Rum and Diplomacy

Today’s post comes from National Declassification Center Archives Specialist Dr. Amanda Weimer.

Jose Pepín Bosch was a man of action.  Having married into the Bacardi family in 1922, Bosch led the spirits company now known as Bacardi Limited from November 1944 until 1976.  A Cuban patriot, he helped to emphasize the Cuban character integral to the brand identity. He also played a lasting role in Cuban politics: in addition to serving as Minister of the Treasury during the early 1950s, between 1931 through the 1960s Bosch helped to finance and procure arms for uprisings against the Machado, Batista, and Castro governments.

Bosch regularly looked for assistance away from Cuba to ensure the survival of both the Bacardi company and the Bacardi family.  He succeeded in boosting sales for Bacardi’s U.S. subsidiary, and securing a location for U.S.-based production of Bacardi rum ultimately located in Puerto Rico, saving the company from bankruptcy and shepherding Bacardi’s transition to an international brand. Initially a supporter of Fidel Castro’s revolution against the Batista regime, Bosch’s shrewdness–in moving ownership of the company’s trademarks, recipes and other assets away from the island–ensured the company’s survival after Cuba’s communist government nationalized Bacardi’s Cuban assets in late 1960.  He also supported both overt and covert action against communist Cuba, including the bombing of the country’s oil refineries and CIA-led plots to assassinate Castro himself, during which time he worked closely with the Department of State’s vice-consul in Santiago, Bill Patterson.

Bosch had cultivated relationships with U.S. diplomats for many years by that point, as can be seen in this newly-released 1948 letter from Ellis O. Briggs of the American Embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay to Robert F. Woodward of the Department of State’s Office of American Republic Affairs.  In this letter, Briggs describes a confidential conversation had with his friend, Bosch, wherein Bosch revealed his knowledge of the movement of arms previously used in a Cuban uprising to have been used in an uprising in Costa Rica.

This letter can be found in the General Records of the Department of State. Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary. Subject Files, 1945-1956. National Archives Identifier 2108781. Folder “Caribbean – Revolutionary Activities – General, 1947-1949, 1950-1951.”  The letter was declassified via FOIA case NW 42365.

Posted in New Openings

100 Years of the Panama Canal: The Age of Transition, 1964-73

Today’s Blog Post is from Senior NDC Archivist (Special Assistant, NDC Evaluation and Special Projects Division) Patrice Brown.

The beginning of the Panama Canal is well known. The routes considered, the French construction efforts, the United States entrance as the canal builder, and the characters involved.   However, the transitional period between the Panamanian demands for control of the Canal and its surrounding territory and the eventual U.S. transfer of the canal is not as well known. The Panama Canal celebrated its 100th Anniversary on August 15, 2014. In commemoration of this important event the National Declassification Center (National Archives and Records Administration) is reviewing for release approximately 22,500 pages of classified records dated between 1964 and 1973. This period marks the culmination of several events that would eventually bring about the transfer of the Panama Canal from the United States to Panama. The records under review are from Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State (NAID 12014843), Record Group, 84, Records of the Foreign Service Posts Department of State (NAID 12018029), and RG 286, Records of the Agency for International Development (NAI 12069278). When these classified records are released, more information will be made available regarding U.S.-Panamanian relations as well as the history of the Panama Canal.


S.S. Ancon making first transit of canal, Aug. 15, 1914. From NARA still picture holdings, NAID 535444

S.S. Ancon making first transit of canal, Aug. 15, 1914. From NARA still picture holdings, NAID 535444


The first significant event during the 1964-1973 period involved Panamanian nationalism. A long standing dispute had raged over the years between Panama and the United States over whose flag should be flown in the Zone. The U.S. flag was the only flag flown over the Zone since the Canal was completed. The U.S. announced in 1963 that the Panamanian flag would fly with the U.S. flag over all civilian institutions throughout the Zone. In January 1964 there was confusion over how to implement the 1963 decree. The Governor of the Canal Zone issued a revision to the decree to say that no flags would be flown over certain civilian buildings such as schools, post offices, and monuments. The U.S. citizens in the zone, known as “Zonians” took offense with this revision and chose in several instances not to follow it. One instance occurred on January 9, 1964, when U.S. students with encouragement from their Zonian parents raised the U.S. flag over Balboa High School in opposition to the Governor’s revised decree. On the same day several hundred Panamanian students marched into the Zone to protest the absence of their flag. In the ensuing confrontation the Panamanian flag was torn and a riot erupted.


