Month of October, 2012
The 2012 Depository Library Council meeting and conference is upon us. It's sure to be 4 days packed with educational sessions and discussions about the FDLP Forecast Study and the future of the FDLP. Here's the conference schedule.
As in past years, there will be live blogging of the conference for those not able to make it to Washington DC. This year I'm asking as many people as possible to use the twitter hashtag #DLCf12 or #DLC12f (some other conference is using the #dlc12 tag unfortunately). You'll be able to follow along below or directly on the twitter site.
I'm also told that there will be virtual attendance for the four daily sessions on the FDLP Forecast Study (pre-registration is required):
- Monday, October 15, 2012 at 2:00 pm Eastern: Methodology, Study Phases, and State Forecast
- Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 2:00 pm Eastern: State Forecast and State Focused Action Plans
- Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm Eastern: Library Forecasts
- Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm Eastern: Summary Discussion and Future Roles
Tweets about "#dlcf12 OR #dlc12 OR #fdlc12 OR #fdlp"
The Government Printing Office (GPO) and the National Archives' Office of the Federal Register (OFR) have released a mobile Web application (app) on the daily public activities of President of the United States. Here is the announcement:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 10, 2012 No. 12-40
GPO AND NATIONAL ARCHIVES RELEASE PRESIDENTIAL DOCUMENTS APP
WASHINGTON-The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) and the National Archives' Office of the Federal Register (OFR) have released a mobile Web application (app) on the daily public activities of President of the United States. The app is part of both agencies efforts to support The White House digital strategy for the Federal Government by ensuring the American people have access to Government information on any device. The Presidential Documents app includes the President's:
* Executive orders
* Communications to Congress and Federal agencies
* Approved acts
* Nominations submitted to the Senate
* White House announcements
* White House press releases
The app has user-friendly search capabilities allowing users to access content about the President by searching by date, category, subject, or location, which includes a map feature. This is the first time GPO has enabled an app with a geolocation feature providing users with access to the most recent content near their location. The public can take advantage of the free mobile Web app on most major mobile device platforms. GPO and OFR also make available the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents on GPO's Federal Digital System (FDsys).
Link to app: http://m.gpo.gov/dcpd
"GPO continues to build upon its reputation as the digital information platform for the Federal Government with the development and release of the Presidential Documents app," said Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks. "GPO and OFR have enjoyed a successful partnership for more than 75 years to make Federal Government information available in print, online and now on mobile devices."
"OFR continues to push the envelope on public access to critical government information. Innovation is a key component to the NARA strategy and providing access via mobile apps is a great example of how OFR is embracing technology. I am very excited and proud of NARA's relationship with GPO on this communication achievement," said Archivist David Ferriero.
The Presidential Documents app is the third app released by GPO; other apps include the FY 2013 Budget app and the Mobile Member Guide, which provides users with official biographical information about Members of the 112th Congress. GPO has also supported the Library of Congress in creating an iPad app for the Congressional Record. The Presidential Documents app represents the first app for the OFR and the third app for the National Archives....
Hope everyone enjoyed the Columbus Day holiday!
Last week, I gave an overview of the National Security Archive and its goal to break loose for public consumption previously unavailable historical records. Critical to those efforts is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which, along with the related Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) process, is one of the most important, yet arguably least appreciated, tools we have in this country for opening up our history, understanding how our government works, and promoting accountability among public officials.
But how does it work, and how can you make it work for you? That’s the subject of this week’s posting.
First, a few samples of documents released via FOIA and MDR that are currently featured on our Web site:
-- A remarkable 2006 “mea culpa” document from the CIA pinning part of the blame for U.S. miscalculations of Saddam Hussein’s WMD capability on intelligence analysts’ failure to look at Iraqi behavior “through an Iraqi prism,” or more specifically from the viewpoint of “a paranoid dictatorship.”
-- A copy of one the Cold War’s most controversial nuclear strategy documents – Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Directive 59, incorporating concepts that continue to underlie U.S. nuclear policy today.
