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FAS Intro: The External Referral Working Group is an interagency group that was established by the U.S. Intelligence Community to help implement and coordinate the declassification requirements of Executive Order 12958. The following document describes its recent activities.


Its Origins and Development


Executive Order 12958, signed by President Clinton on 17 April 1995 presented major challenges to those government agencies holding classified documents. Section 3.4 mandated the automatic declassification of permanent records 25 years or older by 17 April 2000.

The issue was clear. There was a compelling need for coordination among all affected government agencies on policy, standards and procedures to accomplish the goals of the Executive Order. The dimensions of the task are formidable. Seven million pages in the Presidential Libraries are affected by the Executive Order, and the estimate is that two billion pages must be dealt with by the rest of the government.

The Intelligence Community recognized the problem and established the External Referral Working Group (ERWG) under the Declassification Program Managers Council.

First Meeting

The External Referral Working Group (ERWG), chaired by Patrick Cummins, chief of the Declassification Branch in CIA's Records Declassification Program, convened its first meeting on 19 January 1996 at the Ames Building in Rosslyn, Virginia. At this session, the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were represented.

Representatives from the five organizations used the occasion to describe its agency's program to comply with the declassification provisions of Executive Order 12958.

At this session, Remote Archive Capture (RAC), a vehicle for capturing documents at the Presidential Libraries, was introduced to the group by CIA. Representatives of the five organizations agreed to the concept that document capture at the Libraries should be a Community undertaking rather than an individual agency effort. They reviewed a CIA draft that outlined estimated costs for a Community versus an individual agency effort.

An ERWG session in which all agencies in the Intelligence Community were to take part was scheduled for 25 January 1996 at CIA Headquarters.

Second Meeting

The number of organizations that participated in the second ERWG meeting, chaired by Patrick Cummins, CIA, in the Inspector General's conference room at CIA Headquarters included: the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, DIA, NSA, NRO, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), US Information Agency (USIA), and CIA.

Richard J. Warshaw, chief of CIA's Records Declassification Program (RDP) briefed the 25 January ERWG session on his Agency's response to the Executive Order. In broad outline he traced the scope of the records declassification program. There are 165.9 million pages of permanent records dating from 1975 or earlier. Of that number, 106.6 million pages, it is estimated, will be exempt leaving 59.3 million pages to be redacted or declassified. To convey a sense of the magnitude of the challenge confronting the Records Declassification Program. the speaker noted that 59.3 million pages equals 50 Washington monuments in height.

Mr. Warshaw pointed out for the ERWG members his Program's goals:

The State Department representative Tony Dalsimer gave a presentation on State's declassification program. He pointed out that his organization has been engaged in the systematic declassification of material more than 30 years old. During the past year, State has reviewed nine million pages of information. Because of budget demands, State will use bloc declassification to ensure review called for by Executive Order 12958. He predicted few changes in State's method of operation in the coming years.

A matter discussed at the 25 January ERWG meeting dealt with the Department of Energy's concern about restricted data (RD) information. That category of information will not be released under the Executive Order.

Another issue had to do with exemption versus redaction, which most representatives said would be resolved by a decision to exempt material or release it in full without redaction.

Third Meeting

The third ERWG meeting, chaired by Patrick Cummins, CIA, took place on the morning of 15 February 1996 at the Ames Building in Rosslyn, Virginia. It was followed by an afternoon ERWG Library Team meeting.

The first order of business at this 15 February session was the refinement of a mission statement for the External Referral Working Group. A copy of the ERWG Mission Statement is listed on page one of this Briefing Book. [see last page, below]

Because of the growth in ERWG membership and the increased aftendance at ERWG meetings, the decision was made to create teams to pursue principal objectives of ihe External Referral Working Group. The first teams created were:

Nancy Smith representing the Office of Presidential Libraries, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) briefed the ERWG session on the unique aspects of the collections in the Presidential Libraries. She noted that 250 thousand pages of the approximately seven million pages have been identified at three Presidential Libraries as a first-year declassification review goal.

The morning 15 February ERWG session concluded with a briefing by Will Kammer on the Joint Staff's declassification plan.

At the afternoon ERWG Library Team session, discussion was devoted to the Remote Archive Capture (RAC) Program Plan. Issues that emerged in the discussion were:

Fourth Meeting

The next ERWG meeting took place on 20 March 1996 in Rosslyn, Virginia. At this fourth ERWG session, chaired by Patrick Cummins, CIA, 41 people from 20 organizations were in attendance.