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Three photos pre and post riots. From NARA still pictures holdings, NAID 7491168

Three photos pre and post riots. From NARA still pictures holdings, NAID 7491168


After four days of fighting four U.S. soldiers and   twenty-four Panamanians were killed. This incident perhaps spurred President Lyndon Johnson to announce in March 1964 that the United States would begin studies in Central America and Mexico for the construction of a new sea-level canal. The records under review address the riots in 1964. The records focus on what happened during the riots, those groups involved, the stability of the Canal, the actions of the Panamanian National Guard, and the reactions of U.S. Embassy staff to the crisis. The records also reflect on the new sea level canal with discussion of site survey agreements, the best possible route, building costs, and the impact of a new sea level canal on U.S.-Panamanian relations.

Panama Working Group Situation Report 10/19/1968

The second significant event occurred in December 1964 when President Johnson announced plans not only for a new sea-level canal but also to negotiate a new treaty.   The new treaty marked an historic change in the United States policy calling for the recognition of Panamanian sovereignty in the Zone and for the United States to operate and protect the Canal for a fixed time. Until the new canal could be built there would have to be a new agreement that would have to be drawn up to govern the current waterway.   After eighteen months of talks the United States and Panama unveiled three treaty drafts in 1967.

One dealt with a possible sea-level canal, the second one provided for the defense and neutrality of the present canal, and the third set new rules for operating the new canal.   In the draft treaties the U.S. recognized Panamanian sovereignty over the Canal, would allow the Zone to be integrated into Panama, and would allow Panama to receive a larger portion of the Canal’s revenues. However, Panamanian President Marco Aurelio Robles came under fire from his National Assembly over the treaty provisions dealing with the new Commission that would be in charge of Canal operations and the presence of long term U.S. bases. Neither country budged on these two issues. Therefore, negotiations were deadlocked until 1971. In the meantime a change in political leaders did nothing to speed up negotiations.

Arias Election Flyer

The 1968 Panamanian elections and the subsequent overthrow of President Arnulfo Arias further stalled talks over the next several years. President Arias won the election over former President Robles on October 1, 1968. On October 11, 1968, the National Guard under the leadership of General Omar Torrijos forced Arias out of office and took over control of the Panamanian Government. The records highlight the impact of the 1968 Panamanian elections and the subsequent coup, the fleeing of President Arias to the Canal Zone, the Panamanian Junta Government, U.S. interaction with the Junta Government, U.S. economic inflation, U.S. reduction in aid to Panama, Panamanian economic problems, Panamanian dependence on the Canal/Canal Zone, and Panamanian nationalism.  

Country Analysis and Strategy Paper

Elections, the Canal and Related Treaties

Talks were opened again from 1971-72 under President Richard Nixon and the then leader of Panama, General Omar Torrijos. This time the U.S. demanded control of the Canal for another fifty years and if a sea-level canal was built on the same site as the present canal U.S. control would be extended for eighty years. General Torrijos did not want the U.S. to have control beyond 2003. The sea-level canal was abandoned by 1971 due to high building cost so it could no longer be used as leverage by the U.S. against Panama in the treaty negotiations. By the mid-1970’s the U.S. was looking to forge an economic partnership with Latin America countries and the first step toward this was an amicable settlement of the canal issue. The U.S. realized that its hard stand on control of the canal had to give way to a more inclusive canal operation. The records cover the treaty negotiations during this critical period.   Unfortunately, we have only been able to locate records in our custody dated through 1973 for this commemorative project. Any additional related documents identified in the future will be expedited for release and notice will be posted on this blog.    

U.S. Reporting from Panama

Samudio Speech on Canal and Treaties



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A New Option for Prioritization

Today’s post comes from NDC Director Sheryl Shenberger and discusses a new option to help the NDC prioritize final processing of records.

In the recently posted NDC Status Report on the NDC Declassification Website I noted that in completing quality assurance for the 352 million pages of backlog records (a good thing), we still faced additional important NARA processes, including segregation of records exempted from automatic declassification, screening for privacy concerns, and archival processing (description, holdings maintenance). I reported that we have been considering several prioritization strategies that will have the greatest success for making access happen as quickly as possible given our currently available staff resources. The first option we want to offer is a list of larger series’ identification information. We invite you to request any of the following 10 entries for placement at the head of our queue, either via our email box or by replying to this blog post.

