden pressure by Nixon to have sections deleted from Watergate tapes, an action that the senior NARA official had tried to present to the court as deriving solely from the independent review of archivists. Only through our testimony in 1992 did it become known that Nixon was the source of the deletions the Archives made to the Watergate tapes in 1989. NARA made the deletions to tapes that Judge Sirica already had deemed pertinent to Watergate but did not admit to the public it had made the cuts at Nixon’s behest.

There is a regulatory process in place to consider objections by Nixon (now his heirs) to NARA’s proposed historical releases. The senior official bypassed that regulatory process in 1989 and accepted Nixon’s deletion list quietly, instead. In an effort to protect NARA from just this type of action, Congress had set up regulations requiring pubic notice of requests for withholding, etc. Officials simply bypassed it. We archivists protested in 1989, to no avail. In fact, one of my supervisors was made the subject of a punitive transfer because she courageously joined us in our pleas that regulations be followed. I left my job at NARA over this issue, taking a job as historian elsewhere in the government in 1990.

Because my testimony about Nixon’s hidden role did not comport with the senior NARA official’s seeming attempt to shield it, the Department of Justice’s lawyers gave me no support, without warning me they had a conflict of interest. (They also represented the senior official, as the same DOJ lawyers represent NARA as an entity in such litigation.) I had to answer questions from President Nixon’s lawyers for two days with no legal representation. I did fine relying only on my own wits but it is not a something you would wish on any archivist or scholar. I have fought hard to keep the colleagues that I left behind from being placed in a similar position. Everyone at the Archives knows what happened to the Nixon tapes archivists between 1989 and 1992. The Archives was forced to admit to the court ultimately that indeed Nixon was the source of the deletions, rather than its own archivists. NARA never criticized the senior official publicly, but some of his supporters did try to castigate the archivists who had revealed the story of the hidden deletions. So, no, the Archives definitely does not have enough protection, then or now.

No matter how fine a scholar, I have to wonder how well prepared a Weinstein or a Kutler would be to protect his subordinates from political pressure, legal abandonment, punitive transfers, etc. Even more than good scholarship, the Archives needs a chief with plenty of political savvy, lots of integrity, and a very strong backbone. But, you may have a point in your assessment of the administration's strategy. I noted something similar in a post elsewhere, since I have voted Republican in the past and have a better sense than many others of how historians may be viewed by a Republican administration. Here's a post I sent to the Archives List on 4/10/04, note especially what I say about OAH and AHA:

"I know little about Mr. Weinstein, except as the author of the Hiss and Soviet books, so these comments do not center on him, but on the environment in Washington.

Dean [Debolt] asks why the President doesn't recruit for an Archivist of the United States the way private sector institutions recruit for administrators. I totally understand why he prefers administrators "willing to 'fight' for their programs" rather than "yes people" (in an ideal world, we all would work for institutions headed by people who choose to act -- or more importantly, are allowed by circumstances to act -- with integrity and based on principle rather than being guided solely by political expediency). But I would ask, given the present day environment in Washington and recent trends in governance, from a President's perspective, what is the incentive to treat this appointment differently than other executive agency appointments?

Presidents look for loyalty and strict message discipline from their appointees. Appointees who strike out on their own without the help and support of strong allies inside government or effective interest groups on the outside, do not survive and may even become targets of the Washington attack machine. (A recent example is former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who clearly was not on board with all of President Bush's economic policies, was forced out of his position, and attacked when he went public with critical comments about the administration.).

I think many archival and historical interest groups have failed to adjust strategically to changes in Washington. Some act as if we still were back in the 1970s. If you look at the era in the mid-1970s when the public documents commission operated and most records statutes were crafted, circumstances were very different. You had divided government and significant public outcry about events, such as Watergate, which focused attention on the preservation and release of historical information.

Things are different now, one political party controls government, the courts mostly have punted on difficult archival issues, and the archival and historical lobbies are much weaker than they once were. Unfortunately, based on my observations of messages posted to other message boards and listservs by historians and scholars, many of the National Archives' constituents and customers do not have a good understanding of the agency's difficult position within the government. Some scholars complain that the Archives is too weak and that it does not sufficiently take scholars' needs into account. But they do little to form strategic alliances that would help the Archives.

It amazes me sometimes how historians sometimes fail to understand how the government operates. Some academic scholars seem to imagine that the Archives operates in a mythical fourth branch of government, committed to serving scholars' interests and immune to political pressure. That simply is not the case. In my postings to historians' listservs, I have urged them to learn more about the Archives' vulnerabilities and challenges and to learn to act more strategically, but few have taken up that challenge. Too difficult, perhaps.

As for the present administration, when do they hear from historians and archivists? Usually in ways that reinforce existing stereotypes, however unfair they may be. Judging by coverage of the AHA and OAH converences, White House officials may read about petitions signed by Historians Against the War. Or about lawsuits filed for public access to Presidential papers. I would bet that these stories reinforce an existing view that historians are left-liberals, outside the mainstream, and people to be ignored as "not our base." Why would they care what historians and archivists think - the history lobby, such as it is, is very weak, disorganized, not strategic in its approach, and largely marginalized these days.

Again, while I totally sympathize with Dean's view, unlike in the 1970s, I see many challenges in communicating the archival and historical communities' needs. Perhaps that is why the administration has so confidently announced its nominee for Archivist.


mark safranski - 4/18/2004

Hi Maarja,

Or, applying Occam's Razor, the administration wanted to select a very conservative historian for a prestigious post- and given this nominee's explicitly anti-Communist scholarship -the nomination was " fast-tracked" because of political animus for such a viewpoint from DC liberal activists, Democratic Senate staffers and the majority Left-wing academic community.