-- Previously classified cable traffic from the State Department describing and assessing the nature of Pakistan’s Haqqani Network – extremely useful background material for understanding the group which the U.S. government last month declared a terrorist entity.
-- A compilation of once-secret materials about the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that runs our spy satellite system. More useful background on a little-known piece of our national security system.
-- No longer on our home page but still of genuine significance – numerous records obtained from the State and Defense Departments, CIA and other agencies detailing U.S. awareness of human rights violations by American allies in Argentina, Guatemala, Peru, Chile and elsewhere in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result of their release, these materials have since been used as evidence in the trials of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori and other ex-military and political leaders now being held to account for their illegal activities while in power.
So, how can everyone else get access to this kind of information?
The basic approach could hardly be simpler: get the address of the agency you want to write to (we have a list on our site), and send them a letter that says, in essence, “Under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, I hereby request ...”
The trick, of course, is in the details. How do you decide what to ask for? How do you frame the request to get the best chance of a meaningful response? Partly, it depends on your interest.
If you want to know about the state of security at our diplomatic facilities around the world (in light of the Benghazi, Libya, attack last month), write to the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and ask them for any studies they’ve done in recent years, or specify a region or a particular threat you’d like to learn about.
To borrow from a story in yesterday’s New York Times, if you want to know why the Social Security Administration (SSA) has decided to limit access to its death records (affecting hospital safety assessments and consumer fraud prevention), write to the SSA and ask for records of meetings, memoranda and decisions relating to the decision that, the Times reports, went into effect last November.
Want to know how the Air Force base in your county deals with spilled jet fuel? Ask the Pentagon, the Air Force and the base itself for reports, assessments, environmental impact statements, and anything else you think would reasonably produce the relevant information.
How about finding out about yourself? What does the FBI have on you? Or the SSA? Or the Veterans’ Administration? You can do that, too, by filing a Privacy Act request supplying personal data about yourself which the agencies can use to pull your records (and make sure it’s you who’s asking!). Each agency will have the required info on their site telling you how to make your privacy request.
In short, you can ask for any information from any federal (and most state and local) agencies simply by sending them a letter, or in some cases an email.
Yes, as a matter of fact. It’s an extraordinarily useful law, but most people never think about using it. It’s mostly used by veterans seeking access to their records and rights, corporate officials looking into their competitors’ activities or exploring business opportunities, federal prisoners researching their status and legal options, and, less frequently, journalists and historians.
But of course there are some catches. First, it can take a long, long time to work. While the FOIA says you’re supposed to get a response within 20 working days, that really only means you’ll get an official acknowledgement of your request. Actually obtaining the documents could take months, years, even decades!
Why? Because FOIA offices traditionally are far, far down the priority list for senior agency officials, working with budgets and incentive systems that are wholly inadequate for effective results. Also, the officials who often are asked to search for your documents are usually occupied with what are considered more “mission critical” work, which your requests are taking them away from. And there are no meaningful sanctions for just letting the months go by without fulfilling what is, after all, the legal responsibility to respond.
Also, while the law gives you the right to ask, it doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want! There are 9 different exemptions under which agencies can deny you access to records. These range from dangers to national security, to protection of personal privacy information, to commercial data, to current law enforcement material, and so on.
Those are legitimate reasons, in principle. The challenge comes when you don’t agree with an agency’s view that your request can’t be fulfilled. What do you do then?
Appeal! This is a critical point for anyone seriously pursuing access to government records. The Act includes a provision for going back to the agency and asking them to revisit their decision. It’s important because in most cases the appeal kicks the decision up a level or two within the bureaucracy, where typically someone with more authority or simply experience may decide that the original ruling can be overturned.
The final recourse, if you’re still not satisfied, is to go to court, which FOIA also provides for, although that’s obviously a costly enterprise.
The MDR process follows a different procedure – you can’t sue but you can appeal to the agency, and then you can seek further redress from a special interagency panel that has the authority to overrule the original agency’s determination. That can be very valuable if you’re dealing with an agency like CIA or FBI which has shown a pattern of flatly refusing to release certain kinds of information.
