By Marc Levitt
Sometimes during our work processing millions of documents, archivists come across records that we don’t have the security clearance to see. These “Secret” documents may have been inadvertently filed or forgotten in a file drawer, only to be “discovered” later by those processing the collection. With the recent WikiLeaks incidents where thousands of classified documents were released, perhaps this more routine example of what can happen in an archive will be illustrative of normal archival protocol.
Recently, I came across such a document in the Robert C. Byrd collection. Following proper archival protocol, I contacted the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to let them know what I found. They instructed me to send the document back to their offices, along with a request for declassification through the normal channels (a Mandatory Declassification Request). I also had to sign an Inadvertent Disclosure Agreement that stated I would not even acknowledge the existence of the document.
Fortunately, my request for declassification was granted rather quickly (which is not typical), and I now can discuss the document in question.
Interestingly, we also have the staff notes from that meeting (which were not classified) that discuss the meetings in more detail.
These tantalizing gems break up the everyday work that we do in the archives, and lend an air of excitement to our work, especially as we anticipate the next interesting (and non-classified) document we will come across. Fortunately, most interesting documents do not require so many steps to allow researcher access!