The presumption that the political calculation of the Bush administration extends beyond simply securing Weinstein's confirmation, no easy task in itself, is exactly that, a presumption. Moreover it is a presumption that unfairly calls into question Dr. Weinstein's personal and professional integrity * based on no evidence whatsoever* - something some Hiss defenders would like to do anyway without any regard to whether Weinstein was nominated to head the National Archives or any other Federal post. We'd have gotten a very similar article from Dr. Sandiland, I suspect, if Weinstein had been niminated to become an ambassador.

You're correct, I do presume that the National Archives will continue as they have done in the past under a Bush nominee but perhaps there are systemic safeguards archivists would like to see put in place and have operating without regard to the political affiliation of a given administration ? If so, I'm open to hearing such suggestions but lacking a detailed knowledge of current operations I'm not presently placed to make them.

cheers !

Richard Henry Morgan - 4/18/2004


I think this quote from Sandilands makes the issue clearer:

"The KGB closed their archives to other researchers who therefore cannot check the accuracy, context or interpretation of the notes made by Vassiliev and written up mainly by Weinstein. Except, that is, if Weinstein were to grant access to his files."

"But what is disturbing about Weinstein as Archivist of the United States is that he is so notoriously reluctant to open up his own archives. These include his original KGB notes and his taped interviews with witnesses who have challenged his selective quotations."

This makes clear the conflation between "files" and "archives", and the work Sandilands hopes to achieve by that conflation -- or should I say, the work he would spare himself? Weinstein is not under any obligation to make his uncited notes or uncited sources available to others, notwithstanding Sandilands' characterizing them as "archives" -- he certainly is not under any obligation to provide a fishing hole for those interested not in his cited sources, but in the "context" to be derived from examination of uncited material.

I would think that as an economist Sandilands should be able to appreciate what in economics is called "the freerider problem" -- at least from the perspective of economists who think that the private right of property has an important role to play in an economic system. I doubt that Weinstein is under the impression that, should he become the Archivist of the United States, the national archives should somehow become transformed into his own property.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/18/2004

Again, you are looking at the issue through the lens of their scholarship. I suppose that is natural given your background. I keep asking questions about the governmental process and the possible intent of the Bush administration in avoiding possible scrutiny of the nominee. Perhaps one has to be a scholar of political history and government, or a Washington insider, to see the red flags in an attempt to ram through and fast track a nominee. Whether or not a Weinstein or a Kutler does "a fine job" heading the National Archies depends not on whether they are well known and accompioshed as a scholar, but on whether the Nationa Archives is able to resist political pressure. For people who realy know how Washington operates, an attempt to fast track this nomination--something never done before with the Archivist position--signals political intent. For a PR savvy administration to risk controversy by doing that means something realy critical is at stake. I suppose what puzzles me most is why the scholars reading this thread are so trusting that the Archives is protected sufficiently from such pressure, when it is not. Perhaps, as you pointed out earlier, the original Sandislands article attracted only a small group of Hiss specialists to the thread in the first place. A broader airing of the issues seems impossible, as a result. But thanks for answering, I appreciate your courtesy in doing so. 'Bye!

mark safranski - 4/18/2004

Actually, if a hypothetical liberal president - a Kerry or a Hillary - named say, Eric Foner, Stanley Kutler or Walter LaFeber for the post I'd assume they would do a fine job heading the National Archives. I presume the same thing about Weinstein for much the same reason- they are all well-known and accomplished scholars and if they mismanaged the National Archives it would be a significant blot on their reputation.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/17/2004

As I follow posts on H-diplo and on HNN, I often can pick out the political persuasions of people from the way they advocate certain policies. Identification as a Republican, Democrat, centrist, neo-con, or Socialist may be fine in academia. My world--the world of the National Archives--is very different. The ideologies of the archivists employed there are not supposed to affect their work. Archivists are acutely aware of the fact that they are the guardians of the nation's governmental heritage. As an employee of NARA’s Nixon project from 1976 to 1990, I worked with employees who were Democrats, Republicans, socialists, libertarians, and Independents. (I then was a Republican, now am an Independent.) You could not tell party affiliations from our work product, we worked objectively and non-ideologically. After all, you, the scholars, depended on us to do so.

Consider what may be at stake if the White House is willing to cripple its Archivist nominee from the start by bypassing the appointment procedures. By seemingly forcing Carlin out prematurely, bypassing the historical and archival interest groups, and fast tracking the nomination, the White House may be saddling Weinstein with labels which may dog him throughout his tenure. Why are they risking that?

Until recently, the Bush administration had a reputation for a very smoothly running political operation. The way the Weinstein nomination is being handled is so at variance with the usual way the political game is played in Washington, it really raises a lot of red flags. I do not know Dr. Weinstein, and only know him from having read the Haunted Wood. But whether you support or oppose his scholarship, you should consider the perception problems that surround his nomination.

The best analogy for the National Archives is not to other executive branch agencies, but to the public library from which you get your books. There recently has been a spate of books by pundits from the left and right, with titles that flame the opposing viewpoint. (I avoid 'em, you HNN readers may or may not enjoy them, some of you even may write them, yikes -- LOL.) Most libraries impartially stock all of them. You would not want to have to rely on a library which only stocks pro or anti Hillary Clinton books, or pro or anti Reagan books, for example. At least, I would hope you wouldn't.

So, too, do you rely on a National Archives whose officials are not associated with the ideological viewpoints of any one president or political party. In safeguarding and releasing the reasonably disclosable portions of our government's records, the National Archives has an obligation to preserve the appearance and reality of objectivity and nonpartisanship. Dr. Weinstein's scholarship and personal characteristics aside, the White House has raised too many red flags by quietly offering his name as nominee and bypassing the stakeholders who customarily are consulted in such nominations.