While I’m on MDRs ... that is the preferred process for documents that are classified and where you can pinpoint the item precisely -- usually by title and date (information you might glean from a newspaper article or a footnote in an official report). The request reads very much the same, but specifies that you’re seeking materials through Mandatory Declassification Review. For a variety of reasons, this approach is also much less costly and it can take far less time to go through all the appeals steps.
The main cost in both approaches comes in the form of agency search fees, which depend on who’s doing the searching. At a typical department like the SSA (according to its site), a search by a lower-level office worker runs $16 an hour, while a senior official’s time costs $59 an hour. Recently, the CIA upped its maximum hourly charge for MDRs to $72. That can be a huge obstacle, which makes it very important to see if you can qualify for a fee waiver. If you’re affiliated with an academic institution or are a member of the news media, you’re generally eligible for a waiver (of search fees, not copying fees). If you’re not, and especially if you work for a commercial corporation, you’re going to have to pay the search costs.
Almost every federal agency has information on their sites for how to file requests (with suggested language), what they’re likely to provide or deny, and what it’ll cost you.
You can also check our organization’s FOIA pages (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/foia.html) or any number of other groups’ sites that work with access to information issues.
The next question, then, is: what are some ways to maximize your effectiveness with FOIA? We’ve been at this for over 25 years, and while there are no magic bullets, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:
-- Do your homework (part 1) – know whether the material you want is already available publicly (a lot of material gets posted on agency Web sites, in their Electronic FOIA Reading Room, etc.). FOIA can take a very, very long time, so spare yourself the time and effort if you can.
-- Do your homework (part 2) – know what agencies handle the topics you’re interested in; better yet, learn what bureaus or even staff were/are involved, and try to get a sense of what kinds of paperwork those people created. The more precise you can be in identifying the who-where-what, the easier it will be to get your material (and the less you’ll pay in search fees, if you don’t qualify for a waiver).
-- Be reasonable and keep it simple: Don’t ask for things that are certain to be too sensitive to be released. For instance, requests that clearly would expose major military secrets are not likely to be very fruitful. Also, don’t ask for “everything on the U.S. occupation of Iraq” -- requests that would yield file cabinets worth of paper. Try to pinpoint what you want by topic or date range, e.g. It makes it easier to process and is less likely to make the poor individual assigned to your case throw up his/her hands in frustration.
-- Be comprehensive: having said the above, it’s important not to artificially limit your scope. For instance, if you’re looking for material on events similar to Benghazi, try asking not just the State Department but the Defense Department and the U.S. Marine Corps – two other entities directly involved in the security of official American facilities abroad.
-- Try an MDR rather than a FOIA: if you know the specific document you want and you know it’s classified. (Check our FOIA site for more about MDRs.)
-- Be informative. During the appeals stage, make your best argument about why you think your materials should be released, why it won’t harm national security, etc. And be sure to provide plenty of back-up information to help your case, including copies of articles, or references in books, about your document or the subject matter that will help someone understand better what you’re after (and in some cases make it harder to deny the existence of a document, or claim that it needs to remain classified).
-- Be patient! Know that it may take many months.
-- Be cooperative. Remember that regardless of the fact that you’re exercising your legal right, you’re still taking up the time of one or more people who (rightly or wrongly) may look at your request as a major intrusion on their day. Be ready to work with them to come up with a more feasible request, if asked, or to be flexible in whatever ways you’re willing to consider.
-- But be persistent, too. Don’t give up. And don’t think it’s not worth it. Our system depends on people taking the initiative. If someone doesn’t ask for something there’s a good chance it may never find its way out into the public domain.
These are some of the things it helps to know when filing FOIAs. For a lot more detail, history, facts, and suggestions, check our FOIA pages, including “Effective FOIA Requesting for Everyone – A National Security Archive Guide,” available for free on our site.
(Next week, a look at how our staff librarians prepare our highly indexed document publications for the Digital National Security Archive.)
Deputy Director, Research Director
The National Security Archive
at George Washington University
Bernadette J. Johnson, Reference Librarian and Government Documents Coordinator at the Francis Mason University, writes a good article on getting up to speed as a new documents librarian/government information specialist.