The first item of business was a Presidential Library Team report that addressed, among other things, the scanning rates the team thought possible. The NARA representative Nancy Smith announced her organization's support of a pilot program at the Lyndon Johnson Library slated to begin in May 1996.

It was at this meeting that representatives were asked to review a document entitled "Sense of Consensus." Only signatories to this agreement will have a vote in the RAC program. Also distributed to the participants was a matrix, which when completed, will provide details on the means available to each agency for the receipt of classified documents for review and will also provide information on the types of review (Executive Order, Privacy Act, FOIA) that agencies will conduct when they receive material under the 25-year Program.

Another significant development was the presentation by Kris Tremain of NSA and Robert Scherr of the Naval Security Group on equity training initiatives. Following the general ERWG meeting the training team convened to work out specifics for use in the Equities Recognition Training Class to be held at NSA on 9 July.

The last item on the 20 March ERWG meeting agenda was a presentation by James Schwartz, Department of Treasury, who explained that the intelligence component in Treasury was small. Moreover, the US Secret Service will review its material separately from the Intelligence Community.

Fifth Meeting

The fifth in the series of ERWG meetings took place on 24 April at NRO Headquarters. This session, chaired by Patrick Cummins, CIA, was held in conjunction with the Automation Working Group (AWG), chaired by Thomas Curtis, DOE; 53 people representing 17 organizations were in attendance.

Harry Cooper of CIA opened the April ERWG meeting with an overview briefing on the Presidential Libraries project. The RAC Program slated to begin 13 May at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library had to be delayed several days because of unforeseen developments. Very important was the enthusiastic endorsement given to the pilot project by Nancy Smith of NARA, who added that there is tremendous interest in the still classified material held by Presidential Libraries.

A point that Ms. Smith wanted to drive home was that the Archivist is responsible for the declassification of Presidential papers. Moreover, she added, FOIA and the Privacy Act are not factors in the Presidential Libraries program.

Controversy surrounded discussion of the medium (disc or CD-Rom) that is to be used to provide material to agencies found to have holdings in Presidential Libraries. It was pointed out that the assumption must be that the material is Top Secret-Code Word, because it is unrealistic to create several classification categories for the material. That prompted the Navy representative to voice concem that some redactors will lack adequate clearances to handle material at that level of classification.

A highlight of the meeting was an Air Force demonstration of a redaction software system called Tool Book Redaction that other agencies might find useful for their redaction projects.

NARA representative Jeanne Schauble disclosed that there are 460 million pages of Federal accession material to be reviewed by the year 2000. She stressed how important it is for other agencies to provide NARA with updated guidance.

NRO representative George Darnell concluded the ERWG meeting by noting, in comments about his organization's declassification program, that its inventory of material is highly decentralized. Additionally, the Corona program is being used as a pilot. The Corona records will be available for NARA by December 1997. The entire NRO declassification program will be completed by December 1998.

Sixth Meeting

The sixth ERWG meeting, chaired by Patrick Cummins, CIA, was hosted by NSA on 19 June 1996 in its National Cryptologic Museum. (No meeting took place in May, because the Second Intelligence Community Information and Classification Management Conference was held from 21 to 23 May. At the Intelligence Community session, many of the speakers and panel members were active ERWG participants; the first day of the conference was devoted entirely to Executive Order 12958.)

As was the case in April, the ERWG meeting took place in the morning followed by an Automation Working Group session, chaired by Thomas Curtis, DOE, in the aftemoon. There is obvious merit in the two Group's working closely together.

At the morning ERWG session, 33 people represented 16 organizations. There was a first time appearance by the Agency for International Development (AID) represented by William Littlewood. The newly named focal point for the Department of Energy, Rob Versluis, attended the session, as did Mindy Roberts, representing the Department of the Army.

The first order of business was the Presidential Libraries. Harry Cooper of CIA provided a brief update on the RAC program. He remarked on NARA's approval of automatic feeders for capturing documents and the enhanced productivity they have brought to the process. The four scanner teams using the automatic feeders are averaging nine thousand images per day, a dramatic increase over manual feeds.

Mr. Cooper complimented the lead agency DIA for the progress made in the RAC effort at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin. Moreover, he encouraged ERWG and AWG organizations to support the scanning project by whatever means they can: money, personnel or equipment.

Dr. Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for the National Archives, echoed the enthusiasm earlier expressed for the progress made in reviewing files under the RAC program at the LBJ Library. In a six-week period, 100,000 images will be captured for review which he contrasted with the 270,000 pages reviewed under a 20-year period under the mandatory program. He pointed out that some issues or problems remain at the Library: first, considerable material is not marked, and, second, there are multiple equities in documents.