A nomination process that displays so little courage or confidence may be crippling the nominee from the start. Again, would you so passively accept this, if roles, parties, and advocates were reversed, and represented ideologies you do not support? If not, why is it ok here? I am mystified by your passivity. Our worlds, yours in the private sector and mine in the public sector, must be very different indeed.

Maarja Krusten

Maarja - Krusten - 4/17/2004

I'm curious, if a liberal Democrat president had nominated as US Archivist a scholar who held Sandislands-type views, which you are picking apart, quite effectively, I might add, would you debate the nomination solely on the basis of his scholarship? Or would you be looking at the broader implications of having him in charge of the agency on which all scholars depend? I've worked for the federal government for 31 years, 14 as an archivist, the last 14 as a historian. I know those of us in public service are trained to look at the broader public aspects of issues, and not to indulge so much in advocacy as you in academia (we have differing motivations than academics, aren't dependent on our books selling well, etc.) But I am curious as to why threads which could have expanded to look at issues that will affect future generations of scholars, who depend on us all, instead are being addressed with so very narrowly.


Maarja Krusten

Maarja - Krusten - 4/17/2004

Mark, if you read the way this thread evolved, please keep in mind what I wrote earlier about the lack of engagement and dialogue between scholars and archivists! Interesting to see this play out again just as predicted.


Richard Henry Morgan - 4/17/2004

I may owe Allen Weinstein an apology for my third observation above -- if I do, I'll have to make a mental note (as though any were necessary) not to take assertions by the Nation at face value.

I'm similarly disturbed by Sandilands' assertion above:

"But what is disturbing about Weinstein as Archivist of the United States is that he is so notoriously reluctant to open up his own archives. These include his original KGB notes and his taped interviews with witnesses who have challenged his selective quotations."

Certainly, as mentioned above, Weinstein has an obligation to make those sources that he cited available to other scholars. To characterize his other papers as an archive seems an unjustified characterization designed specifically to torpedo his chances as Archivist of the United States.

I also reread Navasky's 1997 Nation article on Weinstein. Therein, Navasky falsely identifies Volkogonov as "chairman of the military intelligence archives" -- a mischaracterization that seems to have no other purpose then give the impression that Volkonogov's original categorical statement was based on a thorough examination of the GRU archives -- precisely the lacuna in Kobyakov's searches.

These sorts of things really aren't excusable.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/17/2004

Thanks for sharing your insights. I have seen references to Nation's articles in other (List) forums that are debating the Weinstein nomination, and it is important to point out anger at "deviation from the party line" as a probable cause for that magazine's campaigns. I already have referred readers of that other List to H-Diplo so they can be exposed to the same informed airing of the Hiss issues that I have been following there over the years.

Because I am a former employee of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), I know the importance of having a credible, nonpartisan chief heading the agency. Bruce Craig's latest newsletter (link in my other post, below) points to increasing concern that the Weinstein nomination may have been triggered by the impending release of historical materials from George H. W. Bush's presidential records and the transfer of the 9/11 commission's files to the National Archives.

As a knowledgeable former National Archives'insider with 14 years experience working at the agency, I find it credible that the battleground has indeed shifed from the individual Presidential Libraries to the position of agency head. However, rather than re-hashing the reasons why the ongoing battles over private versus public control of presidential records may have shifted to this nomination, I simply refer HNN readers to Professor Richard Cox's article at
Dr. Cox carefully explains the evolution of private vs. public control and the ongoing challenges of providing proper public access to White House records.

Under the circumstances, the controversies that surround Dr. Weinstein himself are sure to muddy the waters. Previous agency heads have not carried such baggage, which may prove as much of a distraction here as it does in controversies in academe when faculty members face charges of "politicization." It undoubtedly has been easier for those of you in academe to work with deans and presidents who have a reputation for objectivity and nonpartisanship than for ones who act as lightning rods for political controversy.

This is important because the National Archives has an obligation to preserve and make available the reasonably disclosable portions of what it calls the essential evidence of government. The Supreme Court has cited the impartial stance of its archivists in cases such as Nixon v. Sampson. This is where previous agency heads have had an advantage over Dr. Weinstein as they have trailed less baggage.

What are the core values of the agency Dr. Weinstein may come to head? Here is a clue. I recently received an off-List message from a university archivist, who wrote to me that:

"I have thoroughly enjoyed your generous insightful comments and observations about the nomination of Allen
Weinstein for Archivist of the US. You display a thoughtful, non-partisan, intelligent consideration of the topic and subject at hand that must come
with your experience working at NARA in the past." There can be no nicer compliment to the National Archives - and no better illustration of what is at stake here.

Jerry Sternstein - 4/16/2004

Since I've never spoken to Weinstein on this subject, what I know about the issue of Weinstein's "Perjury" interviews and notes is based solely on second-hand accounts I heard and an article by Weinstein that was written about this subject in the late 1970s and which I haven't consulted or even thought about since.

As I recall, when "Perjury" came under attack by Navasky and other Hiss defenders, Weinstein announced that he would be happy to deposit his notes in an archive so that scholars could have access to them. He was in the process of doing so when a group led by Navasky showed up unannounced at the door of his home in Washington, D.C. shortly after he made that offer and demanded immediate access to them. Outraged by their behavior, Weinstein refused to let them in and soon withdrew his offer. Presently, I believe, Weinstein's notes on the Hiss case and his later work in the KGB archives are on deposit at the Center For Democracy, an organization promoting democracy that he directs. Sam Tanenhaus consulted Weinstein's archives when working on his superb biography of Whittaker Chambers, and he cites them.