She also has good ideas on educating non-documents librarians, faculty, students and others on the existence and value of government information. If you're a government documents librarian and especially if you are new and/or in an academic library, I encourage you to read the whole article.
As good as Ms. Johnson's article is, there are two major sources of support not mentioned in her article - govdoc-l and the Government Documents Roundatable (GODORT).
Govdoc-l is a mailing list for government document librarians that has operated for decades. It currently has 2,000 plus subscribers, most of whom are government information specialists. It is a rich source of expertise. In my decade or so of documents work, I don't think I ever saw a question go without a response. No documents librarian should be without this support system. If the volume of mail is too heavy, that's what the "digest" feature is for. It also has an extensive archive.
While Ms. Johnson rightly points new docs librarians to fdlp.gov, she doesn't also point people towards GODORT at the state and national level. These organizations are also important sources of information, advocacy and general support. I have to admit that State GODORT's can vary - a few only exist on paper. While states may vary, the national GODORT is in pretty good shape, as their wiki attests to.
One particularly useful GODORT generated tool for librarians of any tenure is the Government Information Clearinghouse & Handout Exchange. As their page says, "We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We can provide templates for one another to save time, share models, and work smarter."
Other government documents librarians/government information specialists are one of the greatest resources any docs librarian has. Use them, cherish them and contribute back to the community when you can. You're not in this alone.
Bernadette Johnson, "Government Documents Usage and Awareness in Education," DttP: Documents to the People, 40, no. 3 (2012): 22-24, http://wikis.ala.org/godort/images/b/b4/DttP40n3.pdf#page=22
This past week was a quiet one for the State Agency Databases Across the Fifty States project at http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/State_Agency_Databases. But it was notable for the removal of this database in Washington state:
== Community, Trade, and Economic Development, Department of ==
Washington Prospector: Buildings, Land, and Site Selection Analysis - Formerly at http://www.washingtonprospector.com
A business site selection analysis program that assists with gathering economic, planning, geographic, and other information in real time. The GIS application allows for creation and printing of maps.
The Washington page is maintained by Marilyn Von Seggern.
For a full list of other changes during the past week, including some link fixes, see http://tinyurl.com/statedbs.
Eric Mill announced today on the openhouseproject mailing list that he and Josh Tauberer (of GovTrack.us) and Derek Willis have completed a milestone in their project to produce a public domain scraper and dataset from THOMAS.gov. Here is the text of his message with links:
I've been working for the last month or two with Josh Tauberer (of GovTrack.us http://govtrack.us/) and Derek Willis on a project to produce a public domain scraper and dataset from THOMAS.gov http://thomas.gov/, the official source for legislative information for the US Congress.
It's a reasonably well documented set of Python scripts, which you can find here: https://github.com/unitedstates/congress
We just hit a great milestone - it gets everything important that THOMAS has on bills, back to the year THOMAS starts (1973). We've published and documented https://github.com/unitedstates/congress/wiki all of this data in bulk, and I've worked it into Sunlight's pipeline, so that searches for bills in Scout https://scout.sunlightfoundation.com/search/federal_bills/freedom%20of%2... use data collected directly from this effort.
The data and code are all hosted on Github on a "unitedstates https://github.com/unitedstates/" organization, which is right now co-owned by me, Josh, and Derek - the intent is to have this all exist in a common space. To the extent that the code needs a license at all, I'm using a public domain "unlicense https://github.com/unitedstates/congress/blob/master/LICENSE" that should at least be sufficient for the US (other suggestions welcome).
There's other great stuff in this organization, too - Josh made an amazing donation of his legislator dataset https://github.com/unitedstates/congress-legislators, and converted it to YAML for easy reuse. I've worked that dataset into Sunlight's products already as well. I've also moved my legal citation extractor https://github.com/unitedstates/citation into this organization -- and my colleague Thom Neale has an in-progress parser for the US Code https://github.com/unitedstates/uscode, to convert it from binary typesetting codes into JSON.
