This is how Tom Blanton, Director of the independent non-governmental National Security Archive at George Washington University, described the work of his organization in the recent ACRL/Choice webinar, “Scholarship vs. Secrecy: Primary Sources in an Age of Misinformation," sponsored by ProQuest.
Blanton explained how the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) partnership with ProQuest “allows us to file freedom of information requests to keep breaking primary sources loose out of the government.”
“There is no automatic declassification process – if you don’t ask for the documents and for the records, they’ll stay in those vaults almost indefinitely,” he continued.
In this presentation, Blanton shared the “document of the day” – a transcript of U.S. President Trump’s controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Blanton demonstrated what was so unusual about this conversation by comparing it with other “tele-com” transcripts from the Archive, such as “extremely substantive” conversations former U.S. presidents H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton conducted with previous Ukraine leaders about policy issues.
He also discussed a “treasure trove” of declassified documents from the Cold War and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, explaining their relevance to contemporary issues such as Iran’s nuclear program. Such materials reveal the processes behind policy and decision-making so that researchers can draw their own, informed conclusions about the significance and ongoing impact of historical events, without the political spin.
Additionally, Blanton shared archival materials – obtained through the Freedom of Information Act – revealing information on Area 51 (the highly classified U.S. Air Force base in Nevada) as an example of how “excessive secrecy gives rise to conspiracy theories and misinformation.”
Research conducted by the National Security Archives to file Freedom of Information requests in order to declassify and publish government documents
Why poor record-keeping and document preservation hinders the function of government as well as historical research
Using primary sources for historical context and actual evidence of past and current events to cut through political spin
Examples of documents and topics covered in the DNSA collection and the kinds of research they inform and inspire
A compelling discussion about politics and the importance of government transparency, especially to dispel misinformation and debunk conspiracy theories
In 2018, the Digital National Security Archive was named “Outstanding Academic Title” by ACRL Choice.