Morgan is, as usual, correct about Kobyakov's claims. Nobody really knows what he saw or didn't see before he retired, and even if what he testifies to is truthful, he never had access to the GRU archives, and Hiss was a GRU agent. Interestingly enough, Bruce Craig, whose biography of Harry White will appear this May, recently posted a comment on H-HOAC that he has received information based on excellent authority -- people who have supposedly viewed them -- that there are Hiss and White agent files in the GRU archives.

But more importantly, as Haynes and Klehr note in their fascinating "In Denial" and in equally essential posts on H-DIPLO and H-HOAC, the ALES/HISS issue only relates to whether Hiss was an active Communist spy as late as 1945, when he was at Yalta and post Yalta, and not whether he was ever a Communist spy in the 1930s. In fact, the evidence for the latter is so damning and overwhelming that even Navasky has trouble denying it.. And on this issue, I again renew my challenge to Sandilands to tell us what "scholars" -- and I don't mean the usual suspects -- accept his assertion that Hiss wasn't ALES.

A brilliant article recently appeared on the ALES/Hiss issue that should put to rest any doubts -- even, one might hope, of diehard Hiss defenders -- that Hiss was ALES. Here's the citation. Unfortunately, I haven't checked whether it's online: Edward Mark, "Who Was 'Venona's' 'Ales'? Cryptanalysis
and the Hiss Case,"Intelligence and National Security, 18, no. 3 (Autumn Eduard Mark, "Who Was 'Venona's' 'Ales'? Cryptanalysis
and the Hiss Case," Intelligence and National Security, 18, no. 3 (Autumn

Yes, the former KGB archives are now inaccessible. And the reason why, as far as anybody can tell, is that those presently in charge of the Russian government were dismayed that their predecessors gave Weinstein and Vassiliev access to them, and what that access produced -- a book as factual and informative about Soviet espionage in the U.S as "The Haunted Wood." Further infuriated by Vasaili Mitrokhin's sensational archive of copied documents secreted out of Russia and published in "The Sword and the Shield," hardliners in Moscow succeeded in forcing the closure of the archives. Indeed, so angry were they by what was revealed about Soviet espionage as a result of these books that Vassiliev, Weinstein's collaborator, a former KGB agent, felt that prudence dictated he leave Russia and he went into exile in Britain. Mitrokhin's treasure trove of notes and transcripts of KGB files that landed in Britain created such a storm in Moscow central that British intelligence, fearing for his life, put him in protective custody where he might yet remain.

To imply that Weinstein is to blame for the failure of Russian authorities to abide by ICA guidelines is ludicrous. But it's keeping with The Nation's three decade long campaign against him and everything he's done and written, all brought about by his deviation from the party line in the 1970s with his publication of "Perjury." The Hiss defenders simply will not forgive Weinstein for shattering their iconic belief that Hiss was an innocent victim of an hysterical anti-Communist conspiracy hatched by Whittaker Chambers and Richard Nixon.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/16/2004

See http://tinyurl.com/2t7y2
for a link to the National Coalition for History newsletter. The newsletter describes Carlin's apparent "premature" removal and possible political reasons for the sudden action.

Excerpt from NCH NEWSLETTER: "Concern is growing within the archival and historical communities regarding the Bush administration's hoped for "fast-track" process to
replace Archivist of the United States John Carlin with one of its own choosing -- historian Allen Weinstein. According to informed sources, the administration hopes to short-circuit the normal confirmation process and see Weinstein confirmed through an "expedited" process. Their goal -- place Weinstein in the position prior to the November election."

NCH reports the hurried action may be linked to forthcoming scheduled opening by NARA of records from the George H. W. Bush administration and the transfer of 9/11 commission records to the Archives.

See the H-Net Announce page for the posted newsletter which also is mentioned in the breaking news item on the top page of the HNN home page.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/16/2004

Richard Henry Morgan - 4/16/2004

It doesn't strike me as kosher to treat Kobyakov's denial that Hiss was ALES, based on KGB files, as dispositive of the question, since the Venona decrypt in question identifies ALES as an agent run by the GRU.

Secondly, the Nation editorial mentions that the closing of the Soviet archive runs counter to the code of ethics of the International Council of Archives -- this seems to be a move to make Weinstein responsible for others' refusal to abide by the ICA guidelines. How bizarre.

On the other hand, the AHA guidelines do say you have to make interview material available to others if it is cited in your work. It would be nice to know why Weinstein hasn't done that.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/16/2004

Just thought I'd correct the typo in bureaucrat before someone flames me for not knowing how to spell it, LOL

Maarja - Krusten - 4/16/2004

Adverarial argument, eh? Yep, I've noticed that. I guess because I am vulnerable to being painted as an "outlier" for breaking message discipline, I look at these things tactically and strategically. So I tend to look for positive affirmations -- on the record. There have been many cases in the past where historians have privately expressed support for me on controversial, politically charged archival issues. But I have an insufficient record to point to when I am challenged by opponents. That makes it easy for opponents to say, see, nobody agrees with her, there are just a few cranks out there, they are out of the mainstream because most observers are okay with things as they are. That is not the case--the private messages of support show that--but the lack of a record leaves me twisting in the wind sometimes! Ah Washington, it's such a "fun" place to work!! Still I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything.

mark safranski - 4/16/2004

You're welcome Maarja ! I wouldn't take the silence on h-Diplo as proof of agreement with Peake either - sometimes silence is the result of a poster definitively rebutting an argument. If the list thought you were wrong they would have jumped all over you with criticism. H-Diplo is as much about adversarial argument at times as it is scholarly discourse.(Not all posts submitted are published either, the moderators at times decline or delay submissions).

Andrew D. Todd - 4/16/2004

The short answer, I suppose, is that you wait for a window of opportunity, such as the aftermath of Watergate, and then exploit it for all it is worth.

