NDC Second Public Forum Notes

As Promised by Sheryl.  Questions that we did not get to and answers from the panelists to follow a additional posts.  Many thanks to NDC archivist Bruce MacMillian for serving as note taker.


Sheryl Shenberger, Director, NDC, NARA

Nancy Smith, Director, Presidential Materials Staff, NARA

 William J. (Jay) Bosanko, Executive, Agency Services, NARA

 Robert Warrington, Chief of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) declassification team at Archives II

Douglas Richards, Branch Chief of the Joint Staff (JS) Declassification Program

Richard Zorn, Chief of Dept. of State declassification review team at Archives II

Dr. Andrew Weston Dawkes, Director, Office of Classification, Dept. of Energy (DOE)

Nicholas Delaney, Chief of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Systematic Declassification Review Program

Don McIlwain, Supervisory Archivist, NARA, NDC:

-made introductory comments. 

-NARA/NDC will host a one-day historic conference on the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall, Thursday October 27, 2011, at Archives I, William G. McGowan Theater.  The Conference is titled: “Building the Wall, From Vienna to Checkpoint Charlie”.

-introduced NDC Director Sheryl Shenberger

Sheryl Shenberger:

-outlined summary of progress at the NDC during the past year, 2010 to 2011

-re-iterated the motto, “release what we can, protect what we must” and its’ practical ramifications

-33% of the backlog has now been reviewed

-NDC re-organized its operations in 2011 to approach the issue of the backlog.

-Up to three inter-agency teams have been reviewing documents, four days per week since July 2010.

-New review processes have been put in place, resulting in a 300% increase in output productivity.

-May 2010, a multi-day declassification training conference was organized and hosted by the NDC at Archives II.

-The new processes have resulted in increased confidence in our data.

-NDC has significantly improved metrics capabilities.

-During the period January 1, 2010 to present, approx. 129 million pages have been reviewed, averaging 10 million pages per month.

-Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – development and implementation of new technologies has increased productivity by 50%.

-NDC now has greater overall interaction with the public.

-The complete version of the Pentagon Papers was officially released to the public for the first time, Monday June 13, 2011.  On that day the demand for access to NARA’s website, temporarily overwhelmed the server capability!

-The challenges of processing the backlog provide new opportunities to excel in the review of RD/FRD equities.  One key challenge is that 50% of the remaining records in the backlog still require Kyl-Lott page level review.  Another challenge is that there will probably be difficult funding issues ahead which may impact review output.

Nancy Smith:

-The declassification of presidential paper and records is an important goal of the Office of Presidential Libraries.  There are approximately 30 million classified pages and 1,000 reels of microfilm in the collections of the Presidential Libraries.

-The processing of Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) appeals have resulted in declassification.  For example, the Johnson Library recently declassified December 1968 documents relating to the plan of the Soviet Union to orbit the Earth’s Moon, during the “space race”.  Another interesting series of declassified documents relates to the political situation in the former Belgian Congo in November 1964.

-One logistical issue is that presidential papers and records are generally located at locations which are distant from centers of declassification expertise.  One important solution has been the development of NARA’s Remote Access Capture (RAC) project through which classified files in the collections of the Presidential Libraries are scanned and submitted for agency review in the Washington DC area. 

-The Carter and Johnson Libraries have classified computers to review RAC records.

-1,500,000 pages have been reviewed through the RAC project to date.

-Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) and FOIA requests are easier to process as a result of RAC.

-The Presidential Libraries are now working on records of the Reagan era, which generally have a much higher level of documents which are classified.

-In 2011, they will be working on National Security Council (NSC) documents.

-Each Presidential Library is working on individual projects, such as reviewing the records of key personnel from each administration. 

-During the six month period which began January 2011, the Presidential Libraries have reviewed 700,000 pages.

-The Presidential Libraries plan to offer public access through its CREST  system.  The Johnson, Carter, and Reagan Libraries presently have this system.  The Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Ford Libraries will eventually also be equipped with the system.

-The Reagan Library has now reviewed documents from both administrations, (1981-1984; 1984-1988).

-The Kennedy and Johnson Libraries both cooperated on the Pentagon Papers Project.

