National Security Archive Update

Washington D.C., 21 April 2006 - Last month the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) put almost 320,000 declassified cables on-line when it opened up State Department document databases from 1973 and 1974. This is significant news for researchers, because the text of declassified diplomatic cables is now retrievable on the NARA Web site.

Beginning in 1973, the State Department began creating electronic systems for transmitting cables to and from U.S. embassies. With computerized records management becoming standard practice, only electronic copies of the cables would be saved in the State Department's Central Foreign Policy Files. Over time, NARA will put on-line State Department document databases for the years after 1974. The new databases provide extensive coverage of key events of the period, from the October War, to the conflict in Indochina, to developments in Chile surrounding the September 1973 coup against the Allende government. They also include withdrawal cards of documents that are still classified, so that they can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Unfortunately, the new electronic systems lost significant numbers of cables as they migrated through new software and hardware. Moreover, Top Secret and other tightly-controlled cables cannot be retrieved on-line. The new databases include non-cable records, but they can only be identified, not viewed, on-line.

According to National Security Archive senior analyst William Burr, the National Archives and the State Department "have taken a major step forward in transparency by making available on-line around the world important declassified historical records."

The National Security Archive's background paper on the new databases shows the strengths and weaknesses of the new on-line system as well as sample cables from 1973-1974, including items regarding:

* a June 1973 coup attempt against Chilean president Salvador Allende,

* assurances from U.S officials in Israel in late September 1973 that a Syrian attack was improbable,

* Ambassador Daniel P. Moynihan's reaction to India's nuclear test in May 1974,

* an example of the State Department's "Morning Summary of Significant Events" prepared for CIA and Pentagon officials,

* and reactions from the U.S. Interests Section in Iraq to the Iran-Iraq conflict and the "hopeless battle" by the Kurds against the Baathist regime.

For more information contact:
William Burr - 202/994-7032