  • REID108618, RG 255 (NASA), Entry A1 93-D, “Classified Numerical Files of Documents [NACA: Numerical File of Documents from the NACA Library, 1916-1962]” – 2,510 boxes (2.1M pages)
  • REID 163442, RG 72 (Bureau of Aeronautics), Entry UD 1047, “Technical Information Library Collection” – 8,038 boxes (6.7M pages)
  • REID 374812, RG 338, (U.S. Army Operational, Tactical, and Support Org. (WW II and Thereafter), Entry UD-UP 77, “Classified Records of U.S. Army Commands Transferred from the National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO” – 479 boxes (1.2M pages)
  • REID 341575, RG 402 (Bureau of Naval Weapons), Entry UD-UP 19, “Confidential and Unclassified Subject Files, 1960” – 231 boxes (577K pages)
  • REID 337873, RG 319 (Army Staff), Entry UD-WX 92, “Department Of The Army CMH Boxes Re Vietnam” – 190 boxes (450K pages)
  • REID 319134, RG 343 (Naval Air Systems Command), Entry UD-WW 211, “Correspondence Relating to the Message Section [Air 60324 PRIM PROGM Records 67-69; Acc. # 70-A-1635]” – 111 boxes (278K pages)
  • REID 157274, RG 19 (Bureau of Ships), Entry UD 1017-AR, “Secret General Correspondence, 1962” – 270 boxes (224K pages)
  • REID 384848, RG 38 (Office of the Chief of Naval Operations), Entry UD-UP 14, “Archives Branch Hist Record, 1971” – 150 boxes (375K pages)
  • REID 149085, RG 72 (Bureau of Aeronautics), Entry UD 1005-E, “Enclosures to Secret Correspondence Files” – 286 boxes (237K pages)
  • REID 157340, RG 19 (Bureau of Ships), Entry UD 1017-AU, “Secret General Correspondence, 1965” – 288 boxes (238K pages)

In the near future we will blog about an expanded ‘on demand’ option we will be establishing by way of the College Park Research Room, where you can request specific series.

Posted in NDC Communication, The NDC Prioritization Plan | 2 Comments

New Releases from The National Declassification Center

The NDC has released a listing of 286 entriesExcel document that have completed declassification processing between March 7 and June 2, 2014 and are now available for researcher request. This release consists of records from both military and civilian agencies.

Highlights include:

  • Department of State, Records Of Nicholas Katzenbach,
  • Department of State, Bureau Of Refugee Programs Office Of Refugee And Migration Affairs Central and Subject Files,
  • United States Marine Corps, Historical Branch; Records Of Or Relating To General Officers, 1944-1975,
  • Joint Staff, Department Of Defense Representative at Panama Canal Treaty Negotiations Records,
  • Army Inspector General,  Investigative Files,
  • Inter-service Agencies, Military Advisory Assistance Groups (MAAG) files: France, Turkey, Belllux, Greece, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Pakistan,
  • United States Agency for International Development, Country, Subject and Project Files, and
  • Atomic Energy Commission, Oak Ridge Operations Office, Classified Portions — Various Collections

Requests to access the newly released records or to order copies should be directed to Archives 2 Reference at 301-837-3510 or

(When making a request, please cite the HMS Entry and Series Title.)

Posted in New Openings

NARA's 2014 – 2016 Open Government Plan Now Available

Many thanks to all who provided comment on our draft plan.  I am happy to report that the plan is now available here:

or as a Word document

Please continue to provide us with comments as we work to reach the goals set out in the plan.

Plan #3 Image

Posted in NDC Communication | 3 Comments

The NDC and Open Government

In Section 5.4 of its 2012 – 2014 Open Government Plan, NARA discussed how it would assume a leadership role in the inter-agency process of reviewing historically valuable records for declassification and develop common processes among agencies to ensure a more efficient and effective review.  As a result of these efforts, the National Declassification Center (NDC) was able to meet the President’s quality assurance goal.

It’s time to update the Plan for 2014 – 2016.  The NDC is committed to processing the referrals properly identified during the quality assurance review that was completed in 2013.  To accomplish this, the NDC will implement a referral tracking system that will automatically notify appropriate representatives of other departments and agencies when their referrals in archival and presidential records are queued up and available for their review.