Don McIlwain introduced the six agency panelists:

William J. Bosanko, Executive, Agency Services, NARA

Robert Warrington, Chief of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) declassification team at Archives II

Douglas Richards, Branch Chief of the Joint Staff (JS) Declassification Program

Richard Zorn, Chief of Dept. of State Declassification Review Team at Archives II

Dr. Andrew Weston Dawkes, Director, Office of Classification, Dept. of Energy (DOE)

Nicholas Delaney, Chief of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Systematic Declassification Review Program

William J. Bosanko:

-provided an overview of the document review process based on his own experience as a document reviewer beginning in 1995.  He noted that reviewers learn much through routine interaction and collaboration with their co-workers and agency staff. 

-Inter-agency collaboration is the key to success with declassification.

Robert Warrington:

-CIA must balance the need to keep the public informed, versus the needs of national security.

-CIA reviews records from many other agencies.

-During the period 2006 to present, 1,750,000 pages have been reviewed.

-“Sanitization” of classified sections of documents is a key method of releasing information to the public for the remainder of the document which isn’t sanitized.

-Executive Order (EO) 13526 – the overall goal is to eliminate the 400 million page backlog. 

-The challenges to reviewing and releasing records are enormous.

-CIA is cooperating with NARA’s RAC project.

Douglas Richards:

-The Joint Staff (JS) has one of the smallest declassification programs in terms of staffing; however they have a high output.

-In January 2009, the declassification program was re-organized.

-JS now conducts seven types of reviews.

-In April 2010, a further reorganization took place.  Staff is now trained to conduct all types of reviews.

-There are now declassification activities taking place at six locations, thus the existing staff is “stretched very thin”.

-Beginning March 2009, Combatant Commands (COCOM), has been identifying collections for review.

-JS is developing a paper for U.S. Defense Initiative (USDI).  JS is continuing to align itself with USDI.

– JS joined the review activities at the Joint Referral Center (JRC), Fort Belvoir, following the dedication of that facility in March 2010.

-JS has begun reviewing Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm (Gulf War One) (1990-1991) records.

-for FOIA and MDR requests, please submit these directly to the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD).

Richard Zorn:

-Dept. of State has seven staff at Archives II.

-The primary review effort is Kyl Lott certifications.

-State is operating with a new streamlined process in cooperation with NDC.  State is conducting a daily review in the classified stacks in conjunction with NARA staff.  They are processing 20-40 FRC boxes per day for Kyl-Lott certification.  NARA staff is responsible for locating and pulling records, which is saving extensive time of State staff.

-State, US Information Agency (USIA), and ACDA equities, are all eligible for review by State Dept.

– State contributes to the Inter-Agency Referral Center (IRC) which was established at Archives II, in 2006. 

-State contributes to the Quality Assurance Review Team (QART) at Archives II.

Dr. Andrew Weston Dawkes:

-The Atomic Energy Act (AEA), passed by Congress in 1946, created the Restricted Data (RD), a separate classification system.

-The DOE has developed an extensive training program for document reviewers, the Historical Records Restricted Data (HRRD) Reviewers Course.  Approximately two thousand researchers have been trained and certified under HRRD over the past ten years.

-The DOE Guidance Group produces National Security Information (NSI) classification guidelines.

-The DOE Document Review Group presently consists of 35 contractors and 3 federal employees.

-The DOE Quality Control (QC) Review Program is a risk management review program.  90% of records being reviewed through QC are released.

-The DOE looks to the NDC for the review of existing standards and establishment of new standards for declassification and review.

Nicholas Delaney:

-Nick began working with FBI as a document reviewer.  The creation of the NDC has created a more rational process for document review with agreed upon standards.

-The FBI’s national documents holding facility/warehouse is located in Winchester, Virginia.  Records are shipped to Archives II from this facility.

-NDC provides a central forum for information sharing and a process for public access to records.

-An important future goal is to utilize techniques for processing electronic records (ER).

Jay. Bosanko:

-Asked each panel member to give a brief summary of panel presentations.

Robert Warrington:

-Managing risk is a key process.  CIA is seeking a managed risk approach to document reviews.

Dr. Andrew Weston Dawkes:

-Document review is a human process with inherent possibility of errors.  Training of document reviewers is vital.

-FOIA provides the public with n important mechanism for appeal.