Kris Tremain of NSA provided a report on the Equities Recognition Training session scheduled to take place on 9 July at NSA. At that point, 105 people had registered to take this first equities training course provided by six organizations: NSA, Naval Security Group, DOE, Department of State, the Air Intelligence Agency, and CIA.

The ERWG session ended with a briefing by Dick DeMeester of CIA on the RAC Index Form V2.1, patterned to Presidential libraries, that he had recently developed. He stressed the need for ERWG representatives to agree on an indexing scheme and the features it should possess.

Seventh Meeting

This ERWG Meeting, chaired by Patrick Cummins, CIA, and hosted by his Agency, took place on the aftemoon of 19 July at the Ames Building in Rossyln, Virginia. It was held in conjunction with the Automation Working Group, chaired by Thomas Curtis, DOE, which met in the morning. Several people aftended both sessions; 42 people represented 16 organizations at the ERWG session. While intelligence organizations, for perhaps obvious reasons, are the dominant players in ERWG, membership is not limited to the Intelligence Community.

The first item on the agenda was an interesting briefing by Major Len Shoemaker, SAF/AAZD, on what his component learned in processing the initial input (5,000 images) from the LBJ Library Project. Out of that 5,000 pages, 97 percent of the material was released; three percent, redacted. The number of Organizations of Primary Responsibility (OPR) was nine. The need to capture seven million pages at the Presidential Libraries is feasible, according to the speaker. He ended his remarks on the optimistic note that his component awaits the next batch of documents.

DIA came in for praise for the leadership it demonstrated in the recently completed scanning project at the LBJ Library. The NARA representative Nancy Smith noted that other Presidential Libraries are eager to become involved. After further discussion, the Kennedy Library was selected by ERWG, RAC, and NARA representatives for the next scanning project. Harry Cooper, CIA, repeated an appeal that other ERWG representatives support the Library team with money and/or people.

Harry Cooper proposed that ERWG issues be documented in a form he prepared; space is also provided on the form showing the resolution of the issue. Mr. Cooper's proposal was accepted and the form was later faxed to ERWG representatives. In addition to identification of issues, each issue will be tasked to an ERWG member and an action-item tracking system will be used to ensure resolution of issues. (See the following section which shows a copy of a). the issues form and b). the action-item tracking system form.) [not included here]

Because of the enormous size of NARA holdings, it was proposed that a team be organized to identify the issues related to declassification of these records. Ella Nargele, Naval Historical Center, was asked to assemble the team, which is to prepare a report for the next ERWG meeting in August.

Eighth Meeting

This eighth meeting of ERWG took place on 23 August 1996 at the Navy Yard and was hosted jointly by the Navy and Marine Corps. It was chaired by Patrick Cummins and Harry Cooper of CIA. This ERWG session welcomed several new representatives: Rudolph H. Waddy, ISOO; Frederick Smith, Jr., Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; Sherrell J. Robinson, Defense Special Weapons Agency (the renamed Defense Nuclear Weapons Agency); Robert A. McMenamin, Department of the Treasury; Larry Cavanaugh, FEMA; Edie Prise, NARA; Edwin Minter, NASA; Capt. C.T. Creekman, US Naval Historical Center; Lcdr. Patrick White and Lcdr. Chris Glass, US Navy/ONI.

Nancy Smith, NARA, and Harry Cooper, CIA, opened the August ERWG session with some cautionary remarks regarding the then upcoming Kennedy Library pilot project. Ms. Smith reminded the agency representatives that imaging work at the Library must be a team effort that does not focus on a single organization's equities. Ernest Lee of DIA, selected to lead the Kennedy pilot project, informed the ERWG session that a four-person team will work from 9 to 30 September with five Library representatives in reviewing documents.

In the area of training, Kris Tremain, NSA, reported on the Equities Recognition Training course that took place at her Agency on 9 July. She informed the ERWG session that CIA and NRO equities recognition guidance had been forwarded to participants at the 9 July training course. Sandra Warren, CIA, told the group the next Equities Recognition Training course will be held at CIA.

Ella Nargele, Naval Historical Center, spoke to the ERWG session on behalf of the NARA Holdings Team that also includes Robert Scherr, Naval Security Group, and Rob Versluis, Department of Energy, about the effort to get a better defined notion of the condition and volume of records in the National Archives, Regional Archives, etc. It was agreed there is a need to develop a matrix. Jeanne Schauble, NARA, pointed out that the matrix must provide some indication of what NARA has done. She added that an agency can be directed to the material that has been reviewed; 100 million pages had been reviewed to that point. Moreover, NARA keeps records of agency equities at the box, not the document level.

