Interagency Working Group (IWG)

Summary of Public Meeting

February 25, 1999, 9AM - 12PM; Old Executive Office Building/Room 472

Member Participants:

National Archives and Records Administration
Michael Kurtz (Chair)

Public Members
Thomas Baer
Richard Ben-Veniste
Elizabeth Holtzman

Office of the Secretary of Defense
Stewart Aly

Federal Bureau of Investigation
John Collingwood

Central Intelligency Agency
David Holmes

National Security Council
William Leary

U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
David Marwell

Department of Justice/Office of Special Investigations
Eli Rosenbaum

Department of State
William Slany

Public Historians:

Shlomo Aronson
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Richard Breitman
Department of History
American University

Robert Herzstein
Department of History
University of South Carolina

Linda Hunt
Former CNN reporter and author

Christopher Simpson
School of Communication
American University

Kenneth Klothen
Executive Director
Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States

The purpose of the meeting was to draw on the expertise of historians to set the task of the IWG in historical and historiographic context by discussing questions involving policies and programs of the U. S. Government regarding Nazi war crimes and criminals, including which agencies are likely to retain classified records and what research approaches might prove most fruitful.

 The Chair convened the meeting and asked each of the public historians to provide brief introductory comments before the open discussion. A summary of the introductory comments follows:

Professor Breitman:

Dr. Breitman asked that the IWG broaden and simplify its task. He thought that whole collections of classified documents could be reviewed and would, with very limited exceptions, be declassified, particularly if the Working Group monitored the declassification process so that agencies would be limited in their use of "loopholes.". If the IWG looks too narrowly at isolated "Nazi War criminal" records, the job of historians will be made more difficult by the loss of context. In addition, the agencies' task of poring through millions of records where there "might" be something related to Nazis would like take a large amount of resources with very little return.

Professor Aronson:

Dr. Aronson submitted and read a prepared written statement that was distributed. His main point was that the IWG needed to target certain indispensable collections, including the IRR/CIC records at Fort Meade.

Professor Simpson:

Dr. Simpson also had a prepared written statement that was distributed. He highlighted some points in his opening remarks. He remarked that the focus should be on the records of such agencies as the CIA, FBI and Treasury Department. He commented that records disclosed by the IWG should include finding aides, cross-references, and cross-indexes to help historians in terms of context. He also pointedly explained that the IWG needed to include Japan and the Far East in its scope. He proposed that the IWG should seek an appropriation for its work, that the focus of its work should be records previously withheld from the public, and that notices should be placed in historical journals to solicit advice from historians.

Professor Herzstein:

Dr. Herzstein addressed 6 points in his opening remarks. First, that the IWG should seek "floor plans" of records organization at the agencies, along with a thorough history of the records. Second, that private and public funding be sought to help the IWG in its mission, with perhaps an internship program as part of the effort. Third, that one of the main functions of the IWG was to seek information about relationships between agencies and individuals. Fourth, a name search was not a comprehensive enough approach, but merely one aspect of a many faceted research effort. Fifth, the IWG should not overlook German documentary material that was not used by prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials and elsewhere. Sixth, that perhaps a form be developed to inform FOIA requesters that they might share pertinent information with the IWG.

Ms Hunt:

Ms Hunt focused her opening remarks on problems she had in her personal experience with FOIA requests. She passed out a packet concerning these problems. She highlighted her experience in researching Operation Paperclip and the problems of denials and time limits on appeals. She also pointed to the records of the IRR/CIC at Fort Meade as a possible treasure trove on which the IWG should concentrate its efforts.

The seminar was then opened to discussion. Some of the topics covered were:

  • The role of the public members in bringing a non-governmental perspective, and even an appropriate tension, to the IWG.
  • Ideas on budget and seeking funding. It was the consensus of the historians that Congress should be forcefully approached and that the historians could help.
  • Approaches to research beyond use of a name list, particularly how best to research agency classified material that deals with operations, programs and policy. Each of the historians promised to provide their ideas in writing.
  • Past FOIA requests and the resulting agency searches, whether or not material was released, provide a useful roadmap and search strategy for materials relevant to the law. Other pre-existing agency work products should also be investigated.
  • The IWG should keep in touch and solicit advice of the historical community through announcements and advertisements in historical journals.
  • The issue of whether the law covers Japan and war criminals in the Far East was discussed forcefully on both sides.
  • A number of questions were raised on the subject of Soviet, Stasi, and other communist government records--their availability and whether they provide useful leads to relevant U. S. records.
  • Eastern and Western European corporate records are critical to formulating and pursuing questions of slave labor.
  • The Executive Director of the Presidential Holocaust Assets Commission attended the meeting and raised two questions: to what extent is the object of the IWG the same as that of the Assets Commission?, and how can the two work together to do the research only once?

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