On a related point, bear in mind that archives, however honestly run, can never be a substitute for publication. Publication has the advantage of being irrevocable. Due to the advance of computers, the definition of what it is technically feasible to publish has shifted radically since 1973. The next Watergate-interval should be used to publish as many raw records as possible.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/16/2004

Interesting suggestion! But, in order to effect so drastic a change, you would have to acknowledge that the current system is flawed or has failed. Who in Washington is going to admit that NARA requires the protection of a regulatory-type agency, especially now? (Of course, the National Archives is subject to message discipline, like every executive agency, and it cannot institute such a "reform" from within.)

Maarja Krusten

Maarja - Krusten - 4/16/2004

Thanks very much for the insightful note. Your points about differing objectives, learning curves, and narrow fields of specialization all are well taken! I don't want to take up a lot more of your time with this issue, but if you look at the H-Diplo logs for April 26, 2001, you will see that I asked directly about dialogue between historians and archivists. The note was posted in response to Hayden Peake's comment earlier in April 2001, "There is no need to gain insight into NARA's problems, it is the solution to the scholars' problems that require attention."

While some subscribers to the Archives List offered some suggestions for other forums, no one on H-Diplo responded. Unsure of what the silence meant (surely not unanimity with Hayden Peake's view?), I did not post further to H-Diplo for two years. The aim of posting, after all, is dialogue, and you can't have a dialogue if no one responds! Perhaps I should have soldiered on with my educational and outreach effort, given what you said above. You did respond on HNN, and I certainly appreciate that.

Maarja Krusten

mark safranski - 4/16/2004


I think the lack of dialogue between archivists and historians or other scholars is twofold. First, historians see the archives as a means to an end while archivists consider the archives to be an end.

Secondly,many universities have cut back on their library science and museum programs to the point where interaction between professional archivists and historians, much less their students, is infrequent. As a grad student I had one 30 minute interaction in a research seminar with an accomplished archivist ( who was also held a second doctorate in modern French political history). Research is secondary to teaching for me so it's been a few years since I've been stymied by our government's parsimonious attitude toward declassification.

I've never met a historian or other scholar who didn't think access to well kept archives was crucial but the only extendeed conversation I've had on the subject was regarding the sorry organizational state of Russian archives. To be truthful, in order to have a meaningful conversation with you I would have to do some extended reading to get up to speed as my last visit to the National Archives was probably in 1997 or 1998. So it's not that your views are unwelcome Maarja, it's just that some of us on H-Diplo are further down the learning curve than you might realize ( a byproduct of narrow field specialization)- folks like Steven Aftergood excepted of course.

Perhaps the place to start with your target audience is to communicate/educate them with their perspective as archival patrons as to how changes in policy will impinge on their research efforts ?

Andrew D. Todd - 4/15/2004

The Federal Reserve Bank system has a board of governors loosely modeled on the Supreme Court, because it is assumed that every president will want to pump up the currency when facing reelection. Of course, some branches of the government, such as the Department of Defense, cannot be run by committee that way. However, I find it difficult to see why the National Archives, which has no operational responsibilities after all, could not be run by a board of governors.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/15/2004

Many of the questions you raise, and that Dr. Sandilands raises, may be difficult to resolve. Please continue to provide as much context and background, as possible, nevertheless. As a current federal employee, I would rather not be drawn into the ALES/Hiss debates. I will only say that, given my background, no one who knows me would accuse me of being anything but anti-Communist. And I am on the record in some of my other postings as having voted for Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and G. H. W. Bush.

Hardly the record of a left-winger, yet private messages I've received elsewhere show that some readers have puzzled over why I hold such strong views about archival independence. Perhaps they hold to the common stereotype that liberal Democrats are the strongest supporters of accountability, reasonable governmental transparency, etc. while Republicans supposedly support the "father knows best," the truth is what we say it is, patriarchal approach. Well, it's not so simple.

Be that as it may, I have yet to find a forum where historians and archival experts engage. I notice you post a lot on the Internet and wondered if you have seen any such sites. I only subscribe to the Archives and Archivists List and to H-Diplo. The archivists occasionally discuss history and books (most of them, after all, hold graduate degrees in history). Academic historians, however, almost never engage in discussions about the challenge of hewing to NARA’s nonpartisan, what constitutes reasonable governmental transparency, and other archival issues.

The National Archives faces enormous challenges, but this thread does not seem to be the place to discuss them. In fact, I've seen little on HNN about archival issues, except for Shelley Davis Bishop's article about IRS records, also posted this week. Do you know of any message boards where historians would be interested in discussing NARA issues? I'm thinking not just of public access, but also of NARA's succession planning crisis.

The most knowledgeable, veteran archivists are retiring, there is not enough money to replace them all, government service attracts fewer people than it once did, the Bush administration is looking to outsource more and more jobs but you cannot substitute contractors for veteran employees with strong institutional memories. Archives employees suffer from low morale and if they perceive Dr. Weinstein to be a Bush-administration “enforcer,” I would guess more and more of them will retire as soon as they are eligible. The demographic already point that way, so the brain drain is a real problem.

Aside from the political issues surrounding Presidential records, there are many reasons why the golden age of the National Archives, such as it was, has peaked and the level of service will be decreasing. And, of course, in the post-Watergate era, the historical record will be thinner and much shallower than it once was. In 1999, former White House press secretary Mike McCurry wrote an interesting article for the Washington Monthly ("Getting Past the Spin.") He then claimed that some government agencies even hesitated to put out press releases any more. McCurry asserted that many public affairs officers and senior officials are “content to avoid any notice” in Washington, lest oversight committees take interest. Now, that's keeping your head down! If agencies don’t want to put out press releases, imagine what their pre-decisional, deliberative records are like.