Bob Lavey, CIA, remarked briefly on the list of federal organizations impacted by Executive Order 12958; an updated version of that list was made available prior to the meeting. A principal issue is the assignment of the Office of Primary Responsibility (OPR), a decision to be made by the organizations involved. If there is a difference of opinion between two organizations regarding the OPR assigned, that difference must be worked out between them. What has been agreed upon should then be forwarded to CIA's External Referral Unit where it will be recorded.

Ninth Meeting

The ninth ERWG session, hosted by the National Archives and Records Administration, took place on 25 September 1996; 43 people represented 22 organizations and the meeting was chaired by Harry Cooper of CIA. Two new representatives, Anne Winner of DIA and Lena Paulsen of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, were welcomed.

The NARA Declassification Division presented a special report to the ERWG membership. Jeanne Schauble, NARA Declassification Program, distributed copies of "Guidance for Handling Permanent Records during Declassification Reviews." This guidance will assist agencies in preserving the integrity of the files and enable NARA personnel to determine accurately the agency review actions after accession to the National Archives. This will allow NARA to make declassified records available to the public and avoid improper release and storage of documents still security sensitive.

Team Reports

The RAC team, currently at the Kennedy Library, had five scanners up and running. A 100-percent improvement in efficiency was reported with the use of the CIA-developed Database. The Kennedy Library staff was credited for the vast improvement of this most recent imaging effort.

Standards Team. Rudy Waddy, ISOO, led a discussion on the Issues Paper (ERWG action 96-02). More specifically, the topic under discussion was the process and standardization for marking exemptions on referred documents. He noted that current guidance does not allow marking for subsequent review. He provided an explanation for the Standards Team, and then asked for Referral Working Group would be used by ISOO as a government-wide approval forum for declassification procedures.

NARA Holdings Team. Ella Nargele, Naval Historical Center, reported that her team had produced a matrix, a topic raised at the August ERWG meeting. Rob Versluis, DOE, briefed the ERWG session on the matrix which should help identify the locations and quantities of equities for each agency. A request was made for data input from the ERWG members. Rudy Waddy stated that the matrix will be a useful tool for ISOO.

Training Team. Harry Cooper reported that the format for equities recognition training has been changed to ensure that all major equity types are addressed during the day-long session. Teams of agencies that represent equities in military, foreign relations, nuclear, cryptographic programs, and intelligence will be formed. All agencies will be identified as having major equities in one of these categories.

In the area of new business, Rich Warshaw, CIA, mentioned a visit by National Technology Alliance (NTA) to his agency. Gene Hickok, the NTA representative, gave a briefing entitled "Life Cycle Records Management Systems."

Mr. Waddy provided a status report on Declassification Guide approvals. He reported that only CIA and NRO Declassification Guides had been received. Ray Schmidt, the Navy, and Rob Versluis, NSG, claimed that their organizations had also submitted guides. Mr. Waddy promised to look into the matter.

In regard to File Series exemption requests, it was reported that many of these requests are too broad in scope and lack supporting evidence. The ICAP will meet to review exemption requests.

Exemption Marking (Action Item 96-02). There was discussion on required date or event. Ray Schmidt asked for clarification of the term "event". He has been charged with responsibility for providing in writing a clarification of event for the Standards Team. There was also discussion of the need to source exemption markings; the agency that exempts the document must be responsible. The need for the use of a code for an exemption date was raised by George Darnell, NRO. It was suggested that the order should be agency first; for example NRO-25X1-Event).

Rudy Waddy expressed his appreciation and that of the ISOO Director for ERWG's enthusiastic approach to defining problems in the standards area and to offering solutions.

Patrick Cummins, CIA, announced this would be his last meeting as Chair of ERWG. The Community Management Staff (CMS) chartered ERWG in response to a recognized need for coordination among IC members for the referral of documents undergoing declassification review. But the ERWG has grown beyond an IC entity and is now a govemment-wide group made up of representatives from 38 declassification programs. Because of CMS' recognition of the need for continuity following Pat Cummins' departure, it named Richard Warshaw as the new ERWG chair.

Pat Cummins was praised for the invaluable contributions he made to the ERWG.

IC Declassification Program Manager's Council

External Referral Working Group

Mission Statement

Purpose: To support the 25 year declassification provision of Executive Order 12958 by establishing the information referral process through joint planning and cooperation.


Action Plan:

Immediate (60 - 90 days)

Near Term (90 to 120 days)

Long Term:

Proposed Deliverables:

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