Github's organization structure actually makes possible a very neat commons. I'm hoping this model proves useful, both for us and for the public.
-- Developer | sunlightfoundation.com
Steven Aftergood reviews a new National Archives portal for declassified information:
- New Declassification Portal at the National Archives, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (October 4th, 2012).
The National Archives has set up a new online portal that provides an overview of declassification activity in and around the Arvhices, with input from the National Declassification Center, the Public Interest Declassification Board, the Presidential Libraries, and the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP).
The new section on ISCAP declassification decisions is of particular interest, since it provides links to the documents that have been newly declassified at the direction of the ISCAP, which receives appeals from the public for release of documents that agencies have declined to declassify.
- NARA and Declassification, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two new ("beta") tools for finding and visualizing statistical data:
This is the first in a series of guest posts from the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research organization, archive and publisher of declassified documents. Thanks to James Jacobs for the invitation to write about the Archive. Over the next 3-4 posts, I’ll describe the organization and some of our projects, starting today with a bit of history about our founding and mission in life. Meanwhile, we invite any and all to visit us at www.nsarchive.org or in person at Gelman Library on the campus of George Washington University.
* * * * *
For anyone who loves anniversaries, this month is a biggie. Fifty years ago the world survived one of the seminal events of the nuclear age -- the Cuban missile crisis. I mention it because almost from the very start, the National Security Archive’s been an active promoter of studying the crisis (we’ll have a series of postings of the latest findings on our site in the coming weeks), and it makes for a good case study of what our organization’s mission is and how we go about our work.
(Today I’ll touch on our substantive projects; later posts will deal with other Archive activities.)
In 1985, the Archive officially opened its doors to the public as an innovative non-profit research institute and library facility focused on making available the underlying government documentation all of us as citizens need to understand what our elected officials (and permanent bureaucracies!) are doing in our name. That basic mission reflected the mix of individuals who over time in the early 1980s coalesced around the idea of forming such an organization -- journalists (Scott Armstrong, Washington Post; Raymond Bonner, New York Times; Strobe Talbott, Time; and others), scholars (John Lewis Gaddis, Catherine Kelleher, Ernest May, Anne Cahn, John Prados, among others), public interest group leaders (John Shattuck, Mort Halperin, Margaret Carroll, and others), former officials (Anthony Lake, Walt Slocombe, Joseph Onek, etc.), and even current members of Congress like Jim Moody (D-WI). Each in their own profession had an interest in following how the government worked, and each understood the power of the historical record in educating the public.
Our main tool for breaking loose documentation was the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) -- passed in 1966 and later amended -- which in principle grants anyone access to the inner workings of the Executive Branch. (States have their own version of the law.) Building on donations by Armstrong, Bonner and many others, the Archive began to develop a large repository of declassified records, which has always been open to researchers at our facility (originally at the Brookings Institution, but since 1995 at GWU). Right now, our holdings total somewhere around 8 million pages and run the gamut of foreign policy topics covering the Cold War and its aftermath.
How do we organize our work? Here’s where the Cuban missile crisis comes in. Generally, our projects center around the efforts of a staff analyst whose job it is to become an expert not only in the history of a given subject but, critically, in the way that subject was handled by the U.S. government. Since accumulating the key paperwork underlying U.S. policy is our goal, you have to know how it flowed within the halls of government, especially when it would be utterly impractical (not to say impossible) to expect to get your hands on more than a tiny fraction of the millions of pages federal agencies produce on these kinds of topics in the course of their activities.
In the Cuba case, we had a couple of analysts who filed FOIAs for critical material, such as Kennedy’s correspondence with Khrushchev, CIA studies, and so on. As you might expect, they initially got stonewalled from time to time on much of the more sensitive items, and had to file appeals, as provided for under the Act. Part of the problem was that agencies claimed they simply couldn’t locate the files. That seemed hard to imagine, given the high level of involvement (the president and his men) during the crisis. It was only after an active round of additional research and interviews with a range of outside experts including former officials that it began to become clear that much of the most important material had been removed from its normal archival locations on orders of Lyndon Johnson, who decided that if another similar crisis erupted one day it would be a good idea to have the record available so that future presidents and officials could study the Cuban crisis as an example. From there it took a bit more effort to determine that the materials had been stored away in a special office inside the State Department, but once my colleagues were able to provide that information (down to the level of box titles) to the Department, it removed a major obstacle to getting the documents out into the public domain.