On a higher level, former White House counsel Lloyd Cutler wrote about diminished record keeping during the Clinton administration in an opinion piece in the Washington Post ("Washington Writer's Block," May 16, 1997). He noted that because of fear of subpoenas, "taking notes of a meeting on a sensitive subject has become the rare exception rather than the rule."

Along the same lines, the Washington Post noted in 1998, "'High muckety-mucks don't keep notes,' [historian Taylor] Branch says. 'It means we won't have very good history. It means that it will be lifeless.' "

For a number of reasons, the history lobby is much weaker than it was in the 1970s. It probably is too late for you scholars, NARA's clients, to form the strategic alliances that would really help the Archives, although you can try. (That really should have been done at least 5-10 years ago.) But neither H-Net nor HNN seem to be the places to engage in those debates, there is too little crossover, too much stovepiping, and the established posters seem not to welcome subscribers who break the accepted molds. But, since I notice you post a lot, I would welcome any suggestions as to other forums where historians might be willing to discuss the critical knowledge gaps ahead, as well as historiography and archives, in general.


Maarja Krusten

Maarja - Krusten - 4/15/2004

As difficult as this may be for acquaintances of Dr. Weinstein (and for the nominee himself), reflecting on the Sandiland article is a good preparation for the challenge of taking office in Washington. You really have to develop a thick skin and to be prepared for all kinds of attacks.

In nominating a scholar, it would be impossible to find a historian with whom other scholars have not squabbled. But a specialist in earlier periods of U.S. history might get by with less "fire." By choosing Dr. Weinstein, who has written on relatively recent issues that have split scholars on the left and right, the White House has heightened the chances of partisan exchanges, fair or not. Add Nixon to the mix, as he is in the Hiss case, and you increase the chances of controversy, especially as Nixon's private Library in Yorba Linda currently is negotiating to take custody of materials now held by the National Archives in Washington.

Whoever runs the Archives will have a lot of hurdles to overcome because of the baggage the agency trails
from some poor tactical choices over the last 15 years in fighting past battles over White House records. (The agency's attacks on its own employees in 1992 created a lot of distrust, inside and outside the Archives. People within NARA find it hard to believe their bosses will stand up for them. And scholars find it easy to attribute political motives to agency actions.)

Add to that the public perception of the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy, and the left-right split over the Hiss case, and Dr. Weinstein really is in for some interesting challenges.

Maarja Krusten

Maarja - Krusten - 4/15/2004

BTW, I fully agree that posters' such as Dr. Sandiland and others should make full disclosure of vested interests and what auditors refer to as "impairments," especially since all HNN readers may not be familiar with all the books cited. You all have debated these Hiss issues very well on the H-diplo list and I invite readers to check out its archives.

I am interjecting the Archives information here, rather than posting to H-diplo, as I have never seen anyone on that list engage in discussions of how the Archives really works, with any in-depth knowledge. Indeed, I still remember Hayden Peak's 2001 comment that "To argue that scholars have to understand or recognize NARA's
position is the bureaucrat's response to avoid taking action. It is NARA that needs to understand that its bureaucratic foot dragging is the problem." I was the only one to attempt a rebuttal. Yet the agency's problems go far beyond footdragging.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/15/2004

Thanks for the note, Mark. I recognize that to be the reason, but the fact of the matter is, Dr. Weinstein will be the man in charge of the agency from which you and other scholars will seek records in the future, regardless of how you view his scholarship. So, while I do not mean to discourage the Hiss debates, do not lose sight of the fact that John Carlin well may have been fired by the White House.

Keep in mind also, that the 9/11 commission was not told by the White House that National Archives' officials had identified thousands of Clinton-era documents as possibly responsive to its investigations. The commission only learned of the documents because former Clinton counsel Bruce Lindsey spoke up.

Is it a coincidence that Lindsey discovered in February the withholding of documents that the Archives had identified in February and that John Carlin suddenly was replaced in April? How will such "special access" searches at the Clinton Library be handled after Carlin is gone? Speculation, yes, but the bottom line is, Dr. Weinstein WILL be in charge and I would urge HNN readers not to ignore the back story of how Carlin came to be replaced.

mark safranski - 4/15/2004


I think the reason the comments here have not focused on the Archives is that Dr. Sandilands' true objection to Allen Weinstein isn't that he'd be a poor Archival administrator but that he wrote critical books on Hiss and Currie that argued that they were Communist spies.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/15/2004

These posts, while interesting to me and other scholars, add little to the debate over the National Archives' core mission and future policies. Because I have a feeling that HNN readers will see these threads move further away and further away from discussion of public policy, I refer them to the statement just released by the Society of American Archivists, the Organization of American Historians, etc.
See http://www.archivists.org/statements/weinstein.asp

Maarja Krusten

mark safranski - 4/15/2004

If Dr. Sandilands had an extensive personal as well as professional relationship with Lauchlin Currie - and not just an academic and biographical interest - such a matter should have been disclosed, particularly in an article of this kind.

In this article Dr. Sandilands makes allusions to Dr. Weinstein's unfitness as a political nominee due to alleged flaws in his scholarship. This is a serious charge yet now we are given to understand that Dr. Sandilands has not disclosed information that could cast doubt on his own objectivity ? That sort of behavior brings a number of words to mind, not least of which might be " Shill ".

Dr. Sandilands needs to clarify this issue raised by Dr. Sternstein

Maarja - Krusten - 4/15/2004

If you check out the Archives List postings at
you may see disproportional fonts on some of the messages displayed. Simply click on proportional font under view options to the right of the header and they will display all right.

Needless to say, you will see no postings from National Archives employees on the Archivist nomination or other controversial public policy issues. So it is impossible to tell from the List what they think. The National Archives, like all executive agencies headed by a Presidential appointees, prefers that its employees act as "team players" and that they stick to "message discipline." Depending on the issue, that message is set by the Archives' chief, the White House, the Department of Justice, etc.

