April 17, 2004

Limited access?

You wouldn't think that the nomination of a new Archivist of the United States would be a big political issue, would you? But then everything Dubya's administration does is based on political calculation.

To understand why the nomination of former Center for Democracy head Allen Weinstein to be the new boss of the National Archives and Records Administration is something to worry about, consider this, for example:

According to Hill insiders, the effort to replace [Clinton appointee John} Carlin is coming from the highest levels of the White House. Reportedly, Karl Rove who is widely viewed as one of the president's chief political advisors, if not his political mastermind and, Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, want their own archivist in place for two overarching reasons: first, because of the sensitive nature of certain presidential and executive department records likely to be opened in the near future, and second, because there is genuine concern in the White House that the president may not be re-elected.

Though it is not widely known, in January 2005, the first batch of records (the mandatory 12 years of closure having passed) relating to the president's father's administration will be subject to the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and could be opened. Another area of concern to presidential officials relates to the 9-11 Commission records. Because there is no mandatory 30-year closure rule (except for highly classified White House and Executive Department records and documents), all materials relating to the commission are scheduled to be transferred to the National Archives upon termination of the Commission later this year. These records could be made available to researchers and journalists as soon as they are processed by NARA [National Archives and Records Administration].

Do you start getting the picture?

Archivists and historians are expressing their concern over the nomination, which The Nation describes as 'part of a larger pattern of expanded White House secrecy.'

Senate confirmation hearings are essential because Weinstein's record, especially on access issues, is bad. His 1999 book The Haunted Wood has been criticized for its flawed handling of archival materials. His publisher paid for exclusive access to Soviet archives, and no one else has been allowed to see the documents he quotes (see Ellen Schrecker, "The Spies Who Loved Us?" May 24, 1999). This appears to violate the code of ethics of the International Council on Archives, which calls for "the widest possible access" to documents. His earlier book, about Alger Hiss, has been criticized for politically motivated withholding of documents: Weinstein has refused to make his interviews on the Hiss case available to historians who disagree with him, which violates the Standards of the American Historical Association (see Victor Navasky, "Allen Weinstein's Docudrama," November 3, 1997).

As The Nation suggests, you really might want to write or call your members of Congress about Weinstein's nomination.

Thanks to MetaFilter for some of the links.

Posted by Magpie at April 17, 2004 06:24 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |

Nothing like knowing you can rest easy with the mind of such a deep thinker at the helm.

Posted by: Scott at April 17, 2004 07:26 PM

This is very troubling. They say the victors write history, yet if Bush loses the White House in 2004 but manages to install an Archivist who will do his bidding for years to come, history may well belong to the loser.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I promptly sent a link to your post to the one archivist I know. There's no point in writing my senators, though; I live in Texas.

Posted by: Steve Bates at April 18, 2004 02:49 AM