Testimony of Page Putnam Miller

Hearing of 10/11/94 -- Washington, DC.
The first witness we have scheduled today is Page Putnam Miller from the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History in Washington.

We have a table up here, Page. Good morning, and welcome.

DR. MILLER: Thank you.

On behalf of the 50 historical and archival organizations that compose the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History, I thank you for this opportunity to be with you today.

I have four issues that I would like to address. The first is the significance of this legislation for the historical profession, and we are very pleased, both with your work and with the documents that have already been opened, we see this as a beginning. I would like to just mention a couple of the specific kinds of records that have been opened thus far, and I hope that there will be more of this kind of record to be opened.

The first are 60 boxes of communication between CIA and the Station Chiefs in Mexico and in Miami. As you probably know, under Executive Order 12356, which basically governs our declassification policy, these kinds of records have not been transferred or opened at the National Archives, and as of legislation that was passed in 1983, these kinds of operational records from the CIA are not available under FOIA request. So historians have really not had a chance to look at this kind of record.

I was at a meeting recently where a researcher who had carefully gone through all the records in the 60 boxes told me that this was one of the richest treasure troves of records that he had seen in a very long time. So for the historical profession, we are certainly interested in the very specific substance records that lead us to a better understanding of the assassination itself, but we are also very interested in the broader context of how the government was operating, and you are able to glean from these kinds of records how the CIA was operating and the kinds of activities and messages that were going back and forth.

Secondly, another specific that I would mention also relates to the CIA, but it is records that were recently opened regarding the relationship between the CIA and the anti-Castro and the Cuba activities. Phillip Brenner, an international relations professor at American University said, after looking at these, we had the outlines that the CIA was doing this by 1975, but what you have now are the meat and potatoes of the plan showing the details of how they put it into effect.

I just mentioned these specifics at the beginning to let you know that we appreciate a broad approach to records and the kinds of records that are now coming out are very important to the historical profession.

Secondly, a point I would like to make is the important precedent that this legislation establishes for involving in varying substantive ways outside specialists, such as yourselves, in an oversight role on declassification.

Again, Executive Order 12356, which defines our declassification policy has no provision for outside oversight, and we feel that we have, under the Cold War years, developed in the Federal government a kind of culture of secrecy and a bureaucracy that has not allowed many important records that are no longer sensitive to be opened. There are literally trillions of classified records that are historical, over 30 years old, that are still classified. So we see you and your outside Review Board as important for reviewing these records.

We want you to also review the 2 percent of the Warren Commission records that are still being closed. We are also interested in the Robert Kennedy telephone logs for the period before and after the assassination. They are very specific records that are certainly sensitive and we, as historians, recognize that there are sensitive records here, that not all of them will be opened, but we certainly hope that there will be a minimum that will be kept closed.

I remember as I am sure you do, at your confirmation hearing, that the point was made that there would be a presumption of openness, and we are glad that there is an outside review body to consider this.

Third, the historical profession seeks the broadest definition possible in determining what is an assassination record. We hope that the Board will actively pursue records even though agencies may not have labelled those records as assassination-related records, and you may even need, and we hope you will, to pursue records that are not in agency files now.

For example, I was talking to one researcher recently, and he told me that he had inquired about the existence of some Labor Department records that Robert Kennedy had been concerned about the way in which the Mafia may have had some relationship in the assassination, and he had asked some folks at the Labor Department to work on this investigation. That while there is evidence that this happened at the Labor Department, there are no longer any records existing that have been in the agency or have been transferred to the National Archives, and yet there are individuals that worked on this project that have some records in their private possession to indicate this activity. So I think some of the records that we are interested in will not be labelled by agencies and will not be in the National Archives, or in agency records.

A fourth point, and one related to that, is the importance of providing forums for researchers to have an ongoing input into the work of the Review Board. When I was talking to some people about making this presentation today and asking them what did they see as the work of this Board, and they said, well, this Board is going to need to fine-tune that skill called "follow your nose" skill, and I think there will be an investigative, active pursuing aspect to this work that we are calling upon you to undertake. We do not expect what we would consider as an assassination record to all be just delivered to you by agencies. So we wish you well and urge you to undertake this investigative work.

In closing, I will again say it is the view of the historical profession that our current declassification policy is very much broken, and we see this Board as an opportunity to provide really a model of how declassification policy could proceed.

Thank you very much.


CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you, Ms. Miller.

Members of the Board, are there questions?

Dr. Graff?

DR. GRAFF: I have a question for Ms. Miller.

In looking for the records that are not labelled assassination records in the agencies, shall we follow merely our hunches, and I speak to you as a fellow historian? Should we go by published theories that contravene some of the establishment theories? What do you suggest we do to find those records? Should we come to you?

DR. MILLER: Well, I suggest this kind of forum, and I am very grateful that you are having this, and I think you indicated in your opening remarks that this was the first, but I think that you will find in testimony and comments from these kinds of open forums the kinds of leads that will be very useful to you. I think that as you begin this sort of tactic of follow your nose is when you start asking one question and then you find out more. I think that you will find many avenues fairly easily.

DR. GRAFF: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Questions for Dr. Miller?

I have one brief question, Dr. Miller. Do you believe it is necessary for us to, in defining assassination record, to define particular record groups in order to be specific enough to provide the kind of guidance that would be necessary for agencies?

DR. MILLER: Well, there is always that problem that if you define the specific records then anything that is not in that group will not be searched. I think that you are going to have to depend on some broad categories. You may suggest specific record groups, but I think that indicating types of records and maybe giving some examples of assassination-related. We believe very much that the Cold War, for instance, was the context for the assassination, and so much of what the Federal government was doing before and after regarding its foreign policy relates to this.

So I think -- I am concerned that a very specific statement may be seen as an opportunity to cut off some records. So I think you are going to have to go a fine line between giving suggestions, indicating the broad scope, and specific ways, but yet leaving it open.


Anything further from the members?

[No response.]

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you, Dr. Miller. We appreciate the involvement of the historical community in our effort. Thank you

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