The savvy people who work in DC know very well what damage the Washington attack machine can do to people who break message discipline and who speak out. They usually are painted as "outliers," to use one of those opaque, faddish Sigma Six terms so popular among bureacrats.

If you follow NARA issues closely, be prepared to see many such faddish terms. The one that makes me chuckle most is NARA's recent habit of calling records categories "buckets." I admit that I tune out each time I hear that term. Would any private citizen talk to his/her grandparents about putting the papers they have hoarded over the years into buckets? Of course not, he/she would use terms such as cabinets or drawers or something recognizable as holding files. But somehow bureacrats, and yes, I'm one of them, feel they have to use terms different from what we all use at home to discuss the very same issues.

Maarja Krusten

Maarja - Krusten - 4/15/2004

There is a typo in the sentence, "Will Dr. Weinstein seek advice from Trudy Peterson, the former Acting Archivist of the United States, who led the Archives between 1993 and 1996?" The dates should read 1993 and 1995.

Maarja - Krusten - 4/14/2004

Let me start out with a note about where to read more on this issue. Mr. Sternstein and Mr. Safranski mention the H-Diplo list. While the H-Diplo list contains a lot of debate about ALES/Hiss, etc., rarely if ever do its posters engage in discussion of governmental information policies or archival issues. As a subscriber, I keep track of their postings but don’t see that they follow such issues closely.

To see some debate over the U.S. Archivist nomination from a public policy perspective, check out the Archives and Archivist List at
While the H-Diplo posters know a lot about various fields of scholarship, the archives list posters display much more knowledge about public access and governmental information policies.

Now to the point of my posting. National Archives’ watchers, I among them, are interested in whom Allen Weinstein will consult and rely on, inside and outside the Archives. (I worked as a National Archives’ Nixon tapes archivist from 1976 to 1990.) Some of the most difficult challenges faced by the Archives involve the screening of and access to Presidential records.

To understand what is at stake, consider this extract from an article by Dr. Richard Cox ("America's Pyramids: Presidents and Their Libraries," Government Information Quarterly 19, no. 1 (2002)). The quoted section deals with one archivist’s view of the National Archives’ relationship with the White House:

"But there is deeper crack underlying this relationship, when this commentator [Brian Chandler Thompson, apparently] notes that 'There is a self-effacing pride in the modest boast made by an archivist in the Office of Presidential Libraries when he tells White House officials that ‘our job is to help make you look good.’ No, the role of the Office and the individual Presidential Libraries ought to be to help ensure accountability at least in the management of these records." (pp. 58-59)

Not all archivists view their aim as being so simple as helping Presidents “look good.” Most archivists hew to the objective, nonpartisan role that the Archives’ core mission demands and which the Supreme Court has pointed to in entrusting them with the nation’s history. But, as a former insider, I know the National Archives has seen some very tough internal battles over Presidential records during the last 15 years. So, what side will Dr. Weinstein end up on?

Will Dr. Weinstein seek advice from Trudy Peterson, the former Acting Archivist of the United States, who led the Archives between 1993 and 1996? As a former Archives’ employee, I have a lot of respect for Dr. Peterson, a past President of the Society of American Archivists.

I believe Dr. Peterson tried to do right by the National Archives’ mission. However, she was attacked by the Washington Times in 1994 when she sought to ensure timely release of Ronald Reagan’s presidential papers. Although I have voted for many Republican Presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, G. H. W. Bush), I was so disappointed in the one sided, unfair nature of the Washington Times’ coverage of the Archives, I pretty well stopped reading that newspaper after 1994.

Peterson also was the target of some underhanded tactics – in 1993, an opponent within the National Archives leaked one of her internal memoranda to Richard Nixon’s lawyer in an effort to undermine her.

Yep, you read that right, leaked it to Nixon’s lawyer in an apparent effort to help him. Scholars might imagine that archivists, if they were inclined to leak internal documents (a practice I do not support), would leak to their fellow historians. Nope, we may have all started out in Academe as students of history, but Washington sucks some people in after they get here, so much so that when they leak, they choose to help former President’s lawyers.)

Or will Dr. Weinstein turn to John Fawcett (or to Mr. Fawcett’s close associates, some of whom still work at the National Archives)? . Mr. Fawcett served as Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries during Don W. Wilson’s term as National Archivist. Towards the end of his tenure, he was involved in policy disputes with Dr. Peterson over the extent to which President Reagan should be allowed to block from public release disclosures from his historical records.

The disputes centered on interpretations of a public access law. Mr. Fawcett believed that the Presidential Records Act intended that Mr. Reagan should have more say over what should and should not be disclosed from collections in his Presidential Library. The Archives’ Inspector General, the Department of Justice and the Clinton White House Counsel held in 1994 that Dr. Peterson’s interpretation of the law, rather than Mr. Fawcett’s, was the correct one. However, the disputes led Dr. Peterson to be attacked in a series of articles in the Washington Times.

Dr. Wilson retired as Archivist in 1993, Mr. Fawcett retired from government service in 1994. Mr. Fawcett and Dr. Wilson presently serve as consultants to Baylor University on the establishment of a George W. Bush Presidential Library.

A doctoral candidate, Lynn Scott Cochrane, has presented a view sympathetic to Mr. Fawcett in her doctoral thesis, “The Presidential Library System: A Quiescent Policy Subsystem.” She suggested that Mr. Fawcett believes that Presidential Libraries are not well served by early disclosure. She noted, “the ever-present criticisms from journalists and scholars who want collections open immediately will linger on, despite the potential for such an approach to endanger privacy and archival preservation efforts.” Cochrane also noted that

“Fawcett expressed grave concern over NARA’s relatively new mission statement, which invokes the phrase ‘essential evidence.’ Previously, NARA’s mission was to be an impartial custodian and preserver of our country’s historical documents. Providing immediate access to ‘essential evidence’ is an entirely different mission, one which will be a huge disincentive for federal employees to save documents and other ‘evidence’ of their work, not to mention donors who will be unlikely to hand over materials which can and will be used against them in short order. If we take the longer view of preserving materials for eventual historical analysis, the current emphasis raises serious doubts about whether there will be any real richness of materials for historians 100 years from now to study.”

