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No FOIA Request Needed: The Oberdorfer Korea Collection

October 29, 2009

Many people know the National Security Archive as a leading FOIA requester that submits almost 2000 FOIA requests each year, has litigated almost 40 FOIA cases against government agencies, and has published more than one million pages of government records on the Web, on microfiche, in books, and in various other formats.  Others know the Archive for its published collections, likely because their research library subscribes to the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA).  Many people do not realize that we also maintain over 300 unpublished collections of records, including many that have been donated by leading authors, journalists, and other researchers.  These collections cover many diverse topics related to US foreign policy and national security, including: CIA behavioral control experiments, chemical and biological warfare, and FBI counterintelligence programs.

The National Security Archive’s Public Service department answers all inquiries about these collections of declassified documents.  We keep the most popular collections onsite, but most of the material is stored offsite until it is needed.  In the coming weeks we will be highlighting some of our interesting unpublished collections.

Today we want to tell you about the “Oberdorfer Korea Collection.” These five bankers boxes of records were donated by retired Washington Post journalist Don Oberdorfer who wrote the The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History in 1997.   In 2001, he revised and updated his book and then donated additional documents to the collection.  Overall, the collection spans 1970 to 1997 and includes records declassified from the US Department of State, the U.S. 8th Army, the Gerald Ford Presidential Library, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, and international organizations that deal with political events and relations with North and South Korea, as well as selected issues of periodicals.

May 30, 1990, US Department of State Information Memorandum by Douglas P. Mulholland.

For example, the collection includes records like a May 30, 1990 US Department of State Information Memorandum by Douglas P. Mulholland, a former CIA official who became an Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) in February 1989.   The document provides a snapshot in time of the American thinking as seismic shifts were about to occur in Soviet policy and strategy in the Far East, resulting in better relations among Moscow, Seoul, and Tokyo.  These shifts should be seen as the backdrop to significant changes in the diplomatic chessboard in East Asia after the end of the Cold War, as the United States began seeking ways to work with Moscow and Beijing to deal with the potential threat of a North Korean nuclear weapons program.

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