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Missing El Salvador Documents 3.0: Documents Found!

March 2, 2011

The Recovered Documents

I am happy to report that the Missing El Salvador documents at the Library of Congress have been found. I received notification of this from Steven Tilley of the National Archive and Records Administration (NARA), late this past December. We at the National Security Archive applaud Mr. Tilley’s timely investigation into and resolution of this matter.

Currently, nearly all of the records in the index for the El Salvador Human Rights collection in the Hispanic Reading Room at the Library of Congress are available to the public. The following are the documents which were recovered:
– A large binder of documents from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense;
– A large binder of documents from the National Security Agency;
– A small binder of documents, Tab B, Book 1, of the United States Army;
– A large binder of documents from the Department of Defense Southern Command; and
– Two large binders of CIA documents which are not in the index.

These recovered documents are essential for use as evidence in the case of the killing of six Jesuit priests, their house keeper, and the house keeper’s daughter on November 16, 1989. A criminal case against El Salvador officials is underway in the National Court in Spain.

The only remaining missing documents are three individual documents from the Joint Staff binder. The following three documents are listed in the index to the collection, but are missing from the binder:
– J-F Conversational Topic, 17 January 1990, “El Salvador – Jesuit Investigation,” UNCLASSIFIED.
– OCJSC/LA Memorandum for COL Barnes, 19 July 1991, “Status of Buckland Case,” UNCLASSIFIED.
– OCJCS/LC MFR, 6 August 1991, “Status of Buckland/Jesuit Murder Case,” UNCLASSIFIED.

The Office of the Inspector General of the Library of Congress is currently looking into the whereabouts of these remaining three documents.

In addition to the documents recovered at the Library of Congress (LOC), documents that were previously withdrawn from the collection at NARA have been made available in sanitized form.

However, many concerns remain…

Why were the documents not provided in the first place?

Why did it take subsequent blog posts, a potential PR disaster, and an official from NARA to find these documents? Are documents from other collections missing or inaccessible? Is this an isolated incident?

Are the LOC and NARA doing a good job of preserving our nation’s history?

The Office of the Inspector General at the Library of Congress was unable to give me an explanation as to why the documents went missing or how they were recovered. They suggested that the disappearance of the documents was due to “administrative issues” and reassured me several times that there were no “political motives” in the disappearance of the documents.

What Can You Do to Help?

What recourse do average citizens have if they suspect documents have been mishandled or are missing?
This whole quest has taught me that anyone can file reports with the Office of the Inspector General at the Library of Congress if they think that books or documents have been mishandled or are missing. You can call or email the OIG’s hotline, here. (I suppose writing blog posts can’t hurt either.) Follow up with all reports and complaints you make. Together we can increase transparency and accountability.

Finally, some advice an archivist at NARA told me is: “If you see something, say something.” That is, if you come across documents that you have previously reviewed, but are all of sudden not available, speak to NARA staff. If you have trouble accessing documents that you believe should be available, speak up. As this episode has proved, most archivists and librarians are concerned about maintaining and safe guarding their records.

*See previous blog posts for the whole story here, and here.

One Comment
  1. March 10, 2011 3:06 am

    On the potential helpfulness of NARA staff, I can second the sentiment that if you point out a problem to them, they are generally eager to help. A few months ago I pointed out to them that only a small minority of CIA’s records control schedules were available on the NARA website, compared with almost all the schedules for other agencies. About a month later one staffer told me in as many words, “If you can be patient for a couple more months we hope to have them all posted soon; we didn’t realize how big the discrepancy was.” So far they’ve been as good as their word; the number posted has grown by leaps and bounds in the last month or so (although the site has been down for a couple of weeks now, which may indicate a significant overhaul is in progress or may just be technical issues).


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