(While I disagree with some of Mr. Fawcett’s other views, I actually do understand the argument that early disclosure may so chill present day record keeping, that scholars will have little to turn to when trying to study this time period.)

Others authors, such as Scott Armstrong and Stanley Kutler (in an article in the Legal Times) reflect harsher views of Mr. Fawcett. Dr.Richard Cox notes in his overview of Presidential Libraries:

“Scott Armstrong, founder of the National Security Archive, describes calling John
Fawcett, director of the NARA Office of Presidential Libraries. ‘I knew that in
historical circles Fawcett had become notorious for consistently taking the side of
former presidents and the entourages they left in charge of the political management
of 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.’ Scott
Armstrong, “The War over Secrecy: Democracy’s Most Important Low-Intensity
Conflict,” in Athan G. Theoharis, ed., A Culture of Secrecy: The Government Versus
the People’s Right to Know (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998), p. 146."

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that Mr. Fawcett was in my chain of command during the latter part of my career at the National Archives. It was not easy for us archivists, or for the Archives’ top managers, to grapple with the challenges of trying to open the Nixon tapes in the face of determined opposition from the former President. Seymour Hersh covers some of the public access policy disputes we were embroiled in during Mr. Fawcett’s tenure in his article, “Nixon’s Last Coverup” in the New Yorker (December 14, 1992). Since I was deposed as a witness in Stanley Kutler’s Nixon records public access lawsuit in 1992, I also refer readers to the court record in Civ. A. 92-0662-NHJ, District Court for the District of Columbia.

Since I admittedly am a “party of interest,” I think it best for me to advise readers to read what others have said on some of these issues. For a good, balanced overview of the National Archives’ Presidential Libraries system, and background on some of the challenges Dr. Weinstein will face, see the article by Dr. Richard Cox, "America's Pyramids: Presidents and Their Libraries," Government Information Quarterly 19, no. 1 (2002): 45-75. A pdf version is available at
compressed link at

Again, don’t just read Dr. Weinstein’s own books (I have Haunted Wood, which I found very interesting, but have not read his Perjury book. I have, of course, read Whittaker Chambers’ Witness.) You should also read the Cox article, the Cochrane article, the Hersh article, the National Archives’ Inspector General report (NARA OIG Report 94-05, 9/2/94), and consider carefully what is at stake here.

mark safranski - 4/14/2004

First, I would encourage any readers of HNN to check out the thread with retired KGB General Kobyakov mentioned by Dr. Sandilands in its entirety. There were many distinguished experts on intelligence and diplomatic history involved in both sides of that debate. While General Kobyakov's contributions were certainly interesting and valuable to the H-Diplo list, his assertions were also challenged.

Secondly, Dr. DeLong, who I respect a great deal is, unlike Allen Weinstein, an economist and not an expert on Cold War espionage. White too was a brilliant and innovative economist, no argument but that has little bearing on whether or not the evidence proves that White was a fellow traveller/agent of influence/Soviet sympathizer or an innocent and maligned liberal Democrat.

Third, it would probably be most appropriate if HNN contacted Dr. Weinstein for an opportunity to post a response to this article.


Jerry Sternstein - 4/14/2004

Those interested in knowing more about Roger Sandilands before making a judgment about his critique of Allen Weinstein might want to read what John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have to say about him in "In Denial," pp. 169-182, their powerful and revealing book about American historians and the Communist Party. As they note, Sandilands, a former student and protege of Lauchlin Currie, demonstrates, in trying to whitewash his former mentor of being a Communist spy, "a lack of basic knowledge of the case and a casual attitude toward evidence."

This characteristic, I believe, is reflected in his current attack on Weinstein, who I've known since the early 1960s, when we met at the Library of Congress. At the time Weinstein was on the Left, not because he felt it was a good career move, as Sandilands implies, but because it was a position that he believed in. At the time, when Weinstein was working on his book about the late Nineteenth Century controversy over the silver issue and long before he ever dreamed of writing on the Hiss case, I clearly remember a conversation with him about Hiss and his contention that he was probably innocent, which I disagreed with. That he received a grant from the Rabinowitz Foundation was not surprising given his then political bent. Much to his credit, however, after parsing the evidence in the archives and conducting extensive interviewing, Weinstein came to a different conclusion in "Perjury," and like other former Leftist historians -- Ronald Radosh, for example -- who break with the party line, came under withering fire from its guardians, especially Victor Navasky in The Nation. That Sandilands should thus employ Navasky as an expert witness on Weinstein's character is disgraceful.

But, perhaps, one shouldn't be surprised by this smear tactic. It has long been used by Hiss's supporters to counter the overwhelming evidence of his guilt.. Whitaker Chambers was a fantasist as well as a homosexual; Elizabeth Bentley was a "neurotic spinster." And Allen Weinstein? Well, he's not a careful or honest historian who follows where the evidence leads but he is a political opportunist ready to sell himself to those in power.

I am not a close friend of Weinstein. I've seen him only a handful of times over the past three decades. But I admire his scholarship and regard Sandilands' assault upon him as reprehensible.

And by the way, I challenge Sandilands to reveal the names of those Cold War "scholars" other than Tony Hiss, Navasky, and a few other long-time Hiss apologists who do not believe that ALES was "probably Alger Hiss"?