But a second hurdle remained -- one that anyone who’s ever researched recent foreign policy or intelligence records knows all too well: how to overcome restrictions on access to classified information? This is something our analysts deal with every day. Protecting reasonably classified information, especially if it concerns American foreign relations, is one of several legal justifications under FOIA for withholding records from the public. Sometimes the official reasoning is entirely understandable -- for instance if it relates to the specifics of manufacturing a nuclear bomb, or to planned troop deployments. But bureaucrats and politicians being who they are, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that often the rationales employed to keep our history hidden are either flimsy or entirely bogus. Scholars and journalists confront these problems all the time, and it frequently takes persistent effort to argue one’s case through the appeals process to a point where an agency will reverse its earlier denial. This was another reason for creating the Archive -- to have an institution in place that could afford to wait the months, years and -- yes -- even decades it sometimes takes for requests to be fulfilled. (We’ve had numerous requests take 10, 15, 20 or even more years to be completed.)
When it came to arguing our case on the missile crisis, we eventually were able to take advantage of some of the monumental political changes that had taken place around the collapse of the Soviet Union and the (putative) end of the Cold War. As former Soviet archives began to open a crack, and as Boris Yeltsin learned the power of documents as a weapon to expose the misdeeds of his former Communist Party cronies, some astonishing materials from “the other side” of the Cold War started to emerge. Among these were records of leadership meetings, correspondence and transcripts of conversations with foreign heads of state. These included some dealing with what the Soviets used to call “the Caribbean crisis.” Since (a) our main global enemy no longer existed, and (b) its successor regime was releasing some of the same kinds of materials we and other researchers were seeking from the U.S., it was possible argue with U.S. agencies that there was no longer a need to protect once-sensitive documentation about the inner debates of the ExComm, photos from U-2 flights over Cuba, and reams of intelligence about events that, after all, had occurred 30 years earlier.
Through sheer persistence and a little creative thinking, the Archive was able to accumulate an extraordinary record of the crisis that has since become part of the larger public record amassed by scholars and journalists around the world.
Yet, one of the lessons one learns fairly soon in this line of work is that government records -- surprise -- do not tell the whole story! A document is only as accurate and reliable as its author, who may or may not have had access to good information, and may have been influenced by motives we can sometimes only guess at. How then to get past this basic historiographical challenge? By asking the people who wrote or received those documents!
But here we were able to go about that task with a twist. It was our tremendously good fortune in the course of our work on the missile crisis to come into contact, and quickly partner with, an unusual husband-and-wife team -- James G. Blight and janet [sic] M. Lang, then of Harvard’s Kennedy School (now at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Ontario, Canada). Neither of these two were originally trained historians (he is a psychologist, she is an epidemiologist!), but together they came up with a methodology for studying recent historical events that has produced some extraordinarily important results. The approach is called Critical Oral History and it’s complex enough to have had books written about it, so I’ll only give a thumbnail sketch here. It involves bringing to the table (literally) a group of individuals (often former antagonists) who participated in the events under scrutiny, adding to the mix a small contingent of scholars who know the literature, and underpinning the exercise with declassified documents from the time. The “veterans” are there to discuss among themselves how they viewed the events at the time, what they sought to achieve, what they believed their adversaries were up to, and so on. The scholars and documents are there to refresh memories and keep the discussion anchored in the facts insofar as that’s possible.
