History, Deleted

January marks the 30th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s inauguration, and the beginning of a fertile period for historians: The State Department is required to periodically publish foreign policy documents relating to events that took place more than 30 years ago. Forthcoming editions of this official history, called Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), will include previously unavailable documents from Nixon’s active — some say unscrupulous — foreign policy operations.

Yet the intelligence community has refused to declassify documents for previous FRUS editions, a problem Congress tried to address in 1991 by appointing a group of independent historians to review all FRUS editions. In the committee’s annual report last year, however, chair Warren F. Kimball wrote that if intelligence agencies don’t start cooperating, FRUS could become “so incomplete and misleading as to constitute an official lie.” The CIA and other agencies balk at declassification, Kimball says, not always out of national security concerns, but more often for fear of embarrassment.

The government recently established a panel of senior intelligence officials to decide disputes over covert operations, and Kimball says he looks forward to the Nixon FRUS editions with guarded optimism: “The issue … is not going to go away. [Nixon] was all over Latin America like a wet blanket.”