Nicholas Delaney:

-The community of agency reviewers should take the phrase “Releasing what we can, protecting what we must”, and turn it into a question that we ask ourselves constantly to improve the process.

Richard Zorn:

-There should be ongoing updates of guidelines and re-review of older exemptions.

Jay Bosanko:

-Discussed the issue of teamwork between NARA and agency staff.  Significant improvements have been made over the past two years.

-The QART process takes place before the final review of documents.

Nicholas Delaney:

-The NDC has added further structure to earlier teamwork efforts between NARA and agency staff at Archives II.

Richard Zorn:

-During the QART process there may be up to ten agency reviewers present. 

-The State Dept. encourages other agencies to use State. Dept. Guidelines.

-Having the State Dept. present at QART gives final review of documents with State equities.

Dr. Andrew Weston Dawkes:

-The DOE have an excellent training program.

-NDC can review existing standards and provide new standards.

-It is vital to properly train document reviewers.

Questions/comments from the audience:

Steve Aftergood, Federation of American Scientists (FAS):

-The declassification process seems “baffling” to outsiders.

-Each agency should be encouraged to interact further with the public.

Jay Bosanko:

-There is a need to continually improve metrics to understand what we actually have.

– Executive Order (EO) 13526 establishes a process and deadline for completing document withdrawals.

Nate Jones, National Security Archive (NSA):

-Question – How long will it take for the pages which have been evaluated to be placed on the open shelves?

Response by Sheryl Shenberger Following the evaluation process, the documents must be “indexed”, whereby the tabbed documents are separated from the documents being released.  This manual effort is time consuming.  Approximately two million pages per month are now being indexed.

Response by Jay Bosanko – The indexing process has been revised recently to improve productivity.

Nate Jones, National Security Archive (NSA):

-Question – Was the scanning and release of the Pentagon Papers worth the time invested in it?

Response by Jay Bosanko – A large number of pages never released to the public previously were included.  The public response to the release of the Pentagon Papers was overwhelming.  On the day of the release, Monday June 13, 2011, the demand for access to NARA’s website, temporarily overwhelmed the server capability!

Response by Nancy Smith – The Presidential Libraries was receiving large numbers of requests concerning the Pentagon Papers.

Lisa Roberson, NARA:

-Question -What is the plan for the review of electronic records?

Response by Sheryl Shenberger – NDC has begun developing a process.  An electronic records project development team has been established.  NDC has developed a process for reviewing special media.

 John Judge, Coalition on Political Assassinations (CPA):

-There is the issue of time limits concerning records that pertain to assassination investigations, example the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which requires all records to be declassified by 2017.

-There is a need to address the issue of the initial over-classification of documents.

John Judge, Coalition on Political Assassinations (CPA):

-Question – Why can’t specific collections be targeted for review and declassification?

Response by Sheryl Shenberger – The NDC must balance the overall review and declassification of documents with focusing on specific collections.

Response by Jay Bosanko – The declassification process has been established over the past twenty years, and is becoming increasingly proficient.

George Lardner, formerly with The Washington Post, and now affiliated with the Study of the Presidency:

-During a recent visit to the Archives II Research room, he was given what he considered incorrect information about the classification status of a group of records.

-Question – How can FOIA privacy issues be resolved?

Response by Jay Bosanko – NDC/NARA is addressing the issue of training of front-line reference staff in order to improved customer service and overall knowledge of collections.

Justin Isaac, with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.:

-Question – How was the current NDC records processing model developed?

Response by Sheryl Shenberger – The NDC program was realigned along more general functional lines, rather than specific subject lines.  NDC staff has put aside their specific subject matter interests in order to put their efforts into the overall work of the declassification program.

Jim Lesar, President, Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC):

-Question – At the first NDC Public Forum, June 23, 2010, Michael Kurtz promised the review and release of the outstanding Kennedy Assassination records.  What haven’t the remaining 50,000 pages been declassified?  The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination will be in November 2013.

Response by Jay Bosanko – NARA must follow the requirements established by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 and Executive Order (EO) 13526.

Jim Lesar, President, Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC)

-Question – The CIA recently released four volumes relating to the April 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion documents.  Why wasn’t the anticipated fifth volume released as well?

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