This was the methodology Jim and janet -- usually with the Archive’s help on the document front (and at times in other ways) -- used to explore the missile crisis at a depth and level of detail not otherwise attainable before then. Starting in 1987 and running initially through 1992, they organized a series of conference in Cambridge, Mass.; the Caribbean; Moscow; and Havana itself, at which the participants included Robert McNamara, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Ted Sorenson and additional U.S. luminaries from the period; Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, his deputy Georgi Kornienko, long-time Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Dobrynin, and various other Soviet diplomats, generals and intelligence experts; and, from Cuba, Fidel Castro plus several of his senior advisers. As a principal part of the Archive’s contribution, we were able to gather a pretty rich array of declassified records not just from the United States but from literally all over the world -- Russia, the Soviet bloc, Cuba, China, Brazil, and elsewhere. As a result of these accumulated resources (human and documentary), the sessions produced immediate headlines, and in the longer term fundamentally changed the way the missile crisis is understood -- literally rewriting the text books.
Here are a few of the revelations:
- The U.S. did not know at the time that tactical nuclear weapons were on the island that might well have been used in the event of an American invasion, almost certainly touching off a nuclear war
- Washington had no idea that 43,000 Soviet troops and thousands more civilians were in Cuba by late October 1962, numbers that significantly raised the likelihood of a major retaliation in case of a U.S. invasion
- The Americans were unaware of the importance of Castro’s role and the pressure he put on Soviet leaders to sharpen their responses to U.S. actions, including emotionally advising Khrushchev at the height of the crisis that if the U.S. invaded the island Moscow should deploy its missiles before the Americans had the chance to use theirs
- Soviet subs around the quarantine line carried nuclear-tipped torpedoes that one captain tried to launch but failed when he couldn’t persuade other key holders on board to go along
- A major cause of the Soviet captain’s motivation was the fear of being under attack after the U.S. Navy, unaware of the nuclear-tipped torpedoes, began harassing the subs by tossing the equivalent of grenades onto them
- Ultimately, the crisis was not resolved by dint of nuclear superiority and boldly staring down the adversary -- which was the original accepted wisdom; it involved a willingness to make a deal, to compromise, as Kennedy did in secretly offering a trade of the Cuban missiles for the Jupiter missiles in Turkey
To make revelations like these broadly available, the Archive does a number of things. First, we make our materials accessible to researchers at no charge (except photocopying) at our GWU facility. Another avenue is through a subscription product of highly curated selections -- the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) -- via the publisher ProQuest. We also publish shorter compilations of materials as books. And of course we post selected items on our Web site (www.nsarchive.org). We currently have 391 “Electronic Briefing Books” of documents on newsworthy topics on our site.
(I should clarify -- and emphasize -- that all these publications contain no editorializing from us on U.S. government policy. We’re a non-partisan 501(c)(3) group and the only issues we take a stand on are freedom of information and the principle of open government access.)
The Cuban missile crisis project in many ways became a model for our other historical documentation projects at the National Security Archive, including studies of U.S. policy toward the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union and the superpower rivalry, a series of crises in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and more. Most of the basic stories of these projects are available on our site and, as mentioned, the underlying documentation we and our partners and colleagues around the world have collected is also available here in Washington, D.C.
Next week I’ll talk (maybe at a bit shorter length!) about our freedom of information activities. If you have any questions as we go along, don’t hesitate to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deputy Director, Research Director
The National Security Archive
at George Washington University
FGI Guest blogger for October, 2012: Malcolm Byrne from the National Security Archive @Malcolm_Byrne @NSArchiveSubmitted by jrjacobs on Mon, 2012-10-01 10:04.
Hi everyone. We've got a special treat for you this month. Malcolm Byrne, Deputy Director and Director of Research at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, has agreed to take a round on the guest blogger dais. Malcolm's main areas of specialization are U.S.-Iran relations and the Superpower rivalry during the Cold War. His latest book is Becoming Enemies: U.S.-Iran Relations and the Iran-Iraq War, 1979-1988 (with James G. Blight, et al) (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012). Malcolm gave a fascinating keynote talk (audio) (+ powerpoint slides!) at the 2012 Six-State Virtual Government Information Conference. But if you missed that, you can catch his upcoming talk at the Fall 2012 Depository Library Conference on Tuesday October 16 from 4 - 5:30.
Take it away Malcolm!