We also will continue to solicit input from the public as to those collections of un-reviewed historical records should be prioritized for inter-agency review and processing.

We are currently asking the public to submit their Open Government ideas for consideration.  Ideas may be submitted as a reply to this blog post or to

You may also want to check out the kick off post on NARAtions, The Blog of the United States National Archives here:


Posted in NDC Communication | 21 Comments

What on Earth Is It?

Today’s find comes from Dr. Amanda Weimer, an Archives Specialist in the NDC.

The National Declassification Center recently responded to a Freedom of Information Act request for documents created and collected by the Department of the Air Force on the topic of “flying discs,” popularly known as “unidentified flying objects” (UFOs).  The Air Force studied sightings of UFOs under Project Sign, Project Grudge, and Project Blue Book between 1948 and 1970.

Today’s document was collected under Project Grudge, and is a classic example of the skeptical tone taken by the study.  Mr. Albert Ehrke, who submitted this letter and the attached photograph to the Air Force, believed firmly that there was an earthly explanation at work: that the image of the “flying saucer” was “fake,” and that the Air Force might explain the photo as a “special, research balloon.”  The balloon suggestion is typical of the explanations offered to the public by Project Grudge, which also include clouds, refracted halos around the sun (sun dogs), and conventional aircraft.

The NDC invites the public to share what they see in the photograph below.

This document is available to the public in the reading rooms at Archives II, in College Park, MD.  To request the use of this original document, please use the following citation: Records of the Headquarters U.S. Air Force (Air Staff), (Record Group 341), Office of the Director of Intelligence; Mail and Records Section; Decimal Correspondence File, 1947-1954, box 293, folder “000.9 Flying Discs 1951”.

The Letter       The Image

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New Katyń Documents Declassified in 2013 and 2014

This post comes from Dr. Amanda Weimer, an Archives Specialist with the National Declassification Center.

Two groups of additional records have been declassified within the past year as part of the ongoing efforts of the National Declassification Center to declassify all information found within the holdings of the National Archives relating to the Katyń Forest Massacre.

As of this week, we are now able to release to the public an additional 205 pages previously withdrawn from the Department of the Army’s Permanent Retention Files, 1918-1963.

The majority of the documents in this newest release comprise, or are related to, reports researched and compiled by Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, who served from 1942 to 1944 as the Assistant Military Attaché in Cairo, Egypt, and in particular as liaison to Polish and Czechoslovakian forces in the Middle East.  These reports described conditions endured by Polish prisoners of war, the Polish military’s search for missing Polish officers, and extracts of conversations with high-ranking Russian officials regarding the fate of prisoners interned at Starobielsk, Kozielsk and Ostashkov prison camps.

Szymanski relayed these reports to Major General George V. Strong, Assistant Chief of Staff for the Military Intelligence Service, in May 1943.  In 1952, they were forwarded for the use of the “Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre”, also known as the Madden Committee.  Multiple memoranda record the advice offered in 1952 by Army and other government experts regarding which portions of Szymanski’s documents could be declassified and which information should remain secret, describing the damage which could result from public disclosure of the information.

These documents have been scheduled for digitization and upload to the Online Catalog (OPA).  In the interim, they are available to the public in the reading rooms at Archives II, in College Park, MD.  To request the use of this information, please use the following citation: Records of the Army Staff (Record Group 319), Permanent Retention Files, 1918-1963 (National Archives Identifier 2805914), box 131.

In May 2013, the NDC released to the public 262 pages compiled by the Department of State’s Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations, Frederick G. Dutton.  Dutton’s official files contain a number of documents pertaining to and used by the Madden Committee.

Included in that release are clippings of Italian press coverage from 1952; summaries of press coverage of the prosecution of German citizens for Katyn at the Nuremberg Trials; declassified transcripts of hearings before the Madden Committee from September 19 and 23, 1952; correspondence arranging the testimony of various witnesses before the Committee; and declassified testimony from Michael Kuznitsov and David Mazur, including a small number of photographs taken in 1943 during the excavations of the mass graves.

The National Archives has digitized the two transcripts and the two items of testimony for researcher use online.  The rest of the items are available to the public in the reading rooms at Archives II, in College Park, MD.  To request the use of this information, please use the following citation:  General Records of the Department of State (Record Group 59), H. Bureau of Legislative Affairs Frederick G. Dutton’s Official Files as Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations, 1962-1964 (National Archives Identifier 7062706), box 232.

