Responding to complaints from frustrated historians, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved legislation directing the government to lift the veil of secrecy that has resulted in significant gaps in the official history of U.S. foreign policy.
The committee last Thursday spelled out new procedures for preparation of the official series entitled "Foreign Relations of the United States" as part of a catchall supplemental authorization bill that also seeks to block the administration's plan to demolish and rebuild the U.S. Embassy chancery in Moscow.
Rejecting the Bush administration's request for $270 million to reconstruct the partially completed chancery, which is riddled with Soviet electronic surveillance devices, the committee voted unanimously to authorize $50 million to finish the structure and add new secure areas in the building or on its grounds.
Omissions in the country's foreign policy history, some involving secrecy reaching back nearly 40 years, came to light recently when the chairman of the advisory panel for the series resigned in protest and American historians complained that the integrity of the 129-year-old project was being compromised.
Among the complaints were claims that an account of the 1953 coup in Iran that installed the late shah made no mention of U.S. involvement in the affair.
As approved by the committee, the bill declares that the official history shall be a "thorough, accurate and reliable documentary record" of U.S. foreign affairs, including "all documents needed to provide a comprehensive record of major foreign policy decisions and actions." This would include materials "providing supporting and alternative views to the policy position ultimately adopted."
While material could be withheld if it jeopardizes military security or threatens lives, nothing "shall be omitted for the purpose of concealing a defect of policy," according to the legislation. The project's advisory committee could also withhold information if it would impede diplomatic negotiations, break confidences or give "needless offense to other nationalities or individuals."
The official history of an event would have to be published within 30 years and any documents released within 40 years, unless withheld by the advisory committee.
The omnibus bill also authorizes an additional $475 million to make up arrearages in U.S. payments to the United Nations, including its peacekeeping forces. But actual funds for U.N. payments and for the Moscow embassy project are subject to appropriations bills that will not be considered until later.