For a listing of known Katyń material in the custody of the National Archives, please see the finding aid Selected Records Relating to the Katyn Forest Massacre at the National Archives and Records Administration .

Posted in New Openings, Special Projects

The NDC Celebrates Success

The Adrienne C. Thomas Auditorium at the National Archives in College Park was packed on the morning of February 28, 2014 as over two hundred people, representing agencies from throughout the Federal Government, came together to celebrate the completion of quality assurance review of over 351 million pages of historically valuable classified records accessioned by the National Archives, commonly known as “the backlog.” The President of the United States had directed this review and established a deadline of December 31, 2013 for its completion.  In less than four years, agencies came together in support of the National Declassification Center (NDC) to make this achievement possible by stopping the endless merry-go-round of re-review, adopting standard processes and adopting a risk management approach to records that had been previously reviewed. 

In her opening comments, describing just a few of the elements that went into the success of the effort, NDC Director Sheryl Shenberger remarked to the assembly, “Look around this room, success looks like each of you!”

This success does not mean that the work of the NDC is done.  Much like a commencement, the celebration represented a beginning as well as an end.  New records continue to be accessioned, and we will build on the lessons learned during the backlog retirement to continually improve our process.  Many reviewed records await final segregation of the still classified from declassified, while other collections are in queue for archival preservation work and the creation of finding aids.   Standard training for declassification review and communication between declassification and records management professionals need to expand. The NDC, working with our government agency partners will continue to move forward and build on this success to make access happen.

NDC Director, Sheryl Shenberger Welcomes the Attendees

NDC Director, Sheryl Shenberger Welcomes the Attendees

Posted in NDC Communication | 1 Comment

James Meredith and his March Against Fear

NDC staffer Jamie White provided this post about his latest find:

I recently reviewed a Department of Justice project (Class 130/145 Secret Enclosures, NND 66350) which covered a portion of the civil rights movement from 1968 and part of 1969. The collection covers the Poor Peoples campaign containing movements, surveillance, informant statements and bios on high ranking members such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and Floyd McKissick. The project contains handwritten letters to both the President and Attorney General from people opposing the March on Washington, handwritten letters from African Americans pledging for help in the south, and memorandums from government officials pertinent to the March. It also contains the actual FBI case files and courtroom transcripts from the James Meredith’ attempted murder investigation and shooter James Aubrey Norvell’s trial. Reviewing these records in conjunction with Black History Month prompted me to write a short blog on some of Meredith’s accomplishments including his near death experience on June 6, 1966.

James Howard Meredith (born June 25, 1933) was an Air Force veteran, American civil rights movement figure, writer, and political adviser. He is best known as the first African-American student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi in 1962, sparking a violent clash, in which two people died, and 160 U.S. Marshals, and 40 National guardsmen were wounded. This is regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in the United States. Meredith graduated on August 18, 1963, with a degree in political science. He continued his education, focusing on political science at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria returning to the United States in 1965, where he attended law school through a scholarship at Columbia University and earned a law degree.

Four years after the integration of “Ole Miss,” Meredith launched his “March Against Fear” campaign. On June 6, 1966, Meredith set out from Memphis with an African walking stick in one hand, a Bible in the other, and a singular mission in mind. He planned to march alone, 220 miles to the Mississippi state capital of Jackson, to prove that an African American man could walk free in the South. The Voting Rights Act passed only a year earlier, and his goal was to inspire African Americans to register and go to the polls.

On the second day of the March just outside Hernando, Mississippi on Highway 51, Aubrey James Norvell shouted, “I just want James Meredith!” Shotgun blasts rang out across the highway, striking Meredith in the head, neck, back, and leg. Suddenly, one man’s crusade garnered much attention from larger civil rights organizations. After visiting Meredith at the hospital, Dr. King, CORE’s Floyd McKissick, and SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael, elected to continue the March in his absence, helping to register thousands of African American voters along the way. It would be twenty days before Meredith was able to rejoin the March, which ended on Sunday, June 26, twenty-one days after Meredith began the journey. Norvell pled guilty to the shooting, and was sentenced to five years in prison (three of which were suspended). Meredith is now 80 years old and currently resides in Jackson, Mississippi.

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